“Writers in a Café” was written on the occasion of Iowa City’s bid to become a UNESCO Creative City of Literature. Marvin Bell is the first Poet Laureate of the state of Iowa.
Writers in a Café
Amid semi-trailers hauling produce
grown in the deep blue-black topsoil
left mid-country by an inexpressible Ice Age,
there is known to be a place where words
have dirt on their shoes. Where sky reaches
to girdle the globe, the earth is etched
by signs and portents. Many have bowed
to their writing in attics and basements,
at rest by the river or paused on a bridge,
in the shadow of winter or eclipse, voicing
local lives and affairs of state — as much by
the reflections of leaves and the glow
of prairie grasses left to live in the mind
as by shapes in clouds or the dark news,
They were here who made the sentence
behave and misbehave, who added
chapter and verse, and recast the myths.
The café grows quiet as they write.
The expresso machine lets go the steam
someone may write in on the mirror.
It is an impulse that survives disaster.
The guns fail when surrounded by writing.