When Iowa is Heaven: Everyday Magic, Day 282

Iowa has a rap for being heaven just like Kansas is forever wed to The Wizard of Oz (as the opposite of Oz). Although I traveled Iowa a little too weary to appreciate its heavenly qualities fully, now that I’ve been home a few days, I’m looking at photos of Iowa and remembering how I spent too much time on I-80, but also how I found some lovely roads leading back west days later. In between managed to get just a little lost, find the tastiest asparagus of my life in a little restaurant (thanks to Laura), and sleep in a pink big-flowered room, on a pullout couch among big and loving cats, and in a boy’s bedroom where James Bond posters interrogated my dreams.

I also saw a lot of boldly rolling hills although no cornfields with dead White Sox players emerging to tell me how much they missed the game. Maybe this was more due to the season, a full month behind Kansas (yet very much ahead of Vermont, where I hear it snowed last week), reminding me of past and future. The skies tumbled, the cold shot right through my coat, and I was lucky to find a decent parking garage in the right place more than once.

Mary Swander is in the dark pink and Walter Bargen is leavning on the sink

The highlight of the trip was doing a reading with the other Poets Laureate of nearby states — Mary Swander of Iowa, Walter Bargen of Missouri and Denise Low of Kansas — in the Kalona General Store in the Amish country where people crowded the aisles to listen attentively. Afterwards, we gathered in the old school where Mary has made a home in the middle of the Amish lands. The sun returned after many days, and we helped ourselves with a table heavy with locally-made, home-grown delicacies, the rolling sky visible through all the windows.

On the way home, I traveled places I had never seen before, letting the rhythm of the drive and the motion of the land bring me home to myself. It may not be heaven, but it’s close, and I’m grateful for the trip.

Travel and Non-Ordinary Reality: Every Magic, Days 276-277

Yes, Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City actually had a section called “Non-Ordinary Reality.” While it mostly had books about visualization and decks of tarot cards, I’m thinking this term applies to any of the in-between states we ferry through, such as between waking and sleep, knowing and not knowing, and other general, even non-metaphoric forms of travel.

Yesterday, for example, I woke in a boy’s bedroom in a suburb of Coralville, Iowa, glanced briefly at the James Bond posters before packing, then drove to the Amish town of Kalona (where I mainly saw tourists of the Amish). There I met up with some of the other Poet Laureati for a reading at the general store, snagged a great cast iron pan for making corn-shaped cornbread in, and drove to Mary’s house, an old schoolhouse overlooking the early spring rolling hills in all direction. After visiting talking over the virtues of great mustards with Tom and eating some astonishing apple tart, I drove south, past what locals call Guru U in Fairfield, stopping for iced coffee where I held open the door for dreamy man in long white roles, edged with gold. Then it was the long sloping up and down west, through farmland, woods, expansive valleys and occasional town before the interstate south, driving through sunset, taking the wrong I-435 near Kansas City and having to retrace some miles, and then shooting west to land at home sometime after six and a half hours on the road.

Although travel is animated, it’s also suspended animation. I’m between the habitual and regular, the do-this-now and what-next of my life and just cruising at 72 mph while listening to, in this case, Tina Fey read her very book book, Bossypants, on tape. Travel shifts time and season. At the same time, unless I’m fighting claustrophobia and missing the earth in a plane, I kind of love the possibilities unfolding in travel. What’s down the next hill? How does the sun barely show itself in a new place? Is there a locally-owned place to eat good fried chicken, and of course the constant question of do I stop here or wait until the next rest stop?

Now that I’m home, I’m surprised to see how new these trees look, bursting with leaves, glittering in the wind, after some days of being among the trees still yearning for leaf. I’m happy to be back in this bed, this bathtub, this house, this zip code. And I’m trying to meld the non-ordinary reality into this reality, just as non-ordinary actually although it may appear otherwise.

