Over the course of four Saturdays in February, we hosted a Creative Writing Workshop series facilitated by Philadelphia-based writer Julian Shendelman. For each workshop, Julian followed a different theme relating to the exhibition Citizen Salon: Place; People, Birds and Beasts; Sky; Body and Spirit. Julian led participants in conversation on related readings that moved into an independent writing exercise, followed by a facilitated group workshop session.
Julian encouraged participants to identify artworks in the exhibition that they connected with and use those artworks as points of departure for writing. The following written works were submitted by participants in the Creative Writing Workshop series. We thank these writers for sharing their creative work with us, along with their Saturday afternoons!
Inspired by: Frank Eckmair, Public Landing, 1965
16 February 2019
We are the boats rudderless, desolate, sage
All solo in dark waters
Pondering the pier, colored by callous clouds
Bobbing, united in shared sorrow
Simpering, voiceless, choiceless
we are unsure how the pier will take us
Wanly welcoming or indifferent or plain bewildered
that we are savage strangers
not the savant of Rain Man
Until sun vanquishes cloud and lights the pier suffusing it with knowing
Navneet Bhullar is a Penn physician and disability activist who spends part of the year in India running an NGO. She is still plucking greedily from the candy shop that is life, but also dabbles in writing and taking kids to the great outdoors to save the planet. She is exploring different genres to write in.
Inspired by: Frank Eckmair, Public Landing, 1965
2 February 2019
The DLR runs slow these days; tugging along the crooked tracks and ferrying frequent flyers home and back again. But me, with one foot I alight the train before city airport with its florescent guiding signs to Customs, Baggage and the Delta SkyLounge. Red caps, ginger beer and first-time childhood travelers fill out the over-caffeinated space. Out here, past the track color fades into a black and while linograph as my young feet, splintered and rough, hang off the birch-lined pier. Fog rolls back and up pop the heads of personal row boats like vaquita whales before their next descent. Cold northern winds caress them in a mother’s embrace, elegantly rocking them in the foreground of this marbled seascape. Behind them larger commercial vessels will angle along the shoreline soon, causing a cascading wave to steal this little row boat’s oar. I could kick it off balance right now with the heel of my foot. But I come here to watch the natural world, not disturb it.
Sophia Latorre-Zengierski is a writer, editor and marketer based in Princeton, NJ. After spending five years in academic publishing, she is pursing a graduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in SevenSeas Media, Clash by Night, the Penn Review, and the F-Word magazine.
Inspired by: Mabel Dwight, Night Work, 1931.
2 February 2019
With Dusk Comes Relief
She spends her days alone, the blinds closed, the dog at bay. If a superhero, her power is to pick up the inner vibrations of an entire city. The tickings and undulations of others have paved highways into the mountain curvatures of her body. She is swallowed up by the moving plates of the metropolitan; the tremors and hums of the city engulf her like a cartoon character falling through the sidewalk. She fills her nights with an incandescent light bulb tucked into a lamp over her drafting table. Thoughts come most easily when the rest of the neighborhood has abandoned movement for the day. Even still, her mind is a mansion of rooms behind closed doors, and in it she can never find what she goes looking for.
Out on the street, a delivery boy rings the doorbell and waits. He holds her dinner in his right hand and presses himself into the doorway with his left arm extended. He imagines the floor dropping away and presses harder into the door frame with the imagined grip of a rock climber.
Her body continues to pump and wheeze and rotate oxygen, but she feels betrayed by her hair, her teeth, and her fingertips, which are all in good health. It is somewhere inside, below the golden mane and the flossed teeth, somewhere deeper, that is mildewed. Her tissue soft, if she tried now to cut out the rot it would only grow back, healthy and attached, like a baby at the breast. She once watched a movie about ultramarathon runners who compete in the desert. She feels a sort of kinship with these runners, who know discomfort like she does, and she wonders when she will feel the accomplishment in her marathon. Often her heart beats so fast, too fast, blood pumping in circles, chasing its tail.
No one answers the door. The delivery boy presses his ear to the glass and a familiar cold sting greets it. When she answers, he notices only her hair blown back by the swing of the door and thinks nothing of the tired under her eyes. She accepts as her dinner the plastic bag telling her to “Have a nice day,” and closes the delivery boy out with the night.
Last week she removed all mirrors but one from her apartment. It is all she needs to see where to part her hair.
