The sun puts his hand on your shoulder
and the great cacophony of the river
opens its mouth and sings….

River Spells is a collection of short poems I wrote in the late summer of 2019 while camping at the Yuba River. I was waiting for my right wrist to heal after shattering it in a bicycle crash and needing three surgeries. The thing was I couldn’t use my right hand for 6 months which meant I couldn’t write and I couldn’t type very well. Learning to do both of these with my left hand was slow going. Just when I was about to lose my mind, I had an idea to write short nugget-poems on my phone with my left hand. This is how River Spells happened! Enjoy! Stay wild. Love, Meredith

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. ~ Joseph Campbell

River Spells 1
© 2019 Meredith Heller

1
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

I mean it sings all day

it just takes me all day
to get quiet
enough

to listen

2
Sometime
just about now
when the water’s skin
flushes 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

3
In the morning
you must
greet the day
sweep the sand
fill your bottle
from the spring
step into the jade river
listen as it gurgles
the morning news
from rock to rock

Whisper your prayers
to the water
wave to the cloudpeople
who are shapeshifting
into dragonriders

Devote yourself
to the day

4
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
opens its mouth
and sings

5
If you put your arm
across your eyes
at high-noon
you can catch
the sunflowers
blooming
in the dark

6
There’s a boy
named River
who used to come around
sleeps in the trees
caressing a bottle
of vodka,
his Russian girlfriend
who stole all his teeth

He pans for gold
in the morning
shows me his treasure
in the palm of his hand

I read him a poem
his eyes fill
with tears

7
Last night
one of the golden
dragonflies
took a bug
in one bite
right out of thin air
its winglets
fluttered down
and landed
on my leg

Life goes so fast
use your wings
while you’ve got them

8
My first swim
to the far side
of the cove
where the mergirls
drape themselves
over sunhot rocks
and dragonflies dance
in druid circles
gathering
the morning’s
gold

9
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

10
Life on the river
is simple
there’s nothing to do
except listen
nowhere to go
except 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
then eat
like it’s a gift

Be kind
to the other
humans
who come
to the water
to remember
their Nature

11
R I V E R
     the sound
           of the word itself
                 implies current

12
If I were getting married
I wouldn’t get married
at the river
I would get married
in the river

13
I count on magic
the way the threads
of life weave us
in and out

of each other’s worlds
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 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
through
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
of our chorus
when the osprey
came winging
just above our heads
so close
we felt the breeze
of his feathers

Then he played
two high notes
on his golden coronet

and the day was complete

14
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

15
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

16
I wait all day
for dusk

to wrap
her pastel cape

around my
coppered
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 sound
of quiet

breathe
against your ear

The waning light
silvers the wrinkles
of the river’s face

17
Milk the day for joy
fill an extra jar
for a thirsty friend

18
Sleep outside naked
all night the stars
kiss your body
and bloom
in your blood

19
The river is one hot babe
her cheeks peaking
out from her cutoffs
as she climbs
over rocks
her sunburned breasts
glow like lanterns
in the dusk

20
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

21
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-spring


So this morning

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

Thank you spring
Thank you
for everything

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

22
Get up early enough
to catch the clouds
bellowing 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

23
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?

24
The dragonfly circus
is practicing
their aerial acrobatics
swinging on silks
of sunlight

Bring the knife thrower
and the pretty lady
who dances
on the back of the horse

Bring the strong man
and the fortune teller
Heck bring the freaks

We’re all beautiful
in the water’s mirror

25
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
twists
through
the tail

My river ally

26
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

River Spells 2
© 2019 Meredith Heller

Song of the Sun
As soon

as you hear
the song
of the sun
in the morning
get up!
Add your voice
to the chorus

Rest
Today you can

simply rest
breath will fill
and empty
your lungs
water will flow
downstream
wind will stroke
the water
dragonflies
will hunt
sun will paint
the rocks

Halleluya
Halleluya

it’s morning!

Everyday
I grow
younger

Sing Thank You
Walk past

the white fence
up the hill
around
two ravines
where the river
changes course
and everything
goes fey
turn left
down
the first fork
through
the bridal trees
and the forest
of young cedar
to reach
Emerald Pools
where
you can hear
the riverspeak
feast on wild
blackberries
sing thank you
in a hundred
new melodies

By Order of The Queen
The River Queen
commands:
Off With Their Clothes!

