Scout & Birdie
Scout & Birdie

The street, for one thing, though you can be pretty sure it’s there. The moon, too: a certainty even when hidden, but what you don’t know is that it was visible in the seconds before the photograph was taken, that it retreated behind a cloud, suddenly shy.

You don’t see people, though everywhere they leave their traces, clues to their existence present in what you do see. Lights that are turned on. Trees that are groomed. Gardens that require weeding and watering on a near-continual basis. A skyscraper that people must work in, during the day, leaving it after-hours to the night-watchmen and the cleaners who they’ve never met.

You don’t see that it’s Halloween, though you might guess that it’s autumn. A breezy and warm All Hallows’ Eve, with trick-or-treaters escorted by their parents, who wear expensive matching costumes.

What else don’t you see?

The dog park across the road, which replaced swingsets and carousels when the neighbors decided that the dog population was rising faster than children and the city didn’t care one way or another, except for saving money – and new swingsets are expensive.

The soup kitchen that is the last one still open in this neighborhood, serving as a refuge for those living on the streets and for the few remaining Chinese pensioners in the rent-controlled, cramped apartments above it.

The neighborhood looks nice, well-heeled, the type featured in coffee-table books for patients to skim through in dentists’ offices. Nice. A bland adjective, inoffensive. Yet we don’t see the socio-economic realities. Is this an oasis inside a city? Or is it yet another example of gentrification? You don’t see the protracted fights over affordable housing. You don’t see the people who used to live in the apartment building facing the garden, long priced out, just as you don’t see the current occupants, who are mostly unaware of the past battles.

I too am unseen.

I am the documenter, not the documented.

This used to be my neighborhood, seven years ago. During a different time in my life, I sipped hot chocolates at the little shop across from the park, just outside the range of the camera-lens. I walked these streets, greeted these neighbors, smelled these flowers.

As I continue strolling past this scene, snapping photographs, this view fades and others take its place. Other alleyways, majestic brick buildings, dogs-in-costume, and doorways capture my interest. Some I remember from when I lived here or from previous visits, and I exclaim at the gargoyle I’ve found again, or the funny street name, or the unique stained-glass window. But many scenes are new and disorienting to me. All are around the corner from this urban oasis, but you can’t see them from here.

When I reach a busy city street, it marks the end of the neighborhood, and the end of my walk. I pause and turn back, reflecting. The moon has come out from behind its cloud and glimmers down on me. A few straggling trick-or-treaters are left; most have already gone home to count their candy.

This is not the same place any longer; nor am I the same.

I see that now. 


About the photograph:

This picture was taken by the author at 5:45pm on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. You can see the exact view of it from this location, looking northwest at 1586-1554 Washington St

Boston, MA 02118. Google maps link:


About the artist...

Emily Madapusi Pera is a writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Her poems and stories have been published by Tuck Magazine, Litro, Dissident Voice, Storgy Magazine, A3 Review, and Scout & Birdie, among others. She is a native of Chicago.

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