Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Literary Conference in Chattanooga

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Literary Conference in Chattanooga

Article excerpt

for Rodney, Andrew, and Natasha

While March winds flinging paintlike

shadows splotch the far hills

in clouded light, I walk the converted

railway bridge and watch boats slant

against the brimming current. Our wills

here gather in parade, as if celebrated

by this high atmosphere. The pregnant

stick figure approaching is swinging

her arms vigorously, though too small

in the pelvis for what she carries.

Frail, alone, how powerfully she marries

this year with next, a tribal meaning,

today, with the unborn future. Tall

as I presently stand above this river

the intentions that my own steps measure

falter when I consider the mountain ridge.

How could our kind have thrown each bridge

over the Chattanooga, the Tennessee,

the Mississippi? By small steps by breathing

in and pushing down, by strokes one after

the other, with oars, hoes, and axes, we

measured and cleared and spread our union

in cabins, farms, turnpikes, cities. Having won

temporarily, we find ourselves dwarfed by

the stadium roof arched over like a sky.

Below the projection screen, a lone

singer stands, small below his image,

voicing his amplified, electric tone.

This is the concrete glory we could imagine.

I'd walked my riverward way, after the conference.

With three younger poets, before an audience,

I had quoted the graveyard ode by Allen Tate. …

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