An Idea of Iowa

Caitriona O'Reilly. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly

Caitriona O'Reilly. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly


Who in their bleakest hour has not considered Iowa?
We live in a place where everything leans in

as if to confide in us, and learn, too late, it is a trick:
the frieze, the whole entablature must topple,

as the drunk on the bus, in the course of his life story,
anoints us with cidery spittle, as the ash

from a thousand fag-end sunsets settles on us.
But Iowa. A darkening indigo shimmer above tracts of corn,

yellow as far as the eye can see, yellow as the sun
in a child’s first drawing, as the cere of the bald eagle

hanging with locked wings on thermals.
Iowa is rising. Free of the deadweight of ice,

it gains an inch a year, a vast loaf proving.
Who thought of it first? (Indian grass, prairie moonwort,

the Pleistocene snail? A place where wars are fought for honey?)
Named for a people asleep, a people with dusty faces,

even its hills are so much dust: loess, the millennial
accumulation of cracked flood-plains; winds.

Caitrí ona O’Reilly is a poet and critic. She has published two collections of poetry with Bloodaxe Books and is a former editor of Poetry Ireland Review.