2.1 miles neighborhood 33 degrees wind: 13 mph with gusts, 21 mph
Quick run in the wind and the cold after returning home. A visit with 2 fully vaccinated grandparents! Hopefully soon, we will be too. First time away from Minneapolis since October. Not too far into my run, I heard a pileated woodpecker. Not drumming, but singing. Also heard a black-capped chickadee and their fee-bee song. Can’t remember any other bird calls. Guess the wind was singing louder. Speaking of the wind, heard lots of wind chimes, especially at the house at the corner of 43rd and 32nd. Such a cacophony! Ran down towards the river but stayed on edmund. When I crested the hill, I glanced down but couldn’t see any sparkling river through the trees.
note for me to remember: On the 29th, I memorized ED’s “I felt a cleaving in my Mind–.” That night, I got a headache that came in waves, not feeling like my brain had split but like I wished it would, so I could take the top of it off to relieve the pain and pressure. Ugh! I am a wimp with headaches because I rarely get them. And because I rarely get them, they make me worry more: I never get headaches? Why now? What’s the cause? Is this the start of something worse? I’ve had a few more since then, not quite as bad. I think (am hoping) that they’re caffeine headaches. The grandparents make much weaker coffee (1 scoop of coffee for 6 cups of water), while I make really strong coffee (I scoop of coffee for 1 cup of water).
Here are the final 2 poems in my March with Emily Dickinson. They’re connected to “I felt a cleaving in my Mind–” with the ball and the seam, which speak to ED’s interest in circumference.
I felt a Cleaving in my Mind– As if my Brain had split– I tried to match it–Seam for Seam– But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to bind Unto the thought before– But Sequence ravelled out of Sound– Like Balls upon a floor.
I saw no Way — The Heavens were stitched — I felt the Columns close — The Earth reversed her Hemispheres — I touched the Universe —
And back it slid — and I alone — A Speck upon a Ball — Went out upon Circumference — Beyond the Dip of Bell —
As I just discovered, the Balls in “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind–” could be balls of yarn. The ball in this poem is the Earth. Another connection: instead of seams, we have stitches. ED likes the word and idea of Circumference. Lots of entries in the Emily Dickinson lexicon, which is a super handy resource: periphery, circuit, edge, skull, perspective, view, vista.
I might have a lot of fun with this idea of circumference, especially in relation to a new vision project I’d like to start: on peripheral vision. Very cool.
Without this — there is nought — All other Riches be As is the Twitter of a Bird — Heard opposite the Sea —
I could not care — to gain A lesser than the Whole — For did not this include themself — As Seams — include the Ball?
I wished a way might be My Heart to subdivide — ‘Twould magnify — the Gratitude — And not reduce — the Gold —
Here’s something interesting PB has to say about this poem and curcumference and seams and balls:
The second stanza advances our understanding a little, for we learn that the poet wants the “Whole” rather than some lesser quantity or quality that would be subsumed by the whole. Dickinson uses a ball as an example. Made by stitching leather or fabric together, the ball might be considered interior to the seams encompassing it. I am reminded of Dickinson’s poetic project of circumference. She announces this project in a letter to her chosen “Preceptor”, T.W.Higginson:
“Perhaps you smile at me. I could not stop for that – My Business is Circumference –…” (L268, July 1862).
In a later poem she calls “Circumference” the “Bride of Awe.” At least part of Dickinson’s poetic quest is to trace the seams, to see the whole.
In Austin (mn) for the kids’ birthday—RJP is 15, FWA is 18! Ran with Scott through the neighborhood. So windy and warm. For the first mile, my legs felt like inflexible stumps. They didn’t hurt, just seemed stiff. Scott agreed. I wonder, is the pavement harder here in Austin? Do they use a different material than in Minneapolis? We talked as we ran but I can’t remember the conversation. Maybe something about the start of the Chauvin trial? I can’t wait until it’s over; I hope it ends with justice.
Nearing the end of my Emily Dickinson month. I am deeply grateful that I decided, almost on a whim, to spend a month with her words and her life. Today’s poem comes from “the Essential Emily Dickinson,” selected and with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates:
I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—/ Emily Dickinson
I felt a Cleaving in my Mind— As if my Brain had Split— I tried to match it—Seam by Seam— But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to bind Unto the thought before— But Sequence ravelled out of Sound Like Balls—upon a Floor.
Wow, this poem. Her descriptions of coming undone, physically and mentally, are incredibly powerful. I want to memorize this one.
note from march 31st: I found a brief analysis of this poem and they suggested that the balls in the last line are balls of yarn. Very helpful. Why didn’t I think of that? Not sure, but it totally works with the ravelled of the previous line. Ravelled can mean frayed or unraveled or pulled apart/undone.
