If the Delta Was the Sea
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