An Iowa Story

She returned
to eavesdrop on her history.
Imagine Grandpa’s weathered face,
rusted tractor rumbling through fields.
Picture Grandma young and spry,
aproned in her summer kitchen.
Failing roofs,
weathered homestead,
long empty.
But as she left, it whispered,
You are our dreams come true.

Written for dVerse, the virtual pub for poets, where today Kim asks us to write a Quadrille (poem of exactly 44 words, sans title) using the word “eavesdropper” or a form of the word.

PHOTOS provided by Andrea Gunderson Frederickson. She was a high school student of mine many many years ago when I taught at Iowa Valley High School in Marengo, Iowa. This is her grandparents’ homestead, just outside of Marengo. Summer kitchens were used to avoid heating up the entire house during the hot and humid summer months.

To Everything There is a Season

City folk turned country dwellers
we weathered through the seasons.
First-time home-owners on thirty acres,
we rented out our fields.
Watched corn and wheat planted,
then flourish in hot Iowa sun.

Harvest seasons came and went.
Like shapeshifters,
acres changed their landscaped views.
Plant, tend, reap, rest.
We marked off years waiting,
hoping for a blooming of our own.

And then, pregnant with expectation
we watched my belly grow,
just as the wheat and corn grew tall.
Similar to mother earth that year,
we gave birth, finding sustenance
in the fruits of our labor.

And then one bright September day
we brought our daughter home.
Stood blinking from the sun’s glare
holding her up amidst the fields,
thankful for new life
in this, our season of joy.  

Written for Tuesday Poetics at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets across the globe. Today, Rose is guest hosting and titles her prompt “Waiting on Wheat” – asking us to somehow write about wheat within our poem. Photos are from our homestead in Iowa, in 1974. Yep – that’s me with our daughter on the day I came home from the hospital. In those days, it was common to stay in the hospital for 5 days! Even after a normal birth. My how times have changed! The title for the poem comes from Ecclesiastes in the Bible and was also turned into a wonderful song written by Pete Seeger, first recorded in 1959.

Ah, Sweet Iowa Summer

Kitchen counter line-up:
sealed mason jars
filled with stewed tomatoes,
green beans, chunky apple sauce,
Harvard beets and pickled too.

Freezer shelves of season’s best.
Umpteen zuchinni breads,
apple pies and butter corn.
Blueberries, tagged in bags,
waiting to grace a cold morning’s stack.

Fresh mown grass, delicious scent.
Orange tiger lilies, shasta daisies,
farm cats mewling with swollen teats.
Sheets flap in hot summer breeze,
fireflies dance as sun departs the scene.

My Marengo memories . . .
ah, sweet Iowa summer daze.

Photo from our Iowa garden many years ago! Posted to dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. We lived in Marengo, Iowa from 1970 through 1974 and then Iowa City until 1997. Had amazing gardens! Learned to can and freeze much of our homegrown vegetables and fruits. Somehow, our zucchini plants seemed to explode and we ate zuchinni bread all winter long! Lavonne Heitman’s recipe for freezer butter corn was delectable and oh those bread and butter pickles that took up so much refrigerator space! Our apple trees filled many a frozen aluminum pie tin. Blueberries graced sourdough pancakes on cold winter mornings. One year, I even canned homemade ketchup! Fireflies were always the magical part of Iowa summers – sorely missed in Boston. Ah sweet Iowa memories! Deserving of the title, Heartland!

Midwest Winter

Frozen branches shudder-click.
Lonely sentinels
guarding empty Chicago streets.
Humanity hibernates
while nature wins this round.

One state over . . .

Country fields shiver deeply
as polar vortex rules.
Farmhouse chimneys puff outside
while Iowa hunkers down,
quilts and afghans piled on high.

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To our friends and family in the midwest, stay warm and stay safe!
Poetry form here: two tankas joined by “One state over” line.
First image from Pixabay.com; second photo is our old Iowa farmhouse we rented in the early 70s.

The Old Farmstead

It struck with a howling fury. High winds. Snow so thick it obscured the view outside the kitchen window. Tool shed. Abandoned teetering barn. Rusted ancient Deere. All swallowed in a swirling mass of white.

I climbed the well-worn steps, carpet long since removed as a tripping hazard. Climbed into what we’d called their sleigh bed. Oak veneer now peeling. Loneliness was my only companion. Empty rooms down the hall. Memories jostling in my head: childhood tasks in overalls; mom and dad, steaming mugs of coffee in hand, engrossed in quiet whispered conversation about next year’s crop, Jimmy’s ever-growing feet, the upcoming school board meeting. Sleep finally came, in the midst of stuffed, sealed packing boxes.

