Iowa Writes


If I were a linguist I would study words that sound one way but mean something entirely different like vermillion or dachshund or mother.  I would speak these words every chance I had.  I would listen to how birds click and caw by measure and meter with no duplicity or nuance and how dogs growl low and slow to warn. I would spend hours thinking of the meaning of the most ordinary word and how it can startle me like salt accidentally stirred into my morning tea. 

If I were a geologist I would go to those places that have always confused me like fjords or deltas or childhood.  Places where water, land, safety and dependence are not one distinct thing or another but where they converge into something astonishing as the gold fleck in your eyes.  Places where topsoil does not hold saplings securely to the earth against the wind.  Places where boulders try to hold back the water but it flows overtop.  Places where hot sand offers no shade but the sky is wide and dotted with soft clouds that pretend to offer shelter but cannot. 

If I were an archeologist I would study the way children toss their orange plastic bats on the green grass at the end of the day.  How all night the neon orange glows in the dark grass, a record of their play, which has disappeared in an echo up through the oak trees into the rising stars.  How in the first light of morning their father leaves for work in his black suit and heavy shoes and in frustration kicks the bats aside unaware he has missed one of the secrets only his children can teach him.  And how later in the morning the screen door will burst open and oblivious of his recent anger three pairs of bare legs will chase each other into the grass for the next chance at bat.   

If the world made sense then I could find that jagged place in your mind where it is cold and treacherous even forbidding.  Maybe then I would understand there is nothing to be done.  There is no meaning hidden behind the moment.  Sometimes love closes to its own nature and what survives is more like a song twirling in my mind that I can almost remember and I can't quite forget.

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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Mary Beth Shaffer received her MFA from Vermont College.  She is a frequent attendee of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.  Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, Diagram, Quarter After Eight, and Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry.

This page was first displayed
on March 26, 2014

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