Iowa Writes

from The Men in My Country

It starts as a name, a place, a squiggle on a map. Japan. A country as far away from familiar as familiar can be. I try to imagine the country, what its streets look like, how its air smells. I touch the country on a map, fingering the page of a weathered atlas, spine broken, yellowed pages flying apart. As big as a thumbprint, as small as a canoe. Japan. I like the sound of it.

When my best friend called to say there was a job in Japan, when she asked, did I want to go, I knew I would. I would say yes, I would sign a contract to take me to Japan for the year. The job? To teach at three different junior highs. The town? A medium-sized city in the mountains, someplace called Matsumoto. I had just turned thirty, a watershed year. I would start over that year. I knew I would. I wanted to, I needed to. I didn’t know the difference then between want and need. All I knew is that I had to get away and when I stared at my name on the Japanese contract, the squiggles of katakana, my name typed in English sturdily beneath, I liked how it looked. As if it—as if I—were translated, transformed, emerging now as someone new.

And within a month, I had arrived. Sleeping on tatami mats. Eating rice. Washing blue-and-white bowls. Hanging laundry out on the balcony to dry. I loved the smell of sun-dried shirts and cotton sweaters that carried a hint of wind and earth. A new wind. A new earth.

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


Marilyn Abildskov has an MFA from the University of Iowa, lives in Berkeley, California, and teaches at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. The Men in My Country was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2004.

Established in 1938 and housed in the historic Kuhl House, the oldest house still standing in Iowa City, the University of Iowa Press publishes scholarly books and a wide variety of titles that will appeal to general readers. As the only university press in the state, it is dedicated to preserving the literature, history, culture, wildlife, and natural areas of the region.

University of Iowa Press

This page was first displayed
on December 18, 2006

Find us on Facebook