Bacchante

It was snowing.
Whenever it snows I like to take the day off and work myself into an altered state. The easiest way to do that is to slip a solid hit of LSD on the tongue and watch life swirl into a painting. As happenstances would have it, I had no such Jedi mind tricks stashed away. Usually a cornucopia awaits the desire for expanded consciousness; but for one reason or another, I had no magic mushrooms either, not even a hit of weed. My stash for a snowy day was non-existent.
I racked my brain for what else was available.
I opted out of drinking beer because beer was too lazy for the likes of the day I wanted to pursue. I wanted a snow adventure. I didn’t want to get all sleepy and I didn’t want to deal with the rip-roaring hangover of a hop drenched day binging into the night guzzling all my dreams away in a sputtering daze. I wanted to be swept up in clarity. I wanted whimsy. I wanted big crystalline snowflakes falling fat and fucking heavy like the goddess sharing knowledge in slow motion wormholes ripped from the sky.
With my entheogen options shot, I decided to meditate.
I lit a bundle of mugwort and sat down with nothing else but my breath.
I don’t know how long I sat on my folded up purple blanket, but I heard a lot of conversations pass by my window. People talking on phones. People rapping. People walking together in solidarity through the snow. The mailman stopped by and clinked the mail slot with unnecessary junk mail. Sparrows fluttered and shouted happily in the tree outside. The sweet smell of mugwort tickled my olfactory glands and unveiled my third eye.
I felt my back straighten and my chest broaden. My body relaxed and I knew that was enough. When I emerged from the meditation my feet gripped the floor like suction cups on the ends of frog toes. I felt grounded. Light.
I walked down to the kitchen to make myself something hot to drink and to my absolute amazement a rumble of thunder shook the house and sky. It was astounding. The world was so incredibly silent and, as the flakes flew down like monsters, the thunder rumbled with the laughter of ancient gods. It was the first and only time I experienced the thunder of snow.
The experience was made all the more special by the kitchen itself. The kitchen was not only a place of fire and creation for me, it was a place of early morning peace with early morning sun alighting through the windows.
Such a moment called for a dark cup of coffee.
Before heading out for the day I put an hour into cleaning. It was the best and worst decision because I found a small bag of cocaine tucked away in the corner of an end table. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve never spent a dime on cocaine. Never have, never will, but I thought what the hell. A trickster wanted me to have fun.
I blew the whole bag.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
I thought I was walking on god.
I thought
I thought
I thought
The thoughts passed very quickly. I was high as the French revolution lopping off the heads of the rich and I sped right along into the winter air. Whipped by the blizzard. Satisfied. Snow blind.
It was best I didn’t spare much time thinking too hard. I recalled the last time I bumped a single line of cocaine. I was in college and lost my whole damn self on a word. A word. That’s right, a word. I was writing poetry and the word, whatever the hell it was, I still don’t know to this very day, wouldn’t slip off my tongue. It was the perfect word. It had to be. It was going to complete a perfect poem. The word sat there invisible taunting me at the edge of my mind, teasing me, playing childish games of hide and seek. I cursed and flailed my arms. That was it. I lost it all right there. Every last marble. Nuts and bolts and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again. I was cracked up. Off my rocker. To think, one line of coke had me ripping up paper and throwing pens against the wall, and ten years later I thought it a brilliant idea to blow through an entire bag of white powder. There was reason enough- my brains inside needed to reflect the snow outside.
Without a thought in sight I blitzed downtown toward the art museum. I leapt and bounded in giant steps. I felt like a yeti. Paul Bunyan. Casey Jones. The abominable snowman. I hurtled over buildings and small children.
At one point along my sojourn I ran into a guy named Carl. I don’t know if that was his name, I never asked him and he never said it, but he looked like a Carl. Or a Mike. Or a Joe. We’ll call him Mike. No. Joe. I believe his name was Joe. Joe was from the suburbs and he liked to take the train into the city to wander the streets high on meth. I shit you not. He revealed this within moments of crossing paths. He was flown, and momentarily, we were kindred spirits flying together through the dappled stars. He was a relatively small guy and he wore a scarf that was comically large. That scarf had a mind of its own. It tugged him along and spun him in circles. He lost himself in trees tangled like a wayward kite disappointing the child who had hopes and dreams of flying so high it would pull her to the moon.
We walked for too long together. We were quite the sight along the parkway. The main attraction. My eyes bugged three feet outside my head and Joe talked about Jesus Christ hiding in the bushes and demons poking him with sticks. People parted like the Red Sea as we passed. They gave us 20 feet on either side and glared at us like hungry lizards.
By the time we reached the art museum steps my high was wearing very thin and Joe was going on about his drunk father and all the shame he felt for “messing up” as a kid. He had all kinds of shadows hovering around his spinning head. I felt bad for him but didn’t have the capacity to spend the rest of the day playing therapist and certainly didn’t care to prolong my chemical binge and become his partner-in-crime sussing out the next dragon to chase but never slay.
We parted ways.
He appeared hurt when I told him I wanted to be alone, but very quickly he laughed maniacally, said he was really Jesus Christ, and ran off like the impish Charles Manson.
Atop the steps of the museum, free of any pedestrian hitchhikers, I stared at the skyline covered in a cloud of snow. It was wondrous. A dream.
Inside the art museum, a couple of staff members kindly directed me downstairs to a lounge for members of the museum. My luck kept turning. I had no idea such a perk awaited me at the other end of this quest for the holy grail of snow days. I fell in love with that lounge. It felt like a well-kept secret. An underworld wrapped in art books and café-styled tables and chairs. A den beneath the mythic giants of painters and sculptors burbling with the subconscious charge of every dream I’ve ever dreamed about basements. That lounge was like stepping back in time, into the underground and the unknown. Into hazy hallways, smoke-filled and coveted.
Such a moment called for another cup of coffee.

