april 29/RUN

3.35 miles
edmund loop, starting north with extra loop around Cooper
60 degrees

Another beautiful morning in shorts! The same pair of shorts I’ve been wearing for probably 6 or 7 years, almost every day in the summer and sometimes with tights in the winter. How many hundreds of times have I worn these shorts? I wish Brooks still made them. I’ve looked but can’t find a pair like them anywhere. They’ve faded a lot and lost a drawstring but they’re still working. How much longer can they last?

Things I remember from my run:

  • running in the street at least 2 or 3 times to avoid people
  • the gorgeous fragrance of the blossoms on the fence of the house with the free fruit—still can’t recall what kind of fruit it is or when it’s free
  • two oak trees lining the path that look like they’re leaning in to chat with each other, while a third oak with the hunched up limbs looks like they’re shrugging their shoulders to gesture, “I don’t know”
  • the old stone steps inviting me to take them down to the river
  • some stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  • a person sitting on the bench near the entrance to the Winchell Trail with the worn wooden steps
  • a runner in a bright red shirt slowly passing me
  • someone using a leaf blower (really?) down on the Winchell Trail to clear out the leaves that pile up against the wrought iron fence
  • the river sparkling at spots—one spot over on the other side was extra bright
  • more pale green leaves
  • several black-capped chickadee conversations
  • a bug buzzing past my face–was it a bee? a dragonfly?
  • more shshshuffling on the sandy debris
  • ending my run thinking about how I’m getting my second Pfizer shot tomorrow and wondering when I’ll feel up to running again. Hopefully on Sunday

Work/ Mary Oliver

How beautiful
this morning
was Pasture Pond.
It had lain in the dark, all night,
catching the rain
on its broad back.
All day I work
with the linen of words
and the pins of punctuation
all day I hang out
over a desk
grinding my teeth
staring.
Then I sleep.
Then I come out of the house,
even before the sun is up,
and walk back through the pinewoods
to Pasture Pond.

I like the simplicity of this poem and the broad back of the pond catching the rain and the connection between her writing work and sewing–the linen of words and the pins of punctuation. My mom was an amazing sewer. I am not. I think this might have something to do with my bad vision, but also my disposition. I don’t have the patience or the desire for precision or the interest in clothes. I’ve always wished I could sew and could make things: useful, practical things. Now I make poems which are not practical but are things I’ve created and are useful, at least to me. This year for her 15th birthday, we got RJP a sewing machine. She’s been knitting for 3 years, crocheting for 6 months, and now sewing for a few weeks. If my mom were alive, she would have loved this and would have mentored RJP. What a loss! Still, it’s exciting to see RJP’s passion for fiber arts and to witness at least one part of my mom reborn in her.

Maybe it was thinking about sewing and then the idea of seams that made me do it: I googled “Emily Dickinson sewing” and found this amazing poem through this very cool blog entry. Not only about sewing but about ED’s failing vision. Nice!

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle — / Emily Dickinson

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle —
I’ll begin to Sew [Sow]
When the Birds begin to whistle —
Better Stitches — so —

These were bent — my sight got crooked —
When my mind — is plain
I’ll do seams — a Queen’s endeavor
Would not blush to own —

Hems — too fine for Lady’s tracing
To the sightless Knot —
Tucks — of dainty interspersion —
Like a dotted Dot —

Leave my Needle in the furrow —
Where I put it down —
I can make the zigzag stitches
Straight — when I am strong —

Till then — dreaming I am sewing [sowing]
Fetch the seam I missed —
Closer — so I — at my sleeping —
Still surmise I stitch —

Now I want to think about edges and limits in terms of seams and stitches!

april 28/RUN

4 miles
river road trail, south/waban park/turkey hollow/edmund, north
50 degrees

Shorts! Sun! Spring! Yesterday’s cold rain really pushed me over the edge. I’m ready for more sun, more sitting on the deck, more spring-y weather. Today the river was calm and blue, peeking through the green that is already starting to spoil my view. Ran on the river road trail all the way to the turn-off to Wabun park, then ran up and turned right just before reaching the Ford Bridge.

Thought a lot about listening, partly inspired by a podcast I began this morning: Taylor Johnson vs. Listening:

Franny Choi: there’s something different between maybe like, looking versus listening, right? Like, I feel like there’s some, I don’t know, what is that thing.

