Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Leaving Mississippi" & "Reminiscence at Toul" by James Autry

Until yesterday I had never heard of James Autry. On yet another drive criss-crossing suburbia I heard Bill Moyers (the indefatigable liberal conscience of America!) interviewing him on NPR. As is often the case when I find something unexpected on the radio I found myself driving around to listen to the soothing, worn and wise voice of this thoughtful businessman poet. Watch the entire 22 minute segment of Bill interviewing Jim Autry here.

The poems he read were the highlight of the program and introduced a new American voice to me. "Leaving Mississippi" captures the feelings of anyone who has ever moved far away from their childhood home and forever after experiences flashes of the sights and smells of the places left behind.

Leaving Mississippi
Part of me never left
and another part is always leaving,
leaving Mississippi but never gone.
“Jimmy when you gonna come on back
down home,” my people ask,
and I cannot say, “Never,
I’ve found my home somewhere else”
any more than I can say my home
was never in the State of Mississippi
but in the community of it,
in my father’s churches,
in Abel’s store,
in Ashland on the square,
in how the people were together.
Now that home is gone forever from Mississippi–
yet it is with me still,
in the fall smell of wood smoke
from some suburban chimney,
in an Atlanta taxi driver’s turn of phrase,
in the quiet of an old church in Bavaria,
in the call of an Iowa night hawk,
in a fish breaking the surface of a Colorado stream,
in the night peepers everywhere
in a stanza of Amazing Grace,
in the crickets,
in dust.

"Reminiscence at Toul" is a beautiful poem giving us yet another reminder to live in the present: "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans". John Lennon's immortal words from "Beautiful Boy"  (whose poignancy is particularly heartbreaking in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre) are much remembered in "quotable quotes" but mostly ignored in the hurly burly of life.

Reminiscence at Toul

Thirty years ago
On New Year's eve
drunk on French champagne
we shot bottle rockets
from the windows
of Hank and Willi's
rented chateau overlooking Nancy.

It sounds so worldly
which is how we wanted to think of ourselves,
but Lord, we were just children,
sent by the government to fly airplanes
and to save Western Europe
from World War III.

We thought we had all the important things
still left to do
and were just playing at importance
for the time being.
It never occurred to us,
living in our community of friends,
having first babies,
seeing husbands die,
helping young widows pack to go home,
that we had already started the important things.
What could we have been thinking,
or perhaps it's how could we have known 
that times get no better,
that important things come without background music,
that life is largely a matter of paying attention.

Jim Autry reads "Leaving Mississippi" and "Ronald's Dance":

Jim Autry reads "On Firing a Salesman":


ajnabi said...

great Fawad. Thanks.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Thanks Ajnabi Sahib! With your wonderful desi sensibility imagine my surpise at learning that you are actually trapped in an Aussie body! Thanks for visiting:)