I call Glen Falls diminutive because I live in a land of waterfalls, with Lookout Mountain stretching south and west from my home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mountain is a misnomer, for it is a plateau eighty miles long and stretching across the corners of three states. The twin cities of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee and Lookout Mountain. Georgia occupy its northeast end and several villages dot the rest of its landscape. Several steams and one river originate atop the plateau and flow to the valley below. In the Georgia portion, a stream at Cloudland Canyon State Park flows over two falls visible from a hiking trail which descends limestone steps from the top.
Further south, in Alabama, the Little River descends DeSoto Falls at DeSoto State Park, named for the explorer whose party passed near by when Spain was the colonial power in the southern parts of what is now the United States. The Little River continues down the plateau to Little River Falls, where it enters the Little River Canyon, a gorge with high limestone cliffs on either side. It is a National Preserve. The name Little River is locally confusing. Another river with the same name flows through part of the Great Smoky Mountains, two hours to the Northeast.
I have visited and photographed these grander falls in autumn and winter when the flow is small and in spring when they become raging cataracts. By comparison, Glen Falls is a mere trickle, a gentle stream such as are found throughout the length of Lookout Mountain to the south, the Cumberland Plateau to the west, and the Appalachian Mountains to the east, all within a day’s drive. Each of those regions has a few thundering waterfalls and many smaller ones, the likes of Glen Falls.
When I wrote the poem, right here at Glen Falls, the leaves were just emerging from buds and the birds were still winter residents, awaiting the arrival of the river of warblers which flows through our forests in spring and fall. Spring wildflowers were still a hope in the heart.
The poem, “Glen Falls Trail,” began with a list of words, a writing prompt received at the open mic at a local bookstore. It also began with the murmur of the stream over the falls, and graffiti, “George Loves Lisa,” painted on a rock at the bluff above the falls. The poem ends with the lines:
“I never knew this George or Lisa
The rock bears their names in silence,
names the stream forgot years ago.”
There ended the poem, but not the story. I submitted the poem to a writing contest sponsored by the Tennessee Writers Alliance and later learned that I had won second place. I was invited to read the poem at an awards ceremony at the Southern Festival of Books that October, to take place 100 miles away in Nashville, the state capitol, on Legislative Plaza.
As summer progressed, I rehearsed the poem a few times and noticed I had less energy than before. Though only fifty-four years old, I thought my reduced energy a result of aging. Meanwhile, I took a job which proved to be more physically demanding and I noticed myself sleeping more hours each night. I thought it was just my body adjusting to the demands of the job, but in September my doctor performed a stress test and sent me to a cardiologist. The specialist performed an angiogram and declared that I would undergo Cardiac Bypass Surgery the following day.
I objected. It was a Thursday, and my awards ceremony was on a Saturday, just sixteen days away. More than that, I had been relatively healthy all my life and I could not adjust to the idea that I was not well. From the turning point of my successful poem I was at another of despair, thinking I might die during surgery or I might become an invalid.
Friday night and early Saturday I was in and out of consciousness like a failing florescent light on a marquee, the type which flickers to life, burns brightly for a while, and fades with an audible buzzing sound. By Saturday night I was in a private room, where I would remain for six more days. The mental adjustment after such a surgery is a whole other story.
After discharge from the hospital, I rested for three days at a friend’s house before returning to my apartment, where I kept everything within reach, not reaching over my head, and ate a healthier diet, but one which I consumed voraciously. My neighbor Julie spoke to me and agreed to drive me to Nashville for the awards ceremony, a promise she immediately regretted. She became convinced that I would die on the trip, but when Saturday arrived, we departed for Nashville with her friend Matt along for support. I slept most of the way, full of pain medicine and with the stress of a healing body.
At Legislative Plaza, the sun was bright and the crowd noisy. It was my first visit to a crowded urban area since the surgery, and I was in my own world. The canopy under which the ceremony would take place was surprisingly easy to find, though the ceremony was one of several simultaneous programs taking place on the plaza and in the surrounding buildings. I picked up a copy of the program for the festival, a document the size of a small tabloid newspaper, and noticed that a friend had given a reading the day before. Too bad I missed it.
I greeted the mistress of ceremonies, my poem in one hand and a heart shaped pillow in the other. I explained the importance of the pillow in helping me clear my lungs, speaking to her bemused countenance. The pillow was emblazoned with a lovely color schematic of a human heart, not of the valentine’s day ilk.
Fortunately, the emcee explained my journey to arrive at the ceremony before I stepped to the microphone. Though I did not bob and weave like an owlet, I was somewhat unsteady on my feet as I read what was in fact an early draft of the poem and not a copy of the submitted manuscript. According to my neighbor, I accelerated and slowed the pace of my reading in a random manner. I finished to the reluctant applause of an audience of strangers.
With my return to Chattanooga, my neighbor amazed I did not die on the trip, I spent more and more time on the porch, listening to the sweet sounds of chickadees and titmice. I wrote very little, but my inspiration from Glen Falls and survival of the trip to Nashville convinced me to continue as a poet.
I have since visited Glen Falls on numerous occasions and written two more poems there. I have discovered that I write best while outdoors and have published several poems. The poem “Glen Falls Trail” went on to be included in the Southern Poetry Anthology: Volume VI, Tennessee, an annual publication of the Texas Review Press. Each year, they publish a volume of poetry from one state, so most poets have but one chance to be included. Most of the poets are far better known than me and most have three poems in the volume in comparison to my one. I am honored to be included.
Events described took place in 2007. Photographs are from November 27, 2018, Canon DSLR camera with 18 to 55 mm lens.