(262) The City of New Orleans

New Orleans Thanksgiving weekend 1979. Jackson Square and on the Natchez on the Mississippi River

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.

Money Road

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.

Johnson grave

Steven Goodman singing his epic song:


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