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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matters: You Can Go Home Again (part two)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Encouraged by the positive response to last week's column written by poet, writer and area native, Julia Meylor Simpson, I urged her to send us another and here it is.


I was asked to write about my memories of growing up on a farm in Cherokee County and "coming home" in this column. However, my memories take the shape of poetry, not often found in newspapers these days. I have tried other forms of writing, but everything about my past as a farm child suggests a lean form, few words, the shape of poetry.

Some people say they don't like poetry. They say it's hoity-toity or difficult or boring. I might suggest that the field of poetry is as wide and varied as an Iowa sky. Two of my favorite poets -- Wendell Berry and William Stafford -- were farmer poets who captured glimpses of rural life in everyday language. I also try to do that in the poems I write.

I'd like to thank Margaret for asking me to share these memories. I'd also like to thank Marcus residents for being such good caretakers of its past and present -- and more importantly, for sustaining its future. On a personal note, my family is grateful to the staff at the Heartland Care Center for the work they do every day. Marcus is blessed to have such a fine facility.

Finally, if I'm lucky enough to be holed up somewhere on this earth a few decades from now and still writing -- like two Marcus muses, Margaret Dorr and Thelma Gravenish -- I will credit it to my tenacious and hallowed Iowa roots.

Memorial Day Morning

in an Iowa Cemetery

Stray scraps of gray wool weave

above ancient humus, new grass.

Purple irises in aluminum foil

guard names on ordered marble.

Breeze embraces earthworms,

lilacs, a child's laughter shushed.

Old farmers finger dull medals,

shattered boy memories unvoiced.

A family encircles a slight stone

leaving them wordless long ago.

Minister's wife assembles children

to place plastic wreaths on cue.

Taps from lone high school bugler

patter off grain elevator on Main.

Later, iron gates keen in rusty alto,

meadowlarks resume their matins.

[Mississippi Valley (Iowa) Poetry Contest, 2008]

On Peterson Hill

An icy leftover of ancient glacier

Mirrors china blue platter of sky

Set high on a shelf above Iowa fields.

Bitter north winds slap this rise

dotted with red-faced young.

Here, where nothing impedes their gaze,

Prairie children do not know mountains.

They won't learn to strap on skis,

Or slice down black diamond trails,

Or control speed by a turn of ankle.

This slope is best for tractor tire inner tubes

Cupping swaddled rumps a dozen at a time.

Sliders learn to pull in exposed limbs,

Lock arms as wheels bounce and spin

Across crusty mounds of winter

They know those on top will fly off first,

And bottom is safe but bruised for days.

The whole sky reaches to catch them

When a sudden bump suspends all

Above blue ice--holding each other's breath.

[The Rhode Island Writers Circle Anthology, 2007]


The windmill

in the south pasture

marked the corner

to turn north

for the farm place.

Deep breaths

of wind made

wide paddles whir,

scaffold tremble,

metal scream

against metal

as it roused

unstirred darkness.

As it leaned

against nothing.

Today, eyes sweep flat-line horizon. Nothing stands to shout: Turn here! Not even a severed skeleton defies baked blue sky. So you just drive on.

[Sojourn Journal 2008, University of Texas at Dallas]

What Remains

In this emptied out place

of endless light and darkest earth

In this hallowed place

of giving up and hanging on

In this eternal place

of decay and resurrection

Only the wind remains

to stir our dust

to whisper our names

to caress our bones.

[Prairie Poetry Web site, www.prairiepoetry.com, May 2003]