Royal Gorge

by Johnny Payne

Running rapids, one bad flick
of the paddle
and my son gets bounced.
While I help unwrap
the raft from a boulder, he slides
feet first
among rocks and foam, whirls
written on water
keeping his eye on bighorn sheep
until practice guides
gather him up from bulrushes.

When I arrive
he’s entered a Class Four
blue-lipped rapture, the kind of
shivering bliss common among
mystics, victims of flu epidemics
and my offspring. Wrapping him
in my arms and snapping
a willow twig for luck
I wish away my genes, offering
instead a cup of hot ginseng.

As he sleeps in the back seat
while his sister chatters
of Sergeant Pepper, I find a hotel
with a heated pool
another artificial paradise
bought for a hundred dollars.

Johnny Payne is the Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles. His most recent book of poetry is Vassal.