Poetry by David 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
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 dogwoods
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
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 small creatures

for a moment I’m sad
that I cannot ask
then strangely happy
they’re gone
and didn’t have to watch
as I have
metastasize like cancer

gone are the elk
mountain lion
and bear that would den
in the 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
and the beasts dissolve

it’s 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’s 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 Goethe
calling 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
bleed into their mortar
but no one bleeds
into their work anymore

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

under the Moon-of-Painted-Leaves
dawn brings frost
and evening chill
as day and night balance—
acorns crack underfoot
squirrels rustle through molting trees
as I walk through hollows
filling a burlap bag
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 couldn’t)
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
drop them in the leafy water

back on the porch
I open a Budweiser
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 Ozark river

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
feed wood to a cast-iron stove
and I light my pipe with an ember
the windowpane is frosty
under my palm
Orion and Taurus
are bright
in the clear sky
but it doesn’t 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
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
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
look up at the skull of the buck
antlers cast against gray 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


so much depends on cold plums
and red wheelbarrows
that often I forget
about algorithms and Turing machines
Errol Morris and Desmond
and the noise of colored prayer flags
beaten by the wind
at the summit of Everest

I look down
to the clear voice of a child
“she has a brown face and brown arms”
the girl tells me
“and she’s waiting for you there”

I want to tell her I’m grateful for her honesty
and ask if she means on the mountain
but sensing an opportunity
I ask what haystacks have to do with relativity

“doesn’t matter” she answers
“what matters is she’s there”

I close my eyes and shake my head
but cannot wake
remembering that aged couple, buried in ash
(and frozen in time)
the old man hugging his wife to his side
and shielding her with his toga
I wish to ask: “how much blood
Primus Pilus did you spill for Rome?”
but I look instead to the ground
and follow the penises
carved in ancient cobblestone

perhaps I’m a soldier
for I remember running down a frozen river
set in a Currier & Ives landscape
except that I wasn’t skating
but trying to kill a man

when I reach the Lupanar
I throw a purse of silver
at the doorman
after he tells me (in German) to leave

the ground begins to shake
and the sky darken
but I’m not afraid

for the part of my mind that doesn’t sleep
that vigilant part
(the little man at the levers
I call him)

knows that Vesuvius isn’t in Germany
and tells me so
“my god” he asks
“what would Freud have thought of you?”
“you mean what will he think of me
of us” I reply

“two thousand years from now
people will pay men like him
whole salaries
for what I can get rubbing oil
into the back of a Gaul slave-whore
for a few of Caesar’s coins”

this makes me think of European porn

and how loud they are
for I can hear them through the stone wall

“it’s probably your neighbors”
he says
for I live in a small apartment
with thin walls
and no…
they’re not Europeans
but exceptions proving the rule

Americans are quiet, I think
even when they fuck—
a cultural gift from the Indians
according to Robert Pirsig

yes – there’s a quiet continent, I suddenly remember
“we’ll go there” I say
“we’ll go there and we’ll look west through darkness
and we’ll remember that Plato said the soul was a circle
and we’ll find the four graves
with headless chickens thrashing about them
in fountains of blood
and we’ll find the Indian who said all things are trying to be round—
he’ll tell us what all this means
he’ll tell us who lie in the graves
and why the birds won’t allow them their freedom”

then it occurs to me…

inorganic – biological – social – intellectual

rock – paper – scissors; with a fourth dimension

yes – that’s it

it too was along these lines that Einstein thought
so few footnotes they said—
so few

“but you are not Einstein” he reminds me

and I want to find someone
and take them by the shoulders
and tell them about the internet
I will be a god
written about
sung about

“no” he says “you will be crucified”


About David Cravens

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 MagazineThe Houston Literary Review, Albatross Poetry Journal, The Monarch Review, The Interpreter’s HouseWillows Wept ReviewThe New Writer MagazineThe Penmen Review, Poetic DiversityRed River ReviewLiturgical CredoThe Fat City Review, and is forthcoming in Mirror DanceFickle Muses, and War, Literature & the Arts. He teaches composition and literature at Mineral Area College.