The coffee perked me right up. I shook off the snow and found myself meandering the great halls with no attachment to any painting or sculpture, until I stopped in front of Vincent van Gogh’s painting entitled Enclosed Wheatfield in the Rain.
I was stunned.
The artist’s representation of rain slashed at my heart. The anguish and utter peace of the painting poured forth from the frame and tore me apart. I was broken and enraged. Tears welled up and I tried to choke them back but they streamed forward like a miniature waterfall gushing from my face. Who was this man and how could his art strike me so deeply so quickly? I stared into the painting endlessly. The lines of rain reached out and pulled me in. I was lost. Soaking wet.
When I regained some semblance of clarity, I read the small placard next to the painting regarding Van Gogh’s time in the asylum hospital at St. Remy and the wheat field outside his window, specifically its thematic connection to manual workers and toil. I couldn’t keep it together. I wailed. I wept loudly like an old man at the end of a hard life without a friend alive to reflect on the memories or share the little joys. Only death. I cowered at the power of a brush.

“Moving, huh?”
“You think?” I said through bleary eyes and puffed up eyelids. My nose ran religiously. God, I was ugly.
“Here’s a handkerchief.” She stood in front of the painting too.
I took her offering and blew my nose. It echoed the relatively quiet halls of art. After several loud honks I handed it back to her. There was a little bit of blood and the faint remnants of cocaine streaking the fabric like a Rorschach.
She waved a hand at me, “It’s okay. Keep it.”
I shrugged my shoulders and stuffed the hanky into a pocket. “Thanks.”
“He was brilliant, wasn’t he? Still is,” she suggested.
“Huh?”
“Van Gogh. The painting you’ve been gushing over.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” I stuttered. “Look at it.”
She nodded, “I am. That’s exactly what I am doing. Looking at it.”
“I’m a mess. Look at me.”
“I see you too,” she laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing. Well, actually, you. You’re funny.” She shook her head with a smile. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be mean,” she said with genuine apology in her voice.
After a moment she asked, “Are you familiar with the term empathy? Where it came from?”
“I know the word, but no, I don’t know its history.”
“I read it came from the art world. It describes how we look into a work of art. How we sense into the meaning, the symbols, lines, and colors. How we feel and see into and become a part of the art. Einfühlung. The original in German.”
“Huh.” I said.
“I don’t know if Van Gogh cried a whole lot, but you certainly spilled enough tears for him and the rest of the museum. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked in your eyes and saw his image reflected back at me.”
Her words cheered me up a slight bit.
“But that’s great art, isn’t it? Forever in the act of creation. Even a century and a quarter later it has the vitality to bring a grown person to uncontrollable blubbering in public,” she said.
I looked around and remembered we were not alone, and as much as I questioned her existence, this was a real person speaking to me, not some phantasm of my own cocaine addled creation showing up to comfort me in a moment of deep realization and despair.
“You’re coming with me,” she said.
“What?” The welling up of dormant emotions still minorly incapacitated my ability to coherently socialize.
“Come with me. I’m Charlie,” she said.
I trailed behind her, and before I knew it, Charlie and I were dancing around the museum in a mad frenzy. The artwork burst to life. We spun in a whirlwind.

