tl;dr: A year that started and ended terribly (attempted coup on jan 6th, the rapid rise of Omicron in dec), but contained hope (vaccines), a return to swimming, and lots of poetry, some from me, much more from others.


Began the year in the best way possible: a run on the trail by the river. Most of the rest of my runs this month were on the road, the neighborhood sidewalks, or the treadmill in the basement. Sat in front of the tv all afternoon (for the first time in years) on the 6th, watching the attempted coup unfold. Spent the next few weeks worrying about civil wars and violence and reflecting on our need for a day of mourning. Learned to run for longer on the treadmill. Recorded then listened to a moment of outdoor sound every day. Discovered I was falling in love with birds. The underlying soundtrack to all of this was COVID. No going in any buildings, no visiting friends or family, no in-person school for the kids (RJP’s freshman year, FWA’s senior year).

wrote about

the drip drip drip and someone yelling, “WHOO! / 12 jan


Ran 27 out of 28 days this month, most of them inside because it was cold. Really cold. Below 0, feels like -20 degrees cold. Started watching Dickinson on Apple+ while I biked in the basement. At first, I didn’t like it, but slowly it sucked me in and led me to read more Dickinson, then devote a month to her (March) and possibly changed my life forever. Near the end of the month, I found out that they’ll be opening high schools up (elementary schools already opened in January) after spring break. Too soon for me (and my anxiety). spoiler: the kids won’t return in-person at all this school year, although we will be able to attend FWA’s in-person graduation in early June.

wrote about

drumming woodpecker / 9 feb

While running on the treadmill, I recorded myself reciting memorized poems and dictating notes/thoughts as they came to me. Here’s one example. Listening back to it, I’m impressed that I could talk for 2+ minutes while running.

notes on Wintering while running / 13 feb


Started the month with my first COVID test and first time in a building since March 2020. I didn’t have COVID, but discovered that I am extremely bad at spitting into a cup and that I really, really, really dislike doing it. Also, the treadmill broke, or stopped working right. All of this happened in the first 2 days of March. But, I also decided to spend the month with Emily Dickinson, and early March was much warmer (in the 40s, then 60 by march 7th, then shorts by march 9th!), so I was okay. Ran in some snow, but more rain. Hardly any mentions of COVID for most of the month.

wrote about

some words to remember

A poem is a house made of breath.

Michael Bazzett


Started the month running in below freezing (31 degree) weather and dreaming of the vaccine, which opened up to all adults on March 30th. Ended it in 60 degrees, and getting my second shot (I almost wrote jab, but I’m not sure how I feel about that word choice. Here’s my unofficial ranking, from best to worst: Shot, Jab, Fauci Ouchie.) In between, I noticed birds’ shadows, lonely benches, the burning white light of the sun on the river. Welcomed the coming of spring — warmer weather, the greening of the gorge. Experienced a brief interruption on April 13th: snow flurries. Ran several times with Scott. Endured the Chauvin trial, cried in relief when he was found guilty on all 3 counts. Read a book about nose breathing and tried it (not a fan). And, wondered how long it would be before my running shorts will fall apart.

wrote about

some words to remember

Softest of mornings, hello.
And what will you do today, I wonder,
to my heart? (Softest of Mornings/MO)

I came back
and stood on the shore, thinking—
and if you think
thinking is a mild exercise,
I mean, I was swimming for my life—
(an excerpt I like from The Osprey in West Wind/ MO)

And what else can we do when the mysteries present themselves
but hope to pluck from the basket the brisk words
that will applaud them
(from Mysteries, Four of the Simple Ones/ MO

Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the
sublime, and the holy and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I
don’t think so. 
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a story, all kind-
ness begins with the sown seed. Thought buds toward radiance. 
The gospel of light is the crossroads of–indolence, or action. 
Be ignited, or be gone.
(What I Have Learned So Far/ MO)

I will not tell you anything today that you don’t already know, but we forget, we human people, and our elders have told us that our job is to remember to remember. And that’s where the stories come in.

