Famous for its battered streets and sidewalks, burst waterlines running roads into rivers, ahead of world collapse West Philly declares Sinkhole Summer—the intersection of 44th and Baltimore subsumed by a tributary to the Mill Creek Sewer. Diverting trolleys and traffic, grumbling commuters in tens of thousands; a truck-sized crater yanked out of industrial earth threatening to blackhole anyone arrogant enough to approach.
At the bougie pizza joint across the street, where no slices are served and class warriors picket for unknown causes, a drag show in honor of the void. The crunchy synth and jungle cries of Head Like a Hole, a king with an eye crayon mustache tramps the countertop slicked with oily runoff and stacked with metal frisbees; heavy-footed in combat boots, a steel-toed Snuffleupagus tempting to become a banana peel joke. This is not your mother’s Coyote Ugly.
Down into the intersection underworld, a red-nosed anthropologist descends a single strand of off-duty ladder, leading toes tutoring trailing foot. iPhone flashlight ballooned into a spotlight, he inspects the manmade cave lined with red brick arches, woven with pipes of storm and stomach, packed snug with mud. Contemplates the splintered circuitry of the system—its merging and bypassing, diving and resurfacing, dispersing and stitching contiguous states.
Owing to the 19th century, when Mill Creek was cinched off from the oxidizing atmosphere, wrapped up in carpets of cast iron, buried to be built upon; the scaffolding of unrestrained urbanization preordained to succumb to its earthly underpinnings.
Out of his jeans, the anthropologist takes himself and pisses into a drainpipe gloryhole, aiming Southeast of the sinkhole so he can be sucked off by the Schuylkill, a contributor to its tributary. Tonight I became an archaeologist, he texts me blown-out flash photos of OSHA-unapproved urban spelunking, a kid in a firehouse waiting for the bell to ring. His molecules and ions bobbing in the swill at the end of the corroded slide like specks of stars fizzling in a swampy sky.
K. Gene Friedman is an invisibly disabled high school dropout working in sexual and reproductive health. Her words appear or are forthcoming in Entropy, Expat Press, and Maudlin House. Future Tense Books will publish her chapbook Foreign Body in May 2022. A native New Yorker, she lives in Philadelphia. You can find her on Twitter @ValleyGirlLift. Photo by Dyana Wing So (Unsplash).