Sunday, February 18, 2007

Iowa City

Prairie Lights Books - Iowa City
For the past three days I've been in Iowa City where I had a chance to visit the best university art museum and one of the best bookstores (Prairie Lights) I know of. Temperatures Thursday and early Friday were bone-chilling. Thursday morning the reading was -9 on the bank clock on Dubuque Street. By midday Friday, the weather was more humane. Saturday was a gorgeous clear day--perfect for walking in the town and university. I spent time with Cile and David Goding on the northside on Brown Street, several blocks down from where Kurt Vonnegut used to occupy a rambling house on a hill.
Iowa City
A cirrus sky
bleeds blue onto
half-plowed morning,
brings a promise
of corn to the prairie.
The river with frozen fringes
stutters north. Forgotten,
it tongues past
sturdy churches, pleads
with scalloped bridges.
An eagle spans a copse
of barren trees.
In Iowa City, I read Rebecca McClanahan's The Riddle Song, a series of essays about her family. Achingly honest, she writes as well as anyone about the complexities and mixed feelings of families. The collection opens with a piece called simply "Aunt." It concludes as follows, referring to her Aunt Bessie:
Now all these years later I hold her to me--a tribal instinct perhaps. Or perhaps I simply want to give back some of the words to the young woman in the diary. I sit in my study where shelves of books line the green walls. I finger the dictionaries and search for what lies beneath: aunt. From old French, ante, an offshoot, hall leading toward the main room. Latin root, amma: mother. Or amare: to love. As in amigo, as in amour. As in amateur, one who works for the bare love of it.
Rebecca McClanahan will visit our campus on Thursday for meetings with students and an evening reading. I look forward to seeing her again so that I can tell her how much I admire her poetry and nonfiction.

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