Braiding Sweetgrass/ Robin Wall Kimmerer


Birds! Ran closer to the river, and closer to other people, than I have since the start of the pandemic. Began the difficult work of learning to love and be generous to strangers again. Enjoyed running in my new, raspberry red running shoes. Identified the call of a red-breasted nuthatch. Stopped at 7 Oaks at the end of my runs and looked for the Warbler Wave. Looped around the river, over the franklin and lake street bridges. Took almost a week off, mid-month, to let my aching left knee and hip rest. Said good-bye to my view across the gorge, as the leaves returned. Taught my brain how to bike again (or, how to see when I can’t really see while biking). Ended the month running with Scott around downtown, then reciting the first half of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to him on our deck as we each drank a beer.

wrote about

some words to remember

To see a bird demands both perception and attention. For years I supplied the relatively subtle gaps of perception with attention. Over time, this was not enough. Motion was less my friend. I needed time to make things out, to dart my eye back and forth and up and down to try to get a glimpse of something, to see around the edges of my blind spots,  sending a set of broken, incomplete messages to my visual cortex, which on a good day, would assemble a convincing hypothesis of what I was perceiving.

This is all any of us ever do.

Naomi Cohn

people I encountered

  • Near the old stone steps, I heard a deep hollow drumming from a hidden woodpecker, then saw 2 older women standing at the edge of the bluff peering into the trees and trying to find the source of the sound (may 4)
  •  Rowers! As I reached the bottom of the hill, I caught a glimpse of the shell with eight rowers illuminated by the sun (may 12th)
  • Running south, after cresting the hill, I overheard a few people talking, one asking the other something that I’m assuming was about what they had seen. Seen what? The answer was something like, “the red stars” or the “red starts”? Was it about rowers with red shirts or migrating birds called red stars? Close–I looked it up and I’m pretty sure they were talking about the American Redstart, which is a bird that, according to Dave Zumeta’s handy list, breeds near the gorge (May 12th)


Celebrated my 10 year running anniversary by running around lake nokomis with Scott. Sometimes forgot to look down at the river, sometimes couldn’t because of all of the green. Swam for the first time since sept 2019. Thought a lot about water and stones. Appreciated the neighbor that posts poems on their front window — this month, it was June Jordan. Began my quest to swim 100 miles in 10 weeks. Breathed every five strokes — to the right, then to the left. Was attacked or embraced by aquatic vegetation. Marveled at my ability to swim on course when I hardly ever saw the buoys. Celebrated swimming and my body and the confidence I feel in the water. Ran up the Marshall hill many times. Created a timeline of Minneapolis, spanning from the Ordovician Sea (500 million years ago) to the present that included my personal history. Felt like I was swimming off the edge of the world. Sweat a lot on my morning runs. Managed to avoid colliding with another swimming swimming backstroke across the lake. Turned 47.

wrote about

some words to remember

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me
(These Poems/ June Jordan)

But I hear what they say and many others do as well, “Look we should never live the way we lived before; our lives need not be framed by the purely extractive, based on nothing but capital.” Everything is up in the air, all narratives for the moment have been blown open — the statues are falling — all the metrics are off, if only briefly. To paraphrase Trouillot, we want “a life that no narrative could provide, even the best fiction.” The reckoning might be now.

Dionne Brand

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this is that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming [and running] will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things (4). 

Waterlog: A Swimming Journey Through Britain/ Roger Deakin

without realizing it, this quotation from Deakins made it into one of my haunting poems

I kiss the pebble,
Watch the moisture from my lips sink in.

That’s what I’m hiding,
It says. Water. The tiniest Rivers, lakes, seas.

Ideas of what water
Can be. Yes, pebble says,
I am hiding all the world’s memory.
(Conversations with a Pebble/ Alyson Hallett)

As I ran on the Winchell Trail through the thick green, I thought that when I’m running by the gorge, I think of it un broad, basic ways: tree, rock, bluff, bird, water. Then my mind wandered, and I wondered: (Why) do we need more specific, “technical” names in order to connect with the land? I thought about the importance of names and the violence of occupying and renaming, the value of knowing the history of a place, understanding how it works scientifically, and placing it in a larger context (space, time). Then, as I ran up the short, steep hill by Folwell, I thought about how important it is to learn to think on all of these levels at once, or at least be able to switch back and forth between them. I can experience the gorge as water, rock, tree, bird, wind, or as stolen land occupied and used, abused, restored, protected, ignored, exploited. As a geological wonder, slowly–but not really slowly in geological time, 4 feet per year–carved out by the river eroding the soft St. Peter sandstone. As both wild/natural and cultivated/managed–the site of erosion due to water, and erosion due to the introduction of invasive species, industry, too many hikers, bikers, houses nearby. There isn’t an easy way to reconcile these different understandings and their impacts.

running log / june 23rd

In the water, I don’t doubt myself or second guess what I’m doing. I don’t want to be a fish but I wish I could take more of the water with me into the rest of my life.

running log / june 25th


Continued swimming towards my goal of 100 miles and work on my biking-while-not quite-seeing skills. Swam through swells, blinding sun, smoke from the wildfires in Ontario, pockets of very cold then very warm water. Raced some rowers below me, as I ran above on the Winchell Trail. Extended the two trails route by running up the gravel just past a ravine I wrote about a few years ago. Pushed my kneecap back into place when it slipped out while walking with my son and our dog. Briefly fell out of love with cedar lake because of its chaos and too relaxed vibe. Celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with a run, a swim, and Indian takeout. Wore my wetsuit once. Played some games: while swimming, tried to see how little information I needed to stay on course, while running, tried to keep my heart rate below 170, stopping to walk when it got higher and until it reached 150 bpm. Bought the collected works of Lorine Niedecker with a birthday gift card. Ran the downtown loop and through Austin, Minnesota with Scott. Listened to my song of the summer: Lorde’s “Solar Power”. Stopped fearing hidden, misplaced buoys, started embracing the challenge they offered. Felt like a small boat while swimming, with my feet as rudders.

wrote about

some words to remember

Fog-thick morning—
I see only 
where I now walk. I carry
my clarity
with me.
(Lorine Niedecker)

Where a runner sees the world in close-up, with time to view each passing tree’s leaves as they fall, each yellow raod marking as it fades through the seasons, each dog truffling treats from the roadside, I realised that a swimmer sees the long shot. A ball thrown across a beach, a seagull swooping for an unwatched doughnut half a mile away, a rumbling lorry meandering by as if being pushed by a four-year-old. 

Leap In/ Alexandra Heminsley

This morning (while swimming), water meant: cool, refreshing, gentle rocking in 81 degree lake water, abundance, enveloped. This afternoon (while running), water meant: lack, absent, thirst, delayed arrival, dripping, damp, soaked.

running log / 25 july

Water: a smoky river, not glittering in the hazy sun; a subdued waterfall; a receding creek; dripping ponytail, forehead, back; trickling pipes; thirst and the desire for some sips from a water fountain; an empty, swimmer-less lake

running log / 30 july


Continued to breathe smoky air from the wildfires in Canada. Swam with the fish, paddle boarders, seagulls, other open water swimmers, and lots of chop. Worried about foot cramps in the middle of the lake. Fell back in love with cedar lake. Wasn’t irritated when routed by other swimmers. Ran in high humidity and through mud on the Winchell Trail. Went on a trip up north with four of my college friends where we walked, ran, hiked, and kayaked by Lake Superior. Ran a 10k for the first time since November of 2019. Then ran 7 miles a week later. Saw someone riding a unicycle. Achieved my 100 mile goal and kept going. Circled, looped, wondered about climate change and future summers of swimming. Felt confident and better able to live on less certainty. Celebrated exceeding goals. Ran by a falls that wasn’t falling, then started falling again.

wrote about

some words to remember

Think of this: When they present you with a watch they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air…. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they’re giving you yourself for the watch’s birthday.

Julio Cortázar (epigraph in Adam O. Davis’ Index of Haunted Houses

this year, there’s another layer to this swimming into nothingness that amazes me: I trust that I’m going the right way, but I also don’t worry if I’m not. So what if I get off course? Who cares if the lifeguards need to nudge me back a little closer to the buoys? I am much less bothered by not knowing, or–and this is a theme for the summer and will feature heavily in a writing project I can tell I’ll be starting in the fall–not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either.

running log / 20 aug

These lines: the start of my fall Haunts poem sequence!

I wonder: In these streets I can still share with you, Father, streets where you watched your own deaf father in 1945, were you bewildered by his deafness? I come back so that I can see for you the Odessa streets your deaf father saw. Sounds are contagious even if no one notices. The sound of someone breathing heavily in line for groceries affects the breathing rate of others in the line. I am walking to the Hotel Krasnaya, to see a stranger’s wedding.

You once stole for me seven pieces of wedding cake. Look, now I tell you seven things a deaf man sees at weddings:

One. When husbands smile at their wives, the corners of their mouths move toward their eyes. But when they smile at the notary signing the wedding certificate, I see the corners of their mouths move toward their ears.

Two. When businesspeople speak, they stand toe to toe. But if one person’s foot begins to move away, this person wants to be someplace else.

Three. When couples eat cake and they are happy, their legs wiggle or bounce. But we don’t need to look under the tables to see happy feet. See their shirts or shoulders. See how the wiggling feet make shoulders, too, vibrate.

Four. A crowd waiting at the wedding buffet. Notice how people whistle to calm themselves.

Five. A woman talks to the relative who makes her slightly uncomfortable. She touches her face, licks lips.

Six. Sometimes it is a man who is uncomfortable. See his unease by how he’s stroking his beard.

Seven. If there is an orchestra at the wedding, there is silence in the conductor’s fingers before the baton lifts, making music visible inside the bodies of others.

Deafness is a theater. Here the deaf person is the audience. Everyone else is an actor. No need to worry about the silent world to which the hearing people think we are exiled. The deaf do not believe in silence. Silence is the invention of the hearing.

Searching for a Lost Odessa/ Ilya Kominsky


Continued swimming at the big beach after open swim season ended. Added another running loop: south past the falls, over a high bridge, through the grounds of the VA Home, down the steep hill above Locks and Dam No. 1, back north to home. Noticed how strong my shoulders and back were from swimming so many miles. Overheard some dudes with metal detectors discussing what they were finding in the lake: a belt buckle, some coins. Ran 8 miles twice. Began regularly adding “10 Things I Noticed” to my posts. Swam my last mile on September 11th, ending earlier than I had planned because I was unsettled by fish, not realizing that I was 1/2 mile short of the pleasingly round number 120 and that I would have to stare forever at 119.5 miles as my total for the year. Ran lots of loops: franklin, ford, marshall. Wrote and revised a series of poems about swimming, all of them with 5 syllable lines, based on my habit of breathing every 5 strokes. Memorized “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost, learned from my daughter that it was featured prominently in the novel The Outsiders, which she read in middle school (I learned this fact when, as I recited it to her one morning, she joined in!). Saw my oldest sister, who flew in for a few days, for the first time in a year and a half. Eagerly watched and waited for fall to arrive. Remembered my mom on the final day of September, who died years ago.

wrote about

some words to remember

The things that I want to say are like the book
next to the book that you took from the library
(Approximate Poem/ Paul Hall)

my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then 
around the circumference of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the 
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.
(There is No Word/ Tony Hoaglund)

Today, the last day of swim season, one day before FWA starts his college classes, and 2 days before RJP begins 10th grade, is the end of summer. A slight summery feeling, with hot, sunny afternoons and overripe gardens, will be here for another month, but summer is over. A very good summer. So much to love about it, even in the midst of fear and disappointment and frustration. So much swimming and devotion to water!

running log / 6 september

In the light of day
perhaps all of this
will make sense. 

But have we come this far, 
come this close to death, 
just to make sense?
(May Day Midnight/ Michael Palmer)

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing
and rightdoing
is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

majusculation: The act or practice of beginning a word with a capital letter when it is not the beginning of a sentence.


Began the month in shorts, 68 degrees and humid. Ended in a vest and tights, 46 degrees and rain. Saw some turkeys, geese. Heard a red-breasted nuthatch, ghosts, the bells from St. Thomas ringing out across the river. Watched eagerly as the leaves changed from green to red, orange, yellow. Exclaimed “Wow!” as a stand of glowing yellow trees came into view. Counted to 4, chanted in 3s, recited Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” Ran the Franklin loop some, the ford loop more. Looked for a door, or a window, or a break in the trees so that I could enter the poem I was yearning to write. Was disappointed how the new asphalt they put down near the trestle, just last spring, was already cracking. Renamed one of the regular walkers I encounter, from “Man in black” to “Daddy Long Legs”. Found the plaque for the Winchell Trail that I’ve read about but never noticed (at the top of the hill, right before you reach the Franklin Bridge on the west side). Also found a plaque for Brian Bates, a local lawyer and advocate for the river, below a bench on the St. Paul side. Ran with Scott in Austin. Wondered why the man I was passing on the Winchell Trail, near the steps up to 44th, was using a hacksaw to cut something by the chainlink fence — was he trying to cut the fence?

wrote about

some words to remember

My shadow was running in front of me for part of the time. I thought about her as a ghost, or me as a ghost, then about all of the running or walking feet that have landed on this path. I thought about other people — the ones still alive who frequent the trail, like me, and the ones who are dead. I wondered about the old woman whose death, caused by a speeding bike in the 70s, resulted in separate biking and running trails on the west side of the river. Where was she struck? I looked it up, and the only thing I had correct: a woman was struck and killed by a bike and the outrage over her death led to the creation of separate bike trails. BUT, it was not on the river road, but at Lake Harriet, and she wasn’t old, but 58. (Source) I thought about all of the past Saras that have run this trail too. How many of us are there?

running log / 11 oct

We carry our human ghosts around with us.
As we grow we face the mirrors, and see

The spectre of a great-aunt, a vague look
Known only from sepia snapshots. The hands we’re used to –

Yes, these – their contours came by way of a long retinue
Of dust. We are photofits of the past,

And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews.

We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born.
(7 Types of Shadow / UA Fanthorpe

A few days ago, I discovered Annie Dillard’s chapter in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Seeing. I have read some (all?) of this book years ago, but I didn’t remember there was a chapter titled “Seeing”! Excellent. I read it online, from a pdf. Yesterday, I found my copy, which isn’t really my copy but my dead mom’s copy that I inherited or, more likely, borrowed years before she died in 2009, on the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened it up and discovered a wonderful surprise: a sticker in the front that reads, “This book is the treasured possession of Judy Puotinen.” My mom has signed her name so neatly and clearly. I could stare for a long time at the pretty loops of her J and y; the confident backward slant of her P, almost looking like a person puffing out their chest; the t that looms larger than the other letters and stands like a cross (she was not very religious, or as she might have put it, “I’m spiritual, not religious”); and the errant dot of an i, charging ahead to dot the n instead. This signature, too, is a trace, a haunting, more than a memory. It is her, still speaking 12 years after she died. Such a powerful voice in that signature! For a few years after her death, I would encounter her signature on a box in the basement of my first house in Minneapolis. I had a lot of these boxes; they were care packages she sent almost once a month: a new tablecloth, a candle, a cookbook, baby clothes for my kids. It was difficult to see that signature then. It reminded me of how much I had lost: not just her but the care and love she constantly gave me and would have given to my kids. But now, to stumble across her in this way is wonderful. To spend time with her, delighting in remembering how much she loved books and how carefully and beautifully she wrote her name.

running log / 19 oct


Caught a cold that wasn’t COVID from my son, home for the weekend from college. Greeted runners and walkers with a “good morning!”; was greeted by them with a “morning.” Visited my alma mater to hear my son’s first college band concert. Witnessed tens of thousands of starlings migrating. Tried to remember the difference between meters — anapest? dactyl? iambic? Heartily welcomed some of the first snowflakes of the year. Met Mr. Morning! (named for the enthusiastic way he greets me). Worked out lines for my poem as I ran around the river. Felt some soreness in my left big toe, the result of my new shoes. Hiked down in the ravine and saw the double bridge from a different perspective for the first time. Noticed icy foam on the edges of the water. Winter coming soon, but not quite yet. Ended the month with a warm afternoon run (50 degrees), nearing sunset.

wrote about

some words to remember

Thinking more about #5, my shadow down in the ravine. As I watched it below me, I thought about ghosts and shadows and faint traces of things not quite here. I imagined the shadow as a different version of me, having the chance to run below in the ravine. And I thought (again, because I’m sure I’ve thought this before) about these quick moments or flashes of something else — shadows, faint trails, breaks in the trees, a disembodied sound coming from somewhere un-locatable — as opportunities, possibilities, evidence of other ways of being or doing. Are these things real? That’s not the point. They’re suggestions or indications, other options.

running log / 8 nov

Let us praise the ghost gardens
of Gary, Detroit, Toledo—abandoned
lots where perennials wake
in competent dirt & frame the absence 
of a house.
(Perennials / Maggie Smith)

Some general ideas: wonder is a slow glow, astonishment is a quick flash. Wonder is a way of being, an approach that opens us up. Astonishment temporarily shuts us down, stops us; it is unsustainable as a state. We wonder, astonishment happens to us through shock, surprise. Wonder = curiosity, astonishment = surprise, shock, bewilderment. Wonder deepens time, astonishment freezes it. Wonder is warm, astonishment is burning hot. Wonder starts everything, astonishment ends everything.

running log / 19 nov

SOME TREES ARE compasses, and some are flags. If a flag tells you where you are, a compass can potentially tell you how to get there or how to find someplace else. A flag, in marking a spot, seems more definitive, a form of punctuation; a compass implies movement, navigation.
(Among the Trees/ Carl Phillips)


