march 27/BIKERUN

bike: 4 minutes
run: 3.5 miles
outside: feels like 13

Snow and ice on the ground. Wind. Feels like 13. Inside today. I would have done more on the bike, but my calf started to feel a little strange — tightening, but no pain.

The run was good — a few flares, then my heel made some noise at the end, again, no pain, just tight, I think. I locked into a steady, slow pace and listened to the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us. Des told a story about her recent NY 1/2 marathon and how she should have woken up 30 minutes earlier in order for the coffee to do its job — iykyk. The story was funny — I laughed several times — and also fascinating. She talked about how she couldn’t push the pace because if she tried, it would have been a big mess. She was able to control it by managing her effort and working with her body, not against it.

Later, giving a pep talk to Kara for her upcoming race she said something like, You’ll be running along and then suddenly someone in a banana costume will pass you and you’ll say, “hell no, that ridiculous thing can’t beat me!” and you’ll speed up. Thinking about our encounter with the fast banana in our 10k race I wonder, are bananas a thing in races now? Will I see more bananas next month?

before the run

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Robert Frost’s 150th birthday, but I forgot to mention 2 things.

First, when I told FWA about it, he said, And I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference — or something like that. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the garage to leave for the airport he called out, Mom, look — then walked off the sidewalk into the grass, looped around a bush, then returned to sidewalk and said, See, the road less travelled. Wow.

Second, in honor of Frost’s birthday Poetry Foundation posted his poem, Acquainted with the Night, which I recall first reading through Edward Hirsch’s essay, “The Pace Provokes My Thought.” Acquainted. Another word for familiar with, know of or known to, on friendly terms. I want to add this word to my list of alternatives to know/ing, along with ED’s accustomed, as in We grow accustomed to the Dark. I like the friendliness of acquainted, which is slightly different than the “getting used to” of ED’s accustomed. I also like that it’s friendly, but not too friendly; there’s still some distance from whatever it is that you are acquainted with — an acquaintance not an old friend.

Now I’m thinking about the word familiar. Two immediate thoughts. First, an idea from Alice Oswald that I revisited the other day:

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

So, familiar is bad for poetry? We need to make the familiar strange, fresh.

Second — I just spent 15 or 20 minutes attempting to find the log entry and poem that made think of this second thing and couldn’t, so I am very reluctantly giving up on it. — thinking about poems and how they can also take the strange and make it familiar, or take strangers and make them friends. I recall reading a poem — I think it was something about ROBINS! — I’m keeping this strange sentence in as evidence of my mind at work. After I gave up on finding and just tried to remember what I said, suddenly I recalled what the poem I was searching for was about and how reading it connected me to a stranger: robins. So I searched back through my posts for “robins” and finally found it. Hooray!

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about how poetry makes the familiar strange, but I think poetry can also make the strange familiar. Give us a door into the unfamiliar so we can get to know someone else and their experiences. The door in for me with this poem was all the robins. This past week, I saw so many fat robins on my crab apple tree, swaying and bobbing and getting drunk off the shriveled up apples. 

log from 14 jan 2023

Here’s the line from the poem that helped me get acquainted with its author, David Eye:

Cousin–When a dozen robins blew into the yard yesterday–
I’d never seen so many–I watched them hop, cock their heads,
grab the thaw’s first worms. Such a pleasure, those yam-
colored breast feathers.
(from Letter from the Catskills/ David Eye)

And now I’m thinking about the different ways that poetry has helped make the strange familiar to me, especially in terms of my vision. Since I rediscovered poetry in 2017, I’ve been reading, studying, and writing it as a way to better navigate my strange and uncertain and difficult experiences of slowly losing my cone cells. I’m building a new world and a new way to be that’s heavily populated with poetic lines, ideas, methods.

Last year, I wrote a cento in which I gathered lines from poets invoking color. The original title of it was, “When Poetry Replaces Dead Cone Cells, a cento”

The world mostly gone/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

The world mostly gone,
I make it what I want.

I empty my mind. I stuff it with grass.
I’m green, I repeat. I grow in green,

burst up in bonfires of green, whirl and hurl
my green over the rocks of this imaginary life.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high
in the clean blue air, are heading home

again. (Isn’t sky-blue brighter than any sky
you really see? Canned sky, Crayola blue.)

The sun is the yellowest squash. More yellow,
I think, of course more yellow.

A shiny switch plate in the otherwise ongoing green
flickers like a match held to a dry branch

and the whole world goes up in orange. Orange
as pumpkins in a field humming.

I write a line about orange.
Pretty soon it is a whole page

of words, not lines. Then another page.
And that orange, it makes me so happy.