A Love Letter to Iowa

writers in the grass

Close Third Person (of the author & companions)

If you choose to believe me, good.

Before, I only held the patches of America that could touch the ocean. I cradled them in my hands, their salty smells and crowds of people a familiar comfort.

My hands have grown, like parts of teenage bodies tend to do. They became large enough to grab you: you, the flat expanse of Iowa City. For better or worse, you are mine. You belong to me because I both danced and screamed in your streets, because I knew your hot cement on my back at night. You belong to me because I was happily trapped by your humid air. You belong to me because I got lost and got found within your borders, simply because of a two week writing workshop.

It was your nights that caught me; it was your nights that pulled me close and broke my skin. You kept making me push the limits of language, and you kept making me bite my nails. Zoë read Borges aloud as we sprawled on our makeshift king bed—two twin mattresses placed side by side on the ground. My hands were always covered with notes from class. Ignorant fish. Reverse diction. Slurpee Pope. I never understood them in the morning, but they left inky stains on my sheets.

In Iowa City, there was a near constant blood rush of ideas to my head. I thought on the lawns of strangers. I thought while doing handstands against walls. I thought while drowning in coffee. I thought in class, while also trying to seize each and every piece of wisdom that was nonchalantly tossed my way. I thought in a willow tree and I thought in the laundry room. The constant cry of imagery and themes left me exhausted, but I kept thinking about them as I drifted into sleep. Iowa City, your words crept around me—small animals of their own.

Iowa City, there are other people that hold you. I am not afraid to share. You belong to Dan. Dan who found the balance between sympathy and interrogation, Dan who understood the plurality of it all. You belong to Lisa, because she does not get scared in your cemetery, and because she knows girls are allowed to hold their middle fingers to the sky. You belong to Margaret. I always thought poets looked like Margaret, but I never envisioned them spewing dry wit and profanity like an opened fire hydrant. You belong to Stephen. You belonged to Stephen before you belonged to me, or any of us.

You belong to everyone who was in the back of the bus, in the black of the bus. We travelled outside your limits to the Washington County Fair, where we watched pregnant teenagers chain-smoke and I pulled my groin riding Spanky the mechanical bull. I’m still black and blue. I bruised for you, Iowa. I bruised for you, and so by the transitive property you belong to all of us. The bodies in the black of the back of the bus. We lost radio signal thirty miles away from campus, and pulled over to the side of the road. I have never seen anything as beautiful as their faces, all of them pushed cheek to cheek against the windows to see the darkening cornfields. Colin is laughing his maniacal laugh. There is Elena’s mermaid hair and there are Rachel’s bow-shaped lips and there is Zoë’s heart throbbing into my arm. We are electrically charged. Our knees stick to fake leather. The sky still has pieces of blue, and so I try to store this moment in my head. I should have known remembering has specific downsides. Now, I am waiting for you in my faraway bedroom, Iowa City. I am full and whole and here.

I did not realize it was over until my suitcase was being hauled into the back of a van. Stereo heartbreak: I was surrounded. While moving through airport security lines, I remembered my favorite line of an Elizabeth Bishop poem we read in class: “Now practice losing farther, losing faster.” With you, Iowa City, I am practicing.

—Madeleine Cravens

Madeleine Cravens lives in Brooklyn, New York, and attends Bard High School Early College. She participated in Session 2 of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio.