The Price of Potatoes in Pittsburgh   Friday, July 19, 2019

I wrote this seven years ago. I know even more now than I did then.

the price of potatoes in Pittsburgh

I mentioned
Ma and Pa Kettle
in a crowded room
and no one knew what
I was talking about
as in a couple of weeks
I complete my 68th and begin
begin my 69th year on this earth,
a reminder of the things I know
that those still struggling with the
challenges of youth
do not
important things
not restricted to Ma and Pa Kettle
and The Bowery Boys
and Boston Blackie
important things,
I can see,
for better or worse,
the string of my life fraying
and know the string which frays will someday
an epiphany
denied to the young of 28
or 38 or 48 or even
who never notice
the string of life
they traverse
in the humdrum of their daily
until the day
its sorry state is made clear to them
until then,
death is an unfortunate event,
affecting others,
never them in all their glorious
not that they ever think in those terms
and immortality,
issues, like the price of potatoes
in Pittsburg,
that just don’t apply to them
no matter how many they see
laid out cold and still in a box,
no matter how many they follow
with their eyes as the unfortunate
are lowered into the earth, no matter
how many losses of those they know and those they love
they experience in their lives -
the idea of one day it might be them lost,
them cold and still,
their physical essence beneath a mound fresh-turned earth
an abstract
like the collision of galaxies in a faraway star system
the relevance of death to all living creatures,
the inevitability of decay's deconstruction,
is the shock that comes unbidden
on a birthday like the one I have coming,
the unwelcome candle that flutters and dies
this flesh and blood recognition of the fate
of our own flesh and blood
comes only with the fatigue of age,
it cannot be imagined before the dues are paid -
innocence must be lost
before the loss of innocence can be known
this is when
like me, begin to face
the all we still want to do
and the uncertain time we have to do it

My post this week went in an entirely different direction than I had planned.

It started with a poetic triptych when a poet friend posted on our mutual poetry forum a very good poem about the city where he lives which was followed by another poet friend who posted a very good poem about the city where he lives. I followed with an old poem about Corpus Christi, Texas, a city I lived in for many years.

That set me off to thinking about a number of poems I had written about the city a few years after I left it to move to San Antonio. The original idea was to do a chapbook of poems about the city. That plan didn't work out, but I used some of them to complete the rest of this post. All of the ones I posted here were published somewhere over the course of a couple of years of their writing.

So this post contains two very good poems by two very good poets and the rest by me.

the price of potatoes in Pittsburgh


the dark and empty left behind

Bharat Shekhar


Wayne Scheer



Corpus Christi


the new day breaks




lying with my lover on the beach at midnight


the apartment on Santa Fe


morning fog




when winter finally came


storm warning

sunrise doesn't always mean you see the sun

sunset from the bay

moon so bright

lying in the sun with Susan

north wind on a southern beach


welcome home

This, another from 2012, at another of the many favorite coffeehouses that, like tired horses, has folded beneath me.

the dark and empty left behind

just a couple of us here,
the molecular biology student;
the woman who tweets;
the biker with the
handlebar moustache who appears
to live
off the back of his bike;
the lady lawyer,
the builder,
the architect,
and the novelist
who spend their hour
together over coffee most mornings;
the tall gay guy,
does something with movies
I think;
the three church-school teachers,
who study together - pray together
three mornings a week;
the paint salesman, drinking
coffee, selling paint
by cell-phone; my new friend the retired school
teacher; the English professor
at the community college down the street;
the retired pilot, flew for fifty years,
now does crossword puzzles;
the lesbian, feminist, disabled vet, retired postal worker
who plays in politics
and seems to find trouble
like a moth finds, always, the hottest porch light...

the morning regulars
drifting away,
anticipating the soon-coming
closure - trying to find someplace else
to live their morning life
me too,
except I’m hanging on
to the end
it’s my nature,
first to lead the charge,
last to run,
always last out
of the crumbling building,
the one left to turn out the lights,
to feel the dark and empty
left behind
it’s my nature,
a creature of hope,
certain, always, that things
will work out in the end,
even though they
never do
always surprised
by the dark and empty
left behind

Next, something different, a poetic triptych, three poems about home towns. The first two are new poems by poet-friends. The third is by me and is about 20 years old. 