Living in the Pink Room of the In-Between: Everyday Magic, Day 273

In between home and where I’m going, I have landed in a very pink room where a suspiciously calm (but sneaky-eyed) Victorian girl stares furtively at me. This morning, I was home, working in the office and brushing the cat off the computer so I could type. Tomorrow I’ll be reading from my memoir at a conference, then visit good friends for the night. Both there and here are places that swallow me up in routine or connections, but between the two is this night, where I have the luxury of not being on tap for anything.

At dinner tonight, a cafe where I ate pesto-encrusted flounder, I looked out the window, through the pale mesh of the curtain, to see the bank of clouds edged in blue. I listened to two women perform, one singing and playing guitar, and the other on violin. I considered the elegant shape of the salt shaker. Not having people to visit with or a book to read, I had no choice but to be where I was, enjoying the lime in my ice water and listening to conversations spill over from other tables.

There’s a spaciousness and ease in such in-between spaces, a way to enjoy the adventure without any stake in what to expect. Even when I locked my keys in the car, I knew it was fine, nothing to worry over, and after a phone call and handing a man $40 for his minute-long popping open of the car door, I felt a kind of equanimity. Listening to the train in the distance, watching the big floral wallpaper juxtaposed with the big floral bedspread or drinking water from a crystal glass in this room, I tried to just breathe it in, enjoy the nuances and gesture of being rather than doing, and wonder if my dreams tonight will be sweet or ironic.

Whatever happens, I know in-between places are the spaces in which little signs and wonders most often find me, in great part because I’m listening better here (at least when I’m not rushing through), so when, during dinner, the women performing broke into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the sun began to set, I leaned back, smiled and even considered clicking my heels together, but then there are surely flying monkeys of surprise, tin men of love and lollypop kids of sweetness to meet, and I know the way home when it’s time.

Driving Nowhere In The Dark: Everyday Magic, Day 260

When I say I drove nowhere in the dark last night, I’m not talking metaphorically, or at least not just. I got in the car, thinking I should do west and turn whenever, and see if I wanted to go anywhere. In the end, I just drove for an hour through Berlin, Barre and into a small town I didn’t catch the name of. I followed a curvy road that hugged the  mountain then stretched alongside a vast valley of snow. I went higher and higher, a little worried the slim road would end, and did, in fact, have to make some 360 degree turns to go the other way.

I have no idea where I went.

Playing E. Street Radio full-blast, Bruce Springsteen singing a slightly warped version of “Born to Run” recorded from before he got the timing down and got famous, I drove. The darkness cleaned out my mind. The speed dropped away my thoughts. The music erased where I was in time.

Eventually, I found a familiar road, a turn into the obvious way back to Goddard, and I took it, the crescent moon riding side saddle the whole time.

Homesickness & The Squeaky Swing Bird: Everyday Magic, Day 259

When I woke this morning, I felt that wild pang of homesickness, particularly given the snow (yet again!) that fell last night. Spring is upon Kansas, and I’m wintering along in Vermont. While I adore my students and the new faculty I’m meeting and talking with late into the night, I found myself wondering if it was too early to pack.

Back to my room mid-morning after a wonderful meeting with students, I lay on the bed, trying to power-nap myself back to full restfulness. But my body wanted to elongate and bend, and I ended up spreading a towel on the floor as a makeshift yoga mat and doing sun salutations and other yoga poses. Opening the window to let us some of the warming (like almost 40 degrees) air, the sun finally back out after its week-long road-trip away from us, home came to me: the squeaky swing bird called.

I hear this bird loud and repetitive at home, a call like an old swing squeaking one way and then another, exactly what I was hearing back home a week ago. I opened the window wider and stood in Mountain Pose smiling. In an hour I would look up the bird sound on the computer and find (to my surprise) that this isn’t some rare spring bird, but the call of the constant bluejays.

Since then, walking across campus, I open my ears, ready to find its call. Squeak me home wherever I am, especially when the snow flies.