new sparks are everywhere
if one is not asleep

that was never the question

the world is nothing but sparks
from a certain perspective
specks forming clouds of infinite variety
or doled out like El Nino
shedding raindrops

can’t catch them all
yet none are wasted

but still, choices:

which ones are for the tinder?
(easily combustible)
which ones are for the magic trick?
(flashy and mysterious)
which ones are for the fireworks?
(pretty colors and a big bang)
which ones are for the kindling?
(a flame to play and read with)
which ones are for the fire?
(providing heat, light, beauty, and intensity)

which ones are for the glowing embers
once the fire dies down,
yet keeps you warm
through chilly winter nights?

which ones are for the fire
around which friends sing songs
and shoot the shit
but also share secrets
and themselves?

which ones are for the fire
’round which
lovers’ bodies are kept warm
and hearts kept even warmer?

Which ones are for the fire
’round which
plans for future fires
are formed?

which ones will be the ashes
that fly away on the quiet wind
and are forgotten

and which are to remember warmly
with the eye of our heart

when in the end
darkness comes calling
and all the sparks have sparked?


Ashes on the Soles of Their Feet

footstepsUncivilized love baked beauty
into the skin of the already wounded

every now again they find ashes
on the soles of their feet
“Where was it again that we walked?”

and a trace of delightful magnetic storms
stirring ungulate electric
flickers in the night as deaf dreams

before again lurching through alleys
with fitful lanterns

she had blown the whistle
and he arrived with a rainbow wand
insufficiently attired

and as they ran past the tourist desk
with peals of mad and happy notes
laughing under tornado skies

they spit sparks
until the house split

and burned down
with a roar that fed
the night sky like a beast

eating the last of its young
before turning its teeth
on itself

but where they walked
no one can tell

everything is gone

and only their feet have memories

Where I Get the News

palm tree “It is difficult to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day,
for lack of what is found there.”
– William Carlos Williams (from Asphodel, That Greeny Flower)

I get all my news from the fire that burns
at the edge of the dark, the place where I learn

I turn on the program, ‘The Scent of the Wind’
and listen to all of the news that it sends

The roots and the leaves and the bark of the trees
have taught me how to be silent and free

The messages come from the river that flows
deserving all credit for all that I know

Consulting the spectrum of all of the hues
the network of colors where I get all the news

I get the reports from invisible threads
connecting the cores of the living and dead

I get all my news from the stone on the ground
from whom I’ve received any wisdom I’ve found

I get all my news from the fire that burns
at the edge of the dark, the place where I learn.

-Ryan Van Lenning

Firemen and Freedom Fighters

fire__black_and_white_by_colleen721By the time the firemen arrived
it was already dark

The fire within had barely begun

When they threatened to ax the door down
behind which I thought I was hiding

I believed them
and froze in terror

but limbs like ice kept melting
and they wouldn’t do what they were born to do—
kick or flee

No one really knows what happened
that night out of time

—all the minds went into exile
black because they weren’t meant to
contain such big things
overflowing like the floods
along the Skunk River that year

Things end up breaking
with a thunderous white pain
the size of a summer storm

So my little brother, light and fast as a hummingbird
flew through the window
to unlock things
to let me out or let them in
to let the firemen fight the real fires
in the bedrooms of their hearts

A retired nurse somewhere probably remembers
what happened next:

A white room
a white rage
behind the tall door
of dissociation

official white uniforms
with white recommendations

white hot primordial screams
shaking white buildings

a fire so fierce
they thought they might have to call the firemen again

Then black.

A cage.
A locked door.
A red-eyed camera.

This is not my home.

But even white prison walls can become family
with enough time
and no choice.

I will abandon myself

I didn’t say out loud.

The doors we love.
The doors we hate.

I never got past level two.

The key was buried that night.

Some guy broke out by smashing the door down and the fire alarms went off.

He was my first real teacher—

a freedom fighter.


‘Shroom Forest

IMG_7510If I were shrunk
and found myself
the size of a seed

I’d build a home among the ‘shrooms
in a village called Puhpowee*–
the Potawatomi word
for the force which causes mushrooms
to push up from the earth overnight

I’d wake and wash my face
in the dew drop
that collected on my mushroom cap roof
every morning

and would hold little gatherings
among the grandmother grove of mushrooms
bigger than all the rest (more than 3 inches tall!)
with an altar of spores
and even tinier seeds
of every stripe and hue

And we’d have a little fire
which we’d start
with a single redwood needle
twice my size
so I’d need to find
a nice ‘shroomy girl
to help me break it down
and light it

Then all us fungi villagers
would sing mushroom songs
around the tiny flame–

folksy songs about lichen and love
and what it would be like to
be big like a fern
among the giant redwood trees

and after the fire died down
some of us would stay behind
and tell stories
about our first time

and about sneaking into Mr. Psilo’s
big mushroom mansion
and how he was bald-headed by age 30
saying how we hope we never got that old
but if we did, well, we’d promise each other
we’d stay young at heart
and always caper about in the woods together

and never, ever get so old
that we wouldn’t stick our bare feet
in the cold creek
and on the soft ground
and put our arms around
each other and our
our mushroom tree homes.

That’s what I’d do
if I were the size of a seed.

*Puhpowee is from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s gorgeous and inspiring book, Braiding Sweetgrass. Potawatomi is a member of the Anishinaabe language family.



Ulaba: The Song of the In-Betweenness


Ajana minoet a’lan
Aunee min ajana
Unja idi anju idu
(ch)ulaba idi lana

[Sudden emerges the sun (or light)
Sudden arrives the dark
A beat here, a moment there
A song between the two.]


When I was growing up in Iowa, my farmer grandpa would walk the beans. On occasion he would let me tag along. Walking beans entails getting up before dawn, putting on overalls, and walking up and down rows upon rows of little soybean or corn plants, scouting for interlopers like milkweed that needed to pulled out by hand (Before the ubiquity of massively sprayed chemicals).

Half-asleep I would hear strange words emerge from my grandpa….Ajana minoet a’lan…
As if he were intoning a spell conjuring the plants from the dark earth. And perhaps he was.
He’d let his hands glide over the sapling plants as he walked at a steady clip….Aunee min ajana.

I later discovered that the words were from a song handed down through a long lineage, a song of the old tongue. My grandma told me that their grandparents, indeed everybody’s grandparents, used to sing it around the fire ‘in the olden days’.

The national language of my grandpa was Dutch, a language he knew but a little, but it was one of the lifelong language spoken by his parents–he arrived from the Netherlands to the heartland at age two. But this song/spell in the fields of Iowa was in the old language, Aduana–before Dutch, before there was such a thing as nations, what my grandma called ‘the language of the earth’.

It’s been a long time since I walked beans, but I’ve learned a lot about Aduana since then. A rich and endlessly versatile language, with deep roots in the land and flowing water, I’ve been inspired to excavate and resurrect it.

The above is the result of the first dig, with my best attempt at translation and transliteration.

Whenever I’m around a campfire, whether alone under the stars or with a group of friends, I feel the urge to sing it in the original language. What matters is not some ‘right way that it used to be sung’ but that it is sung. And when it arises suddenly (ajana), I let my body and voice be carried by it, until it sings itself.