Blue Eyes Shining
The holiest

of life’s children
come by here
sometimes

Skin and bones
wrapped in rags
walks into the river
with his boots on
greets the day
smoking tobacco
through an apple pipe

One crazy arm
dancing to music
only he can hear
pulls a few words
from a memory
of lost language

      Light will gather
            Light must disperse

I choose
to befriend
even the most
neglected
parts of myself

Says goodbye
with a toothless
smile
a hand
on his heart

Blue eyes
shining

Wake
Lately

I’ve been hearing
people identify
as woke

In my experience
it’s not something
that happens once
in the past
and you spend
your life riding
on the back
of grace

It’s a thing
we must
wake
new
in each
glorious
moment

Fish
Lie still

in the water
long enough
the fish
come
find you
flecks of gold
glinting
through
transparent
flesh

We become
what we
imbibe

Float

F L O A T

Sun Goddess
The sun goddess

woke me
this morning
through closed eyes

I was tracking
dream creatures

Can we do this later
I begged
I’m not done sleeping

She exploded
in a spiral galaxy
of orangeyellowgold
laughing flowers

And the wind
licked
my cheek

Later
Later
you’ll swing

down the trail
where there’s
no one

but the river
You’ll make love
in the sunlight
on the rocks
with her soul

Teach Me
River

teach me
to keep flowing
no matter what

Teach me
to seek empty space

rather than fighting
obstacles

Teach me
to keep singing

even when
I doubt myself
and I do
I doubt myself


Teach me
to welcome
everything!

as an essential part
of the interconnected
living web
of LIFE!

Teach me
to cut through
r
esistance
with patience

To position myself
where the light
can touch me
where my shadow
becomes
beautiful

Where wild
creatures
are birthed

The Bargain
I was lounging

on mermaid
rock

half submerged
legs dangling
in the water

back melting
into granite
when the watersnake

slid over
in her satin
one-piece

stopped
two inches
from my hip

I yelped!

She held
her head
high
and said

I remember youuuuu
we met right here
last summerrrrr

I’ve grown
big and brave
said she

I see that
said I
still a little wary

Well, she said
I just came
to say heyyyy

She tasted
the air
with her tongue

I won’t bite you
if you put me
in one of your

poemssssss

Lady Moon
Lady moon

paints her face
in the water’s
reflection

Jah Love
Roots and the Jester

rocked the river
with song tonight

From his perch
on the rock
the Lion preached

Love
      Love
             Love

My heart sang too

The Jester blew
a good evening
on his conch

danced up the hill
twirling
his parasol

River Dirt
River dirt

good dirt
the kind that
lays claim
when you play
outside all day
fingernails caked black
hair dreading
skin peeling
dress aloe-crusted

Dirt in my smile lines

River Spells 3
© 2019 Meredith Heller

Lie Still
Today

simply
lie still

on the big rock
listen
to the rapids

feel
the air cool

as clouds gather
as wind lifts
your sarong
as the green
eyes

of the river
watch you

Acceptance
Morning wakes me
with hot hands
I guess I forgot
to post my
DO NOT DISTURB
sign at my campsite
because all night
two sweet smoking boys
chortled
while I teetered
back and forth
across the edge
of sleep
catching shooting stars
in the corner
of my eye

The woodswoman
was here early
to cuddle
and chatter
on the puzzle of people
in her home
share her breakfast
of calf’s liver
and nettles

I get up reluctantly
pull an angel card
from her bag of tricks

Acceptance

The only path
that ends suffering

I practice all morning
while the naked
yoga people
do planks
and headstands
on my morning rock

An elderly man
in a blue fishing hat
blares NPR
from his phone
tells me
we have to learn
to share

I suggest I could
share
a pair
of earbuds
with him

Patiently I lie
on a flat stone
bathed in light
nibble a protein bar
until the yogis
bow off
with their Namaste
and I reclaim
my morning throne

A tiny dried flower
greets me
pink petals
against gray stone

Bird-Man Does A Fly-By
Bird-Man called
last night
first contact
in two years

Casual
how’s the river
he bought a mobile
home

Of course I’m the one
who has to say
What made you call
after two years?

