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. . .

august 31/RUN

7 miles
franklin loop + marshall loop
69 degrees

Thought about biking over to the lake and swimming this morning, but decided to run instead. I need to build up my distance for my 10 mile race in October. Last week I ran 7 miles too, but I stopped for a 5 minute break after 4 miles. Today I ran the entire distance without stopping. Many hills, including one that will be in the race. I ran the franklin loop then, when I reached the lake street bridge, I kept running up the hill on the east river road just above Shadow Falls. At the top, I crossed over to Cretin, which is a reverse of the way I normally run the Marshall loop. Reversing it, I realized that Cretin is all slightly uphill. Ugh.

Things I Remember:

  • Running through the welcoming oaks
  • Noticing that there are no stacked stones on the ancient boulder
  • Smelling the stinky sewer above the ravine
  • Wondering why the trail is closed right by the railroad trestle
  • Greeting Dave, the Daily Walker
  • Smelling the stinky trash, ripening in the heat
  • Slowing down, almost to a stop, to let an approaching runner pass me before we reached a narrow part of the trail
  • Noticing there were no rowers on the river
  • Admiring the wonderful view of the river from one of my favorite spots–on the east side, just above the marshall/lake bridge, right before the crosswalk
  • Wondering why there were so many signs and balloons near the crosswalk–was someone else killed here? Such a dangerous spot. I try to avoid crossing over it; too hard for speeding drivers to see pedestrians, even with the big bright yellow crosswalk sign
  • Listening to the rowdy crows caw-caw-cawing near the ravine–so loud, so many!
  • Working on revisions to a poem I wrote a few years ago. A line contrasting the solid immovability of land with the fluid flow of water popped into my head. Not quite there, but a start

A good, hard run. I’m hoping I have lots of great fall and winter running this year and that I’m able to build up to more miles.

The last day of August, the last day in a month of love poems. Very fitting to finish with the wonderful Katie Farris. A few years ago, my sister Anne asked me who my favorite poets are. I struggled to answer then, but now, having spent a lot more time reading and exploring poetry, I can offer some suggestions: Mary Oliver, Maggie Smith, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Alice Oswald, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Marie Howe, Richard Siken, Rita Dove, and Katie Farris.

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World/ Katie Farris

To train myself to find, in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.

The body, bald, cancerous, but still
beautiful enough to
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body
going —

this scene has a tune
a language I can read
this scene has a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
I stand within its shield

Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself, in the midst of a buring world,
to offer poems of love in a burning world.

august 30/SWIM

2 miles / 10 loops
main beach
75 degrees

Swam around the white buoys just off the main beach. The water was calm and not too cold. Heading out to the first buoy at the far end of the loop, nearest to where the sailboats dock, I felt like I would never get to it. I wondered why it always seemed so far away, like in Poltergeist when the mom is running down the hallway and the door never gets closer. After a few more strokes, it occurred to me that something was wrong; the buoy was pretty close, yet I wasn’t getting any closer to it. I stopped, looked up, and realized that the white thing I had been sighting and swimming towards was not the buoy but a sailboat in the wrong direction. Oops. I quickly corrected myself and began swimming on course. I’m very glad the lifeguard didn’t call out to me. This year, more than other years, buoys are barely there. Frequently, I can mistake a white sailboat for a white cylindrical buoy.

I breathed every 5 strokes. I tried to sight less because, on this short course with 4 buoys and only one other swimmer in the area, I didn’t need to. I realized that I like being able to quickly glance up and see more than opaque water. Blue sky, clouds, sun, the surface of the water, a white boat, fuzzy green trees. Looking down into the cloudy water all the time unsettled me. I felt disconnected from everyone else. At one point, after staring for too many strokes into the water, I thought I saw a big white flash. A fish below me? I wish I could write that this fish delighted me, giving me some company, but it didn’t. I started imagining it swimming to the surface and bumping into me or worse. Will I ever not be haunted by the movie Jaws?

I forgot to wear my watch, but Scott thought I swam for about an hour. Not difficult at all. My feet felt like rudders as I glided through the water. How many more of these swims will I be able to do before the beach closes? Not enough.

august 29/RUN

1.65 miles
neighborhood
80 degrees

Back from Austin. Even though it was warm and mid-afternoon, I decided to do a quick run through the neighborhood. Listened to a playlist and ran to and around cooper school, then by Minneahaha Academy, up Edmund and back home. I can’t remember if I say any other runners. Saw lots of cars on the river road and some walkers and bikers.

