Write to the River — Winter 2021 prose & poetry

Snow tracks at Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area, an FMR habitat restoration site. (Photo by Tom Reiter)

We are delighted to share this winter’s insightful submissions. Inspired by the season, the writing reflects a strong sense of place, vivid imagery and intimate connections with our ice-covered Mississippi River. 

River Song

The geese are singing, a chorus 
of mud, reeds and wind coming 
from the heart of the steely river.

With their black caps and rippled backs
they bob serene and arrogant,
bookmarking their places in the flow,

their webbed feet pedaling the secrets
of the water, toes spreading and folding 
in rhythm, dancing with the current.

The geese are calling, saying they will 
stay until the lips of ice spreading 
from the haggard banks close tight.

And then they’ll fly, guided by the winding 
ribbon far below, past booming cities, 
over snow-silent fields and hills to open water.

By Irene M Alderson

Timeless Time

Timeless time
Fresh tracks on a snow-strewn bluff
Overlooking a bend in the mighty Mississippi
Atop an outcropping
Jordan Sandstone
Gold against snow
White snow and a sky blue sky
Rusted red of burr oak leaves
Chattering among the whispering pines
Conversations on the wind 
Though mostly unnoticed or ignored
By passers by
Intent on destinations
While missing the present
Journeying along The Way.

By James Travis Spartz


For months you hide,
cloaked behind a verdant curtain,
alive with the songs of coots and coxswain,
running swiftly south, always running south.

Winter comes and you reappear,
through sleepy, quiet boughs,
all grey, brown and white.
You cut through like pitch,
dark and inky,
yet still you glisten.

Shining your brightest
when you wrest with the banks in the north,
where your home is,
no matter how far you travel.

By Tiffany Johnson Wortman

Absorption Capacity

My folks are still there
Where I grew up, some three hundred miles down river
Banks are much wider
Bigger bridges
More islands
Nowadays, while fishing
I wonder how long it takes 
The ripple of my casted line
To float home

When they drained down St. Anthony falls
So the Army Corps could perform bi-decadian maintenance and inspection
I tried to picture the pull of a few hundred thousand gallons of dammed river water 
Its absence tugging back against the depths
Stretching the surface tension 
In a diluting echo of loss

When it arrived, you probably didn’t notice
That’s how big the river is
Fathoms reduced to imperceptible inches
Drawn on to the gulf
Stepping down locks
My reflection, in a slow curl on the river’s surface
Skipping a rock

By Nate Whitty

Homeward Bound

A frost-chilled wind
somersaults off the river,
up the bluff,
across the town.

Many of those from my past
life, from my present
life, from my past
life crack open gritty eyelids,
rustle stiff limbs,
and peek out windows laced with cobwebs
of ice.

The breath comes 
cold, then warm, 
then cold again;
As the newspaper is grabbed shivering
from the front stoop
and barrel-chested furnaces exhale steam,
piping rings of them, 
out to the uninviting air.

At the same time,
the hooing wind deftly scatters 
delicate bits of matter, space, and hope
over the treetops and chimneys,
and I come to think,
we are not unlike these flakes;
Or maybe just, 
that they cycle with a timelessness
to be emulated. 
Sometimes driven,
sometimes lilting,
carried by unknown whims.

The same such whims, perhaps,
that have tugged me like taut heartstrings 
away from this place...
A river town slow and sleepy and still snuggled
under warm blankets 
in the kiln-fired molds of memory;

But in reality less a mosaic of static pottery shards 
and more gusts over a snow-laden bluff;
ephemeral, transient, alive...

A place I call home
developing, aging, growing
right alongside me;

Frost-chilled winds of time pinwheeling their way
across the ever-shifting waters and lands.

By Jake Marble

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 seasonal photo prompt and call for creative writing submissions will be in an upcoming issue of our e-newsletter "Mississippi Messages."

Tom Reiter