sept 30/REMEMBERING

12 years ago today, my mom died. My memory of how terribly difficulty it was to lose her over 4 years from diagnosis to death has faded some. Or maybe it has just become such a part of me that I hardly notice it –a thickening of my skin, a callus? But even as I’m (too) used to the loss, the grief is there. It shows up in my poems, and in many of the poems I choose to spend time with. On the anniversary of her death, I’m using this space to archive a few of those poems as a way to remember her.

WAVES/ Sara Lynne Puotinen (a draft)

The waves will come my
daughter’s therapist
tells us. Let them come
let them wash over
you let them recede
return know they’ll leave
don’t care they’ll be back.
Impossible to
avoid unwise to
fight learn to accept
find ways to endure
their intensity. When

my mom died it came
up a lot from those
already on the
other side. They warned
about the sudden
rush being over-
taken swept under
consumed. Not always 
unwanted sometimes
desired better than
the alternative —
nothing stretched far flat. At

my first open swim
waves scare me choppywater whitecaps swells
hard to breathe a loss
of control but soon
I become used to
them and one summer
I decide I like
the way water rocks
me rushes over
and into me. Rough
as a spin cycle
gentle as a cradle
a chance to fight back
or surrender be
scrubbed clean jolted to
life able to hit
a wall and not fall
apart gain strength lose
weight — bearings burdens —
as I swim from one
side to the other.

I wrote this poem this September as part of a series inspired by open swimming. The series is tentatively titled, Every Five, and is made up of five syllable lines which mimic my swim stroke rhythms (every five strokes, I take a breath).

The idea of grief being a different shore, on the other side of the water — either lake nokomis or the misssissippi river — comes up in my writing a lot. This morning (I’m writing this on Oct 1), I encountered a W.S. Merwin poem that invokes sides too. Having only read it a few times, I’m not sure I fully understand what his words mean, but I want to remember his poem and place it next to my words linking death and other sides/shores.

Travelling Together/ W.S. Merwin

If we are separated I will
try to wait for you
on your side of things

your side of the wall and the water
and of the light moving at its own speed
even on leaves that we have seen
I will wait on one side

while a side is there

And here is one of my earlier poems, written 4 years ago, for a class on poetic forms. This one was for the week on elegies.

On the occasion of my mom’s 75th birthday/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

I wanted to take her on my run.
I wanted her beside me
as I traveled on the bluff
above the Mississippi.

To talk about the trees or
the poetry class I was taking or
what she was weaving on her loom or
where to plant zinnias in my backyard or
the latest book about history she was reading or
the wildflowers she knew the names of but I didn’t or
when the Real Housewives would stop being a thing or
why you can’t find a decent pair of jeans that aren’t skinny or
how it was to be seventy-five when you always feel 17. But

I couldn’t.
She’s dead.
8 years now.
And when
I’m running
I can’t spare
the energy
needed to
imagine her
beside me.
The most I
can do
is imagine
she’s the shadow
leading me
or the
runner I
encounter on
the path.

A few months ago running
south on the river road I thought
I saw her coming towards me—at
least the her I like to remember—mid
50s short reddish hair (before she started dyeing
it blonde to hide the gray) teal shorts muscular legs
jogging so slow she is almost walking. I know it isn’t
her but for less than a minute I allow myself to believe my
mom is still alive never diagnosed with a death sentence
never not running or walking or breathing. Then I remember

if those things
hadn’t ended—
mainly the breathing—
I might not
have started
running or writing
to reshape my grief.

Who would I be
without my grief?
Someone else. Someone
whose Mom is still alive but
maybe not someone who loves
to run or someone who is writing a poem
for their dead mom on the occasion of her 75th birthday.

I was thinking about my poem and my desire to walk or run by the gorge with my mom as I read this poem:

Miss you. Would like to take a walk with you./ GABRIELLE CALVOCORESSI

Do not care if  you just arrive in your skeleton.
Would love to take a walk with you. Miss you.
Would love to make you shrimp saganaki.
Like you used to make me when you were alive.
Love to feed you. Sit over steaming
bowls of pilaf. Little roasted tomatoes
covered in pepper and nutmeg. Miss you.
Would love to walk to the post office with you.
Bring the ghost dog. We’ll walk past the waterfall
and you can tell me about the after.
Wish you. Wish you would come back for a while.
Don’t even need to bring your skin sack. I’ll know
you. I know you will know me even though. I’m
bigger now. Grayer. I’ll show you my garden.
I’d like to hop in the leaf pile you raked but if you
want to jump in? I’ll rake it for you. Miss you
standing looking out at the river with your rake
in your hand. Miss you in your puffy blue jacket.
They’re hip now. I can bring you a new one
if you’ll only come by. Know I told you
it was okay to go. Know I told you
it was okay to leave me. Why’d you believe me?
You always believed me. Wish you would
come back so we could talk about truth.
Miss you. Wish you would walk through my
door. Stare out from the mirror. Come through
the pipes.

Wow, what a poem? “Stare out from the mirror. Come through/the pipes.”

And here’s one more:

Profit/Loss Statement/ Harlan Bjornstad

In beautiful, spacious September,
When pears in their boxes were golden and full,
We laid her ashes in the Minnesota earth.

Two years on, September still tastes a little like ashes.

Though pears, I have noticed, have decidedly sweetened,
And a number of trademark routines in this ambivalent month—
Say, walking the woods shifting to the red end of the spectrum
Or hearing the home crowd cheer at the homecoming game—
Have flared into a new expository grace.

Despite, or because of, her death?
It seems too cruel to say.

sept 29/RUN

4 miles
wabun park and back
64 degrees

Warm again this morning. More fall colors — mostly golds with a few hints of red. Recited “Spring and Fall” a few times, but didn’t think about it much. I might memorize a few fall poems for October.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The river glowing through the trees
  2. A kid’s cry coming from somewhere
  3. Several loud rustling sounds in the dry underbrush
  4. Two or three wild turkeys near the start of the Winchell Trail, on the other side of the chain link fence. I’ve never encountered them here before!
  5. The curve of a log, serving as a bench at the frisbee golf course in Wabun Park
  6. A loud chirping sound that might have been a bird or a squirrel
  7. The flailing arms of an approaching runner
  8. High in the sky, the moon, faintly glowing
  9. The new (is it new?) fence surrounding one side of the bottom of the ford bridge near Locks and Dam #1
  10. A few regulars: the older man (mid 60s, white hair) runner whose fast and friendly and the walker with shoulder length blonde hair

A solid run that improved my mood.