Taylor Johnson: I think there’s a goal in mind. I think with searching, it’s like, I know I’m gonna come out, let’s say, onto the sidewalk or in the woods, and I’m gonna see a particular X, Y, and Z, you know what I mean? Whereas listening, it’s like, things kind of wash over you and happen with you, rather than you having something in your mind where it’s like, I need to see this particular thing, or I’m listening for this particular thing. It’s kind of a more open, open experience.

I listened as I started my run and I remember taking note of many different sounds, all mixing into each other, none seeming that distinctive. Birds, traffic, laughing kids on the playground, shuffling feet on debris, someone raking a yard, wind chimes, my breathing as I settled into my run, a song blasting from a car radio, the faint jingle of my house key in my running belt, a woman sneezing–or was it coughing?

I also thought about Mary Oliver and a few things I was reading this morning–poems and an article by Rose Lucas about MO: Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable. And thought about the idea of the self and their relationship to nature as observer and observed, as someone who stares/pays attention to the world and someone who participates in it. Then I had a thought—I remember having it just as I was crossing 42nd from the stretch of grass between 42nd and Becketwood (what STA and I call the gauntlet because it’s narrow and close to the road and difficult to avoid other people if they’re on it too) and the wide boulevard of grass separating Edmund and the River Road—about how Mary Oliver’s ethical poetics of noticing, being astonished, and telling others about it involves a lot of standing back and still, staring, stopping, taking notes, sitting at a desk and writing. Yes, becoming connected or immersed in what you are noticing does happen, but the emphasis is on observing/seeing/staring at the world at some sort of distance and when you have stopped moving or doing anything. You stop to notice, or notice then stop, observe or behold (this makes me want to revisit Ross Gay and the idea of beholding), then sit and write. What if you didn’t stop? What if you observed while moving (while running?) Took notes while moving? Wrote while moving? I wonder how far I can push at the limits of writing about the gorge while running at the gorge–not running and noticing then writing, but running while noticing while writing.

Notes from the run, April 28th

Before I went out for my run, I was thinking about a few poems.

Here are two different versions of the same general idea: being lifted out of the tyranny of your thoughts by the beauty of nature.

Enough/ Jeffrey Harrison

It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.

The rising wind pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
wheeling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and lifting above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go.

Terns/ Mary Oliver

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.

The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

For most of my life, up until last year when, during the pandemic, I felt compelled to finally notice them, I haven’t payed attention to birds. So I wasn’t familiar with terns–that might also be because, sadly, I’ve never lived by the sea. Anyway, terns is not a term I’ve known. In fact, my first encounter with it happened just last month, while reading a New Yorker article about the marvelous methods animals have for navigating and not getting lost. Buried deep in the article is this interesting bit of trivia:

Or consider the Arctic tern, which has a taste for the poles that would put even Shackleton to shame; it lays its eggs in the Far North but winters on the Antarctic coast, yielding annual travels that can exceed fifty thousand miles. That makes the four-thousand-mile migration of the rufous hummingbird seem unimpressive by comparison, until you realize that this particular commuter weighs only around a tenth of an ounce. The astonishment isn’t just that a bird that size can complete such a voyage, trade winds and thunderstorms be damned; it’s that so minuscule a physiology can contain a sufficiently powerful G.P.S. to keep it on course.

Why Animals Don’t Get Lost/ Kathryn Schulz

Very cool. MO’s line about gathering up the loose silver reminds me of a ED poem that I read in March:

A Bird came down the Walk—/ Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm 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 around—
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.

I have many thoughts about these three poems that I can’t quite express. About the narrator and their involvement in the scene they’re describing, about the “You”—who they are, what they’re for, about being didactic, about circling, about silver and seams and when the observed becomes the observer. And, about this line from MO:

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.

So I’m thinking about this in relation to my quote about the difference between looking and listening at the beginning of this post, and in terms of my own desire to feel with senses other than sight, or with sight not as Sight (as an objective, unfiltered way of being in and with the world). This idea of sight not as Sight, comes out of my thinking about how I see through my damaged eyes. I can see, but not with sharp focus or precision or mastery–I don’t look and See, as in, capture/own what I see with my eyes. My seeing is softer and involves more fluid waves and forms being felt. Returning to MO’s poem, I could definitely be delighted by the terns as I watched them moving—sweeping and plunging and thickening–because you detect motion in your peripheral vision and my peripheral vision is great. But I probably couldn’t see how many terns there are or how their thin beaks snapped. And I wouldn’t be able to see their hard eyes happy as little nails. But, seriously, can anyone see bird eyes in this way, other than MO?

