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River Town Loop

(A road-trip in three parts.)

The first sundress days of June
are all bare shoulders, breezy ankles,
and the cloth upholstery rough
against your sweaty back.
A bit sun-drunk, eyes dazzled
with bluesharp sky, you scan for eagles
through the windshield.
You’ve finally shed
the last skin of winter.

This plan-less day is a gift,
the weather hand-crafted
for an impromptu riverside drive.
Bliss swells behind your teeth
as your driver (partner, friend)
hums along with the satellite radio,
and your little, fish-silver car
hugs the curves of The
Great River Road.

Driving downriver on the
west side, the bluffs
climb always on your right,
steep and thick with green,
white stone scraping out at the top.
Here and there are caution signs,
rock-slides near the shoulder,
or no shoulder at all.
In stretches the cliffs split into
abrupt pockets of farm,
or prairie, or
an upscale boat-yard.

As you flash through the river towns
you see, squeezed between road and bluff:
homes, hotels, or diners
with no front yards to speak of;
the up-slope neighbors
looking out over their roofs
towards the water.

Ah, the water.

Because, always on your left,
the sky falls up and away
over the Mississippi:
over the long pastel turtle shells
of the barges, over fishermen
parting duckweed in the islets and inlets,
over the summer slice of the cabin cruisers,
and the tall white exhale of sailboats …
and beyond, the greenfull white-crowned mystery
of the far bank.

On the river road, every little town
has their historic block.
Every little town has their
river festival.
Every third town
has their winery,
where the U of M grapes
turn tenacious seasons
of bluff-clinging into
surprisingly good wines.

You stop sometimes,
poke around the shops,
get chatted up by locals,
discover quirky museums,
parks, local legends
(like the tale of
Princess We-no-nah),
toss bread for the gulls or the ducks,
and eat frozen yogurt while
strolling the levee.

You almost wish you could
just keep on driving.
Can’t the world
get by without you?
(Well … today it can,
and right now that’s enough.)

Driving home up the far side of the river,
you get a whole new roster of towns.
On your right are still steep bluffs,
on your left, high sky, flat water.
Across the river you can catch
glimpses of your day: all the towns
you passed through coming down.

You’re not thinking about tomorrow.
Not yet. Eyes full of blue,
bliss in your teeth,
you drive home into the lowering sun.

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