Iowa

In 1999, Iowa established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Mary Swander, who was appointed in 2009. Swander is the author of many collections of poetry, including Driving the Body Back (University of Iowa Press, 1998).

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Go Greyhound

A few hours after Des Moines
the toilet overflowed.
This wasn't the adventure it sounds.

I sat with a man whose tattoos
weighed more than I did.
He played Hendrix on mouth guitar.
His Electric Ladyland lips
weren't fast enough
and if pitch and melody
are the rudiments of music,
this was just
memory, a body nostalgic
for the touch of adored sound.

Hope's a smaller thing on a bus.

You hope a forgotten smoke consorts
with lint in the pocket of last
resort to be upwind
of the human condition, that the baby
sleeps
and when this never happens,
that she cries 
with the lullaby meter of the sea.

We were swallowed by rhythm.
The ultra blond
who removed her wig and applied 
fresh loops of duct tape
to her skull,
her companion who held a mirror
and popped his dentures
in and out of place,
the boy who cut stuffing
from the seat where his mother
should have been—
there was a little more sleep 
in our thoughts, 
it was easier to yield.

To what, exactly—
the suspicion that what we watch 
watches back,
cornfields that stare at our hands,
downtowns
that hold us in their windows
through the night?

Or faith, strange to feel
in that zoo of manners.

I had drool on my shirt and breath
of the undead, a guy
dropped empty Buds on the floor
like gravity was born
to provide this service,
we were white and black trash
who'd come
in an outhouse on wheels and still

some had grown—
in touching the spirited shirts
on clotheslines,
after watching a sky of starlings
flow like cursive
over wheat—back into creatures 
capable of a wish.

As we entered Arizona
I thought I smelled the ocean,
liked the lie of this
and closed my eyes 
as shadows
puppeted against my lids. 

We brought our failures with us,
their taste, their smell.
But the kid
who threw up in the back
pushed to the window anyway,
opened it 
and let the wind clean his face,
screamed something 
I couldn't make out
but agreed with
in shape, a sound I recognized
as everything I'd come so far
to give away.

Quandary

All night I flew the dark recess of God's mind.
It was arranged like Iowa fields--

not a damn thing missing.
You ask how I survived.

I lived on a message, broad light
at the end of the world.

Words, they have so much in common with departure,

the clouds elliptical & nervous.
Why translate? It's just a revolving door.

"Chill wind" has seven
components. One is loss.

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa

 

Before there was the time we see
there was the time we saw through,
when the biggest bear lied down,
exhaled the boundary of herself—
woof!—and rolled onto her side.

Her family followed in a line,
bending like an oxbow lake,
crocheting holes in the land
where water bubbled through
(so much does bubble through).

Birds saw the bears
bubbling up and dug it.
Whoa!

So with wing fingers wide,
they pressed their feathered breasts
flat to the ground which sung
their own songs back at them but
way slower, like whale
songs in
amber.

Is that a yes or a no? the birds asked.
Yes, replied the ground.
Whoa!

Green grass grew over them,
which was a long, green love song.

Nearby, turtles, panthers, dogs
lost their boundaries…exhaled…then
found them again and became constellations.

What speed was the time
signature singing then when all those
holes in space opened up
and bear after bear,
bird after bird,
sun after sun lost
refound their shapes in
the long song, knowing
themselves at last for
what they were:

eternal,
immutable,
from every possible angle.