In late June, Witness, who knows family history like muscadine wine and diving off cliffs
into rivers, took me to the homeplace. We drove from Ironsburg to Epperson, out Witt
Road, into the Cherokee National forest. Along the gravel road, we stopped the truck to
see foxglove, to photograph the medicine plants great-granddaddy raised. We slowed by
the bank where his body sank down toward eternity one day until Wail came along and
found it. On one curve of the descent, passing by Borin’s Top, Witness said, Over to your
left. Up on that hill. That was The Kingdom. My ancestry: makers of things that shine,
members of the moonlight society. How long they hid out on that hill and claimed a
distillery system sovereign, I cannot say. Long enough so those of us who’ve descended
know how to burn, stay close to creeks: Barney, Barefield, Lost, Loss. At Lost, Witness
made me get out of the truck, swear to keep a secret. Here was knowledge the
government couldn’t own. Here was memory our kin carried up creekbeds. Witness
called them the wagon wheel tracks. We found them in the creek bed, unburied.
Somewhere between animals and vegetables, in with the minerals. Parallel lines running
with water hollowing them out, smooth as the steel of the ancient, metal wheels. When I
finally saw them, I knew they were formed by travelers to whom I’m related, so
familiar—the fundamental feeling of my hand in the cold water path.
Summar West was born and raised in east Tennessee. Her poems have appeared in a variety of places, including 491, Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, Ellipsis, New South, Prairie Schooner, Still, SWWIM, and Tar River Poetry. She currently resides in coastal Connecticut.
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