june 6/RUN

3.1 miles
trestle turn around
72 degrees
dew point: 61

Ran with Scott this morning. Another warm, thick, still morning. We followed Scott’s getting-back-into-running training plan: run 15 minutes, walk 2, run 15 minutes. Our walk started right by the trestle. My left hip felt a little stiff, my left knee harder to lift at the beginning, but I mostly felt fine. My big right toe isn’t hurting anymore.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. birds, 1: several little birds on the path, reluctant to fly away, forcing a biker to slow down
  2. birds, 2: more of these little birds — sparrows? finches? — stopped right in front of me a few minutes later
  3. the white bike — a memorial for some biker killed by a car years ago — hanging upsdie down under the trestle
  4. green green green
  5. cottonwood fuzz lining the sides of the path, a pale green, looking like corroded copper to me
  6. a few puddles of water near the sidewalk edges — did it rain last night, or had nearby grass been watered?
  7. hi dave! hi sara! hi scott! I was impressed that Dave the Daily Walker remembered Scott’s name, so was he
  8. only 1 or 2 small rocks stacked on the ancient boulder
  9. the cracks in the paved trail that they just redid 2 years ago are spreading and deepening, splitting the trail in two. I made note of a small hole that I’ll need to remember to avoid next time I run this way
  10. a woman in a BRIGHT pink shirt and BRIGHT green pants — wow! I wonder if this is the same woman in the BRIGHT pink pants the other day?

No bugs, no roller skiers, no view of the river. No music, no packs of runners, no irritating encounters. No rowers, no overheard conversations, no drumming woodpeckers.

today’s wordle challenge

3 tries / wrong place SCOUT

Here a few “poems” with these words:

They call her wrong place scout
because she always seems to find the place
no one was looking for (or wanted).

wrong place scout

I was in the wrong place
but it must have been the right time
I had found the wrong camp
but stumbled on the right line
I was near the wrong guy
but he must have said the right words
He led me through the wrong door
but out into the right world.

There is no wrong
place to be when
you are scouting mystery.

I forgot about the dark
bird I saw rooting
in the hydrangeas looking
like it landed in the wrong
place until today
when I learned
about the purple martin scout
and decided that that was what it was.

Even though the finished products of this wordle challenge aren’t the greatest, the experiment was fun to do. I thought about different meanings of scout and listened to/studied the lyrics of Dr. John’s “Right Place, Wrong Time.” I also learned about purple martins and remembered a strange bird I watched in my back yard the other day. Bonus: I became aware of the existence of “Minnesota’s Largest Purple Martin House” in Audubon, Minnesota. Wow.

Here’s a water poem that is by one of my favorite poets and will be etched on NASA’s Europa clipper as it travels to study one of Jupiter’s moons:

In Praise of Mystery/ Ada Limón

Arching under the night sky inky
with black expansiveness, we point
to the planets we know, we

pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,
we read the sky as if it is an unerring book
of the universe, expert and evident.

Still, there are mysteries below our sky:
the whale song, the songbird singing
its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.

We are creatures of constant awe,
curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,
at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.

And it is not darkness that unites us,
not the cold distance of space, but
the offering of water, each drop of rain,

each rivulet, each pulse, each vein.
O second moon, we, too, are made
of water, of vast and beckoning seas.

We, too, are made of wonders, of great
and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,
of a need to call out through the dark.

april 20/RUN

3.65 miles
locks and dam #1 hill loop
38 degrees

It’s supposed to rain all day, starting around 9 am, so I went out for a shorter run at 8. Made it back before it started. Dark and damp. Long line-ups of cars, commuters heading to work, I suppose. I liked watching their bright headlights cut through the gray air. At 42nd street a runner whose cadence sounded much faster than mine passed me. I enjoyed watching the steady, relaxed rhythm of her feet rising and falling, up down, up down. Such grace!

I remember looking at the river and wondering how high it was, but I don’t remember much else about it, except: at the bottom of the locks and dam hill, right by the closed gate, the water was foaming and contained some trash. Yuck.

Heard traffic rushing by, water gushing out of the sewer pipe at 42nd, and my feet shuffling on the grit as I ran south. After running up the hill I stopped to put in music — Kool and the Gang Essentials — and discovered that the soft rubber for my right ear bud was missing. Bummer. Decided just to put the left one in and listen to the gorge and Kool and the Gang as I ran back north.

Yesterday I finished a solid draft of my 8th Ishihara plate poem. Hooray! Very happy with it, especially how I was able to finally (after 2 years of trying) to find a place for a lovely image of the sparkle a swimmer makes as their hands enter the water and light bounces off the ripple they create. Here’s my description in the poem, which I’m tentatively titling, “The Glitter Effect”:

all around swimmers’ hands pierce the 
water, stroke after stroke. Each point of contact be
tween lake finger and light sparks in amber and bu
ilds a glittery bridge from body to body to body 
until we reach the other side.

Should it be sparks in amber or sparks amber? Maybe it should our hands instead of swimmers’ hands? And, what about until the other side is reached? (too passive?)

I also like the ending, although I think the poem might need to do a little more work to get to it:

This is not a 
poem mourning the loss of cone cells. 
This is not even a poem. Th 
is a compass.

Maybe it should be, This is not even a poem, but a compass or This is not even a poem. It is a compass?

Found this poem the other day. Birds!

How Far Away We Are/ Anushka Shah

After “How Far Away We Are,” by Ada Limòn

So we might understand each other better,
I’ve given up on trying to listen for birds
in the morning. But, I am never without them.
The internet is a pocket forest: a green parrot
named Tico who harmonizes in soaring vibrato
to classic rock songs, woolen baby emperor penguins
with prehistoric feet, potoo birds whose fluty songs
haunt even after their diamond mouths close,
a raven named Fable who inflates her blue-black head
feathers before she declares practiced “Mwahs!”
in the same tone as her keeper, and a cockatiel
who sings an Apple ringtone (you know the one)
when it’s upset. How incredible it is that they all
perch together. How to tell you: It’s been years since
I’ve wanted to die, but I still don’t understand why
sometimes it feels so difficult to brush my teeth,
start my day, end my day. Why I always miss you,
but sometimes I can’t even think of you. Why, when
we are separated, when my mind is difficult,
birds are easy. Today, after watching ten videos
of hummingbirds before noon, I feel light enough to push
off my comforter’s irresistible smother and flit around
the house. I want the whir of a sequined green body,
red-adoring eyes, and narrow tongue coiling into skull,
as much as I want the steady sleep-twitch of your
warm body pressed against me. I’m passing this idea
to you: One day, maybe we could plant zinnias
and cardinal flowers in a ruby cluster and wait
for hummingbirds to unfurl and flick their tongues
into an easy sweetness. We could fill two glasses
with cold water and put them on the nightstand.
We could watch together, even on a palm-sized screen—
floating swans, a white, crested pet pigeon waddling
herself to bed, sprinting ostriches, a parakeet father
insistently squawking, “iloveyoubabies gonnafeedthebabies.”

Lines I love and want to remember:
The internet is a pocket forest:
when my mind is difficult,/birds are easy.
I want the whir of a sequined green body,/red-adoring eyes, and narrow tongue coiling into skull,

follow-up, a few hours later: Scrolling through Instagram, I came across a wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Around 5 or 6 years ago, when I lost enough cone cells that I could no longer ignore that something wasn’t right with my eyes, I would always pretend to see the bird that someone else was pointing out. Now, I’m more likely to admit I can’t see it. Perhaps when the novelty of knowing what’s wrong with me and not having to pretend to see what I can’t wears off, I’ll go back to saying Yes!

Lying While Birding/ Naomi Shihab Nye

Yes       Yes

        I see it

so they won’t keep telling you

           where it is

note: Nye’s reading of the poem on the site is wonderful.


march 21/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
32 degrees

Right before I started I saw some snow flurries but by the time I was running, they had stopped. Windy, humid. A cold 32 degrees. Began the run needing to lose my anxiousness. I did. Some parts of the run were hard; I’m not sure I’m completely over my sickness. But some parts of it were great. For a few minutes I felt like I was flying and free. I did a lot of triple berry chants on the way north. Stopped at the trestle to look down at the brown flat river. Then I put in the Fame (1980 version) soundtrack and ran back south. Timed it so “I Sing the Body Electric” was on as I ran up the last hill. As I sped up, I could hear some geese honking over the gorge, almost like they were racing me. Yes!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. mud — thick, gooey, dark brown — on the edge of the path and alongside the lingering snow
  2. sporadic geese honks throughout the run
  3. the path was almost completely clear, only a few puddles and strips of ice
  4. the wind was strong and in my face as I climbed out from under the lake street bridge
  5. under the bridge, a parked suburu was facing the wrong way
  6. some of the walking path was clear
  7. the river was open and brown. It looked less like water and more like a flat wall
  8. near the end of the run, I stopped for a minute to admire the view between the trees of the lake street bridge and the cars traveling over it
  9. faintly recall hearing some birds chirping in a distinctive way — was it cheer up cheer up?
  10. can’t remember if I heard the sound of my feet striking and sliding on the grit, but I felt it

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 9

Begins with Have much to thank you for, ends with the evening star seems set.

This page — wow.

And someone
You know well is suffering, sees it all but not the way before
Him, hating his job and not knowing what to change it for. Have
You any advice to give? Have you learned nothing in all these
Years? “Take it as it comes.” Sit still and listen: each so alone.

How often do people, when they’re suffering and tell others about it, want advice? How often do I? Sometimes. Mostly I want acknowledgment. Someone to witness what I’m feeling and to honor that it is real, true. Rarely do I want someone to tell me it will be okay or that I’m making a bigger deal out of it (whatever it is) than I should. I try not to give advice, often falling back on the classic, that sucks. More often than I should — should I ever do this? — I try to relate to the other’s pain, share a story of what I think is a similar experience. My daughter hates when I do this, it makes her feel worse. Often I can’t help myself. Slowly, I’ve been getting better at just listening, sitting still.

“Time heals
All wounds”: now what’s that supposed to mean? Wounds can
Kill, like that horse chestnut tree with the rotting place will surely
Die unless the tree doctor comes. Cut out the rot, fill with tree
Cement, score and leave to heal.

I think about this one in terms of grief, especially my grief over my mom’s death. It’s true that it isn’t as hard, and I’m not as undone as I was right after she died. But, what does it mean to heal? And, how often do things heal on their own, without any effort or attention? Maybe time doesn’t heal but…gives you more practice living with it? I’m sure this doesn’t totally apply, but I always think about what I’ve heard long-time and/or pro runners say about running long distances: it never gets easier, you just get better at enduring it.

And there
Is the fog off the cold Atlantic. No one is at his best with
A sinus headache. It will pass. Stopped passages unblock

I appreciate that he put this detail in. Just before reading this page, I was having what I call, a sinus episode. Not quite a headache, but a strange ache and heaviness that descends. No sharp pain, but discomfort, a queasy uneasiness. Pressure. Sometimes feeling like a thick iron plate is pressing down on my face. I’ve been getting these ever since the pandemic started — are they anxiety? Maybe partly? They used to last all day, but now that I’ve learned to put on a breathe right strip, they usually go away pretty quickly.

why
Let the lovely spring, its muck and scarlet emperors, get you
Down. Unhibernate. Let the rain soak your hair, run down your
Face, hang in drops from facial protuberances. Face into
It, then towel dry. Then another day brings back the sun and
Violets in the grass.

Unhibernate. Face into it, then towel dry. I like this idea better than time heals all wounds.

Far away
In Washington, at the Reflecting Pool, the Japanese cherries
Bust out into their dog mouth pink. Visitors gasp. The sun
Drips, coats and smears, all that spring yellow under unending
Blue.

Why does this poem keep returning to DC? I’ll have to look that up. I did (hours later). Not sure if this is the only answer, but he grew up in D.C.

I love his description of the intense, over-the-top ripeness and showiness of spring. I’m reminded of Ada Limón and her line, “the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton-candied color blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains” (almost remembered it word for word!). The difference is Schuyler’s sun and how it drips, coats and smears, all that spring yellow. This reminds me of living in Atlanta and the yellow pollen, coating every surface. Yuck! For me it just looked gross and stained everything, for others it made it very hard to breathe.

Only the oaks hold back their leaf buds, reticent.
Reticence is not a bad quality, though it may lead to misunderstandings.
I misunderstood silence for disapproval, see now it was
Sympathy.

Are the oaks the last to bud here in Minnesota. I’ll have to watch in the next month. Is it reticence or patience, or maybe a desire to hang back and stay out of the fray of frantic growing and greening? I might be asking this of myself and not the oaks.

Reticent = reserved, holding back, restrained
Patience = not hasty or impetuous, measured

I’m not sure whether or not oaks are the last to bud here in Minnesota, but when they do, they aren’t reticent, and their leaves don’t hold back. Within weeks they have consumed the trees, then my view of the gorge. Never in pleasing, controlled shapes like maples, but a hungry, sprawling green everywhere.

Thank you, May, for these warm stirrings. Life
Goes on, it seems, though in all sorts of places—nursing
Homes—it is drawing to a close. Abstractions and generalities:
Grass and blue depths into which the evening star seems set.

Not sure what to say about this bit, but I wanted to leave it in.
note, 29 march 2023: Looking back at these lines I started thinking about vision — my vision as an old person’s vision — and how details are lost, things appear mostly in the abstract and as forms — outside, blue sky and grass.

march 20/RUN

3.1 miles
ford bridge turn around
29 degrees

First day back after getting slammed with a 24 hour bug (a test for COVID was negative). For the first time in a decade?, I slept all day Saturday after being up all night sick on Friday. Yuck! The run was hard. I felt sore. But I was able to get outside, breathe in fresh air, hear a woodpecker drumming, see the river shimmering, move! Stopped to walk briefly after turning around under the ford bridge and encountering a stretch of slick ice. When I started again, I decided to chant triple berries to keep my rhythm steady. Strawberry Raspberry Blueberry Strawberry Raspberry Blueberry, over and over for at least a mile. Close to the end of the, nearing the oak savanna, I thought about a line from today’s Schuyler excerpt and the difference between contemplation and day dreams (below).

The line,

life in
Contemplation, which is hard to tell from day dreaming,

I started chanting contemplation — con tem pla tion con temp pla tion
Then:

con tem pla tion
con tem pla tion
won der ing
won der ing

When I was done and walking home, I took out my phone and spoke a little poem into it:

con
tem
pla
tion
con
tem
pla
tion
won
der
ing
wan
der
ing

Maybe the
difference
between con
templation
and wonder
ing is the
difference
between 4
syllables
versus 3
even not
odd method
ical not
haphazard
exactness
instead of
spilling o
ver?

Is anything there, in this fragment? Not sure, but it was fun to have it appear in my ears at the end of a run. I didn’t even realize I’d brought the Schuyler with me on my run! As I write this last bit, I’m thinking about the movement and associations in Schuyler’s poem, how he travels from idea to idea. I think 4 counts is a tidier, more exact, everything in it’s proper place kind of a beat. While 3 counts offers more movement, freedom, the ability to shift from thing to thing to thing without needing to pin anything down in one place.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 8

Begins with Hoo” he calls, ends with So much, too much. Tried something new today; I listened to Schuyler’s recording as I read the page.

Another day, and still the sun shines down, warming

Ever since I read a line from Ada Limón’s poem “Privacy,” I’m still standing, as I’m standing still and not as I continue to stand, I always read still in both ways when I encounter it. So, still the sun, is not only even so the sun, but calm/quiet/peaceful sun

Life in action, life in repose, life in
Contemplation, which is hard to tell from day dreaming, on a day
When the sky woolgathers clouds and sets their semblance on a
Glassy ocean.
At first I thought that Schuyler had made up woolgather, like Gerard Manley Hopkins did with his golden grove unleaving, but then I looked it up. It’s a word! “to indulge in wandering fancies or purposeless thinking; to be in a dreamy or absent-minded state: said esp. of ‘the wits’, etc.” (from the online OED, accessed through my public library).

What are the differences between contemplation and day dreaming? And, is it day dream or daydream — is that another instance of me turning a verb (the day dreams) into a noun (a daydream)?

Only its edge goes lisp.

I love how he uses lisp here. I anticipated limp. The idea of the day going soft, getting quieter instead of stale or stiff or injured is more interesting to me.

On no two days the same.
Is it the ocean’s mindlessness that troubles? At times it seems
Calculatedly malevolent, tearing the dunes asunder, tumbling
Summer houses into itself, a terror to see.

Here I’m thinking of nature’s indifference to humans. On the podcast You’re Wrong About, Sarah Marshall and her sometimes guest co-host, Blaire Braverman, explore survival stories and the comfort they find in recognizing that nature is not out to get us, but is indifferent to us. It might kill us, but not out of malevolence. I’m also thinking about Carl Phillip’s indifferent willow in his poem, In Swept All Visible Signs Away.

They say there are
Those who have never felt terror. A slight creeping of the scalp,
Merely. How fine. Finer than sand, that, on a day like this.
Trickles through my fingers, ensconced in a dune cleft, sun
Warmed and breeze cooled. This peace is full of sounds and
Movement. A couple passes, jogging. A dog passes, barking
And running. My nose runs, a little. Just a drip. Left over
From winter. How long ago it seems! All spring and summer stretch
Ahead, a roadway lined by roses and thunder.

So much movement — wandering — here! From the terror of nature to only feeling terror as a creeping of the scalp, which is fine like the sand and that trickles through my fingers at a beach filled with sounds and movement: a couple jogging, a dog running like my nose which now only drips from a winter ended. Wow!

“It will be here
Before you know it.” These twigs will then have leafed and
Shower down a harvest of yellow-brown. So far away, so
Near at hand. The sand runs through my fingers. The yellow
Daffodils have white corollas (sepals?). The crocuses are gone,
I didn’t see them go. They were here, now they’re not. Instead
The forsythia ensnarls its flames, cool fire, pendent above the smoke
Of its brown branches.

It will be here before you know it, and it will be gone too soon. Sand as time passing too quickly. The flower we wait to see all winter will bloom and die without us noticing. Somehow, we forgot to check that one week they were out. It all happens too quickly.

sepals = The outer parts of the flower (often green and leaf-like) that enclose a developing bud.

From the train, a stand of larch is greener than
Greenest grass. A funny tree, of many moods, gold in autumn, naked
In winter: an evergreen (it looks) that isn’t. What kind of a tree
Is that? I love to see it resurrect itself, the enfolded buttons
Of needles studding the branches, then opening into little bursts.

Have I ever seen a larch? Do they even grow in Minnesota. Looked it up. Yes:

the Tamarack (also known as Larch, or Tamarack Larch) is a deciduous conifer — a tree with needles that drop in the fall. There are around 10 species of Larch in the northern hemisphere; this one is native to Minnesota and doesn’t mind our cold winters and wetland soils.

When the needles begin to form in the spring, the trees are covered in cute, soft tufts that slowly lengthen. Our trees are relatively young (planted in 2012), but eventually they may grow up to 50 feet tall. You might catch a glimpse of these golden beauties in mass as you head north or east of the Twin Cities later in the fall.

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization

a little more (added an hour later): Just finished Rebecca Makkai’s latest book, I Have Some Questions for You. It was excellent — wonderfully complicated and messy and compelling. I finished it a few hours before it was due on a 3-week loan from the library. These days it is a huge accomplishment to actually finish a book before it is due. I can still see words (as opposed to hearing words) enough to read the pages, but it takes a very long time. I get too tired — I often fall asleep after a page — or distracted. The words rarely look blurry; I just can’t seem to read a lot of them. I am very happy to have finished today because this book is new and very popular and if I had put it on hold after it was returned (it’s an ebook that is automatically returned), I wouldn’t get to finish it for months. Hooray!

One other thing to note: I was struck by how Rebecca Makkai emphasized eye contact several times. I might have missed a few, but I tried to screen shot the instances I noticed. I’m collecting examples of the idea that to “look into someone’s eyes” is to truly see them, or to connect with their humanity, or to see the truth, or means you are telling the truth. Here are the examples I found in her book — because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, I won’t give any context for these):

I’d been waiting four years to see Omar, to look him in the eyes. I didn’t want or expect anything from him; I just wanted to see his face.

even if I couldn’t quite tell the color of his cheeks, I could see it in his eyes

I stood beside her, sweating, hands on hips, made eye contact with
her in the mirror.

meaningful eye contact across the dining hall, the kind that said We’d both do best to keep our mouths shut?