A short run to test out the knees and the back. Not too bad. Inspired by a video of my niece singing “Dr. Horrible” this morning, I listened to it while I ran. It made me smile. I find listening to music often makes it easier to get a first or second layer runner’s high (as opposed to Jaime Quatro’s third layer of running as prayer). Listening to music, I didn’t hear anything else. No birds or conversations or beeping trucks or clicking bike wheels. No shshshushing of my feet on the sandy grit. No in and out of my breath.
The morns are meeker than they were— The nuts are getting brown— The berry’s cheek is plumper— The Rose is out of town.
The Maple wears a gayer scarf— The field a scarlet gown— Lest I should be old fashioned I’ll put a trinket on.
I think I’ll add this poem to my collection of fall poems to recite as I walk and run by the gorge in October. I love the line, “The Rose is out of town.” And I enjoy PB’s analysis of the poem:
…it’s a wonderfully female world. I like that for while Spring is usually linked to feminine procreation and blossoming, I tend to think of Autumn as male. It is a brooding time; harvest always leaves behind empty vines. It is “mankind” who harvests Mother Nature’s bounty, and this provides a rather masculine stance. But Dickinson goes all in for Autumn femaleness here. The only male presence are the brown nuts , and they are neatly paired with the plumping berries. Who knows – the Rose might have retired herself more out of propriety than dislike of the cold. Since she is gone the rest of the girls can have some fun. Maple and Field are getting dressed up and now so is the poet.
I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds & the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside. I ride the train, walk among the buildings, men in Monday suits. The flight of doves, the city of tents beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old women hawking roses, & children all of them, break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I love the world. I run from end to end like fingers through her hair. There are no borders, only wind. Like you, I was born. Like you, I was raised in the institution of dreaming. Hand on my heart. Hand on my stupid heart.
Love this. Thinking about this idea of “break my heart” like Mary Oliver’s use of it in her poem, Lead:
I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.
And, one more poem, or part of a poem. When I looked up “Meditations in an Emergency,” Frank O’Hara’s poem came up first. Here’s a part I especially liked:
However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing? Uh huh.
I wanted to run this morning, but my body and I decided that we should take another day off from it. For the last year, I’ve been running more frequently, almost every day. Mostly my body feels okay, but my back is a little sore and so are my knees. Instead of the run, I took Delia on a walk. For the first time this year, we left the paved path and descended the set of worn wooden steps that I wrote about in one of my haibuns:
6. Above the Ravine
Even now with the green glut gone, the bare bones of forest exposed, the ravine is hidden. Leave the paved path near the road and descend a set of worn wooden steps. Follow the remnants of a chainlink fence deeper to a grated walkway not quite above a seep of water slicking the metal slats. Stand still, listen up. Hear the water dribble out of the sewer pipe, over the limestone ledge, down to the river. Imagine that the painted keys, fastened with wire rings to the wrought iron fence in the summer of 2017, are still there, offering a way in.
Sometimes when you want to enter, all that’s needed is a key that fits.
Very cool. The steps were even more worn but the dirt was dry and so were the metal slats. I could hear the water trickling down to the forest floor. It was overcast, so no blue, only brown everywhere. As we ascended on the other side, I could hear the clickity-clacking of a roller skier! My first sighting this year. These skiers don’t waste any time switching from wood to wheels. I wonder, which they miss most: sliding on the snow when it’s summer, or rolling on the asphalt when it’s winter? I would imagine the snow, but who knows?
Emily Dickinson: Yellow
For as long as I can remember, green has been my favorite color and yellow my least. But lately–as in the last 3 or 4 years–I’ve grown to appreciate yellow. I keep intending to buy some yellow shoes or a yellow shirt or a yellow something. Maybe this spring I finally will? What does that have to do with Emily Dickinson and yellow? My poem for yesterday was “A lane of Yellow and the eye” and, after reading it and thinking about my new fondness for yellow, I decided to search for yellow poems over at the Prowling Bee. Here are 3 (“A lane…” and 2 more I found) that interested me:
A lane of Yellow led the eye Unto a Purple Wood Whose soft inhabitants to be Surpasses solitude If Bird the silence contradict Or flower presume to show In that low summer of the West Impossible to know –
I love this first line and how she describes the early evening (would you call this the gloaming or twilight?)–the purple woods, the quiet, the soft inhabitants, the sun setting as “the low summer of the West.” The “soft inhabitants” makes me think of how in dimmer light everything looks softer, fuzzier. I enjoy this in the winter, walking outside right before the sun sets, noticing how soft the tree branches look. Of course, because of my cone dystrophy, I have this dim view much more frequently than a normally sighted person. Often, all I see are soft inhabitants. Mostly, I don’t mind. I like this phrase–soft inhabitants. I think I’ll try to use it in my writing sometime instead of fuzzy forms.