The first of my "home town" poet friends is Bharat Shekhar.

Bharat is a poet, free-lance writer, and doodle artist from Delhi.


Every city has a sex and age - John Beger

That being so
Delhi is an aging,
paan chewing,
spittle spewing
cross dresser.

The first indication
of its dual inclination
emerges at crossroads
where expensive,
almost state of the art
Jaguars, BMWs, Mercs,
Hondas, and Toyotas
screech to a halt
at the traffic light.

In the draft
created by impatient revving
of their exhausts,
our cross dresser's skirt lifts
to reveal unshaven legs -
Mendicants lurch from kerb to car
clattering begging bowls.
Itinerant sellers with sad eyes
thrust their wares
at fogged air-conditioned windows,
raring for a green signal
to race away from this revelation
of their insides.


This muddle of identities
becomes bunched in
that jumble of dresses,
high and low,
that lie side by side
in our cross dresser's wardrobe.

Flung around
magnificent medieval minarets
mange of this city wraps itself
in unsightly, moth eaten patches.
Immigrant's shanties,
middle class balconies
bulging with bania baroque,
metroworks, makeover malls,
flyovers and feeder roads
all vie for space here -
skeletons in the cupboard,
dancing to the tune of heavy machines.


Our cross dresser
has had seven makeovers
or more,
her ruined beauty
still glimpsed
in remains strewn across
from South to North -
Katub, Ria Pithora, Tughlakabad,
Siri, Nizamuddin, Lodi, Old Fort,
Sahjanabad, Chawri bazar, Ballimearan,
Civil Lines...


In between these relics,
the living city
breathes in gulps,
its fragmented identity of Ps-
Pollution, Power, Politics,
all with a capital 'P'.

Sometimes it's a Haryanayi
crew cut wearing a police dress
and a mask
directing traffic at some
chaotic crossing'

Sometimes, it's a balding
politician's flunky in Lutyens' Land,
turned on by VIP sirens
as he accompanies memsahib
for an exclusive manicure.

Sometimes, it is burly men in beards,
and hidden women in burqas,
going about their daily lives,
stirring preconceived prejudices
of passersby, who are on their way
to a political rally where
saffron robes and flags will flutter
and fluster the breeze.

Sometimes it is a Sardarni
coming out of a Gurudwara.
Sometimes it is an off-duty nurse
under the lustful gaze of strange men,
walking to her rented accommodation,
far far away from her home in Kerala.

Sometimes it is the rage
of fists and hockey sticks
erupting on some random road.

Sometimes, it is the trees,
leaning tiredly over pavements.
Sometimes it is their encircling
asphalt necklace,
slowly choking life out of them.

Sometimes, it is the remains
of a greenbelt that once encircled
the waist of the cross dresser,
now torn in strips,
revealing its underbelly
of bulging builders' flats.

Sometimes, it is that choked thread of water,
a mighty river of the past,
that now looks and smells more
like the ooze that comes from
under the doors of public urinals.

Sometimes, it is a blessing of Dargahs.
Sometimes it is a curse of abuses.
Sometimes it is scorching.
Sometimes, it is the rasping
cough of asthma.
Sometimes, it is the bully.
Sometimes, it is the camaraderie
of drunken friends swaying an evening.
Sometimes, it is the ooze of lonesome booze.

Sometimes, it is the entitlement
of gated, middle-class residents
issuing passes to control the entry
of Bengali maids, cleaners and drivers,
for mistreatment
as their 'rights' of passage.

Sometime it is the cold wind
whipping through a makeshift
hammock between poles
that a Bihari mother has made
for her weakly wailing infant,
as she carries brick on her head
at some building site.

And sometimes
our city is just that -
a cross dresser,
a Punjabi pun
that reflects in suited booted
angry middle-aged executives,
rushing to serve
their hours of corporate servitude.


It is only at night,
when the city takes off
its clothes
and settles down to sleep
in rang mahals andrain baseras,
that it openly, nakedly
reveals the side of its personality,
its tired Janus face that just longs to sleep
(and sometimes, heaven forbid, to weep.)

My second "home town" poet friend is Wayne Scheer.

