Races have a soul,
Philly has a soul,
Too often that Philly way
Is a soul steeped in harshness,
What ifs…

This past Sunday clouds took a break
From draining themselves
On the hopefuls who were looking for personal greatness
Along the streets of Philadelphia
Where dreams are often dashed
In whatever macabre deviance cast out by the city.

With the rain stopped, the cold kept a hold on the scantily clad throng,
Finally, the gun sounded and off they went
Chugging through the neighborhoods,
Looping through the parks, and living in the Philly vibe
That if nothing else, is tough.

A little bitch of a hill in Fairmount,
The uneven pavement of Old City,
Whiskey charity, and the boredom of West River Drive
Each doing nothing to inspire doom, gloom, or failure,
Until they joined forces with Mother Nature.

Or maybe it was Old Man Winter who brought the pain,
With a nasty wind off the Schuylkill blowing heavy rain sideways that
Made a wild trip through Manayunk a serious battle to prevent leg cramps.
The weather and electrolyte depletion could not defy this soul
For lessons from Goggins ran deep and kept purpose in the forefront.

Neither snow, sleet, nor hail could slow the pace,
Not even a full bladder could stop a determined stride
Each hobble bringing the finish line closer until it got real when.
The personal clouds opened up
Letting loose a torrent camouflaged by nature’s storm.

That intangible trait, something the Greek used to factor in,
Before he became a racist buffoon,
Is the one thing that culminates from all those hours of training,
And in the City of Brotherly Love, thousands showed their mettle.

Forget the metal platitudes, the dry fit t-shirts,
Forget the celebrities at the start,
Marathons are about a soul, an ethos
That we can do something crazy, something seemingly impossible,
Something fitting for a city like Philadelphia.

For in all the ugliness of the urban area,
All the pain and suffering that exists at one end of the city’s continuum
Not all hurt must be dire,
Hips might quit, fingers might get cold, hypothermia might be right around the corner,
But soul can soothe all ills.

A soul is an identity,
The energy that lets others know this is who we are
Take it or leave it.
And I’m taking it, the warts of Philly, the gifts of Philly,
The soul of Philly.

Twenty-six miles and change,
Not much on the scale of accomplishments,
Five hours
Not much on the scale of accomplishments,
But I’m damn proud of the experience.

The cold, the cramps, the confluence of cold rain and hot whatever that was,
We were out there testing ourselves,
Treating ourselves to the power of uncertainty,
Gaining new scars, better stories, and callouses against doubt and regret,
Souls, that’s what we got, yo.

So many people,
So many places,
Everyone out there reaching for it,
Whatever that is.

One woman,
Trekking across the country,
Single-minded in her focus
To run through a tunnel.

One man,
Over booked and hostage to time
Made a decision to bail,
To keep everything intact.

Three dudes,
Different in every way, but one,
Running the streets of Philly
With goals equally as different.

I can only speak for me,
But this group inspires,
Making the early morning workouts good,
Making Philly a lot more brotherly.

New challenges are ahead,
5Ks, triathlons, life
But the best thing about each
Is we never do them alone.

Thanks to all y’all.

The bell rang on Friday,
I was out with the busses
Looking forward to a weekend of adventure,
Maybe even a little relaxation.

Late on Friday,
I headed to the city
To meet a friend of my brother’s,
Someone I had not seen since the funeral.
Being so close to the city,
It would seem like I would get there more often.
I couldn’t remember the last time
I walked the streets of Philadelphia,
But once I got off of 95,
The Old City groove got right back into my soul.
Luck got me a parking space
Just two blocks away from our meeting place.
I had time, and walked around,
The apartments open, the traffic loud,
The hipsters everywhere, except one place,
Where the smoke was thick, the laughter loud,
And where it seemed, everyone knew everyone,
But me.
I sat, ordered what seemed to be the standard,
Shot and a beer, and waited,
During which time, a lady with a loose,
All too revealing for either or our ages, pink dress who
Shouted over the Grateful Dead,

“At Paddy’s we don’t like it when people sit alone,”

I apologized, explained the situation, and reached into
My bag of “I used to live in Philly” stories.
She grilled me about my old neighborhood,
I passed the test and became part of the crowd.
My new friend and I actually lived a couple of blocks apart
Way back in the nineties
Now I’m stuck in the burbs,
She hopscotches around the city, following the best rents,
Finding the best corner bars,
And acting as the credibility security.

