poetry

The Water Mumbled Mantra Into My Dreams. {poetry}

 

In summer 2020, I left the world to go live on the Yuba River Northern California.

All summer I camped on the ground, without a tent, 5 ft from the water’s edge, to see if I could return to my essence. I’d had enough of the world, trying to fit in, grieving a society that has traded its heart for materialism over experience, and uses greed and consumption to fill the emptiness that can only be remedied with kindness and sharing.

I figured my greatest act of rebellion and my most direct path to salvation was to live as simply as possible, returning to the earth and elements to fill my holes, clean my wounds, atone my betrayals.

Over the next few months, I fell so in love with the river and the creature I was becoming that one day I walked right into the liquid jade, voiced my vows, offered flower petals from the wild blackberry bushes growing near my camp, and stood tall as she encircled me in golden light, the rapids ringing glory. And in that moment, not at the river but in the river, we promised to be true to ourselves with each other.

Then she took me under. As a poet, I did what I always do: I allowed myself to be moved by life, and I translated what is beyond language into words that strive to convey a moment of deep connection, exultation, humility, gratitude, liberation. And in the following months, the river did what she always does: flowed downstream, teaching me how to let go.

All day we played together while the sun spangled our skin. Nights I slept curled against her shore while the water mumbled mantra into my dreams.

8:15 am

I wondered just when
it would happen

8:15 am

The sun came trumpets
over the ridge

Rang my tiny postal stamp
nooked into the river’s bend

The rapids sang glory

Red dragonflies
singed the air

I dove into liquid jade
let it lick
the stars
from my skin

Celtic Knots

My body
glued to granite
like a magnet
baking all day
in the oven of the sun

Heat touches me inside

Unwinding Celtic knots
I tied when I was lonely
held me together
when I was broken

Each string
a prayer

I wait for the stars
excited as a child

Digging for Gold

With tools and pans
they pick and chisel
the veins for nuggets

Not fooled by
the sparkle of mica
they dig deeper
for gold

Not knowing
how it offers itself
every morning

signing on the surface
of rock and rapid

Edward’s Crossing

In summer
I come to the ashram
of the river

Golden-voiced water
plays notes on an old harpsichord
leaves her fingerprints on the keys
as she swirls downstream

Red dragonflies scorch the air

Rock people unfold
stiff bodies
after winter’s hibernation

I spend the morning
clearing a small footprint of sand
lifting and hauling rocks
building a dam
filling a shallow tub
for a warm bath

I slide in
water embraces me
in jade hands
leaving no part of me untouched
She welcomes me home
like a lover
returning from war
checks every part of me
for wounds and glory

Shows me her bounty:
a row of ducklings
a brown osprey
black & white dragonflies
zigzagging on high wires
wind spirit dancing

Three months of COVID-19
shelter-in-place, hiatus of cars and wars
and pollution
have done her well

Her lungs and skin are clear
her prana palpable

She lets me see through her eyes
I am humbled by the light

I bask
I bow

Evening

The truth is:
evening is my favorite time
at the river

People go home
everything quietens

I hear the river singing
I hear her breathing

Setting sun
tilts the light
apricot cloudfish
chase each other
through gilded water

While bats flutter
like dark butterflies
taking bites out of
the ripe moon

Gifts from the River

Morning news burbles downstream
under waning moon
hanging in blue hammock sky

Dragonflies iridesce in sunlight
swinging crazy circles
on invisible trapeze

Siren songs rise
on the wind

Water-dancers spin
sun-baked bodies
into ecstasy

As afternoon drums
pulse a heartbeat
from the ventricles
of a red parachute tent

And Obo takes me
to see
where the sun
is building a fire
on the rock

Gloaming

If you look from a certain
corner of your eye
you may see the moon-faced Buddhas
who live in the rocks
who throw you a twinkle
and a kiss
before retreating
to their hovel
where the counsel
has commenced

If you tilt your ear
to the space between
the notes
of the rapids
you may hear the Selkies
singing in the serpentine

Clean is the granite
that reflects the sun
on the palms
of the planet
as we orbit
the summit
of its burning face

Wind churns the water
traces her fingers
at the border
where the gloaming
approaches with grace

