Big City, Little


One Eleven North Forty-Ninth Street
Victor Schermer

Soon after the founding of our nation, a dedicated group of men built an asylum on a plot of land outside the Philadelphia city limits. There, the insane could receive humane treatment, like the calming psychiatric chair invented by Dr. Rush, or perhaps hot baths, or the soon-to-be-outdated leeches. There was support and concern and lessons to be learned: the so-called "moral therapy," indebted, no doubt, to the spiritual teachings of the day.

In time, the city extended around the place, and a stone wall was constructed to contain the wild ones inside, their thoughts as radical and disturbing as the great books burned under Hitler's regime. Then the new generation of physicians erected a large turret, which gave the place the appearance of a prison.

Slowly, there in the West End, an urban ghetto grew, a place of poverty and strife, surrounding the wall. And inside the wall, wealth accumulated, as the rich and near-rich sent their sick ones to be cured, cured of their disturbing thoughts.

A society developed inside the wall, resembling ancient Greece or Rome. Doctors walked through the endless halls and carpeted rooms discussing diagnoses, theories, deteriorations, remissions, discharges. Patients lived there for one, two, three years, getting worse or better, known, known in their depths and inner deaths by the dead themselves.

Then the money expired. New medicines took the place of costly walls, and doctor after doctor fell in battle, until a man in a black suit came and bought them out.

Greece fell, Rome fell. You noticed the walls crumbling a bit. You noticed the sadness in the doctors' faces. You noticed the absence of mind in place of the crazy mind. You noticed the abacus balls, fingered by the moneyed interests.You noticed that the patients went in and went out.

Some say it was like the South during Reconstruction. I say it was the end of light and dark. I say it was the slow dying of the soul. I say the ghetto is everywhere and nowhere.

~ . ~

An Invitation to Mrs. Maryanne McGuinn
Christopher A. Miller

From your brown house and your hot kitchen,
across the straw fields and the green evening hills,
down the shadowed river roads and over
the Bucks County backroad bridges
past the bright aluminum diners and the white signs of supermarkets,
to the rectangles and pyramids and
to the bricks and windows of this old city
please come flying.

In your husband's fast red car, or
on the last train from the last redroofed station, or
by a black balloon with a hot red flame.
Leave your babies and your bake pans,
your tax forms and your dry cleaning
leave your cell phone charger and your self-help books,
your wedding rings and your recycling bins, and
please come flying.

Bring your black stockings with the scalloped tops, and
bring your lipstick, your powder, and your shiniest shiny panties.
Bring your office shoes with the pointy toes, and
bring your gloves, your scarf, and your longest long coat.
Bring your plaid nightie with the lace hem, and
bring your booklite, your catseyeglasses, and your fuzziest fuzzy slippers.
please come flying.

The Liberty Bell and the Bell Atlantic Building are lit in your favorite colors
so that you may glide on the bricks across brooks of blue light.
Punkers and potheads wait on their haunches in South Street doorjambs
to panhandle for your blessed quarters.
Martinis are mixed in Old City and fishes are braised off Rittenhouse,
pasta is boiled in Bella Vista and ducks are Pekinged on Race, to
quench, coil, and stoke you. So
please come flying.

For you, Market Street is closed for the night.
For you, peroxide blondes are sliding upside-down on the brass poles at Delilah's.
For you, the Phillies are blowing the game.
For you, the trolleys are rattling up to Drexel and U Penn.
For you, Painted Bride performance artists have painted bullseyes on their breasts.
For you, queers are kissing on benches on Pine Street.
For you, the slates of Washington Square flicker in the plum light like Picasso paintings.
Please come flying.

Please come flying, and
in this two-windowed, high-ceilinged, turpentine-fumed sweatbox we will
run the concave side of a cold spoon down the backs of your thighs,
flick away the moustache smells left on your elbows and your knuckles, and
unpaint your face while the paint drips down your face like days.

Please come flying, and
in this fourth-floor, soul-filled, posters-peeling walkup we will
make batter and bake it and ice those cookies with thin pink flowers,
look at books filled with silver gelatin nude pictures of nude people in nude places, and
melt the ice water in the tall glasses and freeze the night sky outside the squat crossed portholes.

In this parquet-squared, velvet-molded, electrically exposed fusebox we will
collect all of your words and all of your scarlet toenails and lay them on a handkerchief,
dance to the knocking of the band-sanded table legs and the acorns plunking the transom, and
knock knees in the hot soapy water, if you will
please come flying.

From your brown house and your hot kitchen,
come past dark farms and lonely swishing horsetails behind plank fences,
down the highway like a bullet through a barrel,
to this smoky humid city, through these alluvial streets.
Come haughty, proud, with your resolute sapphire eyes commandeering.
Come guilty, contrite, with an ivory rosary wound tight around your knuckles.
Come naked, catty, skimmed with sweat and with biting insects on your lips.
Come coy, coquettish, cavalierly calling from the sidewalk for the time, a time, any time at all.
please come flying.

(With equal apologies to Ms. Bishop and Ms. Moore.)