mississippi river gorge
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
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.