by Jeffrey Murrell

Chapter 2
The Bayou

The two men disabled from fleeing for help,
he threw the gun in the boat, undid the rope,
kicked the boat away from its mooring,
then twined the pull-rope around the motor cog, pulling
to get it started up and running.
It resisted once--he heard the men moaning;
it was slow a second time--heard them groaning,
then it burst to life with a chug of smoke,
and he washed away in that tiny boat,
leaving the camp-house rocking in his wake;
leaving the two men lying in pain.
But he didn't care.
He had to get free.
And so he was free, out on that bayou,
with a few dollars in his pocket for food,
and a gun to command him some respect.
The water before him lay still as glass
and as green and as dull as olive drab.
The cypress trees outstretched their limbs
as if only to air the moss draping them.
Behind him he left the water's pane broken and cracked,
and the egrets took flight overhead,
rustled up out of the shadowy trees by the smoke
and the grinding of the little boat's motor
as it pierced forward on the water,
surrounded on all sides by a thick wall
of scraggly brown and green,
of roots and logs and leaves,
vines and sticks and cypress knees,
denying access from off the water,
making the boat its prisoner,
sentenced to skim the bayou
until, in its judgment, he deserved
a fork in the waterway in which to turn
and on which to take a new gamble:
Will this one lead to a dock or landing?
Or will it lead to another puzzle?
But not so for those who know these green waters,
for those who have them in their veins,
who hunt in them, sleep by them, depend on them
for their livelihoods and to keep sustained.
They, even in the dark, could troll these waters
and return home each night safe.
But not so for this young man,
the street warrior with the gun
who happened upon this bayou by chance,
a wild renegade on the run!
And behind a bend of palmetto leaves
he saw a large flat boat
carrying twelve people, maybe more,
listening to someone who spoke
to them through a microphone
about the foliage and exotic animals;
it was a swamp tour under way!
They looked so cool and comfortable
beneath the boat's canvas-tarp shade.
He was hot and miserable,
pressed down by the heat of the open sun's rays,
without even the slightest breeze
to sooth and cool him.
But he didn't care.
He had to get free,
free to go his own way.
Again, around another bend
and he found himself floating a watery alley
lined on all sides by trees and vines,
but also by high stilted houses,
their wooden sides fading old and grey,
with big shady porches high over the water
draped with white folks on second-hand couches
who were drinking beer, and hard at play
in their little "camps" so far from the 'burbs,
grilling fish out on Bar-B-Ques,
zipping by on boats pulling skiers and leaving wakes
as if that was all they ever had to do.
And what's this? What's a DARKY doin' out here?
He could feel himself fill up with hate.
They looked down on him from their stilt porches
with loathsome eyes that said "GO AWAY!"
(He felt like taking that Tech-9
and blowing some of them away!)
But another fork in the water got him out of there,
and he found himself at peace,
cruising slowly over that glassy green
walled-in by stumps and trees.
And he really hadn't been out too long
before the motor gave out.
He wound up the rope and gave a few pulls,
but he ran out of gas again, it seems.
Always running out of gas!
Always out of cigarettes!
It seems nothing's meant to last
(well, not for him at least)!
But there were two oars he could use,
even though it felt weird to do,
as he'd never been in a rowboat before.
Hell, he'd never even been out in any bayous or
even out of the city limits too far!
His were the smells of concrete and road tar,
not muddy bayou waters and trees.
And he floated into a very large stream,
paddled his way northerly and beneath
a highrise bridge at whose top he couldn't see
the small sign with white lettering on metal green,
all pock-marked by buckshot and gravel dings,
giving notice to all: "ENTERING HANCOCK COUNTY"
So he had crossed the state line into Mississippi
with little to no clue that's where he could be,
rowing the little boat upstream
in what seemed to be a regular river,
in a place where blacks were once all just "niggers,"
at least to most whites, it would seem.