Ajar in Tennessee

Michael Heffernan

A conspicuous freedom came out of everywhere.
Slower traffic kept right, against the glare,
before we got to Exit 133 and Birdsong Road,
on the edge of the first array of slovenly lumps
through which the river of rivers in Tennessee
bore islands into a ripply inland ocean.
We came to Cuba Landing and the Parkway Café,
sitting down to onions and buttered bread.
We spoke about how the fragrant air
would spill over our faces as we stepped
into a summer morning in Tuscany.
How different it was there than in Tennessee,
then or now. It’s certainly nice to be here,
don’t get me wrong, but Italy was sweeter,
you ventured. I looked over your shoulders
at the curtains covered with chickadees.
Are those chickadees or thrush do you think? I asked you.
Maybe finch, you suggested. I think they could be finch.
Background music swept over us from the background.
We took to the road again, constantly eastward
as the afternoon sped toward us awfully.
I decided it was time I read Deuteronomy.
The part about the man with loosed shoes is enough
to reveal real weirdness and negligible wisdom
from the blessed curmudgeon so prominent in this old book.
It seemed all day we drove beside smallish trees
through all of Tennessee. Brown water spread amongst the woods.
Fine old wackyjack balsams were the dominant boscage.
One had a board nailed to it and above that a platform
like the floor of a treehouse, probably a deer stand, you said.
Thousands of others showed no such sign of people.
Immaculate ideas played over us through the windows.
You lit another cigarette. We stopped for gas, having become
an astonishment, a proverb, a byword among the nations.

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