Obo

Obo coyote comes calling
in a pink snow suit
he skips rocks
scratches his red beard
smiles green-flowered eyes
collects words in his pockets
talks to faeries
spins stories
on an old Martin guitar
swings from the strings
of the moon

Like You Said in Your Song (for Obo)

You found me
here in the nook
at the river’s bend
where I was hiding out

No bower? you asked
Nope, just out in the open
tucked into bed
glooming about an old
wizard friend
who lost his charm

We shared songs
and an imaginary bottle
of pear cider
each of us quenching
our own version
of Sergeant Pepper’s
Lonely Hearts Club Band
You in costume, of course

As the gloaming crept in
my edges softened
and right after you hiked up the hill
the slowest star
I’ve ever seen
dripped down
the sky

And like you said in your song
I’m sorry and Thank you
both evoke a journey of tears

Night Music (for Obo)

Sun woke me
hot-handed my shoulder
river already up, chattering
night too short

Jester in blue jumpsuit
begged off at dusk
to chase the comet
left me with bats in the belfry
rhyming up a tangle
until wee hours

Just when I nodded off
skunk came snuffling
for peanuts and blueberries
and other treasures

And the star-animals turned
on their dark carousel
composing night music

Rock Creatures

During the day
the rocks sleep

crumpled creatures
hiding in the light

But come night
they wake

shake out the shadows
open their ancient eyes

drink the darkness
chanting in their native tongue

Sister River

You welcome me home
hold me in your rock cradles
wash my feet and face
knead my shoulders
in your stone-hot hands

Wind licks dust
from my worry lines
rushing water
clears the chatter
from my mind
blue damsel flies
mate on my belly

Has it been only a week I was gone?
Days pass so quickly in the world
I run to keep up

But here in your effervescent valley
I slow to a deeper rhythm
the ancient animal
who sleeps inside my bones
crawls to the surface
gulps the air

The Fey Will Find You

Don’t go painting purple
marks on the trees pointing
your people
to secret places
where you get free

The fey will find you
divine you
friend or foe
cover your graffiti
with bark and moss
and things that grow

And your friends will get lost!

The river will swallow what ails you
your inner sense will wake you
you’ll shed an old self or two

Your skin will become a living thing
the animal in your bones
will come home
to sing

River Sirens

The river sirens
are singing songs
in Spanish
strumming an old guitar
sipping wine from the bottle
while the earth spins

I offer up a melody
in harmony
to the chorus
of the rapids
asking forgiveness
as I sift through my past
stirring the silt
shaking the pan
weighing the gold

I promise to write a few letters
to people I’ve wronged

There is atonement at the river
if you surrender to the water
you will naturally release what binds you
allow the river to have her way with you
she’ll teach you how
to let go

A parade of pilgrims arrive
bodies of all shades and sizes
signed in ink
find their nooks
in flesh-toned rocks
becoming indistinguishable
in late afternoon glow

Children jack-knife off rock perches
lovers kiss
moms float babies downstream
cradled in bright inner tubes
slap-happy dogs paddle the water
yellow swallowtail
floats by
on paper wings

What if instead of cursing the guy with the boombox
I simply say Yes to this moment too
or I migrate somewhere quieter with a smile on my face
or like the sirens
I sing louder

I spy a spot of shade
mold the arch of my back
into soft sand
as I await the golden hour
when the river will reflect
the sun’s rosy cheeks

And the world
will melt and fuse
like glass
in the last hot kiss
from the sun’s kiln

Avocados

I offered a bag of carrots
to a homeless man
in the parking lot
but he said he had no teeth
to chew them

So I brought two avocados
he opened a hand
as wide and dry
as the Mojave desert
and thanked me

Before rolling himself
back into his cigarette
and the companionship
of smoke

Wishing Well

Wishing well
stones like copper pennies
tossed by faeries
tumbled by two boys
who shuffle-foot
across stepping stones
with treasure in their hands.

***

Meredith Heller is a performing poet and singer/songwriter with graduate degrees in writing and education. A California Poet in the Schools, she teaches poetry-writing workshops for kids and adults. Check out her poetry collection, SONGLINES, from Finishing Line Press. Her new book, Write a Poem, Save Your Life, is under contract with New World Library and will be out Spring 2021. She is mused by nature, synchronicity, and kindred souls. You could contact Meredith via her blog.

***

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