Thinking about how MO uses seeing as a way to pay attention reminds me of another poem of hers with one of my favorite titles:

The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, But the Attention That Comes First

The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted,
rode the wind.  Its eye at this distance looked
like green glass; its feet were the color
of butter.  Speed, obviously, was joy.  But
then, so was the sudden, slow circle it carved
into the slightly silvery air, and the
squaring of its shoulders, and the pulling into
itself the sharp-edged wings, and the
falling into the grass where it tussled a moment,
like a bundle of brown leaves, and then, again,
lifted itself into the air, that butter-color
clenched in order to hold a small, still
body, and it flew off as my mind sang out oh
all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does
it go to, and why?

I remember reading this a few years ago and thinking how little I might have been able to see of the hawk she describes. I could see the tilting, the riding of the wind, the circling and carving, but not the color of its feet or its green eyes or that it was holding something in its claws. It’s interesting to read these poems and think about them in relation to my vision and the limits of my seeing. I especially like thinking about the ways I can still see and how they might be reflected/communicated in a poem about attention. This idea of describing how I see differently is as important to me as learning how to feel with senses other than sight.

Wow, lots of not quite focused thoughts in this post. Not sure if it makes sense but the act of writing it has been helpful for me in thinking about MO, and attention, and my project of writing while running and running while writing.

april 27/RUN

3.2 miles
trestle turn around
44 degrees

Ran to the trestle today. Was thinking about running more, but the road was closed, so I turned around. As I ran south again, I heard the rumble of a train on the trestle. Nice! Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice! Heard a gaggle of geese below me, honking. Smelled a full porta potty being drained as I ran under the lake street bridge. Yuck. I remember looking at the river, but I don’t remember what it looked like. I bet it was a pretty, light blue. Encountered a few runners, walkers, dogs. We all kept our distance. Heard some rowers getting ready down at the rowing club. At one point, I had “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” from My Fair Lady going through my head. STA and I watched the movie last week. “All I want is a room somewhere/far away from the cold night air” Time to memorize a few more spring poems to recite in my head.

Almost done with my month with Mary and I have mixed feelings. Some beautiful words and stimulating ideas, but something’s missing. Is it the lack of connection to time? Her poems are firmly rooted in a place–Provincetown, MA–but not in specific time. She mentions seasons, and occasionally her age, but not much else. It is all now or eternity or outside of the realm of ticking clocks. Some of this I like, but some of it leaves me feeling adrift and disoriented–that, along with the repetition of the same idea about stopping to notice the world, again and again. I want to experience these moments of clarity, or the Now, or a flare of joy/delight/understanding, but I don’t want that to be all that I experience. The feeling of timelessness, and an endless circling back and repeating the same things, without any specific reference, is too much. My feelings about this right now are probably partly due to a year+ of doing nothing but running, writing, and staying home, trying to avoid people during a pandemic. Every day is the same, every week, every month, every season.

But I think my feelings are also because I’m missing the Mary–the person, that is—in her poems. In so many of them, she is trying lose herself in the world, to become the snail, the pale lily, the hunter, the hound (see “Work”):

from From the Book of Time

and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget
all enclosures, including

the enclosure of yourself?

from Riprap

I’m never sure
which part of the dream is me
and which part is the rest of the world.

from I Want to Write Something Simple

and though it be my story
it will be common, 
thought it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words, 
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

I appreciate this gesture against centering herself and towards entanglement (in Upstream she writes: “Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else?”) but I’d like more of herself in the midst of others. Of course, I do this too and am trying to find ways to be bring myself into my work and the world–that’s probably why I’m critical of it in her? What would/could/should it look like to put the person in the poem? I’m not totally sure but I feel like it requires more mention of ordinary, everyday time, grounded in specific minutes (and not moments) of life. I’m not sure if this makes much sense, but I don’t want to spend the whole day trying to figure it out, so I’ll just leave it like this.

april 25/RUN

5k
2 school loop
42 degrees

Another colder day. I’m tired of wearing running tights, a winter vest, gloves. Time for spring and shorts and short-sleeves. Ran on the trail heading south. I don’t remember looking at the river once. I was too busy avoiding people. Listened to a playlist as I ran so I didn’t hear anything but Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Harry Styles. Anything else? No roller skiers. No bright, glowing shirts. No peletons. No turkeys or eagles or geese. No rowers on the river. No daily walker. Just an ordinary run.