Here’s my approximate/almost/not quite poem of the day:

When Night is almost done – / Emily Dickinson

When Night is almost done –
And Sunrise grows so near
That We can touch the Spaces –
It’s time to smooth the Hair –

And get the Dimples ready –
And wonder We could care
For that Old – faded Midnight –
That frightened – but an Hour –

sept 28/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
58 degrees
humidity: 84%

Nice morning for a run, although I wish it had been less humid and a few degrees cooler. Sunny, not too windy, a clear path. Was initially planning to run 8 miles and the double loop route, but felt too tired. Still pleased with 5.5 miles. Recited Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall.”

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The wind blowing the leaves off of the trees, sometimes looking like snow, sometimes a bird flying through the air
  2. (started at 8:45) Too crowded near my street — 3 runners, 2 different groups of walkers with dogs
  3. The welcoming oaks turning golden
  4. Multiple towers of stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  5. From the spot above the floodplain forest, the trees are not turning yet. Still green and airy and blocking a view of the river
  6. The all-white bike hanging from the trestle, memorializing the death of a biker a decade or so ago, decorated — flowers or something else?
  7. Nearing the franklin bridge, thinking I saw a rower on the river, then not finding it again as I ran across the bridge
  8. Trying to see the paved path down below on the east river side but not being able to — too much green
  9. Hearing big trucks beeping and bull-dozing down in the gorge
  10. The dark shadows of trees on the water

Short Story/ Ellen Bryant Voigt

My grandfather killed a mule with a hammer,
or maybe with a plank, or a stick, maybe
it was a horse—the story varied
in the telling. If he was planting corn
when it happened, it was a mule, and he was plowing
the upper slope, west of the house, his overalls
stiff to the knees with red dirt, the lines
draped behind his neck.
He must have been glad to rest
when the mule first stopped mid-furrow;
looked back at where he’d come, then down
to the brush along the creek he meant to clear.
No doubt he noticed the hawk’s great leisure
over the field, the crows lumped
in the biggest elm on the opposite hill.
After he’d wiped his hatbrim with his sleeve,
he called to the mule as he slapped the line
along its rump, clicked and whistled.
My grandfather was a slight, quiet man,
smaller than most women, smaller
than his wife. Had she been in the yard,
seen him heading toward the pump now,
she’d pump for him a dipper of cold water.
Walking back to the field, past the corncrib,
he took an ear of corn to start the mule,
but the mule was planted. He never cursed
or shouted, only whipped it, the mule
rippling its backside each time
the switch fell, and when that didn’t work
whipped it low on its side, where it’s tender,
then cross-hatched the welts he’d made already.
The mule went down on one knee,
and that was when he reached for the blown limb,
or walked to the pile of seasoning lumber; or else,
unhooked the plow and took his own time to the shed
to get the hammer.
By the time I was born,
he couldn’t even lift a stick. He lived
another fifteen years in a chair,
but now he’s dead, and so is his son,
who never meant to speak a word against him,
and whom I never asked what his father
was planting and in which field,
and whether it happened before he married,
before his children came in quick succession,
before his wife died of the last one.
And only a few of us are left
who ever heard that story.

I found this poem today and picked it for my theme of approximate for a few reasons: 1. The “short story” is never quite “true” with details changing slightly, 2. it’s never quite a story with nothing really happening, 3. it’s not really (not exactly) about killing the animal but something else — what? the grandfather, family, the narrator’s father’s relationship with his dad, memory, passing on/remembering stories? I like this poem. At first, it’s strange and unsatisfying and confusing, but slowly it gives me images and makes me think about farming and my grandparents and illness and aging and how we remember and tell stories (and why). I think the vagueness/fuzziness of this poem makes it more powerful to me than another poem would that was sharper, more exact, more direct with details and with conjuring a scene of the grandfather.

Listening to my Daily Mix 4 on Spotify as I write this, and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor, my eyes” just came on. Because of the title I was curious, so I looked up the lyrics and read them as I listened. I liked his rhythms and slant rhymes (would they be called slant?). Thinking more about how vision works here…

Doctor, my eyes/ Jackson Browne

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me

Doctor, my eyes
They cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry?

sept 27/RUN

2 miles
river road, north/south
74 degrees

A quick run in the afternoon after dropping my wonderful sister off at the airport. Felt like summer — too hot! I struggled in the heat. Ran the first mile without headphones, then turned on a playlist for the second mile. I don’t remember much from the run. Lots of people on the trail.

sept 25/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
47 degrees

Yes, a cool morning! Ran to the falls and back. Early enough that it wasn’t too crowded. It feels like fall. Lots of yellow, a little orange, some red. Felt strong. I’m writing this a day later, so I don’t remember much. Heard at least one woodpecker. The falls were falling — not rushing or gushing, but falling. Lots of people in the parking lot already, early on a Saturday morning. Saw 2 turkeys chilling by the side of the bike trail near the double bridge. Anything else? I don’t remember any deep thoughts or ideas for a poem.

I recited Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” in my head as I ran, then recited it right after stopping. Here’s the recording, with my heavy breathing. I imagine my heart rate was still around 140 or 150.

