Feature: Issue No. 7, Winter 2013

David R. Cravens

yesterday was spring
or so it seems
when on the warm wind
came robins
bringing with them
the strong earthy smell
of melted snow
and thawed soil
and bright bolts of lightning—
in an eerie blue light
the roaring
foaming river

yet in the calm of morning
her mood had changed
and I climbed
over ancient stone
through white dogwood flowers
and the Osage’s
sacred redbud
that showered pink mist
over lime-green forest
to a bend
where she’d washed away
a high bank

there were bones there
and a smooth stone tomahawk
and that night
I’d wondered if they’d belonged
to the Osage
or the Lost Cherokee

now it is Buffalo-Pawing-Earth Moon
and I sit upon a small
whiteoak dock
overlooking the River Saint Francis
as I listen to the long
haunting cry
of Fowler’s toads
for dusk has fallen
and they’ve dug themselves
from gravelbars
that will be here
when the last person
has forgotten the name of Aristotle
and I wonder what the Osage
or perhaps the Cherokee
called these little creatures

for a moment I am sad
that I cannot ask
then strangely happy
that they’re gone
and did not have to watch
as I have
metastasize like cancer
over the surface of the earth

gone are the elk
mountain lion
and bear that would den
in the tangled labyrinthine roots
of giant sycamores
full of thousands
of noisy emerald parrots

but alas I think
those children of the middle waters
shared the same nature as I
for they started this slaughter
that we’re to finish
for a moment
I let my mind see the river
as if they’d never crossed Beringia

there’s a crashing from the forest
on the opposite bank
as a mastodon lumbers to the river
sucks water deep into his trunk
and curls it to his mouth—
there’s the sound of another
but what emerges from the dark timber
is a great sloth
her back covered with the same
thick green moss
but before bending to drink
she stands
to look for cats and wolves
and for a moment
is taller even than her neighbor—
there is a loud splash in the water
and the beasts dissolve

it is a beaver
not the Pleistocene giant
but his smaller cousin
who’s seen me
and warns his comrades
with a smack of his tail
against the surface of the river—
I get up and walk back
with mask
snorkel and a mesh bag
full of mussels
and the skull of an old buck
who I found
staring at me
clean and white
from under the gin-clear water

when I arrive
I hang the skull over the door
then lean back
into a straw-stuffed rocker
to watch fireflies
sip Wild Turkey
and light a cigar—
I listen to whippoorwills
as the moon bleeds
the silver light of indifference
and I know in my heart
that it reflects off the river
regardless of what some philosophers
might say
and for a moment
it is difficult to remember
that nature is a hard mistress
over the chorus of frogs
and insects
I hear the lonely howl
of a coyote
it is answered by a yelp
far off in another direction
then another
and another
soon the hills
are on fire with them—
there must be thousands
I think
and the hairs upon my neck
and arms
in something ancient
and residual

tonight I dream
of Gothic European architecture
surrounded by dark wolfladen forest
but it is here
in the New World
and in the dream
I remember that Goethe
called architecture
frozen music—
I wake and stare at the ceiling
thinking yes
prefab steel buildings
thrown up in a week
reflect the music on the airwaves—
stonemasons used to cut themselves
and bleed into their mortar
but no one bleeds
into their work anymore

getting up I notice
the grey light of dawn
I boil coffee
then walk back to the dock
to watch the mist
curl off the calm water
I think of Yeats
saying the centre cannot hold
and I sit
in this
my womb
and drink my coffee

under the Moon-of-Painted-Leaves
dawn brings frost
and evening chill
as day and night balance in weight
acorns crack underfoot
and squirrels rustle through molting trees
as I walk through hollows
filling a burlap sack
with persimmons
hickory nuts and pawpaws

there is a place here
where the sun
flecks through the canopy
and over the woodland floor
to a spring-fed pool
of sapphire blue
covered with red
and amber leaves
that bleed into it
what the Cherokee called
the best medicine

it is somehow enchanting
this place of magic
and I think of the faeries
of the Osage
Miah-luschkas (if you could see them)
We-luschkas (if you could not)
and the Yunwi-tsunsdi
of the Cherokee
with their long hair
falling near to the ground—
the real medicine men
of these hills
it must have been here
I think
that they drummed and danced

I take the beads from my pocket
and drop them in the leafy water

back on the porch
I open a Budweiser
and eat persimmons—
Lynyrd Skynyrd
tells me from the kitchen
that Montgomery’s got the answer
but I think
if they were here
they’d agree it was on a porch
by a forgotten river
deep in the Missouri Ozarks

it is cold now
dark comes early
and Baby-Bear-Moon
casts tangled shadows
under bare trees—
I wake in the night
to the lonely cry of a great horned owl
and feed wood to a cast-iron stove
I light my pipe with an ember
and the windowpane is frosty
under my palm
Orion and Taurus
are bright
in the clear sky
but it does not stay that way
for when again I wake
a deep blanket of snow
covers the ground

outside I breathe steam into the air
relight my pipe
and walk into the forest
I spend the day tracking deer
fox and turkey
but not all is white—
Christmas ferns grow green
on snowy wooded slopes
as does cress around the springs
then a flash of red
as a cardinal
flickers through the snow-covered trees
with his brown companion
and I wonder
what holds them together

from the cabin chimney
curls the thinnest ribbon of smoke
before being caught
and dissolved by cold wind―
I set my boots by the stove
and rekindle the dying embers
soon the boots steam
and upon the stove
I set a soot-covered pot—
a soup of last summer’s mussels
with cress from the spring
until the lid rattles
and liquid flows from it

this night I sleep
warm and exhausted
with my head near the stove
to the sound of cedar
popping and cracking
I dream dreams of summer
when sun warms my shoulders
and the river runs clear—
I wake well into the afternoon
when the stove grows cold
getting up
I slide into my coveralls
and step from the porch
into more fresh snow

with an armload of wood
I stop
in the soft white silence
and look up at the skull of the buck
antlers cast against grey sky
and naked branches
flakes fall thickly around us
like feathers
as he gazes into the white forest—
there is a promise in this
I think
and for a moment
steals into my heart
the kind of peace
that one remembers forever—
perhaps even
that one last memory
upon the deathbed

David R. Cravens received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri and his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University. He was the recipient of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, the 2011 Bedford Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. His work has also appeared in Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought, EarthSpeak Magazine, The Houston Literary Review, Albatross Poetry Journal, The Monarch Review, The Interpreter’s House, Willows Wept Review, The New Writer Magazine, The Penmen Review, Poetic Diversity, Red River Review, Liturgical Credo, The Fat City Review, and is forthcoming in Mirror Dance, Fickle Muses, and War, Literature & the Arts. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College.