Grant Wood’s Iowa not—what
did you call it?—my Ohio.
Nothing mine about it, especially not
those creatures scurrying, resentfully
alive, on the sides of snaking roads and somehow
more unsettling than the remnant dead.
For two years I try not to have anything.
Instead, I imagine Grant Wood in Paris.
How unlikely the time a certain kind
of American spends in Europe,
wondering what exactly he is. I suppose
for some it doesn’t matter:
anywhere but home is home, which is how
I thought of myself. Not so. Not so
for Grant Wood, hopelessly American and in
the dark middle of the nation from which
no traveler returns. Picture him ensconced at home,
his bitter family crowded around to watch
him at a favorite pursuit: tableaux vivants.
Wood reclines, Wood supplicates, Wood reaches
up to a wordless heaven.
I know that stillness
from his cartoon swells of hill and field.
Picture him a latter-day Antigone,
able to speak but unwilling. There is
something in his paintings
of the burden of what he could never say.
Sometimes the only choice is
to be buried alive. My Ohio. I say it over
and over again. In the corner of the window,
on the corner of a street in Mount Vernon,
the glassy eye of the stag stares at no one.
You can see that particular look
in the eyes of men buried alive by longing.
Are they not everywhere around here,
nearly turned to stone by their own
reluctance? I know those men, casting about like
wolves afraid of their own teeth.
Something about the sky says,
Take this land. In the end, the land wins.
What heaven, Grant Wood, were you
looking for that you could not find
in crooked stiles puncturing the soil
along the broken roads of America?
You wanted to love it, but you couldn’t understand
the shame was a form of love.
It is dark here, especially tonight,
and far too quiet. I cannot stay
any longer waiting for you. But I will
follow the road you’ve left,
to the house on the hill in the dream of the sky,
and I will wait for the stars to swing open a door.
Natural Selections, by Joseph Campana