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    The past is coming up slowly, and with great effort, a few feet at a time. Each morning for the last couple of months or so, Danny Seim has been digging up dirt and grass along North 26th and Montgomery streets, next to the Dolfinger building in the Portland neighborhood. He’s unearthing a sidewalk made of oven-baked brick likely 100 years old, if not older. He uses only a shovel, minimizing damage to the bricks. There’s something about the labor of the process, unaided by heavy machinery, that seems right to him. History deserves elbow grease.

    He’s more than halfway done, the bricks running into grass on the north end. “It’s like Shel Silverstein,” he says. Where the sidewalk ends, a beginning.

    The 41-year-old has been engaged in this kind of revitalization work for the past three years. If you’ve seen any murals featuring an anchor with a bent arm, a symbol taken from Portland’s old Marine Hospital, you might have seen Seim’s handiwork. He’s been painting the underside of a canopy next to a playground on Duncan and 18th streets. Vivid colors tumble through kaleidoscopic geometry, and swirling through bright shades in the center is the famous epiphany that the monk Thomas Merton had in downtown Louisville, the one about how all people are walking around shining like the sun. Maybe the cleanup job will extend outward, and the broken slide with sharp edges that could do a nasty number on a kid will get some much-needed care.

    Seim and his wife traded the more well-known Portland, Oregon, for this Portland when she took up a residency at U of L hospital. “We found our house online, this gorgeous Victorian mansion for like half the price of my crappy little shotgun in Oregon,” Seim says.

    “We’re all realizing that you can see downtown from here — it’s only a matter of time before the ripple comes our way, and we either have to be vigilant, and lovingly push back, or hopefully integrate the growth without being gentrified and swept under the proverbial river tide.”

    A middle-aged woman walking down the sidewalk asks Seim if she can grab some peaches from the trees behind the chain-link fence next to the Dolfinger.

    “Of course!” he says.

    Before he leaves for the day, he calls over to ask if she's found any. “Nah,” she says. “There aren’t any good ones right now.”

    It’s a long process, revitalizing a neighborhood. But Seim thinks a future that honors the past will continue to ripen.

    This originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine as the My Method. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Dylon Jones's picture

    About Dylon Jones

    Dylon Jones is an award-winning poet and essayist based in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as web editor of Louisville Magazine.

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