nov 9/RUN

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls turn around
53 degrees / humidity: 96%

A great run this morning. I felt strong and relaxed and never like I wanted or needed to stop. A gray morning. At the start, the sky was almost white with a little gray and the idea of light blue. By the end, the sky was still white, but a little more gray and thick, heavy. Returning above the gorge, there was some haze over the water.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. gushing water from the sewer pipe at 42nd st
  2. trickling water at the falls
  3. most of the leaves are off the trees, the ones that remain are burnt orange
  4. other colors: blue-gray asphalt at minnehaha park, green grass, my bright orange sweatshirt
  5. a runner in a light colored shirt passed me going fast under the ford bridge. I enjoyed watching his bobbing shoulders bounce off into the distance for the next 5 minutes
  6. almost empty parking lots at the falls, a few groups of walkers
  7. the beep beep beep of a car alarm from a car being towed through the roundabout near the falls
  8. even though it was a little dark and gloomy, few cars had on their lights
  9. the river was half light, half dark
  10. a elementary school class visiting the ravine, a line of them stretching across the sidewalk. I found a big gap and tried to quickly pass through. Some kids sprinted, trying to catch me or run into me (they didn’t)

Little Gray Cells

Today’s gray theme is: the brain, the little gray cells, gray matter. When I think of gray matter, I first think of the “little gray cells” and Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, especially in one my favorite movies, Death on the Nile:

“And to rest the little gray cells.”

Gray matter is tissue found in the brain. It contains a lot of neuronal cells. Reading about it, I could feel myself shutting down. Too much science-y jargon! Here’s a description of their function to remember for later:

Grey matter serves to process information in the brain. The structures within the grey matter process signals from the sensory organs or from other areas of the grey matter. This tissue directs sensory stimuli to the neurons in the central nervous system where synapses induce a response to the stimuli.

These signals reach the grey matter through the myelinated axons that make up the bulk of the white matter. The grey matter that surrounds the cerebrum, also given the name cerebral cortex is involved in several functions such as being involved in personality, intelligence, motor function, planning, organization, language processing, and processing sensory information.

Grey Matter in the Brain

Reading this description I’m wondering how they work with vision for both motor function and processing sensory information. As I walked through my alley at the end of my run I also wondered, How does exercise affect gray matter? Looked it up and found a pop description of a recent small study from an Australian site that suggests aerobic activity increases the gray matter, especially in terms of cognition. I found the word choice in this line interesting:

Recent research from Germany shows that aerobic exercise increases local and overall gray matter volume in the brain by an average 5.3 cubic centimetres.

This is a significant increase and more than the total brain volume of some American Presidents.

Well played, Australia.

I looked up “gray matter vision poem” and this one came up. I’d like to spend more time with it and Forrest Gander’s notes about his translation.

Echo/ Pura López-Colomé

translated by Forrest Gander

It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—

—Emily Dickinson

Afloat between your lens
and your gaze,
the last consideration to go
across my gray matter
and its salubrious
deliquescence
is
whether or not I’ll swim,
whether I’ll be able to breathe,
whether I’ll live like before.

I’m caught in the bubble
of your breath.
It locks me in.
Drives me mad.

Confined to speak alone,
I talk and listen,
ask questions and answer myself.
I hum, I think I sing,
I breathe in, breathe in and don’t explode.
I’m no one.

Behind the wall
of hydrogen and oxygen,
very clear, almost illuminated,
you allow me to think
that the Root of the Wind is Water
and the atmosphere
smells of salt and microbes and intimacy.

And in that instant comes
the low echo
of a beyond beyond,
a language archaic and soaked
in syllables and accents suited
for re-de-trans-forming,
giving light,
giving birth to
melanin
hidden within another skin:
the hollow echo of the voice
which speaks alone.

It would have taken me a lot longer to understand (some of) what’s happening with Emily Dickinson in this poem if I hadn’t listened to Forrest Gander’s introduction, or read his translator notes. First, he says in his introduction before reading the poem:

Her poem seems to take place at a time when she’s undergoing physical trauma, which is cancer, and in this poem she is sort of slipping under a narcotic before some kind of treatment or operation, and in the last moments of consciousness what’s going through her mind is a poem of Emily Dickinson’s

And then he writes, in his translator notes:

Written at a difficult time in the poet’s life, at a time when her life was emphatically at stake, this poem includes an echo of Emily Dickinson’s #1295:

I think that the Root of the Wind is Water—
It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—
Mediterranean intonations—
To a Current’s Ear—
There is a maritime conviction
In the Atmosphere—

In Pura López-Colomé’s “Echo,” it seems as though the poet, going under in both the sedative and the psychological sense—”the last consideration to go”—finds her mind looping a Dickinson poem concerned with going under, for if air is water, we drown in it. (There are allusions to other Dickinson poems as well.) But Dickinson’s re-de-transformational language brings her into the living poet’s present, even as that present may be slipping away. (I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s hope that “in black ink my love may still shine bright.”) Dickinson’s addictive syllables and rhythms bring her to life—her flesh takes on color (so the melanin). And López-Colomé, who has been speaking to herself alone, finds in herself a place where another poet is speaking to herself.

Translator’s notes/ Forrest Gander

Wow, it’s funny that I randomly came across this poem because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how Emily Dickinson is shaping my experiences of understanding and coping with vision loss. I’ve wondered about how to gesture at this influence in some new poems about my current seeing status. Also, I’ve been quoting some Dickinson, especially, “Before I got my eye put out” and “We grow accustomed to the Dark” in my head as I drift off to sleep.

one thing thing, added on November 13: Last night, while out for dinner with my son after his fabulous fall band concert, I happened to mention that I did a day on gray matter. FWA, a Breaking Bad fan, said, Gray matter is the name of the company that Walter White co-founded and then was cheated (or did he say screwed?) out of. It’s why he had to become a chemistry teacher and why he started making meth. I’ve never watched the show, although FWA really wants us to check it out. Maybe I will…

update, 9 nov 2023: Not too long after writing this, Scott and I started watched Breaking Bad and loved it. It took most of the spring, but we watched (and enjoyed? appreciated?) it all. After an extended break from the Walt world, we started watching Better Call Saul last week.