So warm! Still glad I went out for a run, but it was hard. My knees are sore, my legs sluggish. Heard lots of birds, a roller skier’s clicking poles, talk radio blasting from someone’s car, faint voices from below, water trickling out of a sewer pipe. Encountered bugs — mosquitos? gnats? — near the ravine. Passed by a person on the folwell bench, reading. Was greeted by one walker: good morning! As I ran on the Winchell trail I thought about the importance of giving some gesture — a greeting, eye contact, a stepping over to make room — when nearing another person. Without it, you’re saying to them, to me you don’t exist.
When I finished my run, I pulled out my phone and recited Alice Oswald’s “A Short Story of Falling.” Only two mistakes: I gave it the wrong title and I said “in a seed head” instead of “on a seed head.”
Bad luck with the wordle today. I almost had it in 3, but I had too many choices that could be correct. I had 4 tries but at least 5 options.
At the end of the swim another swimmer called out, these conditions are the best! (or something like that; I can’t quite remember). I agreed. Calm, pleasingly warm water, well-placed buoys. I could barely see the buoys, but I still swam to them without a problem. Lots of swans in the water, a few menacing sailboat — one with a bright orange and red sail.
I swam for a loop and a half then briefly stopped at the little beach for a quick rest. Swam another loop and a half and stopped at the big beach. Got out to go the bathroom, then one more loop. Taking a 5 or so minute break between loops 3 and 4 really helped. I should remember to do that more often.
I’m writing this swim summary the next morning. Can I remember 10 things?
at least one plane
half a dozen swan boats lurking at the edges
one swan stuck in the dead zone between buoys
streaks below me — fish?
irritating swimmers: 2 fast women that kept swimming past me, then stopping to get their bearings, then swimming again. With my slower, steadier stroke, I kept getting passed by them, then passing them when they stopped, then getting passed by them again when they restarted their swim
both the orange and green buoys closest to the beaches (orange to the little beach, green to the big) were not that close to the shore
breathed every 5 strokes, sometimes every three, once or twice every six
hardly ever saw one of my landmarks from the past few years: the overturned boat at the little beach
Ran earlier today, at 7:15. A little cooler, quieter. For the first few minutes, I recited Alice Oswald’s “A Short Story of Falling” which I memorized yesterday. Ran south on the grassy boulevard between edmund and the river road. Crossed over at Becketwood, then ran down to the southern entrance of the Winchell Trail.
Listened to the gentle whooshing of car wheels. the clicking and clacking of ski poles, and birds for most of the run. Put in a Bruno Mars playlist for the last mile.
After I finished my run, I recited Alice Oswald’s “A Short Story of Falling” into my phone. Only messed up one line (I think).
click clack click clack
the rambling root spread across the dirt trail
the steady dripping — more than a trickle, less than a rush — of the water falling from the sewer pipe
the soft (not mushy) blanket of dead leaves on the winchell trail
the sharp sparkle of the light on the water
shhhhhh — the wind passing through the leaves on the trees
the soft roar of the city underneath everything
the leaning branches have been removed — thanks Minneapolis Parks People!
an almost exchange of the You and I — me: right behind you, excuse me an older woman with a dog: mmhmm
no bugs, no gnats, no geese
3 tries: front / brine / crane
front runt stunt blunt hunt shunt grunt redundant brine sign fine line shine dine design unwind spine twine crane explain refrain detain rain insane
a: the principal front of a building b: a decorated pediment over a portico or window
: an illustration preceding and usually facing the title page of a book or magazine
Its back and forth, ad nauseum, ought to make the sea a bore. But walks along the shore cure me. Salt wind’s the best solution for dissolving my ennui in, along with these protean sadnesses that sometimes swim invisibly as comb-jelly a glass or two of wine below my surface. Some regrets won’t untangle. Others loosen as I watch the waves spreading their torn nets of foam along the sand to dry. I walk and walk and walk and walk, letting their haul absorb me. One seal’s hull scuttled to bone staves gulls scream wheeling above. And here… small, diabolical, a skate’s egg case, its horned purse nested on pods of bladderwort that still squirt BRINE by the eyeful. Some oily slabs of whale skin, or —no, just an edge of tire flensed from a commoner leviathan. Everywhere, plastic nurdles gleam like pearls or caviar for the avian gourmand and bits of sponge dab the wounded wrack-line, dried to froths of air smelling of iodine. Hours blow off down the beach like spindrift, leaving me with an immense less-solipsistic sense of ruin, and, as if it’s a gift, assurance of ruin’s recurrence.