My brother’s friend arrived,
We talked, awkwardly at first,
I’m not sure either of knew what to expect, but it was cool,
Kind of a release, or closure, if that really happens,


Time is no healer.

Sorry, that was for anyone lucky enough
To not have entertained death, yet.
Maybe this will become an annual thing, maybe not, but
The door is always open,
Or in the case of Paddy’s, the doors are always open,
Front and back, good for circulation, air and people.

So Saturday arrived
With little fanfare and nothing but a subtle vibe,
Suggesting that I was all in for a nothing day.
There were some laps at an outdoor pool,
The water cold and murky from frequent storms,
Green from the serpentine rock dug from the quarry,
There was a bad horror movie,
Billy the Kid Meets Dracula, and there was sleep.
I love those days,

Sunday was anything but,
My son, finally making his move from his mother’s
Taking an apartment in his city,
Just on the edge of that neighborhood’s next revitalization,
Not to worry, he now lives next to a K-9 cop.
We talked a lot today, about the pomposity of cemeteries,
The lack of mysticism in our entertainers and athletes, and
The clash of emotion and practicality.
We grubbed on barbecue, a 16-hour smoked piece of heaven
That I’ve been burping all day,
Each expression, a welcome taste of carnivorous patience,
Gluttony, and good times with my son.

As I write,
Spotify is working a little southern gothic,
I’m lying on my stomach, shoulder to back with my pit bull,
He’s balled up in a blanket, riding out thunderstorms
In a way that would smash the myth of these dogs
If man hadn’t effed them over so badly.
We are waiting out the last forty-five before it’s bedtime,
So I can be rested for the week,
The work, the boredom, the lack of variety
All the stuff that gets in the way,

The regular road,
Memories thicker than the traffic,
Riding in a hot school bus
Instead of a freezing cargo van.
I can smile at the past
Even as the present promises
To fill my head with
New thoughts.

“Find an independence where action becomes action that supports the whole action that includes everything and does everything that is needed.” (Presence, by C. Otto Scharmer, Peter M. Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers)

“Thou shalt surprise here from time to time,”
Better known as the marriage commandment
Caused a stir in Kensington
That brought a man and a parish
Way down below.

A man thought he would take some photos
Of his wife’s old church
So she could relive the memories of her youth
Of a place where she learned
The ways of salvation.

He saw something she could not have seen back then,
A different kind of salvation,
One where men and women received healing
Of the pain brought on by the cure
Rather than the spiritual care the building once possessed.

Gone was the Catholic order,
Pews were strung about,
Belief was about the next blast,
An intravenous communion
Uniting the blood of man with demon elixir, heroin.

The picture the man took developed into desperation.
He walked to a storefront doubling as a church.
The priest and nun running the shop
Followed him to the old place of salvation,
Ascension of Our Lord.

All the priest could do
Was bless these poor souls
Who found the comfort of the needle
To be enough even as they recognized
The sapping our their souls under the gun of their addiction.

“Find an independence where action becomes action that supports the whole action that includes everything and does everything that is needed.” (Presence, by C. Otto Scharmer, Peter M. Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers)

Give us this day
My daily shot
To remove the pain
Since yesterday’s dose
Ran its course.

Forgive me, Father,
I’m not sticking myself
Because of you
Just in the house
You used to operate.

I won’t nod off on the altar.
I won’t tie off in the pews.
I’ll stay in the back rooms,
For anything else
Would be sacrilegious.

My wounds are open.
My pains are real.
This blast will help for awhile
And I pray that it won’t be my last,
Be with me, L…

“Find an independence where action becomes action that supports the whole action that includes everything and does everything that is needed.” Presence, by C. Otto Scharmer, Peter M. Senge, Joseph Jaworski, Betty Sue Flowers)

The word came down from high
That Kensington was due a new parish.
By 1914 a grand cathedral was build
Echoing the spirit of impressive European structures
On F and Westmoreland Streets.
In its day, the church packed parishioners into
Pews greater than twenty rows long.
Three sections deep.
Ascension of Our Lord was a model of extreme
In a neighborhood that was destined to change.
Industries would leave.
People would leave.
Decency would leave.



