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.

august 18/RUNSWIM

run: 3.15 miles
2 trails
78 degrees / dew point 67
sunny

Started and ended with Queen (Another One Bites the Dust) and a running playlist, in the middle, sounds from the gorge — laughing kids at a playground, scurrying animals in the dry brush, crunching gravel, trickling sewer pipes.

Now, sitting at my desk, I’m hearing the electric buzz of the cicadas. …and now, one or two minutes later, they’ve stopped. Now I hear birds–pretty sure it’s cardinals–and a kid repeatedly saying, “Uh oh uh oh uh oh!” An adult in a cooing voice: “Do you need help?” and “You’re not a baby, you’re a BIG girl!”

When I was running on the Winchell Trail, at the steepest part without a railing, I tried looking quickly at the river. Blue. Decided it was better to absorb it through my peripheral. Safer. I thought about how I like these bodily experiments (tracking my thoughts, what I notice) I’m doing as I run and swim. How they enable me to apply theories I’ve been playing around with for decades about epistemology and ontology and ethics.

I’ve been listening to an interview with Kaveh Akbar on Between the Covers, and I was struck by his definition of work in terms of revolutionary poetics:

One thing that I think about a lot is that a revolution comes in two parts; there’s the overthrow and the rebuild. Without either of those parts, it’s not a revolution. There has to be something being turned over and then there has to be something being set up in its place. It’s very easy to inhabit the carapace of revolutionary rhetoric without advancing something new. That, in and of itself by definition, isn’t revolutionary because there’s no rebuild. There’s no gesture towards a rebuild. I’ve talked to my students and my friends and the people with whom I’ve had this conversation in these discussions. I think a lot about the physics definition of work which is the force applied to an object in order to move it. If there’s force applied to an object and nothing moves, that’s not work. Similarly, if an object moves but you haven’t applied force to it, then you haven’t done work. If I say to a room full of people who agree with me, “F*ck Trump,” and I say that in a room full of poetry people, probably the majority of them will be like, “Yeah, f*ck Trump.” I haven’t really caused anything to move. I’ve inhabited the form of revolutionary rhetoric but I haven’t actually moved anything. By the physics definition of work, probably that’s not doing much or any work. 

Kaveh Akbar Interview

I think I’ll add this definition to my work page on undisciplined.

swim: 2 miles / 2 loops
cedar lake open swim
88 degrees / windy

Another windy day, another wave-filled lake. I’d like to be able to compare this to the sea or ocean. I know cedar lake waves are gentle swells, but how much more gentle, how much less choppy than a normal swim in the sea? Tonight, I did a better job of staying on my side of the lake as I swam towards the far beach. For the first few minutes of the swim, I felt weightless, light, but it didn’t take long for the water to drag my body down into the water. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I was having a fight with the water. Every stroke felt slightly off, not smooth, not easy.

Even struggling, it was a great swim. What a wonderful thing to be able to swim so much this summer! Already this week, 4 days in a row. I enjoyed glancing up at the sky sometimes when I breathed. It was mostly sunny, with some hulking clouds. One big cloud hovered behind me as I swam across. It loomed, almost menacingly, but I didn’t mind. I noticed the soft forms of the tree tops to my left and imagined fall coming (too?) soon. To my right, as I headed back, I could see something, not quite shining–I determined it was a small gap in the trees with the sun barely peeking through. Because of the bright sun and my vision, the orange buoy was completely invisible–was it to everyone else? Probably a little, but not as much as it was to me. I knew it was there, so I kept swimming, but I couldn’t see it until I was almost to it. This not-seeing is happening more this summer. It barely bothers me. It’s tiring, but I know I’m swimming the right way–using other landmarks and my established map of the route–so I don’t worry.

I do not like breaststroke. I recognize it’s value, especially in choppy water, and how it makes some swimmers feel more comfortable in the water, but I dislike being around breaststrokers. The irritating bobbing, which is hardly ever smooth, but jerky. The wide, strong kick. And the way that as I approach someone swimming breaststroke, it always seems very hard to pass them. They seem to be racing me for a bit, then they disappear. I know this is just how I see them–and perhaps it’s distorted by bad vision–and I know that it is ridiculous to dislike breaststroke for these reasons, but I do.

how could I forget this moment?

Had to revisit this log entry to add something that I almost forgot: after I finished swimming, as I was drying off, there was a young kid–less than 5, I think?–who kept repeating, “nanana boo boo.” At least 50 times. In the best (as in most effectively embodying) version of a bratty voice I’ve ever heard. Wow. STA walked by the kid and said he looked and sounded like a cartoon character of a bratty kid. He was not saying this to us, but to another kid, or to himself. Over and over and over again. It was both annoying and delightful. I’m glad I witnessed it and I’m glad it’s over.

