Iowa Writes

JOHN WILSON SWOPE
from "Listing to the Right"


"Young Man, do you mind if I join you?"

"Sure. I mean, no ma'am." I stammered, remembering to rise in the presence of the elderly woman in a blue silk dress, black gloves, and a matching picture hat. She sat slowly, leaning upon her cane.

Mommy and I had spent another afternoon at the National Gallery of Art, motivated by the imminent closing of a traveling exhibition like the portraits of John Singleton Copley or DaVinci's Mona Lisa. While exiting through the rotunda, Mommy had excused herself, so I sat on one of the round leather pads that covered an equally round marble bench, staring into space as children will.

At age eight, I also knew that it was rude to stare, so I looked towards the arch hoping Mommy would soon reappear, ending the awkward silence.

"Do you come to the Gallery often, Young Man?"

"Yes, ma'am," I turned back and saw that a few wisps of white hair had slipped from beneath the crown of the hat. Her face was thin and finely featured but neither hard nor mean. "Mommy, I mean, my mother brings me."

"Young Man, do you mind if I join you?"

"Sure. I mean, no ma'am." I stammered, remembering to rise in the presence of the elderly woman in a blue silk dress, black gloves, and a matching picture hat. She sat slowly, leaning upon her cane.

Mommy and I had spent another afternoon at the National Gallery of Art, motivated by the imminent closing of a traveling exhibition like the portraits of John Singleton Copley or DaVinci's Mona Lisa. While exiting through the rotunda, Mommy had excused herself, so I sat on one of the round leather pads that covered an equally round marble bench, staring into space as children will.

At age eight, I also knew that it was rude to stare, so I looked towards the arch hoping Mommy would soon reappear, ending the awkward silence.

"Do you come to the Gallery often, Young Man?"

"Yes, ma'am," I turned back and saw that a few wisps of white hair had slipped from beneath the crown of the hat. Her face was thin and finely featured but neither hard nor mean. "Mommy, I mean, my mother brings me."

"And do you enjoy your time here?"

"Oh yes, ma'am."

"So do I."

"I'm waiting on Mommy now."

"And I upon my driver. I told him four," she said, consulting her gold Lavaliere watch. "But I seem to be a bit early, so I'll just wait here."

Mommy called, "Let's go, John." As we exited down the steps, she whispered, "That was 'Alice Blue Gown.'"

"Who's that?"

"That lady was Mrs. Longworth—Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt."

I turned back to look at the old woman. In her no longer fashionable dress and hat, she gazed wistfully in profile into a muted shaft of sun from the narrow, multi-storied window, the pose and light reminiscent of Vermeer.

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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


JOHN WILSON SWOPE

John Wilson Swope teaches courses in literature, pedagogy, and creative nonfiction for the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Northern Iowa.

"Listing to the Right" can be found in Notes from the Flyover (NAR Press, 2006), a festschrift celebrating the life and work of University of Northern Iowa Professor Emerita Barbara Lounsberry. Dr. Lounsberry is a noted educator, writer, and scholar. One of her many interests is Midwestern life. Notes From The Flyover is available from North American Review Press.

Contact The North American Review Press

This page was first displayed
on May 07, 2007

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