Grade A: Mississippi / to my father

Written in Albuquerque (Mesa SE), February 2002:  addressed to Harry Payne Reeves, RIP.  My father was born in Carmi, IL, not far from the Mississippi (actually closer to the Wabash—oops), in 1886.  When he died in 1956 he’d been working on a novel about his boyhood;  this poem tries to capture some of the atmosphere of that unfinished piece.  Published in my books The Closed Shrine and Wings of the Gray Moon.


to my father



how did the river pick you

did it sleeve its round grace in your voice

harden its plank houses with your denim stroll



how did the fresh flats rear you

was the spasming stick you held by the forks

a wizardry of flood



how did the shops guess their contents

did they peddle the limits of your age for a nickel

when the century got up whistling from its blanket of bruise



how did the river pick you

was your manhood a far knocked banjo chord

on a pier yawned skyward on the birthtide of the world