Music from a Hometown
Playlist by Claire S.
All the poets in this playlist are from Nashville, Tennessee. Whether it's hot chicken, the Parthenon, or the capital-S-South — something in the magnolias — a city brings these varied authors together.
1. Exploded Stars
Kamilah Aisha Moon
2. Nashville
Tiana Clark
3. where you are planted
Evie Shockley
4. There’s a Limbo Moon Above
Beth Bachmann
5. the way i listen to you read poems.
Destiny O. Birdsong
6. At the Repast
TJ Jarrett
      haunted by
      bright debris sibilant
beneath skin tug-of-warring
      with gravity, we
harvest shine
      from the caves of
mouths & crevices
      of eyes incandescent
as we remember
      the most massive
flares among us,
      detonate inside
each other to hold
      tiny supernovae
in our arms. Crushed
      bodies craving fusion
keep us brimming
      with enough energy
to pass on,
      keep us lit & lying
to ourselves about
      the eventual & sudden
ways we black hole—
      it already happened, it’s happening
anyway, to happen soon,
      scattering all that we think
matters so much now
      for another radiant giant to gather
then fling across galaxies
& scorched clean,
      new turmoil begging
from the inside out
      to burn.
is hot chicken on sopping white bread with green pickle
chips—sour to balance prismatic, flame-colored spice
for white people. Or, rather, white people now curate hot
chicken for $16 and two farm-to-table sides, or maybe

they’ve hungered fried heat and grease from black food
and milk—but didn’t want to drive to Jefferson Street or
don’t know about the history of Jefferson Street or Hell’s
Half Acre, north of downtown. Where freed slaves lived

on the fringe of Union camps, built their own new country.
Where its golden age brought the Silver Streak, a ballroom
bringing Basie, Ellington, and Fitzgerald. First-run movies
at the Ritz and no one had to climb to the balcony. 1968,

they built the interstate. I-40 bisected the black community
like a tourniquet of concrete. There were no highway exits.
120 businesses closed. Ambulance siren driving over
the house that called 911, diminishing howl in the distance,

black bodies going straight to the morgue. At the downtown
library, a continuous loop flashes SNCC videos with black
and white kids training for spit and circular cigarette burns
as the video toggles from coaching to counters covered

in pillars of salt and pie and soda—magma of the movement.
On 1-65, there is a two-tone Confederate statue I flick off
daily on my morning commute. Walking down Second Avenue,
past neon honky-tonks playing bro-country and Cash

and herds of squealing pink bachelorette parties—someone
yelled Nigger-lover at my husband. Again. Walking down
Second Avenue, I thought I heard someone yelling at the back
of my husband. I turned around to find the voice and saw

myself as someone who didn’t give a damn. Again. I turned
around to find that it was I who lived inside the lovely word
made flesh by white mouths masticating mashed sweet potatoes
from my mother’s mother’s mother—Freelove was her name,

a slave from Warrior, North Carolina, with twelve children
with names like Pansy, Viola, Oscar, Stella, and Toy—my
grandmother. There is always a word I’m chasing inside and
outside of my body, a word inside another word, scanning

the O.E.D. for soot-covered roots: 1577, 1584, 1608 . . . Tracing my
finger along the boomerang shape of the Niger River for my blood.
1856, 1866, 1889 . . . Who said it? A hyphen—crackles and bites,
burns the body to a spray of white wisps, like when the hot comb,

with its metal teeth, cut close to petroleum jelly edging the scalp—
sizzling. Southern Babel, smoking the hive of epithets hung fat
above bustling crowds like black-and-white lynching photographs,
mute faces, red finger pointing up at my dead, some smiling,

some with hats and ties—all business, as one needlelike lady
is looking at the camera, as if looking through the camera, at me,
in the way I am looking at my lover now—halcyon and constant.
Once my mother-in-law said Watch your back, and I knew exactly

what she meant. Again. I turned around to find I am the breath
of Apollo panting at the back of Daphne’s wild hair, chasing words
like arrows inside the knotted meat between my shoulder blades—
four violent syllables stabbing my skin, enamored with pain.

I am kissing all the trees—searching the mob, mumbling to myself:
Who said it?
Who said it?
Who said it?
he’s as high as a georgia pine, my father’d say, half laughing. southern trees
as measure, metaphor. highways lined with kudzu-covered southern trees.
fuchsia, lavender, white, light pink, purple : crape myrtle bouquets burst
open on sturdy branches of skin-smooth bark : my favorite southern trees.
one hundred degrees in the shade : we settle into still pools of humidity, moss-
dark, beneath live oaks. southern heat makes us grateful for southern trees.
the maples in our front yard flew in spring on helicopter wings. in fall, we
splashed in colored leaves, but never sought sap from these southern trees.
frankly, my dear, that’s a magnolia, i tell her, fingering the deep green, nearly
plastic leaves, amazed how little a northern girl knows about southern trees.
i’ve never forgotten the charred bitter fruit of holiday’s poplars, nor will i :
it’s part of what makes me evie :  i grew up in the shadow of southern trees.

