FORCE OF WATER: by Lee Elsesser

For Lyle Waldron
Green River Fly Fishing Guide

Behind the fifty story dam
in the ninety mile reservoir,
deep in the storied canyons
its moving waters carved when
inner earth raised the Uintas,
the ancient Rio Verde liesĀ at rest.

At the curving concrete wall
the imprisoned waters lap, as if
they hold a memory of power and now
bestilled, restored, clear and cold,
seek once more the freedom to flow,
to wear again the title “river.”

In the dampness and muted roar
two thousand cubic feet per second
of lake surging into motion leaves
hanging in the morning air, a boatman
drops his weight into the rear seat
of a watercraft of wonderful design.

The curved bottomed drift boat responds,
slipping the grip of its transport and
sliding gracefully into the eddy. Now
three elements of adventure are joined:
the river, the boat, and the boatman
in the Red Canyon of the Flaming Gorge.

On currents deep and almost clear as air
they will follow the easterly course
the Green River cut five million years ago,
between cliffs of bent and folded stone
layered in time like pages of a calendar, under
a sky where ospreys glide and eagles soar.

There will be others on the float,
always others in the boat.
For them, trout fishing makes the day.
From them, the boatman takes his pay.
For that, he demonstrates his skill
on waters swift and waters still.

On long flats and slower runs, fishermen
float tiny nymphs on hair-thin tippets
where the trout hang in submarine flotillas.
When the waters quicken, where the canyon narrows,
the river lifts swells like molten glass
that slide unbroken under the white water boil.

There, in the rapids, the drift boat glides
like a dry quarter moon battered in a stormy sky,
into a torrent where men have died, trapped
by the force of water. The man with the oars
touches the river, a stroke, a thrust, redirects
the force, turns the boat on its center to safe water.

Through the day, beneath the stony gaze of faces
trapped in the rocky cliffs, faces that watched
Powell and Ashley pass, the same dance goes on.
Finesse versus force, practice against power,
timing in a torrent, a waterborne ballet choreographed by the river’s moving stage.

At take out, the fishermen case rods and reels,
review the beauty of fish and foliage, both painted in the season’s burnished gold. The boatman releases
his craft from the river’s grasp and winches it up
onto its wheeled transport. He pauses to watch
an osprey pair winging along the now empty stream.

The waters that bore his boat today are gone,
rolling on to swallow the Yampa,to merge
with the force of the mighty Colorado, to reach
beyond its famous canyons to the western sea.
There, to start again the unchanging cycle,
tossing wave to drifting cloud to snowflake falling.

The guide, his boat ungainly on its trailer,
follows the familiar mountain trail that will
take him home and his clients to their lodging.
For the second time today he crosses the high dam,
where in the lake’s chill depths, clear and still,
powerful and impatient, tomorrow’s river waits.

Lee Elsesser
Fort Worth, Texas

To hear Lee’s reading of this poem, click the arrow on the player below:

To hear readings of more poetry by Lee Elsesser, click HERE.

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