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

 

The Ice Man and his dog June 20, 2011

I’LL NEVER SEE THIS GUY again, this man in the muscle shirt with hair shaved scalp-close, fingers cradling a cigarette, a can of Keystone Ice nearly knocking at his knee as he slumps, cross-legged, on a block of Kasota stone by Riverfront Park in Mankato.

Lines harden his forehead. Shadows darken his eyes. Skin exposed to summer sun has already bronzed his face, his upper body, his muscular arms.

I wonder about his life, but don’t ask. Have he and his two buddies, passing the time nearby on their own blocks of hard, hard stone, had hard lives? I can almost see it in their eyes, imagine their lives. Jobs lost. Relationships broken. Regrets. Bars. Beer and cigarettes. Maybe whiskey and women.

But I don’t pry, and only he—the guy with the Keystone Ice—volunteers any information, speaks to me after I approach the trio because I see a photo opportunity in a man and his dog, brick buildings and a riverside railroad track. My eyes sweep across the scene, pushing the view into the lens of my camera, into these images that tell a story.

Rugged life in a river town. A blue collar man’s grimy, steel-toed work shoes. Elevators. Train tracks leading away. Peeling paint. Boarded-up buildings which The Ice Man wishes were torn down and which I tell him should be refurbished.

We disagree. But he still smiles a smile as wide as the manic, muddy Minnesota River raging past the park.

He tells me then, after I snap a series of photos, that he can’t take his dog—a service dog, he claims, and says he has the card to prove it—into Riverfront Park. Dogs are banned from some Mankato parks and this is one of them.

He suggests I photograph his dog next to the white line and words sprayed onto the tar: NO PETS IN PARK.

At first I balk, say, no, I won’t do that.

But then I reconsider, give The Ice Man his defiant moment. As his dog struggles to cross the line into the park, he tugs on the leash, holding her back. He’s already told me how, a day earlier, he hasn’t crossed the line to hear a $15 outdoor concert staged here. Instead, he’s followed the trail nearer the venue site, listened to the music from there. He’s clearly proud of his evasive, I’ve-outsmarted-them tactic.

Then we part ways. I continue reading poetry imprinted upon a sidewalk circling the park’s trail head building. He returns to his hard stone to swig his Keystone Ice beer and smoke his cigarettes.

His life is so different from mine. Yet, for five minutes we’ve connected and the poetry of his life shows in these images of The Ice Man and his dog.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling