Upside Down

By Charles Halsted


Upside down in fast moving current, my death but seconds away:
boulders below, the demons who’d break my bones,
branches above, the harpies who’d end my day. 

Eyes fixed on a bank-side bloom, I’d pulled the wrong oar,
while fishing on the wide Rogue River alone.
My pontoon boat had flipped when it met the shore. 

From deep within my soul came a voice without a sound
that broke through my terror, as if in a dream:
“If I can keep my head on straight, I will not drown.” 

I jerked the cord to inflate my vest when I was far downstream.
Breaking the surface upright, survival became my only aim.
I gained a foothold, breathed deeply in, surveyed the scene. 


Waves crashing on the rocks below implied my death by maiming,
but the river above me flowed calmly as my very own
capsized boat and one oar floated down. My life could be sustained. 

I swallowed my pride to have fished the river alone,
recanted all audacity remaining in my soul,
grasped the oar and boarded my boat, though it was upside down.

Stroking hard to escape the demon rocks, I paddled my pontoon
across the river with strength till then I’d never known,
and reached a place where I could turn it upright, a quiet lagoon. 


I spied two fishermen in a boat not fifty yards below.
They rowed to me with a second oar, a rescue from my plight,
since the journey to takeout was still a mile-long row.

I drifted downstream hearing songbirds singing, watching ducks alight.
A treetop eagle spied a reckless fish that soon would pay its cost.
Deer bowed their heads to drink while geese soared over in flight. 

Making landfall at last, I was met by a fishermen host.
With outstretched hand, one said: “Here, take this cold beer!”
I’d reached a grace I vowed would never again be lost.

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