The Therapeutic Poet: Where Harlem Starts

I was heading up from Times Square to Powell and 125th to check out the exhibit at the Studio Museum. I was on Broadway, at 44th Street, ducking and dodging the meandering tourists. As the multitudes of tourists look up and around (any which way but straight ahead,) I patiently stepped aside as many people as possible, anticipating short stops. I would even stop and answer questions for tourists who struggled to speak English, wanting to know the directions to Rockefeller Center or Macy’s. I don’t know what it is, but I have that type of demeanor (and appearance, maybe) that is approachable; I guess I also look like I know New York City.

As I was directing my bombarded body to the 2 train, a couple came up to me as if I was the only one who could help them. The man came marching forward, his companion in hand. I assumed they were honeymooners based on the hand holding and glint in the woman’s eyes. He was about thirty-something, and had that contemporary Euro-metro look about him, like Johnny Depp.

“Miss, Miss!” He had a strong German accent, “Miss, could you help me?”

I stopped, smiled and made eye contact.

“Did you know where Harlem starts?”

He began to pull out a subway map, folded it to show upper Manhattan, and started pointing:

“Mine wife say’s it is here; I think here.” He showed me 96th, then 110th Street. I looked at him, at the map, then over to his “wife.” I smiled.

“My friend,” I started pointing to the middle of my chest; “Harlem starts right here.”

The poor man looked at me as if I had dropped part of my brain. His “wife” looked at me and then lit up into a smile….she got it. Her husband, on the other hand was perplexed:

“I am sorry, I do not understand.” He then turned to his “wife” who looked at me and pulled her husband to her. In their native tongue, she explained, finally making the same gesture that I had made. He laughed.

“Jah – Harlem, starts in de heart! Jazz, soul, and good people.”

I took the map and with my pen, circled the different train stops and places they could visit. Some of the things I pointed out were the 116th Street Market and the Schomburg, the Studio Museum and a couple of restaurants that would not be listed in the traditional Harlem tourist guide.

“Dunka Miss, Thank you!”

I responded and pointed to my heart. “You’re welcome, and don’t forget!”

His wife smiled and pointed to her heart. “Harlem starts here Honey.”

We chuckled as we headed our separate ways.

By Lora René Tucker

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"We re-imagine, recreate, and redeem cultural omissions and misrepresentations of Blackness, for the culture. ...." This post is made in partnership with British Pathé.

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