Wayne, a retired college professor, writes poetry and short stories.


It's been said
every city
has a sex and age.

Then Atlanta
is a mixed race
teenage girl with an attitude,
her breasts still budding,
her hips forming
with eyes rolling.

But it's also a staid
matronly white woman
with an accent
so thick
it makes molasses
seem quick on the pour.

Atlanta is a schizophrenic city,
proud of its past,
both Civil Rights and Confederate,
but not proud enough 
to keep its old buildings intact
when they can be replaced
with glass and steel skyscrapers
to bring in
the big bucks.

was burned to the ground
by Sherman
during the Civil War
and only began its ascent
the end of the 1800s
as rural black folk
flocked to the city
with the promise of jobs
and the fantasy of Atlanta
as a Black Man's haven.

Atlanta is poor and rundown
and rich and extravagant.
I was scanning a list
of houses for sale
and came across a "fixer-upper"
on a kudzu-infested lot,
make an offer,
not far from a fourteen bathroomed-mansion
with indoor and outdoor pools
on Paces Ferry Road,
where the wealthy hide out
by twenty one million dollars.

The city isn't fully formed yet,
the orange construction cone
being the symbol of Atlanta.
The streets aren't even fully named.
Peachtree Rd and Peachtree Ave
and Peachtree St intersect and interact,
causing confusion even to natives.
And streets change names
as routinely as a runway model changes clothes.
Metropolitan Pky becomes Northside Dr
just for the fun of it,
and Clairmont Dr. changes its spelling
for a stretch,
like a teen to distracted to be poof read.

It has the potential to develop
into a beautiful lush green city,
a "city too busy to hate,"
as former mayor Andrew Young proudly asserted
or deteriorate
into an improvised, half-build wasteland.

As every parent understands
as they look with
wonder at
their child -
only time will tell

Corpus Christi was my city for 15 years until we moved to San Antonio nearly 30 years ago. It was a beautiful little city separated from the Gulf of Mexico by North Padre Island and Corpus Christi Bay. With a population between 250 and 300 thousand it was a perfect size, a friendly and accessible small town in a mid-sized city.

I wrote a number of poems about the city after we left, even thinking at one time of a chapbook of Corpus Christi poems. This poem is one of those, a look at the city from on high.

Corpus Christi

As you cross the high, arched crest
of Harbor Bridge after sundown
the city is sketched before you
in lines of light flickering
through the humid air
of the dark Texas night.
One one side, the soft swells
of Corpus Christi Bay lie in darkness,
broken in the distance
by the lights of Port Aransas
faintly shining, like ghosts
of shipwrecked Spanish sailors
buried with their golden ships
beneath the island's silver sands.

On the other side, chain link fences
and bright security lights
dot the port like cages
of high intensity glare reflecting
off the water and the dark hulls
berthed along the channel
Along side the river channel, refinery row 
hugs the river's soft turns,
a glittering crown with thousands
of white lights that follow
the tangle of twisting pipes,
lights that climb the fiery stacks
reaching into the sky
with fingers of red and blue flame.

Straight ahead, the city unfolds
in a river of light, a luminous flow
pouring from the tops
of bayfront hotels,
through the downtown streets,
along the crowded seawall,
across the marina where
the masts of small boats dip
in a slow dance to the soft tide 
of the quiet waters of the protected
inner bay, then south,
like gleaming bubbles in moving flow
along the tree-lined curve
of the shoreline's crescent arc,
an arc I drove in early morning
nearly ever day in driving
to my office downtown.

And back in from the shoreline,
streetlights, porch lights
and the moving lights of cars,
drifting home on suburban streets,
are spread to the black horizon
like falling stars. The blue lights
of Padre Island Drive glowing
like fine gulf pearls strewn in a line
through the city, then across Oso Bay
and into the distance to end
on the far edge of light, mixing
by the whispering gulf surf with the yellow
shine of a sub-tropic moon as reflections
on pale island sand

Having drifted on the tide into Corpus Christi,  I'm going to use the rest of his post for poems that might have been included in the Corpus Christi chapbook I never finished.

