I’ve known rivers:I often spend my lunch breaks down by the Alabama River in Montgomery. I love sitting there: reading, thinking, just being. It's a place where all my identities seems to come together and meet, where my past, present and future seem to converge.
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
–from Langston Hughes' “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
Like the time I saw a beautiful black family—a grandfather, his grandson (about 7-ish) and his granddaughter (about 3-ish), fresh off a boat ride and enjoying lunch and each other. I smiled as I watched them, catching bits and pieces of their conversation, the youngest of the crew a bit skittish about an insect flying nearby. It made me think of fishing trips with my father and siblings so many years ago.
And there are the times I have sat by this river and read books that plucked my brain and my heart, like Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Bayou Magic. In this tale, a young girl from New Orleans spends the summer with her mysterious grandmother, who teaches the child about her family’s special connection with the healing powers of water. From the time one of their foremothers was stolen from Africa to the time Big Oil threatens to ruin their entire existence on the bayou, water speaks to this family and the communities around them.
And there’s the time I reclined by the river and began reading historian Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. Early in the book, I read about clever and courageous enslaved folks who attempted to escape bondage via various rivers during American slavery. Some successful, some...not successful.
I think about this particular river, the Alabama, where who-knows-how-many folks—who looked like me, could have been related to me—disembarked from vessels and walked right up this riverbank to a pen or jail on what is now Commerce Street or Dexter Avenue. At some point, they were led to One Court Square—now marked by a beautiful, decorative fountain—where they were auctioned off, maybe separated from family they’d never see again.
I think about lunch by this river with one of my dearest friends. Recently, this friend and I gathered in this old city, just down the road from the river, with two more of our dear crew. We cheered with and for each other, laughed and danced together, loved on and affirmed one another. It was all kinds of black girl magic. It was beautiful. It was love.
Perhaps I thought about all this today as the weather turns noticeably cooler and, maybe in a month or two, I likely won’t be lunching by the river for a while. But I’ll be back.
I came across this video of Langston Hughes reading "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" after explaining the inspiration behind it. Check it out.
video courtesy of Poetry Reading Live on YouTube