The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

By Paul Simon

The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National Guitar
I am following the river down the highway
Through the cradle of the Civil War

I'm going to Graceland, Graceland
In Memphis, Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion
Is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I've reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone
As if I didn't know that
As if I didn't know my own bed
As if I'd never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I'm going to Graceland
Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poorboys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I'm looking at ghosts and empties
But I've reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I'm falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Woah, so this is what she means
She means we're bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I'm going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me
Wants to see Graceland

And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland


Yeah, you get lyrics two days in a row but these happen to be by one of the great English-speaking poets of the twentieth century; I taught this poem once in a contemporary poetry class and believe me it explicates a lot better than some of the crap foisted upon us by the Beat Poets. "The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National Guitar" was one of my favorite lines ever even before I realized that National was an instrument manufacturer; just the idea of the map of the US having a national guitar, which of course would run through the birthplaces of jazz and the blues -- the slave states, the South, the cradle of the Civil War -- never fails to make me smile. And since I went walking today across a giant scale model of the Mississippi which WAS shining like a National Guitar when it reached the wide branch headed toward the Gulf of Mexico, and I am going to Graceland in the morning, it seems perfectly appropriate.

Early Tuesday morning we drove from Kentucky over the line into Tennessee, a state I had never visited before. I wasn't expecting it to be so lush with forests, somehow, nor so hilly -- we passed the Nashville skyline on the way to Memphis and it was beautiful. We stopped for lunch at a rest stop dedicated to Patsy Cline on the Country Music Highway and arrived in the city in the early afternoon. We took the monorail over to Mud Island; younger son had his doubts about this at first, citing his fear of heights, but he ended up enjoying it a lot once apaulled did not contradict older son's declaration that the monorail car probably had a parachute in case of emergency (the monorail is less than 30 years old and has never had an emergency) and we got an interesting partial-aerial view of the city and the river.

Mud Island has a Mississippi River Museum which is fantastic: not only does it have the expected artifacts and historical displays about how the Native Americans, Spanish, French and English used the river, plus a history of slave life and a long section on the Civil War with recreations of both a Union battleship and a Confederate battery complete with cannons, but it has a partial recreation of a steamboat complete with music parlor, dock ramps and steering cabin and an exhibit on the history of music from early field work songs and spirituals through the blues to Elvis. Outside is a scale model of the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota through all the states and major cities it traverses, leading to a big pool with ducks representing the Gulf of Mexico. The model fills with rainwater like the actual river, so it reflects at least the local flood points; water rises when it's very wet and subsides when it's drier. There were people walking barefoot in the water (older son managed to step in wearing sneakers) and many red-winged blackbirds ducking in for a quick bath.

Late in the afternoon we took a riverboat ride between the bridges that mark the boundaries of Memphis (and technically were in Arkansas waters at one point, so I have now been in that state too!) The tour guide was very knowledgeable about local history, particularly Native American and African-American history, and since I know next to nothing about Memphis proper -- I certainly did not know about the nightmare of the sinking of the riverboat Sultana, which killed 1500 people, nor the 1878 yellow fever epidemic and the African-Americans who figured out that the mosquito infestation in the sewage system and not the wrath of God was killing people. We are probably not going to have time to visit Elmwood Cemetery or the Chucalissa Archaeological Site, so it was nice to get this overview.

Memphis from the river. Note the Pyramid Arena to the left.

The monorail over the river from Memphis to Mud Island.

Inside the Mississippi River Museum, a Civil War Union steam battleship...

...and, through a riverboat wheel on display, a view of a working riverboat on the Mississippi.

By a very small section of the scale model of the Mississippi River -- somewhere south of Memphis on this map.

Boarding the Island Queen for a cruise.

The flags of Spain, France, North Carolina, the United States, the Confederate States...the various places that controlled Memphis at one time.

Swallows were diving around the outside of the ship the entire time we were cruising -- we weren't sure where they were landing!

We had dinner at the home of The Artist Formerly Known As Captain Kate -- some of you know whom I mean, she did the covers for several issues of Now Voyager back in the day and bears a passing resemblance to a certain Star Trek captain. I had never met her in the flesh despite having known her for nearly nine years! She lives in a house on a lake with her husband who was regrettably out of town, two dogs and her nine-month-old son who was probably scarred for life by exposure to my children, but it was so great to get to meet her after all this time! We arrived very late at our hotel and promptly had a flood in our room because the people upstairs didn't use their shower curtain properly -- the hotel is completely full, no chance of moving -- but the kids got to swim, which is all they cared about!
Tags: trip west 06

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