The Swimmer/ Mary Oliver

All winter the water
has crashed over
the cold the cold sand. Now
it breaks over the thin

branch of your body.
You plunge down, you swim
two or three strokes, you dream
of lingering

in the luminous undertow
but can’t; you splash
through the bursting
white blossoms,

the silk sheets—gasping,
you rise and struggle
lightward, finding your way
through the blue ribs back

to the sun, and emerge
as though for the first time.
Poor fish,
poor flesh

you can never forget.
Once every wall was water,
the soft strings filled
with a perfect nourishment,

pumping your body full
of appetite, elaborating
your stubby bones, tucking in,
like stars,

the seeds of restlessness
that made you, finally,
swim toward the world,
kicking and shouting

but trailing a mossy darkness—
a dream that would never breathe air
and was hinged to your wildest joy
like a shadow.

Not sure how I feel about this water-as-womb idea. I like the idea of imaging a time before I/we were so separated from everything else, but not sure about the womb imagery. I like the line, “Poor fish,/ poor flesh./ You can never forget.”

august 17/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
88 degrees / windy

Another choppy night. No problems for me. I like the rocking of the waves and the chance to punch the water–not to release any anger, but energy. Heading back to the big beach on the first loop, I noticed a menacing sailboat. I wondered how close they would get–I find it hard to tell. Rounding the final green buoy right off the big beach was fun. It felt like a fast moving lazy river or a log ride. Wild. During the second loop my nose plug was too loose. I tried to stop mid-lake to fix it, but it didn’t help. As air leaked out, it made a strange, strangled noise. Sometimes my nose sounded like it was yelling underwater. I wonder if anyone else could hear it. How far do swimmers’ sounds travel? If I yelled underwater could anyone else hear it?

This month I’m trying to think about love in other forms, but I’m struggling. I think I’ve been distracted. And it’s been hard to find poems that speak to me. And maybe addressing love straight on is too difficult. Maybe I do better when I’m looking for other things, then love can appear on its own terms. Here is a series of 5 poems by Amorak Huey, all about a famous logjam. I love that they wrote not 1 or 2 but 5 poems about the logjam. I read about logging along the Mississippi River gorge in the mid to late 1800s, before the timber was depleted and the flour mills took over. At first, I wasn’t sure how this fit into the theme of love, but love (and water, another recent theme) is in several of the poems.

5 Poems/ Amorak Huey

LOGJAM

               The 1883 logjam on Michigan’s Grand River 
               was one of the biggest in the history of logging.

Listen: one hundred fifty million feet of logs: skew and splinter thirty feet high for seven river-miles. Sky of only lightning, mouth of only teeth, all bite and churn, thrust and spear, the kind of mess made by men who have men to clean up their messes. It rains. Thirty-seven million tons of white pine clears its throat. Water rises. The bridges will go soon. Listen closely: underneath the knock and clatter, the trees still sing. The song is a violence. 

LIKE GREAT HARPS ON WHICH THE WIND MAKES MUSIC

                                         —Henry David Thoreau, on the Eastern White Pine

Dark ghosts, tall as moonlight.
Shadows without shadows.
Listen. This wind will not last.
Such music will never play again.

The smallness of a man
who enters a forest to destroy a forest;
who believes that to name a tree
is to claim its strength as his own—

across the lake, a city burns. 

O-WASH-TA-NONG, MEANING FAR-AWAY-WATER

Across Happy Hollow Road, across Gillespie’s pasture, past barbwire and tree line, the river of my childhood still twists and eddies south toward the gulf, cold as memory’s fist, even on the sunniest day, even decades later as I cross a new river each day, the same river, the only river, the river I’ve invented, shaped and poured to quench my thirst to be loved, a filled trench, a scar left 11,000 years ago as the great glaciers crawled north, meltwater left to find its own way to the lake. The story of a river in America is always a story of destruction.  

“A HUNDRED DOLLARS TO AN OLD HAT SHE HOLDS”

                                      —Local paper, predicting an iron railroad bridge 
                                      would withstand the logjam; the bridge was swept 
                                      away while the ink was still wet.

What if I’ve learned the wrong lesson from every story?
What if a flood, after all, is only a flood, cleansing nothing? 

What if our sins cannot be washed away so easily,
if all our stumbling will leave us lost, still?

Somewhere I learned to love the kind of man I am not. 
Knuckle-scar. Thick forearms. Beer-bottle-dark eyes

and a sense of duty. The strength to hold a tugboat steady in rushing water
while other men sledgehammer pilings into place, an obstacle

to catch what comes our way, it’s a matter of time—
all that’s upstream breaks free.

THE ENGINEER WHO FIXED THE LOGJAM RECEIVES A GOLD WATCH FOR HIS TROUBLE

I know so much about how water moves 
it leaves me dizzy. I know time and rivers
are tools the rich use to make fools 
of the rest of us; no limit to the weight a man 
can heave onto the backs of other men.
What else to do but decide to survive?
Water has no memory, is only memory,
is the world’s purest form of desire,
the relentless drive to return home
whatever the cost. It’s all any of us want,
to have a smoke and finish the job,
carry our weary bodies to a hearth
somewhere, a resting place
and the warmth of someone who loves us.
If water cannot go through, it goes around.

I want to spend more time with these poems to think through some of the lines, like the last one: “If water cannot go through, it goes around.” How does this fit with water as the world’s purest form of desire that can quench our thirst to be loved but never saves or cleanses us, but keeps us lost.

And now I’m wondering about the differences between types of water–the water in a lake as compared to a river, the sea, an ocean, a glass, a pool, a stream, a ditch? How do they express (embody?) love in different ways?

august 16/RUNSWIM

run: 10k
franklin loop + extra
67 degrees

A 10k. I needed to check back through my logs to find out the last time I ran this far. November 4, 2019. Wow. I’ve still been running a lot, just more frequently and less distance. It felt pretty good until the very end. STA and I are signed up to run the 10 mile in October. Will it even happen? Not sure.

It was sunny, not too windy, and mostly not too hot. In the shade it was fine. Ran north on the river road trail until crossing at franklin. Heard the rowers down on the river. Two coxswains, one male, one female. Their voices echoing through the bullhorn. With the echoing, it sounded more serious than a practice. A race? Or was it only how the sound travels differently on the east side, as opposed to the west side of the river. Would more open space, less trees in the gorge, change how the voices traveled?

And, I saw someone riding a unicycle–first time ever while running, I think.

Thought about what a wonderful time I had with my college friends, how great it was to be challenged and stimulated and reminded of the importance of friends and community. Also thought about some of our discussions about how people come together in crises–neighbors helping neighbors when intense storms do severe damage to houses, buildings, towns. We need that sense of community AND we also need to do what we can to prevent these powerful storms/ erratic weather patterns from happening more frequently. Why do so many of us seem unwilling to work on the prevention, on radically transforming how we live, and how we continue to take without (enough) concern for its impact on the earth and all of its inhabitants?

The Clock! That 12-figured moon skull!

Before heading out for my run this morning, I learned about the debut poetry collection from Adam O. Davis: Index of Haunted Houses. Amazing! Found these epigraphs at the beginning and started thinking about other things I had read about clocks and time:

Think of this: When they present you with a watch they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air…. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they’re giving you yourself for the watch’s birthday.

Julio Cortázar

Years, like any other measure of time, offer mankind the promise of isolate events, of an origin and terminus to history, when in relatiy there is no isolating time as time has no origin or terminus. 1980 never existed, or, if it did, it has always been 1980.

Muriel Échecs

After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of life.

Calvin Coolidge*

*After writing this, I listened to an excellent podcast–The Scottish Poetry Library--with Adam O. Davis and the host mentioned what Dorothy Parker said about Coolidge after he died: “How can they tell?” Ha!

Here’s something I read just yesterday from Love of Lakes/ Darby Nelson

We talk of time as the river flowing. I never questioned the implications of that metaphor until I was struck by the words of Professor Dave Edmunds, Native American, on a display in the Indian-Western Art Museum in Indianapolis. Edmunds wrote, ‘Time as a river is a more Euro-American concept of time, with each event happening and passing on like a river flows downstream. Time as a pond is a more Native American concept of time, with everything happening on the same surface, in the same area—and each even is a ripple on the surface.’

If I think of time as a river, I predispose myself to think linearly, to see events as unconnected, where a tree branch falling into the river at noon is swept away by current to remain eternally separated in time and space from the butterfly that falls in an hour later and thrashes about seeking floating refuge.

But if I think of time as a lake, I see ripples set in motions by one even touching an entire shore and then, when reflected back toward the middle, meeting ripples from other events, each changing the other in their passing. I think of connectedness, or relationships, and interacting events that matter greatly to lakes.

For Love of Lakes/ Darby Nelson

I’m also thinking of Mary Oliver and her reoccurring clocks as representing the restrictions of ordinary time.

And there is the attentive, social self. This is the smiler and the doorkeeper. This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made, and then met. It is fettered to a thousand notions of obligation. It moves across the hours of the day as though the movement itself were the whole task. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.

The clock! That twelve-figured moon skull, that white spider belly! How serenely the hands move with their filigree pointers, and how steadily! Eat, speak, sleep, cross a street, wash a dish! The clock is still ticking. All its vistas are just so broad–are regular. (Notice that word.) Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought. The town’s clock cries out, and the face on every wrist hums or shines’ the world keeps pace with itself. Another day is passing, a regular and ordinary day. (Notice that world also.)

“Of Power and Time” in Upstream/ Mary Oliver

from a log entry on april 7, 2021

I’m thinking about words like: inefficient, clockwork, pace (as in, “keep up the” or running pace or the hectic pace of modern life), mechanization, industrialization, useless, instrumental, accessible, smooth, easy, fast, relevant, order, discipline, attention economy, rest, restlessness, sleep, internal clocks, spending time vs. passing it, paying or giving attention, eyeballs on the page, obscure, unnoticed, unnoticing.

