For as long as I can remember
when I heard the song “City of New Orleans”
I thought of the actual city
even though I knew it was about a train.
Whether it was Arlo singing, or Willie or Steve
I thought of Jackson Square, the Mississippi River,
the rain that enveloped us as we walked the Quarter,
Lake Pontchartrain, beignets and hot chocolate,
the raised graves, the delicious seafood.
But now when I hear the song
my thoughts are quite different
for I have spent time in the very place
The City of New Orleans travels
“through the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea.”
I know Money Road and Bryant Grocery store
where Emmitt Till made his famous mistake.
It is there, on Money Road, I stood
by great bluesman Robert Johnson’s grave,
the Tallahatchie River behind me as I faced east,
and saw The City of New Orleans, speeding by on a
sunny Saturday morning in July,
making its way south, and I thought,
“Good Morning America, how are you”
there is a famous song about you, “rocking to the gentle beat”
of the mesmerizing clickety-clack and whistle
and “the disappearing railroad blues.”
The writer of the song having died quite young himself.
You, The City of New Orleans, so epic I couldn’t even get a picture.
And for me,
it all came together,
in that place,
in that moment.
History and music, the river,
life and death,
everything I knew
and all the things I don’t.
Steven Goodman singing his epic song: