Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby


George Scarbrough (1915-2008) was born the third of seven children in in a clapboard cabin in Patty, a small community in Polk County, Tennessee. Strongly influenced by his literate mother, he was an avid reader from his earliest years and studied at Lincoln Memorial University, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and the University of the South in Sewanee. As farmer, librarian, and teacher he lived his entire life in East Tennessee, for many years in Oak Ridge. His poetry was published widely in magazines and journals, and he is the author of five books of poems and one novel, which established his position as a major figure in American literature. Under the Lemon Tree, a new collection of previously unpublished poems by George Scarbrough, will appear this fall from Iris Press. Robert Cumming, the book’s editor, will discuss George Scarbrough and his work at the 2011 Southern Festival of Books, held October 14-16 in Nashville.


In certain hours
something comes close
behind me.

I always recognize
the approach:
the hair on my neck

the flesh bunches
under the lobe of my ear,

but not quite
an intent look

meets my frightened
gaze, a hand
grazes my shoulder.

What, I ask myself,
turning clockwise,
is there

so terrifying
about this world
of hill rock

and small flowers
that I must hurl myself
left again,

opposite from him,
and flee back
to my lonely room,

over my right shoulder
crying to the unseen one
as I go:

love me, love me?
And if the presence follows me,
and sometimes he does,

I have the sense
of having got home at last
after an interminable journey.