A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 8: The Old Mississippi

I recently completed my move from Muscatine, Iowa, where I’ve lived for more than 30 of the fortysomething years I’ve lived, to Chariton, Iowa, in south-central Iowa. In many ways, I’m excited about the move – it has been a great professional opportunity for my wife, a good financial move for us, and a good change of pace for me. Being closer to Des Moines might even be helpful for me as far as writing goes – more writers, more people to network with. My wife even has suggested that I start a Chariton or Lucas County writer’s group, but I have to admit that I have no idea how many writers are out there or what type of writing they might do. I’d be open to the idea, however.

It’s going to be the river, however, that I’m going to miss the most.

For more than forty of my years, I have lived a couple miles or so from the Mississippi River. That has been something that I truly treasured. I remembered when I was a little kid, reading something in a National Geographic book about how the Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio river system was the third biggest river system in the world, topped only by the Amazon and the Nile. Heady stuff for a little kid.

I want to describe what this river meant to me, then and now. Doing justice to the subject is a little intimidating, to be honest. I haven’t done much looking at other people’s writings about rivers or the Mississippi in particular.

When I talk about this, I need to be honest. It wasn’t like I was some river rat, hanging out on the shore every weekend or even every month. If I wandered down to the riverfront once every week it was an uncommon occurrence. But the fact that the river was there was reassuring to me. It was a living, breathing river and passageway to me, a place where I could lose myself if I had the chance.

Since I learned that we were going to be moving to South Central Iowa, I’ve been thinking more about my feelings about the Mississippi, some of the ways that I have experienced the river. My old writing group back in Muscatine did a lot of poetry and a lot of writing about our region. I decided to finally try my own hand at poetry, which turned into my current Project C.

So, I’m thinking that maybe a poem might be a good way to maybe get at the way I feel. This is the first time I’ve shown this – be gentle.

NO-MAN’S ISLANDS (A River Story)
The thing that The River has over other rivers and streams
is its own land.
Usually, it’s just a dirt road of two-lane blacktop of muddy water
or a four-lane at best.
But The River has its own land, right there tucked in the channel.
Carved and molded and rounded-off by the ever-shifting waters
with no shape but overwhelming mass and motion.
These are the No Man’s Island’s.  
Temporary Sentinels guarding the river for as long as they’re around.
They are for no one for everyone that has a boat
or strong enough swimming stroke.
Some are bare sand, all but ready for a rise in The River
to send it away.
Others are thick jungles, oaks and maples cluttering the interior
and hanging off the banks like a daredevil hanging from a bridge.
They’re perfect for parking your boat,
and getting some sun quota for the day.
You hang out with love behind the trees and bushes
obscuring the view of the jet skiers and party boat passengers and barge crews.
It’s their own little fiefdoms away from the cares and stresses
On Shore.
At least, they are until the snacks and beers in the coolers run out.

I’m planning on trying to do more of that poetry with river themes, as a way of keeping those memories alive with me and keep creative.

There’s no rivers the size of the Mississippi around here. There are some sizable lakes around here, including Lake Rathburn and some others within decent driving range. However, I do have an active railway not a block away from my house. I’m actually living on a highway for the first time in my life, as well.

Maybe its time to try out some train and road poems.

A Poem: Closing Doors

Have to admit that I am running low on material just sitting around as far as short stories/poetry to show here. Mainly it’s older stuff that I might be interested in publishing someday – my main focus has been novels.

Anyway, read this if you want and see what you think.

Closing Doors


Down the grey hall, fluorescents

flickering more and more as the clock hands


I walk past the doors.

Some are French, others

industrial with piston handles,

others are American Revival

(when is that coming?)

Years back, I remember

that all of the doors were open,

and you were able to walk in.

It wasn’t quite as easy to walk in

some of the doors, however.

There were doors that led to long

flights of staircases, or

balance-beam narrow bridges,

for instance.

Some of the doors had come from bank vaults,

so it took my shoulder and my bulk

to get it open.

Sometimes I ducked my head behind the door

and found empty desks or rows of kids playing all board games I’d gotten tired of when I was 5, so I didn’t walk in.

I walked into other doors, though, even the occasional vault door or the one where I had to wrestle it open or climb a hyperangle hill.

As I look around now, though,

something has slowly changed.

Every year, I would try the handle of a door and find it locked.

Every year, I’d discover a couple more doors locked, or chained shut.

There were even a few metal doors that

I could see had been freshly welded shut,

the gun-grey solder ice-hot to the touch,

the door handles smashed.

Nowadays, I’d say whenever I stalk the hall,

half of the doors can’t be opened

for one reason or the other.

I’ve realized those closings can’t be helped, that you can only leave the doors open for so long before closing up shop.

The only door that doesn’t seem ready for the lock is the one at the end of the hall.

It doesn’t appear to even have an actual door, just an ornately carved oak doorjam and

ink darkness bleeding out from it.

I always walk down there to the end, but I’ve never looked in and never walked in.

Maybe later.

Maybe I’ll have to, when all of the doors

are locked and I’m not able to open

anything else.

Every time I have fewer doors.

Usually, that makes me sad to tears or makes my nerves raw.

Just recently, however,

I’ve begun wondering if what I will feel when the time comes will be simply relief.

Or, maybe I’ll be able to pick a few locks

by then.

Who knows?

The Green Field (Poetry selection)

This was another one of my stabs at poetry a while back. It was one of my first literary stabs at trying to explain how much I’d gotten obsessed with soccer (and still am). So, for your interest (or lack of it), here’s that poem.

The Green Field (August-September 2011; Muscatine, Iowa)


In the long Saturday morning when the weekend seems to stretch so gloriously long,

I wander into the living room, coffee cup in hand,

steaming bean juice inside.

