• Matt Smythe

OLD MAN RIVER, Installment 4, Thesis

Updated: Jul 10

Another from the thesis. I spend a total of two months in the Delta doing research for a book about the Delta Blues. One day I had a chance to paddle on the river in a dugout canoe, hand made by John Ruskey. There’s only a handful of natural wonders in this great country that can grab you by your soul and fill you full of a profound new perspective. The Mississippi is one.


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Yesterday on the river, the Old Man spoke in roiling current & half buried bleach-white branches. Heading upstream, hugging the shoreline to avoid thousand-yard barges & the Coast Guard tug snagging stranded buoys, we paddled past lifetimes of conversation gouged out of the rip-rapped banks, past forty, fifty foot trees beached thirty foot above water-line, like broken toothpicks discarded after a dinner of catfish, fried okra, black-eyed peas & sweet tea.


When you’re on the Mississippi you’re on river time. I kept waiting for something to happen.


We made a fire among driftwood on a sandbar & boiled water for coffee while the river slipped past silent as the smoke from the black walnut we were burning. I crossed the tracks of beaver that had gnawed down brush-branches & dragged them to the water, a raccoon’s small hand-prints following the waterline for dead fish, the ghosts of coyotes wrestling around higher up the bank—tails swishing sand, paws, bellies, backs & snouts imprinted. The river is down 18 foot from normal for this time of year & we’re all taking advantage.


When spring sends its run-off from the Continental Divide & Ohio River valley, from Canada & the northern plains, our tracks here will be washed away—disappearing in that immense breath.


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© 2017 By Matt Smythe