The few things I know: She was facing him when he slammed her head back, more than once; they were eye to eye.

dec 14/RUN

4.5 miles
minnehaha falls and back
35 degrees
5% ice / 25% big, sloppy puddles

No big snow storm here in Minneapolis, just lots of sloppy, wet trails. Wore an old pair of shoes and got them soaked in minutes. A little bit slippery, but not too bad. Lots of wind, but never in my face. It almost knocked me over, coming in from the side. The falls were rushing and gushing. When I stopped at my favorite spot to admire them, I could see the water pouring off the limestone ledge. Heard the kids on the playground at the school. Lots of laughter, one ear piercing scream. The river was a brownish-gray and open. I nervously eyed a squirrel on the path, wondering if it would double-back and trip me (it didn’t).

a ridiculous performance

Haven’t posted one of these in a while. Near the start of my run, as I ran above the oak savanna, a walker ahead of me started singing loudly (and not very well). Why? Not sure. What was she singing? I couldn’t tell.

Encountered this poem on poetsorg’s Instagram account yesterday:

Dead Stars/ Ada Limón

Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.

I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.

We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.

It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.

And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.

But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—

to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.

Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What

would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?

What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.

Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?

What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain

for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,

if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,

rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?

august 20/RUN

5.1 miles
ford loop
65 degrees / humidity: 85%
9:15 am

A good run. I stopped after 3.5 miles. Partly to check out the view at the overlook, and partly because I sped up too much between miles 2 and 3 (I went a minute faster than mile 2 on mile 3) and needed a break. A beautiful morning. No rowers or roller skiers or radios blasting. A few big packs of runners. Mostly cloudless sky, bright, blue river.

favorite view

Take the steps down from the lake st/marshall ave bridge and head up the hill on the east river road trail. Near the top, enjoy the view on your right side of the wide open river, stretching out below you. The best part of this view: the openness! nothing between you and the river, except for air.

overheard conversation fragment

Two women walkers. One said this to the other: “It’s time for them to go back to school!” Agreed. But, who is them? Their kids? Somebody else’s kids? Their grandkids? And, why do they need to be back in school? Are they bored? Annoying? Causing problems? Wanting to learn?

an interview I’m reading

Writing a Grove: A Conversation with Poet Laureate Ada Limón

Ada: Absolutely. I worked on it over several months while meeting with this wonderful writing group. We have to bring in something each time we meet, and I just kept writing about trees. Week after week, it kept happening and happening. I couldn’t stop. But they were so supportive and wonderful. They became a sort of an anchor for the project. And it just kept growing. I didn’t expect it to be so long, but I also felt like it could go on forever.

Camille: Some of the obsessions are never going to leave you, and to me, that was part of what I loved. With each page I thought, Oh, I’ve seen this before, but how is she going to manage it differently? It reminded me of the Miles Davis quote about John Coltrane that was a guiding force for me as I was writing my first book, when I was really worried that I was doing the same thing over and over and over again. And I read the liner notes where Davis wrote about Coltrane’s first solo album. He said, “I don’t understand why people don’t get John Coltrane’s music. All he is trying to do is play the same note as many ways as he possibly can.”

I love this quote from Miles Davis and this idea of doing something over and over again but in different ways and the idea of obsessions. Some of my obsessions: open views (running) and staying on course (open swimming). It’s interesting to notice how I return again and again to these two things in this online log. I’d like to play around with variations on this theme: Even though I can barely or hardly ever see the buoys, I manage to stay on course. This never stops astonishing me.

Scrolling through my reading list, I found another interview with Ada Limón (she’s very busy these days!) over at The Rumpus: Resurrection On A Daily Basis: Exploring The Hurting Kind with Ada Limón. Here’s a bit about deep looking:

The Rumpus: You write, “I am getting so good at watching.” What is the role of close observation in poetry, and how as poets can we better cultivate the skill?

Ada Limón: I think that’s a great place to start. Really watching, noticing, and deep looking—not the distracted looking, but really curious looking—that’s a way of loving and a way of valuing, and I don’t think I knew that before. I think that I thought watching was part of life, and I thought it was part of the creative work of being a poet. And I always thought observation was important, but I didn’t know it was also the thing that connected you to the world on a larger scale, not just in the way of making poems and making art, but in the way of making your life feel connected and whole and complete.

When I’m feeling blue, which I often do, just watching even for five minutes, the birds, or even just looking at my plant in the window, just the smallest thing, or looking at my dog, I’m reminded of what it is to be a living thing amidst this living world. In some ways it takes me out of myself. If I were to offer that to other people, what it is to look without the foregone conclusion, without the narrative, without the—What am I going to turn this into?—but instead to look with a real curiosity and to de-center themselves a little bit in that looking.

Resurrection On A Daily Basis: Exploring The Hurting Kind with Ada Limón.

Deep looking is without judgment or expectation or a pre-formed narrative. It involves de-centering ourselves. She describes it as watching or looking or staring? Does this looking always mean close scrutiny? Limón suggests that this watching connects us to the world.

Now I’m thinking about another passage on looking/observing/noticing that I recently encountered (via BrainPickings/the Marginalia) from the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne:

The best way to get a vivid impression and feeling of a landscape, is to sit down before it and read, or become otherwise absorbed in thought; for then, when your eyes happen to be attracted to the landscape, you seem to catch Nature unawares, and see her before she has time to change her aspect. The effect lasts but for a single instant, and passes away almost as soon as you are conscious of it; but it is real, for that moment. It is as if you could overhear and understand what the trees are whispering to one another; as if you caught a glimpse of a face unveiled, which veils itself from every willful glance. The mystery is revealed, and after a breath or two, becomes just as great a mystery as before.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

I like the idea of not focusing on (or closely watching) something, but letting it find you. As I read this again though, I don’t like the language he uses — “overhear, catch Nature unawares, catching a glimpse of a face unveiled.” I don’t like the idea of spying on nature (or being a peeping Tom!).

One more thing I found in my Safari Reading List that fits (loosely) with my discussion so far. In the first interview with Limón mentioned in this entry, Camille Dunghy names Ada Limón’s collection of small essays a grove. Here’s a wonderful poem I found on twitter a few days ago, with the same name:

The Grove/ Jay Hopler

Like unborn suns in bunches hung from branches bent by
years spent holding up such pulp-plump fruit,
Gorgeous and corpulent, their green rinds tight
And shining, sheened with rain, the season’s first blood
Oranges are on the trees.

How beautiful they would look against a blue
Sky! How weary they look against this black
One–––.

To be born tired and to live tired and to die tired.
To die of tiredness. Not as hard to imagine as it used to be.
Was ever there a sky this low?
No, and still there’s not.
It’s just a flock of black-

Birds shrouding out above the trees. The moon
Is up there…somewhere.
And the stars.

june 19/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
80 degrees
9:00 am (there) / 10:40 am (back)

My first bike ride to the lake by myself this year. Everything was a bit fuzzy, but I wasn’t scared to bike and I didn’t have any problems almost running into things or hitting a big pothole. Hooray! I’m always grateful to still be able to bike. My most distinctive memory of the ride was on the way there, right after I entered the Minnehaha Creek path, past what we (me, my husband, and our kids who named it 10 or 12 years ago) call the duck bridge. A very irritating sound. A person walking with ski poles, scraping then clicking them on the asphalt with every foot strike. Ssscrape. Click. Ssscrape. Click. Over and over. I wondered if the runner right ahead of this walker couldn’t wait to get away from the sound.

swim: 2 very choppy loops
lake nokomis
80 degrees (air) / 75 degrees (water)
9:30 am

I checked the weather earlier in the day and knew it was going to be very windy. And it was. 25-30 mph gusts, I think. It’s hard for me to tell, but this felt like one of the choppier swims I’ve done ever. And I did a lot of choppy swims last year. I wasn’t scared, just tired out by it. My chest burned a little as I tried to get oxygen to it. Hard to think about much else, other than: where’s the buoy? is that the buoy? breathe away from the wave. is my neck getting too sore? am I almost to the big beach? Nearing the final green buoy, at a part that was extra choppy, a big wave washed over me as I tried to breathe. I didn’t inhale any of the water, I guess because I’m a strong, experienced swimmer, but I imagined if I had, how that might have been very bad. And when I say imagined, I mean I literally imagined the scenario, or a vague, dreamy approximation of it, in my head. Swallowing the water, panicking, flailing, drowning. I wasn’t feeling this, but almost watching it like a movie. I often daydream alternate scenarios in my head right after something has happened. Everybody does, right?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the orange buoys, at least 2 of the 3, were in a neat row, cutting diagonally across the lake
  2. the bottom of the overturned lifeguard boat at the little beach was hard to spot through the waves — no sparkling silver streak to follow
  3. water visibility: I could see my hands in front of me and the bubbles they made with each stroke, but not much else
  4. the final green buoy was drifting in the wind, the rope attached to a weight that anchored it was close to the surface, I barely cleared it as I rounded the buoy
  5. my bright yellow buoy, tethered to my waist, was pushed into me by the wind several times
  6. a few female voices near the orange buoy closest to the little beach, a few swimmers resting and comparing notes before heading back to the big beach
  7. the water felt heavier or slower or like some part of it was trying to drag me down, harder to float
  8. off to the side, I noticed another swimmer swmming very far from the buoys — was this on purpose, or were they way off course?
  9. no vines wrapping around my head or big branches floating in front of me
  10. one seagull flying towards me

Overheard, right before starting, near the lifeguard stand:

Swimmer One: I see you’re wearing the wrong colored cap. The lifeguards will make you get out if your cap’s not the right color.
Swimmer Two: I know. I talked to a lifeguard about it. It’s okay.
Swimmer One: Okay. My daughter’s a lifeguard and she’s always saying how awful it is to make someone have to get out because their cap is wrong. You might have to get out on the opposite side and then walk around.

Was there anymore to this exchange? Was the second swimmer irritated by the first swimmer? Why did she have on the wrong colored cap? Was she confronted by a lifeguard in the water? That would be very irritating to be a lifeguard having to confront someone about the wrong colored cap. I don’t like disciplining people or enforcing rules.

