Ode To Old Philadelphia

March 10, 2017 |  by  |  Buzz  |  , ,

 

For the past five years I have been teaching a bi-weekly poetry course for seniors at a LIFE (Living Independently for Elders) program in West Philadelphia. My students range in age from 55 to 93, and represent a diverse mixture of educational backgrounds and life experiences. My class includes, among others, a Vietnam War veteran, a retired school librarian, and a Catholic nun. What they share in common is their connection to the city, and I often choose prompts for poems that will spark their memories of Philadelphia as it used to be. Last month, as I was about to drop my 2016 Hidden City calendar into the recycling bin, I realized that the photographs of Philadelphia buildings featured within, many vacant or abandoned, would be an excellent source of inspiration for my class. As a result, the poems that they produced for this exercise revealed some delightful and insightful surprises. As both their teacher and student, I continue to learn so much from them as they show me the city anew through their thoughts and memories. With these playful and intimate words, I hope they will do the same for you.


From “U-Haul Unlocks Tastykake Plant With Self Storage Conversion,” June 2015. | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

Tasty Kakes Was Here by Anne Cross 

Sweets was here
Sugar & spice
Flavors of vanilla & chocolate
Smells – lemon smells
You remember the cream &
chocolate color but this
is just memory
 
Where are the ovens, where
are the people who make
the sweet fulfill your taste
 
I cannot believe that peeling
paint has replaced a place
that had much sugar, and
love of deliciousness


Hollowly Real (St. Andrew Collegiate Chapel) by Anne Cross

So much to see that
once was –
 
It was warm but now
it seems hollow
and cold
 
the expanse so large &
hollow in this place, yet
so high with echo that
resounds
 
the altar makes me think
of bygone elegance that
seems to reach to heaven
 
I want to walk this place alone
for a freedom of heart
& soul will probably
overwhelm me yet
make me feel cold.


From “Still a Beauty,” December 2012. | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

Pains of Glass by Francesca Spross 

Stained glass windows
Colorful, bright
Sun friendly
Cheery
The secrets hidden
In the stone and glass
Sex scandals
Little boys’ innocence
Forever lost
Work of the church
Girl came for help
Alerted supervisor
She did not contact
Young lady named Jacoia
When I came back
from vacation Jacoia
had an abortion
I was devastated
I need a new religion
A new church
Pretty, glitter glass
and stone
Hide secrets unknown
Jesus is steadfast.


Locust Medical Center at 52nd and Locust Streets, January 2015. | Photo: Peter Woodall

About the Apartment Building by Jean Pitts

It was an apartment building.
52nd and Locust.
And on the building it rained.
It was covered with ice.
Then was demolished.


From “Back From The Brink In Kingsessing,” August 2015. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Fishes Swimming Around! by Naomi Price 

I see a background of fishes
moving all around!
Big fishes, little fish what a
great background!
I must take a picture.

Harold, the Mosaic Fish by Francesca Spross 

“No thanks, I don’t smoke,”
said the lone mosaic fish as
he lay stretched out on the
floor.
If mosaics were water,
the question would be moot.
Cigarette butts in the sand
surround him.
“I guess I’ll tread
water in my mosaic
pool.”


Penn Fruit / Holiday Thriftway at 5147 Frankford Avenue, 2013. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Supermarket by Darlene Webb

Supermarket, supermarket,
Why are you empty?
 
So large, so wide.
But where are the people?
They’re not inside.
 
So my Thriftway, come back.
Bring people with you, to
stay intact.
 
Food, health goods, juices, sodas,
vegetables, fruits, etc. etc.
 
Please supermarket don’t stay
empty.
You have to come back.
Miss you, so do what
you have to do.


PSFS Building / Loews Philadelphia Hotel, 2013. | Photo: Bradley Maule

My Banking Experience by Joseph Karl Harris

Bibbity bobbity boo
I love you
Philadelphia puppy dog
on my way to feed you
my nickels, dimes, and quarters
trying to save up to get a dollar
from my PSFS Bank.
 
PSFS Bank stands for
Pussy Soul on Friday and Saturday.
That’s PSFS for you
my City of Brotherly Love
where we save money in the bank
for Friday and Saturday love.
 