Yay for being able to bike without fear! The ride was hot but was fine. The key: don’t bike too fast. I noticed: no progress on the duck bridge that was removed a few months ago for repairs; hot pink tape or paint or something marking the cracks in the trail — the pink was very easy for me to see…nice! and a dude in an e-bike with a kid going way faster than the 10 mph speed limit.
swim: 3 loops (2.25 miles) 88 degrees choppy
3 slightly choppy loops today. Definitely more difficult with the choppy water — how choppy was it? Not really that bad (compared to real chop in the ocean or a big lake), but it still made it harder to breathe. Saw 2 or 3 planes, some random woman floating in an inner tube in the middle of the lake (almost ran into her). Raced a swan boat, dodged flailing kids at the beach and breaststrokers mid-lake. Again this year, breaststrokers are my nemesis. Couldn’t see the green buoys at all; I used the glowing rooftop at the big beach as my guide. I couldn’t even see the green buoys when I was 20 feet away from them because of the bright sun. Didn’t bother me at all. I just kept swimming, only stopping to adjust my goggles and make sure my stiff left knee was okay. For just a flash, I thought about Tony Hoaglund’s poem (below) and the way water speaks. I thought about how, because I’m in the water and not standing on the shore, I can listen and understand (at least a little).
water / inert / frost
a winter morning
water inert frosted glass slicked up streets endless and empty
water inert on morning window: frost
a description by Alice Oswald in her reading of “A Short Story of Falling” that I listened to this morning as I memorized her beautiful poem:
What I love about water is that it spends its whole time falling. It’s always, apparently, trying to find the lowest place possible, and when it finds the lowest place possible, it lies there wide awake.
Water is never inert always falling searching for somewhere else to be even in rest as frost on winter’s window it watches waits wants to find the floor
The Social Life of Water/ Tony Hoaglund
All water is a part of other water Cloud talks to lake; mist speaks quietly to creek.
Lake says something back to cloud, and cloud listens. No water is lonely water.
All water is a part of other water. River rushes to reunite with ocean; tree drinks rain and sweats out dew; dew takes elevator into cloud; cloud marries puddle;
has long conversation with lake about fjord; fog sneaks up and murmurs insinuations to swamp; swamp makes needs known to marshland.
Thunderstorm throws itself on estuary; waterspout laughs at joke of frog pond. All water understands.
All water understands. Reservervoir gathers information for database of watershed. Brook translates lake to waterfall. Tide wrinkles its green forehead and then breaks through. All water understands.
But you, you stand on the shore of blue Lake Kieve in the evening and listen, grieving as something stirs and turns within you.
Not knowing why you linger in the dark. Not able even to guess from what you are excluded.
6 miles bottom franklin hill and back 76 degrees / dew point: 64
Hot! I much prefer running in the cold to running in the heat. Still, today is my 12 year anniversary — my runniversary — and I had to get out there to celebrate it. 12 years ago today I went out for my first couch to 5K run.
Was able to say good morning to Mr. Morning! Noticed the river. Higher above, it burned white through the trees. Down below in the flats, it looked stagnant and brown and not refreshing at all. Heard some birds and a woman saying to her friend, during times of war they…, as I ran past. Smiled and waved at many walkers and runners. Thought I heard the rowers but I was wrong. Wondered if the roller skier I passed as I ran down the hill and she skated up it was using poles — I couldn’t tell because we were both moving too fast. Watched the red flash flash flash of a bike’s back light disappear into the distance. Felt the sweat dripping and trickling and seeping out of my skin.
Listened to the birds and the cars as I ran north. Recorded some thoughts into my phone as I walked up the hill. Put in a playlist — bday 2018 — as I ran back south.
Be Water My Friend
It’s the beginning of the month; time for a new challenge. For June 2023, more on water. I’d like to read Alice Oswald’s Nobody, but I need to read The Odyssey first. I started yesterday. I love Emily Wilson’s recent translation. Very fun. Anyway, I’ll finish The Odyssey, then read Oswald’s take on it in Nobody. At the same time, I’m thinking of reviewing some water poems I’ve already collected — maybe memorizing a few, then using them for inspiration. Maybe I’ll even do another cento? Today I started with Oswald’s Evaporations, partly because it came up as a poem I posted on june 2, 2021. I also watched a clip of Bruce Lee’s Be Water My Friend.
Empty your mind. Be formless shapeless like water now you put water into a cup it becomes the cup you put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle you put it into a tea pot it becomes the tea pot now water can flow or it can craaaaasshh be water my friend
before the run
As I ran I hoped to think about water subjectivities and what it is to be water . I think this was also inspired by a quote from Oswald that I re-read yesterday:
I sometimes wonder whether I’m a very keen swimmer, and whether for me, poetry is equivalent to swimming. I’ve often noticed when I swim, the strangeness of the way the body literally turns into a fish, but the head remains human and rather cold, and looking around at this strange flat reflective surface. I’m often very piercingly aware of the difference between my head and my body when I’m swimming because I’m not necessarily someone who goes underwater, I love swimming along the surface of rivers. Perhaps, my poems do feel a need to convey that continued separation of the head remaining human and the body becoming animal, or plant, or mineral, or whatever it can be. In some way, I suppose I’m trying to find rhythms that will heal that divide.
I think that’s exactly it, that we seem to exist as bodies and minds. That’s always slightly troubled me that I can’t quite make them be the same thing. I always have two narratives going on and it’s extraordinary the way the mind is floating around seemingly quite untethered and yet the body has all these laws like gravity, and limit, and size, and hunger, that it’s obeying. How those two interact and how they come to define what it is to be human is again—I’m wary of using the verb think because I don’t think poetry is necessarily about thinking—but it gets hold of questions, and reveals them as questions, and then reveals what’s underneath them, and then what’s underneath that. I suppose each book tries to peel away a layer of that problem and present it again.
Halfway through the run, I stopped to record my thoughts by speaking into my smart phone: Almost 3.5 miles in, just walking back up the franklin hill on a super hot, humid day. Before I started running, I was thinking about water and I read and then listened to Alice Oswald’s “Evaporations” and Bruce Lee’s “Be Water My Friend.” So I was thinking about how there’s a line in the Alice Oswald about how water prefers to be disorderly and slapdash —
I notice The Water doesn’t like it so orderly What Water admires Is the slapstick rush of things melting
I was thinking of this dog bark I heard across the road on Seabury and my thought was that this bark was slapdash. Then I was thinking of Bruce Lee’s “Be Water” and how I feel even more like water right now because I’m not just damp, I’m dripping sweat in this humidity. And I’m not sure why this happened but I started to think about — oh, I was thinking about how I had locked into this rhythm and I could really feel it in my glutes, which is great because I think that’s what you ideally want, and I was feeling that I was in a steady rhythm, not really thinking, more animal, and then I thought about how it feels more like a machine to me (than an animal). Then I was thinking about how when machines are being designed/engineered, they look to the bio-mechanics of various animals. Machines are really animals with a very strict routine. Animals and machines and Donna Haraway and cyborgs — the idea of us being both machines and animals. What part of us is the I, the animal, the machine, the — ?
[a few minutes later] I almost forgot, when I turned around at the 3 mile point and went on the lower trail right by the river, the river looked very still and un-refreshing. I looked at it, and because it was so still, the clouds were reflected in it, and I thought about Huidobro’s line, 8 glances to turn the sea into sky. I thought what I was doing was turning the river into sky….And now I’m thinking about these different subjectivities we inhabit — the I, the animal, the machine — when you recognize that you’re all of those things, that doesn’t mean you are free from subjectivity and your specific historical, material location; it just means that you’ve eliminated division, you’re immersed in the water where it’s all together. It all is entangled — a better word? [thinking of Ross Gay here]
after my run
A lot of thoughts on water and subjectivity and the I/animal/machine are reoccurring ideas that I’ve been writing about/wrestling with for years. I think it was last year that I started to imagine myself as less of a fish in the water, more of a boat. What does it look like, how might it feel to be all of these things — water, boat, fish, human/brain?
note: I added the second part of Evaporations to my list of poems to memorize.
A few days ago, I found some summer heat poems on the NYTimes Book Review. I thought I saved the link, but now I can’t find it. My favorite was this one:
Summer Studies/ Tony Hoagland
When Ellen told Mary about the secret lake she swore her to silence
but Mary invited Jerome who couldn’t even swim and Luanne
came with him and it was funny that summer the way that scarce resources
collided with the whole system of who was cool, or not
the old rule being that who was cool would get to stay that way
by jumping into the lake and who was not would have to stay
hot and dirty by simple omission of information.
But that dry summer the rumors spread: someone was giving out maps, someone
was giving tutorials in every twist and bobby-pin turn
you had to take in the red dirt road that got you there.
When you got near you could hear through the trees
splashes and cries of people who might not even be friends.
And the clear water, like the social milieu that summer was quite frankly stirred up, confused
thanks to the leaky lips, Ellen said, of certain persons
I recorded some notes by speaking into my phone after I finished the run. Warmer today. Ran mostly in the shade. Ran the 2 trails. Saw a firetruck — well, I heard its siren first — as I approached 42nd st. I wondered why rescue workers were here. Were they going down to the river to rescue someone? To recover a dead body? I never found out.
a thought about water: It’s nice to run beside or above or around water. It’s even nicer to be on water — in a boat, on a raft. But it’s nicest yet to be in water. Swimming, immersed. What a transformation it makes to be in water, the intensity of feeling about a space when you’re in it.
idea for a lecture for my podcast: I’d talk about these various ways that runners and writers try to hold onto thoughts while they are moving and the idea of thoughts and what happens to them while you’re moving. A lot of poems, possibly multiple lectures about this topic. At the end of the lecture, I could offer a few activities that I do to hold onto thoughts.
image: I had to stop and walk because a big tree had fallen over the lower trail. It was high enough that I could duck under it easily, but too low to do that quickly. It was forked with 2 branches, leaning from above, propped up by the fence. No leaves, just bark. It looked dead.
