A Vision for Iowa: Turning “Stones of Fact to Miraculous Bread”

“…a vision turns stones of fact to miraculous bread.”–James Hearst, from Plea for Single Focus.

I was struck by a quote from the Twitter site of one of the more recent signers of the petition to enhance mental health care access in Iowa, for which a big thanks goes to Joanna Garcia:

For this is the earth where I grew in sunshine and storm –James Hearst.

I have to confess, this was the first I’ve ever heard of the Iowa poet, James Hearst. I couldn’t find which poem contains the line above on Joanna’s Twitter site, but I found the Cedar Falls website where anyone can view a pdf file of The Complete Poetry of James Hearst. Just a hint; it’s in the Rec, Parts, & Art folder, in the Hearst Center folder, in the Hearst Legacy Center folder and finally in the Works folder–or just use the aforementioned pdf file link.

If you find the poem with Joanna’s favorite line, let me know.

Anyhow, I found another of Hearst’s poems which highlights in a lyrical way what might be the major point many of the petition signers are making. Probably what’s at issue isn’t so much the closure or the saving of the Mental Health Institutes at Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant.

There’s a broader, greater vision at stake regarding how Iowa leaders, including Governor Terry Branstad, could craft a more creative approach to the care of Iowans with severe, persistent mental illness.

 Plea for Single Focus

You saw double today when you said you saw the wind

riffle the tree tops while the waters lay still—

there’s always a child playing house or going up in a swing,

and an old man, lame or blind, going downhill.


Though the sun invades the summer burning with pollen,

the dark nights of winter lie heavy like flesh in pain,

there’s always a picnic with a full moon on the river,

there’s always hay to be made before the rain.


A farmer plants apple trees, his young son watches

from the stump of an old one cut down by an ax or time,

lilies bloom sweet in their beds before they fester,

bells describe weddings or funerals by their chime.


A man lifts walls of a new house set on a hillside,

sows grass to hide a raw grave with its feathery touch,

on a rickety porch in the valley a small helpless woman

rocks slowly, finds even that effort almost too much.


Oh, see with now’s round-eyed appeal, hold and cherish

love’s warm hands like wheat grains at harvest, sweet apples and red,

remember how water dissolves the dry desert’s rancor,

that a vision turns stones of fact to miraculous bread.

–James Hearst

Stones of fact are that the MHIs at Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant are old and they cost a lot of money to maintain and keep open. You can find other stones of facts about them from news stories, although the implication that The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is collaborating with Governor Branstad is more like Fool’s Gold.

Most of us are looking for a vision that looks beyond the stones of fact or better yet uses the stones to build a better mental health care system in Iowa. This vision might be similar to that which the leaders in Massachusetts had, leading to the Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital.

Some of the stones from the old Worcester state mental facility were used in the construction of the new one–miraculous bread.

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