Nothing Gold Can Stay/ Robert Frost

sept 23/RUN

5.8 miles
ford loop
54 degrees

Fall! Ran the ford loop (north to lake street bridge and across, south to ford ave bridge back across, north on west river road). Sunny, hardly any wind. Calm. Thought about stopping at the overlook on the st. paul side but didn’t. Next time, I hope. It’s hard for me to stop.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. Running down through the short steep hill just before reaching the double bridge, a glowing orange tree
  2. Some more slashes of red on the low-lying leaves–what are these trees? Basswood? Buckthorn? Looked it up and I think these leaves come from an ash tree
  3. No leaves changing in the floodplain forest yet. All green
  4. The river was calm and blue and empty
  5. Water at Shadow Falls gushing
  6. Mostly empty benches, often facing a wall of green — no view yet
  7. The small, wooded path down from the Ford Bridge was thick with leaves, dark with only a small circle of sunshine at the bottom
  8. Most of the shoreline was still green too
  9. My feet, shshshushing on the sand on the side of the path
  10. Two women walking, talking, one of them say sarcastically something like, “it’s just money”

Before I went out for my run, I memorized Robert Frost’s short poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Recited it in my head for much of the run. Tried to recite it into my phone at the end of my run and blanked on the fifth line — the word subsides — and gave up. More practice needed.

Nothing Gold Can Stay/ Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to gold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing Gold can stay.

At first I didn’t like the ABABABAB rhyme scheme, but it grew on me. It helped to listen to a recording of Frost reciting it and to repeat to myself over and over again.

sept 21/RUN

7.2 miles
bohemian flats and back
56 degrees
humidity: 82%

Cooler this morning. Hooray! Sunny, fall-like. Had been planning to run 8 or 9 miles today, almost all the way to downtown, but the road was closed, and the turn around point was less than 4 miles, so 7+ miles was all I did. I still feel good about it. I’m building up distance. My goal is to be able to do about 20-25 miles a week, with one long (about 10 mile) run.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The leaves are turning, mostly yellow, a few slashes of red, one all-orange tree
  2. Under the Franklin Bridge I started smelling smoke–I think the walker up ahead of me had a cigarette in their hand
  3. Lots of acorns littering the trail
  4. Honking geese. I couldn’t see them, but I heard them, high in the sky as I ran near the turn off for the West Bank of the U
  5. More geese taking over the walking part of the path beside the flats parking lot. A dozen or so. No honking or hissing, thankfully
  6. The river sparkling in the sun and the silhouette of a person fishing below the bridge
  7. A truck rumbling over the Washington Ave bridge as I crossed under it
  8. The newly repaired steps, near the railroad trestle, inviting me to take the lower trail — too many bugs!
  9. A walker listening to the news on the radio, a reporter mentioning Germany and riots or protests or something like that
  10. The solid white line that separates the biking and walking path in the flats is wearing off in one stretch — will they repaint it this fall?

After finishing my run, I listened to a recording of me reciting the latest poem I am writing/revising. I listened to it about 5 times, and did a voice memo with my revisions: 1. make the rhyme of land stand sand be less obvious, 2. which flows more slowly, slowly spreads or spreads slowly?, and 3. change the word “land” at the end to rock. Here’s my updated version:

AFTERGLOW/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Reaching the big beach
for a final time
land’s logic returns
too soon. Unsteady
I stand then drop down
kneeling in wet sand
waiting for tired legs
to remember how
to be vertical.

Muscles are grateful
happy to be used.
A delicious ache
slowly spreads not pain
or heat but glowing
satisfaction. Me
& Shoulders. We are
pleased with our effort.
We feel confident
strong. Enough. More than
enough. Enormous.
Too big to fit in
this lake. No longer
wanting to be water
formless fluid but
the rock that contains
it. Solid defined
giving shape to the (its?) flow.

I’m also not sure of the punctuation or if I should change the line breaks. So far, I’ve been using 5 beats per line. How would it work if I changed where each link broke?

sept 20/RUN

2 miles
2 trails
73 degrees
humidity: 74%

Fall weather please come back. I want my crisp, cool air. The run wasn’t too bad, but now that I’ve finished, I’m sweating a lot. Rain is coming in a few hours and everything will cool down. It’s already dark, ominous. Running above the river on the dirt trail just past the 38th street steps, everything was a slight blur. Dreamy. Unreal. The lack of light makes my already diminished central vision even more dim. Thought about how I couldn’t really see the path but didn’t worry about tripping because I know most of the dips and holes and rocks on this stretch and because even when my eyes don’t see the trail, my feet seem to. I glanced at the river but I don’t remember anything about it.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A walker with a white (or was it yellow?) sweatshirt wrapped around her waist pushing a stroller moving fast. It took me a few minutes to reach and then pass her. As I approached, I stared at her sweatshirt, one of the only bright things on this dark day
  2. Another bright thing: a runner in a bright yellow shirt
  3. Someone paused on the path, getting ready to start walking or running on the Winchell Trail?
  4. The small section of the river trail at 42nd that was blocked off for sewer work last week is open again and so is the road
  5. A tree leaning over the trail, not yet fallen, but looking like it might soon
  6. Flashing lights from a construction/city truck and a man in a yellow vest standing next to it near the sidewalk
  7. The damp dirt down in the oak savanna, not quite mucky or muddy yet
  8. 2 steep spots on the Winchell Trail: running down from the upper trail, right by 42nd street and a giant boulder and running up the short stretch near Folwell
  9. An approaching walker who turned down on an even lower dirt trail before I reached them
  10. The voice of a kid up above me as I ran down towards the mesa

Thinking about my growing number of swimming poems, some re-edited version of old poems, some new. My tentative title for the collection: Every Five (as in breathing every five strokes). All poems will play around with 5 as part of the structure — 5 beats or 5 lines or ?. Scott suggested I do something with iambic pentameter (5 feet of one short one long beat). A sonnet? Maybe a love poem to my swimming body/muscles/shoulders? Hmm…not sure if I’m feeling that.

Here’s a poem for the month’s theme of the approximate. This one is taking up the idea of almost, not quite or not exactly. It’s a poem that features an object — a cucumber — but it is not about the cucumber, but something else.

The Cucumber/ Nazim Hikmet

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and still coming down hard:
it hasn’t let up all morning.
We’re in the kitchen. On the table, on
the oilcloth, spring —
on the table there’s a very tender youn
cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it.
It softly lights up our faces,
and the very air smells fresh.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it,
amazed
thoughtful
optimistic.
We’re as if in a dream.
On the table, on the oilcloth, hope —
on the table, beautiful days,
a cloud seeded with a green sun,
an emerald crowd impaties and on its way,
loves blooming openly —
on the the table, there on the oilcloth, a very tender
young

cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a
daisy.
The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and coming down hard.
It hasn’t let up all morning.