the new day breaks

water laps at road's edge,
green and blue in patterns
that match depth and the
passage of clouds overhead

fishers work the waters nearby,
a man up to his waist
casting his line over and over
against the wind, and an egret
patrolling the shallower water
of a sandbar, up to its knees
in the bay, unmoving, watching
for the unwary, waiting...

in the near distance
a shrimp boat goes out
in a cloud of gulls, their cries
carried to shore by bay breezes

hurry back, hurry back, they cry,
we wait for your return
fully laden

on the other side of the bay,
the tall buildings of the city's skyline
are white in the distance, like the sleek
porcelain white inside a wet conch shell,
appearing to rise directly from the sea, gleaming
in an island of sunlight, cushioned in the back
and on either side by delicate wisps of morning haze

and new day breaks softly on Corpus Christi Bay

One of the things I could see on my way to work on clear mornings.


The windsurfers start early in the morning,
just as the sun boils up from the bay.
You can see them off the bluff at Cole Park.
Their red and yellow and green sails
bob and bounce like fishing corks in the waves.
Behind them, the downtown skyline
rises up from Water Street and, in its shadow
the marina, with masts jumping
in the same choppy tide that buffets the surfers.
You can see them in the orange light of the new sun,
their bodies leaning horizontal to the water.
Their backs and shoulders smash
into the foam and froth of the tossing surf
as they pull on their sails,
hang onto their boards,
stain to harness the wind and the tide
for a ninety second ride, seconds that stretch
to last a day in the dry and wind-free world.

lying with my lover on the beach at midnight

the beach was best at night,
when the day trippers were at home
nursing sunburns or in a bar, 
honky-tonk dancing in gritty flip-flops

the beach was best at midnight
when its beauty was ours alone,
when its sand gleamed in white moonlight
and stars spread across the gulf sky,
a blanket of light across a bed
of soft tropic night when the surf,
breaking against shore in ordered rows,
was the only sound in the airy silence

the beach was best at midnight
when we lay together on a sandy towel,
envelope in the starlit whisper
of the rising, falling waves

the apartment on Santa Fe Street

The apartment on Santa Fe Street was our first home,
a second floor loft where we learned to live together,
entwined in the rhythms of bay tides and lunar cycles.
We could see the bay from our bedroom window,
beyond the white oleanders that lined the street and
across a grassy swale that ran full with rainwater
during the squalls that cross the coast on some summer evenings,
when the stored heat of the coastal plain rises up to meet
the dripping clouds of cool gulf air.
We could watch the storms as the pushed across the bay,
rows of whitecaps racing toward the shore, splashing
against the seawall, throwing salt water foam to the wind.
Drops of water as big as marbles would pelt the window
and pound the ground below us an the roof over our head
while lightning split the clouds and thunder shook the floor.
Then, as quickly as they came the storms would pass
and all would be quiet and still. Birds would preen,
shake the wet from their feathers and sing again.
And a rainbow would form, stretching across the crescent bay
like a colored ribbon around the end of day.

morning fog

In the still cool mornings of late October
fog creeps across the bay and settles on the city
like a cat couched in high grass,
silent, gray and mysterious.
Sitting on a pier in the marina
in the middle of the damp, drifting cocoon,
only the dew-wet back of a concrete bench
tethers me to the hard edges of familiarity.
I float in a world of muffled sounds,
the creak of boats shifting in the tide
the swish of foamy wavelets
rising and falling against the pier,
the call of gulls circling in the mist.
Then the sun begins to burn away
the shadows of the morning fog
and colors emerge from the thinning haze,
traffic lights changing from red to green,
and the growl of traffic covers the rustling waves.
A new day begins, just like the one before.


