Thirteen Ways of Looking at America

Michael McKimm

From a car, through a world that’s turned to corn, red barns,
    huge machinery, and a church that says, “Read the Bible, it will
    scare the hell out of you!”
From the banks of the Iowa River, where a snake comes out
    of the grass like a belt, testing the air with its buckle-tongue
From the Mark Twain Diner with a Mark Twain Burger
    and a Mark Twain cup of tea
From another car, Chicago’s stickleback in the rearview and
    the Lake’s blue lung swollen with fishing boats
From space, as in the installation by Aaron Koblin in the Museum
    of Modern Art that shows air traffic over the United States as
    colored lights, a slow firework spraying in and out during the day,
    careful and beautiful
From a tour boat in Chicago, where the not-half-decent docent
    tells us that this building has one hundred and ninety-eight
    floors, including parking, and was designed by, you guessed it,
    Merrill, Owings and Skidmore
From the booth of a bar with a sign that says, “I’m Irish, what’s
    your excuse?”
In a nightclub, where you happen upon the Iowa State Drag
    Queen championships, arms outstretched with dollar bills. This
    you did not expect
America is standing in a room with Pocahontas, Worzel Gummidge,
    a bedbug, and at least three Chilean miners. Halloween,
    in New York City at least, is no longer about darkness and all about
    just having fun. Something about this disturbs you
I love the way in America the planes fly so low you can really see
    the fall colors and the cities cut like circuit boards
I love the mechanics and labor of your hand-towel dispensing units.
    That lever does for me again and again
I love that even in the cold the sky is blue, the sun is out, the air is
    crisp and clear
O, my America, my new found land! Where the poems are as long
    as the highways, and there is no such thing as a short story

MICHAEL MCKIMM was British Council Writer-in-Residence in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (fall 2010). Winner of an Eric Gregory Award in 2007, his collection Still This Needwas published in 2009.