march 31/RUN

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.

Emily Dickinson Poems: March 30th and 31st

I saw no Way — The Heavens were stitched — (1863)

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.

I found another version of this poem on the amazing blog project, White Heat. It’s in their week of posts about Circumference. It follows ED’s original manuscript and its line breaks.

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 opon a Ball
Went out opon Cirum —
ference —
Beyond the Dip of Bell.

Without this — there is nought — (1862)

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.

the Prowling Bee

Here’s a source I’d like to track down and read about ED and circumference in “I Saw no way — The Heavens were Stitched–“:

Gribbin, Laura. “Emily Dickinson’s Circumference: Figuring a Blind Spot in the Romantic Tradition.” The Emily Dickinson Journal 2. 1 (Spring 1993): 1-21; 3-4.

March 29/RUN

2.65 miles
austin, mn
56 degrees
wind: 24 mph, 35 (gusts)

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.

march 27/RUN

2.4 miles
edmund loop, heading north
43 degrees


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—/ Emily Dickinson

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.

the Prowling Bee (PB)

And here’s another poem I discovered yesterday on the poet Maggie Smith’s instagram feed.

Meditations in an Emergency/ Cameron Awkward-Rich

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.

march 26/WALK

1.5 miles
mississippi river gorge
31 degrees

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:

One: Yellow as highlighter, calling attention

A lane of Yellow led the eye (1650)/ Emily Dickinson –

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,/ Emily Dickinson (1862)

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.

Three: Yellow as light, all-powerful Sun

To interrupt His Yellow Plan/ Emily Dickinson (1863)

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….

David Naimon

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.

march 24/RUN

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!/ Emily Dickinson

‘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.

The Dark Mystery of Emily Dickinson’s “Master” Letters

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.

march 23/RUN

3.2 miles
edmund loop, heading north
45 degrees

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 – (236)/ EMILY DICKINSON

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 in the 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
  1. 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.
  2. Derivation: This meter derives from English hymnology and uses predominantly iambic or trochaic feet (sometimes dactylic).
  3. Types
  • 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

  1. 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
  1. 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.).
  2. 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.

a moment of sound

So many birds! Spring is here!

march 22, 2021

march 21/RUN

4.7 miles
franklin loop
43 degrees

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.

march 19/RUN

3.3 miles
edmund loop, starting north
42 degrees

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.

the Prowling Bee

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.

march 19, 2021

march 18/RUN

5k
turkey hollow
38 degrees

Almost all of the snow is gone. A few small mounds scattered across the grass, none on the sidewalk or the street. Spring snows are never that bad; you always know it will melt quickly. Overdressed today. I stopped near turkey hollow and awkwardly took off my pink jacket and tried to figure out the best way to wrap it around my waist–under or outside of my vest? Tried both. Inside was best. As always, heard lots of birds. Also, a few conversations–not the words, but the sound of people talking. The best part of the run was the river glittering in the sun. Big and bold flashes of light, blindingly bright, almost throbbing or pulsing, not the short sparkles that dance and flicker. Was this pulsing the result of more intense light or the wind? Probably the wind, even though I didn’t notice it that much, but felt the hot sun all the time. Normally this intense light would be too much for my eyes, but today I enjoyed it. As I headed back north during my last mile, I ran on the grassy boulevard. A little muddy, soft, rutted. Harder to move. My legs felt heavy and stuck.

Getting close to 3 weeks into my Emily Dickinson March project and I’m enjoying all that I’m learning about her and her work. At first, I only spent a few minutes reading and rereading the poem for the day, but slowly I’ve been spending more time with her words and words about her work. I want to make sure that most of my time is with her words, but it’s helpful to learn how other people understand her. I seem to struggle with understanding and interpreting imagery and metaphors and I can use the help. Will it ever get easier? Maybe. Today’s poem got me thinking about a lot of things:

We grow accustomed to the Dark –/ Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darkness –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

I can’t help but read this in poem in relation to ED’s vision loss, and my own. The idea of growing accustomed to a loss of light, or a loss of sight, and then figuring out how to see/live again but differently, where “Life steps almost straight,” but not quite–slant for ED, sideways for me.

note: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this poem today, and I’m a bit stuck. Too much to say. In the process of struggling to find words and formulate ideas, I found this excellent site and post about ED’s temporary vision loss in 1862. Very cool:

may 28-june 3, 1862: Poems on Illness

In this post about illness and her sudden and temporary vision loss, they group and discuss the following poems:

  • My first well day since many ill
  • Before I got my eye put out
  • The Soul has Bandaged moments
  • The first day’s night had come
  • We grow accustomed to the dark
  • Renunciation is a piercing virtue

I want to return to their analysis and think more about ED and vision loss.

One more thing I found as I thought about ED and her complicated take on light and darkness–sometimes she praises/loves light, sometimes it’s dangerous and oppressive: Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor

Barker argues that since light was a masculine tradition, it had come to represent male power, energy, sexuality–not only to Dickinson but to other women writing during the era. To these writers the inversion of the light/darkness metaphor became a countertradition used as a means to express their energies in a society that was hostile to their intelligence. Dickinson, who read avidly, could not have been insensitive to this usage of light as a masculine symbol of her Calvinist God, of her father, of all that was male?and of darkness as a feminine symbol….

Emily Dickinson thought in a richly symbolic manner. Her most frequently used metaphor is one of light in contrast to darkness, employing single-word references to light more than one thousand times in her 1,775 poems.

Wendy Barker’s Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor

Here’s a wonderful animated reading of the poem:

Via Brain Pickings

a moment of sound

Sitting on my deck, enjoying the warm sun, I heard the bells chiming from across the river in St. Paul at St. Thomas University. I looked at my watch and it was only 10:59. They were a minute early.

march 18, 2021

march 17/RUN

3.4 miles
43rd ave, north/31st st, east/edmund, south/42nd st, east/river road trail, north
34 degrees

Woke up to several inches of snow on Tuesday. Decided to skip the running and shovel and bike instead. Woke up again this morning to another dusting but noticed the sidewalks and roads were bare so I went for a run. What a run! Not too cold, but not too warm. Not much wind. Not too bright. No one else out. Did I see any other runners or walkers? Only one or two. I wasn’t planning to run on the river road trail but I remembered that a few days ago I had wondered what the river would look like after the snow, and when I saw that no one was on the trail, I decided to check it out. When I reached the river, I stopped to record my moment of sound. I stood closer to the river and admired the grayish-blue water with the white banks.

march 17, 2021

Listen to those birds! I also like the sound of the cars as they rush by–you can hear the water on the wheels, everything damp, slick.

