Trish: Something Places

In my discussion of Cheltenham Elegy 261, I offered the point that the American suburbs are repository areas for what I called nothingness places— places specifically built, maintained, and consolidated to mean nothing to anyone. What, for example, does the I-Hop on Old York Road mean to you? Yet this discussion begs an inversion— what would it mean for a place to be something— to have meaning inhering in it for someone, or for a group or sector of people? This is relevant to Trish: A Romance, because Philadelphia, as it appears in the narrative, is not a nothingness place for the characters who inhabit it. What Philadelphia means, in this context, is a stage for drama, romance, art, sexuality, and a variegated social life. The portions of Trish which take place in West Philadelphia represent a specialized, refined sub-world for the characters to do their dances in. West Philadelphia, which has only ever received wide national press coverage for the MOVE debacle of 1985, which unfairly portrayed West Philly as a slum or ghetto, should constitute a surprise for audiences here. As a stage, West Philadelphia offers these constituent elements— the rusticity of elegantly dilapidated, early twentieth century houses and architecture overrun with ivy, with grassy backyards; proximity to the University of Pennsylvania, many of whose students choose to live in West Philadelphia in a multi-cultural context; a large constituent group of hippies or “green” types, vegans who run their own communes out of West Philadelphia; and what Baltimore Avenue is, as the main thoroughfare through West Philly; a strip offering not only interesting architecture but a no-skyscrapers, borderline-suburban intimacy, a homey or homespun quality against the larger scale of Center City Philadelphia.

West Philadelphia, for the characters in Trish, means freedom— a median realm between the suburbs and the city, offering the best of both, so that romance and sexuality can erupt in full flower with the minimum amount of interference. Those rustic houses encourage their inhabitants to let their hair down, and the easy West Philadelphia vibe of the early Aughts was a further incentive to let intimacies develop. The portions of Trish that represent intimate encounters are the product of Philadelphia (and West Philadelphia) laissez-faire; the sense that the city could be used as a stage for eyes to get starry, and for bodies to respond to each other. This sequence in Trish amounts to a confrontation with totalized textual abandon towards sexual intimacy, and also expresses the spaciness or cosmic dimension we all saw and felt in Philadelphia in the Aughts:

For some reason we do not make
love that night, and when I wake up
I am fit to burst. I send red signals.
Trish’s compassion overtakes her: I
am getting sucked off. Her glasses
remain on. She is doing this because
she loves me, and love-waves are
communicated in oral gestures. She
means it. I can sense James

in the courtyard, listening. Will Trish
close around me at the right moment,
or will she miss? As I go off the edge,
I feel her miss slightly and then hit,
and I have left the planet. She is so
far beneath me that there is no seeing
her. She swallows me, and I will never
leave her mouth again. It is sealed.

How far can sex in poetry go? How much can physical sex come to seem enchanted, or an enchantment site (like Keats’ forest), or a touchstone towards greater human understanding, textual or otherwise? The limitations of English Romanticism dictated that Keats and the rest could never take us this far; individuals may judge for themselves whether a textual destination this graphic is a worthwhile telos for a narrative like Trish: A Romance. Yet, why Philadelphia may seem to be an advanced rendering of Keats’ Odal Stage is that what we see in Philadelphia has greater truth consonance towards more vivid human realities then what Keats was allowed to offer us; narrative-thematic gravitas about actual encounters between humans (rather than the Keatsian play of archetypes), set in place to question (again, after two hundred years) why some souls seek romance, excitement, sex, and frissons, and others do not. West Philadelphia amounts to a safe haven for these questions to be formulated and then answered; as a stage, it manages to embody the right excitement with the right, semi-Odal sense of stillness, quietness, and sweetness. In Trish: A Romance, the wild, florid side of Philadelphia, the romance of and in its streets, is what manifests, and in that manifestation is the enchantment not only of superior architecture (which Philadelphia has) but of superior consciousness, and its own imperatives to intimacy.