Hold the question, until you live into the answer ~ Rilke

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The river and I are friends

I’ve lived in Elgin, Illinois since 1989.  I moved here right out of college for my first teaching job.  I’ve been minimally involved in the community; hearing stories of Elgin’s rich manufacturing history while chaperoning my class on field trips to the Planetarium, or the Gail Borden Library.  Elgin has a rich manufacturing history.  For example, the Elgin National Watch company, 1864-1967, located along the Fox River.  There is also the Shoe Factory, 1891-1929,  located on Congdon Ave.  Parts of the these factories remain abandoned or restored and repurposed.

Recently, a poet friend of mine, Chasity Gunn, did a reading at the library on the theme of the river.  She shared her original work and invited me to share mine.  The poem below “The river and I are friends” was written for this occasion.  In the poem I reflect on the life of the river, Elgin’s laborers, and the work of the apprentice.


The river and I are friends


The river and I are friends

My steps are careful – light and tender

My heart heavy one day, a spring in my step the next.

There, a path in the earth, leads me deeper to the bank where I grab the oak tree limb

Balancing my spring or my burden.

How lucky the Oak, of all the places to be offering itself to the nest and the breeze.

How lucky the roots- gripping and absorbing the energy of the river from below

(The oak and I are friends)

The oak and the river are present, unburdened by time, or requirement.

The ducks are here,

The fish are too

And, of course the beaver’s home is chaos to the eye.  A shored-up hut.  Tight-tangled branches strewn like pick up sticks.

How tempted I am to peek inside.

But the river and the Oak know why I’m here.

I’ve come to listen to the past.

Here along the water’s edge live the voices and dreams of the shoemaker,

the watch welder,

The calloused hands of laborers who laid the tracks along her path.

The work of progress on the backs of those who’ve led me here to wonder.


The window faces the river

Sitting in the hard spindle chair my Grandfather crafted

The floor boards announcing the arrival of my weight.

I hold in my hands the vision I’ve called into being.

It’s come to pass.

The molds, bespoke, articulate, precise

From the start made of wood, scraps of Oak from a fallen tree, I have seen from my window.

Reaching for the metal tin

This is the time for soothing.

The salve of the apprentice rolled onto tender finger tips.


Tomorrow begins production

Adhesive, material, punch

Patterns and threads.

And tapping, tapping, tapping.

Treadle stitching, turning the wheel in the right direction

Peddle and check

Peddle and check

The treadle rhythm is a seesaw and I am hypnotized

Cut, slice

Pull, stretch,

Press, cork,

knot, paint,


To feel the tension, where leather and stitch bind to contain flesh, muscle, tendon and bone

Where sole meets the Earth

The ease of each step carried forward into the world.

This is the River

This is the Oak

This is the job of the apprentice.