This poem and the idea of not exactly, reminds me of listening to the radio in the car yesterday with Scott and RJP. First, the sappy song, “Make it with You” by BREAD came on, then “Hot-blooded” by Foreigner. Both of them sung by someone who is trying to seduce the listener. Scott pointed out how the first song is much more indirect/oblique in its suggestions, while the second is very blunt. I started thinking about how the indirect song is a form of the approximate, the almost, or Emily Dickinson’s idea of the slant. It implies and circles (or what the poet Kaveh Akbar might call orbits and I might say in thinking about my swimming this summer, loops) around the actual meaning, never quite saying it. For Akbar, I think, orbiting is often because we can’t ever fully get at the meaning, while for BREAD it’s an unwillingness to reveal exactly what they mean in order to get what they want. One of the swimming poems I want to revise is about loops and looping around the lake. Maybe I can play around with loop as orbiting or circling, never quite getting there, always near but not quite.

This reminded me of another approximate phrase: close but no cigar. Looked up the origins and several sources gave this explanation:

It comes from traveling fairs and carnivals from the 1800s. The prizes back then were not giant-sized stuffed teddy bears, they were usually cigars or bottles of whiskey. If you missed the prize at a carnival game, the carnie folk would shout, “Close! But no cigar!”

source

sept 19/RUN

3 miles
austin, mn
67 degrees
humidity: 90%

Ran with Scott in Austin. It felt much warmer than 67 degrees. Very humid. The gate was open, so we ran through the county fairgrounds. Scott and the kids made it here, but I was on my trip up north, so I missed it. No cheese curds for me this summer. At the far end of the fairgrounds, dozen of geese had were congregating in a treeless, empty field. Lots of geese in Austin, lots of geese up here in Minneapolis too. Sometimes, the sky is filled with their honking. Love that sound, and love this time of year.

Found this poem by Rumi on twitter the other day. I think this fits with my theme of approximate:

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

sept 17/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
61 degrees
humidity: 83%

What a storm early this morning! So much wind and flashes of light around 2:30 am. Running this morning, I expected to see big branches down everywhere. Not too many (any?) on the minneapolis side, but on the st. paul side they had to shut down the right lane and the sidewalk so a crew could clear all the debris. I saw that the road was closed right at the spot where I turn, so I assumed I would be able to get through. Nope. Had to turn around and run past a long line of cars that had probably watched me running towards the closed sidewalk and wondered why I kept going. Oh well. Turning around added a small bit of distance to my run, which was a bonus.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The squeak of my shoes running over wet leaves and pulverized acorns
  2. Little branches, some still covered in green leaves, some bare, littered all over the trail
  3. From my view above on the bridge: a streak of muck/silt? in the river near the st. paul shore
  4. No rowers or roller skiers
  5. A radio playing near the ravine by Shadow Falls. I wondered if the song was coming from down in the ravine or on a bike across the ravine
  6. The more than trickling, not quite gushing, of falls at shadow falls
  7. some fall color: a few yellow trees, a slash of red
  8. someone stopping at the memorial just above the lake street bridge, reading the signs or taking pictures or both
  9. a backpacked kid biking with his dad, heading to school
  10. A shirtless runner speeding past me, almost wheezing

word of the day: majusculation

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

Here’s a poem for the theme of approximate:

[I remember partially]/ Jane Huffman

I remember partially

My searching
Party going out in search

Of my own
Life my lantern light

Like water sloshing
Down the front

Of me and calling
My own name

Into the forest dusk
A partial sound

A painful braying
Syllable

That grounded
Like a current

In the dirt a yard
In front of me

But I resorted to it
Like a witness does

To memory

I was planning to swim this afternoon, but the buoys are gone. Lake swimming is officially over. Sad, but it’s time to focus on fall and winter running!

sept 15/RUN

5 miles
franklin loop
56 degrees
humidity: 81%

Fall! It doesn’t quite look like fall yet, but it’s starting to feel like it. A solid, wonderful run around the river.

1 Thing I Noticed

Running over the marshall/lake street bridge back to Minneapolis, I looked down at the river. Near the shore, on the St. Paul side, some towering trees were casting a shadow on the root beer colored water. As I left the shore, the water lightened to a brownish green (or greenish brown?). Looking downstream, the river gradually turned blue as it met the sky. A single rower with a bright orange shirt was rowing across from minneapolis to st. paul. Perpendicular to shore instead of parallel. At the last minute, just before leaving the bridge, I remembered to check the trees lining each shore to see if they were changing colors. Not yet, but soon.

Returning to the theme of approximate (sort of). Thinking about the idea of exact or definite as leading to understanding and the goal of making sense of things. The amazing poet Carl Phillips — I’m reading his collection of essays on craft, Daring, right now too — tweeted this poem the other day:

May Day Midnight/ Michael Palmer

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

But have we come this far,
come this close to death,
just to make sense?

I love this poem, especially it’s use of just in the last line. Making sense is important/necessary, but it’s not all we can/should do. How does the approximate, almost or not quite, the not exact or fixed or finished, enable us to do more (or less) than make sense?

sept 13/RUN

8 miles
lake nokomis and back
58 degrees
humidity: 79%

The 8 mile run this week was much harder than last week’s. I am wiped out. Ran 6.5 miles without stopping, then walked for a few minutes before finishing up the run. Running all the way to lake nokomis and back seems farther than looping around the river.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The buoys are still up at the big beach
  2. There is orange paint outlining the cracks in the path near nokomis avenue
  3. The creek is still very low
  4. Under the duck bridge, on the other side of the creek from the trail, a little kid was singing the melody of a rock song that I can’t quite remember
  5. It was windier at the lake and the water looked choppy
  6. The water was gushing at the 42nd street sewer pipe
  7. A giant monarch butterfly sign was on the fence at the lake nokomis rec center playground–left over from the festival this weekend
  8. The purple and yellow flowers near the parking lot of minnehaha falls are in full bloom
  9. So are the zinnias in the yard with the cat who thinks she’s queen of the block (and is)
  10. 4 IKEA kids plastic chairs left in the boulevard — at least 2 were powder blue

This list took me a while. It was hard to remember anything from the run because I’m so tired. Will I be up exhausted all day?

