Katherine Wiles: Poetry: March 2022

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.