Returning to my idea for a lecture, or a series of lectures, on thoughts, I read some great lines from Alice Oswald in Nobody yesterday that involve thoughts and where they travel:
from Nobody/ Alice Oswald
As the mind flutters in a man who has travelled widely and his quick-winged eyes land everywhere I wish I was there or there he thinks and his mind
as if passing its beam through cables flashes through all that water and lands less than a second later on the horizon and someone with a telescope can see his tiny thought-form floating on the sea-surface wondering what next
swim: 3 loops lake nokomis open swim 85 degrees 5:30 pm
Warm and crowded tonight. Lots of people on the beach, lots of boats in the water. A paddleboard and a group of kayaks paddling right through the swimming area. A menancing swan boat. This barely bothered me. What do I remember about the water? Heard some loud sloshing noises. Saw a lot of planes flying above me. Something hard bumped into me — not a person, also probably not a fish. A stick? The sun was blinding and it was impossible to see anything on the way back — no sighting the buoy or the beach. I breathed every 5 or 3 or 4. Felt strong and fast (even though I went the same speed I always do, about 1:45-1:50 per 100 yds).
1.5 miles winchell trail, south/42nd st east/edmund, north 41 degrees
Headed to the gorge with Scott this morning — a quick run above the river. I know I looked at the river, but I can’t remember much about it. Most likely, with this gloomy sky, it was a brownish-gray or grayish-brown with no sparkle. We talked a lot about Lizzo and what a great job she did on SNL last night, both as the host and the musical guest. The only other thing I remember right now is running the opposite way on the Winchell Trail (usually I run north on it) and noticing how much longer the Folwell hill was this way. The other way it’s steep but short, this way it’s slightly less steep, but winding (or wind-y?) and long.
before the run
Yesterday I suggested that my next dirt topic should be gardens/gardening. Here are a few ideas:
1 — tune my body and my brain
My exploration of dirt began when I started thinking about the phrase from a kids’ song, or a song often sung to or by kids: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” Here’s another kids’ song that doesn’t have the word dirt in it, but is about dirt and death and life and gardens. Both my kids sang it in elementary school concerts:
Here are a few verses:
Inch by inch, row by row Gonna make this garden grow All it takes is a rake and a hoe And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row Someone bless these seeds I sow Someone warm them from below Till the rain comes tumblin’ down
Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones Man is made of dreams and bones Feel the need to grow my own ‘Cause the time is close at hand
Rainful rain, sun and rain Find my way in nature’s chain Tune my body and my brain To the music from the land
2 — Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”
It is perhaps this blending of the ecological sensibilities learned through gardening with those of the poet that makes reading Oswald’s editorial and poetic work so compelling, and not only for the many pleasures it brings. It also offers an acoustically informed aesthetic, a way of re-tuning how we think about and make beauty and meaning in verbal forms, especially those inspired by the earth’s processes, things, places. Principled with the desire to bring living things unmediated into text, Oswald’s writings illustrate a heightened and recursive sensitivity to the acoustics of environment, with the ear, of course, in its critical role as converter of signals. They recognize sound as summons, access, and mode. They value gardening (and other physical work) for the ways it creates possibilities for encounter by situating the body in motion and out-of-doors. They invite and invent expressive forms that are organic to these encounters, or that modify existing forms so they are apt and up to the task. They reveal a rootedness in rhythm, syncopation, harmony, or some other musicality within the external world. They practice acute hearing and engage in humble, patient, and empathie listening. They gesture toward the sonic rounding out of envi-ronments and their many natural, social and cultural complexities. And they practice accretion as a writer’s technique inspired by a natural process. Thus Oswald begins to define what I might term an “echo-poetics.”
Voice(s) of the Poet-Gardener: Alice Oswald and the Poetry of Acoustic Encounter/ Mary Pinard
3 — digging work
It’s certainly true that when you’re digging you become bodily implicated in the ground’s world, thought and earth continually passing through each other. You smell it, you feel its strength under your boot, you move alongside it for maybe eight hours and your spade’s language (it speaks in short lines of trochees and dactyls: sscrunch turn slot slot, sscrunch turn slot slot) creeps and changes at the same pace as the soil. You can’t help being critical of any account of mud that is based on mere glimpsing.
“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise” / Alice Oswald
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
4 — listening work
People often ask me what I like best about gardening. . . . The truth is it’s the sound. I don’t know anything lovelier than those free shocks of sound happening against the backsound of your heartbeat. Machinery, spade-scrapes, birdsong, gravel, rain on polythene, macks moving, aeroplanes, seeds kept in paper, potatoes coming out of boxes, high small leaves or large head-height leaves being shaken, frost on grass, strimmers, hoses . . .
“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise”/ Alice Oswald
Poems are written in the sound house of a whole body, not just with the hands. So before writing, I always spend a certain amount of time pre- paring my listening. I might take a day or sometimes as much as a month picking up the rhythms I find, either in other poems or in the world around me. I map them into myself by tapping my feet or punch- ing the air and when my whole being feels like a musical score, I see what glimpses, noises, smells, I see if any creature or feeling comes to live there. Then, before putting pen to paper, I ask myself, “Am I lis- tening? Am I listening with a soft, slow listening that will not obliter- ate the speaker?” And if, for example, I want to write a poem about water, I try to listen so hard that my voice disappears and I speak water.
