Write to the River — Spring 2018 Prose & Poetry

Flying high above the Mississippi River, a majestic eagle stands out against a spring silhouette of leafless trees and heavy clouds. Our Twin Cities river corridor is part of an internationally significant flyway that provides vital resting places and food for both resident and migrating birds. (Photo by Tom Reiter)

After a long winter, our spring prompt inspired writing about the Mississippi River coming back to life; its music, its ice-free movement, and the return of all who call it home.  

Write to the River is a creative writing project to inspire artistic engagement with our river environment. We invite you to share an original poem or short prose response to seasonal images along the Upper Mississippi River. Our next photo prompt and call for creative writing submissions will be in the June issue of our e-newsletter, "Mississippi Messages." 

Going Upstream

Spring is slow to come this year
The river is open
Lakes still locked in an icy grip
Bald eagles are nesting
And fishing in the river
Yet faint bugling can be heard
Sandhill Cranes high above almost unseen
Snow Geese and Canada Geese
Join in the ruckus
And the squawk of ducks
Fill the air with sounds
Not heard since last fall’s migration
Following the river upstream
Heading north to
Summer nesting grounds
Snowy Egrets perch high in trees
Surveying the scene below
A silent Great Blue Heron
Lifts slowly from the shore
No barking sound to be heard, yet
Ducks and Geese party in the scant open water
Heads searching under water for food
Tails sticking straight up out of the water
Deer stopping for a drink at the river’s edge
Ignoring the ruckus passing by
The river is coming back to life

by Pauline Quale Bold

Dear Mississippi

Eagles soaring high
above your running waters,
Taking dreams aloft.

Frogs, birds croak and sing,
A warm, welcoming chorus
on your water’s edge.

Being near to your
flowing waters glinting light,
Feels like coming home.

by Christine Bronk

In the Mississippi Valley

Some streaks of cloud
make the sunlight uncertain.
But a bird, with eyes 
the color of the sun, 
knows what she is looking for.

She is not deceived by 
the clutter of tree shadows 
on the ground below. 
She is banking away to inspect 
what the shallows have to offer.

It’s lunchtime in the Mississippi Valley 
and she needs to subtract 
a carp from the gene pool.
Her two chicks are counting on it.

by Jim Larson

Minneapolis Haibun

Late Spring brown in the city neighborhood, snow clumps cling to rectangle yards, towering trees stretch naked limbs over blocks of Craftsman, Bungalow, Post-War homes, outlined in sidewalks and black asphalt. A quiet still-life interrupted by distant freeway hum, occasional trains on tracks, planes buzzing in sky. Two blocks away — the bluff, looking down on the navy blood pulsing below. The Mississippi knows who was here first, hugging close its banks of rocks, trees, birds, critters. Here, uniquely, you can stand like tall Paul Bunyan:

one foot in City,
one foot in Nature, both are

by Theresa Jarosz Alberti

*The haibun is the combination of two poems: a prose poem and haiku. The form was popularized by the 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. Both the prose poem and haiku typically communicate with each other, sometimes subtly, sometimes more direct.

River Story

Riding my bike along the Mississippi as the sun was slipping lower in the sky, I was delighted to see an eagle gliding in lazy, glorious circles above my head. This was during my evening commute after a long and busy day, the first ride of the season from my office in Minneapolis to my home near the river in St. Paul, the warmth of the sun still present after seven o’clock in late April at the end of a long, snowy month. The river was golden and the buildings were golden and everything was reflecting that big spring sun, and the snow had finally melted and the water was moving fast and I was flying up and down the hills on the River Road, past couples walking by the Guthrie Theater and runners coming off of the Stone Arch Bridge and bicyclists pressing up the steep hill by the university and it seemed that everyone was lighter, light, filled with that golden sun and the sounds and smells of spring. And the birds, there were so many birds, so many beautiful birds singing on this golden April evening, birds perched in bare trees all along the river, and the eagle led me, soaring home.

