We went to the Spring Art Walk on Broad Avenue last night. I used to work on Broad Avenue, and at that time my friends would say on hearing about my new counseling job, "Are you sure you want to work there? Aren't you scared? Are you sure it's safe?"
After a horribly tragic shooting that killed several members of a family not far from our building, my boss forbade my usual habit of walking the two blocks down the street between our place and the clinic we were associated with. If I had to go, I had to drive. Just to be safe.
That was over five years ago. In the meantime, a lot has been happening in that part of town. Good stuff happening. Good people making things happen. Things are changing.
Last night we went with friends to that very same Broad Avenue, a little further down the street. We visited art galleries, a just-opening bakery, a paint-your-own-furniture store. We talked with artists, ministers, a man who helps folks in the city learn how to keep their chickens to have fresh eggs. We heard live music. We saw smiles and heard laughter. Nothing felt unsafe.
A young man was sitting in a chair on the sidewalk with a typewriter in his lap. A sign held up by a friend said, "Personal Poem Written Just for You." It intrigued me, so we stopped and asked. He said, You tell me about yourself, and I write a poem. I asked about the cost. He said, Whatever you decide. After you read it, you can pay me what you want.
So we gave him about two minutes' worth of information (or less) about us, and in a few minutes, here is what he gave us. It fits so well with this that I have to share it:
We stood there and read it in the streetlight. I was impressed. We paid him.
I asked what kind of typerwriter he had. An Underwood! I said, "I'm an Underwood myself!" (It's my maiden name.)
I asked him about himself. You can learn some of what he told us here. I said I might have to write a poem about him.
He asked if we'd be willing to take a picture of the poem later and email it to him. He's working on a book. I said we would.
I said to my man, as we walked down the street as the sun began to set, "I never thought I'd be walking down this street for fun."
And I'm saying to myself right now, "I never thought I'd find poetry on Broad Street."
And then I'm thinking of all the people who sat on the couch in my office, and I said, "Tell me about yourself." And they did. I heard stories I could not hear anywhere else. Hard stories, stories of suffering and pain and courage and endurance. Stories I can never publish but never forget.
They would ask about the cost, and within a certain range I was able to say, "You pay what you can." And we didn't write poetry, though I did take notes. And I heard stories and met people and learned about lives that could make a book. I learned about the battlefields of many lives, and I give thanks for all those days, and all those years. They left a living poetry in my heart.
And I'm happy to see light and joy on Broad Avenue.
Thank you, Adam, for the poetry.