Southern Legitimacy Statement: My mother is the kind of Southern that’s related to half the phone book. Her family lived on a cattle farm outside Murfreesboro back when it was regular-town sized. My dad grew up in the military and then became a preacher, so we’ve wandered around a lot east of the Mississippi and south of New England. But I grew up in Kentucky and have spent the last four years in Tennessee, and if a place has so much clay in the dirt you could make pottery out of it, hills that block radio reception for more than five miles, and trees so plentiful they ran out of room in the woods and started growing in the sidewalks, then that’s where I belong.
After “Florida” by Elizabeth Bishop
The state known for its music The state filled with hills that roll like birdsong and trees, trees, trees, as far as eye can see holding it with their roots running throughout the red clay binding it together as surely as a pitch-perfect note. resonating in your chest. The state full of mockingbirds calling at 3 A.M. cardinals flashing from branch to branch sparrows on the driveway and unseen fluttering in the bushes. Deer lurk in tree farms coming out at dusk to nibble from a yard or sometimes the saplings planted in the fall that now will never live to see the spring. Branches rustle in the wind lash with the fierce rains determined to bring down a miscellany of leaves black cherry, white oak, sourwood, and hackberry silver maple, river birch, sweetgum and tulip poplar decorating hills like endlessly scattered sequins. A dark shape in the sky spirals along the endless hills filled with chiggers and mosquitoes all determined to track you down and slurp blood like soda. At night, a few fireflies emerge from the grasses blinking yellow-green in their species’ special pattern. The moon shines down, white on the hills and the occasional city poking through whose lights attempt to compete with the brightness of the moon. A fire without a fire, the sign of civilization only noticed when you drive away on a dark night and leave them behind.