“Monet?”
“Yes. What of him?” I asked.
“You find pleasure in his work?”
“Of course.” I responded.
“Impressionism then?”
“One of my favorite movements. Hands down.”
“What would you call a new art movement today?” she asked.
I thought about it. “I don’t know. Can’t say I’ve given it much thought. You mean specifically in painting, or art in general?”
“Whatever,” she said.
“Well there’s a lot of collage and sampling, mixed media art, and mass production, especially with technology nowadays. And everything’s so fleeting. Trends come and go and flash before the eyes and die into the graveyard heap of the internet. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“How about the Ephemeralists?” she suggested.
“Hm. Ephemeralism. There’s a ring to it. Sort of captures a twilight of magic reborn in the post-industrial milieu,” I said.
“I don’t think we’re quite out of the industrial age, but we are certainly teetering. I get the sense we’re all lost and uncertain, but the Lost Generation is already taken. I suppose time is nonlinear and art movements weave through the ages. Quite like surrealism. There’s a lot of that now,” she said.
“And Dada and the absurd,” I added.
“We are culminating in endless experimentation seeking what hasn’t been produced, yet repeating and riffing off the past and reproducing, reproducing, reproducing. It’s inescapable,” she said.
“What about graffiti and street art?” I asked.
“It’s fleeting. Ephemeral,” she said. “Up one minute, buffed over the next.”
I thought for a moment. “The irony of Ephemeralism is the actual ephemera is fading away too. Hardcopy photos are disappearing into digital wastelands. Postcards and handwritten letters are less and less popular.”
“The old world is dying,” she said.
“And we are ushering in its death.”

We took a break to visit the lounge to re-up on coffee and then walked outside to cool off in the winter temperatures. We danced in the snow, twirled, and laughed like the followers of Dionysus drunk on the spirit of artists.
What a day chalked up to the winter vortex.
Now every time I return to the art museum I ask about the lounge but they tell me no such lounge exists.

urban medicine

no filter on this photo. everything is a shade of violet, pink, purple, magenta at sundown. never practiced much graffiti but i appreciate it. always saw growing plants in abandoned lots as a variation, a kinship in practice, a certain kind of art. especially encouraging the growth of the wild ones.

many people question the practice of allowing plants to grow on their own accord. but when we get to talking, engaging, and addressing issues like clean air, deterring illegal dumping, creating a tiny ecology of livelihood, people come to understand. the plants are often here to help us.

with regards to the photo, you can see the money sign sprayed next to the wheat paste. our intention has never been to make money at the garden. but it has been to disrupt the normal flow of capital. developers have had their way with abandoned space in philly. it is long past due that people challenge that. there is a network of gardens throughout the city who are fighting for the land. there is a webwork of people fighting for the rights of housing. we are not the first. we are not the last. at moments it seems disparate, but connections are made strangely in the way that seeds flutter through the air and land down in the most unassumed places. they care not for borders and grow wherever they are determined to grow.

