Balancing Between The Trains

Parallel rails
divide the mining camp,
and the world passes through
on steel.
In dimly lighted passenger cars,
wealthy merchants steal
our poverty from the night.
Our curtains wave
through open windows
as we sleep among the whistles,
our only way to welcome strangers.

In daylight, between afternoon trains,
we learn to balance
on the tracks
and gather spilled coal in buckets
for the night fires.
The new-coal smell
keeps strangers at bay.
The burned-coal clouds
hem guardian hillsides
that frame the sooted shacks.

Our world is lonely,
and we are trapped
in a valley of despair.
At the company store,
we smile without teeth
and pose for disposable cameras.

By Harding Stedler

After graduating valedictorian of his high school graduating class, Harding Stedler went on to earn his B.S. in Ed., M.S in English Education, and his Ph.D. in English Education as well. He taught writing courses under the umbrella of the English Department in universities where he taught. In 1995, he retired from Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, with 34 years of service. He now makes his home in Maumelle, Arkansas, and is an active member of the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas as well as the River Market Poets in Little Rock.

The Dark Green Conifers

another day in the woods. on Strawberry ridge
looking out over undulating green hills to
the next great wall ridge of mountains. the last
morning clouds left from last night’s storm
hanging in the valley mistily. the sun eventually
burns them away.

the respect between old Paul Karlsen and I continues
to exist. even though he’s a Mormon and I’m a fallen
New Yorker. the work is comparatively easy, lifting
hundred pound bags, so you can just imagine what
we do other days. in fact, it’s fun, especially for
young Bates. we get all white (and our lungs dusty).

on the way to and from the work site I read
in Silent Spring, the chapter against herbicides, gathering
inspiration for the upcoming controversy. in the end
perhaps I’ll be fired for refusing to lay down Tordon
beads. realizing this, as I drive with Bates,
I see the dark green conifers and begin to miss them.

Rocks and rattlesnakes, bluebells
and mountain daisies, grasses and cactuses, mahogany
bush, lodgepole pine and quaking aspen, lush forest
and dry sun-tortured mountainside, wind and seed
carried by wind, ants, streams, hummingbird
and hawk, deer, badger, ground squirrel, wolverine.

By Robert Ronnow

fir trees by meadow overlooking foggy mountain valley

Robert Ronnow’s most recent poetry collections are New & Selected Poems: 1975-2005 (Barnwood Press, 2007) and Communicating the Bird (Broken Publications, 2012). Visit his web site at

Photo by Mykhaylo Pelin

The Empirical River

view of small town in Canada from the Saguenay River

The window above my kitchen sink faces the street. On summer evenings, as I am washing dishes after dinner, I watch people from the neighbourhood walk toward the river. The public beach at the end of the road is not large, but it is beautiful. The shoreline faces a pristine wilderness on the opposite bank, and the water stretches two or three kilometres wide. Its expanse is dotted with islands, most of which are only a couple dozen metres across. The corridor of old-growth forest that separates the town from the river has been divided up into acre-lots, each lot having a clear cut pocket in the trees in order to make room for the beautiful homes of the town’s older, more affluent residents.

The families that pass by my window are usually quite young and full of energy when compared to the established home owners who live along the riverbank. The young families bring wagons, floaty toys, coolers, collapsible chairs, toddlers, pre-teens, teens, in-laws, blood-relatives, fireworks, volley ball nets, marijuana, the cheap plastic masonry tools required to build sand castles, nerf footballs, snorkelling equipment and all kinds of other paraphernalia one might need on a small beach in a quiet country town. Occasionally, a young married couple will portage a canoe past my driveway as they trek to the river.

The lively particularity of the beach-goers certainly makes them more exciting than the sedentary old folks, but even their transient energy seems inconsequential when compared to the ancient and stoic river. It sits in the lowlands of a rift valley formed by two of the earth’s largest fault lines. The tectonics of the last 175 million years have formed a riverbed that stretches over a thousand kilometres long, at times very deep, and often very wide. It trends generally northwest to southeast, carrying bitingly cold water from the top of the province. It is a serpentine pattern of raging white water interspersed amongst broad basins of deceptive stillness – deceptive because the still water is rapid-locked and thus conceals a violent undercurrent. Also misleading are the verdured river banks. When viewed from the water, they lead one to believe that the surrounding topography is a lush and static woodland. In actuality, the gallery forest obscures huge swaths of rolling farmland, the result of hundreds of years of logging and aggressive commercial interest in the primeval forests that once surrounded the river.

However, the families are not concerned with the river’s abiding or ambiguous qualities when they return to the beach night after night, year after year. They are attracted to the river’s flowing energy. Their interest is not without precedent. Heraclitus, a philosopher who worked sometime around 500 B.C., while trying to describe the ultimate nature of reality as a flux that cannot be pinpointed in time, said we cannot step into the same river twice. The ancient Greek poets, starting with Hesiod, believed that in order to enter the underworld, the dead had to drink from the river of forgetfulness; and Virgil, in the Aeneid, argued that until the souls did so, they could not be re-incarnated. Joseph Conrad, in Heart of Darkness, began his tale on the Thames River and recounted Marlow’s journey into the depths of madness and human evil while travelling down the Congo River. Mark Twain built his career out of his experiences on the Mississippi River, setting his most famous creations, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, on those waters. George Orwell, at the time of his death, was planning a trip down the Mississippi because he loved Twain’s descriptions of it so much.