“Poetry for Beginners” for the BBC’s Get Writing/ Alice Oswald
5 — In Search of our Mother’s Gardens*
*a reference to the powerful essay by Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” that I often taught in my Fem Theory classes.
things to think about while running:
How can I “tune my body and brain to the music of the land”?
What is digging work? Where can/do we do digging work?
What are the sounds of my backyard garden?
What can I plant in my garden this year?
Why do I love doing physical, outdoor work? How is digging/gardening/weeding work different from listening/noticing/caring/writing work? How is it similar?
during the run
Ran with Scott, and we didn’t talk about gardens or digging until the end, when I mentioned gardening, digging, and the digital story about my mom. He suggested that I look up the lyrics for Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt.”
after the run
Here are a few lyrics from Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt”:
Digging in the dirt Stay with me, I need support I’m digging in the dirt To find the places I got hurt Open up the places I got hurt
The more I look, the more I find As I close on in, I get so blind I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes
This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you
And the refrain at the end, repeated several times:
Digging in the dirt To find the places we got hurt
And here’s the video, which I can’t embed). Wow, the imagery in this fits with so many things I’ve been discussing! Worms, digging as excavating deeper truths (I think I’ve mentioned this before), death, dust, grass, pebbles, sand, rocks, mushrooms speaking! (in the video they spell out “help”).
addendum, 18 april 2022: almost forgot to add this image from my notes for my memoir (still in progress) about my student and teaching life”
Instead of cropping out the key part — the picture of a plant growing inside a head in the lower right with the text, “planting a seed” — I decided to post the entire image. When I taught feminist and queer classes a decade ago, my aim was to plant seeds. Not to force ideas on students or to expect instant results — where they could immediately “get” something or be transformed, but to introduce ideas and offer up invitations that might, in the future, lead to transformation and deeper understandings.
A wonderful morning for a run. Sunny, warm, mostly calm, not too crowded. Saw Dave the Daily Walker at the start of my run. “Good morning Dave!” Ran south. Noticed the river a few times, sparkling in the sun. Heard lots of woodpeckers. The falls and creek were rolling along. I heard Minnehaha as I ran above it, over to the Veterans’ Home.
My favorite sound was the unexpected duet between a roller skier’s clicking and clacking poles and the sharp steady beak of a woodpecker. My second favorite sound was the way water gurgled and gushed in spurts out of the sewer pipe below the 44th street parking lot.
before the run
today’s theme for dirt: gravel, rubbled asphalt.
1 — definitions of gravel
Here are a few definitions from the online OED:
gravel (n): a material consisting of coarse sand and water-worn stones of various sizes, often with a slight intermixture of clay, much used for laying roads and paths.
gravel (v): 4. To set fast, confound, embarrass, non-plus, perplex, puzzle; and 5. of a question, difficulty, practice, subject of discussion, etc.: To prove embarrassing to; to confound, perplex, puzzle. Also U.S. To irritate, to ‘go against the grain with’.
2 — gravel in the gorge
Looked up gravel in the Gorge Management plan from an extensive study in 2002, and found out this about what I’m above near the start of my run:
Sandberg Loamy Coarse Sand is found within the savanna areas near the end of 36th Street and sloping areas to the north. Depth to bedrock is generally more than 60 inches and the soil is excessively drained. The soil has an available water capacity to a depth of 60 inches and an organic content in the upper 10 inches of 2%. A typical profile is as follows:A — 0 to11 inches; loamy coarse sand Bw —11 to 27 inches; coarse sand C — 27 to 80 inches; gravelly coarse sand.
3 — gritty gravel
I like the grit of gravel under my feet as I run. I’ve written about it a lot: the sibilant sound, the soft slippery slide when I run over it.
4 — dirt and gravel words
Had a vague recollection of posting a tweet that talked about words that were like gravel. It took me several minutes to find it, but I finally did! It’s from a log entry on august 21, 2020:
I’ve been thinking about how useful and wonderful it is to record myself reciting a poem and then listening back to the words, which are often correct but sometimes wrong in unexpected ways. I found a tweet yesterday, which doesn’t totally fit with this memorizing but connects:
“transcriptions rly show how much of our talk is dirt & gravel, how clear thoughts have to be panned for like gold
yet all the human pleasure is in the gravel, in the second-guessing & laughter & short sighs, the repetitions & amens, the silences where thoughts turn & settle
One bit of “gravel” I find in my recitation recordings is when I struggle to remember a word or phrase or line. Such delight in hearing the moment of remembering and the struggle to achieve it! What would it look like to transcribe that into a poem, I wonder?