the echinacea in the foreground has historically been worked with as an antidote to snake bites. at a certain point in time, most likely recently when snakes became less populous in populated spaces, echinacea shifted into an immune booster. it stimulates the immune system, so it is recommended only for limited periods. otherwise overuse can potentially push the immune system into allergic reaction. more or less the body starts rejecting the medicine.

sometimes it is necessary to surge and pull back and administer different medicines to complement and continue what has already been put into effect. i’m currently witnessing this with the move from 8th and cherry to city hall. the movement and free flow of people is not only necessary but natural.

it is clear to many of us that we live in dire times. there are moments concurrently happening across the country. from teachers’ strikes to OCCUPY to electoral splashes of DSA candidates. everyone deserves access to education, healthcare, time for family, shelter over our heads, nutrient dense food, paid vacation and extended holiday, paid maternity leave, and the list goes on.

to see the world flourish like the old texts say, what is everyone actually working for

Bloodlust

Consider that you are loved.
Even when people don’t know how to show it.
Even when you don’t know how to receive it.
Consider that you are loved.

There is a lot going on in this world. A lot of struggle. People are hurting in all kinds of ways. We all know this. We feel it deeply. In our bones. In our flesh. In our shortness of breath. The panic. We lash out. Bare our teeth. Snap and growl. Especially with those we love. We snarl. Spit. Act nasty. Get ugly. We bottle up our emotions and explode.

We have this tool. The internet. To reveal our happiness. Our scorn. Our absolute disgust. Our love and relationships. We tell little lies and noble truths to garner scraps of attention. We fumble and flop and flounder
biding our time until what?

What is more intimate and revealing than feeling safe to express our darkness, our hatred, our anger? To be listened to in silence. Ears big as elephants. Hearts large as houses. What is more intimate and revealing than the gesture of loving space held?

I spent a small bit of time with an Argentinian writer and anarchist outside of Buenos Aries. We talked about love. Amor y rabia. He disagreed vehemently with the idea that “all you need is love” in no roundabout words he called it shit. People need housing and healthcare. People need time to spend with their families. People need food. You can’t eat love.

I didn’t disagree with him. But our conversation was loud and passionful because we still need love.

We still need love.

We live in greedy times.
The days are eaten up by work.
Why?
Work is eaten up by bosses.
How come?
The vicious cycle plays out from the time we hit the alarm clock to the time we clock out. Labor is stolen. Time is stolen. Where does that leave love? Love is not a currency. Love is not quantifiable.

Still…

Love gets shoved into a box and wrapped as a present to give a few times a year. Love gets a hallmark card scribbled on at the last minute the barcode succinctly ignored. Love gets pushed around yelled at stomped on used like a doormat ripped out of the chest tossed in the gutter and rained on.

I love the rain.

Love gets the brunt of the anger and rage. The hatred swirling in the short breaths taken without acknowledging we are actually living blood pumping hearts stomping out of the chest into the streets to scream at whoever will listen.

Love. We are mourning. We are grieving. We do not always mean what we say. We may believe in the moment the harshness. The fuck you. The curses swelling like waves. But we are a loud cry from those who deserve it.

The rule makers have no peace in their hearts. Only greed.

The greed trickles down
turns us all green
we puke our disgust
onto one another.
We are covered in the anger
meant for another
meant for the collective
to wield as a weapon
to recall times of the guillotine
pulling down figure heads
and holding them up for show.

Consider
Consider that you are loved.
Consider you are powerful
yet humbled.

Consider that you are hurt by a loved one. It is true. We hurt one another. There is no excuse. There is no retribution for unthinkable transgressions. We are forced into situations by circumstances systemic. We cannot become alienated and isolated over minutia. We cannot spurn one another without cold reason. We must take up our chains. We must take up our anger and rage.

We must…

As I finish this poem
I overhear lyrics spoken

“I never had healthcare
just a pistol on the waist
for the people”

It gives me a moment of pause and contemplation.

