The first poem, titled “The Mississippi River’s Proclamations,” is written in the first-person exclamation: “I am the Father of Rivers…. I am the heart of remembrance…. I am a road with infinite shores…. I sing bottomless blues for porous shadows.” The personified river switches its role in another poem, “The River’s Music,” which “plays in its dark depths… / still and sad, shriveled waves, / a procession of mourners” for the sorrow of the people living in the Mississippi Delta, yet it also “turns into a flowing symphony / dressed for a storied night of revelries.”
Can sins be washed away by the silent river? Can sinners feel peace from their confessions? The answer can be found in the following stanza:
Here Kolin imagines the Mississippi as a coroner stacking the bodies from the suffering, the killing, and the missing, suggesting that the river can be “the darkest place on earth” in the sinners’ hearts as well as “the longest tear duct in America / filled with unshared sorrows / and lost dreams…” The concluding one-line stanza emphasizes that the river never asks the reason for these sorrows, but it does associate the river with a killing scene where dark things are done by humans.
Two poems restage the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. After months of heavy rain, the flood-swollen river breached its levee at Mound Landing in the Mississippi Delta. The destructive waters affected especially the life of African Americans. Many of them were drowned when they were ordered to stay on the levee fighting the flood. Kolin describes a vivid scene in the first-person narration in “The Great Flood of 1927.” The narrator tells in a black voice that his father “swilled cotton dust / all his sharecropper life” but
In brief, Kolin’s Delta Tears is a place that stores memories, reminding us of the history and life in the Mississippi Delta. Many poems are muddy tears “lengthening the suits of sorrow” with “generations of misery;” they are also pearls coated in silt.” Therefore, reading this book is a process to heighten the perception of history.
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John (Jianqing) Zheng published A Way of Looking and Conversations with Dana Gioia in 2021. His poetry has appeared in Hanging Loose, Mississippi Review, Poetry South, Tar River among others. He is the editor of Journal of Ethnic American Literature.