Write to the River — Spring 2019 Prose & Poetry

Touched by the Morning Sun: Our spring photo from Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area depicts the beauty and energy of seasonal transformation, with the sun's rays expanding onto our still-frozen river landscape. Photo by Tom Reiter. 

Year after year, a snowy landscape greens with new life, and our frozen river flows again. Our spring writing submissions beautifully convey ways the changing river landscape can inspire. From a vantage point on the Franklin Avenue bridge in Minneapolis to rolling along the river's entire course, we hope you enjoy reading all.

Write to the River is a creative writing project to inspire artistic engagement with our river environment. Each season, we invite all readers 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."

From the Franklin Avenue Bridge in May 

    Leaning from the rail, I see in the current how much spring
costs the Mississippi in uncertainty and turmoil — eddies fed by
melted snow stir the bottom, a brown stew that boils up suddenly.
Thinnings in the clouds cast reflective nimbuses on the swirled 
coppery metalwork of the river. A railroad trestle's double lies down
like a ladder into deep water.
    Moist, shadowless air flattens the prospect without haziness, a
thin veil interposed between the world and our vision, that tender-
ness without which, as Dostoevsky said, truth is unjust.
    A daylight phosphorescence fountains from lemony willows,
feathery stoles of cottonwoods and elms, even the ground itself —
fallen trunks and secretive folds of dunes, every rock and twig that
took the hit of winter, all climb to meet the sun. A fine lace of
earth's imagination clothes the angel in leaves and blossoms.

By Thomas R. Smith
(from "Windy Day at Kabekona, New & Selected Prose Poems")


Sunrise in an Empty Sky

This beautiful sunrise
is doing quite well 
on its own, without any help 
from Helios, that old sun god 

who was one of the casualties 
of Modernism when his fiery chariot 
and hot-headed horses
crashed into the Enlightenment.

And the Spirit in the Father of Waters 
didn’t fare much better after 
we channeled, drained, and dammed him 
to working a perpetual 24-hour shift on our terms.

The use-by date has expired 
on belief in an enchanted world. 
If we find any while cleaning out grandma’s garage 
we put it on the curb with a “free” sign.  

But then, once in a rare while, when the gift 
of a new springtime is laid at my feet, 
I grow suspicious of the modern bargain, 
. . . what with no gods left to thank for the beauty.

By Jim Larson


I have lived most of my life with the notion that I am on the shore of a lake: the waves lapping softly were my days and nights, stirring the weeds and themselves being rippled by the breezes, each one a slight motion in and out, countless rounds of wake and sleep. I assumed that the lake I knew as a kid—the rowboat, the frogs and turtles, lily pads, fallen tree trunks lying on the shore like bleached bones—would remain year after year, waiting for me to take an interest, maybe tomorrow. Certainly, next summer.

The truth, I am seeing now, is that I live on a river. Nothing is fixed solid. The shoreline itself changes with each spring flood or a heavy summer rain. Water, always both falling and pushing, undercuts the bank and eventually, a tree falls (first my grandparents, then aunts and uncles). It's just a matter of time; there is no ebb to the river's flow.

I know all this sounds like deep mourning, but I have only to turn and face upstream to remember that the river is always bringing as much as it is taking. This is never clearer to me than in the spring, when the frozen world unlocks once again, and life resumes under the weight of water and gravity and time. Yes, I mourn, and yes, I am filled.

By Claire Simonson



A Great Golden Hole punctures the horizon
The belly-color of a bluebird
Its new-penny spears stab the frosted earth below.
Brown grass heads lift from their deep bows
Tentative from thawed scars
To lick honey from the blades.
Here, the river is quickening 
Beneath a tattered crystalline shell
Ready to snake its muscular body 
into creases and cracks between footholds
To meander over and dissolve borders 
To police the shore 
Keeping us earthlings in check.
The river will creep a quiet deluge
Pour off the platter of my view
Into places dark and brilliant 
Mythic and unknown
It will teem through turnpikes
Transform streets into streams.
I will watch from within my fleeting sockets
My adolescent portion of human stare
Like a jealous lover
Like a beleaguered admirer.
I am suddenly sorry
And prepared for the reclamation.

By Michelle Farinella

Greetings From the Vigil-Keepers

Good morning, River,
Cracking ice and quickening flow
Rising sap and greening bud.

Good morning, River,
And may Spring's light make of
Winter's dreaming, Summer's truth.

By Eli Effinger-Weintraub


Needed Eden

Lying on the landscape by the bottom 
of steep bluffs, the barely flowing giant 
of water and ice drifts into deep sleep.
The giant’s dreams echo with the 
percussion of red-headed woodpeckers 
and the trumpets of tundra swans.  
River otters dive and swim. 
One vision flows into another. Oak 
woods transform into oak savanna.  
Oak savanna transforms into prairie 
flowers. Kittentail scent wafts around 
native bees and they go on a 
pollinating spree.
The watery giant dreams of tadpoles, 
and then frogs. Treefrogs find time in 
white pines to feast on succulent 
The serpentine giant dreams of 
serpents. Greensnakes, hibernating in 
ant mounds, dream of the feel of 
mating in their needed Eden. Female 
brownsnakes, hibernating with 
greensnakes, dream of the feel of 
giving live birth to six jostling young.
The giant sleeps…the giant awakens.

By Gary Dukes


My job is temporary witness
The sun has been reliable
working with the rain to make life

No one owns it, there are no blank spaces
In the smell of dusty grasses and warming mud
I feel the keen change of season
and wonder, will the wonder go on after
I am gone?

