Muddy Water

Mississippi is America without the lying.
My granddaddy used to say that.
It’s not just another state across the state line, he’d say.
That’s the State of Mississippi. They want you to believe
it is the state of refinement.

Not that there’s anything wrong with fine dining.
Grandfather could send you to a nice place in Clarksdale,
Vicksburg, or even Tupelo. But he couldn’t recommend
baseball on Sunday, not in the state whose state flower
is the Magnolia.

The Eudora Welty Society doesn’t want to accept it.
They say it is all about gracious living, Southern-style.
If you ask the Friends of Walker Percy, the kind of men
who use their wives’ hairspray, they’d explain why there’re
no toilets in Mississippi, only rooms for gents and powder.

They just love poetry readings and recitations.
Conferences on flower arranging and ophthalmology.
The folks in Oxford are especially fond of the Japanese
tea ceremony. Pissarro and the French Impressionists
are a big draw at the local art gallery.

University life as we all know concentrates on smart dialogue.
Discussions and lectures dominate the schedules of busy young
people preparing for a future of three-bedroom mortgages.
At half-time, on days of play, the young ladies strut their wares.
They only carry pom-poms to hide their daggers.

Mississippi is a tougher place than people want to admit.
Good girls only give head when the home team wins.
Nice people are appalled by the Negroes. Chains down there
weren’t used to keep black folks from running;
they were used to beat them to death.

Grandfather didn’t want to die for no pecan pie
as other folks did, and not for anything else for that matter.
Not for the gooseberry wine, the catfish, the hushpuppies,
nor the grits; not for nothing, as they used to say. Not even
for the fried pickles white folks always say are to die for.

Not for granddaddy. He wasn’t about to get himself killed
over some tossed salad with earl and vinegar, and certainly
not over some shit talk at the barrel of a shotgun. See, back
in 1966 my granddaddy Minnis and his team from Wilson,
Arkansas won the biggest ballgame of the season.

They were so famous, a radio station announcer challenged
their team to head over for a fight to the finish, a Mississippi
Delta Championship. The boys climbed into a big yellow
school bus, crossed the mighty river, and headed south
on I-55 from downtown Memphis.

They were greeted upon arrival by the local sheriff, Clarence
Turner, and his cow-shit-stained deputies who aimed their
shotguns at their heads and shouted, “Niggers don’t play ball
down here, so you all better git back yonder.” Granddaddy
Minnis and his buddies didn’t say a word.

They headed home. They didn’t talk that night of word choice
or syntax. Walker Percy and Eudora Welty never came up.
Not them and not Grisham and not Faulkner neither. They talked
that night of how dangerous it was down in Mississippi and they
swore to God never to return.