That’s why they call it
the City of Brotherly Love
because every penny, nickel, and dime
goes into the bank for
Pussy Soul Friday and Saturday.
 
And every day is a Saturday, love
because City of Brotherly Love
saves money to party.

P.S.F.S by Darlene Webb

I remember this bank
long time ago.
 
Savings account, Christmas Club.
Just love checking
in every two weeks.
 
It was like a job for me.
Like always buzzing like a bee.
 
Oh yes P.S.F.S. you were my
bank.
 
Lot of memories
Like writing sitting under the tree.
 
So P.S.F.S. you may be gone
But your memories linger on.


From “Shining A Light On The Beacon Of Boathouse Row,” March 2015. | Photo: Peter Woodall

Boathouse by Darlene Webb

Such a beautiful house
Such a beautiful ceiling
 
Just like the ceiling chandelier
So bright and shiny
 
Can stare at the ceiling
for a while
 
And just let it take me there
to a wonderful
place to remember.
 
Yes the ceiling, light, boat house
is all beautiful
 
I can go anywhere I want to
go.
 
Just go with the flow.

About the author

Ann de Forest has written frequently about design, architecture, and the built environment for the Philadelphia Inquirer, ID Magazine, and Attaché, among other publications. Her short stories have been published in Cleaver, The Journal, Hotel Amerika, Timber Creek Review, and PIF. She teaches creative writing to kids ages 8-13 and adults over 70 and is writing a time travel trilogy for middle grade readers involving old maps.



4 Comments


  1. I wrote a dozen poems once, all at one time while sitting in my old Datsun pick up on the beach by the Brigantine Inn. It was in September after I spent a few hours at the Rod and Reel. Here’s one entitled “Sandpiper.”

    “Sandpiper, sandpiper, what is your hurry, short little legs scurry. I sometimes believe you are showing off for your seagull friends. Look at me seagull, I can walk as fast as you can fly. Slow down sandpiper, enjoy yourself like the seagull. Slow down sandpiper you remind me of my fellow humans.”

    Needless to say I never made a living at it!

  2. I remember when Tastykake was in Camden NJ along the Admiral Wilson Blvd. Up the road was the Camden airport. In between were all the new car dealerships.

  3. Beautiful post! Thank you.

  4. IN PHILADELPHIA

    MISTY DAYS AND STARRY NIGHTS, SMOKEY BARS AND NEON LIGHTS, CHILDRENS VOICES FROM AFAR, THE SOUND OF A HORN FROM A DISTANT CAR, DOWNTOWN STORES WITH BIG GLASS DOORS, MOST OF THEM HAVE MANY FLOORS. IN PHILADELPHIA.

    THE SCREECHING WHEELS OF A SUBWAY TRAIN, THE STEAMING STREETS IN A SUMMER RAIN, THE CLANGING OF A TROLLEY CAR CAN BE HEARD FROM NEAR OR FAR, THE ROAR AND RUMBLE OF THE FRANKFORD EL,A SOUND THAT WE ALL KNOW SO WELL. SHIPS ON THE RIVER FROM WHO KNOWS WHERE, MOSTLY WE DON`T KNOW OR CARE. IN PHILADELPHIA.

    PHILLY SKIN HAS MANY TONES, SA MANY AS THE HIGHWAYS ORANGE CONES, THEY ALL LIVE IN HARMONY, IT IS PLAIN FOR ALL TO SEE. THE MASSES LONGING TO BE FREE, WERE WELCOMED BY FOLKS LIKE YOU AND ME. AS FOR THE BIRTH OF THIS GREAT LAND, YOU CAN SEE SIGNS ANYWHERE YOU STAND. IN PHILADELPHIA.

    MR FRANKLIN CALLED IT HOME ALL THOUGH HE WAS INCLINED TO ROAM. WE HAVE A LASS FROM OUR OWN SOIL WENT TO FRANCE AND BECAME A ROYAL. WE KNOW SMOKIN JOE WAS HERE, HE LEFT A MARK BRIGHT AND CLEAR. W.C. IS WHERE HE WOULD RATHER BE, NOT AT HOME WITH YOU AND ME IN PHILADELPHIA.

    JAMES A. MURPHY
    8/18/2014

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