In the City’s Hands

Angela Townsend

Philadelphia is not yours. Everything is yours because you are a belonging of the Great Belonging. But you are a contractual creature. You scrawl riders up and down the walls. I will not sign them. Philadelphia is not yours that way. 

Philadelphia is bumpy under my sneakers. The stones are senior citizens with a good case of the giggles. They have outgrown decorum. They whisper peppery jokes in the back pew, even during funerals. They have stayed cobbled together since before the bell cracked. 

We couldn’t do the same. I agreed to give you the chenille couches, soft beneath your cheek. I kept the Santa Clauses and Siamese cats I’d brought to our union. You assumed your name was alone on the deed to Philadelphia. You were here first. 

Philadelphia is partial to the rumpled and the outcast. The city does not count the chairs and canapes before extending the guest list. It vigorously shakes rapscallions all over the casserole. The rest of the nation rolls its eyes as our police grease the electric poles to prevent unauthorized shimmying. We are not climbers around here, but we ascend. 

You would send me back to the New York of my birth or the Jersey of my soul. You would give me Bruce Springsteen, patting me on the head and letting me pretend to be a cheetah in Jungleland. It is no pretense. Nothing but empty Tupperware was yours to give. 

Philadelphia does not own a timer. Mere affection confers residency. If you have run or crawled Rocky’s stairs, you can wear the city’s moody ring. The city is laughing falafel stalls and original van Goghs. It is a marmalade hockey mascot made of all the other Muppets. It is the cradle of a nation. It will rebirth you and high-five you. It will hide you in its Magic Gardens. 

I tried to remain naked. I shook uncontrollably. I handed you a covenant. You filed it with the contracts. You said I saw God where God was not. 

Philadelphia means “the city of brotherly love,” and it falls and fails and scoots back up the pole. It weeps in its Basilica and raises monuments to heroes the world forgot. They have names like Octavius. Their eyes are gentle. Philadelphia has a painting of Mary the Mother of God in uncreated light. 

You were born on the rim of Philadelphia, and you dropped in like a marble. You drove me through neighborhoods and named them all. You belched “mine!” between the double steeples of Port Richmond and the little foxes at the zoo. You drove me to Kensington and groaned when I prayed. You told me to go to hell and did not believe when I told you no one ever said that to me before. 

Philadelphia takes the New Year in both hands and shakes it like a souvenir. Confetti lands on string bands and mummers. Strangers waltz in the streets. The city is greedy for citizens. If you have taken your own picture under the LOVE sign, you will find your name on the family tree in pen. Philadelphia has bruised knuckles but Rodin’s strong hands. 

You reminded me that you count generations. You took me to the Arboretum. I did sun salutations in front of oaks. We read placards about the understory and swayed over rope bridges. 

We learned that trees send distress signals through roots and assist small ferns. I thanked God out loud, right in front of the gift shop. 

Philadelphia is one of seven cities in the book of Revelation. Philadelphia is loved by One who opens what no one will shut, who shuts what no one can open. My knuckles lock up. I can neither give nor receive. I scoot back up. I belong to Philadelphia.

Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Chautauqua, Paris Lit Up, The Penn Review, The Razor, Still Point Arts Quarterly,, and The Westchester Review, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately.