A savage pulse
asking of you
more than you think
you can handle

lives here.

Did you expect to love the world and not die daily

from the sundry shocks
both sharp and subtle?

Did you expect to find
on the edge of every granite cliff
a pillow for a weary head?

A sweetness in every mouthful bit off from the big loaf?

Surely the wintered sun
and rough and gripping tide
disabused you
of such sentimentality

Yet surely the same sun
and the lunatic arriving
of a faultless sea
taught you, Beautiful Gambler,
how a lover shows up
with an unconditional caress

But if you’ve yet to find
the capital C in celebration
in the seed of each moment

strap the searchlight
around your ribs

and shuffle like a crescent moon
over all your little resistances

your feet becoming wiser
with each toe-stub
in your heart

until they become sandpipers dancing at dawn
around the fingers of the sea
knowing exactly where to go

Whale of a Thing

7920D1AF-CA35-42AF-A96F-0C03C8F2F7D7But gusts by belly blew him back
swallowed silver dull and dull
without mercy without slack
took him in, a whaleful

inside dimmed forgot the way
which the up and which the east
towards what amorphous scummy stuff
he knew not what, some grief at least

but what it lonelied or what it meant
was quite enough. was quite enough.

grey makes one wan and spent, to stick
to any darkly thing or form
or flee to any colored storm

but what resolve to only float
and let the whale swim and soar

to look in wide worm of eyes
until spit back upon the shore


38042FCD-B6EE-455A-A9D2-B06B58152A36Glimpses caught
a hulking feline beast
paw prints at the sacred pool

a turtle-faced dog-jaguar
lends his tears
to history’s stream

It is dark now, too dark
and dangerous, some say
But he enters anyway
like a stalker who knows
how to seize his prey

What he is hunting is for him alone to know.

And now the wild cat of him
is leaping from the edge of the west
over trees, off all known cliffs

In awe, the ocean presents
her round, smooth back
to land on, saying, I still love you

Knowing peace, he carves out
the spoon of his destiny

It is time now, the rewilding has begun
And he, The One Who Gives Care, returns to place, pleases the people
Photo: Brad Wilson, from his series of stunning animal photography Affinity

Birds of a Feather

ecotribe artDedicated to my Ecotribe (Katie, Ariana, Jocelyn, Miranda, Constance, Beverly, Joy)

Birds of a feather flock together
in whatever kinds of weather

and form a circle seaside song
reunion after one year long

pouring stories waving, weaving
talking easy, laughing, grieving

with rocks as light as birds and beaks
and hearts as bright as birds do speak

a tumbled ocean comes ashore
with the people one adores

even driftwood plays its part
and resurrects as works of art

though sand circles must disband
in hearts of birds the circle stands

To Move With a Smooth, Wavelike Motion

wavesIf I ever had a daughter her name would be Undula

from ‘unda’ in Latin meaning wave,
to move with a smooth wavelike motion

to rise and fall,
surge and swell,
heave and ripple,
billow flow and roll,
wind and wobble,
oscillate, fluctuate.

Of a leaf, to have a wavy surface or edge.

‘Undula’ is a wavelet

and when you pronounce her d softly like a j,
it gives a Hindi sound
like Angela.

Anja is a female name meaning grace

and also in Russian and Hungarian
though in the latter two it is pronounced Anya
softer yet
instead of with the j
and means mother.

I’d name her Anya, if I ever had a daughter.

Tell me about giving birth.

Was it a surge, a swell, a heave?

And afterwards, did you sleep?

If I ever had a daughter her name would be Anja

In the Berber language Anja means rhythm or melody
related in sound to ‘onja’
meaning to taste, test, investigate
in Swahili

and if I ever had a daughter I would name her Onja

But I do have many daughters
little undulitas

my little Anjita grew up fast

her parents are the big ocean,
the big Unda and myself,
and we are constantly consummating
and therefore always pregnant.

Shall I marry her someday?

Does it matter?

But you can’t always be pregnant, right?
That can’t be good for a body.

I think of the cows.
The poor cows.

The Ocean has a deeper womb.
The Cosmos even deeper.
The Biggest Wave — the Unlimited Unda

And when the contractions come,
of course it’s going to hurt.

But those big wet undulations
on the first day of summer
the longest day
when light is king

and the giant wave of energy rushes
from within like a geyser
and bodily pours through like some deep howl
of anguish and joy

it can’t be contained
cue the grunting and face contortions
that face of giving birth

and the screams arrive out loud
for a change

and I worry the neighbors will hear
me giving birth

to my little undulitas

Strange Birds

bird shorelineThey are strange birds
perched on the shoreline

these heavy poets chirping lightly
for whom squares will not do.

They are in it for the curves only.

The shoreline keeps shape-shifting—
that is the key to the rest

The shoreline is a sentinel against forgetting
and if you don’t understand the shoreline
how can you understand the human heart?
they say.

So they perch on the Pacific
and purchase peaceful poems
with their spindrift ears

Sometimes they fall on their head
listening to the vast subterranean love-beats

Building things

For the hawk within, stone towers
for the multitudes within, stone benches
for the child within, feather ships

Between dinner and desert
a drop from the great voyage
drips on a napkin

And still we clean our chins with it

Scribbling scribbling

on the black island
in the storm
in the crowd
on the sea
in the trenches of a world asunder
in the mines
from the glowburn night
on the backs of whales

the music wafts in from every direction
and the notes are untranslatable

Yet we hunger for syllables of understanding

How curious that flower-soft verse
is sometimes harder than granite…

and holds us up
like a fat bird on the ocean gale

Chirp chirp for us you strange birds
with sounds carved from rocks and flesh
and all the slight angles
of our ancient dispositions

Chirp your inimitable chirp
you strange birds

Chirp chirp and make our flesh
cha cha with goosebumps

-Ryan Van Lenning

Dedicated to Pablo Neruda and Robinson Jeffers. I was inspired in part by a Bay Area Book Festival session on the life and poetry of Neruda that I attended yesterday. The line, ‘How curious that flower-soft verse is sometimes harder than granite…’ is adapted from Jeffers’s Harder Than Granite.