And that the battery in my apple watch is dying and how, even though I depended on it so much before, I’m considering not replacing it and not wearing a watch. Not keeping track of my pace.

And, I’m thinking about these beautiful lines from Alice Oswald’s “Evaporations”:

In their lunch hour
I saw the shop-workers get into water
They put their watches on the stones and slithered
frightened
Into the tight-fitting river
And shook out cuffs of splash
And swam wide strokes towards the trees
And after a while swam back
With rigid cormorant smiles
Shocked I suppose from taking on
Something impossible to think through
Something old and obsessive like the centre of a rose
And for that reason they quickly turned
And struggled out again and retrieved their watches
Stooped on the grass-line hurrying now
They began to laugh and from their meaty backs
A million crackling things
Burst into flight which was either water
Or the hour itself ascending.

swim: 2.1 miles / 5 loops
cedar lake open swim
84 degrees / windy

Another great swim at cedar lake. The water was very choppy with lots of swells. It was windy. The waves didn’t bother me at all, but my legs were sore from my 10K earlier in the day. My left hip hurt. Swam on the edge of the course to avoid other people–so I wouldn’t have to worry about running into them. Almost ran into a lifeguard on a kayak a few times. I think they might have been trying to get me to swim closer to the buoys. I suppose I was fairly far from them, but I wanted to use the break in the trees as my guide. In years past, being nudged by the lifeguard might have bothered me, making me feel like I was doing something wrong or failing, but not this year. I’m happy to not be so hard on myself or to always need to be doing it the proper/right way.

For much of the loop I could only breathe on one side–when I breathed on the other side, I got a mouth full of water from a wave. I mostly breathed every six strokes. No difficulty breathing, no shortness of breath. I like holding my breath for longer.

I didn’t look at the sky much. It was hard to see in the midst of all the waves. Not sure if there were any planes or birds. Hard to notice anything else but the water and others’ elbows and bright caps and the orange buoys — which I could not really see.

My challenge for the last 3 swims (only 3 left at cedar): to crack the code for the stretch between the start of the loop to the far beach. For some reason, no matter how much I try–stopping briefly at the start to sight the distant orange buoy, swimming farther out and away from the other side–I always end up swimming too close to others swimming the other way. I can’t figure out if there’s a current pushing me that way or something else that makes me lose my wider trajectory. I can barely see the orange buoy, so I’m relying on other things. So far, I haven’t found a helpful landmark on the other shore. I want to figure this out before I’m done for the season.

Still in the month of exploring different notions of love in poetry. Here’s a poem by Paul Tran that I think fits:

Bioluminescence/ Paul Tran

There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own
light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful

though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish.
I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden

by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware
from where or why matter fell, and on weaker creatures beguiled

by my luminosity. My hideous face opening, suddenly, to take them
into a darkness darker and more eternal than this underworld

underwater. I swam and swam toward nowhere and nothing.
I, after so much isolation, so much indifference, kept going

even if going meant only waiting, hovering in place. So far below, so far
away from the rest of life, the terrestrial made possible by and thereby

dependent upon light, I did what I had to do. I stalked. I killed.
I wanted to feel in my body my body at work, working to stay

alive. I swam. I kept going. I waited. I found myself without meaning
to, without contriving meaning at the time, in time, in the company

of creatures who, hideous like me, had to be their own illumination.
Their own god. Their own genesis. Often we feuded. Often we fused

like anglerfish. Blood to blood. Desire to desire. We were wild. Bewildered.
Beautiful in our wilderness and wildness. In the most extreme conditions

we proved that life can exist. I exist. I am my life, I thought, approaching
at last the bottom of the sea. It wasn’t the bottom. It wasn’t the sea.

Wow! You can listen to Tran read this poem on The New Yorker site. I love their dramatic reading–so powerful and delightful and wonderful. I understand the poem to be about finding/forging/fighting for a love of self. I love their lines about living without light, about finding life beyond the life that needs light to be possible. My relationship to light is changing as my eyesight deteriorates. Earlier on, sunlight could be too bright–it would hurt my eyes. Now that I’ve lost most of my cone cells, it doesn’t bother me as much. Nothing is that bright. I have a low vision lamp that helps me to read more easily. When light isn’t bright enough, the letters become too fuzzy. Some day, even the brightest bulb won’t matter. I must learn to live with less light. It will never be as dark as the deep sea in the poem (at least, most likely not), but it will be faded and not much help. No more shedding light on a situation for me.

august 15/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

Just got back from a trip up to the North Shore with 5 of my college friends. We’ve known each other for 29 years. Wow. We hiked and walked, ran (just a little), and kayaked. A wonderful time.