There’s no denying these times are dire.
The fire burns.
The fire burns.

Consider that you are love.
That you are
another piece of the puzzle.
Without you
the big picture crumbles at the feet of tyrants. Full of greed. Full of unknowing.

We all deserve better. So much better.

Narrow Passage

I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria

“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.

The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.

I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.

I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.

I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.

There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.

It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.

At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.

Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.

I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.

During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.

There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.

I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.

Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.

I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.

Invisible

Several months ago I met a guy at the Iglesias Garden. He had fallen on hard times after working construction and getting injured. A rogue blade flew off a power tool he was using and sliced through his cheekbone. Miraculously, he kept his eye. He had a number of surgeries and was loaded up on pain meds. Eventually, as the story goes, he couldn’t afford the meds when the script ran out, was still in pain, so took a substance cheaper and easier to find on the streets, got addicted, and his whole life fell into the proverbial gutter.

But he’s resilient and strong and wakes up in the morning for the daily hustle.

I ran into him recently at Graffiti Pier. We walked around and talked for a while. He recounted memories going back to his childhood visiting the pier with his grandfather. Back then, it was in full operation and pretty much open to the public. “The biggest crane on the whole river,” he said. “Seriously, it was enormous.” They used to climb it as kids and jump off into the water. “I almost drowned,” he said. “I went down, it must have been 20 feet, I needed another breath before I made it all the way to the surface. Don’t know how I made it. A lot of people died right here. A lot.”

You can feel the ghosts. The place is eerie and surreal. All the abandoned concrete pillars adorned with graffiti. People go to the pier to swim, fish, barbecue, practice their spray paint skills, you name it. Although private property, it is totally unofficially Philadelphia’s urban sanctuary for artists, photographers, tourists, weirdos, crust punks, neighbors, runners, etc etc everyone steps foot on that pier. It is dazzling. It is dream-like. And it represents something wildly human and free.

IMG_7034

It is abandoned, and perhaps dangerous, but that adds an element to its charm.

We continued to walk around as he recounted the days when horse stables sat at the entrance. He remembers petting the horses fondly. He said he hadn’t been there in years. All the memories bubbled up visibly into his eyes.

He said he’s living under 95, but the cops came by and gave them a weeks notice. He keeps getting pushed around. The homeless in general keep getting pushed around. They have no where to go, so they move around like refugees in their own city.

It is sad and frustrating, at times infuriating, to think about folks and how they get to be so down-and-out. A lot of people blame the individuals for making poor choices, but the reality is, a lot of them are unexpecting victims of an uncaring system. The type of healing he needed, specifically, was not offered to him. He nearly lost half his face. He was loaded up with pain killers and sent on his way. When the pain doesn’t subside, what does one do?

Our streets are swimming with opiates.

If you live in Philly, walk down to Kensington & Lehigh and you might just get stabbed in the foot by a needle. People openly shoot up and discard their needles right there on the curb. I’m not trying to be dramatic or hyperbolic. I’m not trying to paint poverty porn. I’m not trying to virtue signal. This is, simply speaking, the reality I see on a daily basis.

Conrail, a division of Norfolk Southern, the same company who owns the pier, also owns the tracks in Kensington where the homeless had been living in a tent city. Philly’s Skid Row. It was pretty much, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. The people living there got the boot though, and now they live scattered about the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot have taken refuge under the tracks along Lehigh.

One thing that made me take heart: As he and I talked, he mentioned he’s gone back to the garden where we grow food. He said he picked a bunch of tomatoes and squash. It encouraged me to keep growing. I often go there alone, and sometimes meet neighbors picking food, but it’s another thing to hear it from him. A few tomatoes here and there isn’t changing the world, but it’s a means of connection and showing that some of us care.

IMG_7072

The Countess

A few years back a friend introduced me to a yoga teacher. She was in her eighties but still going strong. A firecracker if I’ve ever seen one. A stern woman with an incredible will. She was a doctor and a practitioner of Iyengar yoga. She studied intensely with BKS Iyengar in India in the 1970s and traveled just about every year to visit him. They kept a hand written correspondence with one another until his death.

