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.


Heir of Eternal Spring – Part I

The other night I was up in the night, awoken by words that would not let me sleep. It was a figure, that I’ve taken to calling The Queen, that has appeared in other forms and contexts. I am taking it to be Muse/Anima. Whatever the case may be, these entire verses arrived to me as blocks, I have not altered them but merely tried to take them down. This has never happened to me before beyond a word or two. And is a very different
style and form that what I write, as readers of my poetry will notice immediately.

The feminine figure is telling me how she arrived to have three different colored feathers or plumages (Red/Bronze, Black/White/Silver, and Rainbow), and hints that she will tell me how she arrived on the throne, the story from heir to Queen-in-exile. I don’t have any idea what she is talking about. I met her first in a dream a couple months ago, as a disguised commoner. That’s all I can say for now.  This is the first part of about 4 so far that I have received, and it’s clear that I have only so far been told a little bit of her story.
I, Courtly Heir to Eternal Spring,
thrust a’sudden upon the throne
with backward glance
yet onward travel in startled gown,
festooned with light,
And tattered from the wind,

Now try to carry forth the word
of a battled plumage
Thrice conceived:

First, in fury
fiery wrought

Second, mist born
in fog imbued
Silver, black,
And all between

The final, the Glory,
Wherein the bounty lay
A field serene
In flowers infinite
Meant for rest
The memory clear, a mirror
in warming light
(I weep at the memory now,
not from grief
but melting away
for the colors still adorn my face)

But I’ll tell the tale of First Born First
Through which the red plume came to be:

Once in fury, locked within
Animated by a grievance, petty born
It now appeared as a ship
A mighty ship sailing strong
Carried past all Ports of Reason

On an ocean cast wild, unending
no anchor in the maelstrom
could find purchase
nor rope ever found
thick enough to have me bound
hence a raging storm
pure and bright
conquered sea and left me
a captured sailor
bound by no oath or earthly good

I took to raving-mad it seems in retrospect-

But then the Truth out:
clean and sharp
a mighty fang
a splendid song
a ruthless pouring
of heart enthralled

(better this, I thought,
than stand a worm)

Several days like this, three or four,
’tis not clear
for fog of memory takes its toll.

What had been sealed behind fair lips
could not now keep
its bubbled roar
from joining froth
foaming on boiling sea:

Break thy False Mask, Beautiful Villain!

(Her furious outpouring To be continued in the next installment)

Descent Into the Great Sea (Rainbow Home #7)

whale2Miramar, She Who Mirrors the Sea, Translator of the Many Songs, resurfaced, smiling and nodding her head, an affirmation of my new-found knowledge.

“I was the HeartSeer all along!” I exclaimed, still high and shocked from seeing my face.

Suddenly I realized that some part of me knew the whole time. Why it took me a hunt for a fire dragon in a cave and crazy journey to the Edge of the West and nearly drowning while swimming out to find a cryptic mermaid to “find out”, I don’t know.

“Always the last to know,” I said, shaking my head.

“Does the full moon ask why it wasn’t whole last week? Does summer arrive mourning winter? The big hard sun and the great sea dissolves all and calls forth new things when they are ready. Everything arrives on time,” Miramar said.

And I knew that I was now ready to descend into the Great Sea. The Obsidian Key was down there somewhere.

“Follow me. I can take you as far as the Sei. He will take you further and faster than I am able to. You will not be able to understand WhaleSong, but I will translate for you.

She applied a gooey kelp bandage to my heel, wrapping it with a seaweed cord, stopping the bleeding. Then she put her spiral shell to her lips, took a deep breath and blew hard. The conch emitted a sound so high-pitched that I had to cover my ears.

I grabbed hold of her waist and we launched towards the open sea. The sun began to sink into the horizon, the sky turning lavender, pink, and orange. After several hours of swimming through the waves, a long and very loud squeal reverberated through the water, like the groan and creak of the sea itself. A giant body emerged ahead of us, bigger than any creature I have ever seen in my life–fins as large as walls, a mouth as large as building.

Miramar translated. He says, “The time as come for you to grow your sea lungs and dive down deep.”

Another raspy ocean shriek, like the sound of steel stretching.

Miramar continued to tell me what the giant was saying: “Grow your ocean ears and bend the ear of your heart closely. Listen for the echoes of sublime bass notes resonating through the fibers of your being.”

I merely floated before this beast called Sei, absorbing the message.

“League by league settle into the soul-tide quiet depths of true voice.”

“Step away from the noise of the middle world and keep falling until you reach the mariana trench of your true self.”

“There you will find the Obsidian Key on Gold Ring, the key to your Rainbow Home. It was thrown into the Great Sea many moons ago, not by the Evil Dwarf King, nor by his henchmen. No, it was you who tossed it aside. Out of fear, out of pain, you abandoned your own home.”

“Further down is a mystery where no one goes, yet from which all emerges.

“To enter, you must leave all behind. You have seen your true face in the water, but now you must leave even that behind, going alone into the trench without image or name.”

“Quieter and quieter yet, the deepest voice emerges, Unborn and Unknown.”

“Perhaps it one voice, perhaps it is none at all. It is not for me to say. Even the Great Sea does not know.”

“Are you ready to risk yourself in deep waters?”

“I am here,” I said.

With that, the mouth of the giant beast called Sei opened. The force of the water rushed in, dragging me into itself.

The last thing I saw was the dark cave of its stomach. Then pure blackness.

With a huge splash of its tale, the beast plunged – with the HeartSeer inside – into the depths and disappeared.

The HeartSeer at the Edge of Always (Rainbow Home #6)

GCI-13-mermaid-silouette-weGasp! I awoke with a gulp of air the size of my lungs. Above me an endless blue sky. Below me, hardness.

Solid ground!

I was either safe on land, or else on the bottom of the afterlife.

I looked around – a tiny rock island that sloped gently up towards a ridge. I rolled over onto the green, orange, brown, and yellow lichen-covered surface, exhausted, water-logged, and with a deep throb in my left foot.

Suddenly I remembered being hooked and grabbed my heel–blood oozed from a quarter-sized wound. The water slapped the bottom of the rock with monotonous rhythm. But above that I heard humming.

Getting my bearings, I hobbled my way up the slope and peered over the other side.

And then I saw her. A woman lingered at the base of the rock in the shallow water, soaking in the sun.

Jet black hair hung down to her waist, and glistened in the noon-day sun. Her bottom half, partly submerged, reflected iridescent turquiose, blues, greens, and purples, from tiny overlapping fish scales. She was twisting in the water, seeming to rather enjoy it.

She was dark-skinned and bare from the waist up and held a large spiral shell up to her mouth, the source of the sound that had pulled me to the Edge of the West and had lured me out to sea.

I sat entranced for who knows how long, charmed by her beauty and movement and melody.

Something about her told me I did not need to worry about being lured to my death. I saw, or rather felt, a shining, beyond the brightness of the sun on her skin and scales. I worked up the courage to say something.

“Hi. I don’t mean to startle you.” What do you say to such a creature?

“Hallo two-legged,” she answered, smiling. “You didn’t startle me, I saw you swimming for the past 4 hours.”

Her voice rang like pure water, flowed like liquid sunshine.

“I have been seeking you for many moons. I was beginning to think the HeartSeer was a figment of my imagination. ”

“No, the HeartSeer is not your imagination. But I am not HeartSeer. My name is Miramar, she Who Mirrors the Sea, Ambassador of Oshun and Translator of the Many Songs.”

My heart simultaneously lept and sunk. I finally arrived at the Edge of the West, I finally venture out into the ocean, nearly drowned, met a stunning creature of unparalled beauty and liquid voice–but she’s not the who I’m looking for!

“You almost drowned out there,” she said, stating the obvious. Even though she had put the shell down, it felt like I could still hear its murmur.

“I almost feel like I did drown,” I said, “All this is just too strange to believe. Did you save me?”

“We have a saying in the Great Sea, only he who has hooked himself can unhook himself,” she said.

“I didn’t hook myself. Those sea plants grabbed me and a fisherman’s net…”

“As you say.”

“But, you did. You saved me. You brought me to this rock?”

“I merely guided a floating Two-Legged on the edge of the death to shore. The end of your own struggling saved you.”

“Thank you, thank you!” I came closer. “I am in your debt. I’ve come who knows how far from the Redwood Forest of the East to the Edge of the West to find someone called the HeartSeer. I’m looking for my Rainbow Home. Can you tell me anything about it, or about the Obsidian Key on the Golden Ring at the bottom of the Great Sea?”

“Why you be searching for all these items? We have a saying in the Great Sea, ‘Stop chasing, starting creating.’ I think perhaps you could save yourself a long and difficult trip,” she said with a splash with her tail.”I know only of the Great Sea, which is my home. And have not heard of what you seek. What is a Rainbow Home? Do you live in the sky, with the winged-ones? Is not the whole world your home?” She gestured to the ocean, as if that made any sense.”

She continued, “What is a key?”

“That’s a lot to answer. A key is for the lock that was put on the Rainbow Home,” I answered.

“What is a lock?”

“It’s a…a…thing that…without which, you can’t open a door.”

“What’s a door?”

“It is an…an entrance, umm…a threshold….that can be open or closed,” I could see that this could take a while. “I would be more than happy to explain all of it to you, I just want to know if you can tell me where to find the HeartSeer. from which I am to discover a clue to the whole thing. Some villagers seem to think the HeartSeer is a mermaid. You are a mermaid, aren’t you? You must be the HeartSeer!”

“Why have you misplaced this Rainbow Home? And if it is so important, why put something on it that requires another thing in which to enter or open?”

An interrogation-I didn’t know how to answer. “I lost it long ago. But it is where I want to live now. It is my true abode. My village is suffering from a curse, and I want to make medicine to lift the curse.”

“Aghh! A curse?!! I have heard of such things. The Landed-Ones tell such tales. We have not curses in the Great Sea.”

“Yes, we are afflicted with many things, often of our own devising.”

“I am ignorant of such things, but it sounds serious,” she said.

