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Poem: Down the River 

DOWN THE RIVER

We are rafting down the river, you and I,
the brown river, too muddy to drink
and too wet to plow, filled with grains of earth,
Minnesota’s gift to Louisiana.
It is far from clear which of us is Huck
and which is Nigger Jim, but does it matter?
We are two, rafting down together,
past all the towns with the bright names
as if the Word Giant had shaken them up
in a dice box and scattered them on the land—
Dubuque, Sabula, Muscatine, Oquawka,
Pontoosuc, Nauvoo, Keokuk, Chautauqua,
Kaskasia, Thebes, Cairo, and on downstream,
wondering, you and I, where the raft will take us,
whether we will run aground at Memphis,
Helena, Vidalia, or Baton Rouge,

or keep going to New Orleans to hear
the glittering trumpets in Jackson Square,
or even beyond, past Davant, Happy Jack, Venice,
and on into the warm lapping Gulf,
to lose ourselves among its waves and tarpons.
But it is a good raft, and the sky is gold with sunlight,
and we are rafting down the river
together.

Speaking of...

  • Poetry edited by Phillip Levine.

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