Encountered many regulars as I ran along the river: the Daily Walker, Daddy Long Legs, Mr. Morning!, Santa Clause (an older white male runner with a long white beard). Tried to keep my body calm as I learned about the newest, much more infectious COVID variant, Omicron (also tried to remember how to pronounce it — cron NOT crone — FWA and RJP knew how to say it right away because it was the name of a planet, Omicron Persei 8, on Futurama, a show they watched a lot as kids). Ran on cold, almost frozen, hard dirt trails, then snow-covered paths, then icy roads, then bare asphalt, then snow again. Finally, after months, found a new poem posted on a neighbor’s windows: Layli Long Solider’s “Obligations 2.” Used the treadmill for the first time this season. Was fully boosted, with my third shot of Pfizer. Chose which direction to run — left to the Franklin bridge, straight to the flats — by which way the runner ahead of me didn’t go. They chose franklin bridge, I chose the flats. Heard woodpeckers knocking, geese honking. Delighted in the creepy, cool fog that enveloped me as I ran down the franklin hill. Avoided tornadoes and high winds on a strange day where the temperature climbed to 60. Felt comfortably warm in my new running capped–fleece-lined, with ear flaps and a visor, then like a sausage stuffed into too many layers when I wore one too many shirts. Remembered to notice the river. Celebrated with the traditional run around Austin on Christmas morning. Ended the year, like I began it: running in snow by the river, reciting Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes.” Reached my running goal for the year: 850 miles.

wrote about

some words to remember

my sequence of poems on haunts/haunting/haunted play around with who is being haunted and who is doing the haunting. I like the idea of not resolving this question and letting both answers be possible at any given time, or at specific times. Sometimes the living are the ghosts, sometimes it’s the dead. I also like the idea of not spelling out what that means, but presenting images that complicate it. Running on the east side of the river, with a gray, mostly sunless sky, I encountered such an image: a pale, still river reflecting a fully formed, clear inverted trestle bridge in the water. Marveling at it, I wondered, which bridge is real, the one that’s right side up or the one upside down? As I continued to look at the water, I noticed fully formed trees, the lake street bridge, and clouds also reflected in the water. 

running log / 3 dec

About this Poem: 

This is not poetry. This is a reading of the moment. Read it in the moment and pass on. Do not linger. Go. We don’t go to places. We go from places. We are dedicated to going, not staying. In going, we fade away. Consider my poetry as if you are walking down a road. Someone calls your name. You turn your head. There is nobody around. The road is deserted. Empty. You tell yourself somebody must have been there. But there is no one. Consider my poetry like that moment.”
—Alireza Roshan, translated by Erfan Mojib and Gary Gach


Plague Notebook Summaries, Volumes 6-10

Vol 6, January 1 – March 7th

  • a new verb: beetle, 1. to scurry, 2. to project or jut
  • a new writing technique: pomodoro, work in 20-25 minute increments then take 5 minute break, repeat
  • a new question to ask: not, what goal can I add, but worry/harmful value or belief can I release?
  • a new phrase: mondegreen, a word or phrase that results from a mishearing said or sung — very close veins for varicose veins
  • a new definition for poetry: “poetry is the art of staying alive” (Nikki Wallschlaeger)
  • a need for balance, part 1: knowing just enough: not too much, not too little
  • a reoccurring theme/focus: erosion, as both literal and metaphorical
  • E Dickinson’s “Snow Flakes” is only 1 of 3 (out of 1789) poems with a title
  • a new project (one that keeps returning every year, and that I never quite take on): peripheral; the forest not the trees; seeing sideways
  • a YouTube channel with all of my writing experiments + creative projects?
  • attention economy: “Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention” (Howard Reingold).
  • attention systems (according to Daniel Kahneman): system 1 = automatic, association and system 2 = intentional, deliberate. Most of driving is system 1; turning left is system 2. You cannot multitask in system 1
  • not one epiphany, but ongoing process/struggle/search for meaning
  • a need for balance, part 2: engaging/disengaging; being attentive/distracted; lost/found; absent/present; free/constrained; excessive/sparse; self/community; compose/break down

Vol 7, March 8th – May 22nd

  • sink (noun): place where waste collects, pool or pit in the ground, conduit, drain, pipe, a basin used for washing, an amount that could fit in a sink (sinkful), a low-lying area where flowing water occurs, a place where things are swallowed up or lost absorbed, a lead weight used in fishing, depression or hollow, loss of altitude in flight, the sink of the body (organs of digestion)
  • sink in = realize
  • a flower both Mary Oliver and my mom have discussed: coreopsis
  • “My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach” (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself: 25).
  • “The poem was made not just to exist, but to speak — to be company” (Mary Oliver).
  • “The impeded stream is the one that sings” (Wendell Berry).
  • “Some books are the candy of reading; some the kale” (@abugoddess).
  • the eyeball economy / eyeballs on the screen
  • “Okay, I confess to wanting to make a literature of praise” (4 Sonnets (Swans)/ Mary Oliver
  • favorite words with many meanings: Still (I believe this comes up in Ali Smith’s Autumn. I need to find that passage) + Just
  • tensions: being, doing, stopping, slowing, sleeping, waking, restless, trapped, free, exits, openings, unfixed, calm, energized, not thinking but sitting, inactive, making things/worlds; the urge to merge/the urge to draw back
  • being useless as a form of resistance, redefining usefulness
  • “Woke up. Pulled up the blinds./ Gave thanks for many blessings./ Asked for release from dumb mental dooms./ Prayed for my writing to be of use. (Dana Levin)
  • is it useful? to whom? as determined by what goals, visions?
  • “I cut off my head and throw/it in the sky. It turned into/birds/I called it thinking” (Richard Siken from “Landscape with Fruit Rot and Millipede” in War of the Foxes