It’s the end of a long week, and I’m looking for peace.

The couch waits for me as I adjust myself into the optimal position.

The cup is right within reach on the table designed for it.

With a click and a hum,

I transport myself into another place.

The pitch stretches out on the television, rolling out as it limbers up

for the morning’s (afternoon’s?) activities.

The players file out onto the field,

hand in hand with the little boys in their too real to be costume uniforms.

It’s not like actually being there, but I still capture some of the scene.

The songs reach out to me, the songs that sound like bass sirens rolling out over the green field.

There’s shots of the fans and their chants, their scarves held high and proud;

from the ecstasy on their faces I can tell they are in a different world than their normal one.

They’re taking a ride on their fellow fans’ emotional wave.

That bass siren call rolls and splashes over the green field.

Waves of humanity are rolling across the stands, supporting sheets of banners, badges, and slogans.

Colored lights and smoke, horns and drums crashing, escape from the stand

Where the ultras hold court.

All of it adds joy to my soul.

But it’s right after they shake hands and we see the tactical lineups when the real show starts.

The boys in their kits space out onto the field.

One red shirt gives the tiniest of nudges with the side of his foot

to a comrade

and the game is on.

It’s there that the green field and the players on it

truly begin to soothe my mind.

The ball flows between players and teams,

flying through the air as the boys jump to join it

and change vectors.

Math, improvisation, and efforts dominate the play –

who is forcing the ball to the right angle to the perpendicular rectangles,

who is there to intercept and deflect,

can the goalie close the angle and stop the flight paths?

It’s the back and forth of the flow of people across the green field

that mesmerizes me.

It relaxes me, reminds me that I have to let life flow around me,

that I have to improvise as much as I plan, nutmeg as much as I play set pieces.

I want my soul to be that green field.


Poem: The Inertia of Me

This came out of me juuust as I was thinking about getting more serious about my writing. Decided it might be a good way to start off the new year.


The Inertia of Me

10/4/2012 Muscatine, Iowa

Late night drizzling consciousness as the digital ticks creep the night into the morning without dawn.

Energy ebbs as the seconds and minutes tick away.

Bobby Layne said he’d never lost –

he just ran out of time.

I know what he meant, but maybe not how he really felt on those days.

Bobby could make a minute last, could make it work for him.

Usually, I find myself asking seconds and minutes and hours

to take the day off.

Falling into the well-worn patterns, the easy highways of the mind

rather than getting my brain’s centurions

to build new good Roman roads serving

citizens over millennia.

My ambitions reach toward the Rhine,

the Danube, and the British wall, but my output has stuck to the Seven Hills above the Tiber.

Is the Eater inside me talking me into thinking writing is work?

I’m not sure, but my superego knows different;

every time I create something, I get

the joy of building, of forming, instead of just consuming everything.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve located my willpower at the base of my spine;

it’s a AA battery that gets used up

and replaced at the start of each day.

If it runs out at 4 p.m., too bad.

So, I have to plan like a Roman,

using the latest techniques and technologies to eliminate my threats like they used to kill off the crazy skyclad woadclad Celts of the mists.

All it comes down to is, I need to write.

Now I’m finally figuring out how to do that.

Leisure at The New Roman Baths (First sharing of poetry on the site)

As I promised, I decided to do more and share some actual writing with you, stuff I thought wasn’t doing any good just sitting in my hard drives.

A few years ago, I decided to try and dive into some poetry. Since I have no conscience, I decided now would be a time to share some of those I am not absolutely embarrassed by with you, the reading public. Enjoy or not, I’ll understand either way. 🙂


Leisure at The New Roman Baths

Ames, Iowa 6/10/2012

Everyone in America,

Are you ready for the same old thing?

Summer’s here and we’re required to hang out

at the aquatic park funland of the nation.

Not required to get cancer baking in the sun,

Even if the preteen boys do that by accident and the teen girls do it on purpose.

Iowa girls don’t get their tan from a bottle, for sure.

Now that I’m tucked into a corner of the park, I see how the facilities

Are designed to separate people from their cares and their money.

There are the outdoor pools for the city kids, and indoor pools for emo kids who want to stay out of the sun.

I do that, even though I’m not emo.

There’s plenty of fun food that puts out a siren song to kids and adults;

The foodies are pretty much screwed, however.

Hot dogs, corn dogs, chili dogs, burgers, cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken and beer

(whiskey and vodka are too un-family friendly, beer and skinny wine cooler are upscale enough).

All of these things inhaled by betrunked and bikinied bodies pleasing, lumpy, and lumpily pleasing, that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.

Looking past the bodies, I noticed how the entire compound was just a string of pools –

Big cool pools, superheated whirlpools with sweating pale men, long simulated chlorine rivers with nothing alive but tourists and bacteria, tunnel chutes of water that shoot streams and humans with equal velocity, even beach pools with enough sand for those who missed that unique grit in their shorts.

I take in the pools, swimsuited singles making conversations, the food sand snack shacks, the T-shirt and curio stands, and I think,

“Where have I seen this before?”

And, it comes to me.

The Romans.

The Romans, of course, with their bathhouses of old.

These weren’t places just to wash up; people went there to bathe, swim, steam, soak, whisper, gossip, pronounce, shop, eat, idle, sport, rendezvous (often with the other gender)

I looked around the faux woodsy cove and realized that they had rebuilt the old Roman baths right there in Wisconsin.

They’d added a lazy river and a wave pool and subtracted the courtesans,

Which made the sporting gentlemen sad, I guess.

2,000 years after the Romans, it was the same swim.

Does it say anything about America and its people? Maybe.

But just think if they could bring this to Vegas – they could really cut loose.