With a Single Leaf

19C17CE2-C876-45B6-988E-DF18F0B4C8D1With a single yellow leaf

the giant powers of decline
are inaugurated

falling right through the bottom
of summer, wide as life
deep as death

Sink your ear into its runaway veins
that old hungry bell is booming
and pulling its great green garments up

Can you hear it echoing off the walls
of your luscious huts?

How it pulls the world with
unalterable desire
into the momentous night?

How it circles the seasons around it
with well-shaped gravity?

It signals that the great wolf time
is on the hunt
in the shape of a maple leaf–
the color of death
golden and singing
its eternal song

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On My 86th Birthday

sea sunsetWhen I sit in the evening light
There are no cakes or candles

But a round pile of blueberries
From the two bushes that survived the winter

Bless the center of the cedar table
We made together at the dawn of our path

The size of marbles!
You would say

Now, looking out the stone-framed window
From my bed that faces the widening sea

My blood runs bright with memories
Of all the journeys

It’s the ones I didn’t take that weigh
Heavy upon me and clot me up

More difficult than the ones
Where I came out the other side

I wish I would have greeted the dawn more
And jumped in the water

Without thought of who would see
My ordinary naked body

I didn’t call my folks
Or tell my friends I loved them enough

To the women – did I thank you enough?
A hundred times I thank you

This word enough—how it changes
Its shape on my lips through the years

With each falling leaf I thank you
That we could help each other grow

The better rings of our trees; I’m sorry—
Our wounds sometimes caused more pain

I hope you had rich, colorful lives
That love hugged you in the final moments

Sometimes I hurt you
Sometimes I hurt myself

Sometimes I didn’t know how to connect
Or find the words

I built this room with my own hands
With stones from the creek

That we used to dip our feet in
Through all the seasons

Meeting months of sunsets
With sweat and peace and the tenderness

But now, I no longer need this room
So I give it to you and you

And hope you enjoy
It as much as I have

If my legs were alive,
I’d jump like my 8-year old self

In a pile of leaves
The colors of an autumn blast

Yes, I still dream of running
But I’m content with the dream I authored

Not unproud
Yet humbled

Still, the questions pour through me:
Did I explore the sparks?

Did I follow my curiosity
and lean into all the fears?

Did I share my gifts
and open more than I closed?

And if my eyes weren’t now masked like midnight
I’d look into the ox daisy of your eyes

I’d study the tiny hairs on your arm
How the light makes of them a forest

Delicate in the slant of the dipping sun
One last time

And not think of the words pomegranate
Or violet or any far-flung hue

But touch is still my finest tool
So place your long-loved hand in mine

Let us embrace
And feel the final fading

Of the warmth
Behind the darkening waves

The Wound and Not the Story of the Wound

desert2From that high place
it appeared a lake

pinkish-white and round with promise
a beautiful mark on the land
walled in by red rock
and a giant sky

It asserted itself on me
drew me like a fish fishing
the man thrashing

You’d think a part of me
would know about mirages
in the desert

But I needed to touch
the wound
and not the story of the wound

So I began the descent
with no dragons or wizards
or helpers other than lizards

and my sole companions:
Death and all my loves

we said the unspoken things
that needed to find a purchase
in the open air
so it could float on up
and meet the sun

Too far, too far.
No, go the distance.

Which powers in me were having this debate?

I climbed down
sliding over sandstone
through shadows and stories
found and gave forgiveness
empty of stomach, full of purpose

Too late to turn back now
I must touch the wound
not the story of the wound

Arriving at noon
my thirst stretched out like dune devils

the sun hovered
an inch from my forehead
like a rune foretelling
troubling things

My feet found cracked mud.

It was no lake. It was not pink
but white like skeleton–
Dry evidence of the gash.

The only water came from my face
forced by the realization:

the stories, my god
how much I’d wasted with stories
of the wound
and not the wound itself.

I blessed it with the final tear.

Dry and new, I turned
towards the arduous ascent
with swollen tongue, swollen heart

with my companions:
Death and all my loves,
including myself

-Ryan Van Lenning

Note: The phrasing of the title of this poem is influenced by Wallace Stevens’s Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself and Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck:
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth

The Shape of Love

IMG_5389Sometimes the way love abandoned you
takes the shape of a shimmering lake
in the desert

miles from safety, miles from reason

But you must go anyway
in order to find the final tear.

