Here at the Tatta Bunna coffee shop I have the best drink in the Twin Cities: a “Plymouth Avenue”. Yes, the coffee shop offering this caramel, chocolate concoction is indeed on Plymouth, at Penn Ave. N. — a mile west of my official neighborhood boundary and the Skyway coverage area. But after six months of living just north of the Fifth Avenue Bridge from downtown, I find more to celebrate on Plymouth Avenue than anywhere else. So I sit in the sun of this slow morning of January opening to an afternoon of record warmth. Tomorrow some teaching, some planning–the business of my life.
Would you like light or dark chocolate with that? skim or whole milk? whipped cream? Each drink comes with sunlight, voices, scent of poinsettias and neighborhood stories. A young man home from college is catching up on phone numbers and news with the woman behind the counter who knows his Auntie.
Further north is the two year old Homewood Gallery where I am a member of the Northside Writer’s Group and plan to sign up for Saturday morning T’ai chi. When I have been there in the evening I can see through the soft darkness young children up to their elbows in pink and violet paint in the Urban League building next door. When I head back toward Washington Avenue I pass the Phyllis Wheatley Center, near Fremont and Plymouth, where I, along with the rest of my district, go to vote.
Today I stop here for a moment in praise of the tenacity it takes for photographers and artists to bring change to each corner of their home turf. Yet, lament soon finds its way into this sun drenched coffee and sugar morning. I regret not staking my claim in this part of Minneapolis years ago when I taught at North High School. I was raised to be hesitant. This hesitancy was nurtured in the New England Anglo culture I come from. All my life, I have been hesitant to accept praise, help or congratulations, have avoided disagreement, anger and arguments. If I had settled here I might have dropped such uncertainty and fought even harder for what I believe in.
Close to 60, drinking sweet cream and caramel, I find myself thinking of all the places where I did not live, the voters I never rounded up, the meetings I did not attend, the voice I never raised.
Other moments of lament criss- cross a long line of years: my mother’s story about her Parisian lover, the onionskin letters I found after she died, all I might have learned from her. …I have taken up knitting again after 30 years because the warmth of wool in my hands brings back memories of her dark eyes and her secrets about France. To follow this line is to follow all I have never done or asked about: a reckoning that will go on as I go on.
Can joy balance such lament? I loved the 25 years and more I spent in Minneapolis schools. I loved being with the kids, watching, their faces, hearing their voices and music, listening to new accents. I still feel joy in the multiplicity of skin colors, blue and green head coverings, amazing electric shoes, laughter in the hallways. I already celebrate the young women at Broadway Community School who are writing poems that they will read to me with great courage tomorrow when I visit.
The milk steams. Light moves over the striped sweater of a young man reading the paper, as an older woman in silver bends to talk to her friend dressed in blue.
Is it possible to anticipate lamentation? Soon it will be essential to stop here or at Homewood Gallery, to gather in places that give us hope and rooms of light in a dark time. On some intermittent mornings, I know will stand, frozen in the dance of tai chi, as my nephew, as someone’s son, as men and women from Plymouth Avenue, from South Minneapolis, San Diego, New York, disappear across oceans, into deserts or mountains or towns. I will come here as men and women move in sandy heat toward a city where other children, other men, other women like me, sit at windows and stop a moment in great praise of sunlight.
From across the world will come lament. From this very place, sorrow will grow in volume. Hesitancy will have no place then, as our voices come together across boundaries.