“Killing Mister Watson” Tanka 2209

(December 26, 2018)

hands reach for a wife

he no longer knows…and hers

fail…now all four do.

four hands at a loss – so sad! –

Carrie Watson’s diary,*

(Author Peter Matthiessen performs a personal and social account of an actual killing in Southwest Florida at the turn of the century – the 19th in his novel “Killing Mister Watson” pp.70-71. The book was found on the sale-shelf of the North Branch (Sanford) of the Seminole County Library system. The Inside cover was inscribed to The Late Doctor Rosemond – one of my mother’s physicians, by Mark Whigham, a friend from decades past whose family I also count as friends of long standing. Mark wishes Dr. Rosemond enjoys the book – centering around the 10 Thousand Islands and especially in the vicinity of Chokoluski and Chapman’s Bend in the last real wilderness area remaining East of The Mississippi and some say anywhere in North America. Mark says he hopes the book will bring on fond memories of the time he shared fishing with the good Doctor in that strange and still-dangerous paradise The language is rough in the acclaimed writer Matthiessen’s book; the people, too. The psychological profiles the author used – and painted with words throughout a deliberate style – was the product of six years of close personal involvement. As a work of fiction it is a massive accomplishment; as a work of history it is illuminating to one such as myself who still sees Mister Watsons no longer daily as I did in my youth but nonetheless still the stereotypes between the pages abound both for good and ill. As soon as I finish “Killing Mister Watson” this copy will go back to Mark. I then will have to secure another copy: it is that good and depicts a part of Florida long-since gone from our local world with the taming of The Wekiva River where real Watsons, Thompsons, and more used to abound: from former Orange County commission members to poachers and moonshiners to just regular people pausing on weekends mostly to hear bear and – was that a panther? – splash across the slough and be serenaded by bullfrogs as Great White Herons beat the foggy morning mists into whorls and phantasmagorical shapes as they go from breakfast to lunch just feet overhead of my canoe. A pre-World War II Higgins-made landing craft prototype sits near Blackwater Creek (or slough), its then-experimental Chrysler/Dodge semi-hemispherical head water-pump engine long-since lifted by more enterprising hands as the metal slowly gives way to the inevitable. There were tribal dugout canoes pulled from the muck and sand bottoms even into the middle 20th century; shark’s teeth and mastadon’s vertebrae mostly all have been gleaned; river otter couldn’t care less, nor could the water moccasin wending its way through the dark tannic water as old softshell turtles take their ease over the then-alligatorlessness which only a few decades ago poaching’s mostly demise perhaps will reintroduce the giants to the soft river banks as they do along the Wekiva’s bigger sister Welaka, now named Saint Johns. Blue Crab however, still can be caught, especially at the Wekiva’s mouth into the slow-moving larger northward flowing river once commonly lied about at the only such northward-flowing river in The Northern Hemisphere…challenged and with hardly a missed beat: “alright, then, in North America!” Like challenging dogma on a stone tablet. “Killing Mister Watson” is a softer yet sometimes harder stone tablet. Do not throw it at golden – or even clay – calves.)

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