Listen to a reading of this poem

Palmer Rapids

At first I wanted mastery over white
water. I would match speed
with strength, avoid
ledges and souse holes,
slip around boulders, profit
from eddies.

You and I are standing by a river.
Its name begins with M and goes on
for three or four syllables.
For as many days we have been touching
swallowing     smelling     dreaming
this river that begins
with M, rushing
beneath, over and through us.

Here I learn the chant:
angle motion tilt

angle – it’s all in the approach
motion – then you add momentum
tilt – and finally you lean downstream

almost simultaneously and in that order
angle     motion     tilt

(Emily Dickinson knew – go at it straight
and you’re done for.)

In three days we’ve learned
how to get out of white water
wait until the bow has crossed
the eddy line and draw hard!

to use cross draws
so you don’t lose time changing hands
and back ferries
point the stern in the direction you want to go
and slip sideways across the river.

And the dry taste of fear
as we wait above the rapids
they’ve named Rifle Shoot
for the go-ahead signal
the paddle held high
then dropped down

I never would have thought
of going backwards
to get where we were going,
especially on a river.
And I had never before understood
the precision of that extra second or two
when you can choose
which side of the rock to aim for
because you are going slower than the current
and you know
the way to avoid the rock
is to head directly for it
because it is the current
that is in charge
and really, all we can do
is remember where we are
and be aware of its force,
back up when we’re going too fast
and when we get off balance
remember not to grab the gunwales
but reach out for the river
slap its softness
brace long and low into the turn
because the success of this maneuver
depends on committing
your weight to the river,
the river’s power       sensing your own
knowing both are there, growing
trusting your partner
to do the same.

published 2004

publisher Seraphim Editions

category Taking Root

Full list of Poems


Like a River Flows



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An Offering

Controlled Burn

No Need

April Addictions

Some Functions of Poetry

Some Functions of Snow

Digging Out

My Sweet Love


Have you started your seeds yet?

Palmer Rapids



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Elegant Death


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I Wanna Fly