Encountered this excerpt from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Story. I had no idea the collection was about water-as-river/river-as-water. Wow! Very cool. I must read the entire collection now.

The First Water Is the Body/ Natalie Diaz

The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States— also, it is a part of my body.

I carry a river. It is who I am: ‘Aha Makav. This is not metaphor.

When a Mojave says, Inyech ‘Aha Makavch ithuum, we are saying our name. We are telling a story of our existence. The river runs through the middle of my body.

So far, I have said the word river in every stanza. I don’t want to waste water. I must preserve the river in my body.

In future stanzas, I will try to be more conservative.

august 28/RUN

3.1 miles
austin, mn
70 degrees

Ran by the county fairgrounds, a few schools, a very high creek (or “crick” as Scott’s mom pronounces it), and a few churches. Stopped in downtown Austin, right before reaching the Planter’s peanut mobile. Ended with some iced lattes at the coffee place across from the SPAM museum. Life looks almost normal here–except for the masks we wore when going inside anywhere. Lots of rain. Too much rain. Flash flood warnings. Over-saturated grass. Puddles. I remember that we talked a lot, but I can’t remember what we talked about.

august 27/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
71 degrees
humidity: 90% / dew point: 68

A quick run through the neighborhood. Past Cooper School and Minnehaha Academy. Listened to Taylor Swift’s album, Lover. Checked out all the cars in the parking lot. Just like old times — the summer of 2020. Not that warm, but humid. Now I’m sweating a lot.

Heard Taylor Swift sing, “I cut off my nose to spite my face” and thought about the strange expression. Some of Swift’s lyrics are cheesy or trite, but others catch me by surprise with their cleverness. I like this opening from “Paper Rings”:

the moon is high
Like your friends were the night that we first met
Went home and tried to stalk you on the internet
Now I’ve read all of the books beside your bed

Thinking about/working through/getting stuck in poems about water–especially my love of it. Today’s challenge: turn a poem about breathing every 5 strokes that involves lines with 5 syllables (the strokes) then a break and 1 or 2 more syllables (a breath) into a contrapuntal. Three poems in one. One poem = all the words + Second poem = only the part of the line with 5 syllables + Third poem = only the part of the line representing the breath. Can I do it? Should I do it?

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. 
The secret is in the relenting, 
the partnership. I let my body work
accepting the dangerous favor
from the king-size pool of waters. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 25/SWIM

.35 miles / 1 loop
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

Most likely the final open swim of the season. One more is scheduled for Lake Nokomis tomorrow (Thursday) night, but it is supposed to thunderstorm in the late afternoon, so it will probably be canceled. Forced myself to only swim one loop, even though the water was calm and uncrowded and I would have loved to swim many more. My right side, my upper back and all down my forearm, is very sore and I don’t want to injure it. Even as I wish the season wasn’t ending, my body needs a break, I guess. What a great season. I exceeded my goal of 100 Sara miles and only missed a few open swims at either lake.

The beaches won’t be closed until (at least) after labor day–one year they kept the buoys up until October!–so I’m hoping to swim another week or two. Not sure if I’ll be able to swim indoors at all this winter. In a more perfect world, I would be able to walk a few blocks to an indoor pool. Oh well. More time for fall and winter running!

Unlike Lake Nokomis, which has a huge open parking lot that is directly off of the main beach, Cedar Lake has a small parking lot (that is always filled) and a gravel path with woods on one side, the lake on the other, that leads to a small beach. This difference makes cedar feel more like a lake up north, which I like. As we reached the edge of the gravel on our way out, I noticed a dead tree leaning up against a living one in the woods. I mentioned to STA that I had just read a beautiful poem about two trees like this. This is the poem:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Grief, a burden but also a friend, a companion, is a form (expression?) of love.

august 24/SWIM

1.75 miles
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

Calm, sunny. The first loop was smooth, no chop. The water not quite glass, but almost. The second loop was rougher. Is it because of all of the swimmers in the water? Are they churning it up? Hard to believe with so few swimmers, so much water, but the wind was only 3 mph so I guess we–the 100 of us swimming loops tonight–were making waves. I felt strong and fast and in my element. Only one more open swim at each of the lakes for this season. Sad to have the season end, but happy to have made the most of it. I swam a lot this summer.

My favorite thing about the swim tonight: More than the calm water of the first loop, or the feeling of strength and speed, was the sky and the clouds. In one small patch of the sky were some shredded clouds making a pattern of diamonds or dots. It reminded me, but probably didn’t look anything like it, the painstakingly repeated dots or brush strokes on a painting I saw at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts this weekend. When I breathed on my left side, I kept turning my neck to catch a quick glimpse of them. Very cool.

A poetry person on twitter thoughtfully shared this essay from 2018: Searching for a Lost Odessa/ Ilya Kominsky. The entire essay is amazing, but I wanted to especially remember this part:

I wonder: In these streets I can still share with you, Father, streets where you watched your own deaf father in 1945, were you bewildered by his deafness? I come back so that I can see for you the Odessa streets your deaf father saw. Sounds are contagious even if no one notices. The sound of someone breathing heavily in line for groceries affects the breathing rate of others in the line. I am walking to the Hotel Krasnaya, to see a stranger’s wedding.

You once stole for me seven pieces of wedding cake. Look, now I tell you seven things a deaf man sees at weddings:

One. When husbands smile at their wives, the corners of their mouths move toward their eyes. But when they smile at the notary signing the wedding certificate, I see the corners of their mouths move toward their ears.

Two. When businesspeople speak, they stand toe to toe. But if one person’s foot begins to move away, this person wants to be someplace else.

Three. When couples eat cake and they are happy, their legs wiggle or bounce. But we don’t need to look under the tables to see happy feet. See their shirts or shoulders. See how the wiggling feet make shoulders, too, vibrate.

Four. A crowd waiting at the wedding buffet. Notice how people whistle to calm themselves.

Five. A woman talks to the relative who makes her slightly uncomfortable. She touches her face, licks lips.

Six. Sometimes it is a man who is uncomfortable. See his unease by how he’s stroking his beard.

Seven. If there is an orchestra at the wedding, there is silence in the conductor’s fingers before the baton lifts, making music visible inside the bodies of others.

Deafness is a theater. Here the deaf person is the audience. Everyone else is an actor. No need to worry about the silent world to which the hearing people think we are exiled. The deaf do not believe in silence. Silence is the invention of the hearing.

august 23/RUN

run: 7 miles
lake nokomis and back
70 degrees / dew point: 66

My longest run in a few years. I’m tired. Ran to the lake then stopped for a few minutes by the little beach. Walked for a few minutes, then ran next to the parkway until I reached minnehaha falls. On the way to the lake, I ran by the creek. It’s not completely dried up, but there’s hardly any water. I didn’t run through it, just by it, but I’ve seen pictures of minnehaha park–no falls. The entire state of Minnesota is in a drought, with a few parts in severe drought. The creek is almost dry because it gets its water from Lake Harriet and Lake Harriet is too low. I haven’t noticed Lake Nokomis being any lower–is it?

It is 4 miles to lake nokomis. Sometimes it seems longer than that because of all the different areas you run through:

  • river road
  • minnehaha falls
  • mustache bridge on the parkway over hiawatha avenue — which years ago had a handlebar mustache spray-painted on the side, but now (just noticed it yesterday) has a mushroom spray-painted near but not on it
  • near the duck bridge by my old neighborhood
  • the echo bridge
  • my favorite part of the path, right before nokomis avenue
  • the new part of the trail that travels under 28th avenue
  • near lake hiawatha
  • up the hill between hiawatha and nokomis lakes
  • beside lake nokomis rec center on the hill
  • down to the lake

I ran this route partly to check out how dry the creek is. I almost forgot to look, too distracted by the effort of running. Didn’t see any herons or cranes. Heard a few black-capped chickadees. No geese or ducks or turkeys. Encountered bikers, walkers, runners, 2 swimmers.