This swim and bike was wonderful, and made me feel so relaxed and happy after I was done. Lake Nokomis swimming is the best.

I found this poem via twitter this morning. So great, so perfect for one of the weeks of my summer class!

Calling Things What They Are/ Ada Limón

I pass the feeder and yell, Grackle party! And then an hour later I yell, Mourning dove afterparty! (I call the feeder the party and the seed on the ground the afterparty.) I am getting so good at watching that I’ve even dug out the binoculars an old poet gave me back when I was young and heading to the Cape with so much future ahead of me it was like my own ocean. I yell, Tufted titmouse! and Lucas laughs and says, Thought so. But he is humoring me, he didn’t think so at all. My father does this same thing. Shouts out at the feeder announcing the party attendees. He throws out a whole peanut or two to the Steller’s jay who visits on a low oak branch in the morning. To think there was a time I thought birds were kind of boring. Brown bird. Gray bird. Black bird. Blah blah blah bird. Then, I started to learn their names by the ocean and the person I was dating said, That’s the problem with you, Limón, you’re all fauna and no flora. And I began to learn the names of trees. I like to call things as they are. Before, the only thing I was interested in was love, how it grips you, how it terrifies you, how it annihilates you, and resuscitates you. I didn’t know then that it wasn’t even love that I was interested in, but my own suffering. I thought suffering kept things interesting. How funny that I called it love and the whole time it was pain.

june 6/RUN

5.75 miles
franklin hill + extra
67 degrees

Everything green. Not dark green, like yesterday, but glowing green. Greeted the Welcoming Oaks as I ran past them. Noticed again — and I’m remembering this time, finally, to mention it — the non-oak (what kind is it?) tree that looks like a tuning fork. A few months ago, looking at it, I thought, “time to tune my body to the gorge.” I think this came to my mind because I had just listened to John Denver’s version of “The Garden Song” and the lines, “Tune my body and my brain/ To the music from the land.”

Things the Flew in my Face, a list

  1. a small, but not too small, bird flying out of the leaves towards me, then veering quickly, making me stutter step and raise my hands to my eyes
  2. a gnat, into the liquid protein in my right eye — it might still be in there…yuck!
  3. cottonwood fuzz
  4. another bird, not as close this time
  5. the leafy branch of a tree on the side of the trail
  6. wind

Speaking of wind, there was a point early on in the run when I noticed the wind in several different versions, all at once: the sound of rushing air past my ears; a sound that was not roaring or howling but talking loudly in the trees; the dancing shadows of the leaves on the trail.

Heard the rowers; encountered some roller skiers; greeted Dave, the Daily Walker and Mr. Morning!; looked up at the fluffy white clouds; wondered if the big bird soaring high above me was an eagle or a hawk or a turkey vulture; noticed all the empty benches; tried to, but couldn’t, identify the song coming out of a biker’s speakers as they passed me; thought about how fast the river was going and whether or not that was faster than I was running up the hill; appreciated my shadow ahead of me; smelled too much lilac; successfully avoided lots of groups of walkers; ran way too fast down a hill.

Inspired by an interview I encountered this morning, here’s the first poem from Ada Limón’s latest collection, The Hurting Kind:

Give Me This/ Ada Limón

I thought it was the neighbor’s cat back
to clean the clock of the fledgling robins low
in their nest stuck in the dense hedge by the house
but what came was much stranger, a liquidity
moving all muscle and bristle. A groundhog
slippery and waddle thieving my tomatoes still
green in the morning’s shade. I watched her
munch and stand on her haunches taking such
pleasure in the watery bites. Why am I not allowed
delight? A stranger writes to request my thoughts
on suffering. Barbed wire pulled out of the mouth,
as if demanding that I kneel to the trap of coiled
spikes used in warfare and fencing. Instead,
I watch the groundhog closer and a sound escapes
me, a small spasm of joy I did not imagine
when I woke. She is a funny creature and earnest,
and she is doing what she can to survive.

Here’s the final question, and her answer, in the interview:

Question: What is the poet’s role in finding meaning in the world, and what is our duty in deciding to reject meaning? Talk to me about the work of meaning making. Talk to me about the work of surrender and release?

Answer: That’s the nature of life, isn’t it? To desire to make meaning and then surrender to the mystery and the repeat and repeat and repeat. Toni Morrison once said, during her Nobel Prize speech in 1993, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” And to me that quote is all about surrendering to our mortality, accepting our end, and yet recognizing the ways in which we honor our time here. How we point out the beauty, the pain, the full spectrum of all of our experience, so that we can live wholly, completely, and not miss the living we’ve been granted. Sometimes the message is only, “Look, I am alive.” And it does not have to transcend that. Why would it? What could be bigger than that?

may 19/RUN

5.5 miles
ford loop*
66 degrees

*slight variation: began by running north through the neighborhood instead of on the river road trail

Sun! Low humidity! Birds! Clear paths! What a wonderful morning for a run! Even the struggle of getting a girl to go to school (which I’ve been steadily doing for 6 years now…almost every weekday morning) couldn’t dull the shine of this day.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. someone revving up an old lawnmower — a rattle then roar, a hot, smoky smell
  2. voices on the other side of lake street, sitting outside at Dunn Bros or Longfellow Grill
  3. looking downstream at the river, the water was almost foamy in spots and looked cold — an ice cold blue
  4. a biker biking up the hill alongside me — me on the trail, them in the bike lane — wearing a bright yellow shirt and moving so slowly that I almost caught up to them
  5. Shadow Falls sputtering, the creek feeding it flowing fast
  6. the dirt trail next to the paved on the east river trail was sometimes packed and hard, sometimes sandy and soft
  7. a plaque on a random rock I didn’t stop to read — what does it say? who is it honoring?
  8. a lone goose flying very low, just above my head, as I ran over the ford bridge, uttering random low, slow honks
  9. looking upstream at the river, it was a deeper shade of blue and was clear and calm and foamless
  10. the 44th street sewer pipe on the Winchell Trail had water that gurgled, the 42nd street, water that gushed

where I ran, what I ran on: gritty, graveling dirt; soft sand; packed dirt; asphalt; tree roots; concrete; a paved trail; a dirt trail next to the paved one; a dirt trail that used to be paved; the street; a big bridge; a bigger bridge; the ruts in the road; between orange cones and the curb at a spot where they were working on the road or the sewer or something that rerouted the trail; 2 sets of steps going down; a shaded trail; a sunny trail; grass; mud; flower petals

I’m working on a proposal for a fall class at the Loft Literary Center. The process of writing a syllabus is time-consuming and very inefficient. I spend a lot of time circling around ideas until I find just the right way into them. As I continue to struggle, I was hoping Mary Oliver and her poem, “Invitation,” could help. So I recited it in my head as I ran — I memorized it a few years ago. Did it? I think so, but I can’t really remember the thoughts it prompted. I recall thinking about the goldfinches and wondering about how much work they were doing in this poem. The focus of the poem is the musical battle that the goldfinches are engaged in. This battle is “not for your sake/and not for mine/and not for the sake of winning/but for sheer delight and gratitude.” Yet, with it, the birds say “believe us/it is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in this broken world.” And their “rather ridiculous performance,” if we pause to attend to it, could change our life. This makes me want to return to Ada Limón’s VS. podcast episode (vs. Epiphany). Would the birds really want to talk to me/you/us when they’re having so much in their battle?

This poem is aptly titled; it was one of my early invitations into poetry. Those birds and their ridiculous performance and the call to change my life got me thinking and imagining. It also made me frustrated. What does it mean to change your life? How do we do it? For my class, I’m thinking about an introduction to poetry as a way in, a door, an invitation, the gesture of a stranger saying, “Look!” to you as they point out an eagle in a tree. Mary Oliver’s invitation is one way this could work — maybe we could look at different versions of the invitation, from other writers?

An invitation to what? — here’s another way that Mary Oliver fits in. I’m thinking of the invitation in terms of her instructions for living a life: 1. Pay Attention, 2. Be Astonished, 3. Tell About It. The invitation is to notice, to be in wonderment, to share it with others. I want to tie this together with the idea of giving attention as more than an individual act, but a collective shared one that can lead to caring for and about, to empathy, to repair, and to social transformation. Now I just need to express that in 200 words!

Here is a definition of poetry from Ilya Kaminsky that I discovered this morning that might help:

For me poetry is a moment of awe — that silence that travels from one human body to another by means of words. Gilgamesh was written 4,000 ago and it transforms us still. This is what poetry is: not a kind of public posturing but a private language of music and imagery that is strange and compelling enough that it can speak privately to thousands of people at the same time.

Ilya Kaminsky in the New Statesmen

Oh, I almost forgot that at the end of my run I stopped and recorded some thoughts into my phone. Here is some of what I said:

As part of my course proposal, I need to offer a sample activity. I think I’ll do a variation on my “The Is, the Ought, the Why and Why Not” exercise. In this exercise, students choose a handful of poems (5-10? — more? less?) and read them several times. Then they’ll pick out some of their favorite lines and classify them according to whether the lines are describing the world (the Is), offering advice on how to be in the world or how the world should be (the Ought), being curious/asking questions about the world (the Why), or imagining new ways to be (the Why Not?). As I write this description, I’m realizing I need to fine-tune my distinctions between the categories here.

This class is an introduction to poetry from the perspective of the poem as a door, an invitation, with a specific focus on how that invitation leads to attention and care and repair and connection and transformation. We will look at what attention is; what care is, focusing a lot on how poets write and learning from their words. There will be opportunities to practice with your own poems, but much of it will be about learning about the invitation and how to take it up, as a reader and writer. I want to bring in Alice Oswald’s thoughts from an essay for The Guardian:

Go and leaf through the poetry section of your local library. Take out a book of Border Ballads, look at John Clare’s sonnets, soak yourself in Gerard Manley Hopkins. If you like the ballads, go on reading them until everything you think comes out in four lines with the second and fourth rhyming (but be careful in public places). If you like the sonnets, read them until you start to speak in five-beat lines with alternating soft and loud syllables; and then write a series of poems that all last fourteen lines.

