Tennessee Reed

Tennessee Reed, a poet and memoirist, grew up in Oakland and attended UC Berkeley. Reed, daughter of the novelist Ishmael Reed and the writer/choreographer Carla Blank, was diagnosed at an early age with several language-based learning disorders. She was never expected to read or write.

Despite this dire diagnosis, Reed not only went on to read and write, but published the first of her four books of poetry at the age of 11. She is also the author of the memoir Spell Albuquerque: Memoirs of a Difficult Student. Roses and Rose Street in Berkeley first caught Reed’s attention in 2001 and led to the writing of this poem.


ROSES FOR ROSE STREET

Leaving Berkeley Horticultural Nursery
we turned left on Rose Street
heading towards Shattuck Place
Our destination: Safeway in the Gourmet Ghetto neighborhood
where Rose and Shattuck Place meet
I had never noticed roses on Rose Street
until that day
Before I had just paid attention to the Japanese red maple trees
and California live oak trees
lined up in front of homes
with many different types of flowering bushes
planted on the edges of lawns
in front of living room windows
between McGee Avenue and California Street

I was thinking about how Rose Street got its name
as we pass by a house
with an all yellow hybrid tea rose bush
signs of platonic or dying love
in front of a house between Grant Street and Edith Street
I thought about the song “Yellow Rose of Texas”
that I learned about from a friend
at work who is from the Dallas area
and whose boss brought her a dozen yellow roses
as a thank you gift
“There’s a yellow rose in Texas, that I’m going to see.
Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me.
She cried so when I left her, it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part.”

Then I saw a large shingled house
between Josephine Street and Grant Street
with a large light pink hybrid tea rose
a sign of sympathy and admiration
Now when we pass by
I check for the large, bald eagle
painted under the roof on the Josephine Street side of the house
and the painted squirrel on the Rose Street side
and red and green jalapeno peppers
The house is a Western stick style house
a sign of the Arts and Crafts Movement

In between Milvia Street and Bonita Avenue
I saw many climbing roses in front of homes
in a variety of different colors: red, pink, yellow and white

At the Men’s Faculty Club on the U.C. Berkeley campus
where we celebrated Mom’s birthday
I asked a long time family friend, John Roberts
who is a landscape architect
how Rose Street got its name
He replied that the developers named it
after they killed the roses
in order to build the street

It seems as if the Rose Street residents
from Sacramento Street to Henry Street
are making up for all the roses that were killed
so they can live in beautiful homes
beside this busy Berkeley thoroughfare

UPDATE: Evan Karp, who writes about literary life in the Bay Area, took this video of Tenneesse Reed reading this poem. She spoke at a Litquake fundraiser in Oakland.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...