Sophie Davis is a birth doula residing in Philadelphia. She grew up in Brooklyn in a three-generational all-female household. Sixteen years ago, she began writing stories on a typewriter, and today she uses a ten-year-old MacBook Pro that she refuses to replace.
Inspired by: Clayton Pond, The Bathroom in My Studio on Broome Street, 1971
The closet door is open, but it’s pitch dark inside. I quietly pull out Daddy’s shoe shine kit, an old wooden box with a metal foot rest on top that once belonged to grandpop, and stand on it. ‘Click-clack’ the overhead light says to me as I pull on the chain made up of tiny gold balls. Followed by ‘hummm’. The light flickers and suddenly the closet is so bright, like God is shining a spotlight on just this one tiny room. I pull the cold, brass handle and very, very quietly close the door. Shhhh. Click.
I walk between the racks two-high on either side. My hands dragging along the bottom row of perfectly pressed pants folded over thick wood hangers printed with names like Mally’s Suits and Boyd’s Men’s Store. I touch a bunch of the hangers and then I put my fingers to my nose to get a whiff of the fresh cedar. In my head I hear Daddy’s voice: Don’t touch. I run my hands along the opposite rack filled with Mama’s skirts. So many different patterns and textures—paisley, plaid, chocolate brown suede—each carefully hung by two small metal clips. At the end, hung way up high, is the white fluffy bear Mama sometimes wears when she and Daddy go to Atlantic City. I press my face into the furriness, like I always do just before Mama and Daddy go out, leaving me and Michael to spend the night with grandmom Lillian in her house dress and smelling like Aqua Net and Virginia Slims cigarettes.
I flop down on the hard floor, legs outstretched and leaning up against the wall. It’s dead quiet, except for that never-ending hum. I can see myself in the big mirror now. I really like my new overalls with all the pockets and the yellow shirt with red elephants that Mama sewed for me. Ever since Mama cut my hair short grownups keep calling me a boy—even though I have my ears pierced. I was so scared the day I got them done. It was just Mama and me at the piercing place in the shopping mall. I chose real gold lady bugs, because that’s what Mama sometimes calls me. I got to sit on her lap the whole time the piercing lady was using the special gun to shoot the ladybugs into my ears. It hurt a little, but it was over pretty fast. Daddy said I look like Michael with earrings. Michael. He’s probably making another model airplane. He’s always in his room with the door closed, but I can tell from the smell. Stupid hobby. Building toys you can’t even play with.
I look at myself in the mirror really close up. So close I can see my breath. I raise my eyebrows, one at a time. Taught myself to do that. Michael can wiggle his ears, so he’s not impressed, but I think it’s pretty neat. I crawl under Mama’s skirts and then behind them and pull my knees into my chest, breathing in the familiar smells of Bounce dryer sheets, pressed powder and Mary Kay lipstick.
Fern Glazer is a Philadelphia-based writer and co-owner of Little Warrior, an integrated creative agency. When she’s not helping brands and nonprofits tell their most compelling stories, she’s working on telling her own.
Emma K. Levin
Inspired by: Humberto Chugchilan, Ecuador Painting, ca. 1950
Your feet strike the black pavement as you walk up the driveway. The gray gravel no longer remains, and change has taken place. Familiarity is common when the birds crow long. The sun does not hesitate in the sky; you have been up this driveway countless times.
You are amazed by how the window never seems to fog nor do the edges curl. Heaven is present here if only as a visitor.
Mom salutes from the garage door, so you slow your gait. Head to the ground, you are not hungry quite yet. The grass matches mom’s wave. The sparrows descend into the field and bugs spring out of supper’s way.
Ticks lie in waiting, and cats silently slink through the four-foot-tall jungle. The edges glow like a filter.
The white porch should be stripped and washed. The blue stucco shouts drama, but the copper roof, well you wouldn’t know it was ever there.
Your feet grow tired as you approach the crack in the home’s foundation. A split where you drove dad’s truck into the side at a young 15. The memories may overwhelm you, but as you walk from the outside in, you know there’s always room for more.
Emma K. Levin is a young, female writer from Southern New Jersey, however, she insists she’s a Philly native. She graduated from Drew University in 2016 with a major in English and minors in creative writing and theatre arts. She does in fact, live in Center City and work in University City. During her lunch breaks, she edits her short stories and thinks often about her cat.