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Four Steps from an Ocean:
A Portrait of the Verde River


Loley Line Drawing_edited.jpg

35.6781° N, 108.1512° W

I wear the life jacket—a faded yellow vest with stubborn clips that smells of

loosely rolled cigarettes. 


Ahead of me, whitewater tightens my grip on the paddles. One goes down a

clear path just under the surface. The other is numb to my arm’s pull as I try

to control what’s invisible.


The Verde fishtails my boat’s nose backward. Expose what has become of

your past, it tells me.


Sycamores still curtain the stretch. Cattails along the bank loosen in the

day’s whirl. The sun’s flare signals rescue, but I have planned for the worst.

Close my eyes, 


and a plastic bottle floats atop my mind to its natural exit. A life adrift. 


Water is cooler in the shade. Dobsonfly on my vest, and I am on the river

again, releasing forward on the braided channel.


Egg casings stick to an alder tree’s grey branches. Here, I come upon

someone older, caught in a rushing navel, unable to rupture an escape.


As I paddle behind her boat, I tell her to hold the nearby tree with one hand.

She holds the tree. She is deeply quiet. One paddle goes down a clear path

to anchor itself in a bedrock. The other becomes a matchstick poised to

strike her boat free.


She is abstract before I can think of what’s next. Even now, she could be of

that place—

AndieFrancis - Andie Francis_edited.jpg

ANDIE FRANCIS (she/her) is the author of I Am Trying to Show You My Matchbook Collection (CutBank Books, 2015) and A Fresh Start Will Put You On Your Way (Finishing Line Press, 2022). She holds an MFA in poetry from The University of Arizona. She's a Poetry Editor for DIAGRAM. Her work appears in Berkeley Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Greensboro Review, Harpur Palate, Portland Review, TAMMY, and elsewhere. She teaches with the English Department at Northern Arizona University and is the Northern Arizona Regional Partner for Poetry Out Loud.


The Verde River is one of two "Wild and Scenic Rivers" in Arizona; it's rare to find and interact with flowing water here, and over the last few years, I have aimed to seek out opportunities to do so. With this piece, I wanted to explore the idea of snowmelt in the spring and the danger of white water. I also wanted to touch on the impact of climate change and the passage of time and human life as it connects to the river. 

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