After ghosting me
and leaving me
all alone
to invent


a new
heart

without
you

Oh, you say
you weren’t

ready
to talk

How
easy
it is
for you

Put me in a box
in your garage
take me out
when you want

Well I’ve grown!

Not only is your box
too small
your whole damn garage
is too small

I’m grateful
for closure
without an iota
of desire for you

So what
you were the most
amazing lover
of my life

So what
your songs
made me
cry

You really
have no idea
how
badly


I broke
my heart
on
you

You really believe
flying away
is less destructive
than communicating

I’m lucky
you
flew
away

Beautiful Mess
I’m sitting in the river

on a rock
carved by Picasso

I’m thinking back
on my life

Huh, what a mess!

Well, the river responds,
a beautiful mess

Confluence
The river says

joy and sorrow
come from
the same place

They are two
currents
of the same
river

Follow the flow
of either one
and you grow
your capacity
for the other

One is easy
downstream
you simply let go

The other
is more challenging
upstream
you gotta work

They are both easy
and they are both
challenging

You choose

Eventually
they become
one confluence

River Spells 4
© 2019 Meredith Heller

1
I try to count
how many different
shades of green
roll down
the river’s back
But I get distracted
by the way the light
bends through
the water

An infinity
of prisming
mosaic

2
There is
simply
nothing
like
swimming
in the river

Then emerging
and fitting
your curves
against
the curves
of granite 

Where
you meet
a secret
shared
between
bodies

3
Kaya & her Huckleberry Boy
arrived at the river today
It’s been a year
since I’ve seen them
we’ve all grown
plump!

We slip in
and out
of the water
like otters
ride the rapids
like children

We share
our wounds
and our gardens

We weave
another summer
of belonging

4
Who invited the gnats?
I’ve spoken with the dragonfly queen
bring your hungry boys
clean out this cupboard of pests
they like to swarm eyes
and stick to skin
they’re more annoying
than mosquitos
please come feast
the citronella
is not cutting it

5
Snake
    made us all
         laugh today
              she came sunning
                    on a tip of rock
                           sticking out
                       of the water
                    her tail lashing
                back & forth
           in the current
      obviously
         enjoying herself
             part of the party
               on a Tuesday
                   afternoon
                      at the river
                        she said
                           You’re luckyyy
I invited youuuu

6
In the dusk
we hunt
for jade
joking 

Sharing stories
we sit in the river
sifting rocks
through our fingers

All stones are unique
but some are more
unique
than others

7
Let this be
the last summer
I sleep under
this sky of stars
and tremble
with gratitude
for the great mystery
alone

8
You can’t sleep
under the stars
and see the milky way
and believe
we are the only planet
in the entire universe
with life

9
I woke this morning
knowing
that everything
is alive
breathing
and being
together
in interdependence
and we
part of it 

10
I saw
the Green Woman
at dusk

she was resting
among the foliage
and rocks

A big beautiful face
smiling at me
hands tucked
under her chin

green wings
on both sides
of her head
as natural as hair

Throughout England
there is a long history
of the mythological
Green Man

The nature spirit
who inhabits forests
and groves
appears mirage like
flickering in and out
to those who know
how to see 

Always when you look again
they are gone
and for a moment
you doubt yourself
and they want it that way

But they also want you
to remember
that nature is alive
she is us
we are her

If you have seen her face
she comes
with a summons
to help
remind the people
that Nature
is a living being 

How we care for her
determines our future 

Her body is our body
our children’s bodies
our grandchildren’s bodies 

Without her
we have
no home  

11
All night
the Brazilian boys
smoked & plucked
stars
from the strings
of their sitar 

I rocked
naked
in the hammock
in the trees

Letting the last
dregs of sorrow
evaporate
from my bones

12
The lesson of the river:
Let it go

River Spells 5
© 2019 Meredith Heller

Smoke Faeries
Smoke faeries
come on the dusk
play Celtic tunes
from lonely town
drop their bodies
in the river
like stones
surrender
their skin
to the sky

Lakota Man
~ For Victoria

She listened
to her heartbeat
followed it
to the drumbeat
to Sundance
in South Dakota

Offered cedar
and tobacco
made her prayers
at the center
of the universe
where four dragonflies
hold the gates
of the four directions

Met her Lakota man
in the sweat lodge
connected by the umbilical
of their birth year
they touched

A river
between them
learning
each other’s
songs