She held private classes from her home. I couldn’t afford her cost, but she took a liking to me at first, so didn’t charge me anything.

Every time I went over there, we sat in her kitchen and drank tea before the lesson and after the lesson sometimes too. She always had a cookie to give me. She was like a grandmother and a teacher. We played chess and talked about art. Especially Aubrey Beardsley. She loved Aubrey Beardsley. I took a liking to him as well.

She also sat on the board of a poetry magazine. So we talked about poetry and I gave her some of my writing to look over. One day we sat in her computer room. I was working on some love poetry. She wanted to hear it so I started reciting. Right off the bat, she went in with the critiques. Telling me line after line that my syntax was pathetic and my word choice was silly. I told her to let me read it through. Just give it a listen before we start with the critiques. Halfway through she lost her cool. “That’s it!” she yelled. “Forget it! Forget convention! Let’s hop into bed right now! Take off your clothes!” I looked at her queerly and smiled. I took it as a joke and kept reading the poetry. She calmed down slightly, but still impassioned stated, “Okay! That’s enough! Time for your lesson.”

I thought it rather abrupt, but went along with it.

One day she asked me to meet her at the place where she got her hair cut. It was this enormous row house on Walnut Street near Rittenhouse. She gave me a tour. It looked fit for nobility. Huge chandeliers. Fabulous winding staircases. A library right out of an antiquarian movie set. Apparently one of the oldest buildings in Philadelphia, all the wood still preserved. The moldings. The floors. It was unbelievably beautiful. Stunning, even. Grandiose. When we got to the front desk area, she told the receptionist that I was her boyfriend. I was so taken by surprise, I think I turned fifty shades of red. The woman looked at me in amusement. “Is that right?” I’m not terribly quick-witted, so I just shook my head no and shrugged my shoulders like, “I don’t know what the hell is going on in her head.”

We walked back to her place for a lesson. The lessons consisted of an hour or two holding three, maybe four simple poses for extended periods of time. She used lots of props and let me lie in corpse pose until I drifted off into sleep. It was enjoyable and meditative.

This one day in particular, before starting the yoga lesson, she wanted to teach me something else about life energy. And let me tell you, it fucking weirded me out. I don’t know why I didn’t quit right there on the spot. Perhaps I’m a freak myself.

She brought me over to a mirror that we both stood in front of. She positioned herself in front of me and asked me to put my hand on her back. “Do you feel that muscle when I move my arm like this?” She swung her arm up like a ballerina and I nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Hold your hand right there.” And she began breathing deeper, tossing her head back, and exclaiming, “Look at me! Am I getting younger? Look at my skin! Is it getting smoother?” And as I looked at her like what the fuck, her appearance did seem to change ever so slightly.

I was both revolted and seduced. Who is this woman? What am I doing here? Is she draining my youth from me? Have I met the reincarnation of the Countess Bathory?

Every interaction wasn’t like that, but the narrative was starting to coalesce in a certain direction.

One of the final lessons sealed the deal on our relationship. I sat down as instructed with my legs straight in front of me. I held there for ten minutes or so in silence. Then she began to click her tongue at me. She walked over and lowered herself onto my foot. Specifically her pussy on my big toe. She wore yoga pants so it wasn’t skin to skin. I remember thinking, “Is this really happening?” Then all of a sudden I started getting a tingle in my leg and felt myself getting a hard on. I started breathing deeper and heavier to try and control myself, but to no avail. She stared at me with the face of a gorgon, “Why are you breathing so heavily? Stop that. Get yourself under control.” I thought maybe she didn’t realize how she had placed herself, but then it became clear. “You think you know what sex is?” she laughed. “You don’t know the first thing about sex.” She got up and went into the other room.

On the outside I kept a stoic face, but on the inside I was cracking up with holy shit laughter. I can’t believe I get myself into these situations.

After that, she never called me again. I didn’t fuck her, so she dumped me.