by Lisa Burke


Air is to sky
As breath is to
Yet ungraspable
To hold in mind
In hand
In heart
Touch the flow
Hear the rush, ice breaking up
Soaring wings
Echoed in the trees

by Christine Yaeger

Seeing is Believing

choose -ignore the picture - see the picture - or SEE - the picture - the silhouette of the eagle - glorious - wings spread - strength - hope - purpose - valuable with no dollar value - bare branches reaching up - so many arms joyously cheering - supporting - silvery ribbon of clouds shouting "see me" - God-given spirit medicine - a natural high - free - only positive side effects - available everywhere - just look

by Mary Thompson

I Do Know What It Means

On stone steps beside the Mississippi
The sun laps my halter top and knees
A man in white suit plays the trumpet
My hair ripples in the silver river breeze

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
he serenades me; Creole brow eclipsed by
Boater hat; bayou James Joyce and I regale
The jamboree with our lazy Louisiana duet

Smoky eyes mocking me, he wonders
How an Irish gal can sing a blues melody
with soul, deep and bold, like Billie Holiday
Or bluegrass lass, Maura O’Connell, I reply

A year later, as Katrina batters the Big Easy
I clutch his creased photograph in my hand
TV screens gush with waters brown and hazy
No harmony ebbs or flows from no jazz band

I fret for Bourbon Street and Jackson Square
Lafayette, Preservation Hall, my heart is
there. Finally, knowing what it means
By a river steamboat, a trumpet still gleams

By Frances Browner


Since the Pleistocene Age
you have worn a groove
through this land,
patient waters 
like a finger rubbing
again and again.  Some
have called you Old Man
River, but to me you are
Missus, a wise one,
old and going strong.

You have seen the heart of this country,
kept a steady pulse, from Lake Itasca
to the Gulf of Mexico.  You’ve seen my heart too,
as I walk the River Road, listened as my footsteps pounded 
and my head raced ahead stumbling, fretting.
You never laughed, your kind ear leaning
toward me

I have been afraid all my life.  I am afraid
to walk down the path to your woodsy banks
alone. Someone is always coming 
after me in dreams.  I recheck doors
I know I’ve locked.  I admonish my children
to chew grapes carefully, not play with them in
their mouth.  Never play on the railroad tracks.
Never swim in the river.

Your comforting hum makes me forget your pulsing current.  
You carry barges, Old Missus, have worked 
tirelessly pushing glacier-melted waters 
for two million years.  How many humans 
have walked beside you, spilling out fears like rose petals?

You are nine feet deep, you are one hundred feet deep. 
You are but a stream at your source, you are 4500 feet wide in Illinois. 
I don’t know what to believe about you, when I  walk
looking down the bluff at smooth water.  How many bones
have you carried?  Buried?

I know you won’t tell.  You are just here to listen 
after all.  Patiently carry the water, push the barges,
witness land and life.  It is ever changing, it is
always the same.  Your steady heartbeat.  My
fears are nothing new.

Please, Missus, catch these petals, carry them.
Flow them past the delta, let them enter
the greater ocean,
the greater mystery.

by Theresa Jarosz Alberti 

Big River

What if you were clear — invisible, some might claim — and always in motion?  
How would anyone come to know you, to give you a name?
Hypnotic, syllabic, every student intones
But shoreside and bridgetop, backwater and islet
We river-rats know. Her ways, her undertow
Flowing from elsewhere, heading on down the line
Powerful unstoppable Engine-Engine #9
Big, but not so big.  See to the other side?
Try for it you’d be a fool
Used to power a mill or two
Float a big-ass barge like a Caddy rides on ice
Rollin on past, mirroring our lights
Show us a color tossed by the sky
Air and water, shimmer and fly
Condense and turn under a bridge. 
Whitecaps dissolve in the slick edge
M.I.S.S. — she’s already gone

by Kay Jonas

Eagle Sighting

Before my eyes rise toward the heavens,
I feel the shadow of your body.

Wings outstretched -

Soaring, guest of wind,
Cradling flight aloft.


I allow your presence
to float over me,

First one way, then another,
making invisible patterns
of blessing

On this spellbound
two-legged one foreign to flight.

Stock still I watch and wonder:
How many others have
been present to your
gift of wing and wonder?

Over time, what eyes have been witness
to your gliding ride against blue,
Naming you, imbuing you with symbol
of strength and freedom?

We share this mighty river,
You and I,

With feet on ground,

With wings, above.
Together we form the thread
connecting Earth and Sky,
Holding holiness in the air
between us
and in us.

by Sally Howell Johnson