Twelvemile Creek

by David R. Cravens

as the sun sets over the Saint Francis River
I bank my canoe near Rockpile Mountain
at the mouth of Twelvemile Creek;
unload my dog, my tent, my gear
and light a parejo cigar

the air hums with a summer ensemble:
katydids, crickets, cicadas, and toads
and I recall that on a prior August
in eighteen sixty-three
Sam Hildebrand camped at this junction
having just emerged from the swamps
where he and his men sought refuge
after a desperate shootout with Federals

the river was full of otters then
and the air with the drumming of grouse;
the piercing scream of panthers
and bear ambled down from ancient forest
to gorge in bygone mussel beds

some hundred years before that
Antoine du Pratz traversed this river
and everyday saw herds of bison
a hundred head or better
dusting for fleas in the plentiful sandbars;
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, elk
and countless Carolina parakeets;
their brilliant colors flashing in the sun

in seventeen sixty-four
Jean-Bernard Bossu moored his boat
where this river meets the Mississippi
but he could not sleep
for the clamor of swans, cranes, and geese
and the thunderous din of pigeons
eclipsing the sun in flocks stretching miles

but by eighteen nineteen just a few bison
still roamed the Belleview Valley
from which the Saint Francis draws forth;
as most had been harried south
where the river pooled in the swamps

and by eighteen thirty-eight
scarcely left were even these;
but the hills were yet full of wolves
(a pair of their ears bore a two-dollar bounty)
and turkey flocked in such numbers
that when settlers sowed their seed corn
the birds would often devour the kernels
before they could even be covered

not far from Twelvemile Creek
is the only hollow on the Saint Francis River
so ruggedly inaccessible
as to have remained near-unmolested
by the forty-year railroad lumber boom
that raped these hills of their virgin timber

when I discovered this hidden shadowy gorge
I came upon a floodriven cabin
and found a tarnished coffee can
filled with old Dowagiacs:
wooden lures with flaking paint
and rusty treble-hooks

and in the depths of the Great Depression
when my friend Todd’s father was yet a boy
and deer and turkey in this state
were near as extinct as money
he’d bring a lardcan of these plugs
down to this riverbottom
and fill a burlap sack with fish
for it was not at all unlikely then
to catch thirty large bass in a day

wading into the amber river
where it calmly pools at the foot of a bluff;
I hold my cigar above the cool water
and baptize myself in the mythological symbol
for purification, redemption
and according to Jung–the subconscious
what Thales called the core of the universe
unchanging; underlying all change
but Heraclitus said I could not do this twice

I surface with a crayfish in my free hand
arching its back as it snaps at the air;
sun glinting off its wet armor
it’s a species found nowhere else on earth;
struggling with extinction
and I begin to believe Heraclitus right

rivers pump life through these valleys and hills
like blood vortexing the body
and our histories are always united with theirs;
for to trace the past is to follow rivers
and their health is a mirrored reflection
of all that of which they sustain

my great-grandmother Huffman
remembered the swamplands
of thousand year-old cypress
when wolves howled from every direction
in answer to sawmill whistles
and she watched these wetlands bled;
told stories of gar the length of boats;
turtles taking three men to carry

and by nineteen thirty-six the Sikeston Standard
called this desecrated wilderness
a newly realized dream
saying the worthless St. Francis swamps
now blossomed as the proverbial rose
bisected by concrete highways
through former beds of lakes and sloughs

and in nineteen fifty-two
when my friend Jim was still a child
he watched the last wolf in Arcadia Valley
paraded through town in the bed of a truck

Hildebrand hailed from Pennsylvania Dutch
and they had a charming proverb:
“we inherit the land not from our ancestors;
we lease it from our children”
and in the seven score years
since he stood by this stream
we’ve swelled from just over a billion
to nearly seven times that much
by subsisting on fossil carbon

and those Pennsylvanians kept birds in their mines
to warn of toxic defilement
and too, this river’s a coalmine canary;
and every creature it’s nurturing
is a thread in an intricate tapestry
from which only so many strands can be torn
before it unravels completely

David Cravens's picture

David R. Cravens was born in Saint Louis and raised in Farmington, Missouri. He received his undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Missouri, Columbia in 2001 during which he spent a semester in West Africa studying eastern philosophy. Afterward, he attended Hall’s Dive School in the Florida Keys and worked as a Scuba-diving instructor in the Bahamas, the Turneffe Islands of Belize, and the Channel Islands of Southern California. He is a member of Saint Louis Area Mensa; the National Eagle Scout Association; The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi; The National Scholars Honor Society of Magna Cum Laude; and the International English Honors Society of Sigma Tau Delta. He was the winner of the 2008 Saint Petersburg Review Prize in Poetry, and in 2009 he graduated with his master’s degree in English literature from Southeast Missouri State University, and was a finalist for Ohio State University’s The Journal William Allen Creative Nonfiction Contest. He is currently an adjunct Professor of English Studies for Central Methodist University as well as an English Instructor at Mineral Area College where he teaches literature and composition. He is presently working on a novel about guerrilla warfare in Southeast Missouri during the American Civil War, and plans to pursue his PhD in English literature and creative writing.

Last updated December 07, 2012