on clear winter nights
lights that line
the arc of the bay
are bright and sharp,
precise stitches
in the fabric of dark

in the direction
of the open gulf
dimmer lights
mark the shores
of Mustang Island

the lights seem to rise
from the dark water
of the inner bay, veiled
as if in a cloud,
like ghosts rising
from the sandy bottom,
ghosts of treasure ships
riding low in the water
from the weight 
of their stolen gold,
easy prey for the storms
that come across the gulf
like an angry Inca god

ghosts of treasure ships,
rotted timbers
made whole again,
their sailors,
murdered on Padre shores
by the fierce Carancahua,
made flesh again,
weeping in the gulf mist,
to rise from their graves
and sail again
the vengeful sea
that killed them

when winter finally came

when winter finally came
it came hard,
like a great white bear
from the furthest northern night

ravenous and cruel it came,
sweeping with cold ferocity
across the Laguna Madre,
swirling its artctic mists over 
fishing camps and salt flats
and shallow inlets that run along
the coast from Mustang Island
to Mansfield Bay

it brought snow that day
to deep South Texas,
dusting cactus already set to bloom,
coating mesquite an yellow huisache,
covering the coastal prairie grasses;
cattle left on their own to graze
turned their backs to the wind
and huddled close in the warmth
of their own steaming breath;
snakes curled tighter in their winter dens,
hawks soared through the frigid air,
circling, circling, watching for prey
slowed by the unaccustomed cold

in the city, salty foam splashed up
by the tide froze on the seawall steps,
leaving a treacherous glaze of ice glisting
green in the muted light of the overcast day

the people of the city, thin-blooded summer people
not suited for such an icy day huddled like the cattle,
drinking coffee or hot chocolate, seeking warmth
in the companionship of an unusual day

storm warning

gray and white gulls
swirl overhead,
like a cloud
blown in the wind
like smoke
from a cane field fire

the shipyard
across the bay
is hidden 
by black clouds
of rain
lying across the water
like crepe on a coffin

arcs between the clouds
and thunder echos 
against the bluff

I hear you in the driveway,
slamming the car door
with a crack
like a rifle in the dark

sunrise doesn't always mean you see the sun

on the Texas coast in January,
sunrise doesn't always mean you see the sun -
sometimes it means only that the world changes
from a darker haze to light

on those chill mornings
when there's no wind to stir the mists
fog wraps the bay
in the uncertainty of an ocean cloud
settling lightly on the ground
like an old gray dog
in high and prickly grass

on such mornings
the sounds of the everyday world
arise from unseen sources
and become mysterious and obscure,
like walking blindfold
through a familiar house
or overhearing the intimate talk
of friends; that which you thought you knew
becomes hidden and strange

there are secrets in those hanging mists,
secrets that pass unnoticed
on clearer days

A lot of poetic license with this poem. Despite what the poem says, it is the rising of the sun (as with this photo) that is a wonder,since the bay is to the east of the city. The sun, when setting to the west, is mostly setting over cotton fields.

But who would want to write (or read) a poem about the sun setting over a cotton field.

But an excuse for the poet, the poem is written as if the viewer in in the bay, looking to the west and the city shoreline. Never did that, but I suppose it's possible.

sunset from the bay

dusk slips across the coast
     a stealthy tide
over a sinking plain of red

tall palms line the shore
in gulf breeze like
spindly dancers swaying
under the sanguinary sun
waist deep in creeping darkness,
they surrender
to the velvet embrace
of the moon's black dominion

last light
fades with a sigh

This was written in 2003, hence the war reference breaking the peace of the night.

moon so bright

here on Oso Bay
love's cauldron is stirred
to the beat of breaking waves

while in another place
hellfire threatens
under it's pale gaze
on bloody desert sands

cicadas call to the sky
from the mesquite trees
in my backyard,
while inside, politicians
talk of war and peace

moon so bright
sees it all

listens only 
to the cicada's call

lying in the sun with Susan

quiet bay

no sound but the light rustle
of marsh grass in the gulf breeze

lies on the deck
legs spread
as if to thrust herself
at the summer sun

sweat glistens
on the inside of her thigh
and my tongue aches
for the taste of her

north wind on a southern beach

a north wind blows strong
against the incoming tide
and all across the bay
whitecaps flash in the sun
like handkerchiefs 
fluttering across a field
of salty sea-green

a beachcomber
dressed for the day
in a silver windbreaker
walks the beach barefoot,
shoes tied by their strings 
to hang around his neck,
throws bread to the gulls,
greedy birds, swooping, fighting
each other and the wind
for every crumb

Okay, this is the last.


the bay is flat
     so still
that underwater currents
can be seen on the surface
     like smoky streaks
     on an antique
     so still
     like time
and the earth's rotation
have stopped
     and the sun
has stopped overhead
     and the light
is sharp and clear
normal humid heaviness
and off-shore
     a small fish
and slaps the water
     with a crack
that starts a small wave
radiating out in a circle
     motion on the bay
from the small jumping fish
     the only motion
speeding across the bay
      to the gulf
small leaping fish pushing
against the Gulf of Mexico
and the Atlantic beyond
in universal waters
     an anti-tide
     a nibble-surge
against the moon's orbit
and the rightness of all
there is and used to be

Okay, one more, just so I can end the post with a little humor.