Today was my first swim since last Monday. A beautiful, sunny day. Lots of swells. Not rough or choppy, just wavy. Heading to the little beach, I felt high on the water, buoyant. In the middle of lake, I started to feel the swells. I noticed many others stopping their freestyle to do some breaststroke. Rounding the white buoy at the little beach, I felt even more waves. A gentle rocking. I wonder how many other swimmers enjoyed it like I did. After rounding the final green buoy and heading back to the start, the swells were behind me, lifting me up. A strange feeling. Something not quite right. I was moving and able to push and pull in the water, but it almost felt like the water was holding me up. I thought about Lynne Cox and her story of swimming above a young whale, how the water was sucked out from underneath her. What I was feeling was completely different, but I wondered if there was some similar sensation. I wonder if I will ever experience this again. I liked it.

august 12/WALKRUNHIKE

walk: 2 miles
run: 2 miles
hike: 1.3 miles
lake superior, north shore
70 degrees, sunny

Walked north along the Gitche-Gami State Trail, which runs for 28 miles (and eventually 86, all the way from Two Harbors to Grand Marais) beside Lake Superior with my dear friend from college, Michele. Turned around and ran back. Later, on the way to Grand Marais, stopped at Cascade Falls and hiked to a water fall, over a few bridges. Encountered 2 older women who asked us if we were having a reunion. When we said yes, they said they were too–ours was a reunion of 5 college friends who met 29 years ago, theirs was of 2 high school friends who met much longer ago than that–they didn’t say, but they were at least 15-20 years older than us. Very cool.

august 11/RUN

3.2 miles
marshall hill
76 degrees

Ran with STA before I left for my trip up to Lake Superior and the North Shore. Over the lake street bridge, up the marshall hill, down the east river road trail, back over the bridge, through the minnehaha academy parking lot. Don’t remember anything about the run–we stopped very briefly at a light at the bottom of the hill; encountered someone walking into Black Coffee and Waffle Bar; and marveled at half of tree, on the ground, blocking the sidewalk, the remaining half looking completely dead inside.

august 9/RUNSWIM

run: 4.35 miles
minnehaha falls and back
70 degrees
humidity: 93% / dew point: 68

Ran south to the falls. More rain last night. The dirt, muddy. The tree branches, dripping. Stopped to check out the falls. More water falling. Also noticed how much I was sweating. Hard for my sweat to evaporate when the dew point is so high. Heading north, I turned down on the Winchell Trail. The mud was slippery and the path was crowded–more people on it than I’ve seen in weeks. No noise from the sewer pipe at 44th, but the one at 42nd was gushing. Los of cars and bikes rushing by on the path. A good run.

moment of curiosity

Just south of the double bridge at 44th, the walking trail splits from the bike trail and briefly descends down before climbing back up to meet with the bike trail beside the road again. This path is bumpy and narrow and steep–a perfect place to trip. And it adds an additional mini hill to climb. If you stay up above, the trail is all downhill. I never used to take it because it was easier (and safer) to stay up above, but lately I’ve been enjoying it. Today, as I was climbing out of it, I noticed a suitcase and a lampshade tucked away, under the low branches of a tree, hidden from the road. Who put it there, I wondered, and why? Had they left, and were they coming back for it later? Did they live down below, by the river? Had they hidden it a few days ago, or much longer? What did this suitcase contain? Clothes? Money?

swim: 2.25 miles / 6 loops
cedar lake open swim
84 degrees

A great Cedar Lake swim! Smooth and not too crowded. Near the shore, the water was very cold, but as I swam out deeper, it warmed up. I did a better job of sighting the orange buoy at the far beach and staying away from other swimmers. The thing I remember most: so much milfoil! Scratchy, persistent. It felt like some of it got in my suit–rough and irritating. It wrapped around my shoulder, my arm. Moved slowly down my back. No fish, some paddle boarders, a few planes.

At point beach, there’s a sandbar near the shore, but very soon, it drops away. How deep is the water here? I’m not sure. In other spots, where you can touch bottom, there’s lots of vegetation. The floor feels slimy and soft and gross. At east/hidden beach, the bottom is mostly small rocks.

Rounding the buoy, starting a new loop, a swimmer coming from shore cut me off and I had to stop for a second. I wasn’t upset because I’m never sure who has the right of way here. The swimmer seemed like they were going pretty fast. I followed behind, steadily. I think they almost ran into a few other swimmers. Just before we reached the far buoy, I passed them. Is it bad that this made me feel good? I’m not really competitive in the water, but I do enjoy passing people, not because I’m beating them (well, not too much because of this), but because swimming past someone slower than you makes you feel like you’re swimming fast. It’s fun to feel fast–powerfully gliding on top of the water.

I wanted to be surprised./ Jane Hirshfield

To such a request, the world is obliging.

In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.

The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.

A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.

How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.

I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.

What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of others.

What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.

Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.

Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,

and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.

Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.

