Writing Poetry with Maria

     I was looking through old notebooks and journals, and I came across an old black spiral notebook filled with old writing stuff. There were ideas for children’s stories (for a class I was taking), random journal entries and the best thing ever–poems I wrote with my old coworker Maria. 🙂

Why would I be delighted to see these again after twenty one years? Well, I guess you’d have to know Maria. While I was working at Beltsville Veterinary Hospital, or BVH as we all called it, Maria was the housekeeper. She swept and mopped the floors, dusted and helped with laundry. But she’d also help with the animals when needed. She was a simple woman, but never lazy. She was twenty years older than me, always kept her shoulder-length brown hair wavy, wore blue fingernail polish and black yoga pants. Sometimes we’d tease each other. She’d tell me I “ate real good,” and I’d point to her ample stomach, and she’d laugh and inform me, “fat is where it’s at.”

She’d become upset if you changed her routine or criticize her work in any way. And she wasn’t shy. No, if you pissed off Maria, she’d let you know. She dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and worked at various cleaning jobs before she became the BVH housekeeper. And as mouthy and frustrating as she could be at times, she was a good person. She lived with her mom and took care of her. She adored animals and they seemed to like and respect her. At least most of them!

I’m using past tense, but Maria is still alive, retired, and we talk sometimes. After twenty years, we’ll still talk about those years we worked together at BVH.

There were slow days at the hospital, and those were the times I’d grab my notebook and start writing. My coworkers knew I was a writer and loved when I’d start writing silly poetry about the dogs and cats who were there boarding with us. Or we’d write about our boss, Dr. Brown, our resident cat, Elwood, or anything else we felt like writing. There were times we hated our workplace and our boss, and we’d write about that. Here’s one of those:

Why I say this

but this place does suck.

And will you get out?

No such luck.

It stinks, it hovers

like a predatory bird.

It will capture and beat you

without one single word.

Its depths are endless,

it will suck you in

forever if you allow it.

To hell, I’ve already been.

This one is called Rock Star and Maria wrote it on her own:

I’m a rock star

with my big cigar

and big black hat

with my big black outfit,

I can sing it all.

Let my pretty blonde hair

hang down

with my sexy bod.

Let it all hang out.

And driving in my lovely

limousine

with my head hanging

out the window,

all my fanciest fans

are waving at me

saying, “You’re

the great big

star!”

I’m smiling as I read these again after so many years. But it’s like it was yesterday that we were hanging out in the basement around one of the grooming tables writing fun poems, laughing, complaining about our jobs, our boss, life in general. And stealing glances at the clock, hoping that the minutes would tick by faster so we could go home.

There were good and bad times at BVH. There was anger, disrespect and hurt feelings. But there was also laughter, birthday and holiday parties and encouragement. The day I walked out of there for the last time, I didn’t know what was next for me. I just knew I was finished with that part of my life. But I’ll never forget those writing days. I still have our poetry-filled notebook, and I can still call Maria and reminisce about our days at BVH.

Here’s to you, Maria–the great, big star!

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