We moved to San Antonio in 1993. A couple of years after my first retirement in 1998, I went back to Corpus Christi to work for the local United Way as Community Services Director. 

Since I was going to be going by myself, I thought I might find a small apartment on the beach. The place I was looking for in the course of this piece turned out to be a small rat trap on the beach. I ended up finding a very nice efficiency apartment across the road from the bay.

After a year, the hassle of commuting back and forth to San Antonio on weekends, plus the cost of maintaining a second household for myself (though a small one), convinced me it was time for me to go home. And thus came my second retirement. 

welcome home

it's early morning and I'm looking for this
apartment that was listed in the classifieds

(on the beach it said,
half a block from the Sea Shell Motel,
lovely view of the bay a sunrise)

through fog so thick I could run over
a dozen geezers reading their free
USA Today in the lobby of the Sea Shell
Motel and not know it until my insurance
premiums went up in the next quarter

but with the humidity so high
all my car windows were so smeared
with condensation inside and out
that I couldn't even see the fog and I figured
what the hell and don't worry about it

I was looking for Bushnick Street
and all the street signs were lost somewhere
in that thick fog that I couldn't see anyway
because of the goddamn humidity

until I finally gave up and
turned off my air conditioner
and opened all my car widows
thinking that if I can get the smeared
windows out of the way maybe
I can see enough through the fog
to at least figure out where I was

but that doesn't work either
and all I did was let in a black
cloud of starving mosquitoes
that settled on my face and arms
like a cactus blanket, greedy little
vampire bugs nipping a hundred
little nips, sucking my blood, leaving
wet red splotches as I flailed my hands
around, slapping myself silly at seven
o'clock in the gulf coast morning

and I was reminded of all the things
about this place that I haven't missed

And so I'm home to stay on my little street, far from any beaches.

I appreciate hearing from readers. Although they do not appear here, your comment,, if you choose to make them is available to me. So feel free to pass on any reaction, comments, or opinions by clicking on the "comment" button below.

As usual, everything belongs to who made it. You're welcome to use my stuff, just, if you do, give appropriate credit to "Here and Now" and to me

Also as usual, I am Allen Itz owner and producer of this blog, and a not so diligent seller of books, specifically these and specifically here:

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, Sony, Copia, Garner's, Baker & Taylor, eSentral, Scribd, Oyster, Flipkart, Ciando and Kobo (and, through Kobo,  brick and mortar retail booksellers all across America and abroad


New Days & New Ways

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Always to the Light

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Seven Beats a Second


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You Must Remember This
Alive, Alive-o,
The Skin Game
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Loch Raven Review
Mindfire Renewed
Holy Groove Records
Poems Niederngasse
Michaela Gabriel's In.Visible.Ink
The Blogging Poet
Wild Poetry Forum
Blueline Poetry Forum
The Writer's Block Poetry Forum
The Word Distillery Poetry Forum
Gary Blankenship
The Hiss Quarterly
Thunder In Winter, Snow In Summer
Lawrence Trujillo Artsite
Arlene Ang
The Comstock Review
Thane Zander
Pitching Pennies
The Rain In My Purse
Dave Ruslander
S. Thomas Summers
Clif Keller's Music
Vienna's Gallery
Shawn Nacona Stroud
Beau Blue
Downside up
Dan Cuddy
Christine Kiefer
David Anthony
Layman Lyric
Scott Acheson
Christopher George
James Lineberger
Joanna M. Weston
Desert Moon Review
Octopus Beak Inc.
Wrong Planet...Right Universe
Poetry and Poets in Rags
Teresa White
Camroc Press Review
The Angry Poet