—2018

I like this poem and thinking about wanting to be surprised, and then about the differences between experiencing pleasure and joy and love and surprise. Is one of these more important than the others?

august 8/SWIM

2 miles / 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
73 degrees

Very nice open swim! Super smooth water and overcast. Not too crowded and not too bright. Still couldn’t see the buoys that well, but it didn’t matter. What a joy to be swimming this morning. I encountered some swimmers–was seriously routed by one–but mostly felt alone. Just me and the water. Back to the swimmer who routed me: I was swimming on the inside, trying to get ahead of them. They kept drifting in the wrong direction. Finally they almost ran into me. I stopped for a second, they did too. Then I was able to go around them. A strange moment–not upsetting or irritating, just strange. I don’t remember seeing (or sensing) any fish. No loud noises or strange smells or choppy waves. No milfoil. No ducks. One seagull, perched on a white buoy near the little beach. At least one plane. No sailboats or paddle boarders. No conversations with other swimmers.

august 7/RUN

5.75 miles
franklin hill turn around
69 degrees / soft rain

Finally, rain! Not enough, but still helpful. When it stopped for a few minutes, I decided to go out for a run. Ran north on the river road trail all the way to the bottom of the Franklin hill. Turned around, ran all the way back up to the bridge, then walked a few minutes before running again. Everything wet and green. Heard lots of singing birds and imagined their song was a celebration for the rain. So much dripping. I couldn’t tell what was rain and what was water falling from the trees. I didn’t care. It all felt refreshing. Encountered some runners but it wasn’t too crowded for a late Saturday morning. Felt strong and happy and relaxed. I’m running slower these days, but it doesn’t feel too slow, which is nice.

Ran north listening to the gorge, ran south listening to a playlist–Todd Rundgren, The Black Keys, Billy Joel

moment of the run

Heading down into the tunnel of the trees, fog had settled in the mid-story canopy. Everything hazy, a soft white, then a dark green. As I ran deeper into the trees, the air cleared. Then, heading up and out of it on the other side, the fog returned. Such a cool experiences. Mysterious, other-worldly, bewildering.

Small Kindnesses/ Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

I love the idea of small, brief moments of exchange carving out a sacred space together. Some might call these “good manners,” but I don’t like how that phrase suggests that displaying/practicing them is about ME and how good and moral I am. Small gestures like thanking someone or moving your legs to let them pass is more about another–about seeing and acknowledging them (beholding their existence and their worthiness). To me, these small, repeated rituals are essential for love and for living in the midst of/ with others.

august 6/SWIM

3.25 miles / 3 full loops + 2 mini loops
lake nokomis open swim
72 degrees

A great morning swim. Sunny, bright. Almost impossible to see anything at the start of the loop. I didn’t try, just trusted my strokes and shoulders and some part of me to know where the far shore was. It worked. Swam straight to the little beach and the overturned rowboat. Again, I marvel at how I can swim without seeing, how I swim straight into a background of vague greens and blues–no landmarks or distinctive forms. Water, sky, trees. About halfway to the other shore, I did get a quick flash of the boat bottom, but only once or twice. Also, a few times, people or lifeguards on kayaks popped up in front of me. I had enough time to avoid running into them. My feet didn’t feel strange, my shoulders didn’t hurt. Next time, I’ll have to swim a little longer. Anything else I remember? My goggles are still fogging up sometimes. I think I saw a fish just below me. A few vines of milfoil brushed past me. Some loud planes roared overhead. A seagull was perched on a white buoy I was approaching near the little beach. A few kayaks crossed my path. I mostly breathed every five, but sometimes I breathed every three or three then five.

Another love poem:

The More Loving One/ W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

august 5/RUN

run: 3.1 miles
2 trails the no-stress way
69 degrees
dew point: 64

Decided to try a variation on the 2 trails that would hopefully not be as stressful as the way I’ve been going this summer. Instead of heading south on the river road trail, which involves battling cars at the 4 way stop at 35th, and then avoiding pairs or packs of runners and speeding, crowding bikers, I ran on the grassy boulevard between Edmund and the River Road. I crossed over to the trail at 42nd and only had to run up above, on the more crowded trail, for 2 or 3 minutes. Much better! Love (for other runners and bikers + running by the gorge) restored, irritation avoided. Nice.

Shortly before starting my run, it had rained briefly. Not even enough to dampen all of the ground, everywhere patches of dry, parched dirt. Enough to make it all feel wet though, and to hear sprinkling coming out of the sewer instead of just trickling or dribbling.

Ran by the house on Edmund that posts poems in their front windows. No new poems today. Still 3 poems by June Jordan.

As I ran north on the lower trail, I started thinking about my vision. I imagined that I might need a white cane sometime in my 50s and I thought that it won’t bother me. Well, some parts of it will bother me, I’m sure, but I won’t worry about what other people think.

Yesterday at the eye doctor, during one of the tests the doctor said, “Now, this is the worst part.” It wasn’t bad at all for me, so I asked, “Why is this the worst part? It didn’t bother me at all.” He responded, “That’s because you don’t have any cone cells left.” He was shining a super bright light directly into the center of my eyes. For anyone with “normal” vision, the light would have been painfully bright. I’m glad I learned to ask. It’s helpful to know–a little disturbing too to think about how few cones I have left, and how dead the central vision in my eyes is.

