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July 2017, vol 13 no 2

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Isabella David McCaffrey

City of Brotherly Light


Rowers’ laughter drifts through evening air. Oars flash past fresh-painted boathouses through sunset’s gloom. Slender boats, fueled by teamwork on this placid river, call to mind how

longhouse sachems
rode canoes to Philadelphia
entering these red brick halls.
They explained how the law that kept them unified
required a way to share the wealth.

So an Oneida poet wrote of the despair encompassed in a city’s dream of freedom.

The eternity of spring is a dream, too. Eternity as drenched, goldenrod light of the gone-down day, quenched by peaty waters. Color and sky reverse. Winter’s hothouse dusk, for months Earth’s only blush contained in one brilliant hour, now splashes down. The city flowers citrine, violet, hyacinth. Radiance, too, on every face, open as petals unfurling in the deep shadows stealing up the riverbank. Briefly, we are all brothers and sisters, acolytes of spring.

between water and sky
boats balance
on light

Geese squawk on the flowering riverbank. Down flies into our mouths, mixed with dandelion fluff. Rounding a turn, the baby and I surprise a half-naked man, lounging in the Azalea Gardens. Beside wisteria fluttering over vine-clad pergolas, he sunbathes, skin bare, dark, polished as the sculptures peppering the museum’s grounds. A suit of clothes dries on the grass. Pants, shirt, socks laid out like the police outline of a corpse.

“Why are his clothes there, Omi?” a little girl in hijab asks her mother. I listen, wondering how I will one day answer my own baby’s impossible, unanswerable question.

“He lives there,” her mother says. Despite sweltering garb, no beads of sweat dot her upper lip like mine. Does the child respond or is it the river breeze whispering, “Why, why?”

The man, indifferent to questions of fairness, opens his palms and arms to the sky. A modern-day Diogenes, content for this: to have no shadow touch his skin if only for one hot, blazing moment.

in the moonlight
statues flicker
souls encased
in rock


Note: The first 5-line stanza is taken the poem "Philadelphia Flowers" by Roberta Hill.


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