Rich Heller

Launching our kayaks
from a gravelly shore,
we almost stepped

upon a northern water
snake with a mouthful
of hellbender

Few sights can stop
you dead in your
water shoes like that:

the three of us—my wife,
the snake, and me—caught
like the hellbender
in the hooked,

teeth of the unexpected
maw of our instincts.

We shoved off
to his relief and ours
unable to take our eyes
off his gravelly hide

stretched out there
a length of vulnerability
with a stopper knot
of satisfaction.


Alone in wild places
our timid inner creatures
emerge from our briar
patches of thought

to feed and cavort
like whitetails at dusk
into moonrise
gathering stars.


A moon full as a bullfrog's throat lights a ridge, where a man stands clutching his books and tools to his hairless breast as a pack of timber wolves sing about the stars, the elk and the traps, which smelled of weakness but bit like grizzlies.


Rich Heller

I follow a spiritual discipline of ease. I hold morning tea ceremonies and practice walking or paddling meditation, where I hunt haiku and mushrooms and study the venerable sutras of frogs, songbirds, wind, insects, and water. I consider the sumi-e of hawks and dragonflies. I sit zazen on rock outcroppings, park benches, or my well-used furniture and tend blueberry bonsai grown from seed. I hand carve Native-American-style flutes and play them or my timeworn acoustic guitar most every night before turning in. Mine is a discipline of simplicity, taciturnity, and frugality.

Rich Heller’s work has appeared in over 25 publications including The Minnesota Review, Watershed, Hiram Poetry Review, and Modern Haiku. He is a sustainability professional at the University of Pittsburgh and a volunteer native-plant gardener at Minadeo Elementary School and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

More on Rich Heller's work can be found on our Links page.