It’s Thursday, so usually I’d be doing open swim too but the threat of a severe thunderstorm forced them to cancel. No storm. Bummer.

This month I’m thinking about love. In particular, I’m trying to think about love in new ways, beyond the clichés of what it means to love and how we represent that love. Here are 2 poems that complicate the ultimate symbol of love, the heart. Before posting them I just want to add, in my most grumpiest voice: I really don’t like the heart gesture that so many athletes are making with their hands at the Olympics as a way to signal their love to friends and family back home. Bring back Carol Burnett’s tug of the ear, I say! Much more personal and meaningful than the trendy, empty gesture of the hand-heart, popularized by Taylor Swift in the 2010s. I read that she tested out several different gestures on her audience and stuck with this one when it got the biggest response. Expression of love focus-grouped. I mentioned my complaint to my daughter and she showed me the heart hand signal that her favorite band, BTS, does. A fist with 2 fingers crossed. To me it looked like an actual heart with the fingers representing the aorta. Probably not, but I thought it was cooler.

Heart/ Maggie Smith

A child of, say, six knows you’re not the shape
she’s learned to make by drawing half along a fold,
cutting, then opening. Where do you open?

Where do you carry your dead? There’s no locket
for that–hinged, hanging on a chain that greens
your throat. And the dead inside you, don’t you
hear them breathing? You must have a hole
they can press their gray lips to. If you open–
when you open–will we find them folded inside?
In what shape? I mean what cut shape is made
whole by opening? I mean beside the heart.

Heart to Heart/ Rita Dove –

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Rita Dove and Maggie Smith are two of my favorite poets.

august 4/SWIM

2.25 miles/ 6 loops
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

It’s hard to believe that I didn’t like cedar lake a month ago. What a great place to swim! Relaxed, easier to sight–and also easier to stay on course when you can’t sight, less crowded, shorter loops for faster, continuous swimming. It was windy tonight, and choppy in the water. My feet felt a little weird the first few loops, but they didn’t cramp up.

2 memorable things about the swim:

  1. The sky: noticed several planes above me, moving in and out of clouds. At Nokomis, the planes look like sharks circling in the sky, here they look like birds. Stopped mid-swim to determine if what I was seeing above me was a plane or a bird then watched it (a bird) soaring high.
  2. The vegetation: So many vines being stirred up by the wind and the choppy water. Sharp and scratchy, hitting my face, wrapping around my arm. At least one or two traveled down my back, which was very unpleasant. Several years ago, I remember getting part of a vine in my mouth. Gross.

Because the loops are shorter and I have a clear landmark to sight heading back from east (hidden) to point beach, I don’t have to be thinking constantly about where I was going. I could let my mind wander. I know it did, but I can’t remember what I thought about. Possibly about the optometrist appointment I had earlier in the day. Confirmation, yet again, that my vision is deteriorating. Difficult news every time I hear it, yet reassuring too. I’m not making this up, I really can’t see well. The doctor said almost all of my cone cells were gone. Just two tiny islands, one in each eye, protected by the rod cells I have in the very center. He said he was surprised that I could see as well as I could. So strange how vision works. I hardly have any cone cells left, but the few that remain are working so hard that the vision in my right eye is still 20/20 and 20/40 in my left. What? A new worry: possible deterioration of some of my periphery. It’s called paving stone deterioration. It is not that big of a deal, just something to monitor. Still, it’s unsettling to imagine losing some or all of my peripheral too.

I don’t have a poem about love to add here, but I’m thinking about care and my hard working cone cells and protecting rods and what they’re doing for me and the amount of love they show me everyday. This love is not the primary goal, but is still a part of what our bodies do for us everyday until, one day, they don’t: in spite of the odds and the difficulties, they find a way to keep working, even if that “working” barely works, or works in different ways. Does that make sense?

august 3/RUN

run: 3 miles
2 trails
69 degrees

A nice morning for a run, even if the smoke from the Canadian wildfires is still lingering. We are in a drought and everything is dry. Only a trickle out of the sewer at 42nd. My steps on the dirt and gravel sound sharper, crisper and the rustling in the bushes, more ominous. All around the leaves and vines droop, gasping for moisture. Running on the lower trail, I could smell the sewer more than usual. Overripe. Unpleasant. Near the start of my run, I could hear the coxswain calling out on the river.

