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?
Sunny, calm, mostly quiet. Turned onto a street at the same time as another runner on the opposite sidewalk. Both us running almost the same speed for at least a minute. Was he trying to race me? Not sure. I was hoping one of us would be faster so I could avoid being too focused on him. Somewhere in the next few blocks, I started pulling ahead. Did he slow down or turn onto another street?
Ran with my shadow. Felt tired after running 4 miles yesterday and almost 5 the day before. Remembered to notice the river: lots of slushy dollops of foam. I watched it moving slowing downstream as it crossed under the lake street bridge. To keep myself steady, I recited my lines from Emily Dickinson, “Life is but life/and death but death/Bliss is but bliss/and breath but breath.”
Heard several woodpeckers drumming on dead wood. Thought about my mannequin poem and figured out a possible line in which I replace “the mannequins” with “the women and children.” I like it, but I’m not quite sure if it works. Does it give the wrong tone?
Still reading through Dart and thinking about Alice Oswald’s work. Here’s another poem from her that I’d like to read through many more times. I want to think more about what she means by: “to be brief/to be almost actual”
4.8 miles Veteran’s Home Loop 22 degrees / feels like 11 wind: 14 mph / 22 mph gusts
Sunny and cold and windy. Wore lots of layers: vest, jacket, long-sleeved shirt, tights, gloves, buff, winter cap. My watched died 1 1/2 miles in so I don’t know exactly how far I ran or how fast. It doesn’t really matter. Ran to the falls, over the creek, under the arbor, behind John Stevens’ House, across the tall bridge, up to the bluff, beside the river, through the edge of turkey hollow, past Beckettwood with its bright red sign that looks newly painted (or brighter in the early spring sun). A nice run. I didn’t feel fantastic the entire time, but not miserable either. And now, being done, I feel glad to have gone outside in this blustery weather.
Thinking about this line I reread this morning before my run:
your eyes are made mostly of movement
Dart / Alice Oswald (45)
I deduced to make this my task for noticing the world on my run today: What is moving on my run (besides me)?
10 Things I Noticed: Movement
swirling leaves (seen)
a woodpecker’s bill rapidly pecking on hollow wood (heard)
the rush of fast-moving air on my arm (felt)
Minnehaha Creek bouncing off of the limestone ledge then falling over the falls (seen)
the river moving swiftly downstream under the Ford Bridge, encouraged by the wind (seen)
dead leaves in a tree, shaking (heard)
a shadow barely creeping over the creek under the tall bridge (seen)
a black truck crossing the bridge then turning right (seen)
many runners, including one moving slightly slower than me over by the gorge, as I ran on Edmund (seen)
a flag at half mast (for Madeline Albright) waving gently (I expected it to be flapping in this wind, but it wasn’t) (seen)
No flashes. And the shadows I did see, tree trunks, lamp posts, stop signs, were all still. No darting squirrels, or dancing water, or soaring birds.
One other imagine I’d like to remember: the big rock that stands next the lonely and inviting bench — the one I always wanted to stop at but never did during my early pandemic runs — looked like it had inched closer to the path. This rock is BIG so this is very unlikely. A closer look: its shadow was creeping onto the trail.
Back to movement. Here are two poems that fit with the theme of movement and eyes. One of them I read today, the other I posted a few months ago:
The rock that is not a rabbit suns itself in the field, its brown coat that isn’t fur furred with light. The rock that isn’t a rabbit would be warm to a palm but wouldn’t quicken or strain from touch. It doesn’t ache with hunger or pine with rabbit-lust, doesn’t breathe the world in, translating scent into some rabbit understanding. The world is beyond its understanding. And yet the rock that is not a rabbit will outlast the hawk banking above, the fox sloughing free of its den, the wheel nicking off the road to disturb the gravel berm, the mower coughing up the neighbor’s yard. Even so, its ears fold back against its body as if to make itself small, a secret, though when a breeze disorders the grass, the rock’s stillness appears like wild motion.
