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Tillage as art, by Neal Bowers

In 1992, as part of a program to encourage writers to react to art on campus, the University Museums commissioned two poets, Neal Bowers and Michael Carey, to write about the Grant Wood murals. Their poems are included here with kind permission of the Museums.

When Tillage Begins
Tillage as art
by Neal Bowers

In this version of the past,
life is so simple and pure
no one has buttons or buckles or pockets.

At sunup, the men step into
their leotard trousers, shrugging
suspenders over their shoulders;
the woman rises like a clapper
into her bell-shaped dress;
and they all set out to work
in the clean earth where no one gets dirty.

Nobody sweats (not even the horses),
though thirst seems to be a possibility
as the plowman turns over the plush-pile prairie,
easy as lifting a rug.

In the grove with the wildflower border,
one of two men chopping trees
looks like a young Abe Lincoln.
The job is that noble.

Meanwhile, over this rustic scene,
art deco clouds drift in,
streamlined, urban, building
in the distance like the future
of everyone's dreams,
too pure and simple to be true.
 
 

Neal Bowers was born in Tennessee, completed a Ph.D. in English at the University of Florida, and joined the ISU Department of English in 1977. His poems and articles have appeared in over forty literary and academic journals. Published poetry includes The Golf Ball Diver (1983) and Night Vision (1992).

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