Yesterday I posted a poem by Rita Dove and wondered about the connection between love and mercy. Here’s a poem by another favorite poet, Carl Phillips, in which this connection is questioned:

Sky Coming Forward/ Carl Phillips

How the birches sway, for example. How they
tilt, on occasion, their made-to-tilt-by-the-wind
crowns. How by then he had turned his head
away, as if a little in fear; or shy, maybe . . . Also
the leaves having stopped their falling. Or there
were no leaves left — left to fall. Which to call
more true? Love
                        or mercy? Both of his hands
upraised, but the better of the two tipped more
groundward, the other a lone bird lifting, as if from
a wood gone steep with twilight. Sometimes, an
abrupt yet gentle breaking of the storm
                                                                       inside me:
for a moment, just the rings that form then disappear
around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned —
dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget —
then remember . . . What if, between this one and the one
we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own
slow, dreamlike hold, even now — blooming in spite of us?

mercy = compassion, forgiveness
love = deep affection, intense interest in something, attachment, devotion

I need to spend a lot more time with this poem in order to begin to understand it, but here are a few thoughts:

“Which to call/ more true? Love/ or mercy?” Just a few days, I was revisiting another Phillip’s poem I memorized last year, “And Swept All Visible Signs Away.” As I read this question about love and mercy, I was reminded of these lines from “And Swept…”: “And what is a willow doing in the darkness?/ I say it wants less for company than compassion,/ which can come from afar and faceless.” Compassion = mercy, connection = love? I’m fascinated by this distinction between mercy/compassion and love/connection, and Phillip’s almost, but maybe not quite, preference for compassion. What if, as we try to live with/are dependent on and vulnerable to a wide range of people, we thought more about compassion, less about love? Or, could compassion (a form of generosity?) be a different type of love?

“the rings that form then disappear/ around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned — dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget –/ then remember . . .” Rings and ripples disturbing the water. Not sure what to do with this yet, but I like the image and the idea (which I’ve explored before) of ripples–traces of something that moved, disrupted, transformed. How long do those ripples last? What does it mean to forget then remember? And then, the idea of rings as loops or orbiting and encircling? Very cool.

“there’s a third life” This reminds me of a quote from a D.H. Lawrence poem that was mentioned in a book I was reading about water:

Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one,
but there is also a third thing, that makes it water

Water as another way to be, another life, another possibility beyond what is and what we want/imagine and hope for? I love this idea and want to spend more time with it.

swim: 2 miles
cedar lake open swim
90 degrees

What a great night for a swim! Warm, sunny, calm. The water was mostly smooth and buoyant, easy to swim in. Felt strong and confident and happy. As I started, someone swimming about my pace was just ahead of me. I followed them for a few laps, occasionally wondering if they noticed me and if they cared I was there. Part of me was enjoying following them, and part of me considered pausing to let them go ahead. Usually I like to swim alone. After two laps, they were gone.

Other Swimmers

  • Someone swimming almost right down the center from buoy to buoy, at times looking like they were way over on the wrong side of the buoy. They probably weren’t that close; it was just my vision and my inability to judge how close or far away someone is — usually, everyone looks closer, too close, which is especially difficult for me because I like/need to have space, room. This swimmer splashed a lot and when they reached the buoy they started to do a tight turn, which I was following, but then abruptly stopped. Narrowly avoided running into them
  • Someone ahead of me, swimming breaststroke. I was swimming into the bright sun, unable to see much of anything but the break in the trees I use for sighting. I began to feel something in the water, some churning. I knew it was another swimmer but I couldn’t see them at all. Finally, a bright pink head appeared. A breaststroker. As I swerved around them I thought about the different ways other than sight that I use to become aware of other people
  • Someone swimming even farther away from the orange buoy than me. I could see their elbows and splash out of the corner of my eye. As we neared the beach, swimming at about the same pace, I wondered when they could cut in closer to round the buoy and whether or not I might have to watch out for them so we wouldn’t collide
  • Another swimmer swimming breaststroke. As usual, it seemed like it took too long to pass them. Once I had, I glanced back over my shoulder as I breathed to see their jerkily bobbing head

Because the water was calm, I was able to breath on both sides (it’s called bilateral breathing). Every five. Sometimes, every 3 then 4. No neck or hip or thigh pain, but a slight twinge under my right shoulder blade. Now, out of the water, writing this the morning after, my upper back on the right side is sore.

Anything else? I swam 4 loops without stopping. Stopped for a minute or two, then did one more loop. Oh–felt some extreme temperature changes in the water right near the shores. Much warmer then much colder. I like the extra cool pockets better than the warm ones. Why was it so warm?