“And I too am ignorant of the ways of the Great Sea. I live among trees and soil and mountains and…”

“Trees! Such mysterious Earth-Footed Ones. Mountains!” She chimed, splashing as she did a hip roll-up on the rocks. “I have longed to visit mountains of the Waterless Abode, having only seen them from afar. They are like giant waterless islands. They are the end of the known world, the Edge of the East.”

I laughed. And couldn’t help be enamored with her way of seeing as well as her beauty.

“I’m sorry for finding that funny. It is not waterless. We have lakes and rivers and waterfalls and rain and ponds….And the mountains are not the edge of the world. There are whole lands over the hills. In fact, I come from a place that is entirely flat many leagues beyond the mountains, full of fields and wide open skies. Not unlike your sky here,” I said, then added, “But I guess islands are like underwater mountains.”

“What are fields?”

“I guess you would say, fields is earth where we grow our food.”

“But how do you live without the Great Sea?”

“I…umm…don’t know…But I could show you. I will take you to the mountains! I can tell you all about them. And fields. And trees,” I was excited at the prospect. For the moment, I forgot all about the pain in my foot and the hunger in my belly. “I am in your service. I will…”

“Alas, I cannot leave the Great Sea,” she interjected. “But maybe you can bring them here?” Her eyes widened with hope. I could almost fall for her in that moment.

“I see your heart’s desire. I will find a way.”


“Aha!” Miramar lighted up, as if coming into some great idea. “I know where be the HeartSeer. Not very far. Come.”

“You know the HeartSeer? Why didn’t you say so!” I said exasperated only momentarily, being overcome with anticipation.

“Come closer.”

Then I remembered: The gifts!! My heart sunk. I forgot the gifts I was to bring as an offering to the HeartSeer. I felt as much embarassment as regret.

“I forgot the gifts,” I admitted to her. “The 7th Born, I mean the, I mean somebody I met in the forest, said I would need to bring gifts: a gift unmade, a gift unbought, a gift unplayed, a gift uncaught. But I don’t know what all that means. I didn’t know what to bring. And what I had with me I lost swimming out there….”

She was only smiling. “I must go now. Be here tomorrow at dawn and I will accept your gifts to offer to the HeartSeer.”

“But I told you, I don’t have any gifts. I can’t…”

But just like that, Miramar disappeared beneathe the water.

And there I was, alone on a rock miles out at sea, under a setting sun, without my gear. Without food. Without my Sea Staff. Without gifts. Without a clue.

Only from extreme exhaustion from the day’s events was able to sleep through the night, though it was cold and windy. Dawn on the sea is quite a different experience than dawn anywere else. It comes earlier and comes on slowly, like a creeping consciousness, a progression of slightly larger breaths.

When the orb of the sun was fully above the horizon, Miramar appeared from below.

“Good morning! It’s so refreshing to be able to say good morning to someone, as most of the Great Sea community does not go by night and day in the way of you landed folks.”

“Good morning.”

“Do you have the gifts? I am eager to show you the one you seek.”

“If you are eager, I am doubly so! But I have been here all night, I have no gifts. How could I possibly get gifts? You just disappeared without…”

“hmmppph…” With that she splashed me with a whip of her fish tail. “You must reach deeper into those pockets of yours, Two-Legged. Meet me at dawn tomorrow.” And disappeared once again.

I was stunned. What am I doing here? How can I possibly please this Ambassador of the Great Sea. Could I trust her?

I spent the day alternating between exploring the perimeter of the little island, sleeping, tending to my foot wound, trying to hunt little crabs and fish, and fighting the urge to swim back to shore. I could see the lighthouse at the village. Warmth, people, food, all of which seemed as strong as the siren song that pulled me out here to begin with.

Once again dawn arrived. My gut hurt from eating only uncooked molluscs and dried seaweed in the last three days. I felt delirious and was worried that I began to not be worried.

Soon Miramar surfaced, eyes wide and full of light in expectation. I could see a brightness shining in her. But I could also see a darkness shining in her. The shape of her wound, behind her ribcage, a shadow shining like a rainbow ray, tender sacred wound. And I could see that it was beautiful and it was painful. It was the source of her shell magic, her song, her melody, her smile, her light.

It didn’t make sense, but that is what I saw.

I loved her–in a way I have never loved a person.

But in that moment, I knew that I could never take her to the mountains. Nor could I bring the trees to her. I knew what I had to do.

I stripped naked, stretched out both my arms with fists faceup, and opened them.

“I bring you my gifts: in this hand is Trust, a gift unplayed and unbought, and this hand an Open Heart, a gift unmade and uncaught.”

Miramar merely smiled and motioned me to come closer, then swam over below the sharp drop-off. Wearily, I inched up the rocks until I was at the very edge, and pulled my body up and looked over. Several feet below she re-appeared.

“They are but one gift called Acceptance. And hey are beyond beautiful. Now, watch where I’m going.”

Her gaze pierced mine, a gaze nearly too much to handle.

“Look closely, for When I disappear, the HeartSeer will appear.”

And with a splash she melted under the water.

When the the ripples settled, the surface became clear as a mirror. Looking over the edge, an image began to form.

A man reflected back at me.

I was looking at an image of myself.