Mid 80’s, late Wisconsin summer day.
You’re male; just one of many crayfish lured
Innately to this shallow, turbid creek.
July’s sweet warmth assures you that you’ll not
Find only sanctuary, but a mate.
And at a human hand-span’s length from tail
To telson, you’re a splendid prospect: tail
Aloft and eyestalks staunch, you greet the day.
With fierce claws brandished, you await your mate
In burrow’s dark. And nothing could have lured
You from your would-be breeding quarters – not
Until a stealthy stick from o’er the creek
Despoils your warren’s sanctity. The creek,
In tacit bounty, spurs your nerve. Your tail
Aflutter, claws outstretched, you’re not
Alarmed – you clamp the twig and seize the day.
But then the surreptitious branch that lured
You wrests you from the stream, reveals its mate
Above – a boy who thwarts your quest for mate.
His form obstructs the sun and dwarfs the creek
Below the wooden pier. It seems he’s lured
You here for idle sport; he grips your tail
And flings you hard against the planks. While day
Retreats, light’s sudden ebb arises not
From cosmic cause. The sneering boy (who’s not
Alone – a girl shrinks near her preening mate)
Uplifts his foot and renders blissful day
Brutality. Impassively, the creek
Laps on. Your once resplendent olive tail
Is tattered, shattered by the boy who lured
You, crushed your stately carapace. Though lured
From neural ruination’s throes, you’re not
Yet blind; you see his female friend turn tail.
And I, the girl that boy deems doting mate,
For whom you’re executed by the creek –
I know what cruel conceit is that day.
From where once lured, you sink, potential mate
Undone. Not waiting, brethren flee the creek,
Tails undulating. Silence veils the day.
Mindy Watson writes: “‘On Johnson’s Creek’ represents not only one of my earliest published poems, but also my first-ever sestina attempt. Even three decades later, the poem’s instigating tragedy—an ill-starred crustacean’s senseless slaughter—so profoundly disturbed me, that I chose the most convoluted, challenging form I’d known (at that point) to narrate from the dwindling victim’s (second person) point of view. Although my own human projections—predicated upon the Northern Wisconsin climate, incident’s time of year, and region’s most statistically plentiful crayfish species—dictated the crayfish’s depicted age, gender, and objectives; the poem’s auxiliary characters’ (the boy=my older step-cousin; the girl=10-year-old me) motivations and ensuing impressions were pointedly accurate. While I’ve since drafted/published two subsequent sestinas, I still believe the form’s almost fanatical repetition, intricate transpositions, and final unifying envoi best suit this tale-in-verse; which aimed to equate a single creature’s unwitting suffering with humanity’s often capricious cruelty. Two end notes: 1) this sestina preceded/inspired ‘The Maligned Majority,’ a pro-arthropod, non-fiction essay that appeared in Willows Wept Review’s Summer 2020 issue; and 2) while I’m told my childhood step-cousin later married (twice) and still resides/works near Johnson Creek…I haven’t directly spoken to him since that fateful day.”
Mindy Watson is a Washington DC-based formal verse poet who holds an MA in Nonfiction Writing from the John Hopkins University. Her poems have appeared in venues including Autumn Sky Poetry, Eastern Structures, the Poetry Porch, the Potcake Chapbooks, the Quarterday Review, Snakeskin, Star*Line, Think Journal, and many others. Read her work at: https://mindywatson.wixsite.com/poetryprosesite
‘On Johnson’s Creek’ originally appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Jan. 30, 2017