Learned that one popular motto for open water swimming is: No lanes, no lines, no walls (sometimes with the addition: no limits — also found one instance of no mercy). Maybe this could be the title of a poem?

random thought: For several years now, I’ve been reading/listening to Agatha Christie books. Yesterday I finished, Destination Unknown, which is about spies and money as power and hidden labs, and not quaint village murders. The ending of it, which I won’t reveal, reminded me yet again of Christie’s anti-capitalist streak. She writes a lot about the decay of moneyed families, lost wealth (through mismanagement, especially being swindled into investing in worthless Argentinian mines), the nihilism of those trying to hang onto their wealth–their willingness to murder to retain just a bit of it, the decline of the servant class, and how terrible suburbs are. I came up with a title for something — a blog? a poem? a band?: Agatha Christie Hates Suburbs. When I searched “Agatha Christie anti-capitalism,” I found an intriguing article by the postmodern cultural critic (someone I read a lot in grad school) Slavoj Žižek: On Agatha Christie and the Dawn of a Postcapitalist Era. It’s a close reading of her 80th book, Passenger to Frankfurt, which I just started listening to. When I’m finished, I’ll read the article. Nice.

august 22/SWIM

3.75 miles / 3 full loops + 1 slightly shorter loop*
lake nokomis open swim
65 degrees

*About halfway through this swim, I hit 100 Sara miles, which was my goal for the summer. 100 Sara miles is probably a little short of 100 actual miles, but it’s still a big number and was an ambitious goal that encouraged me to swim longer and more frequently than I normally do, so I’m proud of myself for reaching this goal.

Final Sunday open swim of the season. A wonderful morning, a wonderful swim! Sunny, not too windy–at least not until the last loop. I swam 4 loops without stopping. For the final loop, I didn’t swim all the way to the white buoy near the little beach, but just rounded the third orange buoy so it was a little shorter. I felt strong and relaxed and very happy to be swimming. I will miss these swims when they end next week.

Many different thoughts/ideas came to me today:

  • Circling and looping and swimming in the lake from big beach to little beach, my route never forming a perfect circle but triangles and trapezoids and elongated ovals. Always swimming on the edge, not inside or near the center of the marked off swim area. Thought about my interest in edges and Emily Dickinson’s Circumference and Oliver’s and Emerson’s circles
  • As the wind picked up, I wondered about future summers of swimming and how the warming of the oceans/earth and increasingly erratic weather patterns will affect lake nokomis. Will it be windier more often? More thunderstorms? More vegetation? A lower quality of water? Will there be a time when the water is not safe to swim in? I hope not
  • A reminder: I feel so confident in the water. Sure of my self, sure of my abilities. I don’t doubt or question or worry–well, except for my fears of getting another calf cramp or a neck cramp or a knee subluxation–when I’m in the lake. I know it’s not possible to become a fish–and I don’t really want to anyway, but I wish I could bring my lake confidence into the rest of my life. The phrase, “fish out of water” popped into my head as I had these thoughts
  • In the lake, I am never really lost, and if I feel disorientation or bewilderment, I soon figure out a way to re-orient myself, to find some landmark or signal that reassures me that I’m swimming the right way. These indications are small and only come in flashes, but I’m learning how to get by with less information, less certainty. This is not living in bewilderment but living with it–and finding ways to mitigate the confusion and discomfort it provides. So, I’m not living in it all the time, but I’m also not ignoring or avoiding the moments when it happens. I think this makes sense to me…

Here’s a poem from one of my favorite poets, Rita Dove. It’s in her new collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse. I think it fits in with love, if we connect love with kindness and mercy:

Green Koan/ Rita Dove

That the mind can go
wherever it wishes
we’ve come to rely on;
that it returns
unbidden to the soul
it could not banish
and learns to thrive there
is life’s stubborn mercy–given
to soften or harden us,
as we choose.

august 20/SWIMRUN

swim: 2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

More wind, more chop, more rolling waves and swells. Today was a morning swim so the orange buoys were backlit. For me, and my lack of cone cells, this meant they weren’t orange but invisible and then, at fairly close range, dark hulking shapes. Do most people see their orange-ness? As always, I am amazed at how comfortable I’ve become swimming towards something that I can’t see but I trust to be there, based on past experience + deep knowledge of the lake’s layout + my strong, straight shoulders. But this year, there’s another layer to this swimming into nothingness that amazes me: I trust that I’m going the right way, but I also don’t worry if I’m not. So what if I get off course? Who cares if the lifeguards need to nudge me back a little closer to the buoys? I am much less bothered by not knowing, or–and this is a theme for the summer and will feature heavily in a writing project I can tell I’ll be starting in the fall–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. Hmm….

