John Fountain: Where do we go on rivers of pain and disdain?

SHARE John Fountain: Where do we go on rivers of pain and disdain?

“I am a river,” writes John Fountain. “A river flows through my veins. Euphrates. Nile. Niger. Mississippi. Chicago.” | Irv Leavitt/Sun-Times Media

“I’ve known rivers: I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins…” – Langston Hughes

Where do we go from here? Cascading rivers of tears. New hopes. Old fears. Black consciousness now seared. The ghosts of “Mississippi Burning” buried. The ashes of those who once peered through the deep purple and crimson haze of chattel slavery and segregation to see the one true hope of a nation — indivisible with liberty and justice for all — now mere shadows in “freedom’s” fog.

That segregates black folks behind invisible walls. Upon urban, hyper-segregated isles. That billow like giant, toxic smoke stacks. Blowing in an unforgiving wind for miles and miles. And miles.

The chains that once bound our hands and feet now ingrained deeply within. The foghorn along this Promised Land voyage now diminished to a faint whisper again, drowned by America’s original sin.


Ringing teasingly. Mocking pleasingly. The “Promise” having never arrived for us all. Lost in time and space, we dwell as shadows on the wall.

Mere shadows. Dark shadows. Shadows. Inconsequential shadows. In a land of light. Currently stuck in this tunnel of our past to our present. Still toiling the dark, cold night. Our journey frozen in plight. And yet, we are not shadows as some suppose. But the souls of black folk. Upon whom this nation rose.

We are a river, rising. Elegant in dormancy. Rippling in sufficiency. Sparkling majestically in the incandescent glory of the sun. A mighty river rising. Still rising. Fertile and baptizing believers among the daughters and sons of “Maafa” who spilled through the Door of No Return. Predestined to rise inexorably after the storm.

After the resurrection of dreams too long deferred. After our ears no longer can be tickled by adulterous words. And our self-inflicted genocide having fluttered away, like birds.

One day. Some day… For today, we wade through rivers of blood. Kiss caskets cold and whisper prayers while we stand in cemetery mud. As skies cry and a piece of our soul dies. And competing rivers converge upon our demise.

Rivers of pain, filled with waters of disdain. Rivers inhumane — swollen and cresting, like at spring. Rivers sullen and mean. Rivers bathed in ancestral screams and filled with the debris of hate in a land “of thee I sing.”

And after all these years, we’re still drowning in tears. And the question still ringing: Where do we go from here?

Where do we go? From here? Where?

Back to the river. For like Langston Hughes, I too have known rivers. And “my soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

I am a river. A river flows through my veins. Euphrates. Nile. Niger. Mississippi. Chicago. Each calls my name. In ancient harmonies of Amazing Grace. In soul-stirring falsetto and molasses-thick tones of bass.

By melodic incantations. Bathed in the blood and tears of the slave whose sweet serenade ascends from the grave: “Rise, for you are a river.” A river… Like that river that cradled baby Moses. That whispered in the ears of great composers the endless symphonies called jazz, blues, gospel, hip hop and soul.

That river alongside whose banks Negro spirituals arose. That River — ancient Mother to our souls. Like that River Mississippi — two thousand, three hundred and twenty miles long.

A “dusky” river. Rising. Flowing. Stirring. Sweetly purring. Conferring unseen glories. A river coursing. Roaring. Contorting. Carving new arteries. Uncontainable. Rising. Still flowing. Mighty and strong. Wide and long. The heartbeat of life’s song.

So rise, river. River rise. Rise. For our soul has grown deep like the rivers.


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