START WITH A TOAD

A0EC24E8-2D9F-44A9-92CC-B7009ED39C69Start with a toad.

In the mud by the shore
the day begins.

In the sky by the hawk,
inside the stones under water.

Whatever word they use to mean
how morning’s light
bursts on low rapids—use it here.

Tell me, how did the day smile
from each corner of its face?

With glee and fire.

Oh, if I were a builder, I’d place
an altar at each place.

But the thing about Now—
no monuments serve better
than presence.

How to praise:
I opened my hands and found a sun—
all the sand had poured out.

Along with all the sighs
I’d been gathering for ages
joining the other out-breaths
of a summer flow.

I swear I’m not a hoarder
but the toad is not convinced
and says keep hopping.

Without trying I touched everything:

pampas grass and trout
wild mustard and wild moons
poison oak became guardian oak
Jupiter and whiskers
and busy flickers banded white
belling into the wind

and of course those toads
delicate and intrepid.

When I hitched my beautiful note
to the river-chord
after all these eons,
finally, the heron believed me.

So, picking a paw full of
blackberries to celebrate—
one for each moment of the morning—
I stained myself
the deep color of joy.

#ryanvanlenning

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Included in the new collection ‘One Bright and Real Caress’ out later this year.

GRAPEFRUIT IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

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Sometimes in the midst
of global pandemic crises
I sit on the river’s bank
to watch gnats dance

then peel a grapefruit
just enough to see plump flesh
and pretend it’s her
sliding my finger up and down
and bite my bottom lip

because I’m missing intimacy
and going crazy
for lack of touch

I know, I know, such is too much

I’ve been told I overshare
that some things are just not
supposed to be mentioned

like how my heart sunk
and my knees buckled
to lover mud

screaming why why? why!?
when I heard they told
the big companies
that pandemic means pollution
they could pour
into our water and our air

the water and air that’s yours and yours and mine
and not only the American Petroleum Institute’s

or how how when I found out
that the body
of Homero Gómez González,
Monarch Butterfly Defender, age 50,
was found at the bottom
of the well

I grieved for days
and I’m not sure
I will ever recover

or whether I should

when you can’t listen
to mariposas
and expect to survive

The war on truth
and the war on imagination
are the same war
waged by the petty tyrant,
Fear

and everybody knows
‘we’re all in this together’
yet the well-offs
will be weller off

while miles of lines
flood the food banks
finding the lives of lesser-offs

wondering what this together business is that we’ve been hearing
so much about

and how I’m not supposed
to admit that
I let a Jacoby Creek’s
worth of Jack
slowly wash me away

when I discovered
the decline in birdsong
and butterflies—
those other pandemics
we don’t mention
because it’s not polite

despite the work of Homero
and his friend Raúl Hernández Romero
whose skull someone found fit
to smash at the top
of a hill filled with sacred fir

because being human
requires a certain amount
of denial

but being human
also means telling the truth

and today the truth is
grapefruit turns me on
and I want clean air. I want

to drink wild, clean water. I want
every last king to fall

but every last monarch butterfly
to carry the souls of Homero and Raúl
into every person’s heart

and the truth is I want
to make love 
to this grapefruit
and forget about pandemics

#ryanvanlenning

Houselife Day 4: The Bathroom Chronicles

😜Houselife Day 4: The
Bathroom Chronicles

Dear diary,

I broke down and did something I haven’t done in more than two years: I bought soap. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but hey, everybody does it right? I bet some people reading this have even used several types of soap in the past year. I won’t judge you.

Not just soap, but soap with oats and lemon in it. And it was sublime! My nose immediately commenced an affair. I was tempted to eat it or make cookies out of it. But I was saving it for something special. I had looked for some soap with sand and honeysuckle and bits of cedar bark broken into it, but the store only had 108 varieties. I asked the clerk, but he just snorted loudly, turned around and walked away. Fortunately, he had a mask on.

Contrary to received opinion, soap isn’t that necessary, either for washing bodies or dishes. For years, I’d done just fine with good ol’ fashion wild water from creek, river, or ocean. I smelled like a forest king—I swear all the best nymphs loved it. Imagine mugwort meeting forest duff mixed with the scent of dawn (of sunrise fame, not the detergent).

For dishes, water alone as well, sometimes adding sand and on occasion, plant-derived saponins like from soaproot bulbs. But is it sanitary, you ask? Well, it worked for me and wildlife, and I never got sick. Until I started coming to town.

I only had one dis-ease, and that was the result of being born human.

At any rate, the reason I mention the soap is that it played a pivotal role in an experience that I think I will remember for the rest of my life. First, I should describe the room this happened in. It is small with two large white bowls and an empty closet. The closet contains nothing at all except one of the silver sticks like the one in the kit-chen, only this one was high up and fat on the end like a burl of a redwood. Like the kitchen device, it too leaked hot water when I adjusted the levers on either side.

Oh it felt delicious on my hands and arms. So delicious in fact that I found myself doing something wholly spontaneous, and so delightful…I removed every last layer of clothing and stood under this glorious hot indoor rainstorm!! For 3 hours.

All the while, the cold rainstorm outside pitter-pattered on the side of the room (I was told the see-through square holes in the walls were called ‘win-does’)

I sighed as the hot water poured over me and melted me…I won’t say more here because I know some people still deny innocent pleasures (to themselves and others), but suffice it to say there was moaning and chanting and suds and release. I was a new man!

