There was a plan for a Passyunk spur off the Broad Street line in South Philly. It would run southwest under Passyunk Ave., all the way out, maybe, to Tinicum, the wildlife preserve at the edge of the city, home to freshwater tidal marsh, migratory birds, ducks, deer, fish, foxes, and other small animals.
Before the wildlife was “preserved,” of course, all of South Philly was wild. Weccacoe, it was called by the Lenape. That’s supposed to mean “peaceful place.”
But this English word “peace” derives from the Latin pax, which means binding together (fastening) by treaty or agreement, as in pact. So “peace,” rooted in some idea of boundary and nation, unties my faith in the translation.
The past remains wild.
I hear the word “wild” in Stevie Nicks’ voice.
Don’t blame it on me
Blame it on my wild heart
she sings to me
Whose heart is not a wild heart, I wonder. And if you are not your heart, then what are you?
And who, afraid of violence, does not become violent?
I try to raise my hand. It trembles from the violence my body’s absorbed, the violence in my blood, the violence in my memory.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Bruce Springsteen sings
in the stadium
at the end of
it means nothing
An artist I know who made my own heart grow wilder told me once in a bar that her favorite love song is “Tougher than the Rest” by Bruce Springsteen, from his album Tunnel of Love.
Soon after, I stumbled on a Tunnel of Love cassette tape in a used record store. I played it in my car every day, to and from work, for several months, until it hurt too much. I replaced it with The Supremes’ Right On and played it every day, to and from work, until it hurt too much.
This isn’t about what could have been, but the past bores a hole in my heart, and I write into it, as if entering a tunnel.
The jukebox plays, and people try to say what it means in the background.
I don’t know all that I know. I know lovers sometimes need restraining orders. I know the difference between “inhibit” and “inhabit” is very slim. Both derive from the Latin habēre—to hold, possess, have, handle.
There is no place like home.
When I hear “Weccacoe,” I think first of Weccacoe Avenue, home to the Philadelphia Parking Authority at the bottom of the city, where they tow your car. It’s hard to get to if you don’t have a ride. It’s hard to get your car back. Why should we give it back to you, you piece of shit? You fucking animal.
OCF Realty recently named one of their condos “Weccacoe Flats.”
Like the parking authority, OCF is expert at fucking over the poor. They’re responsible for much of South Philly’s gentrification, especially in the black neighborhood Point Breeze.
There’s a corner store called Weccacoe on 4th St. in Queen Village. I’ve occasionally stopped there for a bottle of water on my way to South St.
Around the corner from the corner store is Weccacoe Playground. Under the playground is the Bethel Burying Ground, where 5,000 African Americans were laid to rest during the first half of the 19th century by the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church remains the oldest black-owned church in the country, though the neighborhood was gentrified long ago.
The word “cemetery” derives from the Indo-European root kei-, which means bed, couch, and also beloved, dear. The words city, civic, civil, cite, incite, excite, and resuscitate derive from this same root.
Every word is a spur, an outgrowth, a departure. Language, like the city, is wild, even while it inhibits our freedom, our ability to make peace.
I think Weccacoe now means this: to make poor, or to systematically fuck the poor.
There is no peace.
Passyunk Avenue was once a footpath, I learned from Kevin Varrone’s book Passyunk Lost. I got lost in it. In my own neighborhood. Which I do not possess. Which no one does but the dead.
I know I can’t leave. I want to go inside this city I was born into, but I want somewhere other than the cemetery.
A spur is the track of an animal. I try to follow.
Right now we’re heading into winter. I would like to speed through it. I would like to be able to get out of bed in the morning and just do my job.
I want you. I want you. I want you, peaceful place.
Ryan Eckes was born in Northeast Philadelphia in 1979. He is the author of two poetry collections published by Furniture Press Books, Old News (2011) and Valu-Plus (2015). He has served as adjunct professor at numerous regional colleges over the past decade, and in recent years as a labor organizer in education. He won a Pew Fellowship in 2016.