"Where Are You From?"
by Michelle Young

Such an innocent question,
but I pause before answering.
Snapshots of childhood
pelt me like bullets of large water drops
in a hot summer storm, and I struggle
to sort through the memories,
pinpoint and pull from the happy.

Tick Road was a gravel path
that wound high in the Appalachian mountains,
forgotten by everyone but the tax man,
home to God's furry and feathered critters—opossums,
deer, wild turkeys, and sometimes a rogue skunk or bobcat.
There were only two houses there—
ours, and my best friend's—but there was
almost half a mile of woods between.

I would rush to finish my chores, then
walk barefoot to his house
at high noon, asymmetrical, sharp gravel
digging into the soles of my feet,
toughening them to withstand
briars, pinecones, and even holly leaves.

I tried to walk close to the small road's edge
in shade of honeysuckle vines,
where stones were slightly cooler
and I was sheltered, however briefly,
from fierce UV radiation that burned
my fair, freckled skin.

We were eleven the summer
before they moved away;
spent our days reading
comic books in the tree house,
going on safari adventures in the yard,
and hiding from his sadistic, older brother
who was fond of using a flip to launch walnut
shells at our heads. He was a good shot.

We loved playing in dappled sunshine
where cool, spongey grass stained our feet
and clothes. Many times we used
a magnifying glass to focus beams
of sunlight onto an old, dried maple or pin oak leaf
left over from winter's decaying carpet,
and watched in amazement as we saw a black spot
appear, grow larger, ashing around the edges
as a thin stream of smoke rose,
tickling our noses. It was an acrid scent
I associated with tobacco.

Deep in the woods there was a tree
that was broken, arched over
until the topmost leaves rested
on the ground. Out of the top of the bow
grew a line of branches that bloomed
with white flowers in the spring,
then maintained green foliage until
the fall. I called it the Rainbow Tree
because it was a perfect curve,
and the dreams we brewed and crafted
beneath it were bright and full of hope.

He wanted to be a pilot,
had a couple of small, plastic model
planes he had glued together and painted.
He said he loved the smell of glue and paint
even more than the finished planes.

I wanted to be a truck driver and see the world.
New York, California, Texas—all the states
in the U.S. I had an uncle who carried oranges
from Florida to Tennessee, and I loved it when
he told his road stories.

I'm not sure if my friend got to fly a plane,
but I did get to drive a big rig for many years.
I think about our summers together,
how the sky was bluer, the days were longer,
and Christmas took forever to come around;
How we huddled under homemade quilts,
tried to count the stars as they shone off the
February snows, roasted wiennies over a campfire,
hunted squirrels together, and hid in the outhouse
when a black bear came out of hibernation too early.

I am from the South.
I live in the mountains where
only the strong and willful survive.
I am from God's country…
I am from Tennessee.


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