Here it comes, here comes the rhythm
of the sound of water on the river
as I walk under bridges in Tennessee,
look up and see a pinewood house
catching light, door open, on a hill
overlooking the city and the bridge.
Traffic travels to town on the bridge.
Near it, you can hear the wheeled rhythm
of vehicles traversing up the hill
of concrete crossing over river.
Sound builds an echo-filled house
of unseen rhythm here in Tennessee.
The state of Tennessee
is brittle as if built upon a bridge.
Caught between all sides, this house
feels every single voice, all rhythm
as if about to slip into the river,
as if built upon a dune, the sand a hill
willing to slip away. This hill
above the city here in Tennessee
looks over all, over the river,
over its own history, a bridge
built according to its rhythm,
always its own, not a storehouse
for any other, no architect’s plan for house –
but history? History blooms on the hill,
pollens forth a presence in every rhythm
we strike while entering Tennessee
through Cumberland Gap’s land bridge
opening through mountains a way. A river
of settlers cross this bridge, climb down foothill
after foothill, follow river, build their own house
here in Tennessee, beating hammers in rhythm.
From the highway, mountains.
Behind the ridge, strip mined canyons,
cavalcade of color. From above, broken
football field filled with water, pooled
soup in a clay bowl. What kind
of offering? Will it feed us?
for my grandmother, Geneva
The cabin her aunt owned in Gatlinburg
was outside the city near the mountains,
and we must be driving past where it stood
when Geneva remembers: she and her mother
standing on rocks in the river watching water snakes
even though her mother feared them, feeling
water in shoes, the hardwood forest still smaller
then than it is today. The two of us are on vacation,
driving through the Smokies, and she’s speaking
to me as I sit silently beside her in the back seat.
She tells me she lived in South Knoxville as I do,
that she moved back here in high school to help
her aunt, a new widow, with her rental cabins,
the kitchen, the cash register, how her pop would
meet her as she got off the bus and walk her
back to White Swan and the tenants. She tells
me about the river, the cabin in Gatlinburg, not
of the arguments that piled up behind her visit
as a teenager, the fights with her mother over
returning to Tennessee. She doesn’t tell me
about leaving my grandfather in Michigan,
what it felt like, her desire to graduate early,
to marry him, about her mother’s disapproval,
attempts to make Tennessee home. Instead,
she simply tells me about her mother standing
in the river surrounded by her fears, hearing
her teenager’s disgust for her current situation.
She emphasizes the rocks, the stepping across,
the standing still and the sound of water lapping
at their feet. She cannot say it was important.
She cannot say, in as many words, all fears
of loss came true, even if more remained.
Perhaps, as they stood, the boy rode the train
from Michigan to take her back, to marry,
have children, grandchildren, build a house,
plant an orchard in the backyard, all to pull
off to the side of the road waiting for breath.
She cannot say she didn’t know then what
actions allow a life without knowing it. She
cannot say she feels surprise at thankfulness
she forgot she owed even for the grief it gave.
Instead, she’s in Tennessee trying to place
in words an image of her mother in a river,
afraid but quiet, listening.