Before heading north for the last mile, I put in a Spotify playlist and listened to 2 songs I recently added, both by Chaka Khan: “Ain’t Nobody” and “I Feel for You” Yes! So much fun to run right above the river with no one else there to avoid, just me and Chaka Khan and Melle Mel (he raps at the beginning and end of the song–I had to look that up.) Discovered that he was part of Grandmaster Flash and had rapped on “White Lines” the year before. Very cool.

Yesterday I spent a lot of time with Emily Dickinson. First, I finished an episode of Dickinson–in this one, Emily has writer’s block and is trying to decide whether or not publishing her poems is a good idea. Then, I read my ED poem for the day: My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun. After finding a podcast discussing it, and then reading a few articles about it, I decided this poem, considered to be the most complicated and richly layered of her poems, deserved 2 days. Well, it deserves much more than 2 days, but that’s what I’m giving it for this month with Emily Dickinson. Here are my thoughts from yesterday and today:

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun (764)/ EMILY DICKINSON

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –

This poem has taken me down a rabbit hole of fascinating things about Emily Dickinson. The poem itself provides a lot to wonder about but I barely made it that far. I imagine I’ll want to reread this poem many times. My rabbit hole concerns ED’s process of gathering and preserving her poems and the importance of this poem for poet/scholar/historian Susan Howe. Here’s a few things I’ve discovered.

This poem is in a fascicle.

“Fascicle” is the name that Emily Dickinson’s early editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, gave to the homemade manuscript books into which Dickinson copied hundreds of poems, probably beginning in the late 1850s and continuing through the late 1860s. Dickinson constructed the fascicles by writing poems onto sheets of standard stationery already folded in two to create two leaves (four pages). She then stacked several such sheets on top of each other, stabbed two holes in the left margin through the stack, and threaded string through the holes and tied the sheets together. Occasionally she varied this basic pattern by binding half-sheets (cut along the fold) into the stack of folded sheets. “Set” is a term first used by editor R.W. Franklin to describe groups of unbound sheets of similar paper and size that were never bound by the poet. There are 40 fascicles, and 15 sets.

Dickinson herself did not number or label the fascicles. They were taken apart by the first editors of Dickinson’s poetry, and so have had to be reconstructed by various scholars. Within this site, we use the order established by R.W. Franklin, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1998). Not all Dickinson scholars agree with his reconstruction.

About Emily Dickinson Archive

It’s in fascicle 34. According to Susan Howe (in this speech that I was just listening to on the upenn site), there’s some discussion/debate over how ED gathered her poems into the fascicles. Were they chronological? Grouped by theme? And, if by theme, how closely connected were they? Howe seems to think that the connection is a loose one.

Howe makes this poem a primary focus of her book, My Emily Dickinson

I checked this book out from the library 3 or 4 years ago and tried to read it but it was too difficult for me then. I hadn’t read much of Dickinson’s poetry and had not yet studied poetry. Would it make more sense now? Here’s an excerpt I found online.

a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation

Emily Dickinson took the scraps from the separate “higher” female education many bright women of her time were increasingly resenting, combined them with voracious and “unladylike” outside reading, and used the combination. She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on inteIlectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy. Pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a “sheltered” woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation. HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer. To hold back in doubt, have difficulty speaking. “He may pause but he must not hesitate”-Ruskin. Hesitation circled back and surrounded everyone in that confident age of aggressive industrial expansion and brutal Empire building. Hesitation and Separation. The Civil War had split American in two. He might pause, She hesitated. Sexual, racial, and geographical separation are at the heart of Definition.

My Emily Dickinson

I really like this idea of hesitation and humility and aboriginal anagogy as a sharp contrast to progress, aggression, confidence/hubris, and time as always moving forwards (teleology). I tried to find a source that could explain exactly what Howe means by aboriginal anagogy but I couldn’t. I discovered that anagogy means mystical or a deeper religious sense and so, when I connect it to aboriginal, I’m thinking that she means that ED imbues pre-Industrial times (pre Progress!, where progress means trains and machines and cities and Empires and factories and plantations and the enslavement of groups of people and the increased mechanization of time and bodies and meaning and, importantly, grammar) with the sacred. Is that right? Is it clear what I’m saying? I think I need to buy Howe’s book and attempt a close reading. Yes, it’s available as an ebook!

More to read: see Adrienne Rich’s wonderful essay Vesuvius at Home.

The Loaded Gun is not a gun but ED’s dog Carlo?!

In On ED’s 754/764, Susan Stewart discusses how difficult this poem (known in the Thomas Johnson edition of Dickin- son’s work as number 754, and in the Ralph Franklin edition as number 764) is for critics/readers to understand. She suggests that none of the readings are ever complete or fully hang together. Then she adds her own unusual interpretation: the loaded gun is a dog, ED’s dog, Carlo.

What kind of being waits in corners to be carried away to a field where, released, his/her/its power is enacted? One answer is: a domesticated hunting dog.

Now Dickinson had a dog, Carlo, named after the pointer owned by the character St. John Rivers in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Dickinson’s Carlo was also a hunting dog—an enormous Newfoundland hound.

Of course, Stewart’s argument is more involved than simply, it’s about her dog. You can read the article for a deeper discussion. I’m fascinated with this suggestion–Carlo was her walking buddy, he was a hunter, he had a yellow eye, he slept at the foot of her bed and protected her. Rereading the poem, it’s hard not to imagine a dog now.

I’ll leave my exploration of the poem at that, for now. I enjoyed wading into some deeper waters with ED scholarship, and I learned a lot that I didn’t know. I am not interested in going too deep, though. I could (and used to regularly as an academic) get lost in tracking down more articles, more interpretations, analyzing every word and it’s symbolic, political, historical significance. That is too much of a distraction, a derailment. Too connected to my discipline days. I like learning a little and letting that enhance my wonder. Having said that, I am planning to buy My Emily Dickinson and dig into Howe’s dense analysis of ED’s new grammar. The goal: to not seek answers, but more connections and questions and evidence of how poetry moves and bewilders and astonishes me.

