In the Philadelphia 30th Street Station: My Father's Ceilingby Shaune Bornholdt
"That's mine," my father says. (I'm five. I'm six feet closer to ninety-five feet high.)
"I made that ceiling." I'm gripping his fedora. How did he get up there? Fly?
My brother, country kid in city slouch, is cool. Asks about the scaffolding. Anyone die?
Now, at sixty-eight, I'm here again. My father's dead near thirty years, unemployed for
Thirty before that. Run on the banks. Master craftsmen's jobs gone through the floor.
Too old for boxing. Hooverville, failed optometry, canary raising! Not till the War
Did he have work, at shipbuilding. Peace brought an end to that, a start into the slide
Into his own depression. Weekdays, he'd dress in shirt and tie, carry his kit, to hide
His shame, jobless, faking a commute to Philly, make the Reading Railroad ride
To 12th and Market, then begin to tour his glories: columns and pilasters made to "stand
The test of time"--his phrase, I thought--the vaulted domes, the cornices in grand
Hotels, the huge, ornately tooled medallions; finally arriving here--here where his hand
Touched every coffered panel set in stiles, in this great gleaming Geometric, aloft, alive
In color (restored in '89), gold, green, red, each square incised just so in the revived
And classic style, patterned leaf and keys recessed and raised: a heaven above the hive
Of travelers, shoppers, vagrants, my admiring self--dramatic, yes, but elegant, refined
Restraint in repetition, reiterative design, Greek-Federalist grandeur meant as sign
Of a great nation come of age, commercial, civilized. Of this, my father said, "That's mine."
Before the Crash set in. Before styles changed, before the War, before the Angel raised
His bronze wings toward Heaven above heaven, before my father walked the maze
Of Philadelphia Streets emerging here to regain pride, to rest, remember, gaze,
Sometimes to pray. As I do now. Look down. The marble floor reflects the colors high
Above it. Look up, it's luminous. I'm orphaned. He can't lift me up again. I try
To see it clearly. It's so high it hurts. I lie down on a bench, look up, and do not cry.