West Philly

YANNA CASSELL

bright lights and broken windows. here
is what came first: lit up corner stores, not that
smooth-pavement suburbanite bullshit you and I hold

to our tongues. we come full circle. our bodies sagged low
over the cracking brownstones. when the sun fades away,
the noise doesn’t stop spilling over the pocked roads,

the shouts and horns trail me up the uneven steps.
they’re the kind of stone that with one wrong footstep
you’ll be in a hospital bed next to a gunshot

victim, thread embedded in the both of you.
sandwiched between these thinning walls
the coin does not flip from outside to inside

the gear does not shift, no matter how much
you want it to. it won’t matter how
uncomfortable you feel about this—

disconnection is real. are we leaving soon?
is wedged between my teeth, ready to lengthen
the gap between my relatives and me.

I took my first breaths here, lined my lungs
with the noise of the city. each reunion
I familiarize myself with the taste of taxi smog.

our voices jimmy-up some spaces between
plaid chairs and a rickety table. we overlap
like the pipes of my grandmother’s home

and I try to match the internal pulse
of the city and the room. there isn’t room
for all of us to squat in this collage of heat,

on this handful of couch, I worry I’ll lose
myself in these streets, because losing
each other is real. we lost him

to those streets, not on this half-
couch just halfway down the road
on a corner everyone can still point out.

I worry about losing you in a haze
amidst the haze of horns. At night I search
for you between alleyways filled with skittering

critters & the row of cars kissing meters
you and he are two sides of the same coin.
countryside or city-bound, it’s one & the same.

I will trace your steps through
the broken asphalt, split like our families
bumper to bumper like brownstones.

down the street the corner store
lights are bright enough to drown a man
twice over

 

YANNA CASSELL is from North Carolina, and is a junior at Interlochen Arts Academy.  She has won two Silver Keys for poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Arts as well as an honorable mention in the Nancy Thorp Poetry Contest.


Discussion of Process

Originally this poem was a bit shorter, I added in a distinction so the reader could understand that there are two male figures in this poem. I also added in some contextualization about where the speaker is physically in the first part of the poem, which is in their grandmother’s house.