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Poetry Moment: Ryan Teitman and 'Philadelphia, 1976'

Poet Ryan Teitman
Poet Ryan Teitman

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Philadelphia, 1976” by Ryan Teitman.

Ryan Teitman is the author of the poetry collection Litany for the City, from which today’s poem is drawn. He has received several fellowships in support of his poetry, including from Stanford University and the National Endowment for the Arts. Teitman lives in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia, 1976” is—as Teitman’s book title tells us—a litany for the city, comprised of gorgeously rendered images. While far shorter than Walt Whitman’s famous ode, “Song of Myself,” Teitman’s poem has a similar largesse and all-encompassing gaze. The poem begins as a wide lens sweeping across the city, then zooms into the first-person vantage point of the speaker, before panning back out to include all of us. With the command form the poet uses in the closing lines, he invites us to join him in merging with the city, the night sky, and ‘every possibility of light.’


Philadelphia, 1976

A still night has its own cruel music:
            the catch of bridge cables plucked
                           by stone-scented wind; the low, bent
hum of the Delaware, rippling like a singing saw.

There are other cruelties too:
            the extra-inning double in the gap
                           that sends the summer crowd shuffling
for the parking lot. Those are the nights

when any boy would drop
             Pabst empties off the Tacony-Palmyra
                          Bridge, then watch the stars
strip off their summer dresses and dive naked

into the water. I wave from the bridge
             because maybe Lefty’s pitching a gem tonight.
                            Maybe the moon’s a cut fastball dropping
off the horizon. Maybe 216 strands of loose city light

stitch the sky together. Someone told me
             that the moon was made of cork
                            and leather and old bar songs
and jars of railroad sparks and braided horsehair.

But what’s our city made of? Everything’s been growing
             too quickly; the skyline’s becoming a night
                            brighter than day. Glass-walled buildings
muscle their way up the cityscape, and I’ve never trusted

anything that doesn’t throw a shadow. So come with
             me to the bridge. We’ll watch the fireworks
                           strain into the night. We can fix their lights
into a constellation of an ox pulling down a house, then let

the spent flakes of soot settle on our eyelids
             like wafers of host dropped onto tongues,
                          so that when we open our eyes, we’ll
swallow the tiny, failed bodies in every possibility of light.

That was “Philadelphia, 1976” by Ryan Teitman.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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