Iowa Writes

JUSTIN LINDHOLM
The Man Who Lived


These words compose a plea with you, my son, as I lay dying.  My heart aches, but I must confess these words to you before I go. This is a burden and will hurt you.  However, I couldn't ask this of anyone else, and even if I could, I wouldn't want to.  You have grown to be a strong and wise man, and I know that you will be capable of judging me fairly, as you have known me as a strong and wise man.  If anyone else saw these words they would charge me too harshly, and not give me the benefit of my life led well.  And so, my son, to your hands I commit my spirit.

In August of 1936, I was working for Fox Paving, just outside of Des Moines.  It was a miserable job, and it fit me.  I would walk, all day, alone, along county highways, testing the depth of gravel along the shoulders.  The job was right because I wasn't right for the civilized world. I didn't like school. I had no home. So, I chose to walk. The job was not demanding.  I would take a gauging tool, which looked like a heavy, rusted skier's pole, and stab it into the flesh of the road, then record and repeat. The specific day and the specific location are not important. What is important is that you know the result of my action.

These words compose a plea with you, my son, as I lay dying.  My heart aches, but I must confess these words to you before I go. This is a burden and will hurt you.  However, I couldn't ask this of anyone else, and even if I could, I wouldn't want to.  You have grown to be a strong and wise man, and I know that you will be capable of judging me fairly, as you have known me as a strong and wise man.  If anyone else saw these words they would charge me too harshly, and not give me the benefit of my life led well.  And so, my son, to your hands I commit my spirit.

In August of 1936, I was working for Fox Paving, just outside of Des Moines.  It was a miserable job, and it fit me.  I would walk, all day, alone, along county highways, testing the depth of gravel along the shoulders.  The job was right because I wasn't right for the civilized world. I didn't like school. I had no home. So, I chose to walk. The job was not demanding.  I would take a gauging tool, which looked like a heavy, rusted skier's pole, and stab it into the flesh of the road, then record and repeat. The specific day and the specific location are not important. What is important is that you know the result of my action.

Every day, all summer, I would bring a lunch.  Sometimes I would wait until I found a tall Iowa oak. Sometimes I would sit in the sun. On this particular day, off the road a hundred feet, was an old settler's graveyard under a big tree. I sat underneath that tree and ate. I had an apple and a sandwich and my canteen. During those early days in August, the heat made my canteen my best friend. After I finished, I reached out for my gauging tool and tipped my canteen over, and it rolled like an egg on its side, down away from the tree. I rushed to grab and save it but missed. It stopped, and then gently breathed out its contents.  I picked it up and watched where the majority of my water had drained, and something twitched under the damp dirt. Then there was nothing. I moved closer and saw some white, just underneath the brown. It twitched again, and I jumped.  Some of the dirt had fallen away and after I brushed away the rest it became clear that the white under the earth were the knuckles and fingers of a man. I grabbed the hand. It was warmer and wetter than the water could have made it, and I pulled the rest of the man's arm from under the earth. With his uncovered arm, the man worked to clear his face. I pushed away leaves and earth to remove his other arm. He gasped when his mouth met fresh air. I stood back and watched him uncover his mid-section and legs. The process was fascinating and refined.  There seemed to be only a thin layer of dirt over the man, and soon he stood.  With his feet underneath him, he stretched up towards the low hanging branches of the oak tree, and every joint popped.  He was naked and looked thin but healthy. And he was white! Elegantly white, like something that would be more comfortable in the sea. The man walked over to a worn headstone and gently patted the ground. He found a length of rope buried in the grass, and quietly rasped, "More water?"

I retrieved my canteen, unscrewed the cap, and then, at arm's length, I handed it to him.  He had to use both arms to lift and pour a small drink. I gestured to the rope in the grass. "Can I help?"

He nodded, and I moved over to the headstone and grabbed the length of rope.  In a stronger whisper, he said, "Pull."

He took another small drink as I pulled. My leverage on the rope revealed a strong wooden box, much smaller than a coffin. His eyes widened, and he smiled with a sincere appreciation that, to me, was just as foreign as his whiteness.  He then made a strange gesture, like one you would see in a moving picture but never in real life.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JUSTIN LINDHOLM

Justin Holger Lindholm is a transplanted Iowan, born in Van Cleve, Iowa, raised in Marshalltown, and now residing in Derby, Kansas, where he attends Wichita State University. He is a two-time award winning playwright (One Day at the Last Stop and Polarity, both staged by the Huff Theatre in Ankeny, Iowa) and has another play in process. He enjoys arguing, finding the world in the great outdoors, and collecting elephants.

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This page was first displayed
on November 16, 2009

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