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110 | ecotone Even now, as you stand at the edge of one of those vast brown fields, you feel like you could walk and walk, walk into your own old age, and meet your Maker out there somewhere, kicking up dust. Some people who come here even say they have tumbled back in time, but I do not think that is true. They have merely slipped sideways into a place they do not recognize, and may never understand. Some places look made-up, look imagined. The art deco landscape of South Beach looks like it was dreamed up by the writers of a comic book; the skyline of Atlanta seems stenciled by bankers. Las Vegas was set ablaze by electricians; Richmond is ridden by dead soldiers on marble horses. This place is not like that. The Delta, while I am sure there are dreams here that have yet to die hard, was made, constructed, not imagined. It was hacked out of an immense, dark, primeval forest, and transformed by pain and blood and muscle, in an age of human bondage. Men felled the trees and burned the stumps and turned this wide, flat place into a landscape of forever fields, of cotton rows that stretched farther than a strong man could pick in a day. It is not, despite appearances, the end of nowhere. The empty fields are its destination. The weeds let you know where one crop ends and another begins . While other man-made places were covered in people and concrete, here it was the dirt that mattered, and there was just so much of it, between porch lights and schools and hospitals. There still is. In the open land between the towns and the broad places in the road, dark drops like a lid on a box, and that very isolation has shaped life here, held it, and marked it deeply and sometimes horribly. Its loneliness would be a stage for some of the most chilling moments in the struggle for civil rights. Its rivers would give up their dead; its nowhere roads hold secrets still. It would be called the most Southern place on earth, and I do not believe that meant tea cakes and cotillions. Here, the poverty hits you between the eyes like a hurled chunk of loose asphalt. It is one of the poorest places in the United States, where deep pockets of wealth are surrounded by thirdworld houses, tilting mobile homes, and one of the saddest infant-mortality rates in the industrialized world. Today huge corporate farms and rippling catfish ponds line the lost An Introduction to Magdalena Solé’s New Delta Rising rick bragg | 111 highways, dotted here and there with towns with names like Belzoni, Alligator , Indianola, Clarksdale, and Leland , where a man named Son Thomas summed up pretty much everything important in life in just a few guitar licks, a few poetic lines: Give me beefsteak when I’m hungry, Whiskey when I’m dry, Pretty women when I’m living, Heaven when I die. I have been coming here, off and on, for thirty years, usually, like most outsiders , to steal a little something from a place where the people have so little already. I took only stories, stories that, to me, had incredible value. I tried, one story at a time, to explain a place that has no explanation, to paint a picture that shifted between brushstrokes. This, I learned in time, is a hard, hard place to tell. There is a sadness here that some people can hardly bear, but it is also a place where people live, where you can get the best tamale in the whole wide world, where clean white sheets snap like pistol shots on the clothesline, propane tanks shine on the horizon like spaceships, and a man with mud on his boots is not sneered at but admired, because mud means money, squeezed from the catfish ponds and farms. Here, a man who runs a local pool hall quietly explains how a quarter can be worth more than a dollar, more than folding money, because a poor man might not have a dollar to give you, but just about everybody can...


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pp. 110-128
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