My Process: Write into the Heartland

Two clicks southwest of Iowa City: Past the neon BILLION sign that stakes the auto dealer’s bumper crop, past the blue-lit plains of the muni airport, shimmering from atmosphere, lies an aortic tangle of country roads all leading to the Heartland. Heartland is made of grain silos and metal threshers; it’s made of steakhouses archly planted behind cow pens, Tyson Foods smokestacks and the rubber-and-rot smell of boiled blood. See the cavity-molar gravestones lined alongside gravel roads, under which entire family lines are buried. See the deer standing in harrowed paths, hooves in the dirt-clod grooves of fields fallow and waiting. See? The richness of this place, this state of Iowa.

In a minivan you blur past 60 over gravel. The undercarriage is a tin-can wind-chime trying to survive the rattle. You can hear, even at deafening speed, the xylophonic notes of “Stephanie Says”. You do that thing that passengers do: Clutch your seatbelt, hold a fist over your chest, feel the familiar knot rising in your ribcage, the cresting heart obvious now, beaming and brilliant. Everything will eventually slow. Soft radio fuzz, engines idle. Turn it down: be bereft. And in the middle of everything, with nothing but sheer horizon pulsing in every direction, take it all in: you’ve reached Heartland. Then, without any hesitation, you turn–inward, homeward–to write.

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