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Mulberry Streets Forever


Early in the summer, the Mulberry Street that cuts through downtown Baltimore becomes just one of many Mulberry Streets. From the Charles Village end of Guilford Avenue, one of my recently-graduated students writes, ". . . Mulberries fall to the cement making a sweet slick patch . . ."

Ricky's letter/poem flies me to a mid-city lot, now the site of a bank. Officially "vacant" during most of my Baltimore childhood, this lot was crowded with mulberry trees that grew crowds of neighborhood children as soon as PS 53 and "Saints Philip and James" let out for the summer.

Stunted by decades of bus fumes, the gnarled branches became our porch, our playhouse, our convention center, our place to whisper secrets, our sweet mama treating us to purple candy all the slow day long.

Sometimes our real mothers let us borrow an old aluminum pot for bringing mulberries home. For a pie, we said confidently. Later we'd bringthe pot home with a couple of sun-baked berries withering on the bottom. (Mother: "You'll make yourself sick eating all those berries." Child: "Uh huh.")

This season takes me down the block a few doors from my own house. (The house is in Towson now.) It treats me to a leafy scene that my eye can't quite explain to my brain. It's a deep-green midsummer noon. Our tallest mail carrier is standing under a tree. Its branches hang so low I can't see his head or shoulders. All I can see are his rather British-looking shorts and socks and walking shoes, and these are propelling him round and round in a very small circle. Walking closer I feel something solid-soft squish between my bare toes.

Now I get it. The mail man is eating dessert. I'm back on Mulberry Street.

Clarinda Harriss is acting chair of the English Department at Towson State University.

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