Iowa Writes

SUSAN BRADLEY BUSE
"Ragbrai" - definition: Spokes and Souls and Rhubarb Pie


What's your name and where are you from? you ask as you on your Surly roll up by my side. Our bikes now in lockstep, I catch on this simple conundrum, posed in these moments of dawn as we leave behind the clothes and roles and expectations of convention.

Today, and tomorrow, on this ride all who you think I am, and all that is a part of me I carry, on a 16 lb bike, with a tent and a whim,
I carry me on this annual quest, perhaps to find or confirm the answer to your question in this rolling sea of corn and soy and weather-vaned barn,

So maybe you know the deceit of your inquiry, that words will not tell of you or of whom am I. Instead, while our rides are synched, I speak to you and you to me in the rhythmed prose of pedals and the psalms of whirling spokes.  We have this time, right now, until you or I pull ahead or fall behind into a new moment of today.

Here, in this time and place, I breathe in air that speaks of home,
And, though each muscle strains, this ride is not a quest of physicality
but is instead a trek and retreat into stretches of green and yellow and red, well tended by women and men and families of steady and flawed and perfect grit.  They are Grant Wood's farm folk, honest in girth, succinct in word, thorough in thought, and firm in compassion. Solid they stand, through nature's reign and summer heat, as we the locust hordes descend upon their produce of rhubarb and porkchops and pickles and beer.

What's your name and where are you from? you ask as you on your Surly roll up by my side. Our bikes now in lockstep, I catch on this simple conundrum, posed in these moments of dawn as we leave behind the clothes and roles and expectations of convention.

Today, and tomorrow, on this ride all who you think I am, and all that is a part of me I carry, on a 16 lb bike, with a tent and a whim,
I carry me on this annual quest, perhaps to find or confirm the answer to your question in this rolling sea of corn and soy and weather-vaned barn,

So maybe you know the deceit of your inquiry, that words will not tell of you or of whom am I. Instead, while our rides are synched, I speak to you and you to me in the rhythmed prose of pedals and the psalms of whirling spokes.  We have this time, right now, until you or I pull ahead or fall behind into a new moment of today.

Here, in this time and place, I breathe in air that speaks of home,
And, though each muscle strains, this ride is not a quest of physicality
but is instead a trek and retreat into stretches of green and yellow and red, well tended by women and men and families of steady and flawed and perfect grit.  They are Grant Wood's farm folk, honest in girth, succinct in word, thorough in thought, and firm in compassion. Solid they stand, through nature's reign and summer heat, as we the locust hordes descend upon their produce of rhubarb and porkchops and pickles and beer.

Once each year, for 43 years, they take in and most certainly raise a brow to the skinny legs and sometimes (sometimes not) muscled thighs and bellies and behinds boldly painted in spandex black (Cover your eyes, Mary).  Locusts, or - they are a forgiving folk - dragonflies, hovering and giddy, buzz around these bemused hosts who save their guffaws for evening card games with Hamms, perhaps Newton brews, and family and friends.
We, the splashy dragonflies, ride, and we, in turn, groan back at our hosts, repeating to each other the puns of these people who don't take themselves, or us, too seriously.  We read the crisp wit of country graffiti, posted on cardboard, one 3x3 square then another, taunting our legs to keep rollin' rollin' rollin' mile after mile on smooth rural road. . .

Trying to choose
whether to slow down or hurry?
You might want to know —
your Lycra looks better when blurry

chiding us, reminding us to laugh, at ourselves,  sharing with us humor untainted by pretense and overstudy—concise on word, yet spot on—

Rosie's Roadkill,
Loose meat sandwiches

these people, the most highly educated population of our states, encourage us with rhyme and love poem. . .

There's no one quite like
My Ragbrai hottie
Whom I met in line
At the porto-pottie
. . . and without break in stride challenge us with social conscience
Pick up your milkweed seed,
second right to the Community Center
Scatter as you ride

reminding that we can do the right thing even when just doing our thing.

There is a wholeness along this trek, a symbiosis of bike jersey and denim, of pannier and tractor grill, dwarfed in the immensity of the land and force of a people who nourish the world.  We share fresh pie near beer tents and band stands, without thought of soap or polished heel.  We poke fun at and we celebrate each other, east and west and north and south, and most of all the heart of in between.


I have traveled so far from my Iowa address, and I still carry with me the pride and sweat of a teen who detassled corn, and the student and adult who carried on to today where I am me, with you, and our names roll like marbles on a highway run, up and down through endless arcs of black soil and green harvest, clanging past silos and through main street towns.

Here in this Eden I feel my name,
and I hear our song.
And these cannot be whittled down onto a business card or staff . . . yet I know they will be, until again, next year, or maybe the next, when I will break away, again, to ride, with you and us, again to Be. Home.
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May our highways meld into rolled haybales of Mr. Porkchop, boom box and slippy slide, and may we again sit together, tired, at peace, on our favorite pasture hill or in your a/c'd sag wagon, savoring the aromas of the manure still stuck on our thin city tires.

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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


SUSAN BRADLEY BUSE

Susan Bradley Buse lives in St. Louis, Missouri, a 5-hour car (4-day bike) ride south of her childhood home in Cedar Rapids.  Buse, an attorney, currently devotes her time to writing, family, and advancements in public education.

This page was first displayed
on February 05, 2016

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