Still thinking about fish and the fish in me and my poem borrowing some lines from Anne Sexton. I started the run intent on these topics and managed to think a bit about Sexton’s line “the real fish did not mind” but soon forgot all about it as the run got harder.

From some tweets I read, I thought today was Mary Oliver’s birthday. Double-checked, it was on the 10th. Still, her recent birthday inspired me to find a fish poem by her to post here:

The Fish/ Mary Oliver

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.

So many poems about fish are about catching them or eating them. I want more poems that aren’t about fish as food.

I’m interested in contrasting Oliver’s idea about consuming the fish as a way to become one with it and the water with Sexton’s idea about the fish in us escaping. Fish going out instead of in. What does this mean? Not entirely sure yet, but I think it might help me figure out what to do with the next part of the poem and what I might be trying to say about “the fish in me” and its dis/connection from real fish.

sept 12/RUN

2.25 miles
dogwood loop
58 degrees

Ran with Scott north on the river road trail to the trestle, through Bracket Park, then over to Dogwood Coffee. Great weather for a run. Not too hot or humid, hardly any wind, overcast. Saw Dave, the Daily Walker and after I called out to him, he greeted both us, remembering Scott’s name. Impressive, considering he’s only met Scott once, and it was when I introduced them while running by quickly about 2 years ago! Noticed a few red leaves. Heard the rowers below us. No geese (yet) or wild turkeys or large groups of runners. Some bikers and walkers and signs for an event by the river yesterday: “free rowing” and “free canoe rides.” It would have been fun to try the rowing. Oh well.

Here’s an updated version of the poem I posted yesterday. I’ve fit it into my five beat form. Not sure if it works yet, and I’d like to add more.

At the lake the fish in me escapes

All winter she waits
barely alive iced
under skin. By june
restless. Together
we enter the cold
water but before
the first stroke she’s gone
reborn in endless
blue remembering
fins forgetting lungs
legs january.


sept 11/SWIM

1 mile
lake nokomis main beach
70 degrees

Another chance to swim in the lake this morning! Every swim now is a bonus. Much less choppy today but still not smooth. Overcast. I kept seeing silver streaks below me, most likely fish. I’ve been writing/revising some poetry lately about being in and one with the lake and the fish, but it takes me a few minutes to get over my fear of fish below. Most of them are small, probably all of them are harmless, but there are a few bigger fish that could bump into me. It’s a bit ridiculous, I suppose. It didn’t stop me from swimming, although it might have been the reason I only swam 1 mile and not 2. As I felt a little panic in the first loop I thought, how could I ever swim in the ocean or across a bigger lake, if these silver streaks are freaking me out? Then I remember an essay I read by Lauren Groff about swimming in the ocean and how the fear of the unknown below you and learning how to manage it or embrace it is part of the point. I was unsettled, but I still swam, so maybe I could swim in the ocean…

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A seagull perched on a white buoy, flying away only seconds before I reached it
  2. Small undulations in the water, sometimes looking like waves, sometimes something else (a fish?a stick? another swimmer?)
  3. A few small vines brushing my shoulder, a leaf touching my finger
  4. A family of 3 on a kayak or a canoe or a paddle board — I couldn’t tell with my eyes half in, half out of the water
  5. Drums beating across the lake from the Monarch Butterfly Festival
  6. A little girl repeatedly singing while in the water, “Swim with me in the sea!” as I waded out from the beach
  7. Fluffy, shredded clouds covering the mostly blue sky
  8. A plane flying fast overhead
  9. The bubbles from my hand as it entered the water and pushed down below my torso
  10. The dude standing on some motorized paddle board/hoverboard, speeding across the lake after my swim — a strange, unreal sight

Getting back to the fish below me, before I went swimming, I was working with one of my favorite lines from Anne Sexton’s wonderful poem, “The Nude Swim:”

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.
We calmly trailed over them
and under them

As I was swimming, pretending to be a fish for 30 minutes, I wondered what the real fish below me thought. Were there any real fish there? If so, what did I look like to them, up above on the surface? Did my form cast a shadow below? In the turgid water, could they even sense me above?

In a document named “fragmentsforswimminglatefall,” I found the start of a poem based on the first bit from Sexton’s poem: All the fish in us/ had escaped for a minute.”

At the lake
I let loose the fish in me
all winter she has waited
barely alive
under the surface
of my icy skin
now in june
she is restless
together we enter
the cold water
before I take
my first stroke
she is gone
reborn in endless blue
remembering her fins
forgetting january

This poem needs some work, but I like the idea of letting loose the fish in me.

sept 10/RUNSWIM

run: 2.7 miles
2 trails
61 degrees

Felt a little warmer today even though it was only 61 degrees. Sunny, quiet. A strange time, not quite fall but not still summer. Running south on the river road trail, I noticed a few slashes of red on the low lying leaves. It’s coming. I love this time of year and the turning of the leaves.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The sewer at 44th had barely a trickle, the one at 42nd was a steady stream
  2. More uneven, shifting sidewalk on the paved part of the Winchell Trail than I remember. Entire slabs settling and separating
  3. A spazzy squirrel darted but didn’t cross my path. Climbed a tree instead
  4. Kids’ voices drifting down from the upper path
  5. The first part of the Winchell Trail that has rubbling asphalt was littered with leaves–signs of fall!
  6. An unleashed white dog, then an unleashed black dog, then 2 or 3 humans, crowding the narrow, leaning path
  7. Someone walking in the middle of the closed road
  8. Voices, then a woman holding a child at the edge of the gravel path near the ravine
  9. The river?
  10. The sign warning of a slight ramp at the end of the path detour near Beckettwood

swim: 1 mile
lake nokomis main beach
78 degrees

The buoys are still up! Warm but windy. Swimming into big(gish) waves heading south, riding on big(gish) swells heading back north. Saw lots of flashes below me. Fish or slants of light? Another metal detector dude was out there. He was hard core, in a wetsuit, choppy water up to his shoulders, and had a buoy to anchor him. I wonder what he found? Encountered one other swimmer taking on the waves and talked to someone about to swim at the beach when I was done. A good swim.

