Except for the five years I lived in Texas, I’ve never lived more than 15 miles from the Mississippi River. In known and unknown ways, the river has shaped my life.
My earliest memory of the Mississippi was, oddly enough, a man-made extension of the river. It’s called the Industrial Canal, in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. My mother was raised in the Lower Ninth, and when I was a child two of her sisters lived them, one of them about 50 feet from the levee. And nothing was more natural and occasionally terrifying than to run up the levee and see the ships moving to and from the river. It was terrifying because my cousins and I were always warned by my uncles about the dreaded nutriathat inhabited the levee. We never saw one, but we always believed the stories. Why would our uncles lie to us?
We’d walk the top of the levee toward the Mississippi. It wasn’t far, perhaps 500 yards. But we’d pass what were known then and now as the “Steamboat Houses,” built by ship captains for their families. Colorfully painted and decorated with architectural gingerbread, they were set back from the levee with the main living quarters on the second floor (a hedge against a levee break or flooding during a hurricane).
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Photograph: A “steamboat house” on the Industrial Canal extension of the Mississippi River in New Orleans; Infrogmation via Wikimedia.
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