Reading the bit about panning for gold, I’m reminded of Alice Oswald’s Dart and her lines about the Tin-extractor (pages 17-18):
you can go down with a wide bowl, where it eddies round bends or large boulders. A special not easy motion, you fill it with gravel and a fair amount of water, you shake it and settle it and tilt it forward. You get a bit of gold, enough over the years to make a wedding ring but mostly these dense black stones what are they?
he puts them in Hydrochloric acid, it makes his fingers yellow, but they came up shiny, little wobbly nuts of tin
and the stones’ hollows hooting back at them off-beat, as if luck should play the flute
can you hear them at all, muted and plucked, muttering something that only be expressed as hitting a series of small bells just under the level of your listening?
you rinse it through a shaking screen, you take out a ton of gravelly mud for say fifty pounds of tin…
Dart / Alice Oswald
6 — Mary Oliver and gravel as dust as death
One section of The Leaf and the Cloud is titled, “Gravel.”
Everything is participate. Everything is a part of the world we can see, taste, touch, hold onto,
and then it is dust. Dust at last. Dust and gravel.
Listen, I don’t think we’re going to rise in gauze and halos. Maybe as grass, and slowly. Maybe as the long leaved, beautiful grass
I have known, and you have known— or the pine trees— or the dark rocks of the zigzag creek hastening along—
or the silver rain—
or the hummingbird.
I look up into the face of the stars, into their deep silence.
This is the poem of goodbye. And this is the poem of don’t know.
My hands touch the lilies then withdraw,
my hands touch the blue iris then withdraw;
and I say, not easily but carefully— the words round in the moth, crisp on the tongue—
dirt, mud, stars, water— I know you as if you were myself.
during the run
Difficult to remember now that the run’s done, but I remember listening for the grit under my feet and thinking about how I like feeling something under me as I run. Also thought about Wittgenstein and the importance of rough ground, how smooth surfaces offer nothing to grab onto, to notice. And how uneven, gravelly ground offers a good distraction from the effort of a run.
Running past the Wabun playground, I suddenly remembered the time that Scott ran up the slide with the kids and into the metal bar at the top with his head. If he had hit it just right, or just wrong, he might have died — at least that’s what we thought when it happened. He was fine, but as I kept running, thinking about dust and death, I had a quick flash — how different life would have been for me and the kids if he had hit it wrong and would have been gone for more than a decade now. Thankfully the thought evaporated quickly, replaced by the rush of the river as it roared over the dam, and the ache in my legs as I ran down the steep hill below the Veterans’ Home.
I know I had more thoughts than that, but they’re all gone now.
addendum, 12 april: I almost forgot. I chanted about gravel to keep my pace steady and my mind focused (or distracted or shut off?):
gravel gravel pebble pebble rock / rock / stone / / /
Nothing that creative, but it worked as a chant and I liked the sharpness of rock and the way stone stopped the sound, making room for 3 beats of silence.
addendum, 23 april: Re-reading this entry, I think I like this chant slightly better:
gravel gravel pebble pebble rock rock stone /
after the run
Searched “walt whitman gravel” and this was the first result:
A high nutrient amendment comprised of compost, rice hulls and chicken manure. A little goes a long way. Blend with existing soil at 25-30% by volume and follow with a thorough irrigation immediately after planting. Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility for plant establishment.
“Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility…”. Yes, this sounds about right—with his excess of words and exclamation points and enthusiasm for everything, I always need to use moderation when reading Whitman!
Also, searched “gravel” on Poetry Foundation and found this haunting poem. Wow.
She is girl. She is gravel. She is grabbed. She is grabbed like handfuls of gravel. Gravel grated by water. Her village is full of gravel fields. It is 1950. She is girl. She is grabbed. She is not my grandmother, though my grandmother is girl. My grandmother’s father closes the gates. Against American soldiers, though they jump over stone walls. To a girl who is not my grandmother. The girl is gravel grabbed. Her language is gravel because it means nothing. Hands full of girl. Fields full of gravel. Korea is gravel and graves. Girl is girl and she will never be a grandmother. She will be girl, girl is gravel and history will skip her like stone over water. Oh girl, oh glory. Girl.
Spring! Spring! Spring! Sunny and warm. Shorts with no running tights. Lots of birds singing and drumming and casting big shadows across the path. Near the end of my run, I saw the shadows and stopped briefly to catch a flash of a soaring bird. An eagle or a kestrel or a hawk? It couldn’t be an owl, could it? Do they fly that high? Didn’t hear any rowers and barely noticed the river — even when I stopped at the overlook at the end of my run and was looking straight at it. I think I noticed the dirt trails leading down to the gorge the most. Heard some dogs barking down in the gorge. Ran past a peloton on the road. Saw some graffiti on the door of the porta-potty under the lake street bridge. Overheard a conversation, or one brief bit of a conversation:
walker 1: “I’ll just have to get up tomorrow and go to work, and forget about it.” walker 2: “uh huh”
This reminds of something I heard yesterday from one biker to an other: “They don’t have a leg to stand on to fire him.” A leg to stand on? I don’t hear that expression that often anymore. Also, why was “he” being fired, and from where?
Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech.
The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.
I find this interesting — how they did it, by placing iridium coated spikes in their nerve centers and measuring electrical impulses, then analyzing the impulse clusters and comparing their length to human languages — but I’m particularly struck by the researches explanation of why this matters:
a modified conception of language of plants is considered to be a pathway towards ‘the de-objectification of plants and the recognition of their subjectivity and inherent worth and dignity’ .
So, to care for and grant dignity and worth to fungi we need to understand them to be as “smart as us” — that is, able to use language? Why? Even as I enjoyed reading this experiment and thinking about fungi communication as language, I wonder about its purpose and why we need fungi to speak in ways we can understand in order for them to have value. And, why do we assume that, 1. human language is the most valuable (or complex/sophisticated) and/or 2. to value something it needs to be like us? Perhaps I’m reading too much into their claim?
I found a comment at the end of the article that offers a useful critique from a slightly different perspective than mine:
This kind of anthropomorphic work would do well to define terms including words, language, information, and communication. These are technical terms in communicology and in linguistics but are indiscriminately used in this research. Plants do not produce meaning but merely exchange information. They do not, therefore, communicate in any human way. Language is not merely a syntactical system, as implied here. Language consists of the necessary components syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. In short, the image of the human cast over the findings is inappropriate. It is also not needed to make the research interesting.
comment on article from I Catt
I also found this poem about a type of mushroom (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) that invades carpenter ants:
Nothing is more important to the ant whose exoskeleton has been breached by mushroom spores that are now controlling his nervous system and compelling him to climb to a high leaf only to die and release the spores over the whole forest than this poem about his sad plight.
Otherwise his life is meaningless. Forage. Chew. Recognize by scent. Abdication of the will. A huge wind that comes and sweeps his fellows off the grass. When he dies up there in the treetops the mushroom grows right out of his head and breaks open lightly dusting the afternoon.
Everything he thought he was here on Earth to do has been left undone. Through the trees the spores move on their sinister ways. I put down the science magazine written for elementary school kids in which I have briefly disappeared.
during the run
Stopped at the end of my run to record some of my scattered thoughts during the run:
Remembering the poem about the parasitic mushrooms and the carpenter ants that a poet found in a kids’ science magazine. Why and how do we lose the wonder we had as kids?
Then I was thinking about care, and why and how we care about things. What do we need to care? Do we care about things we can understand? That we know? That have use value for us? What about things that make us wonder and delight in their strangeness? Why can’t that be a reason to care?
Finally, I was thinking about Alice Oswald and something she said in an interview about otherness and how our encounters with the land and nature are ones of encountering that which is alien and other to us. So, we don’t recognize nature in how it’s like us, or we’re like it, but in how it is strange to us.
after the run
Found Oswald’s words, or my rough transcription of them, from a podcast:
I exert incredible amounts of energy trying to see things from their own points of view rather than the human point of view.
It’s a day long effort to get your mind into the right position to live and speak well.
citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.
4.25 miles top of franklin bridge and back 37 degrees wind / rain / snow
Ran in the afternoon, after returning from Austin. A huge wind gust almost blew me off the trail as I ran through the Welcoming Oaks. Later, the tornado siren went off. Because of the wind, I was concerned. Called Scott to check. It’s severe weather week and today they’re testing the sirens. Whew. With all the wind and snow and sirens, I don’t remember looking at the river. Did I? Yes! I just remembered. I admired the snow flurries looking like mist hovering right above the river. Very cool.
I chanted, mostly in my head but a few times out loud, the Christina Rossetti poem, “Who Has Seen the Wind?”:
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The Wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the leaves bow down their heads The wind is passing by.
Anything else? Lots of black-capped chickadees. A Minneapolis parks vehicle approaching with a double set of headlights — 2 at the normal spot on the bumper, and 2 up above on the roof.
before the run
Today dirt = mud and sinking down into the earth. Found this poem by a Minnesota poet, Joyce Sidman (search term: mud):
Sun slant low, chill seeps into black water. No more days of bugs and basking. Last breath, last sight of light and down I go, into the mud. Every year, here, I sink and settle, shuttered like a shed. Inside, my eyes close, my heart slows to its winter rhythm. Goodbye, good- bye! Remember the warmth. Remember the quickness. Remember me. Remember.
“‘Muddy’ is inspired by the motion and cadence of Diné words. Looking at it on the page, one sees kinetic text and hears onomatopoeia, so the repetition of ‘tł’ish’ reenacts the sound of someone stepping in mud, and then the word itself turns into a poem.” —Orlando White
Mud as where you sink and settle during winter, and the sound of squishing through mud.
during the run
Tried to notice the mud. Mostly, it was on the edge of the trail. I ran over it to avoid 2 walkers. Biggest (and yuckiest) bit of mud was right by the big boulder near the sprawling oak just above the tunnel of trees at the grassy spot between the walking and biking trails. A vehicle had driven through it, leaving deep, muddy tire ruts.
