We do step twice into the identical river& we don't.Yes we are from here, & then again,we're not.—Heraclitus
Twisting south into Swampeast Missouri,walloped by the Headwater Diversion Channel,Castor River, woozy unto death, its beaverfantail jangling left & right, its castor glands
oozed of their sweet brown curvature, gets bornagain as Wahite, a 100-mile floodway ruledparallel to the Stoddard County line, a galvanized naildrove plumb through Missouri's Bootheel.
If Wahite Ditch is Castor River in its afterlife,does it recollect, does it even believe in, the lifeit outlived? And what about me, looking down on my old hauntslike a guardian angel with six wings and cold feet? [End Page 325]
Do I believe in John, the teen picking his waydown Wahite's roadside bank, Xandria& the congregation singing him on—Just as I am, without one plea?—
Lionel not singing, watching; Brother Pascalin his short-sleeved translucent shirt,his black tie ironed shiny,chest-deep, waiting. What was I—
what was John—thinking? Steppinghis left hightop into Wahite's clayeyditchwater, sucking it out, & thenstepping it in again?
Here we go loop de loophere we go loop de lie [End Page 326]
Nothing happens around here without usknowing about it, though we never do knowwhat hit us. The setting's so uneventful, we justhang around it, doing nothing—we're where
it takes place. It's been going aroundand we catch it, the swampeast misery,an undeserving condition, a feeling poorly,a sweetness preserved, plum cheeks
flat against the jar. Was it somewhereswe pulled down over our heads, upover our privates, caressed our thighs with,then couldn't hardly peel off
to lay back on muggy sheetsour worn souls? Very deeplystained within. It must of took aholtof our tongues, wrung them
into an acceyent nobody fails to placein a soggy paperback of commonplaceswhose fused pages we can't read anymorebut believe we know, a historical present
we've come to expect like the weather.It works in construction of that dream—meunbelievably late, darting about like a dragonflyto deliver a lecture I misplaced
on a topic I know nothing about, downbranching basement corridors, bald leadpipe knees steaming, giving wayto buckling tarred roof fields,
chimney flues sticking up stumplike,when always I smack myselfbelow my ear, gape at my bloodied palm—Was that a mosquito? [End Page 327]
The Dark Cypress Swamp, subsidingto the Swampland Act of 1850,sinking to rise no more, slatches& sand ridges quaking still, resurfaces
as the Little River Drainage District,a system of channels, tax & concretesetback levees, water detentionbasins ("block holes") for catching
malarial night airs. The few stubbornbeaver dams, which staunched the runoff,once dynamited clear, a rich black loamis reclaimed, unfurrowed, sown in
swamp chestnut & sweetgum stumps,cut-over bald cypresses, drowned bonewhite or coming back up brown kneed,lost without their deep understory,
the resurrection fern, stumps thickas dragon's teeth—pumpkin ash,girdled bur oak, shellbark hickory,possumhaw, slippery elm, a 130-foot
persimmon stump, having stumpedthe dragline crawlers, walking draglines,steam-powered stump pullers,where migratory snakebirds fly over
& cottonmouths yawn, stumps that,one dark morning, get on up& take their places, back of a hickoryplow to plow, or a hoe to chop. [End Page 328]
On Jordan's Stormy Banks: a Docu-poem
Landless landless are weJust as landless as landless can be—John L. Handcox, sharecropper
Cooksmoke after cooksmoke. Cornbread & fatback. All along the roadside. Coffee.When Federal Route 60 out from Cairo, just past the turn of 1939, crossed 61 Highway up from Memphis,a 100-mile angle of cooksmoke pillars mushrooms overnight. Scarcely a car, wagon or truck in sight.Had they picked themselves, in a bulging cloudsack, to be weighed at the plowed-under cottonfield margins?
Croppers, who'd flooded Swampeast Missouri—the boll weevil, the night rider behind them.Tenanted "with furnish"—the Landlord to provide them fertilizer, seed & work-stock...