Other things I remember: A row of seagulls was at the edge of the water; a few sunbathers were on the beach; lots of kayaks and canoes and paddle boards with people standing and on their knees; the waves too high to see much of the other side or the beach.

sept 9/RUN

4 miles
top of the franklin hill and back
59 degrees
humidity: 80%

Fall running! Love the cooler weather. Thought about a poem I’m revising from my chapbook about open swim at lake nokomis. It’s called “detritus,” although I might change that title, and originally it was about the muck that gets into my suit while I’m swimming and that I need to wash off and was inspired by this fun alliteration: “I can’t see the slimy sand seep inside and settle on my skin.” I’m editing it to fit the form of 5 beats (5 strokes in the water then a breath) and expanding it to go beyond what the lake leaves with me to wonder what do I leave with the lake? This new part is inspired by the metal detector dudes I overheard at the lake a few days ago. Speaking of the lake, I just read about how 2 young kids (8 and 11) were rescued after drowning at lake nokomis on monday, just hours after I swam there. There is critical condition. Wow. I never think of this lake as dangerous — it’s really not that deep — but it is.

Back to my run: I barely looked down at the river. Was it because the path was more crowded? Ran by 2 walkers with a dog taking up the entire walking path. As I ran by, the dog lunged at me. When the owner apologized I said, “that’s okay” and meant it. Later I wished I had said, “sorry I didn’t warn you” and decided that I would either warn walkers in the future or steer much clearer of them and I did. Greeted the Welcoming Oaks and then Dave, the Daily Walker. Heard a crow. Thought about how I felt strong and relaxed. My right kneecap clicked a little but finally settled into its groove.

Here’s a poem I found by searching, “metal detector poetry). When I first read it and realized how long it was, I exclaimed, “Ahh! This is looong.” But I decided to type up the whole thing, and I’m glad I did.

MAN WITH METAL DETECTOR / Robert B. Shaw

You know me. I’m the one
who isn’t dressed for the beach,
arriving late in the day
when you’re folding your umbrella
or shaking out your towel.
I must look from a distance
like some insane slave-laborer
tasked with tidying up
as much sand as I can
with some pathetic tool, some
peculiar carpet sweeper.
In fact what this picks up
is hid below the surface.
I put its ear to the ground
and when, from inches under,
it hears the note, inaudible
to me, of something metal,
the needles on its dials
shiver to full attention.
Then I use my grandson’s
shovel to excavate.
Sometimes a soda can,
sometimes even jewelry
(though more of that turns up
in playgrounds and in parks
than down here by the ocean.)
It’s more like prospecting
than like archeology.
Unwittingly let slip
or purposely discarded,
these relics offer few
hints of their past owners:
a lost coin is every
bit as anonymous
as a chucked beer-tab.
Once in a long while
I came across initials.
It gives me a bad feeling.
I don’t really want to know
who M.S.M. is, whose ring
I picked up near the boardwalk.
Eighteen carat gold
and set with a seed pearl.
Smaller than all my fingers.
Was it loose on hers?
Did she put it in a pocket
which then proved treacherous?
Or (and this is worse) did she
strip it off and throw it
to rid herself of someone
she got it from, someone
she would have liked to see
thrown down hard and buried?
My Sad Monogram,
what’s the use of asking?
You’ve long since found out
insurance didn’t cover it,
or if you meant to lose it
you didn’t even ask.
Pardon me for making up
your story from such meager
evidence — it shows how
things turning up these days turn naggingly suggestive,
won’t leave my mind the way
I want it: matter-of-fact.
Something about this hobby
is getting out of hand.
I only took it up because
the doctor wants me walking.
I feel like knocking off
sooner than usual today
and simply sitting awhile
to watch the way the tide
oversteps itself in long
rippling strikes of silk,
making a cleaner sweep in time
than any I could make.

What a great poem! I’d like to wander/wonder to a story like this in a poem.

sept 7/RUN

8.1 miles
ford loop + franklin loop
67 degrees
humidity: 70%

8 miles! It’s been over 2 years since I ran this far. No stopping to walk. It felt pretty good, the only thing that hurt were my legs and left hip. Just a little sore in the last few miles.

I didn’t look at my watch once during the run. I wasn’t sure when I’d hit 8 miles. I didn’t want to check, find out I still had a mile left, and then lose momentum, so I decided to wait until I got past the lake street bridge to look at my watch. 8.1 miles. Nice. I probably could have run some more, but I decided to stop. To avoid injury, I’m only adding a mile each week.

When I started the run, I wanted to think about a poem I’m revising. I’m having trouble with the ending. It almost works, but not quite. I managed to think about it for a few minutes, before I was distracted by something –maybe the construction near 42nd? One thought, which doesn’t directly help the ending, but my help how I get to it: try making the beats in each line mirror my strokes while I swim. So, mostly 5 syllables for each line, with an occasional 3 or 4 or 6.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. So many beautiful views over on the east/St. Paul side of the river! Breaks in the trees where you can stop and look. Benches with the vines and branches trimmed. A few inviting overlooks
  2. No slashes of yellow or orange or bright red yet
  3. The river, as I crossed the Ford Bridge, was blue and calm, with no kayaks or rowing shells
  4. The shshshshsh of my striking feet on the gritty dirt path between ford and marshall
  5. At least 2 big packs (trots) of runners on the trail — a cross country team for the U or St. Thomas, probably
  6. One roller skier, slowing down to avoid a woman walking on the biking path
  7. A dog bark below, echoing in the mostly quiet
  8. Passing the man in black — a very tall walker, with super long legs, who I used to encounter a few years ago as I ran and who, in the winter, wears all black, and, for the rest of the year, black shorts
  9. The flowers/garden/landscaping at The Monument (just below Summit Avenue) are beautiful. A wide range of bright colors
  10. A huge brick house/estate, perched on a hill on Eustis St

sept 6/SWIM

1.6 miles / 42 minutes
lake nokomis main beach
68 degrees

Choppier and cooler today, both the air and the water. Not that much cooler, but enough to tell the difference. Today is the last official day of the swim season. Tomorrow begins the game, “How long before they take the buoys down?” A few years ago, the buoys were up until October. Very nice. I’m not sure this year. I’m expecting they’ll take them down soon. It would be wonderful if I could get in another week or two.

