POEM: “Chattanooga” by Ishmael Reed (1973)


by Ishmael Reed, 1973

Some say that Chattanooga is the
Old name for Lookout Mountain
To others it is an uncouth name
Used only by the uncivilized
Our a-historical period sees it
As merely a town in Tennessee
To old timers of the Volunteer State
Chattanooga is “The Pittsburgh of
The South”
According to the Cherokee
Chattanooga is a rock that
Comes to a point

They’re all right
Chattanooga is something you
Can have anyway you want it
The summit of what you are
I’ve paid my fare on that
Mountain Incline #2, Chattanooga
I want my ride up
I want Chattanooga

Like Nickajack a plucky Blood
I’ve escaped my battle near
Clover Bottom, braved the
Jolly Roger raising pirates
Had my near miss at Moccasin Bend
To reach your summit so
Give into me Chattanooga
I’ve dodged the Grey Confederate sharpshooters
Escaped my brother’s tomahawks with only
Some minor burns
Traversed a Chickamauga of my own
Making, so
You belong to me Chattanooga

I take your East Ninth Street to my
Heart, pay court on your Market
Street of rubboard players and organ
Grinders of Haitian colors rioting
And old Zip Coon Dancers
I want to hear Bessie Smith belt out
I’m wild about that thing in
Your Ivory Theatre
Coca-Cola’s homebase
City on my mind

My 6th grade teacher asked me to
Name the highest mountain in the world
I didn’t even hesitate, “Lookout Mountain”
I shouted. They laughed
Eastern nitpickers, putting on the
Ritz laughed at my Chattanooga ways
Which means you’re always up to it

To get to Chattanooga you must
Have your Tennessee
“She has as many lives as a
cat. As to killing her, even
the floods have failed
you may knock the breath out of
her that’s all. She will re-
fill her lungs and draw
a longer breath than ever”
From a Knoxville editorial –

Chattanooga is a woman to me too
I want to run my hands through her
Hair of New Jersey tea and redroot
Aint no harm in that
Be caressed and showered in
Her Ruby Falls
That’s only natural
Heal myself in her
Minnehaha Springs
58 degrees F. all year
Around. Climb all over her
Ridges and hills
I wear a sign on my chest
“Chattanooga or bust”

to Thomas

When I tasted your big juicy
Black berries ignoring the rattle-
Snakes they said come to Cameron
Hill after the rain, I knew I
Had to have you Chattanooga
When I swam in Lincoln Park
Listening to Fats Domino sing
I found my thrill on Blueberry
Hill on the loudspeaker
I knew you were mine Chattanooga
Chattanooga whose Howard Negro
School taught my mother Latin
Tennyson and Dunbar
Whose Miller Bros. Department
Store cheated my Uncle out of
What was coming to him
A pension, he only had 6
Months to go
Thomas to Grant

To get to Chattanooga you must
Go through your Tennessee
I’ve taken all the scotsboros
One state can dish out
Made Dr. Shockley’s “Monkey Trials”
The laughing stock of the Nation
Capt. Marvel Dr. Sylvanias shazam
Scientists running from light-
ning, so
Open your borders, Tennessee
Hide your TVA
DeSota determined, this
Serpent handler is coming

Are you ready Lookout Mountain?

“Give all of my Generals what he’s
drinking,” Lincoln said, when the
Potomac crowd called Grant a lush

I’m going to strut all over your
Point like Old Sam Grant did
My belly full of good Tennessee
Whiskey, puffing on
A.05 cigar
The campaign for Chattanooga
Behind me
Breathing a spell
Ponying up for



from Ishmael Reed: New and Collected Poems (1988)

Shared here in bold violation of copyright but in love and with all respect.

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