THE RIVER, VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI
Yes, in the 1940s. Everything was very local back then, and his home was Poplar Street in Vicksburg. A specific street in a specific town in the humid Mississippi Delta. The town is located just where the Yazoo branch swings away from the course of the main river. It is the key that Lincoln held in his pocket in the battles of the Civil War. In the 1940s it was also a prejudiced town, but still nice and green and close to the river.
He does not quite recall, but he would say that five or six houses were grouped together on one block. Each block formed a square in a grid of dirt roads, and the houses were close to each other. Oh, they were very close. So close that you could look into each other’s windows. You could see people moving around inside and outside the homes, real people and their shadows, while the green water rose and fell on the banks of Vicksburg.
There was something about that river; the winding landscape, the wetlands, the bluffs and how the greenery slipped into the water. He could walk there in just five minutes, and his shoes would get dusty from the gravel and dirt on the roads. Earthly green, that is how he knows the colour of the water and he remembers the trees, the vines, foliage and grass of Walnut Hills. But somehow it all merges. The sounds from the houses merge with the air of the southern swamp and the voices from the revivals at church. He can hear the sound of gospel music and he can also feel the sensation of cotton fibres between his fingres, how to pick the white bolls from the brown plants in the fields close to home.
Nowadays it looks like his Poplar Street was never there. The dirt road is gone, Poplar Street is still an address, but a paved one, and the houses are further apart. He sings about a train ride home to Vicksburg, to go back home where he belongs. But the river that he truly walks to is the river of blues. His very specific place has turned into something quite universal; something that is woven by music and everywhere. Music is the fabric of our lives, he says, and the street where everyone belongs.
Reliefs in oak wood: Artist Søren Assenholt
Prose and concept: Author Sanne Flyvbjerg