I woke to a still, darkened house and padded my way down the familiar but different hallway. No giggles or doors slamming. Bare walls waiting for a new owner’s decorative touch. Melancholy seeped into my body. How did time take over my life so completely? Gloss over so many years so quickly, that my visits here shortened in length, but lengthened in days and months and sometimes years between? How could I not notice their slower steps? The peeling paint. The hired hand plowing the fields.

The kitchen window was partially covered by frost on the inside. Like an etching on fine glass. Dawn slowly revealed familiar rolling hills, glistening white in winter’s cold. Snow drifts obscured the woodpile while a small portion of the drive, somehow windswept in last night’s gale, revealed gravel and bits of dried leaves. Nature gifted the land with uneven blessings, just as life did us.

My coffee began to percolate in mom’s old stainless steel pot, plugged into the wall next to the small curved hook where her potholders used to hang. I’d leave this house in a few hours. Say my final goodbyes to what once was . . . birthday celebrations; the bright yellow school bus lumbering down our dirt road; mom gathering sheets from the line outside; dad coming in from the fields.

Looking out that glazed window, my eyes suddenly focused on a spot of crimson red in the blanket of snow. Two cardinals sat beneath the old wooden birdfeeder, long since bereft of seed. They sat patiently, as if belonging to the scene. Bright living color in the midst of all that visual cold. Just as I began to notice the aroma of fresh brewed coffee, their wings began to spread, elongating their shapes. And they rose together, disappearing into streaks of sun now blinding my eyes. Snow glare. The new day was here.

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Written with memories of winters in Iowa. Prose fiction . . . but I imagine many folks face the leaving of their old farmsteads as generations pass, land is bought up and farms become more “corporate.” Photo is of a country home we rented in Iowa; either the old Folkman or Voitman house….down the road from the Bean’s farmstead. They were very special years for us…..over forty years ago.

Apple Me Too Many

Farm house apple trees,
harvest never picks them clean.
Fruit rots ‘neath baring branches,
bees buzz drunkenly in mashed pulp.
Sickly sweet scent hovers,
annual fall perfume.

Gina is our guest host for today’s Poetics at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. He asks us to write about a scent we remember. Apple Me Too Many is drawn from my memories of living in a farm house on 30 acres of land in rural Iowa, from 1974 to 1976. Pub opens at 3 PM Boston time. Come join us!

Marengo Years

How did a city girl end up a high school English teacher in rural Iowa? From graduating in a class of eight-hundred-fifty, quick-stepping to Pomp and Circumstances so the procession wouldn’t last an hour; to senior class sponsor of thirty-two, holding students back until the prior one was all the way down the aisle and seated – so the band could play the entire song.

Town square on Main Street. No traffic lights. Elementary school kids on decorated trikes and bicycles in the high school homecoming parade. Future Farmers of America, 4-H, and drama club. Six-on-six girls’ basketball and a superintendent who sometimes wore bibber overalls. Houses with unlocked doors and party-line telephones.  Church cookbooks and pot-lucks. Friendly people always willing to share, listen, and lend a helping hand. My second time in high-school. More special than the first.

ten foot drifts that year
folks hunkered down waiting for plows –
farm cats warm in barns

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Written for dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. It’s Tuesday Poetics and Amaya is hosting, asking us to remember our school days. Photo: Our rented farm house in rural Marengo, Iowa.

Impatient in Iowa

Elusive spring
buried beneath snow.
Monotone whitened rural scene
minus crocus, lilacs,
and red breasted robins.
Brightened only by weathered barn
and newly painted crimson birdhouse,
daredevil cheerful bracelet
on snow laden tree limb.
Old man winter,
still balking at retirement.

Photo by Sari Hacker, my former Iowa Valley High School student. Fond memories of our days in Marengo, Iowa.

Iowa Scene

Thirty acres of Iowa farmland surrounded our country house ~ the first home we ever owned. We tended a huge garden, had six apple trees, and rented out the rest of the land to a nearby farmer.

It was a magical place in all seasons. Spring time brought apple blossoms and the sound of tractors moving up and down the fields. Our summer garden overflowed with zucchini while wind-blown sheets flapped on the clothesline. Fall harvest coincided with our consolidated high school’s homecoming parade around town square. Winter storms left corn stalk stubs peeking out from a blanket of white snow. And if we were lucky, we might spy a migrating snowy owl, perched atop the fence post next to our old wooden barn.

blizzard blows in night
red barn awakens to white landscape
snowy owl hoots in delight

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Victoria is hosting Haibun Monday at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. A Haibun is a Japanese form of poetry that includes one or two paragraphs of tight nonfiction prose followed by a haiku that must include a seasonal reference. Today, Victoria tells us how the Japanese associate the Kigo, Fukuroo with the season of winter (Kigo is owl; Fukuroo means the snowy owl). We are to write a haibun about owls. Photo in public domain from pixabay.com