From my passing car I see row houses, stone cottages and antebellum mansions
Outside, sultry breezes make waves near my chin, leave dew on my cheeks
The gusts are perfumed with humidity, barbecue smoke and
Live melodies that pour from open windows.
Nashville streets are full of dreamers… and dreams.
Under a buzzing neon Bluebird, they take the stage strumming.
Guitar frets, first sets and shaky auditions at Writers Night—
The kind that sometimes lead to contracts and gold records
Or flop sweat and careers as valets and waitresses.
Sometimes, they lead back to Minnesota or New Jersey.
In the shadow of a concrete temple, springing forth from reclining gods and goddesses,
Athena rises from Zeus’s head, Gorgons on her shield and breast,
Safeguarding Music City from her stage inside the Parthenon in the Athens of the South
Where today we worship Chet and Dolly, Reba and Garth, June Carter Cash and The Man in Black.
Guitars and crosses arise from the landscape—the Jesus and Mary chain of the Bible Belt.
Two hundred years:
Of slavery, plantations and horses, ballrooms and stagecoaches, and
Wood-paneled men’s clubs with clay tile ceilings bleached white.
They dance reels around statues and columns, drinking sweet tea and bourbon
As moonlight shines through the stained glass of an old train station, now a hotel.
And I—a child of the West—
Find my footsteps falling where men’s bodies once crumpled to the earth,
Bloody and shattered and dying on the banks of the Cumberland,
Lead bullets leaching poison into their rasping chests
As the river once leached industrial waste and sewage onshore, now …all of it… wiped clean.
The only wars I know of are spoken in songs:
Tragedy scratched from guitar strings and warbled in bars
In accents of longing, soothing me, as they tell stories of
Heroes and hearts broken and dying, entwined,
And families who always welcome them home, no matter how long they’ve been gone.
Where women with spiky mullets meet tanned, muscled young men in polo shirts and short pants,
Where layers of freshly inked Hatch Show posters paper over walls and windows and even each other
Where fried okra, fried green tomatoes and fried soft shell crabs make a delicious but drowsy meal
Where church bells clang and wingtips tap and generous hips sway to a 3/4 beat
Where a pool of spotlight beckons us to the stage—closer to hope than we’ve ever been.