Ben Groner III

Untied

 

It was the first day of the road trip, and halfway between our 

nation’s capital and the site of the 1927 Bristol Sessions we 

pulled off the highway, passing an abandoned sanatorium which 

loomed above the town like a scab on the flesh of the land. 

 

A few minutes later, we found ourselves on the dusty paths

of the Frontier Culture Museum, ambling backwards through 

time among traditional dwellings from England, Ireland, Germany; 

deconstructed and reconstructed on this land. A West African

compound of clay buildings and domed thatched huts crouched

 

off to the side. The architecture of American houses from the 

1740s, 1820s, and 1850s sang of how the cultures intertwined,

how everything stems from something else—Irish women grew 

squashes, okra, black eyed peas. As we walked, we speculated 

 

on the loneliness of the first man to hike from Pennsylvania 

to this soil through an unforgiving winter, surviving without 

shelter until he threw together a tiny primitive cabin of logs 

sandwiched between thick layers of red mud, disheveled and

flared boards for a roof that didn’t help much against the rain. 

 

Chuckling, we passed a sign that read: “the Untied States” while 

espousing the merits of spelling books in early grade schools.

Even now, with this country stitched together by train tracks, 

bridges, interstates, generations, trauma, societal norms—

 

there’s still a risk of unraveling, of neighborly conversations 

fraying around the edges. We found the 1850s house inhabited by

an elderly museum worker clad in a blue dress and white bonnet,

and as I studied its spacious whitewashed interior and brushed

an antique German scheitholt on a desk that would morph into 

 

the mountain dulcimer, I heard my friend asking the sweet lady

a string of questions. Upon striding out to the porch, she was 

explaining how as the West opened up in the 1800s, settlers 

sloughed off their native nationalities and started wearing the

 

word “American.” Can a single word mean everything and 

nothing? We smiled goodbyes and set off across the lawn, 

but something compelled me to look back. The old woman

was leaning against the doorway, waving and wishing us well

on our journey, and for a moment I felt as if I were her restless 

 

son leaving the homestead in search of a country I’d hardly seen.

 

Passing the schoolhouse, that adjective scrawled across my

mind—untied, untied—then there was only the clear brightness 

of the September afternoon, the wind rippling the woman’s blue 

dress and white bonnet, her hand waving us on and on and on. 

 


Ben Groner III (Nashville, TN), recipient of Texas A&M University’s 2014 Gordone Award for undergraduate poetry and a Pushcart Prize nomination, has work published in Whale Road Review, Appalachian Heritage, The Bookends Review, One, Still: The Journal, New Mexico Review, and elsewhere. He’s also a bookseller at Parnassus Books. You can see more of his work at bengroner.com/creative-writing/.