0

The 'Delta Poet' - Rhonda Rich

Many, who rely upon creative forces to etch out a living, depend on what is called a "Muse" to inspire and fire up those creative juices.

Kooky, but outrageously successful artist Andy Warhol found his muse in the waif-like Edie Sedgewick, and Truman Capote had a full set of muses, which he called, "My swans." Those beautiful society women who inspired the diminutive Capote included Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder, Bill Paley, Lee Radziwill, sister of Jackie O.

A muse, I decided, was exactly what I needed. Someone who would inspire me when my creative inspiration had packed up and taken a vacation. It was just a passing thought, really. Just a fancy of mine. However, before I could go in search of that all-valuable muse, he found me.

It was a hot, muggy evening in the Mississippi Delta with the withering steaminess defying reason as to why any bride would want to marry outside in such conditions. The small crowd used hand-held fans to cool ourselves and well-trained Southern women attempted to act unaffected by the heat that was melting make-up and lipstick.

There was a crazy woman at that wedding, and soon, every guest had a story to tell about her. I wondered later if it had been a brilliant ploy by the bride and groom to have her there because she created such a coming together of those who were mostly strangers. My date and I had passed through the buffet line and noted that the crazy woman had cornered a seersucker-suit-clad younger gentleman in the adjoining sitting room of the antebellum mansion.

We shook our heads. "Poor guy," we intoned. There was something about the guy, though, that spoke loudly of good breeding. He sat in the wingback chair, legs crossed in the way reminiscent of scholars, one elbow perched elegantly on the chair arm, his chin resting on the top of a slightly clutched fist. He was attentive and quiet, nodding politely as she sat anxiously on the edge of her chair and talked a blue streak, not stopping to take a breath.

It was a while later, as we sat outside under the stars in the cooling darkness, listening to the fabulous Dixieland Jazz band, when the same gentleman approached our table.

"Excuse me." The most beautiful Southern drawl filled the Mississippi air. He bowed with a gallant flourish. I was immediately captivated. "I arrived at this soiree without the pleasure of knowing one person, with the exception of the bride and groom, of course. But I do have the pleasure of recognizing your face from your photo." He smiled at me. "I am what you might proclaim as a devoted reader of your delightful musings." He extended his hand and introduced himself.

In that moment, I knew instinctively that I had found my muse. A Southern writer, one who depends on the richness of the land and its people for inspiration, needs a muse who wears seersucker suits with bow ties, speaks drawlingly and with a perfectly proper English that is quaint yet deliciously inviting. We parted that night without thinking to exchange cards, and I worried how I might track him down. I didn't want to lose my muse once I had found him. No need for worry, though. He found me within a few days. When I got his message on my office phone, I was thrilled.

He joined us at the table that night, but he also joined my life. I call him Poet, sometimes teasing him about being the Poet Laureate of the Delta, not because he writes poetry, but rather because he speaks in lyrics rather than words.

"I shall speak to you again before Friday dawns," he'll intone. I'll laugh, hang up the phone and head straight to my laptop, inspired again by my muse.

Sign up for Ronda's newsletter at www.rondarich.com. She is the best-selling author of the new book, "What Southern Women Know About Faith."