Kaw River Girl

by Jennifer Woerner

She smells like the river,
dark and deep,
Mud between her toes.
Sand on her knees.

Feathers in her hair,
a rose on her breast,
She flies with the eagles,
At home in their nest.

She floats with the current,
feeling the breeze,
Kept warm by her dress
Of moss and leaves.

The sky gets darker.
storm clouds gather.
She laughs with the riffles and
continues to paddle.

The river rocks will not break her,
She is smooth like the river glass
she holds in her hands,
Made beautiful by time and current,
tossed by the sand.

Back in 2014 when this poem was written, I was going through a period of change. It wasn’t the kind of change that I asked for and it was rough. I was going through a divorce, my kids were spending time away from me, a beloved family pet had died and I was having to sell the home where I lived when I had married and my children were born. All of this was coming on the cusp of my 40th birthday, so you can imagine how I felt with my whole world uprooted. During this time I leaned heavily on a couple close friends. And as friends often do, they knew what I needed, even when I didn’t. These friends had been kayaking regularly and bugging me to get a kayak. When I delayed the purchase, they just bought me one for my 40th birthday. This began a new period in my life; these friends got me out on the lakes and the rivers in our area. Of course, we found our way to the Kansas River where I fell in love with the river’s beauty and timelessness. The river felt like a sanctuary; a place where I could relax, have fun and live in the moment with the people who loved me. I felt myself returning to the girl I once was. Many people talk about the healing powers of mineral springs or hot springs, but for me, the Kansas River was what healed me. The river gifted me with time to play, and sparked joy and creativity in me during a time when it felt like I was losing everything. Scouring the sandbars for treasures took my mind off my troubles, and to find a beautiful piece of river glass always made my day. The river glass was so beautiful; all the different colors; blue, green, light green, dark green, light purple, dark purple, dark blue, light blue. I was fascinated with how the river softened the edges of this glass to where I could pick it up and hold it in my hand and admire its beauty. I wondered just how much time it took to smooth away the sharp edges, to take this glass from something that could hurt me and turn it into a beautiful treasure.
The phrases and verses in Kaw River Girl were inspired by the Kansas River, and my friends, Julie and Denise. The Kaw River Girl could have been any one of us; smelly, sandy and dirty from a day on the river; calling out when we spot an eagle and the nest; picking up tiny feathers or beautiful river glass. The River Girl’s dress of leaves and moss is a tribute to these two friends; one has autumn leaves tattooed on her back and is literally “dressed” in leaves; the other incessantly takes pictures of moss and shares them with me. The poem is also a tribute to the most important lesson I learned about myself on the river; that like the river glass, only time would soften my rough edges, and smooth away the anger and the grief . The Kaw River Girl reminds me that I belong in this world; that I am wild and free and part of nature, and that I can paddle through the storms of life, and come out stronger and more beautiful, just like those pieces of river glass.