Mostly I enjoyed my run, but I struggled to find the love for others and not just annoyance. Bikers cutting too close, walkers not giving me enough room. Running south on the upper trail in the morning is a challenge. Too many walkers and bikers, all seeming closer with my vision. I uttered, under my breath, “what the fuck?” several times. After the second or third time I thought, “what is wrong with people?,” I decided that it was not them, or me (which is often my next conclusion in these situations), but the trail. From the spot above the oak savanna to 44th, this stretch is a problem. The running and biking paths only separate a few times, and the bike trail is almost always right next to the road and to speeding cars, traveling too fast on a windy, narrow road intended for pleasure drives not commuting. So, to find the love, I will try to avoid running on this part of the trail. Because of how narrow it is and my constant need to look out for others when I’m on it, it isn’t usually much fun. I’m fine with finding other ways to run south. I might try running on Edmund or in the grassy boulevard again.

Here’s one of Maggie Smith’s most well-known poems. It feels fitting for a month about love and finding the love in spite of the world:

Good Bones/ Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

swim: 2.25 miles / 2.3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
85 degrees

Choppy tonight. So choppy that they removed the green buoys; they were drifting too much. On my first loop, heading towards the little beach, my eyes began to burn. I hadn’t washed enough of the baby wash out that I used to anti-fog my googles. It got so bad, I swam much of it with my eyes closed. Didn’t matter; I still swam straight. I stopped at the white buoy off of the little beach and rinsed my eyes out. Ouch. On the second loop, my feet started feeling weird. Almost like they might cramp up. Unsettling. I paused a few times mid-lake to try to relax them. Stopped after loop 2 thinking I was probably done. Not tired, just scared of foot cramps in the middle of the lake, too far from a shore. Decided to try one more loop. Still felt weird, so I turned around at the second buoy and headed back. Not as much as I would have liked to swim, but still over 2 miles. Met STA for a beer at Sandcastle. Even with the problems in the water, it was a nice night.

august 2/SWIM

2 miles
lake nokomis main beach
75 degrees

Finally, I was able to swim again! Last time I swam was Thursday. Too much smoke all weekend. I ran the most miles in a week that I have in a while, but I missed swimming. Swam around the white buoys at lake nokomis. There might have been one or two people in the water, much nearer to shore. My only companions: an occasional rower or boarder and a seagull that liked to perch on the white buoys as I swam by. I was happy to have the bird’s company, although I worried that they were there to catch a fish–which meant that I was also swimming with a lot of fish–and I wondered if they might try to attack me as I swam by. They didn’t. A few times they flew away, off to another buoy.

Because I’ve been swimming across the lake almost every day, I haven’t had much time to swim laps/loops around the buoys. It’s not as exciting, but it’s less crowded, more relaxed, and I don’t have to worry about sighting or getting off course. I’d like do more of these small loops but I don’t know if I have time (or the energy to add even more swimming).

The water was cold, but felt great. Very calm, no chop. Sunny, but not too bright. My goggles fogged up again. Is it time for a new pair? Heard lots of sloshing and, at one point, a loud shriek from shore. A kid freaking out. I breathed every 5 strokes and worked on closing my mouth before I put it back in the water. Also tried to pull harder and push by hand down more forcefully as it went under my torso. Thought about my dr’s appointment this morning for all of my sinus troubles this last year. No real answers for the sinus pressure or why my jaw would tighten up and my nose and eyes would feel like I had an iron blanket on my face. Was it largely due to stress over the pandemic? It’s both unsettling and fascinating how we respond to stress and anxiety in such physical ways.

Here’s a song about love that I heard on the radio this weekend by one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock Singers (only second to my ultimate favorite, Blossom Dearie): Bob Dorough. I have always loved song lyrics and the interesting, compelling, complicated ways words are made into music and combined with music.

Love (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)/ Bob Dorough

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la

Page 498
Love
L-O-V-E
Love

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la

5 meanings are given

One: Love, a feeling of
strong personal attachment
induced by sympathetic understanding
or by ties of kinship
ardent affection

Two: strong liking for
feeling fondness
having good will
as love of learning
as in love of country
as in love of country

Three: tender
tender and passionate affection
which seeks fulfillment in sex

Four: Cupid or eros
as the god of love
sometimes Venus

Five: tennis
love in tennis means no points scored
and you have nothing
and you have nothing

antonym: hate

awesome instrumental interlude

Five: tennis (tennis)
love in tennis
means no points scored
and you have nothing
and I have nothing

antonym: hate

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
tra la la la la

Five meanings of love

Since I mentioned Blossom Dearie, here’s on of my favorite love songs by her:

Down with Love/ Blossom Dearie

Down with love the flowers and rice and shoes
Down with love the root of all midnight blues
Down with things that give you that well-known ping
Take that moon & wrap it in cellophane

Down with love let’s liquidate all its friends
Moon and June and roses and rainbow’s ends
Down with songs that moan about night and day
Down with love yes take it away, away

Take it away
Take it away
Give it back to the birds and bees and the Viennese
Down with eyes romantic and stupid
Down with sighs, down with cupid
Brother let’s stuff that dove
Down with love

I am not down with (romantic) love, but I am tired of the well-worn ways it is represented in songs and poetry. I love the line about liquidating all its friends: moon and june and roses and rainbow’s ends