River Spells: Part One. {poetry}



A series of short moments of contemplative celebration written while I was camping at the Yuba River over the past three weeks. From nature, I learn to be human. I draw on nature as a resource and mirror through which I see myself and the world. And as the late Joseph Campbell said, Return your nature to Nature.

It’s happening!
The sky is swimming with pink fish
dragonflies are feasting on the wing
the rocks are taking off their stone masks
unfolding their limbs
stretching their gray bodies into the water
and watching me with their creature eyes
the choir of the river is singing my favorite song
all day I’ve been waiting for this moment
when everything sings with life
I mean, it sings all day
it just takes me all day
to get quiet enough
to listen

Sometime, just about now
when the water’s skin
flushes royal fuchsia
and the mouths of the rocks
part their lips to speak
what they’ve known all day
and the jade water grows darker
moving downstream
like it’s got somewhere it needs to go
here in the dark
with the insects singing
the stars igniting the sky
how could I ever be lonely
with all this life pulsing around me

In the morning
you must shed the night
the dark cavern of sleep
where you dissolve

You must do your morning chores
greet the day
sweep the sand
fill your bottle from the spring
step into the river of jade
that gurgles the morning news
from rock to rock
whisper your prayers to the water
wave to the cloud-people
who are shape-shifting
into dragon-riders

devote yourself
to the day

There is a moment
when the birds decide it’s morning
when the sun blares his horn
when everything green and growing
starts crawling toward the light
the sun puts his hand on your shoulder
and the great cacophony of the river
seizes the day

If you put your arm
across your eyes
at high noon
you can catch
the sunflowers
blooming in the dark

There’s a boy named River
who used to come around
sleeps in the trees
caressing a bottle of vodka
his Russian girlfriend
who pulled all his teeth
he pans for gold
in the morning
and shows me his treasure
in the palm of his hand
I read him a poem
and his eyes
fill with tears

Last night
one of the new golden dragonflies
took a bug in one bite
right out of thin air
its winglets
fluttered down
landing on my leg
life goes so fast
use your wings
while you’ve got them

My first green strokes
to the far side
of the cove
where the mer-girls
drape themselves
over sun-hot rocks
and the dragonflies
dance in druid circles
gathering the morning harvest

When the river rocks
are wet
their colors
come to life
you can spend hours hunting
agate, serpentine, bloodstone
but let them dry
and your treasures
turn dull as dirt
mouse-brown, charcoal gray
put the people
in the river
watch them
shine up
like jewels

Life on the river is simple
there’s nothing to do except listen
nowhere to go but here
get in the water when you’re hot
let your body show you
how it likes to move
allow yourself
to get good and hungry
before you eat
and then eat like it’s a gift
sleep when you want to
be kind to the other humans
who come to the water
to remember

River: the sound of the word itself
implies current

If I were getting married
I wouldn’t get married at the river
I would get married in the river

I count on magic
the way the threads of life
weave us in and out
of each other’s lives
like a living helix

the way light
draws more light
braiding itself stronger

this morning
I took a short walk
to get water from the spring
ran into an old friend and her sister
on the river trail

welcomed them
down to my camp
by the water
three river-witches
swimming, sharing story
kindling each other’s hum

we matter
each of us
shines a mirror
and we see ourselves

all morning we held council
while the river worked her magic
her fluid fingers
undulating our joints
her songs
singing our cells

embraced by the river
we return to wholeness
shed what no longer serves us
plug our hearts
into her bubbling source
celebrate our lives

we were hitting the crescendo
in our chorus
when the osprey came winging
just above our heads
so close
we felt the breeze of his feathers

he played
two high notes
on his golden coronet

Don’t stop
keep going
let your desire guide you
around the next bend
is a blackberry bush
pink flowers
and ripe berries
hot from the sun
feast until your fingers
are stained purple
keep going
you know what you want
you’re looking for a rock perch
in the shade
where you can watch the water spill
feel the heat of the rocks
melt the tension in your back
let the sound of the current
sweep your blood clean
and then
the blue heron

The river is clear as glass
I can see all the way to the bottom
rocks and fish
light making underwater caves, labyrinths
where the water
finds her way
through the dark

I wait all day for dusk
to wrap her pastel cape
around my copper shoulders

whatever it is
you’re tying
in a knot
in your chest
your breath
will free you

paint your body tribal
with crushed river rock

lie naked in the water

listen to the quiet breath
against your ear

the waning light
silvers the wrinkles
on the river’s face

Milk the day for joy
fill an extra jar
for a thirsty friend

Sleep outside naked
all night the stars
kiss your body
and bloom
in your blood

The river is one hot babe
her cheeks peeking
out from her shorts
as she climbs
over rocks
her sunburned breasts
glowing like lanterns
in the dusk

Did I mention I married the river?

We consummated our union
last evening
the sky blushed

The river slid
a gold ring
on my finger
and roared with joy

So many beautiful people
come to the river
singing songs of gratitude

in languages they learned
from Native Americans
Eastern Indians
Peruvian shamans

I wonder if the spring
and the cedars
yearn to hear original songs

melody and words
that bubble up
in the moment
directly from our own heart

so this morning
as I drink from the spring
and breathe the scent of cedar
I listen for a song
growing in my heart
and I sing

thank you, spring
thank you, spring
for everything
thank you, cedar
thank you, cedar
without you
I could not be here

I let my voice sail
feeling I’ve truly given
something of myself
in gratitude
for all I have been given

and in the singing
my heart is doubly full

I walk back to camp
adding to my song

the sky
the sun
the rocks
the river

Get up early enough
to catch the clouds
blowing lavender smoke
from their bellies

wash your face
in the river

dive in
let her swallow you whole

float downstream
singing songs
of thanks

swim back
against the current
until your heart pounds

I’m alive
I’m alive

Sit on the edge
of the big rock

see your shadow
in the water

remember our time here is brief
before we all become shadows

What kind of watermark will you leave?
What kind of signature?

The dragonfly circus
is practicing their aerial acrobatics
swinging on silks of sunlight

I heard the man who invented drones
modeled them after dragonflies
the way they hover in place
highest and fastest flying insect
ancient as the dinosaurs

I got one tattooed across my back
when I was 30
art nouveau wings
span my shoulder blades
a caduceus wraps
around the tail

My totem
My river ally

Bring the knife-thrower
and the pretty lady
who dances
on the back of a horse
bring the strong man
and the fortune-teller

Heck, bring the freaks
we’re all beautiful
in the water’s mirror

climb down Chimney Rock
get close to the river
plunge your head in the current
rip in ululation
beat out songs of thanks and forgiveness
on the rocks with sticks
play the charango
forgive all your past lovers
who left scars
thank them for how strong and true
you’ve become

leave wet footprints
across granite stones

Read Part Two here.


Meredith Heller is a poet, singer/songwriter, and author of the poetry collection SONGLINES. She teaches poetry-writing, leads MoonTribe Write of Passage Nature Program, and hosts Siren Song, a women’s singer/songwriter night. A nature girl who spent 15 summers solo-backpacking, she hikes the trails daily. She is mused by nature, synchronicity, and kindred souls. You could contact Meredith via her blog.


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