Photo Credit: Google Images

“A life of wisdom consists of constantly being engaged in letting go.”
Francisco Varela

Average Salary = $25,000/year

Not much by today’s costs, but
That’s the stat for West Philadelphia today.

West Philadelphia High School graduated
Back in 2011.
Financial difficulties forced tough decisions
And schools shuddered.
The building again was a symbol of the neighborhood,
This time reflecting the demise and absorbing the decay.

Finally, the school district sold the building
So urban renewal, renovations, gentrification,
Whatever the politically charged term,
Could begin.

Rent = $1,600/month

The builder’s vision was such that the community
Could stand swallowing the changes that were coming.
The guy’s grandmother was a West Philly high grad,
He promised to honor her time there and the legacy
Of a great institution.

That of a community hub,
A place where more than book skills were learned…

The changes came,
Classrooms to apartments,
A boiler room to a hotel quality gathering place,
The old gym, still echoing with the sounds of basketball,
Now a modern fitness center
With treadmills, televisions, and chrome plated dumbbells.

The learning circle had been broken.
The connection to a free public education
Broken by the weight of commerce, bills, and capitalism.
The social significance stripped away
As a community struggled to gain footing
In a system stacked against it.

This is where West Philadelphia High School is today.
An example of what happens when things are let go
Or maybe better yet, when things are not let go.

Maybe the school would still be open
If the leaky roof and balky boilers had been replaced sooner.
Had the school been more open to the community,
Perhaps its importance would have been more significant.

Now it’s just another apartment building
In a community that has not figured out
How to grow.

Maybe the new school will be significant for the hipsters
Or whatever new economic juggernaut
Hits while the community is down.
I just wish the hawks circling the declining property values
Would think of those who are being displaced
By bringing them jobs
Instead of eviction notices
Or high priced condos
That can’t be afforded.

Certainly, that is an idea that should not be let go.

“A life of wisdom consists of constantly being engaged in letting go.”
Francisco Varela

Joe and I drove up in the Ryder
We parked on the sidewalk
Walnut Street was jammed up at 43rd
On a hot July day.
We met the landlord at Walsh’s Tavern,
Learned about the swipe and run guys
Who looked to clean up the seats
Closest to the door,
Signed the lease,
Unloaded the truck,
And off Joe went.

That would be the next to last time I saw him.

I had decided to let go of Williamsburg.
Now I found myself in the dark
Waiting for the next day
When PECO would come through.
Then I could make better sense of my situation.

Traffic was non-stop,
The carts did not leave the inside of the grocery store,
The laundry mats were packed,
There was yelling, there were occasional shots, and
Just down the street was West Philly High.

It stood there like no other school I had ever seen.
It seemed part fort, part castle, and sadly
Part prison.
I wondered what it was like going to school there.
Years later I would work for a program
Serving kids from the public high schools in Philly.
It was as bad as I imagined.

The MOVE bombing had already happened.
Crack was destroying a community.
Penn and Drexel were still buying up everything.
There was a guy going solo on his stoop
In the middle of the day.
People stood in the street yelling at voices, but
Having nowhere to go.

West Philly was struggling in the early 1990s.
Philadelphia was struggling.
For every laugh I heard in the streets,
There must have been twenty sirens screaming by.
Somehow I grew to love the city,
Yet I don’t think I was really a part of it.
People were just trying to survive,
So they had little time for the ideals of 1912
When the big school up the road
Offered to help West Philadelphia realize its potential.

Something let the community down.
Naysayers will blame the schools for a communities failings.
Schools might blame politicians.
Politicos blame industry, taxes, or the other party.
What no one realizes is that it is everyone,
Everyone who failed to accept the changes that were coming
And who failed to let go of the “personal particulars”
That were contributing to the downfall.

In the case of West Philadelphia, drugs were a problem.
Violence followed, but where were the jobs,
The attractive options to give people real choice against
The illicits of chemistry and costs of living?
Where was the support for the school as a social institution
Instead of a pawn to be sacrificed
For political or economic gain.

I stayed in West Philadelphia for a year.
Age and ambition were in my favor for making a move.
On a recent trip through the city, I was disappointed to see
Walsh’s Tavern is gone. Koch’s Deli is gone.

West Philadelphia High School?
Sort of gone…