I also like this image of someone at the edge of a wood (either standing at the edge, or peering into the wood from a window which is what I imagine ED might be doing) and wondering what’s in it, but not being able to tell. Here, the “impossible to know” is not a lament of someone on the outside, unable to enter, but an invitation to imagine what might be in there, a sense of delight in the mystery and possibility of it. I like running on the edge of the gorge, looking down into the thick trees, seeing a winding path, and wondering what/who could be in there that I can’t see. So many delightful, scary, interesting things!
ED writes frequently about circumference in her letters and poems. Is this an example of it?
Two: Yellow as excess (too bright, too cheerful, too much)
I dreaded that first Robin, so, But He is mastered, now, I’m accustomed to Him grown, He hurts a little, though—
I thought If I could only live Till that first Shout got by— Not all Pianos in the Woods Had power to mangle me—
I dared not meet the Daffodils— For fear their Yellow Gown Would pierce me with a fashion So foreign to my own—
I wished the Grass would hurry— So when ’twas time to see— He’d be too tall, the tallest one Could stretch to look at me—
I could not bear the Bees should come, I wished they’d stay away In those dim countries where they go, What word had they, for me?
They’re here, though; not a creature failed— No Blossom stayed away In gentle deference to me— The Queen of Calvary—
Each one salutes me, as he goes, And I, my childish Plumes, Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment Of their unthinking Drums –
In her discussion of it, the Prowling Bee understands the coming of spring as a metaphor for the passing of time and that ED is depressed by the inevitability of death, creeping closer with each new singing robin or bright daffodil or buzzing bee. This makes sense, especially with the last verse–the childish Plumes, bereaved acknowledgment, their unthinking Drums. What if we also thought of it literally? Maybe ED can’t bear the robin because their Shout hurts her head or the Yellow of the Daffodil is too bright for her eyes or the droning of the Bees is too relentless for her ears? Maybe she’s having a migraine or is overwhelmed by the too-muchness of spring? In the comments, someone wrote: “I think of this poem whenever my springtime allergies kick in. :)” Yes, I love how ED captures the feeling of being physically overwhelmed by the senses. As I work to find better words to describe my physical feelings, I appreciate ED’s ability to do it so well.
To interrupt His Yellow Plan The Sun does not allow Caprices of the Atmosphere — And even when the Snow
Heaves Balls of Specks, like Vicious Boy Directly in His Eye — Does not so much as turn His Head Busy with Majesty —
‘Tis His to stimulate the Earth — And magnetize the Sea — And bind Astronomy, in place, Yet Any passing by
Would deem Ourselves — the busier As the minutest Bee That rides — emits a Thunder — A Bomb — to justify —
I really appreciate PB’s (prowling bee) analysis here (and the comments by others too. Click on the poem to read all of it). Very helpful. I especially like her last bit about the Bee and her suggestion that ED is poking fun at Isaac Watt’s “Little Busy Bee”:
Now, as to Watts’ poem about the “Little Busy Bee”. The first two stanzas praise the bee who is industrious, skilful, and neat. Such attributes “Improve each shining hour”. The last two stanzas find the poet wanting to emulate the bee for two reasons: to lead a good life and to stay busy so that the Devil can’t make use of his ‘idle hands’. I imagine Dickinson reading this poem and finding it deeply ironic. Most of her countrymen were exposed to this poem. Many of them spent their childhoods “In books, or work, or healthful play” and later strove to be busy in ‘works of labor or of skill’. And yet rather than a society like the humming hive, they found no way out of their deep divisions except by busily building and employing the engines of war.
How doth the little busy bee Improve each shining hour, And gather honey all the day From every opening flower!
How skilfully she builds her cell! How neat she spreads the wax! And labors hard to store it well With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labor or of skill, I would be busy too; For Satan finds some mischief still For idle hands to do.
In books, or work, or healthful play, Let my first years be passed, That I may give for every day Some good account at last. Isaac Watts, 1715
Yes! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the bullshit of busy work, which seems to be a lot of what work is these days. While Watts champions the busy work of bees, constantly contributing to the health of the hive, I wonder about the value of work now (which has made busy-ness and distraction an end in itself and that often doesn’t contribute to the greater health of the community)? What, in the 21st century in the midst of a global climate crisis and a pandemic that necessitates we do less, is work for? What is our work doing–to the world? to us? And, what work are we valuing most? Least?
