2017 Broad Street Run

Last year, as a sideline supporter, I watched the Philadelphia Broad Street Run unfold in front of me.  This year, I experienced this phenomenon from the inside as a participant.  I was joined by my friend Monica, who traveled from Boston for her fifth consecutive Broad Street.

The day was cool causing many runners to wear sweats they’d quickly discard on the streets to be collected by a Salvation Army type service.  Monica wore a plastic poncho I gave her.  Near the start, we spotted my sister and nieces while one person after another in front of us jumped up to slap the blue banner marking the start of their run.  “I don’t know, think I can make it?” I asked my niece trying to gauge the height.  As my hand hit the banner my hat flew off, I landed swiveling around into a stampede of oncoming runners to retrieve it.

Then sprinted ahead to find Monica. We ran together for a couple of strides until up ahead Survivor blared through a boom box.  Sheepishly, she asked, “Mind if I take off?”

“Not at all…go get ‘em Tiger.”

Smiling, she leaped forward ripping the middle of her poncho with both hands breaking free from the plastic shell before quickly disappearing.  For a while, I looked for my sister and nieces but it was impossible and soon gave up.  During the first three miles, my stride felt strong, empowered by the surge of the collective rushing through me, flanked on either side by bands and supporters equipped with cow bells, signs and cheers.  Periodically, I threw one-handed Rocky fist pumps at the crowd in way of acknowledgment.

Right before Temple Hospital, I heard a beautiful, angelic female voice singing on our behalf and it dawned on me that this is what it feels like to have an entire city behind you, supporting you.  This is what athletes and musicians experience daily, an incredible energy.  As Mayor Kenney observed, “Every year, Philadelphia has proudly given over 40,000 runners the opportunity to travel through historic neighborhoods distinguishing our city.”

The crowds at Temple University, my Alma Mater, were among the strongest.  As I ran through I remembered something a classmate said years ago, “Everybody wants to belong to something.”  I realized in this moment we all belonged here, to these streets, to this city, united in this very singular goal.  Shortly thereafter, an older gentleman shouted: “I See You Philly.”  I fist pumped and kept running.  At halfway point, right before City Hall, a supporter standing on the center medium looked directly at me shouting, “This year there is no giving up.  Pick up the pace!”  Reminiscent of a drill sergeant.

Somewhere along the Avenue of the Arts I turned around to proudly thrust my chin up at William Penn whose been watching over this race for 38 years.  At Pine Street, my brother-in-law slapped my elbow and for the seventh or eighth time I played the Mos Def song – Quite Dog Bite Hard – which became the theme song of my run.  Fatigue set in after I passed Washington Street and right before Mifflin Street I stopped to walk.  I took three steps before I heard the Drill Sargent’s commanding voice: “This year there is no giving up.  Pick up the pace.”

“Yes, sir.” I replied and kept running.  From there on I focused only on putting one foot in front of the other until I arrived at the Navy Yard, saluting the cameras as I crossed the finish line.

 

Philly Strong,

A Warrior Princess

Poetry In Motion: The Veteran

Picture Credit: My Old Same

The Veteran
He goes by many aliases
but answers best to sir, as in:

Yes, sir.
No, sir.
Will do, sir.

Standing attention. Saluting the
American Flag with his government
issued name – one I’ve accidentally
come to know – stitched in camouflage
shining in the morning light of dawn.

When people refer to him as “the man”
he shakes his head no, saying: “You are
confusing me with my father” –
paying homage to the junior behind
his title and the long linage of
Taino warriors he’s descended from.

The first time I lay naked next to him
I know I’m wrapped snugly in the arms
of a trained killer – left to imagine
what these hands were commanded
to do upon my civilian behalf.

In his eyes, I see the enemy –
the one they sent him to handle –
the hatred of 1,000 men,
bloody, defeated, on their
way to an early grave.

On his lips, I taste burnt skin, charred,
beyond repair.  I don’t hesitate.
I pull him near, inviting him in,
naively thinking my waters
can cleanse a nation’s sins.

Yes, sir.
No, sir.
Will do, sir.

The dirty remnants of war.

I Salute, Sir.
A Warrior Princess

Double Dog Dare: Be Like Albi

This morning I changed my route to work, instead of taking Walnut I opted for Chestnut Street.  I was walking with purpose feeling especially light as I was only carrying a small backpack with no extra baggage.  My earbuds were in listening to Kip Moore on Pandora the country twang directing my focus to life’s small joys. When I crossed over 24th street I got tapped from behind by a gentleman who was panting.  Wide-eyed, I turned removing my headphones.

“You walk really fast,” He said, catching his breath.  “I’ve been running for two blocks trying to catch you.”  I smiled ascertaining that he was neither mad, nor in trouble.  To my surprise, he also looked respectable – a tall, European man with a bright face and twinkling eyes smartly dressed.  “You’re adorable, do you know that?  This cute little outfit with the backpack on and smiling to yourself while you’re walking.  It’s really good energy and good to see.”

I laughed, loudly, I couldn’t help myself as color rose to my cheeks.  “Thank you.”

He raised his open palm and I matched mine to it.  Giving a squeeze, he said, “I just wanted you to know that.  Keep it up.”

He started walking away.  “What’s your name?” I called after him.

“Albi” He said.  “My name is Albi. What’s yours?”

