Shall we mourn by the river?
Shall we join the Soul Patrol and hurry on down,
glide over houses and bodies of old men who used to work
at the docks, long days and slow mornings of arthritic rising?
Might we not march as a nation,
with this new Diaspora, following along the banks of the Mississippi
from the headwaters to Baton Rouge to the Gulf to Ponchatrain to Biloxi?
Let us do this American funeral up right
with trumpets and lines of live bodies, songs about
loved ones left behind– their mornings on hot porches
their evenings with cigarettes and wine.
Shall we weep along the river?
Can we move in rhythm to a single voice,
a Marian or an Aretha, a Shirley or an Etta, some ghost from Bourbon Street?
Let millions of us dance in a line snaking
from sea to shining sea,
as schools release the children
who put their hands in ours and
we moan a low note of pleading
keening, searching for some old time get- happy sound.
Shall we gather together
to start this whole country all over?
Let us begin with compassion this time round
with great respect for the Native in his home.
Let us have a true American funeral,
singing our way to forgiveness.
Let us search for Preservation Hall,
listen for funk, gospel, soul, blues and jazz,
in order that all of us, even the most reluctant
can finally arrive in New Orleans, there to tend
to the new Atlantis that is now a city of graves
of the abandoned children, lost men, fragile old women
caught stumbling below the levees.
Let us mourn along the river in America,
join that soul patrol, sing songs the way
all who are no longer there, on front stoops,
in upstairs bedrooms, on bar stools, in bare windows,
would want us to do.
For sorrow becomes our country now.
It is all we have: our grief, our dance, our fierce love,
our desire for saxophone, 2. a. m.,
our need for redemption. It is who we are now, finally,
a people who have come
to ask for mercy.
By Julie Landsman, 2005,
Julie Landsman website