For the past four times at lake nokomis (sunday, tuesday, thursday, friday), the water has been choppy/rolling in the same way: Smoothest (but not really smooth) from the big beach to the first orange buoy. Swells picking up between buoy 1 and 2, difficult to breath on right side with waves rolling quickly over my head from right to left. Not too bad between the 3rd orange buoy and the white buoy at the little beach. From the little beach back to the big beach, increasingly rough and choppy–waves crashing into me, water spraying up, sometimes difficult to breath on both sides. A wild ride rounding the final green buoy just off the big beach. Swells lifting me up and pushing me along swimming parallel to the shore and heading towards the orange buoy. I like the challenge of choppy water and the energy that it produces but I’m ready for some smoother water. With so many waves, I have to lift my head higher to sight (and breathe?) and my neck is getting sore.

run: 2.7 miles
2 trails
83 degrees

Decided when I got home from swimming that I’d go out for a run. Hot, but a cooler wind. Listened to a playlist for the first half, then the wind mixed with my breathing for the second half. I was able to run in shade most of the time. Very warm in the sun. Don’t remember much of anything. No irritating or memorable people–as I write this now I remember some bikers stopping and blocking the entire path on the way down to the Winchell Trail. Lots of acorns and walnuts on the ground. Don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any spazzy squirrels. No roaming dogs. Oh–ran past a garbage truck and the smell was terrible. It (the smell) followed me for a few blocks. And I thought again about how I’d like to work with older students (55+) and teach classes that somehow combine critical thinking, creative writing and experiments, deep awareness of place, and physical activity. Still now sure what that would look like or how to start…

loving like the lake

Yesterday I went through poems I gathered about water and made a list, based on these poems and some of my own ideas, about what water does and how it loves. I’m thinking I might use these various things as titles or first lines for poem. Here’s a line I’d like to turn into a poem:

I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather like lakes

unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring.

From Nowhere/ Marie Howe

august 19/SWIM

2.75 miles / 2 full loops + 1 shortened loop
lake nokomis open swim
85 degrees / windy

Yet another windy day at the lake. In past summers, I remember having an occasional windy, choppy swim, but not so many in a row. Tonight’s water seemed the choppiest, swell-iest it’s been. Was it? I think I’m losing perspective. I wonder how tonight’s waves compare to the second summer (2013 or 14) when there was a surprise wind storm and the lake was evacuated–except for the few swimmers, like me, that they didn’t notice. Am I getting used to the waves, or am I exaggerating them? Unsure. Mostly, I like swimming in this rough water.

The second half of the loop, from the little beach back to the big beach and then parallel to the shore until reaching the first orange buoy again was a wild ride. There was bright sun, making it difficult to sight anything, then rough water, crashing against my left side. No gentle rocking, just pushing and shoving, with the occasional slap. I breathed every 4 or 6, almost always on my right side. Once I rounded the final green buoy and reached the swimming area just off the big beach, the waves were behind me, pushing me forward. Sometimes this was pure fun, with the wave doing all the work. Sometimes, it was unsettling, with the water underneath not quite dropping out but feeling like it was sucking all of the energy out of my stroke, like I was hovering (and not floating) in a substance that wasn’t quite water, but wasn’t air either. I wonder if anyone else has a description for this experience? I’ll have to look it up.

Even with all of the rough water, I managed to notice a few planes. Swimming toward the little beach, I suddenly heard a sharp ringing in my ears, just for a minute. I wondered if it was my ear ringing or some sound traveling under water. I felt a lot of vegetation float past me. Usually sharp and scratchy, but once it caressed my foot and leg–a strange, gentle and unwelcome touch. Another time I accidentally grabbed a plant that wasn’t floating free, but was rooted to the lake bottom. How tall was it, I wonder. Anything else? As I was beginning my third loop, I heard the lifeguard calling out for the safety break. This lifeguard had a deep voice and a sense of humor. I laughed when he announced, over the loudspeaker, that the safety break was over. Was it what he said or how he said it? I can’t remember.