“Julia,” I replied twice until he heard me.  His smile widened as he tested it out on his lips until turning back around in the direction of which he came.  I watched him run for a whole block before I continued on my way.  This feeling of genuine warmth and gratitude grew inside of me as I discovered three things about this encounter that pleasantly surprised me:

1.       In general, nobody is ever running after me

2.       He called me “adorable” a word not often used when describing me

3.       This was a shared compliment with no strings attached, no hidden agendas

 

And thus, today’s Double Dog Dare: Be like Albi.  Share an unsolicited, genuine compliment with a stranger of your choosing.

 

Give it a Whirl,

A Warrior Princess

Slice of Life: Death, Dying, and Grams

This past Sunday, I spent the day with Grams.  I didn’t tell her I was coming I just showed up the way I used to when she lived in her house on 5th Street, where dropping by unannounced was a welcomed thing many made a habit of doing.  Most likely, this is because Grams made sure to offer her visitors – fresh coffee, a soft drink, or beer – accompanied by a snack she’d quickly whip together before any protests could be made.  When Pop-Pop was still alive their house was an active one with people always coming or going, never a dull moment.

Those days of entertaining are long gone for Grams who now resides in a nursing home.  I arrive there to meet a teeny, tiny woman hunched over a walker who politely steps aside to let me pass, “Go ahead dear, it takes me half a day to make it to the end of that hallway.”  After which she smiles as the whole side of her face twitches together in the attempt of a wink.  I thank her and continue on to find Grams’ door wide open with no lights on inside.  “Grams?” I call out walking reluctantly into the room.  She is lying on the bed on top of the covers curled to the side. She stares blankly back at me completely emotionless.  I step closer.  “Grams, it’s Julia,” I announce.  I crouch next to the bed extending my arm towards her but the expression on her face remains unchanged.  I swallow not prepared for this.  Then, in a moment of recognition, her eyes well with water and she sits up cooing.  “Ooooh honey, it’s you, it’s really you.  What are you doing here?”

“I came to spend the day with you.”  I have to repeat this several times before it sinks in.  I search for her hearing aids, the ones my father called about the previous night to give instructions on how to properly insert.  The trick, he said, was making sure the little probe at the end goes into the ear canal.  Despite this, I must call my mom to help me troubleshoot why the right ear isn’t working – “too much wax, you got to remove the little circular bit and clean out that wax.” – I listen despite my doubts.  Sure enough, Mom is right.  “I told you, I do this all the time,” she reminds me before we hang up.

“I’m never getting of here.” Grams says matter-of-factly.  I remain silent as I know the statement to be true, and then offer, “Today you are.  Let’s get out of here and leave these old farts in our dust.”  Slowly, we walk back down the hallway until we’re in front of my Jeep trying to negotiate how to get Grams into the passenger side.  I take a knee and act as a human fork lift feeling the brittleness of her bones in my hands.  Once Grams is inside I have her walker to deal with.  “Good luck,” one of the residents shouts at me from his chair.  “I’m going to need it,” I reply struggling to make it fit without poking Grams with the wheels.

As we drive, I start filling her in on all of my siblings’ lives searching for tidbits that will cause some sort of reaction.  This is the hardest part, Grams fights a mental fog that makes conversation challenging.  I stop trying so hard and settle into a comfortable silence selfishly happy she’s still here by my side.

 

Growing Old,

A Warrior Princess

 

 

Poetry In Motion: Mandinguerio & Novice

Offering Hand Credit: M. Jones
Picture taken on a broken cell phone in Kansas

Mandinguerio

Mandinguerio they never see you coming

cloaked in all that folklore and myth.

Staggering  forward, rags dragging

through a drift of things left behind –

a rubble of bones, spit, blood,

and griddle to arrive here

at the foot of the Berimbau.

 

Head bowed to Mestre a

wounded, but proud warrior.

 

Voices rise in praise,

rhythms switch, and tambourines ring out

announcing your presence

this song – your birthright – Mandinguerio

and the only forewarning

I receive of the

mastery you possess.

 

I Surrender,

A Warrior Princess

Poetry In Motion: Mestre & Novice

Photo taken by Adrian Mathurin of AHD Photography

Mestre & Novice

I don’t understand the language

of this game called Capoeira

but I’m invited to play all the same.

 

Hesitant, I arrive at the circle, the roda.

Teacher explains music is the guide –

tempo determines style of play,

fast or slow, methodical or wild –

learn to trust the rhythms.

 

The mestre holds an instrument

shaped like a bow

made taut by a metal wire

with a gourd resonator attached.

He strikes three times

calling everyone to attention.

 

Timbre-like vibrations fill the air

accompanied by a voice full of reverence and song.

Teacher taps my thigh

cueing me to clap along.

Quietly, I try to keep time with the rest of them.

 

In the center two bodies unfold

in dialogue with a relaxed Berimbau.

One male, one female – the ying and yang of life –

conversing through an unscripted series of movements

played close to the ground.

Bodies bend and contort

with playful flirtation and disciplined design.

 

All the while mestre moves the gourd

back and forth against his stomach

controlling the sound’s resonance

amplified by the surrounding instruments.

The drum beat switches.

Faster now and the crowd responds,

“Hey, Mestre Bimba!”

 

Two muscular men flip into the middle

buying the game with fiery energy –

kicks thrown in sequência with such speed and variety

I  hold my breathe – what if they slip?

Around me spontaneous shouts of appreciation

sound off and the players

respond in aerials and smiles.

 

Meanwhile, Mestre passes off his instrument

motioning for me to join him

at the foot of the Berimbau.

Wide-eyed, I look to Teacher, who nudges me.

“Just Flow” she instructs.

 

I crouch to meet mestre with timid eyes.

His hands reach for mine – the touch of a master –

and together we enter this mysterious

thing called a roda.

 

Trying to Flow,

A Warrior Princess