Thinking about work in relation to religion and as a counter to Watt’s “idle hands do the devil’s work,” I’m reminded of David Naimon’s “Between the Covers” interview with Ross Gay:
DN: “What parts of my day, in relationship to the Earth, aren’t extractive on a species level versus relational and giving back?” It feels 99 to 1….I wonder about spiritual technologies that we used to use, like in its best form, the Sabbath where you’re not supposed to do anything that moves you forward in the world, you don’t exchange money, you don’t get in a car, you spend time with people you love, you attend to the moment with no sense of the future. It’s supposed to be this recreation of the Garden of Eden once a week but also, along with that, in the Bible, you were supposed to let the land rest every seven years….
Do we offer any meaningful space for rest now? (I don’t think so.) Why not?
Not sure if that totally makes sense, but I’m thinking about the limits and dangers of our understandings of work–who benefits from it, who is exploited by it, what does it produce/cause/contribute/harm? And, as we (in the US) live through this terrible time–ecological devastation, over half a million deaths from COVID-19, a divided nation, an unchecked/barely checked white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (see bell hooks for definition), suffering, extreme poverty, no safety net or support for the most vulnerable citizens–what has all our work achieved? I think this might come across as a little preachier and darker than I am intending. I am not trying to preach. Instead, I am struggling to make sense of my relationship to work and to contend with my extreme disappointment over how much we have been taught/encouraged/required to believe work = success and achievement, and how little that has prepared us to respond to our current crises in ways that are meaningful, caring, and reparative.
2.7 miles 43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river road trail, south/edmund, north 41 degrees light rain
Sometimes dripping, sometimes drizzly, always windy. The rain wasn’t supposed to stop until 3 or 4, but when it looked like it was letting up a little, I decided to go for a run. A few other walkers, one runner with 2 dogs. Spent a lot of time dodging puddles on the sidewalk. Success. No wet socks. Ran through the tunnel of trees and, unlike yesterday when I felt as if I was buried in brown, today I noticed a slender slash of blue river. Why didn’t I see it yesterday? Must have been the light and the color of the river. Both yesterday and today I ran through the Welcoming Oaks; yesterday I remembered to greet them, today I forgot. I stopped at the split rail fence above the ravine and listened to the water rushing down the limestone and concrete ledges. I glanced down at the oak savanna as I ran above it, noticing the muddy trail at the bottom. Was planning to pay attention to one of my favorite spots, where the mesa slopes down to meet the Winchell trail and the river is revealed, but I was distracted by an approaching pedestrian. Stopped at the bench near Folwell–the one on the rutted dirt path that links two parts of the Winchell trail and that I wrote about in a haibun that didn’t make it into my Mississippi Gorge haibuns–and stared at the river, framed by a few bare branches. Crossed over the river road and the grassy boulevard and headed home, north on Edmund, running straight into the wind. As I neared the parking lot by the oak savanna, I saw some lights that looked like they were coming from somewhere on the bluff. I recalled how the road curves here, around a ravine, and that those lights were the headlights of cars on the river road. A strange, delightful sight.
I chanted a bit from the Emily Dickinson poem I’m reading today, ‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy!:
Life is but Life! And Death, but Death! Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!
‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy! If I should fail, what poverty! And yet, as poor as I, Have ventured all upon a throw! Have gained! Yes! Hesitated so – This side the Victory!
Life is but Life! And Death, but Death! Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath! And if indeed I fail, At least, to know the worst, is sweet! Defeat means nothing but Defeat, No drearier, can befall!
And if I gain! Oh Gun at Sea! Oh Bells, that in the steeples be! At first, repeat it slow! For Heaven is a different thing, Conjectured, and waked sudden in – And might extinguish me!
I like the Prowling Bee’s introduction to her analysis of this poem:
Something big has happened and the reader is not given much of a clue as to the nature of the big thing. The poet has gambled everything – “ventured all upon a throw!” – and is in a state of ecstatic waiting. There are sixteen exclamation marks in eighteen lines and that is a lot of excitement.