As an aside: For some time, I have been very interested in the US in the mid to late 1800s, pre and post Civil War. No serious study, mostly through fiction, some through my investigation of my great grandparent coming to the UP from Finland in the 1880s. I like having the chance to read/learn more about this time.

yesterday’s moment of sound

Walking with Delia yesterday afternoon was wonderful. Everything melting and dripping, so many birds singing. In the middle of this recording, the bird I was trying to identifying a week or so ago called out–the one that I thought sounded like the loon call they play at twins’ games. What is this bird? Maybe if I play it for Scott, he can identify it.

march 16, 2021

march 15/RUN

3.3 miles
turkey hollow
30 degrees
drizzling rain/sleet/ice mix

As I left the house, I could tell it was starting to rain or sleet or something but because I was bundled up–a shirt + hooded jacket + vest–I couldn’t feel it, so I decided to go for a run anyway. A benefit of running in this weather: no one else is out there. I was able to run above the river on the trail all the way to the ford bridge. My first time in 3 or 4 months running on the narrow pedestrian bridge and the steep walking trail that dips below the road then quickly climbs up. It almost felt like normal. When I reached the ford bridge, I crossed the road and ran through the grass at turkey hollow. The ground was soft and a little squishy. No turkeys today.

I know I glanced down at the river but I don’t remember what it looked like. I remember seeing the oak savanna and the white information sign at the bottom. I remember seeing the bench perched on the gorge, providing a wide open view of the other side. I remember the part of the Winchell trail between 42nd and 44th, steeply winding down below me. But I do not remember what the river looked like. It was probably gray–or was it brown? We’re supposed to get up to 5 inches of snow today. Will the river be white tomorrow?

It was windy today. I recall hearing a chickadee chick-a-dee-dee-deeing but not much else other than the howling wind. Most of the cars had their headlights on. No bikers. Only one or two solitary walkers. Heard the kids at recess, laughing and yelling at the school playground. Also heard the shshsh as my feet struck some sandy grit. And the gentle tapping of icy pellets (graupels) on my black vest. I only rarely felt the sting of one on my face. For a small stretch, I pulled the brim of my hat as far down as I could to shield my face. The last time I ran in these conditions was in October or November. I didn’t have a brim to protect my face and the graupels felt like little knives stabbing my cheeks.

a moment of sound

march 15, 2021

Super windy today but I managed to shield the phone microphone with my hand for most of it. I recorded this at the end of my run as I walked home. I can hear my feet shuffling on the grit on the sidewalk and then some wind chimes. I decided to cross the street to get closer. I love wind chimes. These chimes are hanging close to a giant fir tree. I can hear them chiming as the wind rushes through the tree.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – (591)/ EMILY DICKINSON

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

A few years ago, I found some articles discussing ED’s temporary vision loss in her 30s. I’m fascinated by how she references her temporary blindness in her poetry. In Emily Dickinson’s mystifying in-sight, the authors reflect on “I heard a fly buzz” and suggest that her words here, and in several other of her poems referencing the Eye and the dying Eye, provide remarkable insight into the physiological process of vision loss as one is dying.

Throughout her poetry chronicling the ophthalmic deterioration that occurs in death, Dickinson notes the changes that occur in the dying cornea and lens: glaze, dimness, fog, mists, film, cloudier. Her observations reflect what medical science currently understands as the alterations that occur within the eye during the process of death. We know that shortly after death the cornea and lens become edematous (swollen with fluid) and begin to lose their transparency.

As death approaches, gradually less oxygen-carrying blood is pumped by the failing heart, causing functional loss of the bodily organs.  Seeing while dying should be possible until the retina and/or the occipital cortex of the brain, the final mediator of vision, becomes deprived of oxygen and loses its capability.  The most metabolically active of all our tissues, the retina, for its operation, surpasses every other organ in relative blood flow and oxygen requirement. The loss of vision while dying should be sequential, greying occurring first as cones (the retinal mediators of color and probably more metabolically active than rods, the agents of black, white, and grey) lose function. Greys, therefore, persist through the retinal rods after loss of color perception occurs. Finally the rods, too, fail, and we are blind.

and

In the last cycle, eyesight fades to a blue, the retinal cones still working, but predominated by the buzz, uncertain, stumbling, as hearing also begins to fade.  But, still, the hum is loud enough to go beyond and between her light as vision fades away faster than hearing. And then, as the retinal rods fail, sight exhausts itself and so “light” must fail to appear; we are left instead with “the Windows failed – ” as the bright sunlight at the window is eclipsed, and finally, all of seeing ends, concluding with an absolute and total black, rendered powerfully in the last line by the three “eyes”:  “I…see…see.”

Vision disappears, as if one “I…see…see” is lost, then the other, and finally the last “I…see…see,” the very idea of sight is gone: “I could not see to see;” now the very understanding, the intellect of seeing on a cerebral level is gone; the cessation of blood flow to the brain has deprived it of oxygen. The brain can no longer function; it is dead, and the dying is over.

The Prowling Bee has nothing to say about ED’s vision loss or how her descriptions of dying accurately convey what happens to your vision as you die. I don’t what to reduce this poem to a discussion of vision and vision loss, but I find this idea that she is offering a medically accurate description of it to be very cool. I haven’t had much luck in finding many other articles about this, but I thought about it a lot. Last summer I memorized her “Before I got my eye put out” and spent some time reflecting on her vision as I ran.

Almost forgot to add this in: This morning I saw one of the more remarkable sunrises I’ve ever seen. The entire sky was lit up bright orange. It only lasted a minute or two. It made me wonder how many sunrises I’ve missed by getting up too late.

march 14/RUN

2 miles
neighborhood
47 degrees

A quick run through the neighborhood on a windy afternoon. Ran around Cooper school and noticed the mounds of snow and wondered when they would melt away. Earlier in the week there was a chance we might get a few inches of snow tomorrow, but now it looks less likely. Good. I’m ready for spring this year and I’ve been enjoying the bare sidewalks and open grass. Listened to a playlist while I ran. First up was a song I’ve been randomly singing during this COVID year, not sure why: Freak-a-Zoid. Very nice. And long. It lasted for 3/4 of a mile at least. Anything else? Lots of people out, most of them walking dogs, a few kids biking.

a moment of sound

So windy! The neighbor’s scare rods are really spinning. I wonder how irritating they will be this summer?

march 14, 2021

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)/ EMILY DICKINSON

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

This is another one of ED’s most known poems. Some people think it’s an accurate description of a migraine, others a mental breakdown. A few people in the comments over at the prowling bee, suggested it was a transcendent, religious experience, another wondered if it had anything to do with the epilepsy that she might have had. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem pleasant but torturous. Rereading the comments, I’m fascinated by their discussion of the bell as a tool or practice within Buddhism to stop thinking and meditate on the sound of the bell. This focus enables one to pass through the planks/levels of reason and the rational Self. And, I love the lines about all the heavens as a Bell with being but an Ear. Very cool.

march 13/RUN

3 miles
Hiawatha and Howe loops
44 degrees

A wonderful morning. Sunny and mostly calm. Not too crowded. Started on the river road trail but as I encountered more people, I moved over to Edmund. I heard the black-capped chickadees singing their feebee song. Don’t remember much else. When I reached Hiawatha, I put in my headphones and listened to a spotify playlist. Experienced a slight runner’s high as I picked up the pace, the kind that makes me feel my smile all the way down to my toes. Sprinted the last block. I bet I looked strange.

