Two Iowa Poems

The nearly four decades of the IWP have left their palimpsest in a house genre: the Iowa City poem. Written in reverie, during sleepless nights, out of boredom, or in affectionate homage, it turns on the everyday: here, a cup of milk and a pickle, a beaver asleep.

Two Iowa Haiku

A floating shadow.
Veined like a piece of stained glass,
the monarch alights.

That is not a log
resembling a beaver but
quite the opposite.

—by the English novelist Gregory Norminton

The Common Room

In the common room the two of us cross paths late at night.
Would you like a pickle? he asks me
as I pour some milk in a mug. Sure, just a half;
these go perfectly, don't they?
It's quite dim here in this room with food,
computer, TV, microwave and a picture window
facing the river. In fact there's another window, too,
a small one between the refrigerators.
I've become used to pressing my forehead against it.
When nobody's around, I practice
casting out my illusions by repeating again and again,
I'm a wretch, everybody kicks me –
which my friend, the old poet, taught me.
In front of the building there's a lawn surrounded by young maples
and oaks. Now, only a few patches of yellow and red
cling at their tops.
My eyes follow the car lights across the river.
They are moving up and down.
In the common room we all bustle and nibble in a kind of barracks
intimacy. A flimsy trace of communication hunts for sense
among grubby plates and knives, crumbs from the broken toaster,
days-old heaps of the New York Times, schedules for upcoming workshops.
My milk foams over in the microwave.
The lights from across the river circulate inside me.
They are moving up and down.
I'd like to find something warm and clever to say to him.
Wordlessly, he hands me a soapy sponge.

—by Denisa Comanescu, Iowa City, fall 2003
translated by Adam J. Sorkin and the poet