Northbound #23 Bus (Old Indian Trail #2)

By Yvonne
Shot myself—clown from circus cannon—
past graybeards, super-8 students, proud
TV refugees—out makeshift movie hall doors—
cold black night hit my face! around—spun—
my solo jubilant Fellini mood—
along blank Lombard—racing the stars—
past St. Peter Claver’s—poor church ghost!
Can’t miss my bus! Taxis? I don’t trust.

On board, I scrunched behind the driver’s
perch—my droopy eyes snapped open
with each door, marked each night-owl stagger,
shuffle, strut—part-time, flex-time survivors—
I’m better? The “articulate” token?
Nomad startup in my own birthplace? Swagger?
Never! Back to my arty misery—Somebody
vandalized my toilet—warehouse of history!

Thirty years gone—not quite back to home base—
wrecked from the git-go—two stiff-necked teens
choking each other with my first breath—
Here’s Chinatown! Blink—it’s gone! The chase,
always shifting, between assault and defense—
pitfalls, potholes, expressways, or stealth—
Wasn’t this the longest trolley ride
in the world? The world! But a tide

of money rushed in, ripped up tenements,
used-up mansions, and the Black bars shuttered,
jazz scattered, motley vermin stretched survival
like taffy, side by side took up residence
with the Lord’s storefront prayer—guttered,
many a song caught gin’s revival
on the downbeat, many a drum knocked
the sting from a devil kiss—white dust rocked—

Stop! That wasn’t my pain. A Dean’s List carpool
drudge. Back then, an Uptown deejay held the spark—
but when real riot flared, he cooled them down!
Brand-new century—stuffed with old-school
habits—my students thought Heathcliff was Black
when I taught the Heights—Commune-bound—
iced out—wrong password—but whose?
Subtitles—out of sync—rocket bus blues!

Route 23 bus, at 13.8 miles in each direction, was the longest and busiest bus route in the Philadelphia public transit system. Most of the route followed an old Indian trail and epitomized the cultural diversity of the city from South Philadelphia’s immigrant past through the gentrifying streets of Center City (displacing remnants of the famed Black 7th Ward), then Chinatown, then urban renewal’s Yorktown, expansive Temple University (in the midst of economically depressed North Philadelphia), through the colonial gems of Germantown and Mt. Airy and, finally, to upscale suburban Chestnut Hill.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2022)