Yesterday, I listened to a great podcast with the poet Paige Lewis. So much good stuff. I especially liked this:

And that’s what I kind of care about putting into poems. I want to learn things and I want to learn little snippets of facts and then I want to be able to share those facts with people. Or, if I see something, I want someone around so I can be like look at that thing that’s happening right now. It’s still happening, you have to look. Look what that fish is doing. Look what that flower is doing. I just want to be pointing. Like I just want to be, look at this thing. Look at this thing. Look at this thing. Which is why I’m really bad at writing essays because I’m just like look at what this guy is doing. And then look at this. And they’re like, why does it matter? I’m like, I don’t know, but look at it.

Just like look at these beautiful tiny things and what we can take from them is maybe sometimes just enjoyment and I don’t know that I have anything more intelligent to say about that thing and what it’s doing and what it reflects about anything about us as humans. But like just look at it.

Paige Lewis in Paige Lewis Vs. Tiny Things

I agree with Lewis that the enjoyment of noticing and sharing these beautiful tiny things is enough, but I also think that this practice, when repeated and turned into a habit, has an additional importance: it encourages us to care about and care for the world, to be invested in its continued flourishing and also our own. I was thinking about this earlier today as I worked on my “How to Be” project and gathered ideas for the knowledge section. What is knowing facts for? More than demonstrating how smart we are, knowing facts can connect us and astonish us and encourage us to care about more than ourselves and our individual survival.

random thought I remember: At some point during the run, I noticed the shadow of a bird on the sidewalk in front of me. I love seeing these shadows and knowing a bird is flying overhead without looking up to see it. This shadow is too vague and fuzzy to indicate what kind of bird it is; it’s just a bird. It reminded me of how sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, which has a glass top (a top I recycled from an old IKEA coffee table), I see the reflection of a bird flying outside the window. It’s a quick flash of motion that I could miss if I wasn’t paying attention and if my peripheral vision had become heightened because of my central vision loss. Such a cool thing to see.

Have you got a Brook in your little heart/Emily Dickinson

Have you got a Brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so—

And nobody knows, so still it flows,
That any brook is there,
And yet your little draught of life
Is daily drunken there—

Why – look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow,
And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
And the bridges often go—

And later, in August it may be,
When the meadows parching lie,
Beware, lest this little brook of life,
Some burning noon go dry!

The Prowling Bee doesn’t like this poem with it’s “lazy” rhymes (flipping the sentence order to create the rhyme, ex: “so still it flows”) and the idea of such a “little” brook, as opposed to some more robust form of water like a river. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think I like the quiet brook that doesn’t announce itself to the world, it’s just there doing it’s thing–helping the flowers and the birds and the shadows. What if it were a stream instead? Decided to google it. Favorite answer was by a naturalist, responding to the question, what’s the difference between a stream, a creek, and a river?:

So, we enter into the somewhat nebulus topic of stream classification.

Consulting a few sources, the common term for all downhill flowing ribbons of water is stream.  They’re all streams. Streams are classified, not by width, depth or length, but by a system known as stream ordering.  The common terms are quite subjective depending on region and local history.

First order streams: the smallest streams that have no tributaries. We could call these brooks or rivulets.  Little streams that you can hop across and not get wet. (GPD example: Pebble Brook in The West Woods)

Second order streams: result from the merging of two first order streams. Often designated as creeks, these small streams require a bridge, stepping stones or wading to cross. (GPD examples: Big Creek, Swine Creek, Silver Creek)

Third order streams: larger streams formed from the merger of two second order streams or creeks if you will. Streams that would have to be bridged, waded or even swam across. Referred to as branches in the headwater regions of watersheds. (Geauga examples:  East Branch and Aurora Branches of the Chagrin River, East and West Branches of the Cuyahoga River)

Fourth order: streams formed by the merging of two third order streams. These streams would qualify as rivers, requiring big bridges, boats or swimming to cross.

Geauga Park District in Ohio, also see River, Streams, and Creeks

I find brooks interesting as a first order stream because they have no connection to other sources of water, no tributaries. They also don’t cause much of a fuss–you don’t need a bridge for them and you should be able to hop across them without getting wet. How do these first order streams come to be? Where does the water come from?

Another interesting thing about brooks: as a verb, the word means to use, tolerate, find agreeable. I don’t like the word tolerate or this understanding of a body of water disconnected from everything else, so I guess I don’t want to have a little brook in my heart. It doesn’t sound as a pretty, but I think I’d prefer a creek–but not a crick!

a moment of sound

After my run, I sat on the deck and enjoyed the sun and the quiet. Here’s how that sounded:

march 13, 2021

march 12/RUN

4 miles
river road trail, north/sout*
32 degrees

*With a little bit of meandering. Before reaching the river road, I ran up 43rd ave then over to 31st st, then lake street, then the river road trail

Great weather for a run! Sunny, not too much wind, not too warm or too cold. I was able to run beside the river and above the rowing club. I don’t remember what the river looked like, but I remember it felt open and vast and wonderful. Heard lots of birds and a woman cheering a runner on as he made his way down the hill below the lake street bridge, the two of them laughing together. Did they know each other, or was she just friendly? Saw lots of lovely lonely benches with enticing views to the other side–I thought about stopping once, but didn’t. Noticed that the white bike hanging from the trestle, put there to remember the biker who has hit and killed at the intersection many years ago, was missing a front wheel. Has this always been the case? Heard a siren that sounded like the drumming of a woodpecker at first. Encountered a few groups of walkers, at least one group of runners, no bikers or roller skiers.

