Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Digging the Pond”

an excerpt from Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine

Jesse Graves teaches writing and literature classes as an assistant professor of English at Johnson City’s East Tennessee State University, where he won a 2012 New Faculty Award from the College of Arts & Sciences. He completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Tennessee, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Cornell University. His first poetry collection, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine, was published by Texas Review Press and won the 2011 Weatherford Award in Poetry from Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association. Other work appears in recent or forthcoming issues of Prairie Schooner, Georgia Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Connecticut Review.

Digging the Pond

The vision must have come after rain,
a picture of water standing so deep
a house could hide under it.
He pushed and dug and cut through
scrub pines like they were tall blades of grass,
dragged orange clay from under the topsoil.

At thirteen, I mostly stood back and waited
for rocks to lug into the nearest gulley,
sinking my hands under the cool mud
so long buried, the runoff from two ridges—
we found an arrowhead the first day
and envisioned bone shards and lead slugs.

For years a hard rain would spill its banks,
and pond lilies would sheen it with yellow
through the warm months, before the drought
years and otters did their work, and its water
looked like something caught in a rusted bucket.

When my father stands on the bank and talks
over what to do with the farm, he looks up
toward the ridge-line and down at cracked dirt.
He can name every species of tree, wild root,
the compounds of the soil in every field,
and knows that I stood off to the side too often
to learn what he was born knowing.
The doing and the undoing.
I can find in his face what he reads
about the future in the tea-colored water,
his eyes and mine trying to avoid it.