Although it’s fine to imitate a poem, I want to leave you with this one strong claim: that you should never learn to write one, you should never write a poem till you can feel it in your bones. Because poetry is your whole body’s response to the whole world, not just your head’s response to a thought or a glimpse.

Reading through this last bit again, I wonder if I agree. Should you never try to write a poem unless your whole body is in it? Maybe having it be a whole body experience is the goal, the aim, and maybe you can strive for it as you’re attempting to write poems?

april 14/RUN

3.5 miles
2 trails + extra
32 degrees / feels like 22
wind: 20 mph with 33 mph gusts
light snow

Cold and windy. Snow flurries covering my eyelashes. Winter is back. Glad I went out for a run, but some of it wasn’t fun. The best part: running closer to the river on the Winchell Trail, glancing out at the gorge, seeing everything smudged from the snow falling — almost like looking through a fogged-up window. I also liked how the dirt and grass were white in the corners where the snow was sticking, like a dusting of powdered sugar. Near the end of the run, right after I made it through the tunnel of trees and past the old stone steps, 2 walkers clapped for me. As I ran by, I wasn’t quite, but I think that’s what they were doing, because I was out there, running even in these bad conditions. I’ll take it. How many times in my life will I have people randomly clap for me?

before the run

1 — a tool used to loosen and bury things in the ground

The planet seen from extremely close up is called the ground. The ground can be made loose by the human hand, or by using a small tool held in the human hand, such as a spade, or an even larger tool, such as a shovel

We bury our dead in the ground. Roughly half the dead are buried in boxes and half the dead are buried without boxes. A burying box is an emblem of respect for the dead. 

Besides burying the dead in the ground, we bury our garbage, also called trash. Man-made mountains of garbage are pushed together using heavy equipment and then pushed down into the ground. The site of this burial is called a landfill. The site of the dead buried in boxes is called a cemetery. In both cases the ground is being filled. A dead body in a box can be lowered into the ground using heavy equipment, but we do not consider it trash. When the dead are not in boxes and there is a man-made mountain of them we do use heavy equipment to bury them together, like trash. It is estimated that everywhere we walk we are walking on a piece of trash and the hard, insoluble remains of the dead. 

Also buried in the ground are seeds, which we want to see when they emerge from the ground in their later form–that is, as plants. Plants rising from the ground are essential to life. To bury a seed it to plant it. 

When flowers arise from the ground, colorful and shapely in an astonishing variety of ways, the living are made especially happy.

After a while, the flower that has been separated from the ground dies, and we throw it in the trash. Flowers are often planted where the dead are buried in boxes, but these flowers are never cut. That would be horrible. Whoever did such a thing would be considered a thief. Thoseflowers belong to the dead.

Observations on the Ground“/ Mary Ruefle

To bury is not always to get rid of, but to honor, attend to, plant. A shovel is one tool we use to do this.

2 — digging in and developing foundations

List: Things I have shoveled: sidewalks, snowdrift, holes (for outhouses and bridge abutments and potatoes), driveways, fill pits Also, footings for rock walls, tie-ins for for cribbing, horse shit, dog shit, mule shit, a grave for a songbird caught in an early frost. Coal, gravels, dirt, straw, mud, cedar chips, muck, bark, left-over acorn hulls from a squirrel’s midden, water from a gooey ditch. Once, I lifted a dumb spruce grouse from the middle of the road in a shovel, carried it twenty yards to safer ground.

Look around—an urban subway system, the pilings of a shipyard dock, the basement of your house. Shovels, more than bootstraps, are the secret to success.

from Dirt Work

shovel = digging in = finding home, a place to stay. settle, attend to = remember, praise, honor

“Dirt work is foundation work.”

3 — the Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel = a poem + poetic form + a way to honor others/ancestors + a place (where the seven pool players play) + a helpful constraint

The Golden Shovel is a poetic form readers might not — yet — be familiar with. It was devised recently by Terrance Hayes in homage to Gwendolyn Brooks, whose centenary year this is. The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often, but not invariably, from a Brooks poem. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone, and texture from the source poem, depending upon the ingenuity and imagination of the poet who undertakes to compose one.

Introduction: The Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel/ TERRANCE HAYES

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
His smile is a gold-plated incantation as we

drift by women on bar stools, with nothing left
in them but approachlessness. This is a school

I do not know yet. But the cue sticks mean we
are rubbed by light, smooth as wood, the lurk

of smoke thinned to song. We won’t be out late.
Standing in the middle of the street last night we

watched the moonlit lawns and a neighbor strike
his son in the face. A shadow knocked straight

Da promised to leave me everything: the shovel we
used to bury the dog, the words he loved to sing

his rusted pistol, his squeaky Bible, his sin.
The boy’s sneakers were light on the road. We

watched him run to us looking wounded and thin.
He’d been caught lying or drinking his father’s gin.

He’d been defending his ma, trying to be a man. We
stood in the road, and my father talked about jazz,

how sometimes a tune is born of outrage. By June
the boy would be locked upstate. That night we

got down on our knees in my room. If I should die
before I wake. Da said to me, it will be too soon.


II. 1991

Into the tented city we go, we-
akened by the fire’s ethereal

afterglow. Born lost and cool-
er than heartache. What we

know is what we know. The left
hand severed and school-

ed by cleverness. A plate of we-
ekdays cooking. The hour lurk-

ing in the afterglow. A late-
night chant. Into the city we

go. Close your eyes and strike
a blow. Light can be straight-

ened by its shadow. What we
break is what we hold. A sing-

ular blue note. An outcry sin-
ged exiting the throat. We

push until we thin, thin-
king we won’t creep back again.

While God licks his kin, we
sing until our blood is jazz,

we swing from June to June.
We sweat to keep from we-

eping. Groomed on a die-
t of hunger, we end too soon.

And here’s the original poem from Gwendolyn Brooks:

We Real Cool/ Gwendolyn Brooks

The Pool Players.
        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.

during the run

I tried to think about shovels and digging in and things planted instead of buried, but I think I was too distracted by the wind and the snow to remember anything.

after the run

Thinking more about Mary Ruefle and whether or not to read the collection, My Private Property, from which her prose poem about ground comes. Found and read/skimmed an LARB review about it, with a great definition of poetry:

In her introduction to Madness, Rack, and Honey, Ruefle suggests that poetry maintains its mystery by always being a few steps beyond us. She likens attempting to describe poetry to following a shy thrush into the woods as it recedes ever further, saying: “Fret not after knowledge, I have none.” Ruefle proposes that a reader might “preserve a bit of space where his lack of knowledge can survive.”

Human Lessons: On Mary Ruefle’s My Private Property

Also, scrolling through twitter, found a great passage Ada Limón in her interview for Michigan Quarterly Review:

‘I want to know how we live. How do we live?’. And I mean that in a curious way, but I also mean it in a wondrous way. Because sometimes I think — wow, we do this! And other times I think, how do we do this. It is out of sheer amazement that the question comes out of me — because it is really remarkable to be alive. But the ebbs and flows are just so intense. And I think acknowledging how hard it is, is actually part of the wonderment. You know that’s part of the awe. And I don’t think I knew that until I had experienced my own realization about mortality.

She also offers a great definition of poetry:

that’s what poetry is. It doesn’t just point out the world. It makes it strange to us again. So that we can remember wonder. 

And, one more great thing about not knowing and uncertainty:

When I began as a poet, I thought it was all about knowing. I thought it was about truth, and beauty. And every poem I read, felt wise to me. I could read Anne Sexton, Philip Levine, Lucille Clifton and I would find this deep wisdom. So I thought that’s what I should work towards, a knowingness. And then, the old cliché – and it is a cliché because it’s true – that the more you learn, the more you witness, the more you realize you don’t know. And I think I’m very scared now of certainty. Even when someone says, what’s your opinion about this? Often, I’m like, I don’t know. I don’t 100% know. And that’s because the world is changing so fast. And I can have a sense of morality, of course, and right and wrong, and goodness, but beyond that, I hope I can remain porous and open enough to not think that I know all the answers. And I think a lot of harm comes from that false certainty, that is so attached to our egos, when not only are we completely convinced that we’re right, but to be proven wrong would be almost deadly. And I don’t ever want to be in that position.

What is Enough for a Poem? An Interview with Ada Limón

feb 28/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
35 degrees
30% puddle-covered

Another wonderful, spring-like day, if you consider 35 degrees and white ground everywhere spring-like, which I do. When the sun is this warm, the sky this blue, the birds this chatty, how can you not think of spring? Everywhere, wet: drips, drops, wide puddles stretched across the trail soaking my socks.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. that same bird call that I’ve been hearing and wondering about happened again, right before I reached the river. I heard it, then hoped it would be followed by some drumming. It was! I’m calling it; this sound is a pileated woodpecker
  2. a distant goose, or geese?
  3. cawing crows
  4. cardinals, doing at least 3 or 4 of their 16 (is it 16?) songs
  5. black-capped chickadees
  6. my shadow: off to the side, then behind, then finally in front of me
  7. the shadow of the old-fashioned lamp posts on the trail. So big, they almost looked ,\like giant potholes to me
  8. the river slowly opening. Still white, but darkening and thinning
  9. a kid yelling at the playground. At first, I thought they were a siren — so high-pitched and insistent!
  10. a mixing of sounds: an airplane, a bobcat, a crow, a kid, all crying out

As I left for my run, I remembered something I didn’t want to forget. I’m pleased that I still remember what it was after my run. Scott and I watched the first episode of After Party last night. Very good. Anyway, this episode focused on Aniq. For much of the episode he looked ridiculous: someone/s had drawn cat whiskers and ears on his face, along with the word “nerd” in big letters. It’s very obvious and a crucial element in understanding who he is as a character. Because of my vision problems — my lack of cone cells, limited central vision — I did not see any of this on his face until someone, the detective, finally referenced it. Up to that point, about 40 minutes, it was all invisible to me. I could see his face (well, roughly, I guess) and mostly follow what was going on, but I had no idea anyone had drawn on him. He looked “normal” to me. I wanted to remember this as an example of how my vision works, or doesn’t work, how much I miss that I’m not aware of. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but you miss out on a lot of what’s happening and how it’s being communicated when you can’t see certain things and don’t even realize you’re not seeing them (and no one else realizes you’re not seeing them either; they just think you’re not paying attention or being stupid, or that you don’t care).