My neighbourhood resembles Twain’s descriptions of the small towns that sprang up along the Mississippi, except it is populated by the people of my time and not the characters of the author’s great novels. They train for triathlons with waterproof iPods, and perform figure eights on jet skis that offend many of the town’s older citizens. Sometimes, while I prepare to go to sleep, I listen to the teenagers as they return from the beach. I will walk out of the bathroom as I brush my teeth and stand in front of the largest window facing the street, while they proclaim their love for the river loudly into the night and throw beer cans on my neighbour’s lawn. They remind me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

small farms and houses along riverThe energy of the river appears majestic when considered in its social, historical, geologic, and literary dimensions; it binds families, animates the young, and motivates retirees to settle down on the acre lots. But it can also be destructive. There has been a growing field of study in Canada called hydrology, because the continual flooding of large rivers in several provinces regularly claims entire towns. The earth has a hydrological cycle: drainage basins collect surface run-off that forms as a result of precipitation and condensation caused by temperature changes. In the high-country, those basins then pool and eventually the water moves itself over the land. That energy can destroy rock and power hydro-electric dams. It can also make my elderly neighbour enter into yelling matches with drunk teenagers. It is both sublime and commonplace.

Clayton Garrett is an aspiring writer originally from Toronto, who has spent the last ten years living in remote regions of Canada. In keeping with the conventions of publishing, he always writes his author bio in the third person but can be reached in the first person at

Photo 1 by Sylvie Bouchard

Photo 2 by Senorgogo

Wind Memories

Before I moved here, I never really noticed the wind. When I was younger and living in Oklahoma, I only noticed the wind on cold days; most of the time it seemed calm in my memory. But here in the Fort Worth subdivision, the wind blows constantly. Whether warm or cold, I notice the wind every day I go outside. Around here, the wind blows hard with no large trees to block it, and the numerous houses do nothing to stop it. Going outside in the winter and summer, the wind is most noticeable, whether blowing north or south, whether cutting cold or warm and arid. When I look at the sky, the clouds drift by at a speed I can’t fathom, my gaze watching as they drift beyond my line of sight.

Walking with my sons, the stroller handle gripped in my hands, I am always fighting with the wind while we walk around the subdivision, it buffeting my body while I pull the canopy down to shield the twins. Most times I try to ignore it as best I can as I push, and on cold days the wind cuts razor sharp, speaking in a way I can’t ignore. But there are those days where the wind isn’t so unkind, blowing softly, warmly, like an old friend to visit. It is then I try to embrace it as best I can, to take notice and watch as it touches everyone and everything.

Walking on the creek path under a grove of cottonwoods, the wind rustles low hanging limbs, leaves shaking and calling to one another in hushed whispers. It is that sound I savor the most, the sound of the wind blowing through trees. When I hear it, I become a boy walking home at night under a large pine tree in a neighbor’s yard. Enjoying the night air, the sound rustling the pine needles made me think I wasn’t alone, that some great being was watching overhead, keeping me company as I safely made my way home. That sound carried with me until now, and every time I heard the wind blowing through the trees, for a moment I am a child and everything is good in the world. Pushing my sons, I hope I can share this with them with words when they’re older. For now, I can only share the experience and hope they feel the same way.

young boy watching sunset clouds

This article is from my Subdivision Journal series. I am trying to use mindfulness to observe nature in my neighborhood. Other articles in the series:
An Encounter with a Falcon

The Carrying of Sounds

The View from My Window

Author PhotoCarl Wade Thompson is a poet, essayist, and the graduate writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. He has published poetry and memoir essays in The Mayo Review, The Concho River Review, One in Four, Anak Sastra, The Galway Review, The Blue Collar Review, Piker Press, The Eunoia Review, Blue Minaret, Nebo Literary Magazine, Alphelion Literary Webzine, and Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas. He lives on the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. His poems explore the link between the urban and the rural.

Photo by Jasmin Merdan

Fragmented landscapes

Fragmented landscapes
little cultures

Why did we bring worms from Europe?

Ripped soil
Gathering quickly
Trying to blend in.

The oldest blue oak in Illinois.
Feeling four hundred years?
Layers and layers of thick skin.

Stubborn bastard, growing hay here in corn country.

The creek bed is wet but not flowing.
They are still prairie soils underneath.
The president’s wife blamed the skunk in her basement on it, but all the birds
stop here.

The sylphiums have bent over the trails so you have to push your way through.

Mountains of corn
The only season Illinois has elevation.
How high?

Edges again and edges of edges.

The golden plover
And I
Like puddles

The gravel had run off the edge and mixed with the soil and weeds. I can feel
the train coming through my feet.

By Karen Spiering

wooden box with small comparments of soil
Karen J. Spiering
Deep Places: Central Illinois Fall 2016
Soil and plywood

art poster showing where soils in box were found

Mixed Media
Karen J. Spiering
Place Studies in East Central Illinois, 2016
Ink on Paper

Karen J. Spiering is an artist whose life and work revolve around deep place knowing and the pursuit of stronger connections to the land/earth. She grew up in Wyoming and has lived and worked in northern Virginia, eastern Washington and central Illinois. She is finishing a MFA (expected 2017) in Studio Art at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has a BFA in Painting from George Mason University and a BA from Christendom College. Her work is deeply invested in the natural, cultural and local political landscape in every place she lives and she investigates and maps her experiences of these places. Her practice includes walking, drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation and the written word.