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  • Writer's pictureTerry Pace

Leaving Mississippi

Updated: May 14, 2020

By James A. Autry Part of me never left and another part is always leaving, leaving Mississippi but never gone. “Jimmy when you gonna come on back down home,” my people ask, and I cannot say, “Never, I’ve found my home somewhere else” any more than I can say my home was never in the State of Mississippi but in the community of it, in my father’s churches, in Abel’s store, in Ashland on the square, in how the people were together. Now that home is gone forever from Mississippi– yet it is with me still, in the fall smell of wood smoke from some suburban chimney, in an Atlanta taxi driver’s turn of phrase, in the quiet of an old church in Bavaria, in the call of an Iowa night hawk, in a fish breaking the surface of a Colorado stream, in the night peepers everywhere in a stanza of Amazing Grace, in the crickets, in dust.

James A. Autry (1933) is a poet, essayist and former business executive. He grew up in rural northern Mississippi and lived much of his adult life in Des Moines Iowa. Autry has written several books of poetry, with my favorites being Life After Mississippi (1989) that includes this poem entitled Leaving Mississippi. His other poetry collection I enjoy is Nights Under a Tin Roof: Reflections of a Southern Boyhood. Some may find Autry's writing almost to southern. He writes in an honest, direct manner about the realities of southern life in the 1930's though the 1960's and to some degree afterwards. He writes about faith, church, family, society, race, gender and nature. His poetry and other writings reflect on the harshness yet ordinariness of racism and segregation as well as the beauty and dangers in nature. I relate to Autry as most of my family heritage has southern roots. I have slept in houses with Tin roofs and heard the rain and I have been to revival meetings with supper provided by the ladies of the church. I relate to this poem - Leaving Mississippi. Autry writes of leaving his home in the state of Mississippi but shows how he never has or could really leave. How his mannerisms, accent, tastes for foods, love of nature and way of thinking all remain as a version of Mississippi that lives in him, even when he is dressed in a tailored suit in an executive board room in a European city. His childhood, family and the place he comes from remain essential to his daily life, no matter where he is or what other roles he may be playing. I have felt this way ever since I left my home in Texas some 37 years ago. I have lived much longer away from Texas than in Texas, yet I still identify myself as a Texan (sorry Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota, I love you all too!). If you have ever felt that pull towards home, yet you have a life settled elsewhere, then this poem will make sense to you.

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