Apparition Poems : Enchantment/Damnation

Apparition Poem 509 offers the imaginative vista that a city can embody, in phenomenological terms, both a kind of circle and a kind of game. While enclosed, both cognitively and physically, within the confines of a city’s limits, any given subject can be pried open and exposed to the kinds of games the city perpetuates. I have written that Philadelphia is a Gemini city— both blessed and beleaguered by dichotomies and dichotomous energies— and these dichotomies manifest as flash-points within the Philadelphia circle— attraction/repulsion, beauty/ugliness, novelty/decay, enchantment/damnation. Heidegger’s terminology for Being-In the charmed (or damned) circle of existence— Dasein— is explored in 509, in ambiguous terms:

There are gusty showers
in Philadelphia, showers
that beat up empty lots,

down in sooty Kensington,
you could almost believe
what the books say about

being-in-the-world, I mean
being in a damned world, it
really does seem that way

on greasy days in Philadelphia.

What Dasein means, as a phenomenological reality— a complete and totalized integrity between inside the mind and outside the mind realities— ricochets here along the polar cognitive axes of beauty/ugliness and attraction/repulsion. This Apps protagonist, even while dissolving into Negatively Capable invisibility to represent both poles of these dichotomies, seems to favor beauty and attraction to their antitheses, as a rain shower assaults the North Philadelphia slum where he finds himself. Why Philadelphia boasts so many of these spaces— spaces which appear both enchanted and damned— is part and parcel of the Gemini mysteries for which Philadelphians have no easy answer. As per the phrase “greasy days”— I would like to confess that it is a lift from a poem written by a 90s Philly poet named Vladlen (Vlad) Pogorelov. On my semester breaks from Penn State, I discovered a poetry open mike night at Philly Java Company, on 4th Street between South and Lombard. Vlad was a regular reader there. Vlad’s whole approach to poetry was very Charles Bukowski— down to his most memorable, show-stopping poem enumerating his encounters with “the dirty whore/ taking a bath / smoking crack/ singing songs from time to time.” Vlad was the editor of a print poetry journal called Siren’s Silence— who eventually published me, including the poem Clean from my State College days. In ’98, Vlad put out his first and only book— Derelict— featuring another show-stopper, At the Train Station- and then disappeared. I paid homage to it, and to him, at a reading at the Painted Bride in 2000, but I never heard of him seriously publishing again.

Back to 509: the three adjectival incisions the poem makes— gusty, sooty, greasy— reinforce that the attraction/repulsion dynamic here is a perverse one— ie, gusty, sooty, greasy places are not conventionally considered attractive ones. Furthermore, as a catalog of what North Philadelphia contains, it is pretty despairing. Yet, another constituent factor of the 509 dynamic is that, by gusts, soot, and grease almost maneuvering us from enchantment to damnation and leaving us there, but not quite making it, the poem attempts to represent damnation and never quite manages to do so, either. The complete, totalized integrity between inside the mind and outside the mind realities has to assert, as fulsomely as possible, ambiguities— yet the see-saw tensions are stabilized by the protagonist’s willingness to close the textual circle (which is also a narrative-thematic circle here) at the end, sans irritation, with no attempt to rationalize (perceptions or sentiments) at all. North Philadelphia is just what it is— no more, no less— and the relevant internal flash-points are absorbed into a circle containing multitudes, entities and perspectives.