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High Water Everywhere

By Wilson Krause

High Water Everywhere (Parts I and II) – Charley Patton

It’s been rainin every single night and day for two weeks. We’re livin up on a hill so the muddy waters aren’t in the fields yet, but I can’t say that much for the people in the valleys out towards Montpelier. There arent any levees to break, no dams to spill over, but there are rivers and rivers are enough. It was sunny and warm two weeks ago. Dry. Ground was baked solid. But we all prayed for rain and here it came. The clouds are just sitting over us like firesmoke, big gray pans tipping over across the land. I need an umbrella to walk to my car, but I can hear its skeleton cracking under the weight of deluge. 

We drive west, down out of the hill country and out along the state highway towards Stowe. First thing we see is the bridges outside of Sheffield; whats left of the bridges outside Sheffield, broken beams on either side of the foaming river. It looks quite like marshmallows, the foam, yellowed and crisped on the edges as it sloughs off along the inundated fieldland. It’s 2023, it’s 1927, and the high water is risin. 

Charley Patton, the Delta bluesman before all other, before Robert Johnson, before Son House. Five foot five but he sounds like six foot eight, hollering out a hundred yards without a mic, slamming on the body of that guitar like a drum. Child of the last generation of enslaved people, died without an obit in the local news. But without him, there’s no Mississippi blues, no training the first generation of real blues players. Father of the Fathers of Rock and Roll.

Feet of water in Montpelier, lapping at the lawns of the State House, creeping into the brick basements and moldering away at doorframes and the tender bellies of cars abandoned by their masters. I aint seen it but I heard about it, washing away everything that wasnt tied down. And the farms had it worse. All that was corn is now mud, all that was field tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, ripe carrots bursting from the ground, beans on the stalk, peas in the swelling pod – all mud. Mud filled with refuse and slag, sloughed off from all the human destruction that the rivers have cleaned on up. 

One house, right on the side of the river. White-washed boards, tin roof, blank windows staring out. The facade is there, the front wall. You could almost imagine a living room in there, had the lights been on or the rooms been peopled. But seeing the backside as we drove on past… aint naught there. Maybe a foot of wall on the sides of the place before the whole thing collapses into the waters. Bank it was standin on wasnt quite solid enough. 

Charley Patton lived through ‘27. He ‘would go to the hill country but they got me barred.’ When the levees broke in Greenville Mississippi there was only once place for people to go: where the white landowners told em. And they kept telling folks where to go years after the sun dried it all up. Charley Patton sings the blues but he’s not resigned to it. He’s angry. Listen to that voice. Far angrier than any punk musician I ever heard. Green Day never tried to go down to Rosedale when the rain was coming.

It all turned to smoke in the heat and vanished from the land. It left dirt in the streets, holes in the pockets, acrid bitterness in the hearts of men. I can look back at a dry valley field and still see high water. Its everywhere. 

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