Saturday, March 1, 2014

Kevin Heaton on "Mississippi Crossing"

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. 


  1. Christopher WoodmanMarch 12, 2014 at 1:22 AM

    Such a wonderful poem with such a rich and encouraging introduction. So what goes on here that nobody comes in to say thanks to such a generous poet?

    And a poem that makes such a plea for compassion too, language that rejoices so extravagantly in the sorrow and the patience as much as in the irrepressible beauty of yet another “Crossing.” “My yang for this place is the yin in its ground,” Kevin Heaton dares to write — and, to be frank, I’d be very nervous to keep a line like that even in a poem of my own, and I’m notorious for saying too much. But isn’t that proof of a poet’s stature, when he or she dares to play the fool by saying it all like Walt Whitman? Because it’s a “Crossing” alright, like the upright body makes a cross with itself as it lies down in its own grave in the earth of the Delta. And I love that.

    I’ve been away for 3 months, and of course I worry there’s a shadow that hangs over this forum, there was so much discussion before.

    Come in so I’ll know it’s not me at least. Come in and say thanks to a poet who “would free the Delta from herself, and reclaim / her with a psalm—a hymn, in a tongue for every color.”

    Then mention some other wonder you find in the sound, the imagery, or the meaning so Kevin Heaton will know you’re not silent in the sense of bored but of gratitude and wonder.


    1. Thank you, Christopher, for this eloquent review. You have captured my ultimate hope for the poem which was, not merely to bind our "Crossings" to cultures but, in addition, to link each of us to them as individual crosses; supine at the end, triumphant in the earth, not as wedges to redivide it.

      You and I come to this prestigious journal from unrelated backgrounds, but began our lives as published poets similarly, late in life. I'm sure you will agree with me that, in both cases, the timing makes the victories that much sweeter.


    2. Feeling that reaches into the very soul. I live very near the Mississippi River & yes, I cross on a bridge almost daily. Maybe I have an extra sense of understanding, as I have often pondered the passing of these waters, the traffic, & final destination. Kevin expressed it as I never could.

    3. Yes, HRCFW, feelings that transcend the flesh, and confound the carnal. Thanks so much for sharing.


    4. Kevin, what a wonderful poem. Thank you.

      The lines: ‘There’s a jubilee here that began as a prayer / where humid evenings come to listen’ resonated with me and I loved what you say at the end of your essay. The compassion, the celebration, the sharing of history comes together in that exquisite line.

      It made me think of what my family called the upcountry in India – open spaces and hill stations that become still and very quiet at night – so still that even as the intense darkness covered these towns by night, there was this sense that a soft light persisted. A light that seemed to come from within us, as our bodies worked at falling asleep.

      In your poem there is a hidden energy that I love. It sits, almost like the river, on the page, I can feel the silt in my hands and I feel like I am literally experiencing my way through a real living thing.


    5. Leeya, what beautiful insight! You make me homesick for the upcountry.

      As writers, I believe we achieve a measure of success when we are able to effectively capture that "Peace that passeth all understanding," that hidden, elusive energy we spend our lifetimes searching for.

      Thank you for your generosity, and for broadening the borders of this piece.