I am from the mountains and forests of north central Georgia, from the slanting foundation of Sorrells Springs Primitive Baptist Church, from Wild Turkey Trail and picnics in the Baldwin Street Cemetery, from the old Floyd homeplace on Dog Lane, from drinking Dancing Goats coffee with lots of sugar on College Square, from breaking curfew at North Georgia and from the greening energy of California’s Central Valley in springtime. I am from late night walks on the shores of Lake Herrick, from climbing the fire tower at Lake Conasauga, from the wall at Fort Mountain and the boom of Kennesaw cannons. I am from wild turkeys at my mother’s grave, from rose-hued sunrises over Sharptop’s spire, from go-cart paths in the pastures and from buying sweetgrass lotion at Chipa’s powwows. I am from the streets of New York City, from Big Sur and Wupatki, and from Namaste on the path at Mingo Falls. I am from wading in the Studdards’ creek, from long intellectual harangues at the Globe, and from In the Night Café. I am from the Dollar Tree and from the musty stacks at Jackson Street Books, from discount CDs at Ruthless Records and from vintage brooches found in thrift store sale bins. I am from Spanish moss on the ghost beach at Jekyll and from the tabby ruins of old Darien, from Brunswick stew and dolphins, and from Christmas fireworks over the square in Ellijay.
I am from the scent of woodsmoke at Trackrock, my grandmother’s teacakes baking, my mother’s Wind Song perfume, from Nag Champa incense and patchouli oil, from the summery funk of lakewater and mud at the Braswells’ bass pond, from the poignant waft of sweetshrub and honeysuckle through my open window in springtime, from the grittiness of Athens city streets at three a.m., and from leather and hay in the tackroom at the barn.
I am from Johnny Cash, from Radiohead, from REM playing incognito at the 40 Watt Club, from Gospel Jubilees on Sunday mornings on my grandma’s television set, from the Andy Griffith theme song, and from the haunted calls of whippoorwhills in the dusk over the soybean fields. I am from Two More Bottles of Wine, from Neal Pattman’s one-armed blues genius on Wednesday nights, from Smells Like Teen Spirit, and from my stairway settling in the wind on a cold January night. I am from silence and bluegrass, from grunge and discourse, from Southern drawls and crickets chorusing in the hardwoods. I am from Leonard Cohen and Patty Griffin, from Kind of Blue and Nighthawks at the Diner, and from the snapping self-conversation of the Epiphany bonfire over by the lake.
I am from red-eye gravy and pancakes, from strong lattes laced with nutmeg, from Grandma’s creamed potatoes swimming in butter, from tomato aspic and mayonnaise at Thanksgiving, from pepper jelly and cream cheese, from sushi at Seal Beach, from Tut’s Chicken, and from peanuts submerged in RC Cola on a hot July afternoon. I am from my mother’s fried okra, from tentative sips of my dad’s Miller Lite, from lime fizzy water, from persimmons crawling with wasps at the edge of the woods, from the infinity of blackberries, from scorched campfire hot dogs, and from my grandma’s time-honored barbecue sauce saturating chicken breasts on Styrofoam plates.
I am from Doc, Ruth, Duff, and Marjorie, from Marvin and Kathryn and Joan, and from generations of Southern housewives and farmers. I am from revenuers and sheriffs, from artistry and shock treatments, from scandal and honor, and from quiltframes and pastels. I am from bitter divorce, from grace and forgiveness, and from climbing trees and building huts in the woods with Leigh and Lynn. I am from Betsy’s crush on Erik Estrada, from Azalee’s loyal insanity, from Big Gary and Wanda, from Louis and Carolyn, from Uncle Kenneth’s incessant rocking, and from my great-aunt Fannie Mae’s recipe chests and herbal teas. I am from Mr. Gorman’s third grade writing prompts, from Hitchcock on Friday afternoons, and from making peace with small town presence and absence.
I am from Chinook’s rocking canter across the Colquitts’ pasture, from Shellie’s pawshakes and Whitefoot’s atonal howls, from Connor the fighting tom with the milky left eye, and from litter after litter of April kittens birthed under the screen porch. I am from Tess’ grave at the foot of the mountainsteps, from Scoutcat Sorrells flying into the cedar tree, from rescuing the cedar waxwing, and from Bailey the chameleon. I am from the exploding aquarium at the Van Horne house, from taming Annabel, from hawk sightings over the athletic field, and from the bear on the deck during the drought. I am from five raccoons dangling from the bird feeder, from the ghost possum leaning against the glass door, and from the jackrabbit in the desert.
I am from Ulysses, from Boo Radley saving the Finch kids on Hallowe’en night, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, from Julian and Lao-Tzu, and from the journals of Thomas Merton. I am from haiku and metaphor, from Yeats and Eliot, from Conrad and Hurston, from Where the Wild Things Are, Encyclopedia Brown, and A Wrinkle in Time, and from rediscovering my seventh grade diary in my dad’s attic when I was thirty-five. I am from Christabel and Blake’s Tyger, from Charlie Brown Christmas trees and Krishnamurti, from “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” and from One Hundred Years of Solitude. I am from Rumi and Issa, from Bob Dylan and Alice Walker, from Mary’s wild geese and Robert’s Mending Wall, and from Lyra and her daemon. I am from teaching Antigone to kids who can barely read, from The Highwayman and Annabel Lee, from Frankenstein and Tupac, and from reading Nikki Giovanni and Langston Hughes aloud to my students during Black History Month. I am from Wayfarers in Walton and The Bone People, from Sherman Alexie and John Steinbeck, and from student essays and poems crowding my dining room table.
I am from Kurosawa and Kubrick, from Little House on the Prairie and Tuesday nights with mom and The Gilmore Girls, from Georgia Backroads and Prairie Home Companion, from Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and from endless reruns of Northern Exposure. I am from Wild Strawberries and Lone Star, from The Last Waltz and Night of the Hunter, from Land of the Lost and Charlie’s Angels, from Hee Haw on Saturday nights and Law and Order episodes back to back on a rainy day. I am from the peace sticker on my battered old Ford sedan, from riding bikes to the corner, from the passenger seat of the blue go-cart, and from cutting my hand open on the hood ornament of my dad’s antique Buick.
I am from the warmth of flannel shirts in winter, from pinestraw beneath my bare feet, from magnolia pods crunching underfoot, from hearthheat and firewarmth at the Cove, from the gold plaid seats of my Chevy Nova, from comfort and struggle, from running through the sprinkler and inhaling chlorine water at the country club pool, from the Atlantic Ocean in December and from Pacific tidal pools crowded with black oystercatchers. I am from travel and stasis, from longing and contentment, from passion and solitude, and from loneliness and intense joy. I am from grief and connection, from remembrance and yearning, and from the celebratory richness of the journey.