Yes, that is a lot of excitement. For the rest of her analysis, the Prowling Bee (PB) speculates on what ED has done to cause such excitement. PB decides it has to do with love and cites the 3 mysterious letters ED wrote to “Master.” These letters come up in the book I’m listening to right now, Lives like Loaded Guns, and more obliquely in the show, Dickinson (I’m not sure because I haven’t watched these episodes yet, but I think that the show is suggesting that the newspaper editor Samuel Bowles is “Master”–will these letters be cited in any of the episodes? I’ll have to keep watching to find out.). Googling it, I found this great article from The Rumpus:
There is no evidence that the letters—written between 1858 and 1862 and discovered shortly after Dickinson’s death in 1886—were ever sent, although they may have been drafts of versions that were posted. No one knows to whom they were intended. Perhaps the Reverend Charles Wadsworth (they had a correspondence, none of which survives), or Samuel Bowles, the editor of a newspaper in Springfield and a family friend, or a professor named William Smith Clarke. Or perhaps they are not to a person at all, but to God. Or the Devil. For nearly twenty years I’ve taught Dickinson and the Master Letters in my early American literature course, always hoping to come closer to the source of the mystery. Instead, just the opposite has happened. The mystery has deepened. The more I study them, the more we hash them out in class, the longer the shadows grow and deepen over their meaning.
I like that scholars, even after decades of scrutiny, can’t quite figure ED out. Nice work ED! While I can appreciate being curious about this “dark mystery,” right now I don’t really care what she’s talking about here. I like the little chant about life and death, bliss and breath, and I might try to lean on it when I’m struggling during a run, or attempting to block out worrisome thoughts so I can fall asleep, or feeling panic over yet another sinus infection.
Both of my knees were feeling strange yesterday, not quite like the kneecap was slipping out but unstable and sore, so I didn’t run. I biked and watched another episode of Dickinson instead. Today, even though it was drizzling when I started, I ran. I started in the neighborhood but when I reached Edmund, about a mile in, I decided to cross over to the river. I was able to run on my favorite part, through the tunnel of trees, just above the floodplain forest. Wow! It was all a rich brown: bare branches and bare earth, hardly any sky, no river. In a few months, this same spot will be nothing but green. Both ways, it’s disorienting: now, with the brown, it almost feels like you’re buried in the earth; later, in the green, like you’re underwater in a green sea. I think I heard some birds, mostly cardinals. What I remember hearing most was the light rain hitting the brim of my baseball cap. For the last mile, I listened to my playlist.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home – With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
I appreciate ED’s connection between the sacred and nature here. My first chapbook was all about the sacred rituals of being upright and outside by the Mississippi River Gorge. (I’m not alone; many runners refer to their long runs on Sundays as the “church of the long run”). My exploration of this theme was as a non-church going ex-religion major with a master’s in theological ethics who finds tremendous value in the sacred, but not in organized religion and church services.
Right now, I just finished listening to a section in the ED biography, Lives as Loaded Guns, about the religious revival in Amherst in the mid 1800s and the pressure ED experienced to publicly declare her faith in Christ and become a full member of her church. She refused, even as all of her family and friends professed their faith. According to the author, Lyndall Gordon, ED’s friends, including Jane Humphrey (who plays a prominent, if slightly different, role inthe show Dickinson), are enlisted as spies to “report back” on what ED was thinking and doing and to try to persuade her to change her mind. I thought of this religious revival in the town and what an impact it had on Amherst as I watched an episode of Dickinson today and noticed that there were a surprisingly large number of ministers at the party/salon everyone (or, anyone who is anyone) was attending at Sue and Austin’s house. Several of these clergy were the dates/suitors of the popular girls. I’m fascinated and delighted by how the show brings in details like this without explicitly addressing them.
ED’s faith and her expressions/practices of and struggles with it are more complicated than this charming poem might suggest. I think I should read one of the classic biographies on ED, Roger Lundin’s Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief.
Speaking of ED’s complicated relationship to religion and God and the church, I’ve been thinking about her poetic form and how she often used hymn form. Here’s some information from Common Questions on Emily Dickinson:
What kind of meter did Dickinson write in, and why did she use it?
Common Meter or Hymn Meter
Definition: A closed poetic quatrain, rhyming A B A B, in which iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter. Common meter is distinguished from ballad meter by its rhyme scheme: the rhyme scheme of ballad meter is X A X A.
Derivation: This meter derives from English hymnology and uses predominantly iambic or trochaic feet (sometimes dactylic).
Common meter: alternately 8 and 6 syllables to the line: 8/6/8/6
Long meter: 8 syllables to the line 8/8/8/8 (this tends to get monotonous)
Short meter: two lines of 6 syllables, followed by one of 8, then one of 6: 6/6/8/6
Sevens and sixes: 7/6/7/6
Common particular meter: 8/8/6/8/8/6
Short particular meter: 6/6/8/6/6/8
Source: Isaac Watts’s Christian Psalmody, or, The Psalms. Watts always names the meter, and introductions set forth what effects may be achieved by each type.
