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]
in the south pasture
marked the corner
to turn north
for the farm place.
of wind made
wide paddles whir,
as it roused
As it leaned
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]
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]