Iowa Writes

From Blowback

On rare occasions we visited his ship, a bristling fortress tethered to the dock with knotted ropes as thick as a braid of brawny arms. A metal gangplank breeched the oily ocean splashing, without effect, up and down the destroyer's gunmetal skin. Because the plank was steep and made up of nickel-sized holes for water to pass through, my mother removed her stiletto heels and held onto a metal chain handrail. Forgetting our stiff dresses and shiny shoes, my sisters and I galloped up what felt like a drawbridge and abruptly entered my father's world: grey decks, gray walls and low-slung ceilings made of metal. Open hatches cut in the middle of walls served as doors with wheels for handles to seal off one space from the next. Dials spun, whistles screeched, lights—both piercing and dull—shimmied up and down unforgiving passageways so cramped someone had to press against a wall to allow another to pass. Uniformed men stopped what they were doing, saluted, and called my father "Sir" as we made our way through the deepest bowels of the ship where commanding officers awaited our family in their dining hall. And everywhere the stench of burnt coffee—brewed in vats big enough to fit two sisters—coming led with the smell of diesel, sweat, and cigarettes, a smell so disorienting I associated it with the miserable gray paint. After a dizzying tour to the bridge, we visited his broom-thin closet of a bedroom with its sliver of a desk that sent six-year-old-me to wondering how my father could withstand this detention-like place where every surface was functional, unyielding, and seemingly indestructible, a territory so foreign no woman—not even my mother—could ever hope to soften it.

Dinner consisted of canned peas, reconstituted potatoes, biscuits and a mountainous platter of bloody meat. I was afraid to eat. Afraid to speak. To breathe. Stares from my mother propelled the food into my mouth. Incomprehensible conversations hung on the foggy swirl of cigarette smoke while the men, stuffed in kaki uniforms with strips of candy-colored badges, entertained each other. I don't recall if my mother said a word.

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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E. Keene received an M.F.A. from Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program in 2009. She teaches yoga, dance, choreographs, edits and writes for The Teaching Company. Her essays have appeared in Southeast Review, Drunken Boat, Two Hawks Quarterly, Iowa Review, and an anthology published by NCTE titled: Reinventing Identities in Second Language Writing.

This page was first displayed
on May 25, 2011

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