April is the poetry month – a poem by my friend Sejal Shah

indepndence iowa

Independence, Iowa

In Decorah, the train station became a chiropractor’s office
(Everything was once something else—)

We are driving up along the Mississippi because I did not push
to look at the map myself and you wanted to get lost. I mean:
now we are watching a train go by, blocks of red—
and driving on a blue bridge while the light is bright that way it is
before falling. The only choices are Wisconsin or Illinois:
to take 52 up through Dubuque, or to stop. To rest.

It’s the sound of the wheels on the bridge
hollow, before I finally have a moment, of lift.
Driving back from Cedar Rapids, we pass cornfields: stalks dying,
stalks dried. Independence has the most beautiful train station—
I think the country out here is full of them. We passed a train when driving.
You said: I’d like to hop trains some day. The world is full of things
we haven’t done. Or said. In this corner of Iowa I feel far from every place else.
The most beautiful train station was once something else.

We stopped in a town you had once visited with someone else. I wanted to
take you
to a restaurant that I love. One that reminds me of another place I once
lived: the wooden bar
jewel-like lighting along tracks. Each bridge is that bridge, each smattering
of lights, those lights
I remember, all the ways in which they sang out. It was Christmas every
night in Brooklyn.

Just walking was a view. I live here now, that place Easterners insist is big
sky, paper-flat.

And the sky was more than big. It was everything. And so much of our drive
was through land that curved; that was not, and never had been, flat.



Born and raised in Rochester, New York, Sejal Shah received an undergraduate
degree in English from Wellesley College (where she was won the
Academy of American Poets Prize) and an MFA (fiction) from the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her writing has appeared in the Asian Pacific
Ameri can Journal, Catamaran, the Indiana Review, the Massachusetts Review,
Meridians, Pleiades, Prairie Fire, and the anthologies Under Her Skin (Seal Press,
2004) and Contours of the Heart: South Asians Map North America (Temple
University Press, 1998). Shah has been awarded residencies by the Blue
Mountain Center, the New York State Council for the Arts, and the Millay
Colony. Her poem “Independence, Iowa” was performed in an evening-length
dance piece, “Ball’s Out: Play to Win,” presented by the Black Earth Collab –
ora tive Arts Company (Iowa).

This poem was originally published in INDIVISIBLE:  A CONTEMPORARY ANTHOLOGY OF SOUTH ASIAN AMERICAN POETRY (University of Arkansas Press, edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Summi Kaipa, and Pireeni Sundaralingam


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