Lots of kayaks on the water, one other swimmer, waves. Much choppier. I still felt strong and happy to be in the lake. My goggles fogged up a few times, which was annoying. Because of the waves, it was hard to see anything but water. Today, I did some breathing every five and some breathing every four or every six on the side where waves weren’t crashing into me (the right side).

Later, after the swim, when we were having a final beer at Sandcastle, I heard a seagull, but I didn’t see any perched on a white buoy when I was in the water. No ducks or geese either.

Sitting at Sandcastle, I noticed a guy pretty far out from the shore, with only his feet getting wet. This year, the drought has made the water very low. Pointing him out to STA, I said, “He looks like Jesus.” I think that image and line should be in a poem.

This month, even as I’m thinking about “approximate,” I’m struggling to keep up the theme. So today, instead of approximate, I searched for a poem under the topic “late summer” and found this beautiful one. So much amazing imagery!

Late Summer/ JENNIFER GROTZ

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

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

sept 5/SWIM!

2 miles / 10 loops
lake nokomis main beach
68 degrees / sunny / calm

Wow! A perfect morning for a swim. Sunny and calm. The water was fast and buoyant and smooth. I felt very strong — strong shoulders and legs and back muscles. What a wonderful feeling! I loved how the water was cool but not too cold. Maybe 70 degrees? I didn’t stop swimming my steady 1 2 3 4 5 breathe rhythm until I finished 9 loops then I checked my watch and did one more loop.

I don’t remember seeing any fish or birds, just a few other swimmers, paddle boarders, and a boat with a big net. One wonderful thing about the public lakes here in Minneapolis: no motorized boats. Only rowboats, sailboats, kayaks, canoes. I imagine I might be quite irritated swimming in a crowded lake with motorboats—and stressed out, always looking out for boats who might run me down.

For the first time in a few years, I saw 2 wet-suited dudes with metal detectors! Nice. In past years, I’ve encountered them (metal detector dudes, but not necessarily these exact metal detector dudes) early in the morning at the beach and overheard them discussing what they find. Today one of the guys was especially excited about a belt buckle and all the coins—“even some half dollars!”—he had discovered. I don’t remember hearing any beep beep of a detector, above or below the water. Why not? Wouldn’t that sound travel underwater? Did I hear it, but not notice it? Do metal detectors alert you in ways other than a beep? Discussed it with Scott and we both agreed: they must have been using headphones.

Very glad I made the effort to go over to the lake this morning and swim. Is this my last one of the year? I’d love to make it over here a few more times, but it gets harder in september and colder and they might close the beach and remove the buoys any time after labor day. I’m sad to stop, but excited to spend more time running.

Looked up idioms for approximate and found a few: by and large, as a rule, for all intents and purposes. Then looked up vaguely: ships that passed in the night. Also read about how vague indicates an unwillingness to commit, to give a definitive answer.

september 4/RUN

4.1 miles
marshall loop
63 degrees
humidity: 89%

Cooler, but I could feel the humidity. Felt strong. I think all of the swimming this summer strengthened my legs and core, which is very helpful. I’d like to figure out how to keep it up this fall and winter. Heard the rowers as I ran down the east river road, then saw them lined up in the water, receiving instruction from the coxswain. Heard lots of other voices in the gorge, near the Monument and Shadow Falls. People hiking? exploring? checking out the falls, which only appear after it rains (which it did the past few days)? Encountered lots of runners and walkers. No roller skiers. I’m sure there were birds but I don’t remembering hearing them. I do remember looking at the river as I crossed the bridge–mostly, the rowers, but also that the river was calm and a blue gray. Not quite sunny yet, so no sparkling water. Anything else? No deep thoughts stayed with me, no fragments from a poem. I’m sure I thought about my son who Scott and I dropped off at college yesterday. Very excited for him.

As I write this entry a few hours after the run, I’m remembering that I thought briefly about the idea of approximate and a passage I read last night from Blind Man’s Bluff, a memoir by James Tate Hill about becoming legally blind at 16, and trying to hide it.

I can still see out of the corners of my eyes, but here’s the thing about peripheral vision: The quality of what you see isn’t the same as you see head-on. Imagine a movie filmed with only extras, a meal cooked using nothing but herbs and a dash of salt, a sentence constructed only of metaphors. To see something in your peripheral vision with any acuity, it has to be quite large.

Blind Man’s Bluff/ James Tate Hill

I thought about this passage when I was running because I’m bothered by his negative depiction of peripheral vision. Is the quality of vision solely based on clarity and sharpness? What value/quality of vision might we get from our side views and from images that are something less than 100% clear?

I find it helpful to read others’ descriptions of how and what they see. Hill’s vision is much worse than mine–even though the cones in my central vision are almost completely gone, my acuity in both eyes is surprisingly good and nowhere near legally blind. It seems as if the last few cones are doing all the work. Yet, even with my not-too-bad-yet vision, I struggle to see things like faces and eyes, read signs. Here’s an example from yesterday at the buffet lunch at my son’s college orientation: The food was put out on platters–watermelon, deli meat, cheese, bread, pasta salad–and you helped yourself. With my vision, I couldn’t tell what some of the food was–I had to ask Scott. I just couldn’t see it well enough. This often happens now when I’m eating a meal. I can’t quite (almost, but not enough) see what’s on the plate. I used to write about how I can’t tell if there’s mold on food, but now I can’t tell what the food is–unless I’ve prepared it myself. Not that big of a deal, but still frustrating.

Here’s another passage from the memoir that I appreciated:

The most frequent compliment heard by people with a disability is I could never do what you do, but everyone knows how to adapt. When it’s cold outside, we put on a coat. When it rains, we grab an umbrella. A road ends, so we turn left, turn right, turn around. We adapt because it’s all we can do when we cannot change our situation.

