Friday, April 16, 2021

The #Midwessay: Debra Marquart, A North Dakota Story (1/...)

Winter. Bone deep cold. Oil. Wind. Fargo (you can still pose with the woodchipper from the movie at the Fargo Visitors Center). These are some of the first concepts that usually come to mind when people think of North Dakota. The essays presented here examine the complexity of North Dakota, “a state used as a punching bag for a place where nothing happens,” as Bronson Lemer writes. It’s not an easy state to love, but it is a hard place to shake.  —Pamela Pierce, North Dakota Coordinator


A North Dakota Story

Debra Marquart


There was a guy in my hometown named Ezekiel. Everyone called him Zeke. One day Zeke comes into the Red Owl to complain about a can of tuna that he bought in the store, which he’d just eaten for lunch. Just terrible, Zeke says. Worst thing I ever tasted. “Do you still have the can,” the store owner offers. “We’ll give you a refund.” Okay.
     Later that afternoon, Zeke comes in with the rinsed-out tin can. “This isn’t tuna,” the owner says. “This is cat food.”  Oh, Zeke says.
     The next week, Zeke comes back to the store for his weekly groceries. The clerks, by now have all heard about the cat food. Stocking the shelves, on breaks, at the checkout counter, they’ve been talking about it. The story has spread to the elevator, the farm implement, the drug store, and the bank. In barns, hayfields, and middle-school classrooms, at basketball games and at kitchen tables and over weak cups of coffee at Maggie’s CafĂ©—the swirlingest hotbed of gossip in town—it’s been discussed. None of this will reach the pages of the Napoleon Homestead.
     “You feeling okay, Zeke?” one of the clerks asks when she sees him grab a shopping cart. Yah, I’m fine, Zeke answers. I accidentally ate some cat food, you might have heard? he offers. Thought I might get sick. 
     “Oh,” the clerk replies, putting concern in her voice, as if she’s just now hearing this. 
     Yah, it was scary, he says. When I went to bed that night, I had to set the alarm for every hour, so I could wake myself up to check if I was dead. 

Debra Marquart is a Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Iowa State University. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment and in the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. Marquart is Iowa’s Poet Laureate and the Senior Editor of Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment. The author of six books, Marquart has two books forthcoming in 2021: Gratitude with Dogs Under Stars: New & Collected Poems and The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays Between Exile & Belonging. 

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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