Here are two poems featuring birds that I encountered today. Both wonderful, both about much more than birds.

Egrets/ Kevin Young

Some say beauty
may be the egret
in the field

who follows after
the cows
sensing slaughter—

but I believe
the soul is neither
air nor water, not

this winged thing
nor the cattle
who moan

to make themselves
known.
Instead, the horses

standing almost fifteen
hands high—
like regret they come

most the time
when called.
Hungry, the greys eat

from your palm,
tender-toothed—
their surprising

plum-dark tongues
flashing quick
& rough as a match—

striking your hand,
your arm, startled
into flame.

In her discussion of the poem for The Slowdown Show, Ada Limón discusses the soul:

The Portuguese writer José Saramago wrote: “Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.” This seems clear enough. The soul is the part of you that you cannot name. One of the reasons I love the obsession that writers have with the soul is that their interest is not confined to what happens to the soul after you die. Rather, writers seem to be interested in what the soul is doing right now. Can the soul have likes or dislikes, coffee or tea, can one soul connect to another in what is called a soul mate? Is our soul only alive in relation to others, in community with nature, with something larger?

And here’s the other poem. It’s about cardinals. I heard, but never saw, many cardinals this morning on my run.

Statement of Teaching Philosophy/ Keith Leonard

In February’s stillness, under fresh snow,
two bright red cardinals leaping 
inside a honeysuckle bush.
All day I’ve thought that would make
for a good image in a poem. 
Washing the dishes, I thought of cardinals.
Folding the laundry, cardinals.
Bright red cardinals while I drank hot cocoa.
But the poem would want something else.
Something unfortunate to balance it,
to make it honest. A recognition of death
maybe. Or hunger. Poems are hungry things.
It can’t just be dessert, says the adult in me.
It can’t just be joy. But the schools are closed
and despite the cold, the children are sledding.
The sound of boots tamping snow are the hinges 
of many doors being opened. The small flames 
of cardinals and their good talk in the honeysuckle.

Wow, do I love this line: “The sound of boots tamping snow are the hinges/of many doors being opened.”

One more thing. After my run was done, and I was home, I went outside on my back deck and sat in the sun. Then I recorded this moment of sound. I’m calling it, Spring coming, drip by drip. As I listen back to it, I’m disappointed that trucks are so much louder than the drips.

spring coming, drip by drip / 28 feb 2022

feb 21/RUN

4.45 miles
minnehaha falls and back
22 degrees / feels like 10
wind: 17 mph
less than 5% ice-covered

Windy, overcast. You can tell snow is moving in soon. A winter storm warning beginning this evening: 4-8 inches through Tuesday evening. It smelled like snow and cold and winter.

A wonderful run. Not over-dressed: green long-sleeved shirt, pink jacket, black vest, 2 pairs of black running tights, gray socks, a gray buff, black cap, pink hood, 2 pairs of gloves — one black, one pink with white stripes. Today I am coordinated, which is more by accident than design.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. very light gray sky, almost white
  2. the river was covered over; the snow/ice was mostly white with some stained spots that were a faint grayish-brown. Is that where the ice is thinning?
  3. the falls were completely frozen over. No roar, or dribble, or drip
  4. the creek below the falls was frozen over too, everything still, stopped
  5. as I approached the falls, I heard a lot of kids yelling and laughing. I wondered if it was a field trip and if they’d be near the falls overlook, taking over the path. They weren’t. They were at the playground instead
  6. running on the sidewalk through the neighborhood, the ice sometimes shimmered when the light was brighter. On the trail above the gorge, the ice was dull and flat and slightly brown. None of it was too slick
  7. on the outer rim of the Minnehaha Regional Park, near the road, I heard a loud boom: something being dropped into a big truck at a construction site
  8. someone was hiking with a dog down below on the snow-covered winchell trail
  9. every time I run by a trashcan that’s across the parking lot near the oak savanna, I think it’s a person. Mistaking trashcans for people happens a lot to me
  10. a group of much faster runners passed me on the double bridge. I watched as the distance between us became greater, then they turned up by the locks and dam no. 1 to cross the ford bridge and I didn’t see them again
  11. bonus: greeted Santa Claus! Our method for greeting: raising our right hands to each other

No “good mornings” offered, no birds heard (or remembered being heard), no cross-country skiers, no annoying path-hogging pedestrians, no open water, no shadows, no squirrels, no music, no park crews trimming trees, no black-capped chickadees or cardinals or turkeys.

Yesterday, I found an interview with the great poet, Ada Limón. Here are a few things she said that I’d like to remember:

ongoingness: the world is going to go on. And the world is going to go on without me, and without you. And the trees are going to keep living, and when they die, there will be more trees that are going to come. And that ongoingness of the world was really, in some ways, a relief.

How does her definition of ongoingness fit/not fit with Sarah Manguso’s in her book Ongoingness? I need to find my old notes to answer this….Found Manguso’s book instead. Here’s something she writes early in the book:

I wanted to comprehend my own position in time so I could use my evolving self as completely and as usefully as possible. I didn’t want to go lurching around, half-awake, unaware of the work I owed the world, work I didn’t want to live without doing.

Ongoingness/ Sarah Manguso

This quotation, especially her use of work here, reminds me of Mary Oliver and my study of her understanding of work on this log last April. Maybe time to explore that again?

When I say the word “surrender,” I mean giving into that timelessness. Time is real, yes, and it’s also a cycle. Surrender means not clinging to my own identity, to my own attachments, but finding some way to release my grip on the world. And of course when you release your grip you notice what you’re attached to, you notice the things you miss, and the things you love.

We have to live in a world where we have to protect ourselves all the time. Now even more so. We wear layers. We add a mask to it, we add isolation to it. There are so many ways we protect ourselves, even from ourselves. And I think it’s important to recognize that the self underneath the self needs witnessing.

One of the things the walk did for me was to decenter the self. At a certain point the mind opens and you start to watch, you get to witness, you get to listen, you get to receive the world instead of putting yourself into the world. I think I am someone who is inherently selfish, and I can turn anything into something about me. I think most people can. The more I walk, the more I can dissolve. The process of dissolving and being receptive to the world is where the poetry comes from. Sometimes it takes a lot of miles for that to happen.

jan 4/RUN

4.5 miles
minhehaha falls and back
28 degrees
75% snow-covered

Even warmer today (than yesterday or Sunday). Everything gray and white, even the sky. Almost forgot to look at the river, but then I remembered. It would have been nice to have my Yak trax with the slushy, soft, sluggish snow. Listened to the gorge on the way to the falls, a playlist on the way back. Felt good and strong. Only occasionally thought about my daughter and how she’s home sick with a headache and runny nose. COVID? Doubtful, but possible. Getting tested is very hard these days: no rapid tests, long lines at testing sites. Hopefully this will be over soon.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the river: almost all white with a few off-white (gray? light brown?) spots
  2. the path: a slightly wider strip of almost bare pavement than yesterday
  3. 2 walkers ahead of me on the path, waiting to cross at a spot just 15 feet from the crosswalk, then crossing over to Becketwood
  4. kids playing at the minnehaha academy playground
  5. graffiti on the biking part of the double bridge, the empty outline of orange and purple and blue letters
  6. the falls: almost, but not quite, fully frozen. I could hear the softest rushing of water from behind the ice
  7. about a dozen people at the falls
  8. 2 people walking up the hill in the park, one of them in a bright orange jacket
  9. the view down to the spot where the creek collects and kids like to wade in the summer was grand and beautiful and white
  10. running in the road on the spots between sidewalks, about half of the surface was bare, the rest was light brown snowy slush, looking like coffee ice cream

To fit in with my continued thinking about ghosts, and haunting, and remembering, and naming and the things it can signify other than power or claiming or owning, and yellow:

Forsythia/ Ada Limón

At the cabin in Snug Hollow near McSwain Branch creek, just spring, all the animals are out, and my beloved and I are lying in bed in a soft silence. We are talking about how we carry so many people with us wherever we go, how even simple living, these unearned moments, are a tribute to the dead. We are both expecting to hear an owl as the night deepens. All afternoon, from the porch, we watched an eastern towhee furiously build her nest in the wild forsythia with its yellow spilling out into the horizon. I told him that the way I remember the name forsythia is that when my stepmother, Cynthia, was dying, that last week, she said lucidly but mysteriously, More yellow. And I thought yes, more yellow, and nodded because I agreed. Of course, more yellow. And so now in my head, when I see that yellow tangle, I say, For Cynthia, for Cynthia, forsythia, forsythia, more yellow. It is night now. And the owl never comes, only more of night and what repeats in the night.

july 7/RUNSWIM

5.5 miles
franklin loop
56 degrees
humdity: 88%/ dew point 55

Much cooler this morning. Overcast, excessively green, quiet. The sky was a light gray, almost white. The river, grayish blue–not quite livid, which I discovered is the name for a blueish-gray color. I could tell the dew point was close to the temperature because I was sweating a lot and felt hot. I ran north on the river road, past the railroad trestle and the steps leading to the Winchell Trail that were just redone earlier this year. Ran over the Franklin Bridge, looking for rowers on the river. None. Noticed the big ancient boulder, wedged between the walking and biking trails on the east side of the river. After running up the hill just past the Meeker Dam Dog Park, I tried to slow my heart rate down by chanting, “I/need to go/slower/so/that my pulse/will lower.” Not sure if it lowered my pulse, but it helped me to lock into a steady rhythm and recover from the hill. I should start doing chants again; I haven’t done them for a while. Also haven’t done triple berry chants. What have I been doing instead? Not sure.

Open Water/ Ada Limón

It does no good to trick and weave and lose
the other ghosts, to shove the buried deeper
into the sandy loam, the riverine silt, still you come,
my faithful one, the sound of a body so persistent
in water I cannot tell if it is a wave or you
moving through waves. A month before you died
you wrote a letter to old friends saying you swam
with a pod of dolphins in open water, saying goodbye,
but what you told me most about was the eye.
That enormous reckoning eye of an unknown fish
that passed you during that last-ditch defiant swim.
On the shore, you described the fish as nothing
you’d seen before, a blue-gray behemoth moving slowly
and enduringly through its deep fathomless
North Pacific waters. That night, I heard more
about that fish and that eye than anything else.
I don’t know why it has come to me this morning.
Warm rain and landlocked, I don’t deserve the image.
But I keep thinking how something saw you, something
was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean
where you were no one’s mother, and no one’s wife,
but you in your original skin, right before you died,
you were beheld, and today in my kitchen with you
now ten years gone, I was so happy for you.

