Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the WordWalk: Why I won’t eat tuna June 28, 2011

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

THE MANKATO PARK SEEMS, in many ways, an ideal setting for poetry.

The usually playful Minnesota River bumps against the land here, acting on this Saturday afternoon like a willful, unruly child.

On the other side of Riverfront Park, across the tracks, historic buildings stand like forlorn children, neglected, waiting for someone to care.

Overhead, moody skies pout.

I have come here at this late afternoon hour to read the poetry imprinted upon cement. Occasionally the sky spits rain at me as I follow the gray sidewalk which mimics the gray day.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska.

I read:

Minnesota

Here, the river rests its elbow

before it turns north to meet

the father of them all.

Here we made 38 mistakes

we now try very hard

not to forget.

A snippet of the poem, "Minnesota." I've edited this image so that you can better read the words. The poems are, unfortunately, a bit difficult to read because of a lack of color contrast between the letters and the cement.

The poem by Ikars Sarma of Mankato refers to the hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. A heavy thought to match the heaviness of the sky, the raging of the river, the anger that still simmers over this shameful moment in this city’s history.

I move on.

Susan Stevens Chambers of Good Thunder writes:

Aging Benignly

Ah the terrible beauty

of the not so perfect

body.

In this edited photo, read Susan Stevens Chambers' poem about aging.

Nearby kids scramble up a rock wall as I struggle to lift my aging bones from the sidewalk where I have bent close to read and photograph Chambers’ poem.

Then I laugh at the words penned by Mankato resident Yvonne Cariveau:

Tuna

Craving lunchbox love

I slowly open the lid.

Fish smell breaks my heart.

The poem that causes me to remember all the tuna I ate during my last two years of college.

Exactly. I ate too much tuna in this college town between 1976 and 1978. I could write my own poem about cramming tuna sandwiches while cranking out stories at the Mankato State University (I still can’t call it Minnesota State University, Mankato) student newspaper, The Reporter.

Deadlines and words.

Words and deadlines.

Tuna. Words. Deadlines.

Cariveau’s writing reminds me of those years so long ago when I was young and only beginning my journey into the poetry of life.

WordWalk poems are imprinted on the sidewalk circling this restroom/shelter facility at Riverfront Park in Mankato.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Mankato’s public sidewalk poetry, WordWalk, click here and here. At least two other Minnesota cities, of which I am aware, have sidewalk poetry: St. Paul and now Northfield.

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION on sidewalk poetry? Do you like it, or not? Would you like to see more such public poetry in Minnesota communities? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

4 Responses to “At the WordWalk: Why I won’t eat tuna”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Wow, thank you for this special reminder of why expression matters so much!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You’re welcome. That’s part of the beauty of poetry. Everyone can interpret poems in different ways, depending on their experiences, mood, etc.

      Because I’m a published poet, I’m delighted to see this new venue for poetry. I know not everyone appreciates or values poetry, but these sidewalk poems are brief enough for anyone to read quickly and understand.

  2. Bernie Says:

    What a fun way to display poetry. I wonder how many folks just walk on over them and don’t even realize it’s there. Thank you for sharing this.
    I had to laugh about your memories of tuna. Most students live on Ramen.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Good question. I went to the park specifically to read the poetry. But others? I can’t recall seeing signage explaining the project., which would be helpful in directing attention to the poems. Maybe I missed the sign.

      During my last two years of college at Mankato State (my first two were spent at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato), I lived on packed lunches of tuna and soup and then the occasional tator tot meal from the student cafeteria. I still eat tator tots and canned soup (only occasionally), but not tuna very often.


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