Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Perspectives: Grid for Grade

An author who lived in New York City for 20 years returns to her native Pittsburgh to care for her ailing mother. At first uncertain of her decision, a set of steps helps to make her feel right at home, again.



I‘m standing on Troy Hill with my sons on our first outing since moving back to the ’Burgh — a step cleanup organized by a volunteer group caring for Pittsburgh’s public stairways.

“Grid for grade,” I’m thinking. That’s the trade-off when I left New York City and came home to help my sister take care of our mother.

I went from a metropolis of squares and travel by numbers to rivers that form a golden triangle and angled streets between. From a flat matrix to steep grades of valleys to hills.

Not long after we meet up with the volunteer crew, my boys are playing King of the Hill and seeing who can collect the most pop cans to crush. I pick up a plastic bottle here, a foam cup there, and slam dunk them into a trash bag.

I’m feeling virtuous for being on a green team, for being another boomerang Pittsburgher who returns to “family first.” It’s instilled in my gender, my Italian-American upbringing, my class of people.

I’m ready for active duty on these stairs and ready to give my sis a break and split my mother’s doctor’s appointments — ear, nose and throat, (love the threefer), eyes, teeth, thyroid, heart, lower back, bladder and knee.

Yet as I reach for something blowing in the wind — missed it — the uncertainty about moving back to Pittsburgh starts to set in. 

I have my doubts. What if my mother doesn’t let me, Daughter No. 2, take her to the doctors when Daughter No. 1 has been doing it for 20 years? What if I’m demoted to driving Miss Vinnie to the beauty parlor every Wednesday, to Eat’n Park for a fish sandwich and coleslaw, to shop at Giant Eagle for groceries (not to forget one bag each of caramel, butter and cheddar popcorn), then back home to play cards?

Munching popcorn sweet, salty, cheesy. Holding cards with big numbers for the visually impaired that make me dizzy. That’s what happened when I used to come home for visits.
Maybe it’ll be different now that I’m here for good.

I make conversation with a member of the step crew who lives in affordable Garfield and tell her how friends talk up Pittsburgh’s livability. The New Yorker in me thinks: “I don’t need to buy a three-story house.” “I don’t like to drive. Give me a subway.” “I feel at home in crowds. Garbage doesn’t bother me.”

Pittsburgh is a perfect fit for me because its terrain matches the ups and downs of my moods. And it inspires me.

I glance down at a cigarette butt and look up.

A landing. No. A stage.

Not steps. Theater seats.

A candy wrapper in my hand is not a candy wrapper in my hand, is not a list of ingredients in a Three Musketeers Bar. It’s a poem. A poem in my hand. Recite it.

Skim milk. Consonance.
Soybean oil. Assonance.
Cocoa butter. Cocoa powder. Cocoa mass. Repetition of sound.
Oil of Palm.

Now that’s syntax.

Suddenly, I’m not on a set of stairs but a performance space, an unusual performance space. And yet there are nearly 800 of them in Pittsburgh. A step with a stanza. Plus a dramatic view, one that translates to, “New York’s grid has nothing on Pittsburgh’s grade.”

I go with my instincts on the Troy Hill steps. New York is one concrete corner after the other where I counted my way back when I got lost. Numbered streets north and south. Numbered avenues east and west. A city of straightforward prose, direct, to the point. Predictable. This is how I lived for 20 years.

Navigation in Pittsburgh is the dance of poetry. Whimsical, lyrical poetry.

And I’m getting up to dance.  

Paola Corso is an award-winning author of fiction and poetry books set in her native Pittsburgh. She is completing “Steppin,” a book of her poems, essays and photographs celebrating city steps. In 2016, she and Andrew Edwards co-founded Steppin Stanzas, a grassroots poetry project celebrating Pittsburgh public steps, funded by a Sprout Fund Seed Grant. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

The 400-Word Review: Paddleton

The Ray Romano/Mark Duplass dramedy is heartbreaking, but absolutely worth watching.

Perspectives: ‘He Wants to Talk to Ms. Betty’

An encounter at a healing garden in Larimer leads the writer to reflect on his own connection to others.

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Manager Emerson Graham's detailed approach to crafting a beverage makes for a tasty experience.

Watch: The First Episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

The landmark childrens television series was first broadcast 51 years ago this week.

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Skip the Gift at this Wedding at the Carnegie Museum of Art

In a romantic twist on its Third Thursday events, the Carnegie Museum of Art is throwing a wedding this week, and everyone in Pittsburgh is invited.

See What Piece of Pittsburgh is Going to the Moon

Of all of the items proposed, this one earned the most votes.

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Already known for its Parking Chair vodka, the Lawrenceville distillery introduces absinthe named for a haunted house.

What Brought Walt Disney to Pittsburgh

A futuristic attraction at the Allegheny County Fair drew a curious Walt Disney to Pittsburgh — and had a lasting impact on modern transportation.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

Pittsburgh's New Airport Design: What It Means for Travelers

A key goal of the new terminal at Pittsburgh International is to get passengers to their planes faster.

Comments

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

Defy Winter: 7 Great Ways to Get Moving in March

With spring (hopefully) right around the corner, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gears up for a month of nature-centered activities.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Astroid Brings Dialed-In Coffee to the South Side

Manager Emerson Graham's detailed approach to crafting a beverage makes for a tasty experience.

Comments

Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Lawrenceville Distilling Co. Introduces Its Absinthe

Already known for its Parking Chair vodka, the Lawrenceville distillery introduces absinthe named for a haunted house.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

The 5 Best Seats at PPG Paints Arena

From ultra-premium experiences to bargains with great views, here are five perfect places to watch the Pens.

Comments

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Fitness: Five Great Trails to Run in the Fall in Pittsburgh

Don’t resign yourself to the gym treadmills just yet – fall is one of the best times of the year to get outside and pound the pavement, surrounded by falling leaves and the possibility of grabbing a hot latte on the way home.

Comments


Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Now Open Downtown: Magic Done Right

Liberty Magic, the new venue in the Cultural District, is all about perfect presentation.

Comments

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Ten Thoughts While Staring at a Golden Eagle

Reflections upon encountering Autumn, a four-year-old golden eagle now residing at the National Aviary.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Pens Need More from Malkin More Than Anything

Given what he’s capable of, and what we’ve too often seen instead, Evgeni Malkin has been the Pens’ most under-achieving player.

Comments

Even Brady, Belichick Still Take a Back Seat to Lombardi

Even Brady, Belichick Still Take a Back Seat to Lombardi

Appreciating the Patriots requires a healthy dose of historical perspective.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Our Full 2019 Oscar Predictions

Somewhere beneath all the headlines and controversies, there are actual awards to hand out.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The 400-Word Review: Fighting With my Family

The rags-to-riches tale is an easy winner, when it's not a straight-up ad for WWE.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

Sweet Designs: Our Cookie Table Contest Winner and Runners-Up

These Pittsburgh couples certainly know how to bring the cookie table tradition to life.

Comments

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

An Email Spam Filter Delayed their Relationship for Years

Sometimes, the future love of your life is just around the corner, whether you know it or not.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Upscale Townhouses Slated for Strip District Near Produce Terminal

Part of a three-phase plan, the 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses range in price from the mid-$600,000s up to $1 million.

Comments

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Pittsburgh Textile Designer Launches Chic Wallpaper Line

Savannah Hayes adds six new wallpaper designs to her line of throw blankets, accessories and tea towels.

Comments