The Pearl River is not so mighty

The Pearl River is not so mighty
as the big muddy,
but she is lush and fresh
in a way Twain’s river will never be again.
She comes barreling through
the crust of cotton country,
her banks banging left to right,
like Marilyn Monroe going up a narrow stair,
then sabering down to shear the toes from
Louisiana’s  boot
leaving the whole damned state
to limp along forever.
We Louisiana people are not like you
no matter how the movies and the TV
and the social workers try to make us so.
Sure, we hate the water and the wind, but
like a woman who requires bad love from the wrong man,
we cannot live without that edge, that frisson,
that moment when we stand before the widow-making,
widdershins winds and shout like mad prophets
our throats choking with the hammering rain.
When we look right up Katrina’s goddamned dress
screaming,  Is that all you got?
Laissez les bon temps rouler, putain!
and she rolls right over us, like any other
accommodating prostitute.

We will all of us walk around stunned for a little while.
We will some of us decide that we cannot live through this another time
and having decided, will leave forever.
But because we really are Louisiana people
and we are not like you, most will simply stay.
Most of those who go away will also come back
when they see how small the rest of America has become.
Once we get over being stunned
those of us who did not leave and were too stupid
to die when we could make the most money from it
will withdraw a little bit, as we do when we need
to remember who we are, and why that is enough for us.

The Pearl River is where we go to heal.
The Bogue Chitto, the Atchafalaya, the Amite
those are the rivers a man can wed, can live with happily.
Trees hang heavy over the banks
like women in shawls weeping in each other’s arms.
The water is thick, dark chocolate from the crud and crap
Katrina drove into her stream, but hell, she’s always dark
and thrilling as a sporting girl from Storyville.
This is my place.
It is what makes me a Louisiana man,
unlike any other kind of man in America
for all the good and bad you can imagine.
So be it.
My spindly gumbo-hut of a fishing camp
is still on its pins, its furniture nailed to the floor.
The river rises and recedes.
I chase the snakes through the front door
like they were naughty puppies and laugh thinking
how damned immortal we all are,
snakes and men together,
ever since Eden.

 —Don Whittington


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