3.5 miles river road, south/winchell trail/river road, north/edmund 39 degrees / feels like 30 wind: 20 mph
Overcast, windy, cold. Not too many people out on the trails. Ran south on the paved path, then a little on the Winchell trail — dirt, then rubbled asphalt, then paved, back up on the river road trail, through the tunnel of trees, then over to Edmund. Everything bare and brown and looking like November. Very pleasing to my eyes. Soft and dull, not sharp or crisp. Down on the Winchell Trail, I was closer to the river, but forgot to look. Maybe it was because I was too focused on the wind and reciting the poem by Christine Rossetti that I memorized this morning. I was reminded of it when I found it on my entry for March 29, 2020.
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by.
It was really fun to recite (just in my head) as I ran. It’s iambic, mostly trimeter (I think?). I also recited the opening to Richard Siken’s “Lovesong of the Square Root of Negative One:
“I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves tremble but I am invisible.”
Before I went for my run, I spent more time with Alice Oswald. Here are a few bits from an interview she did in 2016 for Falling Awake:
I frequently get told I’m a nature poet living in a rural idyll, but just like the city, the country is full of anxious, savage people. The hedges seem so much stronger than the humans that you feel slightly imperilled and exposed, as if, if you stopped moving for a minute the nettles would just move in.
I think about this idea of the vegetation taking over when humans (by the gorge, Minneapolis Parks’ workers) stop managing and maintaining it. Creeping vines, tall grass, wandering branches, crumbling asphalt. I see these things all the time and often imagine how the green things might consume us when we stop paying attention.
I’m mostly interested in life and vitality, but you can only see that by seeing its opposite. I love erosion: I like the way that the death of one thing is the beginning of something else.
Erosion, things decomposing, returning, recycling. I’m drawn to noticing these things as I loop around the gorge.
It’s good to remember how to forget. I’m interested in the oral tradition: what keeps the poems alive is a little forgetting. In Homer you get the sense that anything could happen because the poet might not remember.
I like the idea of finding a balance, where I remember some things and forget others, or I forget some things so I can remember other things.
Poetry is not about language but about what happens when language gets impossible.
I like the idea of things being impossible to ever fully achieve, where no words can ever fully capture/describe what something it. When language is impossible, it’s possible to keep imagining/dreaming up new meanings.
I’m interested in how many layers you can excavate in personality. At the top it’s all quite named. But you go down through the animal and the vegetable and then you get to the mineral. At that level of concentration you can respond to the non-human by half turning into it.
This line about getting down to the mineral, reminded me of some of Oswald’s words in Dart and Lorine Niedecker’s words in “Lake Superior”:
from Dart / Alice Oswald
where’s Ernie? Under the ground
where’s Redver’s Webb? Likewise.
Tom, John and Solomon Warne, Dick Jorey, Lewis Evely?
Some are photos, others dust. Heading East to West along the tin lodes, 80 foot under Hepworthy, each with a tallow candle in his hat.
Till rain gets into the stone, which washes them down to the valley bottoms and iron, lead, zinc, copper calcite and gold, a few flakes of it getting pounded between the pebbles in the river.
from “Lake Superior” / Lorine Niedecker
In every part of every living thing is stuff that once was rock
And the idea of moving through layers, reminds me of Julian Spahr and their poem that moves through layers, first out, then in:
poemwrittenafterseptember 11, 2001 / Julian Spahr
as everyone with lungs breathes the space between the hands and the space around the hands and the space of the room and the space of the building that surrounds the room and the space of the neighborhoods nearby and the space of the cities and the space of the regions and the space of the nations and the space of the continents and islands and the space of the oceans and the space of the troposphere and the space of the stratosphere and the space of the mesosphere in and out.
In this everything turning and small being breathed in and out by everyone with lungs during all the moments.
Then all of it entering in and out.
The entering in and out of the space of the mesosphere in the entering in and out of the space of the stratosphere in the entering in and out of the space of the troposphere in the entering in and out of the space of the oceans in the entering in and out of the space of the continents and islands in the entering in and out of the space of the nations in the entering in and out of the space of the regions in the entering in and out of the space of the cities in the entering in and out of the space of the neighborhoods nearby in the entering in and out of the space of the building in the entering in and out of the space of the room in the entering in and out of the space around the hands in the entering in and out of the space between the hands.
How connected we are with everyone.
The space of everyone that has just been inside of everyone mixing inside of everyone with nitrogen and oxygen and water vapor and argon and carbon dioxide and suspended dust spores and bacteria mixing inside of everyone with sulfur and sulfuric acid and titanium and nickel and minute silicon particles from pulverized glass and concrete.
How lovely and how doomed this connection of everyone with lungs.
I’ve been wanting to do something with layers and the gorge. What form might it take?