Former Colorado River guide Rebecca Lawton doesn't advocate being tossed from a raft in some of the world's fiercest whitewater, but she has been plenty of times. And navigating life beneath the waves is a skill every guide-and some first-time boaters-must learn. But despite its title, Swimming Grand Canyon and Other Poems isn't just about swimming. Or the Grand Canyon. It's about immersion-in rivers, life, and livelihoods. Lawton's debut poetry book includes the Pushcart-nominated "On Hearing about Ted" and other short takes on river-running culture. A must-read for every water and nature lover who has ever boated the Grand Canyon-or has wanted to. The title poem was first published in the renowned poetry anthology Going Down Grand: Poems from the Canyon (Lithic Press) edited by Canyon aficionados Peter Anderson and Rick Kempa. "Swimming Grand Canyon" incorporates quotes from river-running pioneer Georgie White Clark. It also describes a few encounters Lawton had with Georgie in the 1970s and 1980s, when both worked as guides in Grand Canyon. At that time, Georgie was in her sixties and still leading Colorado River trips in her own unique style.
Georgie wore leopard print
swimsuits or cyan sunpants
Long ago the wind
leathered her skin
She squinted above my cap
though the sun was not in her eyes
and claimed she didn't mind
flipping boats on the river
In the collection's Pushcart-Prize-nominated poem, "On Hearing about Ted," published in the acorn (a literary journal of the El Dorado Writer's Guild), Lawton describes her awe in meeting the gentle, doomed driver of river shuttles.
I saw him first on the road
to Camp Nine and stared, just eighteen
my friends spoke his name
They said, Ted looks good on the river.
"Seen Near Loma," one of the oldest poems in Swimming, was first published in Standing Wave, a literary journal edited by acclaimed Oregon author Elliott Treichel. In "Loma," Lawton describes traveling back to home base in northern Utah after running Grand Canyon river trips. Dropped by her friends Boyce and Sutton near a crossroads, she thought she'd be stuck hitch-hiking by the highway for hours, but instead:
The first car up the road is a blue Plymouth sedan. It stops, maybe my only chance all day, and I get in. Two ranchers wearing straw Bailey U-Roll-Its drive me past fields of alfalfa and oceans of unfenced grass (green with red purple and yellow wildflowers) over Douglas Pass where aspen and fir grow together and coyotes wail on the ridge
Plenty of the work in Swimming has never been in print before. The most recent poem, "Delicate Arch," describes hiking to the famous arch in the 1970s.
Back then you could walk there
alone or with friends you met
up in town or helped down the river
Signs showed the way and
how to take photos to triumph not fail
"Arch" goes on to talk about Lawton's life after the river and her immersion in writing about it.
bent rock in synclines
countless deep grabens
arches between them
faults cut so close
You can see underneath them
and sometimes through