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Beth Paulson

River Lesson

Green cottonwoods and willows
overhang mud and rock banks below
layered sandstone walls and turrets:
underneath you steer hard by them
river water coursing fast,
surging around rocks and snags,
feet locked, pulling and pushing hard
oars, wet face, cold splash.
Forward. Back it up, Bump!
Paddle, paddle, paddle-Stop!

The San Miguel that carries you
knows only rock and riverbank,
knows only current and spring run-off,
what stays and what moves further downstream.

You paddle, float, try to keep up
not a creature made for water.
You're better on land, but not perfect
there—how are you in air?
Then the raft tips and you're skyward
just before you splash down into
five feet, fifty-degree swirling water.

Later you learn the river's language,
pay attention to its shape shift,
watch for gravel bars and strainers,
see where bank-side trees hang low,
where hidden rocks make whirlpools likely.

Borne on the breast of moving water,
you listen while the river tells you
about the things you used to fear.

Unlisted California Artist

You matched the distant purple mountain
to the red roof's angle on the house

framed by long-limbed eucalyptus trees.
And maybe you stroked the sky, sky-blue,

and added those perfect cumulus clouds
just before you wrote in one corner, "H. Daniels."

Perhaps you cleared a space outside it
and painted all day in the summer sun

after you walked through scented chaparral
to look inside its heavy, iron-hinged door

at the blackened stone fireplace, dusty floor.
You must have carried an easel in your car

to paint the old adobe you'd heard about;
or maybe you found it on your own that day

driving a road's deep-shadowed curves
high above sleepy 1930s Santa Barbara

until you glimpsed it through old fence posts
held up by cascading red bougainvillea.

©2009 by Beth Paulson

Beth Paulson taught college writing for over twenty years at California State University Los Angeles, and now lives near Ouray, Colorado, where she teaches writing and creativity workshops. Her work was nominated for 2007 and 2009 Pushcart Prizes. Her third collection, Wild Raspberries, was published by Plain View Press in 2009.

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