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from BEYOND DESPAIR / Donald Finkel WHAT'S IN A NAME Despair—that's what the natives call her— sidling eastward under a scrim of slate-grey ice past pennants of saffron plastic clattering in the bracken, past urine-yellow tabloids, a frozen squirrel temporizing, belly up, clutching in its mummy paws one last desperate inedible morsel. Des Peres, the map reads—River of the Fathers— but who knows what name the Father of Rivers murmurs each morning as she ambles to greet him in her slush peignoir, slovenly, pensive, wanton, cleansed of hope? THE WILDERNESS From the best Accounts that can be gather,d from the most antient of the Inhabitants, it appears that the first Settlement of the Country by the French was at a place called La Riviere Despere. A Memorandum of M. Austin's Journey from the Lead Mines in the County of Wythe in the State of Virginia to the Lead Mines in the Province of Louisiana West of the Mississippi, 1796-1797 Five days without provisions, the sparse out-stations shamefully neglected, two feet of snow most of the way, Moses Austin assails the wilderness (by horse, by mule, flatboat and flyboat), fording the Ohio, the Wabash, the Little Wabash, crossing on foot the Father of Rivers himself, frozen in his tracks. And three days south, beyond the abandoned chapel—beyond Despair, even, to the lead mines west of Ste. Genevieve. Then back to Virginia. The Missouri Review · 45 Now back again, with his wife and his sons (and those of his people whose blood still trills at the glint of galena, disdaining gold, cold-shouldering silver), as the veins of Austin Ville play out their last bad hands, as patient rivers grave in the wilderness a thousand indelible lines on fortune's palm. THE WINTER JOURNEY Regional Forecasts Missouri Friday AreaLoHiForecast East Central 20-24 26-29 Fair St. Louis Post-Dispatch Last night's unlooked-for snowfall effaced by noon in the tepid sun, a few damp tatters on straw-pale lawns (rags of a cloud the weather-prophets misconstrued), we set out late, unlikely party, the dog leading out, the black-and-white cat skittering after, the Owner bringing up the rear. The ramp to Despair lies thinly veiled. The dog descends, then the cat, enchanted, lofting her tail like a sable banner. Though the ice protests, though dark rents race from her forepaws, the bitch can't keep from snuffling farther and farther onto the crust. What lures her on? What redolence of dog-piss and garbage lurks in the channel, marking what passage across the ice? What calls her in this lovely rubble, 46 · The Missouri Review Donald Finkel this kingdom of litter, this slovenly Waiden, this foul, improbable Hippocrene? A quarter hour downstream, an inky maw, so tall it might well swallow a house, mutters softly like distant traffic as the current quickens and slim Despair, no thicker now than a virgin's thigh, plunges east and disappears. To the hole beyond the Pole and back, our daily go-round, house to river, river to house, contriving never to tread the same perception twice, we ascend the gentle ramp once more. Overhead, a cardinal cheers, a scarlet flag in a tattered larch. SPECULATIONS [Moses] Austin was thought to be, and apparently considered himself well-to-do, but it is doubtful whether his wealth was not always speculative. Eugene Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin Toiling up the steep bluff south of Ste. Genevieve toward the shot-tower, he can almost see a drizzle of molten lead from the overhang, can hear it hissing into the great wood cistern, can all but count the dingy spheres congealing into shot as they plummet through the water. In a day, he calculates, ascending toward the headlands of fortune, one man could cast two tons, Donald Finkel The Missouri Review · 47 though to polish the same might cost him nine days more, cranking a barrel while the spheroids batter each other into a simulacrum of perfection. While the snow melts in his overshoes, while the rivulets run from under the brow of his hat, while down in the dark the river changes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 45-50
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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