Surfaces I Ran on:

  • sidewalk
  • street
  • uneven grass
  • dead leaves
  • packed down dirt
  • gritty edges of the boulevard

As I ran, I recited my Emily Dickinson poem of the day: “Hope” is the thing with feathers” One of her most famous. Delightful and fun to recite as I ran.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers/ Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all –

And sweetest — in the gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird —
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest sea —
Yet, never in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

Favorite word today: abash. When I was first memorizing it, I thought it was strongest not strangest sea. Can’t decide which I like better. When I finished running, I recited it into my phone. I got it mostly right, but missed several small words– so instead of and, but instead of yet.

“Hope” is a thing with feathers

a moment of sound

Forgot, for the first time, to record my moment of sound yesterday. I think it was because it was windy and I didn’t want to record more wind–I have lots of that. Anyway, I recorded this moment right after I finished my 4 mile run. As the birds chatter away, you can hear a few of my heavy breaths as I try to recover.

March 12, 2021

march 10/RUN

2.8 miles
river road trail, south/Winchell trail, south/edmund, north
44 degrees
drizzle

Decided to go out for a quick run before the rain started. I made it out the door when it was dry but by mile 2 it was raining. Starting in the rain can be miserable, but if you’re already running, it’s difficult to feel the rain. Because of the weather, I was able to run on the trail without encountering too many people. Oh, the river, looking beautifully pale blue in the gloom. When I reached 42nd st, I took the trail down to a spot right above the ravine and recorded the water rushing down the rocks as my moment of sound.

march 10, 2021

Very cool. Instead of heading back up to the road, I decided to keep running on the Winchell trail. At this point, close to the southern start of the trail, it’s steep and uneven and right on the edge. What an unanticipated delight to be this much closer to the river–nothing but air and the bluff between us. (Sitting here, writing this entry in the front room, I just heard a long, loud boom–thunder!)

Anything else I remember from the run? I noticed a lot of headlights, bright and cutting through the gray sky. Another runner also cutting through the gloom, wearing a bright yellow shirt. Saw some people walking their dogs–one guy called out a greeting to me. I think he said “Go Twins!” because I was wearing a Twins baseball cap, but I’m not sure. Heard a young kid and an adult below me in the oak savanna. Noticed all the snow collected on the trail at the foot of the mesa. Heard some kids on the playground at the lower campus of Minnehaha Academy. For the last mile of my run, I put in my headphones and listened to a playlist.

It was great to be out by the gorge in-between rain showers, hearing the rushing water and how it sometimes drips, sometimes gushes down the bluff to the river. I spent the morning working on my “How to Sink” poem and thinking about water and what it does as it travels through the soil and layers of sediment, powered by gravity. Writing this, I suddenly thought about gravity and weight and how it forces water through cracks and then I thought about the homonym for weight, wait, and patience, and how my preferred form of sinking is a slow, gradual sliding down that takes a long time. And also how the weight of gravity forces water down through the layers, but so does the persistence of time. Cool–I’d like to add that in somehow. Here’s a new draft of my poem. Still not there, but getting closer, I hope.

Try to recall when your son young
and upset turns to jelly
and oozes off
the sofa
in

surrender he’s not giving in
but giving up control a
puddle of parts
pooled at your
feet

learn to retreat like this let your
bones dissolve legs liquefy
gravity win
seep deep be-
neath

layers of loam sandstone limestone
shale drop lower and lower
and lower
fall

between cracks fit through fissures carve
out a door take it so far
in that out is
another
idea.*

Begin with 20 seconds from
a song that is not happy
birthday sing while
you scour
the

surface of your dread scrub off each
layer watch as they drip down
the drain on their
way to the
gorge.

*idea is one extra syllable, which is irritating to me, but so far, I can’t figure out a way around it.

Maybe I could add the weight/wait bit in after the line about falling? Also, I like having the washing your hands at the end of the poem, as the start of this need to sink/retreat/shelter inside (because of the pandemic), but I think I might need a little more transition to it. Is it too jarring, coming right after the bit about out being another idea?

Today’s Emily Dickinson poem:

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act (1010)/ EMILY DICKINSON

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

I really like this poem–it fits well with all of my thinking today about erosion and water dripping down. Gradual decay, a slow repeated slipping. I love the rhyme of a cuticle of Dust with an elemental Rust. A Borer in the Axis is strange to me. A mechanical (metal?) axis combined with a worm that bores into wood? I like bore as a verb–it might fit in my poem.

march 9/RUN

3.25 miles
turkey hollow!
54 degrees

Today I was able to run in shorts and above the gorge and on the snow-less walking trail and all the way down to turkey hollow. Hooray! It was windy and there were people all around, but I kept my distance and believed that if I was running directly into the wind on the way there, it would help me along on the way back. It did. Lots of birds singing. I recall hearing several robins but no black capped-chickadees. No woodpeckers. I know I glanced down at the river and I remember hoping I’d see some rowers, but I don’t remember what the river looked like. Was it blue or gray or brown? The river road was filled with a steady stream of cars.

I recited the first two stanzas of the Emily Dickinson poem I’m studying for today. I’m not memorizing every poem I read, but I decided these two stanzas would be fun to chant as I ran. They were.

A Bird, came down the Walk (359)/ Emily Dickinson

A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. – 

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers, 
And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, 
Leap, plashless as they swim. 

A delightful poem. I enjoyed reading the prowling Bee’s analysis and thinking about the imagery, especially the bird flying through the sky as water:

The watching poet then offers him a bit of bread but this is too much. The bird flies away. Except that this isn’t the end of the poem as Dickinson sees it. In one of those reversals of sky and sea (for example, “This—is the land—the sunset washes” – F297), the bird “unrolled his feathers” as if he were changing from an earthbound thing to a heavenly creature, and then “rowed” himself more softly “Home” than the act of rowing on the ocean. The oars’ action, like the bird’s wing, are so small and “silver” in the expanse of water and sky, that they don’t even leave a “seam” behind to show they once moved through that space.

I love the idea of sky as water and imagine it often as I look up at the sky by the river or the lake. As I was chanting this poem mid-run, and enjoying being with the little bird, the worm, and the beetle, I thought about how wonderful poetry is. You can enjoy it many different levels: how it sounds, the worlds it conjures up, the meanings behind its images. You can spend time closely scrutinizing what the beetle or the worm means, how ED might be inserting herself in the poem, and what she’s suggesting about her world, but you don’t have to to find meaning and delight. Much more accessible than other forms of writing. One more thing: I discovered that plashless is a word and that it basically means without a splash or splash-less. Maybe I’ll use it on Scott and when he tries to correct me I can smugly say, “No, I mean plashless. It’s word too.”

