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Palimpsest

Poem by Debra Marquart, Professor of English, Iowa State University, Ames

Marquart, Debra. "Palimpsest." Ames, Iowa.


The floor medallion in the south entrance of the Student Center, Iowa State University, Ames, was designed by Rick Seely and Josh Palmer at HLKB Architects, Des Moines, as part of the design of the 2006-08 addition. The quote around the edge by Debra Marquart, ISU English professor, reads: 

"It is possible to create a life, doors opening to other doors, the fresh breeze of tomorrow rushing in to make the world new each day." 


The line is from the poem Palimpsest in her book, From Sweetness:

PALIMPSEST

Let Y be your destination, the unnamed

place beyond the flickering fluorescence

of corridors, the terrazzo floors worn smooth

from the shoes of the dead. Let X be

your present location, the uncharted

space between pencil and chalk marks,

the keypad's incessant clatter. Listen,

you are here, a blip on a screen, transfixed

between home and away. It is possible

to create a life, doors opening to other

doors, the fresh breeze of tomorrow

rushing in to make the world new

each day. The canvas remembers

its maker, inside the hairline grooves

under the brushstrokes live the barest

traces - whispered thoughts, words

spoken, mundane as groceries, bills

and gasoline. The fingerprints

of the dead are everywhere, the tiny

whorls like plots to cities where one

could spend a life. Best to find

your own path, chart the roadmap

etched under your skin, sit down,

get to know the wantings of your feet.

 © all rights reserved, used with permission of the poet

Footnotes on the poem – it was selected because it seemed so right for the MU project - speaking about students finding their way. We did not know until Lynette Pohlman, head of University Museums, told us that it had been commissioned by them, one of a series of poems commissioned from local poets about public art pieces on campus. Debra’s poem, Palimpsest, was written for the Doug Shelton mural in Parks Library. In speaking with Debra about using her words in the Union art project, she told us that when she was first approached by Lynette, she did not think that she had a poem in her about the subject of the library mural. But one day, she was in the Union, coming up the steps from the Food Court, and placed her foot in the well-worn spot on the bottom step. A vision came to her of all the other student travelers that had gone before, and she called Lynette back to say she thought she did have a poem after all. She said, "You know, the poem is really about the Union…."   (Sometimes serendipity is so sweet!)

Michael M. Miller and Debra Marquart
Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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