Dickinson’s Use of Hymns
According to Martha England, her hymns differed from Watts’s in these ways:
greater use of enjambment
greater metrical freedom
use of more images with no scriptural source
Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of Watts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).
Every poem composed before 1861 is fashioned in one of the hymn meters above.
Largest proportion in common meter.
Second largest proportion in common particular meter.
Note: If I’m counting and reciting correctly, this poem doesn’t fit the hymn form. Is that because it’s from 1861 and not before? I always need help hearing the meter in poetry. Here’s another source I might want to check out: Listening to Dickinson
bobolinks and surplices
Bobolinks are small songbirds with large, somewhat flat heads, short necks, and short tails. They are related to blackbirds and orioles, and they have a similar shaped, sharply pointed bill.
All About Birds
They are present in Minnesota but have been in serious decline for some time now. Why? Loss of habitat, pesticides on food supply suppressing appetite and causing them to not eat enough, and too many people and buildings to run into. After listening to the call and the song, I’m not sure if I heard one before. I’d probably remember because they kind of sound like R2D2. They like hanging out in grasslands, meadows, and prairies, and traveling in big flocks.
A surplice is “a loose white linen vestment varying from hip-length to calf-length, worn over a cassock by clergy, acolytes, and choristers at Christian church services.” As a Lutheran pastor, did my dad wear this? Not quite, I think. Maybe I’m just confused by how he would always wear a stole too? I’ve seen lots of these surplices on the British murder mystery shows I watch.
Here’s another, non-ED poem that I discovered yesterday. I love Maggie Smith and I love this poem, especially how she plays with and challenges the importance of naming and classifying things.
Goldenrod/ Maggie Smith
I’m no botanist. If you’re the color of sulfur and growing at the roadside, you’re goldenrod.
You don’t care what I call you, whatever you were born as. You don’t know your own name.
But driving near Peoria, the sky pink-orange, the sun bobbing at the horizon, I see everything
is what it is, exactly, in spite of the words I use: black cows, barns falling in on themselves, you.
Dear flowers born with a highway view, forgive me if I’ve mistaken you. Goldenrod,
whatever your name is, you are with your own kind. Look–the meadow is a mirror, full of you,
your reflection repeating. Whatever you are, I see you, wild yellow, and I would let you name me.
Scott and I ran the franklin loop this morning. First, we talked about The Dukes of Hazard and how Uncle Jessie was related to Beau and Luke, if at all, and how Daisy fit into it (Scott brought it up). Then we talked about realism and truth and postmodernism and academic street fights and the scientific method (my topic). A lot of fun. Not sure how much I remember about the run. Sometimes it’s nice to be completely distracted. I remember noticing the big lion sculptures on the front stoop of a big house by the river. A few trees leaning towards the road. The boat dock over at the rowing club. The row of gloves and one hat perched on the fence posts at the Town and Country club. Running through a lot of sandy grit and potholes on the edge of the river road. Smelling cigarette smoke. Feeling warm and overdressed. Hearing the bells at St. Thomas.
There is no Frigate like a Book (1286)/ EMILY DICKINSON
There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – This Traverse may the poorest take Without oppress of Toll – How frugal is the Chariot That bears the Human Soul –
I think this would be a fun poem to memorize and always have at the ready when thinking about why I love reading. I remember when I first encountered the word frigate. It was from one of my son’s friends. I think they were both 11 or 12 at the time. He mentioned how fascinated he was by old warships, including frigates. Then he gave me a lecture on the different types of frigates. Strange.
So, reading this, I knew frigate, but I was unfamiliar with courser. According to the OED, it’s a swift horse. Something interesting: a frigate is “a light and swift vessel, originally built for rowing, afterwards for sailing,” which is what I think ED intends here, but it is also a war vessel, which is what FWA’s friend meant. A courser is a swift racing horse, but it is also “a powerful horse, ridden in battle.” Was ED thinking at all about the frigate or courser as images of war? That wouldn’t seem to fit with the overall meaning of the poem, but I just found it interesting that both of these figures have that double meaning. Oh–and the chariot too–that’s a “vehicle used in ancient warfare.”
