i. Sometimes a knife won’t take an edge becoming only a weight you choose to carry, or leave behind, despite the day you found it close beside the arrowhead, small stemmed heart, sparkling among gravel, as you waded from the river onto the bar. The finely worked flint hangs in a frame, but the little knife, once you knocked off the rust and whet it, has stayed in your pocket for years, called on to sever twine, never cut the first time, or dig a thorn, but it would not stay sharp. So, the day comes when you’re cutting rope, sawing really, and are forced to walk back to the shed for a better blade. It is an old idea—of religion, say, or governance, the workings of the world—you’ve held dear and true so long it’s like your heart working quietly, laboring till it goes bad. You hold it against your palm, weighing your thoughts, saying good-bye before you set it on the shelf, drop it in a drawer, but do not give it to your son, knowing how jaggedly a dull blade cuts. That arrowhead hangs framed on the wall, five hundred years old, exquisitely chipped, sharp despite the river’s tumbling. never to be hafted again. Step from the gravel, back into the heart of a new current. ii. Sometimes it happens at evening, when, without the three quarter moonlight, wading upstream would seem foolish, ankles caught by logs along the shoreline, stumbling into chest-deep holes. As you crawl along a deadfall in such feeble light, you marvel at peace passing your understanding. As you make your way down off this pile of limbs into pampas grass and salt cedar, what little light is left seems perfect. Coyotes singing close in a field above the bank match the pitch and yaw of earth’s turning. All this strikes you like a stick snapping back into place. The river is a koan perhaps rather than a poem. You wade on knowing it will be dark before you reach your truck at the bridge, pleased by this discovery. iii. Wading cold water upriver, under the skirl of paired hawks hunting, you find a dog’s jawbone skimming pea-gravel, smooth and clean in your hand Dropped, it moves again a different direction from yours, the same destination.
William Sheldon lives with his family in Hutchinson, Kansas where he teaches and writes. His poetry and prose have been published widely. His new book is Deadman (Spartan Press, 2021). He is the author of two other books of poetry, Retrieving Old Bones (Woodley Press, 2002) and Rain Comes Riding (Mammoth Publications, 2011), as well as a chapbook, Into Distant Grass (Oil Hill Press, 2009). Retrieving Old Bones was a Kansas City Star Noteworthy Book for 2002 and is listed as one of the Great Plains Alliance’s Great Books of the Great Plains. He plays bass for the band The Excuses.
Guest editor, Morgan O.H. McCune, currently works at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. She is a native Kansan, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Washington University in St. Louis (1991) and an M.L.S. from Emporia State University (2002). Her poems have been published previously in River Styx and Flint Hills Review.