Oh, that fish’s eye! “something saw you, something/was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean”…”you were beheld”. Wow. Makes me think about all of the recent talk of beholding/beholden (my introduction: the wonderful work of Ross Gay). It also makes me think of Jaws 2, a movie I watched repeatedly on cable when I was kid. Chief Brody looking at a photograph of something dark and sinister in the water. It could be nothing, or it could be another great white shark. That eye haunted/haunts me. Someone mentioned on twitter–where I found this poem–that it reminded them of Elizabeth Bishop’s The Fish. Rereading The Fish, I see the connection, but the witnessing (in Limón’s poem, by the big fish of the mother/ in Bishop’s, by the narrator (I) of the fish) seems different in terms of who is the subject/who is the object, and how their subjectivity is represented. I really like both of these poems, but I think I like the subjectivity of the fish in Limón’s poem better.

swim: 1.7 miles/4 loops
cedar lake open swim
69 degrees

Much cooler today. Brr, on the shore. Wore my wetsuit for the first time. I prefer swimming without a wetsuit, but it was nice to keep warmer and more buoyant. I’m sure I went faster too. Yesterday I asked the Open Swim page on facebook for clarification on which way we should be swimming and they answered: keep the buoy on your right shoulder. It helps me to know. Everybody seemed to know now too; almost all of us were going the same way. Tonight I was attacked by the lake. At least, by the vegetation in the lake. Vines wrapping around my wrist and shoulder, scratching my face. I didn’t care. It was a great swim!

may 7/RUN

3.25 miles
43rd ave, north/tunnel of trees/welcoming oaks/oak savanna/edmund, north/7 Oaks
49 degrees

Hooray for wonderful runs! Sunny, warm enough for shorts, clear trails, welcoming oaks, robins who sound like they’re singing “hurry up hurry up hurry up.” Ran on the trail but don’t remember looking at the river; too busy looking out for other people. After reading an article about “The Warbler Wave” at 7 Oaks, decided to end my run there and listen. According to local bird expert Dave Zumeta (I have his Birds of the Mississippi Guide pdf), mid-May is a great time to see/hear warblers as they migrate south, and 7 Oaks is the best place to do it:

Warblers are Zumeta’s favorite birds, bar none. He not only knows the subtleties of their markings, but can also recognize their songs. His favorite place to watch for warblers isn’t Costa Rica or the Greater Antilles Islands. It’s a sinkhole on 34th St. and 47th Ave. just a stone’s throw from his house. He said, “Seven Oaks Park is the reason we moved where we did. I think it’s one of the best places to bird watch anywhere – and it’s a warbler magnet.”

Wow, I love where I live! Here’s the recording I took as I stood on the edge of the sinkhole:

May 7th, birds at 7 Oaks

I have loved Marie Howe ever since I read one of her amazing poem from What the Living Do and listened to her On Being interview. Such beautiful words! Here’s one that features a bird:

From Nowhere/ Marie Howe

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

unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring. Listen,
a day comes, when you say what all winter

I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes
where ice had seemed solid, scattering ducks

and scaring us half to death. In Vermont, you dreamed
from the crown of a hill and across a ravine

you saw lights so familiar they might have been ours
shining back from the future.

And waking, you walked there, to the real place,
and when you saw only trees, come back bleak

with a foreknowledge we have both come to believe in.
But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,

and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,

this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety

or of fruitfulness? We walk with mincing steps within
a thaw as slow as February, wading through currents

that surprise us with their sudden warmth. Remember,
last week you woke still whistling for a bird

that had miraculously escaped its cage, and look, today,
a swallow has come to settle behind this rented rain gutter,

gripping a twig twice his size in his beak, staggering
under its weight, so delicately, so precariously it seems

from here, holding all he knows of hope in his mouth.

I love the idea of our lives as thawing lakes in a bewildering spring, and the kind day descending and things happening cup by cup, gesture by gesture, and the surprise of sudden warmth, and the delicate, staggering bird. The line about the bird reminds me of Ada Limón’s interview on VS:

Ada Limón: Yeah. I think, for me, there are a couple of new poems I’ve been working on. One of them, just recently, where I saw a beautiful kestrel that was on a really small branch. And I kept sort of loving this image of a heavier bird being held up by a small branch, right. And I kept thinking, I’ve got to do something with this, I’ve got to do something with this. And then, really, towards the end of the poem, I realized, like, I want this image to somehow tell me that as the branch, I can bear more, and I can bear a lot. And as the bird, I can balance on barely, you know, on something that’s barely there. And yet, in the poem, I recognize that it’s not telling me that, right. That that’s actually—all it is is a bird doing its thing, landing where it needs to land. And, you know, I want to look at those lessons. But I also need to pull back and think, okay, maybe it’s just a noticing, and that’s what my job was. And not always turning it into a … fable, you know. (LAUGHS) Or an idea that will somehow rescue the speaker. And in this case, you know, the speaker being me.

Franny Choi: Yeah, that helps me totally see what you mean when you say, allow the animal to be an animal alongside us as animals. Like To just like, be with them in an environment together, rather than being a colonizer like, be like, th, like, how is this tree useful for me? How is this bird useful? What can I -what can I make it for?

It’s interesting how these images of birds are opposites: Limón’s is too big for the branch, Howe’s is too small for the twig, but both are about the too-muchness of life—the world’s weight, too much for our small branched bodies, and hope’s sudden and unexpected appearance, almost too much to bear.

May 6/WALK

A break from running today. Took Delia on 2 walks instead, one just me, the other with STA and RJP. One down by the ravine, the other in the grass between the river road and Edmund.

Starlings/ Maggie Smith from Goldenrod

The starlings choose one piece of sky above the river
and pour themselves in. Like a thousand arrows
pointing in unison one way, then another. That bit of blue
doesn’t belong to them, and they don’t belong to the sky,
or to the earth. Isn’t that what you’ve been taught–nothing is ours?
Haven’t you learned to keep the loosest possible hold?
The small portion of sky boils with birds.
Near the river’s edge, one birch has a knot so much
like an eye, you think it sees you. But of course it doesn’t.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen starlings in person. I checked my bird list and they do live in the Mississippi Gorge. Maybe someday I’ll see them? Anyway, I picked this poem because it uses two interesting bits of information that I’ve wanted to use in a poem ever since I found out about them: 1. a boil of birds and 2. the tree with eyes.

a boil of birds

On March 9th, 2020, one day before I got my first of many sinus infections and just days before the pandemic became real in Minnesota, I went for a walk and noticed a big bird circling in the sky. Wondering why it circled, I looked it up and found out about thermals and boils of birds. Here’s what I wrote:

Thermals are updrafts of warm air that rise from the ground into the sky. By flying a spiraling circular path within these columns of rising air, birds are able to “ride” the air currents and climb to higher altitudes while expending very little energy in the process. Solitary birds like eagles and hawks often take advantage of thermals to extend their flight time as they search for food. Social birds that fly in large flocks also use thermals to gain altitude and extend their range during migration. The sight of dozens or hundreds of birds riding a thermal has been said to resemble the water boiling in a kettle, so the terms kettle or boil are sometimes used as a nickname for a flock of birds circling in a thermal updraft. The benefits of thermals are not limited to the animal world either as glider pilots often take advantage of them to gain altitude as well.

I want to see hundreds of birds riding a thermal and looking like water boiling in a kettle! Mostly so I can see them doing it but also so I can write about the boil of birds I just saw.

a tree with eyes

On June 18th, 2020, walking with STA and Delia the dog, we noticed a tree that looked like it had eyes. Here’s what I wrote:

Every day, in the late afternoon around 5, Scott and I take Delia the dog on a long walk between Edmund Boulevard and the River Road. This week, while stopped near the upper campus of Minnehaha Academy–the one that was recently rebuilt after the old building exploded a few years ago, Scott noticed all the eyes on an aspen tree and took a picture of it. I remember remarking, “oh, I bet there’s a name for that. I’ll have to look it up.” I finally did just now. The most popular answer? Aspen eyes. According to several sites I found, these eyes are formed through self-grooming, when aspens shed their smallest branches.

walking and listening this morning

On my walk this morning with Delia the dog, I heard black-capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, and the red-breasted nuthatch I just identified yesterday. Also might have heard the plink plink of a bobolink–is that possible?Standing at the rim of the giant sinkhole that’s been turned into a city park at 7 Oaks, I heard so many other birds, including one that I hear all the time but I can’t yet identify. I manage to record it (along with other birds). \

May 6th, a one-syllable bird call at 7 Oaks

Birding by ear is difficult and overwhelming at first. Too many different sounds that I can’t distinguish. So, I’m looking for tips, like these: Six tips for birding by ear. In it, they suggest some things to listen for.

Some things to listen for:
  • is it high
  • sweet
  • does it rise or fall in pitch
  • is it in groups of 2 or 4
  • is there a space between each bout?

april 14/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn-around!
43 degrees

Woke up this morning to a dusting of snow on the deck. It melted in a few hours. Worked on Mary Oliver in the morning, then ran in the early afternoon. Started in the neighborhood then decided to keep going north on the trail all the way to the trestle. Hooray! Ran right above the river and the rowing club. What a view! No snow, hardly any other people, only a little wind. Lots of drumming woodpeckers and cardinals and a few black-capped chickadees. This spring, I need to add another bird sound to my collection. Felt relaxed and strong until the last mile when I still felt strong but also sore in my back and heavy in my legs. Can’t remember what I was thinking about. All thoughts gone, soundless words scattered over the tops of the trees. Scheduled second pfizer shot for April 30th. Almost there! Later today, I’ll sign up for open swim. This year, you can swim at Nokomis and Cedar. Awesome.