From The Book of Time

2.
For how many years have you gone through the house shutting the windows,
while the rain was still five miles away

and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north,
away from you

and you did not even know enough
to be sorry,

you were glad
those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple,

were sweeping on, elsewhere,
violent and electric and uncontrollable—

and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget
all enclosures, including

the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf, and will you
dash fnally, frantically,

to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything

that is beyond capture, shouting
I’m here, I’m here! Now, now, now, now, now.

This part of the poem reminds me of part of Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes” from Red Bird—this is the poem that includes her famous instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

In the west, clouds gathered.
Thunderheads.
In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled
with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.
Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lightning brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.

And here’s one more poem that I’d like to put beside these two and beside the idea of a thunder storm:

Beat! Beat! Drums!/ Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would hey continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

april 24/RUN

4.35 miles
the falls and back
36 degrees

I ran to the falls for the first time in a long time. I looked it up, and unless I missed something, the last time I ran to the falls was July 10th. Wow. I read somewhere that the falls were beautiful this winter; I avoided them because of all the people. Was I too cautious? Probably, but it’s hard to run to the falls in the winter in any year. Even though the Minneapolis Parks plows the trail it’s narrow and they can never clear the double bridge.

Today, it’s cold and windy. I didn’t care. It was a great run. The river was pale blue. I heard lots of birds–especially crows. Speaking of crows, here’s a great poem I read the other day by the ornithologist, J. Drew Lanham from his collection, Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts:

No Murder Of Crows/ J. Drew Lanham

I watched a flock of crows
fly by,
counted forty-two black souls, then up to sixty-five,
maybe more.
Not sure whether fish or ‘merican
They were silent as coal,
headed to roost I assumed,
a congregation I refused to a call a murder
because profiling aint’ what I do:
besides,
they was just flyin’ by.
No cause to criminalize the corvid kind.

What else do I remember from my run? The annual Get in Gear race, which STA and I have done a few times, was happening today. Mostly virtual, I think. Low key. I haven’t run in a race since October of 2019–is that right? The falls were gushing! As I approached them I thought I was hearing a noisy truck. Nope, just the rushing water. Encountered lots of packs of runners, a small group of fast moving bikes that completely ignored the stop sign. No roller skiers or eliptagogos. No rowers or roller bladers. Enjoyed listening to my feet shuffling on the sandy grit at the edge of the road.

Here’s a MO poem I found last night. It’s very much like all the others, which used to bother me–why say the same thing over and over again?–but I see it (and her work) differently now. The repetition of the words–the habit of repeating this process of noticing, then being astonished, then telling about it–are needed. Practice is necessary because we always need to remember to remember. Maybe it’s like what they say with running: it never gets easier, you just get better at handling the hurt/pain/difficulty of the effort. And, of course, occasionally, your diligence (what the runner Des Linden describes with her mantra, “keep showing up”) can result in a moment, which is what MO describes in this poem:

Such Singing in the Wild Branches/ Mary Oliver from Owls and Other Fantasies

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
first, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky—all, all of them
were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then—open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

april 23/WALK

Drizzling. Took a walk with Delia the dog down the worn wooden steps past the chain-link fence to the slick slats above the ravine. Listened to the water trickle out of the sewer pipe then drip down the ledge. Such calming colors: the rich browns of freshly watered tree trunks mixed with pale green leaves and light gray gravel. Today I marveled at the tree trunks. Three different trunks, coming up from the bottom of the ravine, leaning into the fence. I can’t remember much about them but how beautifully brown they were and that they were of varying degrees of thickness and that one of them curved gracefully away from the others. Thinking about these trees reminds me of an MO poem I read this morning from her collection, Evidence:

The Trees/ Mary Oliver

Do you think of them as decoration?
Think again,
Here are maples, flashing.
And here are the oaks, holding on all winter
to their dry leaves.
And here are the pines, that will never fail,
until death, the instruction to be green.
And here are the willows, the first
to pronounce a new year.
May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?
Oh, Lord, how we are for invention and
advancement!
But I think
it would do us good if we would think about
these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.
The trees, the trees, just holding on
to the old, holy ways.

And here’s another poem that features trees. This one puzzles me; it seems to speak to MO’s conflicted feelings about words and the answers they offer: even as she loves words, she laments how they get in the way of just being. There’s something about her description of her grandmother’s “uneducated feet” and “faulty grammar” that bothers me and I’m not sure what to do with this poem.

