Iowa Writes

from "Every December"

There is a moment in the movie Field of Dreams when several figures first emerge from the edge of a cornfield—that handful of banned ballplayers from the notorious World Series of 1919. They step out like ghosts from between the rows of shimmering stalks, still outfitted in their old uniforms and dated haircuts. At first their movements are slow and disoriented, their eyes squinting at the outfield's sudden light. As the soundtrack jokes, what they walk out onto isn't heaven but only Iowa. Yet these athletes do ultimately receive a kind of redemption on that rural ball field; a chance to replay and undo their past. A chance at resolution.

In the summer of 1991, I similarly arrived in Iowa as if out of left field. I'd driven in straight from my native New York, and while my past wasn't necessarily criminal, it was a bit spotted. Ostensibly I'd come to attend graduate school, yet behind me lay a growing list of aimless vocations and false starts, a virtual diploma's worth of detours and detachments. Foremost in my mind was a long on-again-off-again relationship whose end I couldn't seem to bear. Sybil and I parted ways on a Lexington Avenue sidewalk, once again without coming to any spoken conclusions. In truth, I couldn't say whether I left running toward or from resolutions.

En route to the Midwest, however, I resolved to change all that. Driving through mile after mile of lush young cornstalks can bolster one's sense of new beginnings. I crossed the Mississippi River at the very spot Joliet and Marquette first documented three hundred years earlier, beyond which stood a bright road sign reading "IOWA: A Place To Grow." There and then I made a vow to live in the country. To really try and make a fresh and committed start.

After registering at the university, I started searching for a place to live outside of town. I drove down every gravel and back road I could find, but quickly learned rural rentals weren't all that easy to come by. No easier than an apartment in Manhattan. Still, I kept combing the county and knocking on doors until finally I heard about an old one-room schoolhouse on a plot called Redbird Farm.

Upon arriving, my knees nearly buckled. The schoolhouse looked like some picture postcard—square and squat with clapboard the color of worn work shoes and a green ivy clinging to its stone chimney. Inside, the living space was spare yet its four walls vaulted a full twelve feet to the ceiling with more windows than you could count, and each one framing what was truly the building's grandest feature—its views. The schoolhouse perched atop a hillside overlooking some five hundred acres of Redbird's rolling woodlands and pasture. Heaven was in Iowa after all.

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.

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Marc Nieson lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he can typically be found writing, teaching, or soccer mom-ing. "Every December," which appears in the Winter 2007-08 issue of The Iowa Review, is excerpted from his forthcoming memoir of living in Iowa, Schoolhouse: A Year in the Heartland.

This page was first displayed
on January 06, 2008

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