How to Sink

Earlier this morning, I worked some more on revising my poem. I’ve decided to use a modified cinquain form. In my “how to float” poem I used Adelaide Crapsey’s 2-4-6-8-2 pattern to evoke floating and lifting. In “how to sink,” I’ll use almost the same number of total syllables for each cinquain (23 instead of 22), but switch them around to mimic falling and narrowing, sinking: 8-7-4-3-1. Here’s what I have so far:

Begin with 20 seconds from
a song that is not happy
birthday sing while
you scour
the

surface of your dread scrub off each
layer watch as they drip down
the drain on their
way to the
gorge.

Recall when your son young upset
turned to jelly and oozed off
the sofa in
surrender
a

puddle of body parts pooled at
your feet learn to retreat like
this feel your bones
dissolve your
legs

liquefy gravity win reach
ground seep deep through layers of
loam sandstone shale
drop

lower and lower and lower
fall between cracks carve out ways
in follow them
so far in
out

is another idea

How to Float has 10 cinquains. I want to mirror that in this poem. So far, I am just starting the 7th. Lots of meaning of sink: 1. sink as a place to wash your hands and an early symbol of the pandemic, 2. as a place where water collects (puddle of body parts), 3. as drain, sewer pipe (the dread dripping down to the gorge), 4. being swallowed up, lost (seeping deep), 5. falling down. Time to look up more definitions.

a moment of sound

8 am from the deck: the persistent hum of the city and the birds chatter

march 9, 2021

march 8/RUN

3.25 miles
edmund loop, starting north
47 degrees
wind: 1 mph

Wow, what a morning! Sun, barely any wind, a chorus of birds, clear streets, uncrowded sidewalks. I could only identify a few of the bird calls–black-capped chickadees, cardinals, crows, robins, woodpeckers–but I didn’t care. I thought about how naming the birds didn’t matter, only being among them did. As I ran up Edmund, I heard a song that sounded like a metal whistle and I thought about stopping to record it. I didn’t and as I neared it, it stopped.

When I turned around at Edmund, I decided to run back in the grass between the river road and the boulevard. Only a few squishy spots. It was nice to run on the softer ground, closer to the gorge. I couldn’t see the river, but I admired the other side. What a view, with all the branches bare.

Yesterday it was 60 degrees. Today, at 11, it’s already 51. Spring! It definitely sounded like it in my moment of sound:

march 8, 2021

Today’s Emily Dickinson poem:

Because I could not stop for Death/ Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

As always, I enjoyed The Prowling Bee’s discussion of this poem. In particular, I liked her mention in the comments of ED’s 3 images of life: the children playing = life; the gazing grain = the seasons; setting sun = the day. Very powerful and inspiring. I want to keep working on finding images that conjure even a little of what ED’s do. Prowling Bee also discusses how wonderful the phrase, “the fields of gazing grains.” Yes–fun to say and to think about the different meanings it suggests. And, at the end of her analysis, she describes how some think this is a perfect poem. The version of this poem I read on Poetry Foundation (see link in title) has audio too. Very helpful for me as I try to hear the poem without making it too metered.

sink, more thoughts

I’m revisiting my poem, “How to Sink” and trying to strengthen it, especially the imagery. I want to make it a companion to “How to Float.” Just looked up sink in the online OED and found some great definitions of it as a noun:

  • place where waste collects
  • pool or pit in the ground
  • conduit, drain, pipe
  • a basin used for washing
  • an amount that a sink would hold–a sink full of dishes
  • 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, especially in gliding flight
  • phrase: the sink of the body: organs of digestion

This poem was written during the earliest stages of the pandemic and is, at least partly, about the need to shelter-in-place and retreat, to hole up, to hide and be safe. During that time, there was a lot of talk about washing hands as a primary way to stay safe–could I bring in sink in this way? I’d like to.

march 7/RUN

3.2 miles
2 school loop
39 degrees
wind: 12 mph/21 mph gusts

Ran a little earlier today, starting at 8:20. Still too crowded on the river road trail: bikes, dogs, people. I stayed on Edmund with the birds. I kept hearing a bird call that reminds me a little of the loon sound they play at twins games. What is this bird? (I’ve just been searching and listening to clips for the past few minutes; no luck yet.) Also heard some drumming woodpeckers, a metallic robin song, crows, geese, various warblers. The sun was out and I think I noticed my shadow a few times–or was that on my run 2 days ago? There was still some slick spots on the sidewalk; I watched as a walker slid across the concrete at the corner. I did that same thing yesterday on my long walk with Scott and Delia. We, me yesterday and this walker today, were both okay. Didn’t get to see the river this morning, but I admired it yesterday as we walked under the railroad trestle. There was a group of rowers out on the water! That’s a sure sign of spring. Maybe someday I’ll be one of those rowers? I’ve always wanted to try.

I’m revising a poem I wrote early on in the pandemic: How to Sink. Thinking about the idea of sinking down through the layers of the gorge, carving out a new way in, retreating. Not giving up but letting go, surrendering control. Is surrender too negative of a word? I don’t see sinking as bad or unwanted, but a welcome break, an opportunity to return to the source, regroup. I need to read up more on sinking and think about the different ways it works. Sinking is not falling, but something else. Settling? Seeping. Finding shelter. I remember now that I wrote some notes about sinking in my notebook and maybe in a log entry. I’ll have to find them (here’s a few: sink)

Today’s Dickinson Poem: After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372)

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Wow. After reading this poem a few times, I read The Prowling Bee’s analysis of it, which was helpful. Such powerful descriptions of 3 phases of grief: the chill/shock where nerves are still; then the daze/stupor of heavy, shuffling aimless feet; and then the letting go. And great words: the Hour of Lead. Tombs. Stiff. Wooden. Quartz contentment. Stone. Freezing.

a moment of sound: dogs

march 7, 2021

When a dog walks by, through the alley, the neighborhood dogs get excited. I am not bothered by their barking, probably because it only comes in random bursts. In fact, I love spazzy dog barking. I find it delightful; sometimes I even encourage it, making sure to walk with Delia by the houses with the biggest, wildest barkers. You can also hear the scare rod–the metal spinning flashing rod our neighbors have hung to scare off woodpeckers–spinning in the wind. Unlike barking dogs, this noise irritates me. I am trying to get over myself because it’s a minor irritation and it seems to be working and I don’t want woodpeckers pecking at our neighbor’s house. Also, near the end of the recording, Delia growls at someone walking through the alley and the wind howls, tossing the tall pine tree on the next block to and fro.

