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If the Delta Was the Sea

Dick Lourie

Yes! Thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth; it does not wait for beauty—it flows with resistless force, and brings beauty with it.

				  —George Eliot, Adam Bede

"if the river was whiskey" Big T sings
one night at Red's juke joint "and I was a
diving duck"      a good old favorite from
both black and white country traditions      "I'd
dive to the bottom and never come up"
I'm standing next to T playing the sax
and—blues being my meditative state—
I think to myself: extraordinary 

metaphor!      to be conditional and 
transformative at the same time      and as
usual when at Red's I also feel
immersed in Clarksdale      so my mind shifts and
spins the image till it comes to rest on 
the mysteries around me: if the river
was Clarksdale what would I be?      (stranger from
such a different place poking around 

outsider trying to peer inside)      would I
be Twain on the Mississippi      godlike
pilot      sure hand      every rock  and shoal 
clear in his mind?      or Rimbaud's drunken boat
floating unguided toward those phantasmic 
ocean visions?      and knowing that each choice
bears its own gifts      and dangers      should I dive 
or sink      or drift?      and if the river was 

Clarksdale the Delta would be the sea      (as indeed
it once was)      vast and      in many stories primal
 "darkness upon the face of the deep" while the 
earth is still "without form"      and if the Delta
was the sea then Clarksdale      every town      roads
houses      forests      fields      even Red's      all would
be mingled with it      as waters of the
Mississippi flow to the Gulf      and we

looking out over the Delta Sea from 
our narrow lives would think it endless 
and always changeable:      in the era 
when cotton is king it's a gleaming sea 
white in the sun      or sometimes we look beneath:
layers      waves of black and brown topsoil      rich
deepest in the world we're told      calm and smooth
or on some days the surface rough with old

Indian mounds or anonymous clumps  
of earth where slaves are buried      and other 
days maybe close to twilight the Delta 
Sea is golden      trick of the light or a
reflection of great wealth      and in the depths
beyond our vision the registry of 
bones:      the dead      those newly wept for and down
ever deeper      thousands of years back to 

the Bronze Age —famously democratic 
this undersea city of bones unhinged 
from age      race      history      cause of death      and 
by now the "sea-change into something rich and
strange" has as promised transfigured them all
to coral and pearl      and as my meditations
come to rest back where I started at Red's
listening to T—if the river was

Clarksdale and the Delta was the sea then
tonight it would all be intense blue      deep
blue Delta Sea      eternal      the purest though
			darkest blue of blues      I might never come up

Dick Lourie