“Whoa, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of. Mississippi, find yourself another country to be part of.”—Phil Ochs, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi”
Phil, I’ll let it be that the geography you outline is a body, and I’ll extend it
sans the tempting, projecting refrain. Here’s to the land who’s torn out
the heart of? It must be the highways pulling down the heartland to the gulf
or the rivers that wash away the bodies, now cells, that you image. The highways
pulling down the blithe ignorance of middle America, the cornfields and pick-ups, and all
other host of white blood cells sunk in the pit of your Mississippi. And let’s pretend that
the heart was even fit and not smoke-tarred. You’d agree it was ill, but it was more important
to attack the Mississippi pit. If it’s not the heart of our country, then in your metaphor, what is it?
Some cancer-stricken receptacle of the nation’s waste, perhaps some colon attached
to the sea? But here our song becomes a waste. Of course the disease is real, but what of the transplant?
What if you cut Mississippi out and sutured it to Mexico or Cuba, Colombia or the stateless
Western Sahara? This poem is not fit for a singalong, I’ll readily admit, but that’s
sort of the point. Those cross-legged hippies you sang to in New York would have no problem
saying damn it all; throw out the state with its governor. Here there are real people, in your metaphor
real cells, all fighting the same disease as effectively, or not, as they can. And if it were to drift away,
here would be the heartland with a road to the sea. Here would be our dirty American heart pulsing
sluggishly, feeding one less organ the blood it needs to keep its cells all processing and functioning. Here
would be our heart hemophiliac hemorrhaging all, all of its good blood in a steady stream to the sea.
But let it be, instead, that the land is an organ on which all beings and plants are cells that die and grow and live,
and before and after any state or trend or song or house, before and after the many oppressors and their laws there is only
the real land. The organ made of dirt and mineral on which we build our body. Tiny microorganisms constructing the whole,
a body riddled with scars that are the refrains we carry in our lungs when we sing our new songs after the waste
dries up in the sea.
-- Matthew DeMarco is a writer and editor living in Chicago. His work has appeared on Poets.org and in Columbia Poetry Review, Ghost City Review, Landfill, and elsewhere. Poems that he wrote with Faizan Syed have appeared in Dogbird and are forthcoming in They Said, an anthology of collaborative writing from Black Lawrence Press.