In order for the final tear to fall
you must fall
further than the times before.

So you walk step by step
descending
descending dry
descending deeply

you walk hand and hand with death
your first ally

you walk tenderly
with regret and forgiveness
with love and release

You tell all of them goodbye

You keep falling
further than the times before

until you discover the lake is a mirage
and always has been

And the desert takes its due
and the sun is not your ally

The ways love abandoned you
comes in the shape of a parched throat
and parched thoughts

but the truth wants to form a syllable
inside you
and it whispers your name

and you know now:
You abandoned yourself

And it hurts.

Everything.

Everything is on fire.

You are so thirsty.

The fire says, die here or climb.

It is not a koan. Die here or climb.

If you abandon yourself now
you abandon everybody you claim to love

You can’t love
without taking yourself
into the big heart

So you begin.

Your body moves up the mountain
and there’s nothing pulling you up
except one thought—
you have too much love to give
to lie down here forever
under the big hard sun

The way love finds you
comes in the shape of hot heart rocks
the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen
that appear as you climb your way out
hand over fist
over hand over fist
claiming your life with everything
that still is alive in you

They are screaming your name
with a strength beyond muscle

and finally
you reach the rim of the world

the desert and the mountain
and the heart of the world
have tattooed the shape of love
in you

and you know now you will never
abandon yourself again

The Old Beauty Born of the Pulse

IMG_0645Do you believe in liberation?

Think about it hard.

No, don’t think at all. What shape do the lips of your fourth stomach make?

How you answer determines which direction
the face of your slippery heart turns
when the birds wake you from slumber

You don’t have to choose between the sky
and the dirt.

The green was built from sunlight for you.

Raven sits on the tree-top telling the other birds
and ground creatures when the stranger is approaching.

But the red-shouldered hawk above
cuts an arc of light
with his invisible scythe
catching the currents
telling the world there are no strangers

He IS the stranger to whom nothing is strange.

Those feathers that tickle your heart in the morning
are the same feathers that poke your eye out
when the black spot descends on your back
and the great scream is liberated from your warm body

They are the same feathers
you dip in the ink to write your life

They are the same feathers
that adorns the wild wings
of a surprised world
the ones it borrow to be the new beauty
which is the old beauty
born of the pulse.

The pulse in that fourth stomach of yours.

The Last Poem of The Last Poet

IMG_0436In the way summer never catches up with fall
and fall never catches winter,
and spring is a dream of winter
that winter never lives

In the way that
each unfolds an invisible season
from within,
she went up to unfold herself
into the mountain
one last time

to paint the sunset of her life
persimmon
with words of affirmation

and share some unadorned moments
where the sky has eyes
and the rocks breathe fathomlessly.

She felt the lichen on her skin
before she saw them

arching her bare back against
a great granite boulder
bronzed belly
sipping the autumn sun

“There were so many I never got to,”
she whispered into the mountain’s ear.

“All my ahitas, the little aha moments
and sounds begun but never sung
barely sketches, mere glimpse of notes
could not be caught, will not be rung.”

“A title is all they have.

A memory of a True Account of a Conversation with a Worm
Got her musing about the Secret Chord
that the Sun-Eater plays, always
One Shore Beyond Desire
in his Wounded Vision
Drinking Water From A Wooden Bowl
Until the Bright Logic Is Won
and the Carefully Calculated Collapse
evokes all the Sextillions of Infidels
and we shall all be Moderately Immortal.”

“Perhaps a future poet
will find them scattered on this mountain
and make of them what I could not.”

From below in the mist
it had all looked so grey,

But now, above the clouds
atop Mt. Parnassus
there was nothing that was not
overflowing with color
there was nothing that was not
breathing,

Including the splendid cerulean Sierra sky.

“What a great word,” she thought,
as sun bent seaward.

Turning her body over in wide embrace
her cheek pressed softly
against the hard rock
warm from late afternoon
flecked with silver, green, and pink
like stars trapped within.

“The moments I fully met are enough.”

Her breathing slowed
to match the mountain
inhaling and exhaling
in the marrow of her bones

“All is sound and color and texture,
a great coming together
and pulling apart
when we come to this place.

Have I been brave enough to feel it all?”

The great western eye closed its lid
as it sunk into an unseen sea

and with a tremendous sigh of love over fear,
she too closed her lids
lending her final syllable to the Deep Breath.