Answers/ Mary Oliver

If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.
That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and cicling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.
My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged by lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusing out, how she cooled and labled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

Having just read through both of these poems again, I’m struck by the parallels between the “old, holy ways” of the trees and the easy, eager, uneducated habits of her grandmother. Still not quite sure how I feel about this connection, especially the description of her grandmother.

Here’s another poem that speaks to the holding on to the old, holy ways:

From The Book of Time in The Leaf and the Cloud

7.
Even now
I remember something

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
in the perfect garden

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
as a closed seed

the way a flower
in a joar of water

steadies itself
remembering itself

long ago
the plunging roots

the gravel the rain
the glossy stem

the wings of the leaves
the swords of the leaves

rising and clashing
for the rose of the sun

the salt of of the stars
the crown of the wind

the beds of the clouds
the blue dream

the unbreakable circle.

Reading this poem, I immediately thought of these lines from Marie Howe in “The Meadow”:

As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together

and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.

I also thought of this:

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

Braiding Sweetgrass/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

april 22

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
54 degrees

Wow, what a beautiful morning! A bright blue sky, not much wind, warm air, few people. Ran above the river and made sure to notice it today. Pale blue, almost white or light gray in parts. Flat, no sparkle. Calm. No rowers. Heard a kid below me as I ran above the oak savanna. Heard some more kids at the Dowling school playground. Managed to take my bright orange sweatshirt off and tie it around my waist while I was running. Didn’t see any turkeys but heard a pileated woodpecker and a few black-capped chickadees.

Tried to breathe mostly through my nose while I was running but it was hard. Sometimes I could do it, other times I could breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, but often I had to resort to all mouth breathing. Is this because of my left nostril plugging up a lot? I’m reading Breath by James Nestor right now and he’s a very big proponent of nose over mouth breathing. Is it good for running? I decided to google it and discovered that it’s not that simple; sometimes runners need to breathe through their mouths, especially during faster runs, to ensure they get enough oxygen. I’m glad I checked; now I won’t worry as much if/when I mouth breathe while running. This is a helpful resource: How To Breathe While Running

While I was running, I tried to think some more about Mary Oliver and her messy and irresolvable tensions around poetry, words, language, being human, the Self, the World, and nature. One question I kept asking myself is: why am I spending so much time on these tensions?

Before I went out for my run, I took the following notes:

Mary Oliver and the Bedeviled Human

from The Meadow/Marie Howe

Bedeviled,
human, your plight, in waking, is to choose from the words

that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled
among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.

Reading MO, I’ve noticed, and have been trying to articulate, a tension in her poems between the I, the World, Nature, God, Eternity, Work. This tension seems to take many forms and MO imagines it to be endlessly intriguing and part of the process of living. Never to be resolved but to be puzzled over. One element of this tension involves the plight of the human—born to doubt and argue and question what it all means, to be both brought closer to and further away from the world by language and the power and beauty of words, which are never as powerful or beautiful as the world itself. To want a name and a useful place, to claim a life, but also to belong to the world, to be “less yourself than part of everything.”

from “Work” in The Leaf and the Cloud

3.
Would it be better to sit in silence?
To think everything, to feel everything, to say nothing?

This is the way of the orange gourd.
This is the habit of the rock in the river, over which
the water pours all night and all day.
But the nature of man is not the nature of silence.
Words are the thunders of the mind.
Words are the refinement of the flesh.
Words are the responses to the thousand curvaceous moments—
we just manage it—
sweet and electric, words flow from the brain
and out the gate of the mouth.

We make books of them, out of hesitations and grammar.
We are slow, and choosy.
This is the world.

Words can help us to remember a beloved but long dead dog:

And now she’s nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

and console us in our anger and grief:

and what could be more comforting than to fold grief
like a blanket—
to fold anger like a blanket,
with neat corners—
to put them into a box of words?

Words can keep us company, offer exits out of difficult spaces, open thousands of doors, give us a place in the world. But, they can also separate us from the world, feeding our hubris:

Understand from the first this certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, entierh do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive—that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.

Upstream/Mary Oliver

or our constant doubts:

from “Riprap” in The Leaf and the Cloud

2.
In my mind, the arguers never stop—
the skeptic and the amazed—
the general and the particular, in their
uneasy relationship.