So, regarding showers, I am a convert. (As opposed to a convict. Of all the laws I willfully and joyfully break, I have been convicted of none. Though I freely admit, I am many types of -vert, including an intro-, per-, -ebrate; and I also enjoy obverting and subverting. You might say it’s a diversion of mine 😜)

Mirror, mirror on the wall. A giant mirror hung above the white silver-sticked bowl. I’m no stranger to reflections. Pools, puddles, rivers, and lakes have their moments of remarkable clarity and with them arrives reflections of not only me, but madrones, mountains, moons, and more. Polly Dome Lake in the Touloumne high country was perhaps the most perfect mirror I’ve ever met. We are still friends to this day. Whether I’ll be as close with this mirror remains to be seen. 😜

Sure, over the past couple years, I’d taken a good hard and soft look at myself—but only from the inside. Which requires a whole different set of mirrors. And less flat than this one. (In fact, flatness seemed a persistent theme in this house and most indoor territories I’ve visited, subject of a different entry)

I just haven’t really looked at the front of my head in physical form in a coon’s age and wasn’t prepared for the startling image peering back at me:

The eyes were the color of spruce bark and barn owl down, all asparkle, and as chock full of wonder and mystery as a tree canopy full of ravens or a mountain meadow full of English daisies and lupine or the roofless sky full of suns.

God, I was gorgeous! I only mean that objectively. Sure, it was no autumn sunset or waterfall surrounded by boulders with green-mossed shoulders, but that face was a work of magnificent earthly art. It made me happy to think so many human and non-human people were able to be gifted its appearance. No wonder those beautiful beasts kept….well, that’s for another time.

Now I must report something that may sound indelicate to some ears. Nature calls in many ways: birds and bees, and a morning ritual I like to refer to as recycling. Does a bear shit in the woods? Why yes, and so do humans.

But here was this large white bowl with water in it, like some granite basin I’ve seen hollowed out in the middle of the cosumnes river. So I sat. And sat. At first, I felt weird, with no ferns or salmonberry brambles for privacy or intimate company, and had a little difficulty relaxing. But soon I realized it was no different, really, and began to really enjoy the ritual like usual.

Really be with it. Flow.

By now I’d learned that silver equals water stick or a way to control the water stick so with a flick of the wrist a loud rush of water poured in and swept it away deeper into the bowl.

Now, I have no idea where it went. I just hoped it wasn’t into the living room of Alayna, the resident below. Fences make good neighbors, someone told me, but shitting in their house makes for bad ones.

At any rate, it turned out it went ‘away’ and I had nothing to worry about. ‘Away’ was some place people kept mentioning, both with regard to bathroom visits as well as lots of other things. I hope to visit it someday.

In the meantime, I will happily explore these various realms within the indoors. Like most labyrinths, there’s only a rough map of the place, and full of both danger and happy surprises. Nothing risked, nothing gained. It’s not my first rodeo, so I was confident I’d come out the other side, not without some scrapes and bruises, but perhaps even stronger and more whole than ever before. What an adventure!

AND AGAIN IT BEGINS

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And you have the rest
of the day
to fit in

and make your face do the things
that other faces do

and your mouth utter
all the things
that aren’t your own

so why not take this
silent blue moment
with the heron

to wake up the day together
with your true face of delight?

The stale masks will still be there
hanging on the wall at noon

alongside the others, judgment
and disappointment

in the afternoon you can follow
the story of the others

who are following someone else’s story
and in the evening you can join

the others in the ritual
of draining the light from your eyes

But for now,
put in your eyes
of dawn and dew

and let your bright peace
unveil itself as the fog recedes

your bones and what holds them up
have been waiting
so long for it

the long night’s last star
doesn’t seem to mind

and the day’s star might even join you
#ryanvanlenning

ELEGANT UNRAVELING

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What it calls for is an elegant unraveling—
more accurate
and stunning than ever before

sinking into an ambitious silence,
robust and cunning

Do something useful for a change—Listen
so deep and richly
the big ear wants to open through you, remembering all.

Be unfashionable
and tear the fucking ears off
the false notes.

Shake your feathers
and invite the fox and raven

Until oak reaches into you
and the deep waters gather.

Mud and Moon are your Elders.

You won’t get far without them.

Sing hawk-woman unto you.

Chant old man bear
and sister dawn unto you.

That old place in you beckons.

Unfold it into your bones
and drum your skeletal fragments
until they dance.

Then, like a true apprentice
pay the tuition for your truth

bartering for the next bold season
with the currency of your heart

letting an unreasonable love
claim you like a throne

and walk your blessed seduction home.
#ryanvanlenning

IT JUST SO HAPPENED

8DB52C15-D273-4B42-97AF-B5248CD9800AThe unburying began
the moment my ancestor
uttered yes

and those unquenchable waves hurled themselves in all directions

At each juncture, what felt
like fugitivity
was merely crisis of form

Crisis in the way birth
is crisis,
in the way tip-toeing around
the edges of old belonging
is crisis

an audacious death
nibbling at the curtains
and peering through the holes
we ourselves bit and shred
with insatiable hunger

that is, a bountiful breaking
into the new
and strange. Strange isn’t it when things you’ve worn
your whole life don’t fit anymore?

Strange isn’t it, this
one-two
dance
of form
and
freedom?

I happened without warning without a plan
without an exit strategy

I happened like dawn spilling itself recklessly

I happened like lichen spreading over boulders for decades before finding the colors
that suited the scene

And I’ll continue happening
as long as the yes abides