Tennessee

In 1999, Tennessee established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Margaret Britton Vaughn. Vaughn is the author of several poetry collections, including Acres That Grow Stones (Iris Press, 1996).

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Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

In Tennessee I Found a Firefly

Flashing in the grass; the mouth of a spider clung
     to the dark of it: the legs of the spider
held the tucked wings close,
     held the abdomen still in the midst of calling
with thrusts of phosphorescent light--

When I am tired of being human, I try to remember
     the two stuck together like burrs. I try to place them
central in my mind where everything else must
     surround them, must see the burr and the barb of them.
There is courtship, and there is hunger. I suppose
     there are grips from which even angels cannot fly.
Even imagined ones. Luciferin, luciferase.
     When I am tired of only touching,
I have my mouth to try to tell you
     what, in your arms, is not erased.

The Sweetwater Caverns

Curious to see caverns,
we detoured in Tennessee
to ramble through Fat Man's Misery,
past a ballroom and gun powder machine
till we reached The World's Second Largest Underground Lake—
on which my husband had promised a ride
in a glass-bottom boat.

There, a kid hunched over a hot-rod magazine.
Dan, I think his name was,
radiant, in clammy, artificial light.

I asked Dan, college-break?
He nodded inside his hoodie
then helped me into the glass-bottom hold.
I peered into the milky water
and watched the seeded trout swim up for the chum
he dumped overboard on our account.

He was milky white, himself,
from months of cave sitting.

I wondered if he'd write a poem
on a summer spent underground.
Thought to suggest it—how foolish—
then wondered if what I really wanted was Dan,

as I stepped into his boat, to take my arm and ask me something—

at this middle age, probably for a couple coins
then give a promise of safe passage
as he ferried me to the realm of the dead

that I've been thinking about for several years
not because of a girlfriend's cancer
but because my body is no longer young.
I mean, lovely—
and that there's no turning back to that water's edge.
There's only the couch
every afternoon at four o'clock
and not wanting to ever move. Not wishing to die exactly—
just not wanting to rise
because the light feels so pressured. And I can't have 
that ardent glow reflected back while brushing teeth
or fastening a necklace. Now there's this

casting around for other stuff—
the daughters' secrets—the pathetic urge to write about their secrets—

or a crush on Charon. Not an old man as it turns out
but a youth, colorless and tired of his i-Pod.

No, he's not really of interest to me.
And this is my secret: that I wish he were—
as with those arms
reaching through clouds of cigarette smoke
to lead me into reeking dives.

I'm past that. And he, Dan,
not the poetic Charon—
will probably climb out of the caverns
into the six o'clock evening sun. Stretch. Change his shirt,
eat his mother's meatloaf and head off in a rusted Honda
for the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot
with a six-pack and a girl,

those hand-sized moths flitting in the light
as the sheriff chases the kids to another dead end spot—

those enormous dusty moths my husband caught
for me to hold in my hand
because he knows, in the afternoon light after the dank caverns,
how fluttery the furry wings will feel.
Which is more than melodrama can bear.

To have wished for Dan to ask me something?
I know the passage is not what you wanted to hear.