The other thing that I’ve already started to hear a lot as I lose my vision is: “you’re so brave!” I am not brave; I am good at adapting and learning to live with uncertainty. I am proud of how I’m handling my vision loss, but not because I’m being brave.

Returning to the theme of approximate, I’ve been trying to collect words, phrases that describe it: roughly, vague, almost, not quite, rough estimation, about, nearly, in the right zip or area code, in the ballpark, and the one that Scott mentioned the other day:

close enough for jazz

Had I ever heard this before Scott used it? He picked up the phrase from his jazz director in college, Dr. Steve Wright. Such a great phrase, one that I don’t see as criticizing jazz as sloppy, but celebrating it for its generosity.

september 2/ RUN

4 miles
wabun park and back
64 degrees

Cooler this morning. Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker at the start of my run, when I was heading south on Edmund. Instead of running all the way to the falls, I turned at Godfrey and ran through Waban park and down the steep hill beside the river. I was beside the river for much of the run but I barely glanced at it. I remember seeing it once, while on the steep part of the Winchell Trail, through the trees. I’m sure I heard some birds, but If I did, I forgot. I remember hearing the click click click of a roller skier’s poles just above me. Last night, while driving to the Twins’ game, Scott pointed out a group of roller skiers skiing without poles but waving their arms like they were using poles. We imagined that practicing without poles might strengthen your leg muscles. It looked strange and awkward and difficult.

Encountered a few people at Waiban park, walking towards the VA home, which is right next to the park. One woman was wearing a bright yellow vest. Ran down the steep hill, and saw a few more walkers. A fast runner sped by me, running on the bike trail. I passed a walker with shoulder length blond hair that I’ve passed a lot this summer. They always wear hiking sandals and a skirt. Anything else? I don’t remember hearing any water coming out of the sewer pipes or any kids on the playground. I ran by a spazzy squirrel that flung itself on the chain link fence as I went past. Also almost stepped on a chipmunk in the part of the Winchell Trail where the trees are thicker.

It took me some time, but I finally found a poem that fits my theme, approximate:

There Is No Word/ TONY HOAGLAND

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack 
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging 
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits. 

There is no single, unimpeachable word 
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you

as it exceeds its elastic capacity        
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street

chatting with an old friend 
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance, 

a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye 
I think we share a feeling of relief,  

a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,   
though to tell the truth 

what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

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

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

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.

sept 1/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
71 degrees

A great day for a bike ride. I haven’t rode my bike since August 3rd (wow), and it took a few minutes for my brain to get used to it again. Much harder to see at the beginning. No panic. Pretty soon, it was a little easier. I’m hoping to bike more during September and October before it gets too cold and I have to bring the bike inside to the basement. I never know if this will be the last season I can see well enough to bike.

swim: 2 miles / 10 loops
main beach
73 degrees

Windier and choppier today. Still a wonderful swim. Sunny, sparkling water, some sailboats, blue sky, fuzzy green trees. The first loop was harder than the rest. Difficult to get into a rhythm. Once I did, I was able to stop thinking about sighting or stroking and let my mind wander.

An idea occurred to me: when I think about how much I love swimming in the lake, it’s rarely (if ever) about being fully and completely immersed, deep under the water. It’s about being just below the surface, or at the surface but under the water, with an occasional raising of my eyes to see the air or a boat or the world beyond the water. I was thinking about this partly because I’ve become increasingly interested in surfaces and depths (sinking and floating), but mostly because I’m editing a poem I wrote a few years ago titled, “submerged.” Here’s my latest version of it:

submerged

Every 5 strokes a breath
twist left lift up mouth opens
twist right lift up air enters
quick intake above then
5 full beats below this
exhale a chance to dream
a little longer a
way to forget one thing
remember something else
a thought: could above be
the dream below what’s real?
Are hard surfaces the
Illusion fluid edges
the truth? Is belief in
a separate self false? Yes.
My body is not mine
but ours together — fish
water swimmers — all lake
all longing to stay submerged
5 strokes at a time I
am not I but we joined
freed from gravity’s pull
hungry lungs’ demands. Home.

After I finished my swim and was sitting on the sand, I recorded a voice memo with some thoughts:


after swim sept 1

According to the dictionary, submerged means under water–not necessarily deep under water or at the bottom, just fully under water. I want to think more about this word and if it is the right title for my poem. Do I want to be submerged, or something else?

Today is the first day of September. Time for a new theme. Approximate. I wrote about it on August 20:

not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either. 

Here’s today poem on the theme:

Approximate Poem/ Paul Hall (1977)

The things that I habitually say
are obvious. Why repeat them? Besides,
they are never what I meant to say.
The things that I want to say are like the book
next to the book that you took from the library
shelf. Now you’re disappointed, aren’t you. Now you’re
dozing with that book sunk into your chest
like a gravemarker, and from now on, that book
keeps your place in death, wherever it is.
But that has nothing to do with what I
want say in this poem. And even if
you had picked the right book, what I would like to say
would be beneath your thumb as you turn the page,
(In the margin, actually, and would
that make me a marginal type? marginally
human?) What I want to say is always
peripheral. What I really have to say
limps. What I want to say causes people
to dial our number by mistake. Your
abruptness with them gags me. The man
across the street is idly swinging
a golf club. What I would really like to say
is disintegrating from wind divots.
What I’d like to say loses traction
along my larynx and comes out “uh.”

However, clearing my throat accordions
what I intend to say into an
unintelligible grunt. An important
oration that I had in mind was
sky written in sparrow farts. I suppose
you missed it. I have a sore throat. It is
the pass over of intended statements.
My dentist says that I eat too much sugar.
I say that my cavities are the
terrorist bombings of a frustrated
authority. Consequently, important
clues to what I have always wanted to say
are buried under my fillings. Much of
what I’d still like to say gets in the way
of breathing. I had to quit smoking. What I
meant to say was escaping under
a smoke screen. What I would like to say is
every word that you have ever regretted
saying. So the next time you think you’re about
to make a fool of yourself, don’t stop.
Say it. You can always defend yourself
by saying that you didn’t mean to say
that. You can even blame it on me.
And I will know what I had in mind
and everybody will be satisfied.
That is to say. . .