Incident Near White River. The Authors Collection.
June 1, 2013
It was the scariest of times. I moved back to my home state, Missouri, in 1984, to a country ranch house. My husband was away on a job and there was an escaped felon loose while I was alone and vulnerable. The escapee was a young man who had possibly been influenced too much by his parents, members of a radical group, and he was pulled over on the highway while carrying a van-load of arms and munitions to their encampment over the state line in Arkansas.
He panicked, and shot the two Missouri Highway Patrolmen who pulled him over, one of them fatally. He then escaped and took it on the lam into the wild Ozarks countryside. Terror ruled the land, as this desperate man was spotted everywhere, behind trees, in barns, on roofs. They put up roadblocks and examined all cars, aiming shotguns at the trunks of automobiles as they opened them for examination. The escapee was thought to be stealing clothes from clotheslines to wear as disguises. (He has on a Mr. Donut T shirt! It’s gone from my clothesline.) Residents were so frightened that they left the keys in their vehicles, and food on the front seat, hopeful that the man on the run would just drive off, and not bother the quaking people inside the homes.
This is nothing new to the Ozarks. Over a hundred years ago, a bushwhacker named Alf Bolin hid out behind some huge boulders in the area and jumped out and robbed lone riders or stagecoaches, usually murdering his victims. The large boulders became known as Murder Rocks.
A year after I recovered from the escaped desperado ordeal, this poem popped into my head. You can see for yourself the parallelism:
INCIDENT NEAR WHITE RIVER
There’s a place in Taney County
That earned its name again today
Where they stand by with a gurney,
Just in case,
Just in case,
Have it ready, anyway,
In these old Ozarks hills
There’s one thing we know for sure
The more things change,
They stay the same,
Seems so, anyway,
And this applies to clubs and knives and guns,
The men that use them,
The men that hunt them down
And make them pay
The old Springfield-Harrison Road
Was exhumed by moon, by sun,
By steel-toed boots, by horses hooves,
And outlaws on the run
Tall grasses bend in the wind, swishing, rustling,
A rustle as they follow
As he scrambles through the buckbrush,
Over slippery creek rocks
Where the deeper meets the shallow
Toward the ragged bank and back again
Stumbling, crawling, splashing,
Hoping the hounds will lose his scent, in the wind,
And wonder, wonder where he went
They sniffed a hint of perspiration
In his discarded shirt
And held it deep inside their nostrils
For this moment, for this purpose,
Every muscle comes alert
It happened just the same, my friend,
A hundred years ago or more,
Several separate, decent men
Met a deadly foe,
And were pounced upon by men like him,
As they made the pass through Murder Rocks
A stone’s throw ago,
A long, long time ago
I had gotten through this two-week long crisis by piling heavy furniture against the doors and windows of the house. I didn’t get much sleep. They did catch him. He had wandered over much rugged territory covering maybe twenty miles and two large lakes, using his highly-honed survivalist skills. He crossed Bull Shoals Lake in the dead of night, hanging onto the bottom of a long trestle bridge that spanned it. Were did they catch him? Less than four miles down the road and it appeared he was probably headed in my direction.
Incident Near White River appears in the volume of my poetry, MULTIPLE EXPOSURES , and in the anthology, In the West of Ireland, a collaboration of Irish and American poets.
Author’s Note: Multiple Exposures was the first place winner in Global eBook Awards, poetry category, 2012.