I have crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Memphis many times: in earlier years, with my wife and young son on semiannual trips from Oklahoma to a newly constructed Disney World; more recently, as a grandfather living in South Carolina commuting to and from Oklahoma on family visits. It is impossible to cross the Mississippi and not be awestruck by her immensity, boundless persistence, and slowly evolving constants, ever resistant to new directives, silt-laden and barge-weary, faithfully toting her heavy payloads downstream, each ocean-bound sea crate hunkered down in sultry basin fog awaiting errant wisps of Gulf breeze.
Her vast watershed backfills the Delta with fluvial sediments and fertile river foam that replenish farmed out bottomland on both sides with nutrient-rich pay dirt. I have jogged the Delta’s section line back roads on countless daybreaks to the steady thrum of air-conditioned pickers flossing weevils from between their oversized eyeteeth with boll cotton. I have driven past dilapidated rows of stilted sharecropper shanties precariously clinging to their shade-porches. I have worshipped on the front pew of the local AME church while the choir sang “Meet Me in Jerusalem” and thought myself an interloper in a hallowed place well off without me. I love the Delta; the musicality of it, “a psalm—a hymn, in a tongue for every color, distant but resounding: own-rolled, scored with folklore and cipherings.”
My hope is that for you, “Mississippi Crossing” will acknowledge this region’s slave-owning history aptly, for what it was—but more importantly, that it laud the tenacity, oneness of spirit, and perseverance required to rise above its devastation. That the poem aptly celebrates the restoration of a worthwhile land to all her people, and vividly captures the place where “Jubilee began as a prayer” then returned to the people the pride and self-esteem they longed for.