Travel: The Mississippi Delta

Words & Images: Haruka Sakaguchi

July 31 2016

“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Somewhere in this basin is where the Delta resides. Indeed, this 200-mile long strip of hardy floodplain is as much a place as it is a feeling. It’s the creaking of aged wood panels under your bare feet, the cool prick of mosquito nets under your fingers, the slow burn of whiskey slipping down your parched throat. The Delta is at once distinct as it is painfully ubiquitous to the American psyche. It is a dark place. It is a strained place. It is an awfully human place.

Known as “The Most Southern Place On Earth,” the Delta is a lush expanse of fertile farmland tucked between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers in northwest Mississippi. The 250-mile drive from Memphis along Highway 61 reveals vast stretches of budding cotton fields on both sides disrupted occasionally by blips of abandoned homesteads and kudzu-ridden farmhouses. The cinematic cloud formations here are a lurid contrast to the overwhelmingly flat terrain.

Clarksdale, with a population of little over 20,000, is one of the more well-known cities in the Delta. Muddy Waters lived here. Bessie Smith took her last breath here. Tennessee Williams spent his formative years here and described the surrounding areas as “the richest land this side of the Valley Nile.” At present, Downtown Clarksdale has a handful of juke joints and pork rind shops that stood the test of time. Most notable is the Ground Zero Blues Club, a blues bar co-owned by proud Delta resident Morgan Freeman.

If you’re a Blues fan, attractions abound – the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia and Po’Monkey’s in Bolivar County are few of the must-see stops in the Delta. But visitors are wont to spend at least a full day sitting in a rocker on the front porch with a bourbon in hand, watching the sun rise and wane over the vast cotton fields. Here, the sky swallows you whole and time drips like warm honey. Deep kinship and murder narratives alike weave seamlessly into the rugged landscape like underground quilt codes. This is the underbelly, where history and pig fat commingle in a dark stew of long-winded stories and contradictions.

Indeed, the Delta is the most American place on earth.

Haruka is a graphic designer / photographer currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her adventures on Instagram.