Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sunday #173: Where in the World


Mississippi’s Pearl River, so named by French explorers in typical disregard of its already given Choctaw Indian name of Nanawaya, is a 487 mile long river that has its beginnings in a lush green portion of east central Mississippi. Sieur de Bienville can perhaps be forgiven his lustrous appellation for this lovely river. It was apparently from her mouth at the Gulf of Mexico that he plucked oysters that bequeathed food for his men and jewels for his beloved’s ears and throat.

The river’s initial course is to the southwest, before turning at Jackson upon a south to southeasterly course that will take it all the way down to Bienville’s oyster bed. Not, however, without first pouring her lurid jade green waters into a 50 square mile tub of grey bath water known as the Ross Barnett Reservoir. She staggers out of her grey sleep through a spillway that magically stains her waters green once again, limps down the eastern edge of a city that has punished her for her presumptive flood waters of years past, finally regaining some vitality as she wanders free of municipal bondage, then boldly intruding for a stretch as state boundary to the Papist insinuations of Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish.

This commemorative desecration of a bejeweled river honors a governor whose habit it was to stand in the way of all possible healing between the races of his constituent state. Stood, he did, in the way of one James Howard Meredith, a man of both African and Choctaw lineage attempting, in 1963, under the chaperone of several hundred federal troops, to integrate the University of Mississippi, a bastion of latter day confederates with several infantry brigades’ worth of beauty pageant-winning coeds, the maintenance of whose sexual purity was no doubt felt to be endangered by the ravenous presence of a solitary diminutive black scholar. Governor Barnett did not win his battle of the doorjambs at Ole Miss, but his habit of obstruction appeared headed for the ultimate victory of eternal life in the guise of his tepid namesake, ironically inserting itself into the forward progress of a river given its original name by the progenitors of the governor’s old adversary in the sacred halls of undefiled higher education.

Until, however, the summer of 2000, when, with a sense of millennial drama, the gray eminence (reservoir, not governor; no one has yet tracked the possible correlations of decline between that one aging body politic and his memorial body of water) began to recede, not by mere inches, but plunges of feet. Of a mind, it would seem, if mind can be so attributed, to abandon all semblance of political mimicry and return to life a reborn, reincarnated, unreconstructed river of dreams.

Thus were the passions engaged of a vagabond tribe of amateur archaeologists and geologists that counted Evers Jameson, the self-named Lord Spudlee Spoo, and the silently attentive Avery Redding in its numbers. Evers had been there from the beginning, as Nature in league with chastising drought (and in unholy alliance with the ACLU and NAACP, whispered the more deranged of the governor’s old cronies), slowly revealed a wonderland of underwater forests (those clearcut and those entirely unmolested), asphalt roads, entire neighborhoods’ worth of shotgun houses deemed unworthy of relocation by the Corps of Engineers, playgrounds, service stations, ice houses, schools, schoolyards, barns, farmhouses, swimming pools, and a cavernous landfill that the lead amateurs had christened Paradise. In the unlikeliest of locations, Titanic was raising herself. Evers, as scout for the notoriously reclusive Spudlee, had chronicled two thick journals’ worth of observations, statistics, sketches, newspaper clippings, and photographs taken with his mother’s commandeered old Leica. But, he was tired of the hermetic turn his life had taken as minion for Spoo, a sweethearted lad beneath his aristocratically swollen pigeon’s breast: hence, his insistence—an insistence that surprised both himself and his lordship—that Lord Spoo cast monasticism aside and venture forth before all the good stuff was taken. Not surprised by the newly brazen manners of Evers Jameson was young Avery Redding, beneath whose appearance of quiet reproof lurked, as one might guess, first love of a lass for something other than doll or pony.



Anonymous missalister said...

That course sounds familiar. That pouring into tubs of grey, staggering out through spillways, getting re-stained, limping down the edge of a city and being contained and breaking free…for awhile, anyway. The life of the Pearl River, the life of swine, of higher power, energy… Life is life. Laid down, torn up, “simplified,” another word for complicated, “beautified,” ruined and left ugly, but never ever left alone, static, ‘cause there is no static. That’s the heart of what this got me to thinking, anyway, Brother P, thinking then rambling on about…

11:33 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Sister: Love how you expand the Pearl, flooding her into all of us (particularly love the life of swine). And ain't it great havin' you hang round the kitchen this morning.

11:48 AM  
Blogger anno said...

That might be the greatest last line ever; for the lead-in to the next installment, that is. There is more coming, right?

1:02 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Oops. I believe I can back up the truck - there's more before it in the attic, but I ain't so sure about after. There were plans, years ago, for an after, a big novel, but damn, summer is a-runnin' on. I'll talk to Ms Avery.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I really enjoyed this. I would enjoy a big novel like this even more... write part this summer and a little every day after school and a lot more next summer. in 10 years, you'll be done.

the writing flows along gently like the flow of the river. I must say the Choctaw name is so much more eloquent and befitting of a body of water.

3:12 PM  
Blogger San said...

Another "battle of the doorjambs" occurred at my alma mater-- in the doorjamb of Foster Hall, to be exact. My memory fails. I can't remember the student's name, but the guv was G. Wallace. By the time I matriculated at UA, we had a black homecoming queen and a student body prez. Talk about the "Titanic raising herself." Talk about a Crimson Tide.

I feel baptized by this Pearl.

4:13 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Teresa: I am with you on the Choctaw naming. When is an indigenous name not better than a subsequent (oft Caucasian) alternative? This story/novel seed was inspired by a trip the three of us took to the headwaters of Nanawaya about nine years ago. As we neared the location, it felt like we were entering a magical place - a thin place, to borrow a Celtic designation. Not surprisingly, the Choctaw people also located their "birthplace" in the same area. You could feel why.

In truth, were I to pick up this novel-in-waiting, with a little personal discipline, it could be done in much less than ten years. I wrote my first novel in about 14 months, and it was all done in a series of Saturday morning writing sessions.

I'm glad you liked the piece. I, too, enjoyed its opening novelistic rhythms.

12:14 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: I believe old Forrest Gump wandered into George's showdown with the Feds. Times have certainly changed, from what we both knew earlier on. I'm happy for that, happy for your baptism, and happy to find you here and fully vacation-recovered.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Dee Martin said...

Reading this was like floating down with the river itself giving up it's story - pointing out here and looking over there, a historic journey in a canoe.

Our little community has made news just this last week for a rally protesting uneven justice. Sad and confusing.

7:40 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Dee: It felt like that, writing it, too. If you ever want a true Texas float, try John Graves' wonderful Goodbye to a River, which chronicles his own Thoreauvian canoe trip down the Brazos in 1957: he made the trip before a series of dams were about to change the whole character of the river.

Prayers to you and your community: may peace reign.

8:31 AM  

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