My Morning’s Work

Started by reading Dreamwork which is one of MO’s more painful (and personal?) books in which she addresses her childhood with an abusive father. The first poem is “Dogfish.” Intense. When I looked for it online, one of the first results that came up was Mary Oliver reading for a celebration of Emily Dickinson posted on the Dickinson Electronic Archive. Here’s the description of the event:

A marvelous centennial tribute in South Orange, New Jersey thate featured contemporary women poets reading hour after hour, from morning until night “to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Dickinson,” which occurred on May 15, 1886. Adrienne RichRuth Stone, Amy Clampitt, Katha Pollitt, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker, Carolyn Kizer, Toi Derricotte, Maxine Kumin, Mary Oliver, Joyce Carol OatesSandra GilbertAlicia OstrikerGwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov were all there– “Poetry-in-the-Round” it was called, an apt descriptor not only because of the shape of the theater in which the readings took place, but because of the taking turns, the offerings making their way around a range of our contemporary poets who have at least two things in common with Emily Dickinson–they are each and all women, and poets. 

Dickinson Electronic Archives

For her part, MO read several of ED’s poems, then several of her own. The site has a transcript and a recording, with music strangely playing in the background?

ED poems read by MO:

  • What is Paradise
  • There came a mind like a Bugle
  • Under the light, yet under
  • Because I could not stop for Death

MO poems read by MO:

  • Morning Poem
  • Blossom
  • Dogfish
  • Acid
  • Stanley Kunitz
  • Blackwater Words
  • Humpbacks

Very cool to have found this, partly for the MO and ED connection, but also for the other poets. I might want to read Maxine Kumin in May or June–I love her swimming poems. Anyway, back to Dogfish. I’ve never heard of dogfish, so I looked them up. They’re little sharks that don’t eat humans but travel in big packs and are aggressive and relentless in hunting their prey–squid, herring, sea cucumber, shrimp, jellyfish. They are also known as spiny dogfish because they have a sharp spine: “Using sharp, venomous spines in the front of each dorsal fin, the spiny dogfish is a small but mighty predator that isn’t afraid to take a jab at passing fish.”

Dogfish/ Mary Oliver (from Dreams)

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?

*

I wanted
the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of a song where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery; I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was

alive
for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
And anyway it’s the same old story-
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is bulging toward them

*

And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Wow. Favorite bit of this poem for today:

I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery

I’m thinking of door hinges and poems as opening a thousand doors and the wings of the seven white butterflies and “how they bang the pages/or their wings as they fly/to the fields of mustard and yellow/and orange and plain/gold all eternity” (Seven White Butterflies/ from West Wind). And I’m thinking of the explosion, the discovery, as a flare, a burst of light, of intense emotion, which is the name of the first section of MO’s book-length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. Last week, I decided that doing a close, sustained reading of this book would be part of my April with Mary (Oliver) exercise. But, before getting to that, here’s how my thoughts about Mary progressed as I read through “Dogfish” and then some of the other poems in Dreamwork:

A few poems later is Trilliums. I think it’s interesting to put these together, connecting them through the idea of an easy life, which is referenced and rejected in both poems–actually in Dogfish, Trilliums, and the one I just mentioned, Seven White Butterflies, which ends with the question: “who/would have thought it could be so easy?”

Trilliums

Every spring
among
the ambiguities
of childhood
the hillsides grew white
with the wild trilliums.
I believed in the world,
Oh, I wanted
to be easy
in the peopled kingdoms,
to take my place there,
but there was none
that I could find
shaped like me.
So I entered
through the tender buds,
I crossed the cold creek,
my backbone
and my thin white shoulders
unfolding and stretching.
From the time of snow-melt,
when the creek roared
and the mud slid
and the seeds cracked,
I listened to the earth-talk,
the root-wrangle,
the arguments of energy,
the dreams lying
just under the surface,
then rising,
becoming
at the last moment
flaring and luminous —
the patient parable
of every spring and hillside
year after difficult year.

Trilliums, along with Dogfish, really got me thinking about “Flare” in The Leaf and the Cloud, which I had already read through at least twice, and then I felt a bit overwhelmed, then stuck, about what to post (or what not to post because I wanted to add more and more of MO’s lines) for this entry. Having listened to an On Being Podcast with Mary Oliver and read Upstream, I knew about MO’s hard childhood. I wondered how much of this dogfish was her dad, and did she imagine herself as one of the three unnamed fish? So I read through “Flare” again and was blown away, both by how she writes about her parents, and by how it connects so much with “Dogfish” and “Trilliums.” So I decided to stop trying to add it all into this entry and to make notes in the margins of the book and to not worry about saying smart, complete things in this post. So, I did. And, I enjoyed writing in the margins of my book, something I did a lot of in grad school. And, I had lots of thoughts about lightness and darkness and flares and fathers and the color green and hinges as not just connected to doors but to edges and seams. And, I could keep writing about this for a long time, but I’ll conclude this post with 2 thoughts.

thought one: the real work is saving ourselves

Mary Oliver writes a lot, in her essays and poems, about the work she is meant to do, or that she wants to do. She often describes this work as the work of noticing. Could this work also be the work of saving the I in the poem–which she often identifies as herself but also suggests that it could be any readers who recognizes themselves in the poem? In her interview with Krista Tippet, MO says:

Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted the “I” to be the possible reader, rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. That was my feeling about the “I.”

And in one of her poems that I posted a few days ago, I Want to Write Something So Simple, she writes:

that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words, 
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

In discussing her own work as a poet, Ada Limón says that she writes her poems to save herself.

I believe that poetry can heal us and help us. But, I mean, if I’m very honest, I think they can only do that for the poet. (LAUGHS) And then they may, if we’re lucky, help someone else or move someone else or inspire someone else or get them out of a rut. But I think it begins with like, I write my own poems to save myself. You know, then if, in, you know, some series, lucky series of events, a poem becomes larger than me and reaches someone else, that’s, that’s beautiful. But I don’t always know that that’s gonna happen, right? I have to start by how is this poem recommitting me to the world?

Ada Limón VS. Epiphany

In the Krista Tippet interview, Mary Oliver says about leaving her childhood home, “I saved my own life by finding a place that was not in that house.” So, could the work of writing, of creating worlds through words, be how she does it? What if that, and not the act of noticing for noticing’s sake, is the primary work? Or, maybe the work is both.

thought two: the nourishing dark

The final 2 lines of “Flare” are:

This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.

Thinking about the dark as nourishing, I’m reminded of ED and the value of the Dark in, “We grow accustomed to the Dark”:

 That unknown mental and spiritual domain is a “larger – Darkness.” That is where our great poets and philosophical explorers venture while the rest of us pursue our hobbies or just relax. Dickinson spends time in this darkness and most of her most evocative, ambiguous, and challenging poetry comes from there.

the Prowling Bee

And then, MO’s discussion of the edge in Upstream:

No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind, It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts. or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Whew! That was a lot of thinking today. Time to stop.

april 1/RUN

3.25 miles
turkey hollow
31 degrees

Much less wind today–5 mph instead of 12-15. So bright, cool, not too crowded. Encountered a few people on the trail but was able to keep at least 6 ft of distance. Is 6 ft still the recommended distance? I know it is probably very low risk to run past another person, only being close to them for a second, but I’m still uneasy when I encounter someone. During the run, I think it was near Becketwood, I imagined how relieved I’ll be when I finally get the vaccine. I will run on the trails with much less anxiety, still keeping a distance (I’ve always done that, even in the before times), but not worrying that every person I met is a loaded gun (loaded with a deadly virus). That day may be coming soon–vaccines are open to everyone as of March 30th. After I write the entry, I’m putting us on all the waiting lists.

Heard lots of birds as I ran, especially cardinals and black-capped chickadees. After reaching turkey hollow and heading up the hill on 47th, I was welcomed with a symphony of bird sounds. Not sure what all the chirps and trills and tweets were, but I loved having their motivating and distracting soundtrack as I climbed. Other things I remember hearing: the sharp, brittle crack of a branch as I ran on it, the shuffling of my feet on the gritty sand, and dog collars clanging below me on the Winchell trail and off to the right, in the grass between the river road and edmund.

I ran on the trail, above the oak savanna, the Winchell trail, and the river. It was sunny so the river was sparkling. Today I remember it looking brown. Is that right? Shouldn’t it be blue? Pretty sure I remember it as brown with a shimmer of light. Also noticed several of the benches, perched on the edge of the bluff, staring out through the bare branches to the other side. And, I took note of shadows, not mine, but the shadows of birds flying over my head. Quick flashes of dark moving past me. I can’t remember if they were big shadows or small shadows; they were just bird shadows.

I’m thinking of spending another month with Emily Dickinson, or at least partially with ED. I want to focus on the peripheral–peripheral vision, ED’s circumference, other ideas about slant/sideways/beside as they are used and expressed in poetry (and maybe lyric essays too?).

Here’s a poem not directly related to that topic, but that I found in The New Yorker and wanted to remember:

Privacy/ Ada Limón

On the black wet branches of the linden,
still clinging to umber leaves of late fall,
two crows land. They say, “Stop,” and still I want
to make them into something they are not.
Odin’s ravens, the bruja’s eyes. What news
are they bringing of our world to the world
of the gods? It can’t be good. More suffering
all around, more stinging nettles and toxic
blades shoved into the scarred parts of us,
the minor ones underneath the trees. Rain
comes while I’m still standing, a trickle of water
from whatever we believe is beyond the sky.
The crows seem enormous but only because
I am watching them too closely. They do not
care to be seen as symbols. A shake of a wing,
and both of them are gone. There was no message
given, no message I was asked to give, only
their great absence and my sad privacy
returning like the bracing, empty wind
on the black wet branches of the linden.

This reminds me of Ada Limón’s intereview on VS. podcast, where she talks about trying to let birds be birds, and that birds aren’t going to save her (or us) or serve as metaphors she thinks she needs. I love her use of the words still and stand/ing in proximity to each other. It reminds me of my favorite October poem (October/ May Swenson) when she writes: “Stand still, stare hard.” When Limón writes, “I’m still standing,” of course I first thought of Elton John’s song (ha ha), but then I read those words, maybe for the first time, not as “I’m continuing to stand” but as “I’m a still-stander or someone who is engaged in the practice of standing without moving, standing still.” Very cool. I like the idea of being a still-stander. Speaking of the word still, I like how she uses it three times. I imagine it as a hidden message: be still, as in calm, quiet, not expecting or worrying about anything, just being where you are, not moving or doing.