By Sara Brice


When Thalweg Meets the Waters of March 2019

The old German words 'thal' and 'weg' come together into 
    our English word thalweg
    which translates as Valley Way. 
Not just a dry-ground valley but also a wet valley,
one where a river runs through it.

The River Valley Way is where river waters always 
    flow the strongest and fastest, 
    following the descending steps of its own personal watercourse—
Down, down, and down again
    inevitably and inexorably
    to the sea.

The thalweg of a river is where 
the current is always the swiftest.  
But thalwegs aren't just meant for rivers or valleys.
Thalwegs also course their way into human lives—like mine.
(Just take a look at my undercurrents, whorls, and eddies.)

The thalweg of a human being is where the
    Life Force flows most strongly
    ever onward we know not where.

My husband died last September, and now my whole life feels like a thalweg.
     a River Valley Path upon which I 
     follow and flow, yet not of my own volition. 
A Chinese sage once wrote: 'The River of Life is ever onward.'  He's right.
I have no choice—the river courses me down an ever-descending channel.
    Where am I going?  And why? 
Blindly I trust my thalweg—my channel of strongest current as it flows
    through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, 
    floatsam and jetsam of 
    dashed dreams and robbed futures 
    bobbing and flowing right along with me.

Many months after my husband's death, I thought 
    things were finally getting better,
    more bearable 
    and they were, and still are, but


It's March now, when winter's snows melt and the Spring Runoff begins. 
The Waters of March engorge mighty rivers into mightier torrents,
    roiling, boiling, dragging me along against my will.
I am more confused than ever.
    Will I always have trouble for hours, falling asleep alone in my own house?
    Will I ever be happy again? (Does it even matter in the grand scheme of things?)
    Am I even worthy of such saving grace?  
    Will I ever be reconciled to my loss?  

Can the relentless Waters of March—please, please, just this once—
    bring me Something Good 
    instead of the usual detritus of 
    glass shards, 
    dead fish, 
    safety pins, 
    and plastic grocery bags?

Today, with impatience and little hope, 
I push the scan button on my Honda's radio. 
The radio band numbers fly to, then stop on, a station I seldom listen to.
A song plays.... and suddenly it's inspiring, irresistible.
I am enchanted by words and music, spilling over me in silvery droplets.
It feels so good.

The song is called The Waters of March.

(I later learn it's a Brazilian song with music and lyrics 
by Antonio Carlos Jobim who died 25 years ago.)

It so very, very right, and straight, and good, and true.

The words of Antonio Carlos Jobim flow in me and through me. 
Some of the words are nonsensical, meaningless (or are they?) 
while enough of the good ones get through to my frozen, ice-jammed heart:

    And the riverbank talks of the Waters of March
    It's the end of the strain.
    It's the joy in your heart.
    The foot, the ground,
    The flesh, the bone,
    The beat of the road.

The lyrics flow by in a blur—too fast for me to catch them all.

    The oak when it blooms,
    A fox in the brush,
    The knot in the wood,
    The song of the thrush.

Anything, everything, first kicking and screaming, then ultimately in passive submission... 
eventually it all flows... we all flow... down, down, and down. 

The orchestration of the song is a constant descending of notes like  
moving water seeking its level, ever downward, ever onward... 

Not into oblivion but to The Place of New Beginnings: 
where things begin all over again...The Sea.

    A float, a drift,
    A flight, a wing,
    A hawk, a quail,
    The promise of Spring.
    And the riverbank talks of the Waters of March.
    It's the promise of life,
    It's the joy in your heart.

Along the river's thalweg, the Waters of March flow ever onward,
down, down, and down to 
that place of new beginnings, the sea.

    And the riverbank talks
    Of the promise of life
    In your heart, in your heart...
    A life, the sun,
    A night, a death,
    The end of the run.

Along my own personal thalweg, 
I too ride the crest of the Waters of March,
downward yet onward,
down, down, and down again
into that place of new beginnings,
My Sea Within.

May I begin all over again, too.

    And the riverbank talks of the Waters of March.
    it's the end of all strain,
    it's the joy in your heart.

By Jane Susann MacCarter

A Thirsty River Never Dies

What starts up, will go down, what comes in, will go out,
Big and black, muddy and wide, starts out blue, way up high

Pre-Chorus 1:
And the ‘ol Mississippi, will never run dry.

It's the same water, different times, the same story at the same time. The same moon, different sides, and the same stars in the same sky.

Pre-Chorus 2:
And the ‘ol Mississippi, will never run dry. Cause a thirsty river, oh it’ll never die.

Oh, it’ll never die, oh, it’ll never die.
It’ll never never ever, ever ever ever ever, ever ever ever ever die.

What we had, what we hold, what we do, it still flows. Risky business, underneath, moving crude in a menagerie,
And the ol’ Mississippi, will never run dry.

Bridge: (slower)
CG Rolllllll......she just wants to rollll....(3 times). Let her roll..........please, let her roll.

Her tributaries, are capillaries, her blood streams as her bridges beam. But coursing through her, underneath, poison pills that kill the water of life.
But the ol Mississippi, will never run dry,
And she’ll drink what we give her, poison or life.

Chorus: (twice)
Oh, it’ll never die, oh, it’ll never die.
It’ll never never ever, ever ever ever ever, ever ever ever ever die.

By Kraig James
Listen to the song on YouTube

Tom Reiter