For L-S, for the South, for all those
who took a chance and decided to come along.

Launched into the American night,
a bus hurtles through the south
across time zones,
across time itself,
crossing many boundaries, as
we set off on a trip of moments, each
a magnolia in bloom, so that

we might see, understand the who, the what
the why, the where...the...you mean...here?which
explains the museums, the memorials, the
graves, and so too the witnesses,

those who could really say, "I am the man. I was
there. I suffered," and all the while
searching/searching/searching for matzoh, in a place
where millions toiled in steaming fields waiting
for their Red Sea to part, with latter-day Pharaohs
still refusing to "Let my people go,"

but there was no gefilte fish to be found
in the delta, though the blues were
everywhere, and oh those magnolia
blossoms, I hold them in
my hand, I inhale, and suddenly I

see Tony Washington dancing on Beale street ("Oh,
brown-eyed girl!"), leading the way,
as if he were all done with
observing, and had decided to just plunge
right in, and

I inhale,

oh, Tom Rhodes, your kindness, giving
that homeless man at the Lorraine Motel a dollar,
but him refusing, saying he had to earn it
first, and you replying, "Well,
then tell me a story." Contact!

-and I inhale again, and suddenly
I am in a very warm room in Clarkes-
dale, when a video about the lives
of sharecroppers wipes the smiles
off our faces, kind of like Jimmy taking the bus
though one of those sweeping U-turns,
watching and sweating together, oh

a blossom for the Crossroads, for the
musicians, for all those sang together
bringing the south into the bus, until
the air vibrated around us, but, oy vey, still
no matzoh, though we did discover we needed no
boombox, just another magnolia
moment to join those that would follow

in Mound Bayou, now bypassed by
highways, by history, this small town with lost
dreams and men in
striped pants who might one day
find them while fixing a truck in the town
garage or cutting grass,

and a whole magnolia tree for New Orleans,
destination of the Big
Muddy, flowing night & day, how exhausting this
emptying of continents, and all
that gumbo, gumbo food, gumbo music,
gumbo people that not even the souvenir
shops could kill,

handfuls of magnolia blossoms for Hollis
Watkins, who took us beyond facts to
something still alive, the way
life retreats into the roots of
a tree preparing to face the winter,
and let's not forget Mr. Deerman,
magnolias to you, southern man, who

refused to leave home, because it was home,
even though nightmares will still find you
in the moonlight one June night, on
Highway 19, watching it happen again & again,
the road flowing south to Meridian,
where James Chaney, forever 21, still

sleeps, then Alabama, where lightning bolts actually
did "turn us around," well, temporarily,
but we pressed on to Birmingham, still bereft
of matzoh to a church and a park
where something did once happen, leaving
behind four magnolia blossoms to remember
four who can never be forgotten, then

on to Georgia where the Dreamer
sleeps, and so more boundaries
to cross, and I could swear I did see Peter Kim's
arm around Tracie, just hanging easy, and
what's goin' on with Alexa and Nelson,
anyway? And I see people laughing together,
while singing what might be the world's dirtiest
rap song, and I did finally find my
matzoh on a street named for pagans, called
North Druid Avehey,

why not? and we sat down at a table to celebrate an ancient
story, different delta, different time, different
river, just the matzoh and horseradish, like
a group of Jews and righteous gentiles
in hiding, maybe Warsaw
1943, but, no, this was at the Drury Inn
where Dayenu was sung, as it has been for 2000
years, and where the Prophet
Elijah stopped by for a friendly glass
of grape juice,

and here we promised magnolias to all,
and pledged to remember
oppression, to seek justice, to raise
strangers out of bondage, to feel their
suffering as our own,
and so magnolias on this trip through
the south, this journey through
memory, past deltas and bayous,
past rivers and fields, past

Waffle Houses that we came to know, all this on
a bus, too hot or too cold, with its own
suggestive smell, but here we did find: history...and here we did
find: food and music...and a place, and

somehow, far from home, we did
find: each other,
so magnolias to each,
to everyone magnolias.

Snow in Detroit.
Then it was Blue Week.


April 25, 2005

All written material © Bill Schechter, 2016
Contact Bill Schechter