I agree with ED’s sentiment here: reading is wonderful in its ability to transport us to other worlds, to learn about other places and people, to be moved by others’ stories. Reading does has its limits too, however. Yesterday morning I read a twitter thread about the problems with suggesting that white supremacy can be solved by just reading more widely about non-white experiences, that is, through reading, we can gain empathy and understanding, or reading = empathy = no more racism. As Lisa Ko (the thread starter) suggests, empathy is not enough to counter or correct state violence. I’m not bringing this up to challenge ED’s championing of reading and books; I just wanted to place another idea about reading beside it.
Speaking of reading, I just started Braiding Sweetgrass. Wow! Love it. Only a few pages in, and I already found this great bit about the Original Instructions:
These are not “instructions” like commandments, though, or rules; rather, they are like a compass: they provide an orientation but not a map. The work of living is creating that map for yourself.
Feeling more and more like spring. All the snow is gone, the sun is warm, the birds are singing even louder and longer. What I remember most about my run are the black-capped chickadees and their “fee-bee” song. Running on Edmund, between 32nd and 34th, I heard at least 2 of them calling out, not in a call and response, with one singing 2 ascending notes, the other 2 descending ones, but with both of them ascending, calling out to some other bird that wasn’t responding. Sometimes they were in sync, but sometimes they weren’t–a strange cacophony of fees and bees. About a mile later, I heard another chickadee calling out. No response.
When I reached 42nd st, I turned on my spotify playlist–“Ain’t Nobody,” “I feel for you,” and “Leave the Door Open”–and ran on the grass. It was tricky avoiding holes and not sinking into the soft, mushy grass. I love Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s “Leave the Door Open”–how it sounds, their voices, the playful lyrics, the message of consent and hope, the invitation to be open. Wonderful.
Oh–I can’t believe I almost forgot–the river! Just past the top of the hill on Edmund between 33rd and 34th, you can glimpse the river through the trees. Today it was on fire, glowing with a bright white light. Wow. Definitely dazzling. Seeing this bright light, I thought about the Emily Dickinson poem I’m studying and that I memorized before running: “We grow accustomed to the Dark.” The poem is about how we adjust to the dark when “light is put away,” both literally and metaphorically. For many, I’m sure, this poem suggests that the loss of light and the coming of the darkness is always unwelcome and tragic. But not necessarily for ED, and not for me. I had to stop at the top of the hill and record a thought into my phone: “sometimes the problem with light is not its loss, but its abundance.” Too much light is too dazzling, making it too difficult to see or understand what you’re seeing. I have difficulty when there’s a lack of light, but often just as much when there’s too much light. So, sometimes a lack of light is welcome, wanted, offering some rest for tired and overwhelmed eyes.
We grow accustomed to the Dark
After spending so much time yesterday reading other people’s words about ED’s “We grow accustomed to the dark,” I decided I wanted to spend some time today with her words. I started by memorizing the poem. Memorizing a poem always helps me to listen better to the words. Now (I started this section before I ran and am continuing it after I’m done), I’m typing up each stanza (from memory) and typing up my thoughts, most of which don’t offer insight but a way for me to work through my efforts to understand her words. I’m noticing how this effort sometimes involves forcing myself to move past what I think the words should mean or how they should sound and listen to what she is actually writing and doing with her words.
We grow accustomed to the Dark – When light is put away – As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp – To witness her Goodbye.
I like the word accustomed. From the OED:
Verb: “To make (a person or thing) familiar with or used to something; to familiarize, habituate.” Adjective: “In the habit of doing something; used to something.”
Yes! This reminds me of one of my preferred understandings of knowing–to become acquainted with. Not to Know or even to fully understand, but to adjust to, get used to. I like the connecting of this with habit and habitual practice.
I also like how she describes this: “When Light is put away.” Who is putting the light away? I don’t think she means God here. I like thinking about something/someone putting it away–a much different feel than if she had written: “when light has gone away.”
added later: Could she mean that she, ED, puts the light away? The Prowling Bee thinks so. Analyzing the stanza about the larger Darkness, she writes:
That unknown mental and spiritual domain is a “larger – Darkness.” That is where our great poets and philosophical explorers venture while the rest of us pursue our hobbies or just relax. Dickinson spends time in this darkness and most of her most evocative, ambiguous, and challenging poetry comes from there.
I keep wanting to make the final line, “To witness our Goodbye” instead of her goodbye, but I finally get that the Lamp is witnessing her goodbye to us, as we leave.
I love the idea of the Lamp/Light witnessing the Goodbye. A great image. And interesting to think about how in the second line the light is leaving us, but in the 4th line, we are leaving the light. Is that intended as an echo of the final stanza of the poem–either the darkness alters or something in the sight adjusts itself to midnight? Who is acting and who is acted upon? Yes (returning to this analysis later, after publishing this post), the idea of both the light leaving us and us leaving the light fits with my mention of the prowling bee and the idea of ED choosing to leave light and enter the darkness in order to explore deeper, more troubling, difficult and unknown ideas and themes.
