On the 3300 block of Calvert Street
just a stone’s throw from the hospital entrance
with a nondescript door hiding in a corner
Is the Union Memorial Counseling Center
This morning the wind gusting noisily
Told me that Old Man Winter is alive and well
and still holds hostage my hopes for warmth
with bony fingers, unrelenting, stubborn, cruel and proud.
I stepped out into the mocking gusts and
I heard Winter cackling gleefully,
reveling in my discomfort.
Those I saw walking by seemed forlorn
in a way that they never would be were it truly spring
and gentle and beautiful with flowers smiling into the
blue eyes of the sky.
My steps quickened; I longed for warmth.
Taking even longer strides to hasten my arrival
I wished I had put on the warmer coat
(but I thought it was spring and so I didn’t wear the coat)
And after a minute of rhythmic thumps of shoes on pavement,
there it was
Union Memorial Counseling center.
I wondered why I needed to ring a bell and be buzzed in
in the light of day
But this is Baltimore City, after all.
Once inside, I saw the dingy grey walls and many
people who have been kicked out of the school of hard knocks
and I knew this was no Roland Park private practice
with nice lighting and floral arrangements
and a smiling staff of receptionists.
No, this was a counseling center in the middle of a city
full of junkies, domestic violence cases, disenfranchised masses
yearning for a break
and here I was, being checked in by a woman with gold teeth
and places in her smile where teeth should’ve been
She wasn’t any less beautiful with those gaps between
the glints of gold.
A smile is always beautiful if it is sincere.
And then it happened.
A black man began singing the blues
and another man joined in.
This beautiful duet in the middle of misery,
and nobody seemed to notice.
I said to the receptionist,
Do you get serenaded every morning?
She rolled her eyes, shook her head, said
It happens all the time.
I listened for moment longer,
I could’ve been in a blues bar,
so soulful were their voices,
swaying in a rhythm that only a
true musician could sustain.
There are worse things to be hearing,
I said to the receptionist.
She smiled wryly and told me to behave.
I have spent so much of my life
feeling removed from the people around me.
This morning was par for the course.
As I viewed those with whom I shared the waiting area,
they all seemed kind of crazy, disorganized
Nonchalant about their station, disheveled
Some were shaky, some were on cell phones
Some spoke inarticulately
Some were in a daze.
I had just showered, put on mascara, a bright sweater, earrings
I had brought my agenda and a pen and folder to hold my paperwork.
In a sea of disorganization, of chaos and noise,
I was a little island of pristine orderliness.
And then I realized that I had told myself the same story
that I always tell myself–
I am me and they are them and nary the two shall meet.
But then I realized,
I’m here in the Union Memorial Counseling Center
I must be crazy too.
Why else would I be there?
I guess I’m not so different from the men singing the blues.
They just have more courage than I
singing out loud
while I keep my blues hidden,
singing on the inside.