Vol 8, May 22 – July 16

  • “Write shitty first drafts” (Annie Lamott).
  • An experiment in usefulness: make a list of things I want to learn how to do, or things that would be helpful, and do some of them
  • I make things. I make doors and gates and exits and entrances. I make space. I make joy. I make trouble.
  • “And so once you learned to tell time, what did you tell it” (@MichaelBazzett)?
  • Revisit Sarah Manguso and Ongoingness
  • Thinking about adjusting and growing accustomed to the lack of light or the muted, fuzzy light or the more dark than light
  • the magic of poetry: written the “normal” way: The boat was heading north, and then the “poetry” way: The sun came up upon the right/ out of the sea came he/ and broad as a weft upon the left/ went down into the sea (Coleridge)
  • Against deliverables and optimization! Against the obvious and the bites of sound!
  • “the enemy: Commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction” (How to Do Nothing/ Jenny Odell)
  • BBC Documentary “No Rest for the Wicked” history of protestant ethic, idleness made a punishable offense, Ben Franklin and no wasting time (see notebook, june 3)
  • Jenny Odell and standing apart: like beside, not fully in but not out, look at the world as it could be, not how it is. Re-imagine, Re-frame, meet at the edges, in the place of refusal
  • bioregionalism: awareness of, responsibility to a place
  • poetry from next door, heard over the fence, a daycare worker to some kids: “go where the sun isn’t” (i.e. the shade)
  • Do we need to know the names of things to pay attention to them? J Odell things we do; I’m not so sure
  • will/attention/focus/control/discipline/staring/observing/naming/knowing
  • surrender/letting go/absorbing/soft attention/being with, near, beside
  • distraction: we only know about our distraction belatedly; we go elsewhere. Attention is important in revision, but poets need distraction. Distraction = the perplex or bewilder greatly, to pull assunder
  • John Ashbury on Marianne Moore: “She has been gazing absently at something terribly important over your left ear.”
  • I am not as interested in critiquing or challenging arrogant, fixed, controlling ways of being, as exploring new ways to be
  • Rock = steon, rubble, riprap, concrete, sediment, gravel, bedrock, pockbed, foundation, pebble, cliffs, bluffs
  • not wealth but commonwealth
  • anthropocene: human era dramatically impacting earth, burning fossil fuels
  • the falls, the cataract
  • veery: a thrush who can harmonize with itself
  • Niedecker’s “Sewing a Dress”
  • 75% of the Minneapolis drinking water comes from the Mississippi River
  • Niedecker delights in imprecision and ambiguity; offers precise details then questions them
  • How do we look at the past without nostalgia, acknowledging its violences? We need new models for understanding, other than looking back
  • fact I’d like to use somewhere: carving of gorge had rapid acceleration near the end, from an average of 4 feet per year to 100 feet the last few years
  • the past: not just cautionary tales, still having direct, immediate impact on present and future

Praises / Lucille Clifton

Praise impossible things
Praise to hot ice
Praise flying fish
Whole numbers
Praise impossible things.
Praise all creation
Praise the presence among us
of the unfenced is.

Interested in what running and swimming does in 4 ways:

  1. the senses: how does it alter how I can perceive (see, hear, notice, etc.) and what I can know, how I can know it
  2. relationship(s) it enables with my aging body
  3. how it opens me up creatively
  4. how it opens me up to others, the world
  • Entanglement and Tsing’s Mushrooms At the End of the World
  • an idea for the spring or summer: contact other open water swimmers, ask them about their experiences swimming, how they sight, etc.

Vol 9, July 17 – October 15

Just as one’s body has a natural tendency towards the surface and one has to make an exertion to get to the bottom — so it is with thinking.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

An opposite perspective: The body, unaccustomed to water, has a tendency to sink; only buoyancy, innate or learned, can keep it up.

