Minnesota Poetry: Barton Sutter’s “Stony River”

Seasons are often used as metaphors for the stages of our lives, and Barton Sutter uses the metaphor to particularly good effect in his poem "Stony River." Sutter has lived in Duluth since 1987, and his poem recalls for me fall trips to the Boundary Waters; the rhythm of the writing feels reminiscent of paddling through the water. Upon reading "Stony River," I was reminded of Robert Frost's poem "After Apple-picking." Read them both out loud, and see what you think. Then get out there and enjoy some of this summer weather, before you find it's gone.

Stony River

I am trying to remember

That blue bend in the river,

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The pines and yellow grasses.

How quickly my life passes.

The air out there was incense,

Essence of September.

Was it peppermint and anise?

I really can't remember.

I am trying to remember

The way the water glittered,

Sunlight like a benediction,

But that afternoon is gone.

I am trying to remember

Those minnows bright as embers,

How like sparks they flashed and vanished

In the pool below the rapids.

I heard a bird or two, as I remember,

The splashing of my paddle in the river,

The trickle when I lifted it, and then there were

Those rumors in the breeze that made me shiver.

I am trying to remember

That eagle soaring over

And the shorebirds by the stones,

But those creatures have all flown.

Every autumn now I tell myself; Remember

To get out there on the river

Under golden leaves that cling to crooked branches.

We only get so many chances.

That daytrip through the jack pines and the willows

Is fading like the music of a cello.

Nothing in this life will last forever,

Though I hoped it might while floating down the river.

- "Stony River" by Barton Sutter, as it appears in his collection Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey, published by BOA Editions. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.