The best-known German goldsmith of the sixteenth century, Wenzel Jamnitzer, is also remembered for his study of the five platonic solids, Perspectives of Regular Bodies, in which he proposed that out of the same five bodies one can go on endlessly making all other bodies.

The five solids originate with Pythagoras, but are named after Plato, who paired four of the five solids with each of the four elements and the fifth with heaven to make up the difference: tetrahedron (fire), octahedron (air), cube (earth), icosahedron (water), and dodecahedron (heaven).

The idea is that the universe is made up of a handful of shapes and out of these shapes other shapes are made.

In a letter to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Nobel Prize Committee, Chubby Checker claimed to have invented the dance that begat all other modern dances.

Speaking of himself in third person he wrote, "€œChubby Checker changed everything. He gave movement to a music that never had this movement before. The styles changed. The nightclub scene is forever changed. Checker gave birth to aerobics.€"

The song originally called "€œWhat a monotonous melody," € written in five minutes on a dare, begat "Limbo Rock"€ begat "€œLet’s Limbo Some More"€ begat "€œMary Ann Limbo"€ begat "€œLimbo Rock/Do the Limbo Rock,"€ as "€œThe Twist"€ begat "€œLet’s Twist Again"€ begat "€œSlow Twistin’"€ begat "€œTwist It Up"€ begat "€œThe Twist (Yo, Twist!)."€

Checker calls his dance "dancing apart to the beat,"€ not dancing separate from the beat, but two people dancing separate from one another.

"€œLimbo Rock"€ ends in a whistle.

Limbo, the dance, comes from Trinidad, where it was danced at wakes, but in reverse: the bar began at the lowest height and was raised to symbolize a rising from death into life.

Dante’s limbo is the best circle of Hell, all those unbaptized babies and old philosophers to snuggle up with at night.

"Mary Ann Limbo"€ starts with a whistle.

All day, all night, Mary Ann
Down by the sea side siftin’ sand
Even little children love Mary Ann
Down by the seaside siftin’ sand

Take a shape.

Repeat it — €‰translate it, reflect it over a line, rotate it around a point — €‰and you’ve got symmetry.

Go, go, go, go: that’s it!

That’s gold.
only the couplets, and only the shorter ones.
i like to get out of them quickly. i don’t like
the way warm water feels inside my stomach.
you are playing with old versions of yourself
in my mind. the game is marco polo. you don’t
know i am still learning to swim.
i’m five again, and my cousins call me mannish.
my torso is flat and i am not yet shaped like a woman.
sometimes, the neighboring counties flood, so i
am planning tomorrow’s route and wasting time.
earlier tonight, something entered my spirit.
i would call it loneliness, but it’s more stiletto.
i watched a movie about a stripper killing her tricks.
i used to believe only certain women could be stupid.
fall in love with pimps and get diseases.
now i am thankful for wanting nothing but my labia
to stop twitching for hours after i use my hands.
the nurse says the first hepatitis enters through the mouth:
through ill-prepared food, contaminated water.
i am one of the vulnerable populations.
she swabs my arm and tells me to relax.
it’s the first disease i’ve googled in a long time
without fearing i have it, because i already do.
in a way: i take you in small doses, trying to build
immunity. all day long, i’m watching the walls,
trying to see them the way you might see.
i step outside my body like i’m lap-dancing.
i watch you watch me do sit-ups, braid my hair,
brush flakes from my shirt. practice what i’ll say
the next time the doctor asks when the symptoms
began. sometimes, very briefly, i want to be pregnant.
sometimes, i want you there, amazed and embarrassed.
since it lasts for less than five seconds, it doesn’t count.
i use headphones, so your voice doesn’t enter my house.
what i mean to say is that neither of us is holy,
maybe we just don’t belong together that way,
which is what my mother once told me about women
and your parents. she’s older now, and still lonely.
if i asked her again, she might say something different.
When we gathered at the house, while the men all looked at their shoes and the women whispered, baby, baby, baby, she sat down with a fist full of paper napkins and folded them into birds. When she filled her hands, she crossed the room to the hearth and threw a bird into the flames, then another, then another until she had destroyed all she created. Years later when I asked her what she meant, she couldn’t remember. The worst has already happened, she said. What good is metaphor to us now?
New Poetry, Every Week
Sign up to get a new poetry playlist in your inbox each week. You'll receive set of poems around a different theme, with a focus on contemporary poets.