march 6 recap

I took my first break from running in a month yesterday, but I still did my moment of sound and my Dickinson poem.

a moment of sound

Taking a long walk parallel to the river, I heard lots of wonderful things, including these wind chimes in a yard across from the Birchwood Cafe.

march 6, 2021

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)/Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

This is the first poem of Dickinson’s that I ever remember encountering. I think it was in junior high, way back in 1986 or 1987. I didn’t get the poem, but I liked the strangeness of it all. For decades, I have found myself randomly saying in my head, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” sometimes I add: “Are you — Nobody — too?” And then an image of frog pops into my head. I agree with this idea: “How dreary — to be — Somebody!”

march 5/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
40 degrees

A whiteish gray day. Hardly any wind. Great for running. After driving on the river road yesterday with Scott and the kids and seeing the clear trail, I decided to run on it today. I didn’t do all of it–I entered the trail at lake street so I missed the welcoming oaks and the tunnel of trees–but the parts I did run on were wonderful. I have missed this trail.

I was able to run above the rowing club. The river is clear and blueish gray. There were other people on the trail, but I kept a lot of distance from them. And, I greeted the Daily Walker! Encountered a few dogs, a stroller. No fat tires or irritating squirrels. Didn’t hear any woodpeckers–did I hear any birds? I must have, but I don’t remember any. Ran over some grit and heard my favorite shuffling scratching sounds. Smelled some smoke somewhere but no burnt toast or bacon from longfellow grill.

Before I went on my run, I recorded myself reciting my Emily Dickinson poem for today: I measure every Grief I meet (561) I chose it because today would have been my mom’s 79th birthday. I woke up and watched a few digital videos I made with old footage of her–both created 8 or 9 years ago using footage from the 1980s, 90s, and the early 2000s. I miss her terribly, but I am not feeling especially sad today. As I was running, I was thinking about how part of me is grateful that she is not living now during this terrible time of tyrants, and selfishness, and deadly viruses. It would been very hard on her. I suppose the idea of her not having to endure this, gives me a little comfort, whether or not it fits with what she would have actually felt if she were alive.

I measure every Grief I meet (561)/ Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There’s Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –
A sort they call “Despair” –
There’s Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they’re mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own –

I wanted to hear how others have recited the stanza that begins, “I wonder if when Years have piled—” because it seems very awkward in terms of cadence and rhyme and following the meaning of the sentence. I listened to 3. One delivered that stanza awkwardly, the other 2 recited a different version that omits the prior stanza and then changes the words of the stanza to make it work: “I wonder if when years have piled/thousands on the cause/of early hurt — if such a lapse/would give them any pause” (this 3rd one is fun to listen to). Even though it is less awkward, I don’t like this change. ED wants awkwardness and lines that are slant and that disrupt, so why change her words to fit the conventional standards of the day (which is what I read was the reason for this change). I checked out my favorite ED commentator, The Prowling Bee, but she doesn’t discuss the altered stanza or the other version. Even so, her discussion is great and helpful, and extends into the comments. There’s a discussion about whether ED is personifying grief–meeting the various griefs as people, or if she’s meeting grievers who experience those griefs. Fascinating. She also talks about how distant and abstract ED’s expressions of grief are: the repeated mentioning of eyes signals an analytical and distanced scrutiny.

a moment of sound

This sounds like spring to me. Kids outside, dripping eaves, calling birds. Near the end of the recording, there’s a boom. It sounded louder in person–not sure what it was.

march 4/RUN

1.65 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/35th st, west
46 degrees

A short run outside in the afternoon sun. Very wet, with a few slick spots still remaining on the sidewalk. Felt like spring again today. I don’t remember much about the run. I didn’t see the river or hear any woodpeckers or smell any smoke. Encountered a few runners and walkers. No kids walking home from school. I did run by a school bus, idling in front of Minneaha Academy. Noticed lots of cars driving on the river road, enjoying the spring-like weather.

a moment of sound

march 4, 2021

Before my run, I took Delia the dog out for a walk. Near 7 oaks, I heard a wonderful bird song that I couldn’t identify. I took out my phone to record it, but it stopped before I could start. In this recording, I mostly hear the rustling of my coat as I walk, which is annoying. I also hear my feet striking the gritty, crunchy sidewalk, which is delightful.

There’s a certain Slant of light (258)/ Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Winter’s slanted light is quickly leaving; during today’s run the sun was bright and overhead and warmed my face and back. Listened to 2 versions of this poem on youtube and both of them replaced heft with weight and Any with anything. Heft is much better, I think. My favorite line: the Landscape listens. I love the idea of a landscape listening.

march 3/RUN

3.2 miles
loop around hiawatha
44 degrees

Today it feels like spring is here even though there’s still some snow on the ground and ice on the sidewalk. So much sun and blue sky and birds! So little layers: one pair of running tights, a green long-sleeved shirt, a black vest. There were lots of people over on the river road trail. It seemed like a party–peole calling out, laughing, joking. I would have liked to be on it, studying the ice breaking up on the river, but I was happy to be way over on Edmund, far from the crowd. I heard some black-capped chickadees and cardinals, some kids laughing on the playground at Dowling Elementary. For most of the run I succeeded in avoiding the deepest puddles, but near the end, I gave up. Now my shoes are drying in the sun on the back deck. I don’t remember thinking about much as I ran, except that the run felt difficult–I’ve been doing too much easy treadmill running, I guess. Anything else? Oh–on the road, in a spot that was dry, I was able to run over some grit. I love the sibilant scratching sounds–sh sh sh sh–and the feel of my foot striking the sliding, but not slipping, ground. A much better sound and feeling than sinking deep into a icy cold puddle!