O what is beauty
that I should be up at
four A.M. trying to arrange this
thick song?

5.
And, anyway, what is thought
but elaborating, and organizing?
What is thought
but doubting and crying out?

From The Book of Time in The Leaf and the Cloud

5.
What is my name,
o what is my name
that I may offer it back
to the beautiful world?

from “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud

6.

It is our nature not only to see
that the world is beautiful

but to stand in the dark, under the stars,
or at noon, in the rainfall of light,

frenzied,
wringing our hands,

half-mad, saying over and over:

what does it mean, that the world is beautiful—
what does it mean?

april 21/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
41 degrees

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty. All 3 counts. Thank god. I cried when I heard the judge, from both grief and relief.

Ran through the neighborhood with STA in the afternoon. Cold and windy. I don’t remember much, except for STA’s description of the video project he’s working on. Anything else? A for sale sign at the house on the next block, a cracked sidewalk, a few dogs, a kid outside the daycare at the church on 43rd and 32nd, the warm sun, the brisk wind, a fat tire hauling ass on Edmund, a truck stopped at the stop sign unwilling to move until we passed even though we were still far from the intersection.

Reading an article about Mary Oliver last week, I was struck by this passage:

…it’s tempting to be blinded by the more immediately visible parts of speech: the monolithic nouns, the dynamic verbs, the charismatic adjectives. Mousier ones—pronouns, prepositions, particles—go ignored. In “Cold Poem,” for instance, from her 1983 collection American Primitive, overlooking the “we”s and the “our”s, of which there are many, is almost irresistible. One is tempted instead to luxuriate in the broader strokes and be seduced by the wholesome imagery: “I think of summer with its luminous fruit, / blossoms rounding to berries, leaves, / handfuls of grain.” There’s a mental manipulation to Oliver’s rhapsody, a mesmeric quality, as though by conjuring these organic elements, she leaves her readers vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion. Do you feel relaxed? Are you ready for nature? But you miss a lot by allowing the large language to overshadow the more muted connective tissue.

Mary Oliver and the Nature-esque/Alice Gregory

Mary’s Mousier Words: A Few Favorites

Meanwhile (adverb): at the same time

from “Wild Geese”

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain…
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air…

Meanwhile is a cousin to my favorite word, besides. Maybe more so than besides, it suggests that there are other lives/worlds/events happening too, that it is not just about you.

Anyway (adverb): as an additional consideration or thought

from “Flare”

Anyway,
there was no barn.
No child in the barn.

from “Don’t Hesitate” in Swan

It could be anything, 
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the 
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Anyway leaves room for other ideas, maybe even encourages you to get over whatever idea you’re fixated on.

Everyday (adjective): ordinary
note: not the same as every day, which means each day and evokes routine, repeated practice

from “Work”

Everyday—a little conversation with God, or his envoy
Everyday—I study the difference between water and stone.
Everyday—I stare at the world

Everyday—I have work to do:

It took me some time to realize that MO meant everyday, as in ordinary time (which she discusses in Upstream), and not every day as in habit, repeated practice. The distinction seems subtle, but rhetorically more powerful to start each line with Everyday instead of Every day. And, everyday suggests a more distant connection with specific time. It isn’t that you do these things each day on repeat, but that you do them when in the realm of the ordinary–does that make sense?

But, actually, I like to read her use of everyday/every day as both at the same time, or as both being possible meanings: the ordinary world (which is inside the clock, is ordered time, and is disciplined and useful), and the creative work she does every day that is both ordinary and extraordinary–the work of paying attention, being astonished, and telling others about it.

As I’ve been reading MO’s poems, I’ve been sensing this tension over what “work” means and the relationship between her work (poems), the world, and Eternity. I feel like the double-meaning/ambiguity of everyday/every day might be speaking to this tension—maybe it’s not intended to be resolved but to puzzled over and that’s part of the work? Or, maybe the ambiguity of it is about our circling around it, always looping through everyday and every day?

Here’s an example of MO expressing the tension between her work, the poem, and the world:

From The Book of TIme

1.
I rose this morning early as usual, and went to my desk.
But it’s spring,

and the thrush is in the woods,
somewhere in the twirled branches, and he is singing.

And so, now, I am standing by the open door.
And now I am stepping down onto the grass.

I am touching a few leaves.
I am noticing the way the yellow butterflies
move together, in a twinkling cloud, over the field.

And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.

Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.