On Writing: Moonlit Mile

Last week I wrote this chapter about a friend of mine and he is dead now, but not while I was writing, because then we both lived.  And in my mind we were fifteen sixteen and we were driving through the Delta, and where we were driving everything was deserted and dark.

And we were driving through vast expanses of agriculture and emptiness.  And we were driving where the fields stretch so far they meet the sky.  And we were driving and the night was back and the stars were blazing, and while we were driving everything was okay for that beat of time.

Focus on the Fundamentalists: Mississippi Mary Miller Interviewed in the Nervous Breakdown

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 6.27.48 AMI met Mary Miller last fall at the Lost in the Letters Festival in Atlanta. I’d made a point of seeing her read* because my friend Alex Gallo-Brown had told me she was one of his favorite writers.  When I’d heard Mary was from Mississippi like me, I’d been doubly intrigued.

I interviewed Mary for the Nervous Breakdown about her  novel, the Last Days of California, which follows a fundamentalist Christian family racing the rapture to California.  We discussed fantasizing about fundamentalism, writing realistically about teenage sex, and why Miller can’t quit Mississippi, among other things.

*Scott McClanahan also read that night and Roxane Gay gave a craft talk- triple score!

Pilgrimage (Yes, Look Back)

When I called my cousin to plan our trip he said “This isn’t like you.  You’re homesick.” “You just think I hate Mississippi,” I teased before agreeing.  He was right.  Right then I wanted to be in the Delta more than anything in the world.

We met up last week in Greenwood.  We met up on the banks of the Yazoo. And we watched the wind rustle the cypress, the sycamore, and the river birch, the brown waters rolled below.  The waters rolled past us, past the pecan, past the willow, past the tupelo. And as we watched part of me felt like I had never gone away  because part of me has never left, part of me is always there in my mind, even though I’ve always told myself don’t look back, don’t wish for anything from before.

We spent our afternoons driving around in the country. Our first stop was past the bend on Money Road to Little Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church where Robert Johnson is buried or was buried, no one knows for sure.  We found his grave beneath the tree, re-discovered that Mt. Zion’s graveyard is bordered by the Tallahatchie.  And as we stood on the bank and watched the river I realized I never lived more than a half mile from water when I was young. And that’s something I’ll always miss- not living by the river.

The thing I’d forgotten was all the water; how the lakes, the swamps, the rivers attract birds.  We saw swarms of blackbirds, soaring hawks, Canadian geese flying in Vs.  When they got tired, they’d flock in the fields and rest. We saw kestrels, cormorants, wild ducks floating in the brake. In the late afternoon, we’d watch the sun set on the water which lapped against the cypress knees. Long shadows were cast by the trees lining the flat fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.

That last day when I was alone I had no itinerary.  Just let my mind drive me places I didn’t know I wanted to go.  I sat on the bench in Wagner Park where my grandmother taught me to read.  Drove past my grandparents’ old house which is missing its gardenia.  Hunting trucks are parked where my grandfather’s Buick used to go.  Visited the last river, the Yalobusha, whose waters always have seemed less brown to me, more muddy gold, than the Tallahatchie or Yazoo.  Stopped by the Crystal for one last order of tamales, drove past Lusco’s, where we’d eaten two booths down from Anthony Bourdain the night before.  We’re where the action is, we’d laughed, though what I cared about was what happening in our space, me and my cousin and his wife whom I adore.

My final stop was at the graveyard.  I found my grandparents beneath the oak tree, rediscovered the names of so many I’d forgotten. And I sat in my car and cried for all I loved and and lost and now remember. Sometimes I love to cry more than anything in the world.  Especially that cry, which was a good feeling, this re-learning to love Mississippi.  Because I know the anger I’d felt was directly related to being sent away to Escuela Caribe.  Because make no mistake, I was brainwashed there, that is what they do to you at those places, they program you into believing that everything else is the problem except what happens in your home. And I love this sensation, this relearning to love the land again.  It’s another way to reclaim who I was before.