Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

“Pretty Music”

Jesse Graves is an assistant professor of English at Johnson City’s East Tennessee State University. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Cornell University. His first poetry collection, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine, won the 2011 Weatherford Award in Poetry from Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association. He is co-editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology: Tennessee and author of a new collection, Basin Ghosts, which includes “Pretty Music.”

Pretty Music

My aunt June lies buried on a hillside
between a hayfield and a briar thicket.
She has been there a year and eight days,
and the leaves have turned once.
Skiffs of snow have fallen and melted away.

Late one afternoon I was strumming a guitar
when June walked in—
           she held blackberries in an iron pail.
Absorbed in the changing light, by the heat
of one final summer, she leaned in to listen
as the chords rose, closing her eyes,
her spirit already grown beyond her body.
That’s pretty music, she said.

I don’t play my old guitar much these days,
but sometimes I imagine other songs—
rain pellets whistling off carved granite,
the high pitch of rye grass in springtime
rising up through the oblivious soil.