digital manipulation by ralph murre of photo by larry lemski
Notes from Skinner’s Elbow
by Michael Koehler
The wind never stops.
It is tireless like the river
The wind sometimes talks to the ground,
two hundred-year-old trees
shake at such dire language.
The moss crawls to the underside of boulders,
branches bump each other like angry men shoving.
it whispers to the top branches
trades secrets like shy young girls
who sit in the sun,
mouth to ear.
The wind can sound like a lullaby.
After the sun dies
I sleep in the arms of cedars.
When the sun is reborn
the first things I see are Kingfishers,
perched two to a branch
all up and down the river.
Their diving for minnows is a gentle blue hailstorm.
like a nightmare,
I heard the wind scream.
After the lumbermen left
the wind had no branches to rest on,
or sing through.
The wind became a gale,
furious, blind with anger.
Defeated, it left that part of the river.
Now it visits once or twice a year,
finds whatever it seeks,
comes back stronger the next year.
The time comes to put away the reels,
the rods, the tackle boxes.
There comes a day when it gets too dark
for hearts to intrude with hook and sinker.
A time when the river says
You have enjoyed my bounty.
Now you must listen to my story.
The deep grumble of the night river
glows over the fire pit
where oak and pine warm hearts.
So terrible is the river’s tale
that we might freeze to stone
if unguarded by flame.
As the moon swims through its bed of stars,
When the story ends and light returns,
all I have the courage to say is,
River, my friend,
I have no place to stand.
Between water and land is a space
too insubstantial to hold me,
knowing what I know.
My brother tells me
the quest may be for each heart alone
but the journey can be shared.
We sit on the banks of the river
at Skinner’s Elbow and play our flutes.
The sun rises and blesses us,
who have asked for nothing
but another day to live, to love, to learn.
Because our flutes sing songs from our hearts,
we hear a question not meant for our ears;
a question trees ask the wind, rain, and the shadows:
Have our Brothers returned?
The red squirrel says to the white pine,
They play strange songs.
The raven says to the trillium,
They sing like mourners.
And the wind says to the eagle,
Yes, but they have learned their way here.
~ previously published in Notes from Skinner’s Elbow