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An Ode to the Big Muddy

Poem by Dakota Parks

Published by Troubadour, 2020

I am no cartographer
I don’t know my west from my north
or my east from my south
but I can find my way to her
like cockroaches to food sources
or the pungent glue in the walls
holding together
all of the broken homes
disoriented and stumbling
through torrents of Iowa snow
trekking toward her
down the familiar alleys
snaking together
the crumbling industry
Midwest America’s
biggest attraction
a second best to
Snake Alley,
the dancing snowflakes
meeting earth from atmosphere
kissing the muddy ice
under the subtle lights
struggling in hue
from the Great River Bridge
Down river at her mouth
I have misplaced my car
somewhere on Tchoupitoulas Street
or maybe Decatur
tipsy and blue
wallowing in the brass instrumentals
the smell of her clay rich mud
floats past me at the intersection
suddenly, I am oriented
a direction, cardinal
but only in nature
as if I am borne from the same
atoms or bacteria
seeped into the well-water
that raised me
from tap and garden hose
her thick mud
swallowing everything it touches
covering our floorboards for four months
drying in the sun, caked on, into bricks
the water that sat,
lapping away at the second-story chimney
destroying a house,
a farm,
a marriage,
two childhoods,
and drowning the neighbors
in their beds as they slept
but, you’re right Terrance,
nor shall I blame the Mississippi*
For overflowing her banks
menstruating rage against the levees
the citizens like ants
or green army men figurines
in formation
sand-bagging her shores
to be contained—
is such a dangerous thing.
Every spring when the ice melts up North
and the rain softens the earth for harvest,
the hydrologic graphs rise and fall
like trickle-down economics
Do you think that’s where the word comes from?
the etymology of trickle-down
the money, floating down
the river
getting richer
turning darker from the blood
of the souls
ripped from their mothers
wives, husbands, children
sent down her sweet banks
in shackles and chains
I don’t want to write these words
the slave trade, was not, is not
a beautiful thing
the brutality hidden behind glossy limestone
whitewashing unmarked tombstones
the palimpsest of history, rewritten
in a sanitized tone
The way a body melts in water
is not a beautiful thing
bloated and engorged
with rotting fumes and acid
forgotten, erased
the summer the kids found
a body by the docks
and poked it with a long stick
was the summer my father
taught us how to fish in the channel
pulling up the anchor to the johnboat
and letting it float down river
the summer we camped
with a herd of goats on an island
swinging off ropes tied high in the trees
into brown murky water
stepping on oysters and catfish dens
that summer,
I swallowed my fair share of muddied water
But to this day,
I still cannot blame her
by nature, she was not ill-gotten
her scent still attracts me
triggering every mirror-neuron
in my brain
a dose of nostalgia amongst
freeloading neurotransmitters
the curves of her banks
splitting America in half
tracing the fecund ground
like the hips of Mother Nature herself—
the first woman to allure me,
intoxicate me,
fill me with rage,
love above all—
to this day,
I cannot help grazing a hand across
the brown, tainted water
every time I am near her,
just to stop and think
all of these thoughts.
* A line from Terrance Hayes' poem “Satchmo Returns to New Orleans”
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