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —/ Emily Dickinson

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —
Life’s little duties do — precisely —
As the very least
Were infinite — to me —

I put new Blossoms in the Glass —
And throw the old — away —
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there — I weigh
The time ’twill be till six o’clock
So much I have to do —
And yet — existence — some way back —
Stopped — struck — my ticking — through —

We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman — When the errand’s done
We came to Flesh — upon —
There may be — Miles on Miles of Nought —
Of Action — sicker far —
To simulate — is stinging work —
To cover what we are
From Science — and from Surgery —
Too Telescopic eyes
To bear on us unshaded —
For their — sake — Not for Ours —

Therefore — we do life’s labor —
Though life’s Reward — be done —
With scrupulous exactness —
To hold our Senses — on —
F522 (1863) J443

I picked this poem, which I have never read before, because I’ve been thinking about daily life and the role of small habits and practices (and rituals). While I’m focusing on the positive value these daily habits and practices can bring, this poem highlights their stifling and meaningless drudgery. Dickinson focuses a lot on the “duties,” those daily efforts we are forced to perform in order to fill our proper roles. It reminds me of J Butler and her ideas about gender performativity and the daily, repeated practices we must do to properly perform our gender and be considered a “real” woman (tying the hat properly, wearing an unwrinkled dress). The lines, “To simulate — is stinging work—/To cover what we are/From Science—and from Surgery—Too Telescopic eyes/To bear on us unshaded—For their—sake—Not for Ours—” So many connections with feminist and queer theory: the difficulty of performing/repeating proper roles to fit in + the violent/invasive gaze of Science (that dissects and classifies) and medical understandings of the body (that reduce sex to male = penis = subject and woman = no penis = non-subject) + the medical gaze on the female body. What a powerful, pithy way to put it: “too telescopic eyes” and “bear on us unshaded.” Wow. I’m also struck by, “with scrupulous exactness.” It makes me think of my study (through Butler and Luce Irigary) of parody and mimicry and the idea of miming the practices but repeating them back slightly wrong or with too much excess in order to disrupt them.

I hadn’t intended to invoke Butler here, but I think it’s telling: much of my interest in daily practices as repeated habits is inspired by my dedicated study (and teaching of) Butler when I was a grad student and a professor. I’m not drawing upon her work in the same ways that I did a decade ago, but it is surely influencing how I think about daily practices, making and breaking habits, and being disciplined and undisciplined.

There’s so much more in this poem to think and write about, but I’m stopping now (The prowling bee has some great thoughts). Dickinson says so much so beautifully with so few words. I will want to spend more time with it.

a moment of sound

Sitting on the deck, in bright sun, no wind, post run, with Delia the dog. The irritating noises are me stretching and breathing and a loud plane flying overhead.

march 3, 2021

march 2/RUN

3.15 miles
edmund loop, hearing north
39 degrees/ 26 mph gusts

Started the morning off with a COVID test and several firsts: first time in a public building (other than a rest area) since early March of 2020; first time spitting into a cup to fill it up to a black line; first time having a COVID test. It is highly unlikely that any of us have it, but because RJP had a slight fever and it was worrying her a lot, we decided to drive out to the airport to the testing site. It wasn’t difficult (well, maybe not for normal sighted people; I panicked a little when I couldn’t see signs or read the questions on my phone fast enough) and it felt safe. We might be back there in a month, if FWA decides he wants to go to in-person school for the end of his senior year.

It’s warmer and I wanted to run outside anyway, but I didn’t have a choice. The treadmill isn’t working. Scott thinks it might be the motor. Bummer. Very windy out there today, which made it hard. I also ran much faster than I do on the treadmill. Most of my run was spent feeling tired and wondering when I would be running with the wind at my back–not sure that ever happened. Heard at least one woodpecker. Dodged a bunch of puddles. Encountered runners and walkers. Didn’t see the river or any fat tires. Didn’t hear any geese or kids playing on the school playground. Didn’t smell any smoke. Felt overheated. Even so, I was happy to be out there and happy to be done with the test and happy to have RJP feeling better.

For the first 2 miles, I listened to the neighborhood, for the last mile, a playlist.

March is a month for Emily Dickinson

As I started typing this entry, I had a sudden thought: why not spend time with a different Emily Dickinson poem every day this month? Technically it’s the second so I’m starting this a day late, but I did spend some time with a Dickinson poem yesterday:

Dear March – Come in – (1320) / Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –

Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

I posted this poem a few years ago. I like imagining March as a friend coming to call after having been gone a long time. I also like the second verse and the rhyming of knew, grew, hue, you and then the return of the rhyme in the next verse with pursued.

Today’s poem:

If recollecting were forgetting,/ Emily Dickinson

If recollecting were forgetting,
Then I remember not.
And if forgetting, recollecting,
How near I had forgot.
And if to miss, were merry,
And to mourn, were gay,
How very blithe the fingers
That gathered this, Today! 

I’m not sure I would have thought of this, but someone in the comments on the site where this was posted mentioned that the flowers that were gathered in the last line of the poem must be forget-me-nots. I picked this poem because I’ve been thinking about the slipperiness between forgetting and remembering and how, as you get older, you do a lot of both. I wonder: is this poem just a clever way of expressing that it’s opposite day?

a moment of sound

march 2, 2021

Hard to hear over the rushing wind and the low drone of the city, but birds are singing and, near the end, wind chimes chiming.

march 1/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 5K
basement
outside: 16 degrees

Woke up to another inch of snow and cold. Almost bundled up and ran outside but decided to stay inside again. More sinus draining and a daughter who has a slight fever–it’s almost impossible that she has COVID because she hasn’t been anywhere with anyone, but it still makes me (and her) worry. It’s a bad day, I guess. Also: it’s my mom’s birthday on Friday; she would have been 79 if she hadn’t died in 2009. I bet I’m feeling a wave of grief from that. And, near the end of my run, the treadmill stopped working. It was still on, beep beep beeping, but the belt wouldn’t move. What a day, and it’s only 1. Strangely, I feel better having typed all these complaints. I might also be feeling better because my son is re-playing a video game he has played since he was 4 (Metroid) and he’s at the part with my all-time favorite music: Magmoor Caverns. I can hear it through his door. He started re-reading his favorite book series from when he was a kid this weekend and today he’s playing his favorite video game. At the end of this month, he’s turning 18! He must be feeling nostalgic.

As I biked, I watched the next episode of Dickinson (season 2, ep 3). She decides to have a seance so she can ask the spirits what her true destiny is: as a famous author or an anonymous recluse. Of course, she invites all of her frenemies. I stopped it early, so I’ll have to wait until my next workout to learn if she got an answer. What a strange yet delightful show. As I ran, I listened to a spotify playlist: Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift. Spent at least half of the run trying to shift my attention away from worries about possibly sick daughters. Finally, it worked.

Here’s something good that happened today: I got 4 more field notes notebooks in the mail. More plague notebooks to fill! I’m almost done with my 6th one. I started it on Jan 1st. I’ve taken lots of notes this year so far. I’m hoping the plague will mostly be gone before I finish the 10th one.

Saw this on twitter:

A poem is a house made of breath.

Michael Bazzett

a moment of sound

Good morning birds!

march 1, 2021