Philadelphia Freedom
by Betsy Mars

Philadelphia freedom beckons endlessly on the radio —
the soundtrack of the bicentennial year
back when my own centennial seemed so distant.

At seventeen, light slips through a crack in the liberty bell,
and shines on me where you find me
travelling with a student group to France
and England, a looking glass mirroring
my altered sense of direction.

Disoriented and beyond detection,
I carve out my semi-private niche,
not quite adult, not quite alone
while the rest drink in pubs, discos, hotel rooms,
on their own, unchaperoned,

freed from any parental gaze.
I wandered in an outcast haze,
blinking at the risky night, vibrant chances
in teenage can-can-cannot dances.

On the coach, the country rushes blithely by,
while I sit alone with my blushing desire —
consumed in a crushing adolescent pyre.

At seventeen, I stayed forsaken on the bus, perturbed,
while my peers went on the palace tour —
witnesses to that tribute to ornate indulgence,
while I indulged my self-denial.

PHOTO: The author at 17.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:ย This prompt immediately brought to mind a formative period in my life when I was just rediscovering my love of writing and coming into an awareness of myself as a sort of outsider. I wore mostly black, listened to Joni Mitchell, read Emily Dickinson and Erica Jong, adopted a vegetarian diet, befriended the teachers. Alienated from my peers for the most part, introspective and moody, I fought against adulthood and romantic urges. Around that time — and I discovered upon searching for a photo that my memory might be inaccurate as to the exact year — I took a trip to Europe with a student group from the area over spring break. It was an intense and critical time, as that trip opened my eyes to the bigger world and led to my taking another, even more life changing trip after my freshman year in college.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:ย Betsy Mars is an educator, mother, poet, travel and animal enthusiast who is still struggling with some of the same issues she found difficult at 17. Mortality, love, and finding meaning are continuing areas of focus in her addled mind and writing. Her work has been published by Silver Birch Press, Cadence Collective, in the California Quarterly, and in several beautiful anthologies. She can also be found at