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  • Writer's pictureColeman Davis

On John Walton’s Poem “What’s concerning” / On the Palouse River

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

by Coleman Davis

In the middle of January, I took a walk along the Palouse River, sticking mainly to the trails that weave through small downtown Pullman. It was very bright out, the sun’s rays reflecting off the snow. I noticed the old buildings, some painted with colorful murals and others so dilapidated the original red brick could be seen through patches of chipped plaster, and a few couples strolling by, their cheeks rosy and bright in the winter air.

But what held my attention the most was the Palouse river, the same river that plays a central role in John Walton’s poem, “What’s concerning.” During the summer, when Walton composed the poem, he described the water as “slow” and “dark” with an “immutable surface.” These words work to solidify the river’s presence.

Now, in the heart of winter, the cool water inches forward, swollen and heavy with runoff created by the snow. It separates the white riverbanks like a deep crevice in the ground.

New things are growing and quietly moving about. A mountain chickadee sits on the drooping branch of a Ponderosa pine across the way. His boisterous chirping pierces the winter stillness. Young trees rise through the snow on the riverbanks; thin golden rods that shoot up from the ground like candle flames. The canary grass, which acts as a patch of camouflage for a quail in Walton’s poem, lay underneath feet of ice and snow, and what few strands I can see bob back and forth under the surface of the river.

I dig in my coat pocket and find the slip of printed paper with Walton’s poem. Rereading the piece, I can picture the sparrows and the quail, active and playful amongst the trees while the wind blows about just before the rain. But now, things are still, patiently waiting for spring, and those birds are gone.

As I stroll along to the coffee places that scattered along main street, crossing the bridge that guides the Palouse River Walk into town, I think of the last two lines in the poem. Walton writes, “this river changes entirely, / while not really changing at all” and I think of how different this place will be only a short time from now. The quail may return and shake the grass with their spring activities while the sparrows sing their songs and chase each other through the trees.

Coleman Davis recently graduated from Washington State University with a degree in English and an Editing and Publishing certificate. He cares greatly about the environment and plans on traveling around the world to write about the land he explores.

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