A Moment – We uncertain step For newness of the night – Then – fit our Vision to the Dark – And meet to Road – erect –
The idea of a moment is great–a moment of panic and uncertainty before we’re able to see. As my central vision declines, I have a lot more of these moments: when I enter an unfamiliar building (or sometimes even a familiar one) and not much makes sense. I can’t read the signs or tell where to go. Or when I’m looking at an object but I can’t tell what it is–is it a dead squirrel or a clump of leaves or furry mittens? Most of the time, my brain eventually adjusts and I can see what I’m trying to look at and continue on with more certainty. I’m trying to work on not fearing that uncertain step, letting the moment just be a moment that I will move past, knowing that I will adjust or figure it out (or ask someone for help). And it’s working. I am getting better.
I find “We uncertain step” to be awkward, but I like how its awkwardness seems to effectively create uncertainty and discomfort in the reader–at least this reader, me.
Love the alliteration of newness of night and her descriptions of adjusting as fitting our Vision to the Dark and becoming more certain as meeting the road erect.
As I work through this poem, I’m realizing something (or, being reminded of something I know, but keep forgetting or straying from): It is very interesting to learn about ED’s life and the historical context of her work, and it’s helpful to see patterns and themes across the poems. Yet, what matters most to me are the actual poems and how effectively her words describe vision loss and resonate with my own experiences of it. Her words are opening a door, offering a way into understanding (and expressing that understanding) how vision loss and living with less vision feels.
And so of larger – Darkness – Those Evenings of the Brain – When not a Moon disclose a sign – Or Star – come out – within –
I like how she shifts to a metaphorical understanding of Darkness and then describes it as “those Evenings of the Brain.” I’m imagining she could mean depression (possibly hers, some suggest there’s evidence she was mildly bipolar or her mother’s) or hopelessness or sadness or turmoil or illness or uncertain/lack of understanding. She might even mean those times when she could not write, which fits well with the next lines about no signs being disclosed or stars coming out. And returning to the comments I’m just adding, this also means those darker, deeper, uncomfortable, troubling ideas/thoughts/themes that writers are willing to explore.
one more thing to add: I’m thinking about how most of my academic work and a big part of my current ethical project involves bewilderment and trouble and uncertainty and the value of dwelling in these uncomfortable spaces for us and learning how to be/to flourish. Because I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things, maybe it’s helped me to navigate my vision loss more effectively?
When I was reciting this poem from memory, I kept forgetting disclose. All I could think of was “display.” I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t remember disclose. Is it because “not a Moon disclose a sign” sounds awkward–“not a Moon disclosed a sign” sounds better to my ear, even if that changes the tense. Anyway, disclose is a much stronger, more precise, verb than display, so I’m hoping I can remember it now.
The bravest – grope a little – And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead – But as they learn to see –
I like grope even as I don’t. It fits well with the idea of struggling to find meaning in the dark, but it also conjures up creepy guys and their grabby hands.
Sometimes, when I’m running, I hit a tree. Not directly in my forehead, but with my elbow or hip. I like the funny image of people literally running into trees, especially hitting them directly in the Forehead, and I also like the metaphorical meaning of being stunned as they struggle to make sense of/adjust to (overcome?) the darkness.
I don’t like poems that try too hard to rhyme (which this doesn’t), and I like when lines rhyme or echo (which this does). Tree and see work well; it’s pleasing to the ear and helps keep the large idea/image of adjusting to darkness moving forward.
Either the Darkness alters – Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight – And Life steps almost straight.
It often feels, when you can finally make out shapes in a dark room, that the darkness has changed, become less dim, but it’s really your vision adjusting, with the help of your rod photoreceptor cells, your pupils widening to take in more light, and your brain, to that darkness.
Love this ending line about life stepping almost straight, especially the almost part.
Whew. I’m ready for a break now. What a joy to spend so much time with ED’s words! Yesterday, I felt frustrated, reading so much about the poem (when it was written, what it was in response to, how it fit into a larger understanding of ED as a poet) without actually reading the poem or thinking about the meaning of the poem.
a moment of sound
Sat on the deck with my daughter and Delia the dog, soaking in the warm sun. Very quiet. I can hear my daughter briefly sniffing like a dog and some kid at the end of the street calling out and a crow. Of course, after I turned off the recording, a cardinal started trilling–at least 10 times–repeatedly.