Scenes From a Pandemic: 25

21 09 2020

by Aja Beech

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

In the distance, La Bella Taína mural by Tameartz; painted by the TNS Krew—Tameartz, Desil, Imse, Busta, and Bark—at Sunflower Philly Community Park. (photo: Aja Beech)

Something’s Happening Here

Philadelphia

Philadelphia has always been my home. “Born and raised” is what we say.

I’d like to imagine that there is something about this area that has always acted as a magnet for cultural and social revolution. Our nation was partly born here. Over hundreds of years, there have been many moments of explosive clarity and solace in this city.

We are no strangers to armed revolt and violent government oppression. We also have more art and natural open space than most cities. Thousands of murals adorn walls, more than any city in the world, and two rivers run through it, the Schuylkill and the Delaware.

The area around the Delaware River is one of the largest estuaries in the United States, where many waters meet and funnel out into the sea—an environmental transition zone where, even now, there is sailing and shipbuilding along the waters.

The life of the city has changed during the pandemic. There are more murders; there are more overdoses; there is more death. There is also somehow more hope, more brotherly love, and sisterly affection.

It is dangerous to be near one another.

Yet still, we comfort those in need, we feed one another, we rely on one another. The importance of the connections we make every day anchor us to this place and to each other.

Philadelphia has always had its confines and places of refuge. Mine is the New Jersey shore. I know I’m luckier than most. Though we all live less than an hour’s drive from the beckoning shore of the Atlantic Ocean, some of my fellow Philadelphians will go their entire lives without setting foot on the beach.

In good years, I’ve gone to the ocean more than once. Floating in the saltwater, I am adrift, but at peace.

Once there was a time when boatloads of people came to our ports, looking upon this land after being out to sea for so long. That port became a destination of restaurants and newly designed piers. Now, some places are nearly abandoned while others thrive.

The same is true for the people. We must remake connection before any more get caught up in the currents and swept out to sea.

(photo: Aja Beech)

In the 1960s, Paul Robeson moved to Philadelphia. He was ill and came to live here in the care of his sister, Marian Forsythe, with whom he stayed in relative seclusion for the remainder of his life.

“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth.” Robeson once said. “We are civilization’s anchor. We are the compass for humanity and conscience.”

Last week, I was asked: What are you connected to? My answer was water, and the peace I feel floating.

Then I was asked: What is your anchor? I was not sure. Being held down with too much weight has never been enticing.

But I thought of Robeson’s meditation on art, and the words I use to set my place. And I thought of this city, the volatile fragility, the intense beauty. The place I have called home my entire life.

Stability has so often escaped me. Yet there is something that makes me feel as if, even in the depths, I have an anchor within me; as if I was always being prepared for where we all are right now, alone at sea, lighting up signals in the dark.

Aja Beech is an author and organizer. Her poetry, journalism, commentary, short stories, and other works can be found internationally. A mother of two, she currently works as the campaign coordinator for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Labor 2020 program. Beech attended the Kopkind Colony in 2011. Her current work featuring labor organizing can be found at unionhall.aflcio.org/pennsylvania-afl-cio..

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on thenation.com on September 16, 2020. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: Portraits of Fire

Salmon-colored sun and smoke, Beaver Creek, Oregon (photo: Jeffrey St. Clair)

Our friend Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of CounterPunch, wrote a striking diary from Oregon last week of life in a time of fires, illustrated with many more haunting photos. An extract of it is below.

We awoke to choking smoke on Thursday. I visited the evacuation center at the local community college a couple of miles from us, bringing coffee and pastries, and was surprised to see more than 500 people camped out, along with their animals: dogs, cats, horses, llamas, alpaca, two cows, ducks, chickens and several pigs. I returned home with the news that we needed to be ready to leave at any moment. Kimberly, Zen and the enfant terrible, packed a week’s worth of clothes, diapers, food and left for Astoria on the Oregon coast at the mouth of the Columbia River, about 110 miles away. My mission was to find the missing half-feral cat, Graymalkin, capture her and drug her or drug her and capture her or entice her into the house. And to find some way to edit and post weekend edition using my one bar of cell coverage as a hotspot and write my column. I spent most of the night working, under a glowing sky, with bonewhite ashes drifting on the porch, like the fatal snows of Judgment Day. Around three in the morning, I heard the imploring pleas of the cat at the backdoor.

Smoke on the water, Tongue Point (photo: Jeffrey St. Clair)

For the full CounterPunch column, click here.