excerpt from Land mouth

Certain facts stand.

A river mouth is the part of the river where the river widens out to flow into a broader place. This broader place may be another river, a lake, an estuary, a sea, or an ocean. The river is said to debouch, or cut into these places. In the field of fluvial geography, a debouch is any place where any water flows out of a narrow passage. Creeks into rivers, streams into lakes, rivers through gorges and out. The term “debouch” describes this relation more generally and can also mean the emergence of soldiers into a larger field, the smaller confine being called a defile. Much like a gorge, a defile. In fact this is the geographical term. How many terms of land are also terms of war, of domination, of strategy, of offense and defense? I don’t have an answer. It is simply a question. Some questions beg an answer and some questions do not. Mostly, I am asking to ask.

My father was born near a river in the South. The South here is the southern United States, the river is the Mississippi, and my father is Prentiss James Jackson, born to Angeline and George Sr. in 1949. He was born at home and does not know what time. His birth occurred in a small city in Mississippi called Greenville, which rests in the Mississippi Delta, also called the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta for its arrangement between those two rivers. The town was destroyed during the Civil War by Union soldiers in gunboats. It was rebuilt on higher ground, then wrecked again in 1927 by the Great Mississippi Flood. Black families were barred from evacuating this city, given Red Cross tents with dirt floors and inferior rations. Black men were made to stay and work the levees without pay, made to wear laborer tags in order to receive rations and to show to which plantation they “belonged.” Black women with no husband or no working husband were barred from receiving supplies and rations unless they had a letter from a white man, any white man. We are and were a Black family. I once asked my father if he would ever move back to our land in Greenville and he said but what if it floods? He would but wouldn’t want to be wrecked by a flood like that.

My friend Ramsey used to say our friend Ciara couldn’t hold water. She couldn’t. She was our big mouthed best friend who we sometimes didn’t tell our business. Or maybe Ciara said this about someone else. I can’t remember exactly. We were young. Any way it went, it was and is remembered.

My memories my history my present they are so bound in imagination—there is no concrete way to say what happened before. There is no concrete way to say what was felt or sensed. Sometimes there is a trace: the weather was different then—some winters colder and some summers warmer. The patterns moved and it was sometimes a human effect. Awash. Floods did then as floods do now, and the rains then were still rain, and what was the intensity of rain.

Certain facts stand.

The speed of a river determines the speed at which a rock becomes a river rock.

It is not the river’s water alone that determines the speed.

It is not the river’s water alone that weathers the rock.

The sediments the water carries carry the process.

The sediments weather the rock, which at one point prior will have tumbled down jagged and whole to the bed or the bank of the river.

Each of these materials remains whole—the water, the rock, the sediment.

Each of these materials parts off.

So far I’ve called it weathering but it’s also termed abrasion. The sediments are abrasive to the rock and the weathered bits, broken off from their source, flow with the water downstream until they rest.

And then they are the floodplain, the beach sand, the delta, the mud in the estuary, the silt at the banks and in the mouth.

Many rocks are, crudely put, the result of the compression of dead matter. Those rocks—at some point in their lives as such, and which by many is not understood to be life, but inanimacy, nonfeeling, incapacity for thought—will eventually be hit with enough of another type of matter to become granular again. Perhaps in this way, a word is a rock, a gathering of living and its inevitable dispersal. A word in a mouth or draining from the tip of a pen or the pressing of a keyboard, being hit and hit and hit and made to make sense. Making sense. Being lived upon, this word-rock in the mouth, making sensation.

Sometimes there are no words or the words simply are not the right ones. Or sometimes the words don’t match, or they jumble. It’s okay, it’s alright, it’s all flow. Flow, flow, flow. This is what we do: flow. Even when it appears arrhythmic there’s flow. Such was the pace of the day. We tried to recall which way rivers move and then I read that all rivers want to make their ways into whatever seas are nearest, and that some lakes, big as they are, are in reality nothing more or less than river bulges. The rivers collecting and pooling onto themselves, really navel-gazing into a large puddle. I didn’t try to fact-check when I read; I simply ran with the sentence. That summer on the island off Maine, the day or days went on with these ideas. We tried to remember, I read, and then we played a little game, trying to say the same word at the same time. It’s mostly south that rivers flow. Our mouths opened and opened and opened and eventually landed at tide.

Sometimes there are no words. A lake is such when a river has flown where the land has been higher on all sides. Rarely is land perfectly flat. As such, an inclination to southness. Always aiming for the biggest basin—does all water wish to contain salt? Merger is a process and a practice. What distinguishes instinct from pressure or pull? I forgot about the rain, how the rain fits in, and the underground aquifers. The water table is landed liquid seeping up. Up and south. Sometimes there are no words.

Some of us can be traced by how we arrived—which way up or down. Some of us don’t remember. Simply can’t.

Imani Elizabeth Jackson is from Chicago. Under the name mouthfeel, she co-authored the poetry-cookbook Consider the Tongue (2019) with S*an D. Henry-Smith; she also contributed to Francesca Capone’s Weaving Language I: Lexicon (Essay Press, 2022). She is the author of two chapbooks, saltsitting (g l o s s, 2020) and Context for arboreal exchanges (Belladonna*, 2023) and her first book, Flag, is forthcoming from Futurepoem.