This is Cherokee land. Even the name “Chattanooga” comes from a Cherokee word meaning “rock rising to a point” (at least, that’s what Google tells me). One of my hopes is to learn the human story of this place, its ancestry of first people, enslaved people, and people of faith of all kinds. Like Sequoyah, who developed a writing system for the Cherokee language – a beautiful syllabary, breathed to life by his daughter Ayoka.
The River City is held in the cupped hands of old, worn-down mountains. Tennessee is water and trees, rock-and-rolling hills. With blues, country, jazz, and classical music layered in.
I just moved south after years of hopscotching northern climes: Chicago, Washington D.C., Budapest, London. My shoulders are forever hunched against the wind and biting rain. Head angled forward, I walk briskly, despite the sunshine.
Speaking with a young artist and LA-transplant, Angela, she expressed an unseen web of forces that make Chattanooga tick:
- Faith and Christian values
- A growing openness to new perspectives and “outsiders”
- A growing desire to acknowledge and heal the deep wounds of history, especially Native American, slave, African-American, and migrant experiences
- A recognition that the city still embodies segregation and inequality, especially for minorities and women
- A magnetic appeal for students and creatives – who generate public art, entrepreneurship and social awareness
I live in a building that attempts to bottle at least some of these vibes. It’s even called “The Tomorrow Building.” Designed with nomadic young professionals in mind, the space feels like a grown-up dorm, complete with communal kitchens, common rooms, and an industrial-chic aura (think bare brick walls and exposed piping).
I write this in my almost-affordable art studio, with high-speed internet and old-school books piled around. The changing light of afternoon thunder-and-sun rolls in.
This weekend, I went to the library, saw a movie, wrote a poem. I was thinking about the green bridges of Budapest and the blue bridges of Chattanooga. And how these strange contraptions called legs have ferried me across many rivers…
It was a good day, despite the lilting sadness that always steals across me, after the move is done. Once the suitcases are unpacked, the spacious questions of a new city call to me: What now? with whom? and how?
Hints and possibilities vein the sadness with wonder and hope. Fatigue and excitement play across my heartscape with a familiar tune – a haunting whistle that demands I follow it, on confident legs, into the city, across the bridge, on and on, until the sadness lifts and the sun disappears.
Another city split by a river –
blue bridges instead of green
but the same legs stride them,
stronger now, with a solid torso,
softer than bronze, branching free
from the hips’ bone bowl.
Another city, warmer than Chicago
or Budapest, but just as geodic –
please, God, give me the bright tools
to crack this city’s concrete glaze
to find the place where the inner-city
rubies are forged.