Smart Bird

it swooped down past my left shoulder
the shiny black raven did
with wings outstretched
it coasted on pillows of air
and corkscrewed upward
to fall in again with its mate

and I wondered
if they ever forget
I wondered
if they take for granted
the glowing blue madness of flight
the regal nature
of their relationship to landscape
I wondered if the breezy freedom
of riding the invisible
ever slips their mind

but ravens are smart birds
maybe more than any other
they bolt out on the wildest of days
and with their smiling Roman noses
they dip and dog and tumble and zip
they frolic at heights
that render their wingspan
faint as the punctuation on this page
they claim the sky and the wind
and the satin switch blades of their wings
they squeeze each and every drop
out of that power which makes them gods

they make prayer
they make play
they make from even the craziest
winter bluster
a feast of remembrance
caw caw caw
we can fly
this is cool
let’s not forget

By Rich Mertes 2017

two raven perched on a ledge by Bryce Canyon


Rich Mertes is me, and sometimes I write poems as a kind of time machine to help me slip back into and inhabit the space of a sacred moment. This particular poem–“Smart Bird”–is based on a recent encounter with a raven up at Tennessee Valley, a jewel of open space near where I live in Marin County, CA. I’d say the slow, quiet walks I enjoy there and at other places are my primary spiritual practice these days. Birds and bears are favored companions. Meanwhile, I’ve been writing poetry for a few decades–also teaching elementary school, and most recently working as a somatic counselor.

Photo of ravens at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA, by andamanse

Bathing Bear

In this meadow
so far from the radar of man
I stand naked—
I stand naked and ready
to squish through
soft mosses
and miraculous grasses
and the cool toe-sucking
sumptuousness of mud.

But then from the north
comes the shimmering cinnamon cloud of you—
all sheen and shadow
and muscular undulations
beneath the geography of your fur.

And there I stand
all happy and silent and white
as the backlighting sun
conceals me from
your tiny mahogany eyes—
it conceals me
as you heave yourself
into that bear-sized tub
dug deep into the supple turf.

You shimmy and shake
and dispatch flurries
of flying rainbows
as you settle there
into your ecstatic bath.

Still naked and pale
I am enchanted by
your frolicsome wallow—
barely a stone’s throw away
I feel clearly
the wet electricity
of your presence.

Every wave of guilt
over intruding upon
your private pleasure
is dispelled by the unassailable
delight of my smiling child.

After five minutes you emerge
all shoulders and rump
and shuddering joy—
only a stiff rear leg
slows your disappearance
into the boulder strewn woods.

And that very instant
when you are swallowed up in green
I waste no time
I make my move
I maneuver the urban
fluorescence of my bottom
over to the brink of
your magic pool.

Deliberation is abbreviated by
slippage as the spongy
mud edge sends me
flailing into your bath—
flailing and freezing
as my hands gladly find
your paw prints at the foot
of this delirious basin.

My chin finds the imprint
of your snout’s nuzzled rest
and there I set my happy head—
there I let myself soak
I let myself float
I let myself wallow and ponder
how voyeurism may indeed
be a two-way street.

So watch from the shadows
if you will—
for where you left off
I do gladly resume
sharing in your bath
basking in your water
steeping in this sunny vat
of wild bear tea.

By Rich Mertes

brown bear taking a bath in the lake


Rich Mertes is me, and I’m particularly fond of writing poems that serve as personal prayers. That is to say, I write things that I recite frequently–with the intention of bringing my consciousness back to what I consider to be the heart of life’s matter. This particular poem–“Bathing Bear”–is the newest from my bear series. It is a poem/story about a bit of communing I enjoyed in the woods with a bear just last month. I’ve been writing poetry for a few decades–also teaching elementary school, and nature awareness at a wilderness school. Most recently I’ve been working as a somatic therapist.

Photo by Justin Balázs

Waking Bear

upon waking
do not be fooled
by these four white walls
do not be deceived
by the carpeting and the computer
do not forget
and fail to feel
these wild mountain meadows
that surround you every day

do not let
electrical switches
dim the disk
of alpine fire
as it wheels between
great shoulders of fir

do not be muted
by schedule and agenda
for your heart wakes
wild and free
for your holy heart wakes
so wild and free
and ready to investigate
whatever fancies
the winds of this day may bring

always remember
that wherever you sleep
there lies an animal in your bed
the green-eyed beast of you
smelling like willow and spruce

do not lose
your morning bear grace
even as you brush your teeth
and snatch up the car keys

stay close to your fangs
and let the twin wisdoms
of belly and snout
heed the heart
of your nectar’s calling

for nothing can unmake
what these mountains have made
the squirrel and the jay are part of you now
the wind and the lake and the lightning
you carry in your bones
limestone and cedar and spring water
have fashioned a creature
to whom walls are illusion
and a single whiff of possibility
is more than enough
to begin the day

By Rich Mertes

Great bear roaring on top of grouse mountain


Rich Mertes is me, and I’m particularly fond of writing poems that serve as personal prayers. That is to say, I write things that I recite frequently–with the intention of bringing my consciousness back to what I consider to be the heart of life’s matter. This particular poem–“Waking Bear”–is based on the annual, solo pilgrimage I take to a place where I commune with wild bears. I recite it most mornings before getting out of bed, just to let the walls fade away for a moment and remind me of the underlying spiritual landscape. I’ve been writing poetry for a few decades–also teaching elementary school, and nature awareness at a wilderness school. Most recently I’ve been working as a somatic therapist.

Photo by Lijuan Guo