‘Be careful’, my father had written to me, ‘It’s supposed to be unsafe out there’, words interspersed with photographs from the cargo ship that he was working on as he made his way up the Mississippi river to the port right outside New Orleans. The immigration rules did not allow him to step on American soil and he had no choice but to remain on his ship. His short-lived glimpse of the country had remained only within those raised embankments on either side of the river. The America that lay on the other side was something he could only make sense of through a trickle of news and opinions that he had been heard from a distance. Guns, Violence, Racism, Trump, A certain loss of Tenderness...
A couple of months later I made the journey on road down the delta from the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi rivers outside Cairo (Illinois), to Pilot Town, off Highway 23 that went further down from New Orleans. It was near here that the river opened into the sea and was the entry point into this part of the country for all ships including my father’s.
As it had been for sailors searching for land, birds now became my guides as I looked for the beginnings of water, leading me through the blues of the wetness of the land. The America I found on the way was not quite the same as the one that my father had imagined.
Just as it had been with my father, there was always a levee between the river and me as well. My father had been on water but had not been able to touch land. I was on land but had barely been able to touch water. Together we got a glimpse of the delta from our own sides of the levee.