His body was as messy as the Mississippi River


Without warning, full cottonwoods, gnarled roots exposed

by years of torrents, often fell face forward into the river

as did Rayford, his small town’s crippled boy, often

tripping on the broken sidewalks, his twisted shape

haphazard, arachnid, in the shadows of full waving trees


Not that he didn’t struggle in cerebral palsy strut against

the catcalls of schoolyard bullies soon to be senators,

congressmen, merchants, sports stars and preachers

In 1950, his only recourse was to pretend they did not exist


One afternoon in high school, sitting by the radio, he reached

for the seat of the chair his parents had placed there, slowly,

awkwardly, pulled himself upwards on it shouting to the air,

“No, dammit!  No!  No!”


“Are you well, Rayford?” his mother called from the kitchen

in her formal old-fashioned way


“Yes, mother,” he answered in his muddled voice as loud

as he could, then hobbled in string-puppet parade walk,

Adam’s Apple first, head pulled back by rubber-banded ligaments,

to a bluff above the river where he often stood on humid days

to silently watch the twists and turns of the wayward waters


From that day on, no more would he come home from school

to cry in his bedroom alone, asked his father to order

a stainless steel instrument for buttoning his shirt,

taught himself to weave a perfect necktie with his bulbous knuckles,

laboriously formed a bow in his shoe laces, took to wearing

a suit, tie and fedora to school, ignoring the daily gauntlet there


An only child, the only crippled boy in town, he stood upright

on that special afternoon in the violent wind at the highest point

of the tallest bluff he knew, a brother of unruly rivers