Illustration by Stacy Reece
Illustration by Stacy Reece

Tennessee Poems

She moved from the mountains of Germany’s Black Forest to the mountains of Tennessee. Her welcome there felt like divine intervention.

Southeast Tennessee

Because mountains cradle this town,
I felt at home when I arrived here,
in another country.
My wished-for life boxed up
in a crate and shipped
from the Black Forest
across an ocean.

Though the language
was foreign to my tongue,
the people reminded me
of my people: tied
to earth, pig-headed,
and steadfast like oaks
leafing the sky.

And on Sundays,
when rest commands the day,
the people like my people
hike the trails to a summit.
They, too, want to look
on their blessings
in sun-tiled roof tops, swept
roads, and a steeple
pointing to lifted prayers
of ordinary days.

How did I end up here?
Divine intervention ties me
to this Bible-belt town,
now my town.
It steadies my breath in mountain air,
and the river’s silver ribbon
holds me fast.

Dreaming Tennessee

I conjure Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga,
then Murfreesboro, Oak Ridge, Jackson,
the Choctaw and Cherokee, follow the octopus
arms of the Tennessee, the names of William Bean,
Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, unbuckle the Bible
belt every Wednesday and Sunday, old-timey songs
burning the tongue like white lightning, stills hidden
in shrub and brush of woods by log cabin settlers.

I dream a summer’s sky in deep blue, air catching
breath, black ice after a downpour in winter,
pick-ups, hunting racoons and possums with
blood hounds, fiddle and banjo duels at roadside
shanties, square dances, clogging, twirling skirts.
The Bell Buckle Café’s fried chicken, country steak
and biscuits, grits and okra, corn on the cob,
the waitress calling me Hon.

I recall wisteria, ditch lilies, Joe-pie weed road-side,
sourwood and sweetgum, the Chattanooga choo-choo
Glenn Miller railed through in song, TVA and the flooding
of farms. Dams. The Trail of Tears. The Manhattan Project.
The Grand Ole Opry. Elvis hip-swinging in Graceland,
gospeling Jesus. Tent revivals. The final hallelujah
in the four-beat run of walking horses.

Family History

This hand-stitched sampler on coarse linen
I inherited, a marker for the girl’s existence,
a great, great, great aunt whose needlework
lived on for a hundred and thirty years later.

The sampler begins with her young hands
practicing crosses in ABCs and numbers,
then a house with porch, magnolia and oak,
and below a row of pies she learned to bake.

Just old enough to let dreams wander through
the window where she sat each afternoon,
would rather preen in front of the mirror
or read the booklet about clandestine lovers.

This history of my family hangs on the wall,
her longing ending in two rows of hearts.
A Bible verse convicts her of her destiny,
Melanie La Mere, age 14, in the year 1890.

Author Profile

Helga Kidder lives in the hills of Tennessee with her husband. Her fifth collection, Learning Curve, has poems about emigration and assimilation. When not writing poems, she loves playing tennis and baking cakes.

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