I am singing:
Bright morning stars are rising
Day it is a-breakin’ in my soul
as the sun bursts orange-red on the horizon.
It is storytelling day
at a small school one hundred miles from home.
I practice a story as I drive and wonder
who the children will be.
The trip goes quickly;
I am trying not to notice the creeks, the horses,
abandoned houses and barns it takes time to see.
The school door
is difficult to find.
I’m in just in time to set up for the first class.
Fourth and fifth grades shuffle in.
I am telling.
welcome my stories.
We laugh together
about fish that walk,
fish that talk,
dogs that split in half.
They share folk wisdom:
Always squirt milk from a baby’s bottle
on your arm so that the baby won’t get burned;
put peppermint oil on your temples for a headache.
Our time is over,
regretfully I leave,
move to the next group:
tiny people so serious
and first grade status.
I share the stage,
giving them parts
in some stories,
voice in others.
They chant and repeat
just as I tell them to do.
We sing about skunks,
scold the raccoon and run from the bear.
We taunt a hunter, sing a silly song
faster and faster.
They leave for lunch.
I wander outside, snapping photos
of water over rocks and bark
over the hard muscle
of an ironwood tree.
One last group,
second and third grade,
full of lunch and energy.
They remember some of the stories
from my last visit, three years ago.
I am leaving;
I pack my car and drive away
but on the return trip I take my time:
snap photos of the old concrete bridge
over Hog Run,
the ferry at Sistersville,
Little Sister oil well,
an abandoned sternwheel.
I notice road names
now that I am not in a hurry
Cowhouse Run Windy Ridge Honey Run Anthem Road.
I sing them out loud as each twists quaintly out of view.
I am seeing
the abandoned houses,
an old bus depot,
barns with sheep
and horses rolling
in field just faintly green.
Beside diamond creeks
the road runs south
to Wileyville, Paden City,
Knob Fork, Sistersville, Bens Run, Friendly,
Long Reach, Grape Island, and finally home.
I am thinking
given to children
I may not see again; I search for faces in my mind,
seeking to discover
where the childish hearts touched mine
and mine theirs,
found a way
into the memories
of country children in a small country school.
Such things a storyteller never knows with certainty;
the day will fade, covered by other faces, words, and roads.
I will find new stories and tell them to other children,
in small country schools and city parks,
while in Long Drain, West Virginia
perhaps one child will sit beside a parent and say,
“Let me tell you a story” and my words
will sound again in a bright new voice.
I will be singing.