  • possible title for a poem: do not feed the ducks
  • some questions I’m asking: what does water mean to me? why do I love it?
  • water has no edges, no seams, but a surface, the shore
  • the lake as a teacher (Marie Howe)
  • a title for a collection on swimming/being: fish out of water — in the water, (almost) all is equal, I am confident, Byron’s limp didn’t bother him
  • expand series of poems (with 5 syllable lines) on swimming: include open water tips + things I see/don’t see, etc. poems + tips + educating others on how to swim when you’re losing your sight
  • “Is edge the place one thing begins and another ceases to be? Or is it where two thing blend to become one” (For Love of Lakes)?
  • “The poem is both the translation for that engaged relationship between self and unknown (possibility, nourishment, doubt, fear), and it is record of it” (Carl Phillips/ Daring).
  • Poetry is the result of a general restlessness.
  • Poetry = grappling with uncertainty, and putting it into place momentarily
  • “Describing the world is easier than finding a place in it” (Richard Siken).

In Brainscapes and the brain maps: Because we don’t have room to map out every bit of what’s there, the brain offers a distorted vview/distorted map, emphasizing certain parts over others, parts that have been deemed more important, like central vision.

My ?: How much are these prioritized parts natural? How important to our success is central vision? Is it true that we don’t use our peripheral as much? How mutable are these brainscapes? Our values of what is most important?

  • Ghost: shadowy outline, apparition, almost human, but not quite. I am both haunting and haunted
  • Finding a place in the family of things (M Oliver), where place = meaning, orientation, connection, acknowledgment, welcoming, having a seat at the table. We (us ghosts) haunt a place, return to it again and again, because we can never locate ourselves within it, or we do, almost, but need to repeat the ritual, to remember, to feel like we’re getting closer
  • Mostly, I don’t mind being a ghost. There and not there. To float is to be free (to fly) untouched, untouching. Still leaving a trace — the rustling of leaves, startling of a squirrel, a shift in the wind
  • Locating oneself = map, (land/brain) scape
  • research: sequence poems
  • Read closely: Annie Dillard’s “Seeing”
  • slow, imperceptible work, gradual, hard to detect (at first), wearing away, unnoticed, a different scale of time, rubbing

Vol 10: October 16 –

  • why trails? a trace, evidence; rumination on “wild”; a boring, unnoticed thing; habit/repetition; movement, restlessness
  • on reading: the words are still there, but it takes much longer, tires me out so much more. This is not all bad, but not all good either. Exhausting. An economy of words is needed, welcomed
  • return to Niedecker and her approach: notes condensed to poem
  • Wendell Berry: “A Native Hill” the violence of meeting abundance with excess
  • road vs trail: form follows contours of land
  • American values: built to serve poles of our national life: commerce | expensive pleasure
  • path of water down, sink gravity: Kleege and discussion of directions from SIght Unseen

The eyes become dependent on the feet, to see the woods from teh inside, one must look and move and look again” (Berry / Native Hill)

  • to have a place be placed requires time devoted to time within which leads to familiarity and a history (or legacy of stories)
  • my mom’s signature as her, speaking now
  • poetry describes what is, but also what could be (Sarah Kaye)
  • lurking at the edge of vision, ghosts in your periphery (see Ali Smith and Winter, Sophia
  • “normal” vision is more about usefulness than truthfulness
  • anosmia: loss of sense of smell
  • scene gist: semantic content of a scene, the overall point
  • overall peripheral is better for understanding the bigger picture, but central vision is better for efficiency
  • haptic: able to touch or grasp
  • revisit BBC article about tribe and spatial acuity
  • see M Jay, Downcast Eyes
  • sight vigilance surveillance police state attention economy eyeballs
  • to resist, new logics are needed, new approaches, modes of being
  • less reliant on sight and its technologies of manipulating attention

How much of this primacy of vision, this understanding of it as the most vital, the reason for our advancements, our superiority, is an illusion? A particular romantic fantasy?

  • favorite street name: Diffley, said with pompous tone
  • reverb is created when a sound is reflected, causing numerous reflections to buildup and then decay as the sound is absorbed by the surfaces of objects in space (furniture, people, air)
  • delay decay
  • my habits locate me
  • “The point of living in this world is just to stay interested” (from Lillian Boxfish takes a walk)
  • bathetic: trite, overly sentimental

poem as prayer: 5 categories

  1. adoration
  2. petition
  3. thanksgiving
  4. contrition
  5. confession

Or, for Lamott: help, thanks, wow

turn this into a poem:

Sometimes the problem with light is not its loss, but its abundance.