Last night Isaac and I sat at the computer, pulled up Google maps, and followed the creek behind our house all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. I grew up on the Arkansas River and had family that stretched from Northwest Arkansas (on the same creek) to New Orleans. Each new turn in the river seemed to remind me of another event that shaped my life. I recounted these to Isaac, who enjoyed both the science and the history of the experience. It was a good moment with my son.
This morning, still thinking of my history on the river, I wrote this.
I hope you enjoy it.
We trace the Gulf of Mexico from its origin–
the shallow spring-fed creek at Old Wire Road,
where the children play in crawdad pools and
keep eyes peeled for the venom of ancient foes.
The water slips from under rocks and carries
our spent skin and mudbug excrement north,
then west, where the dead parts of us kiss the
Illinois before invading Cherokee territory.
We carve out the heart of their land still,
gather steam, and empty into Ten Killer,
the Lake where choppy waters skied me, the
Lake that stole my High School pride.
We spill way, humbled, mingle with the
Arkansas River, that cruel mother that flooded
my neighborhood when I was twelve. I remember
sandbagging houses at two in the morning.
“These bags won’t hold back that much river,”
I said. The soldier with the Yankee accent agreed,
offered a cigarette. “Sometimes losing battles make
heroes from boys,” he said. At the time, I was naive.
Now, I remember his words pushing through sandbags
like a secret, an omen, a prophecy.