Had to look up berm:
a flat strip of land, raised bank, or terrace bordering a river or canal.
a path or grass strip beside a road.
an artificial ridge or embankment, e.g., as a defense against tanks.”berms of shoveled earth”
—a phenomenon where the brain blocks out blurred images created by movement of the eye
All constellations are organisms and all organisms are divine and unfixed. I am spending my night in the kitchen. There is blood in the batter—dark strands stretch like vocal cords telling me I am missing so much with these blurred visions: a syringe flick, the tremor of my wrist—raised veins silked green. I have seen the wings of a purple finch wavering around its body, stuck, burned to the grill of my car, which means I have failed to notice its flight— a lesson on infinities, a lesson I am trying to learn. I am trying. Tell me, how do I steady my gaze when everything I want is motion?
Ran with Scott in Austin. Forgot to bring my running tights. This might have been the coldest temp I’ve run in with bare legs. It wasn’t too bad. Don’t remember much about my run except for discussing how to help aging parents.
Anything else? Gloomy, windy, some mist. Spring decided not to stay; winter’s back.
Slowly the fog did what fog does, eventually: it lifted, the way veils tend to at some point in epic verse so that the hero can see the divinity at work constantly behind all things mortal, or that’s the idea, anyway, I’m not saying I do or don’t believe that, I’m not even sure that belief can change any of it, at least in terms of the facts of how, moment by moment, any life unfurls, we can call it fate or call it just what happened, what happens, while we’re busy trying to describe or explain what happens, how a mimosa tree caught growing close beside a house gets described as “hugging the house,” for example, as if an impulse to find affection everywhere made us have to put it there, a spell against indifference, as if that were the worst thing— is it? Isn’t it? The fog lifted. It was early spring, still. The dogwood brandished those pollen-laden buds that precede a flowering. History. What survives, or doesn’t. How the healthiest huddled, as much at least as was possible, more closely together, to give the sick more room. How they mostly all died, all the same. I was nowhere I’d ever been before. Nothing mattered. I practiced standing as still as I could, for as long as I could.
The lifting of the veil reminds me of a quote from Alice Oswald that I read the other day on twitter:
“The Greeks thought of language as a veil which protects us from the brightness of things, I think poetry is a tear in that veil.” —Alice Oswald
Watched the second to last episode of Dickinson while I biked, then ran a mile while listening to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” (which I heard on The Current yesterday and thought it would be fun to run to. Mostly, it was). The Dickinson episode was titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” and, among other things, was about Emily (mother) imaging that a mouse in her bedroom was her dead sister Lavinia. She tells a story about how Lavinia loved mice, keeping them as pets — feeding them cheese and naming them after her favorite fairy tale characters. Then she talks to the mouse-as-Lavinia and says goodbye to her. I liked this sweet explanation for why Emily (poet) might have written a poem titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” although I might also like not having an explanation for why she chose a mouse to describe grief. It reminds me of an essay I read about Emily Dickinson last year:
Whenever I introduce Dickinson’s poems into my classes, I always begin by doing a version of an exercise that I learned from one of my great mentors, Carolyn Williams, and that has long circulated through a community of people who work on 19th-century poetics. Over the years it has come to be called “Dickinson Mad-Libs.” The way it works is this: I choose a line, a stanza, or a whole poem, and I take out some of its words (usually nouns and adjectives, but sometimes verbs as well), and I simply leave blanks where those words were. Then I ask the students to fill in the blanks. I tend to switch up which poems I use, even though I know several that work particularly well. I’ll never forget the time I used “Grief is a ________.”
Students go ahead and put in the blanks what is expected: Grief is a pain, Grief is a bitch. The ones who want to take imaginative leaps deliver up: Grief is a thunderstorm, Grief is a tidal wave. But I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how many budding poets you have in a class, nobody who hasn’t already read Dickinson’s poem would ever write the phrase the way she wrote it.
There are lots of fascinating conversations to have about what, exactly, Dickinson might have meant when she wrote “Grief is a mouse,” but the more interesting point, to me at least, is simply that Dickinson was a master of unexpected, yet absolutely perfect, word choice.
Before I went downstairs to exercise, I worked on my second read-through of Dart. I’m making note of all the voices that appear. It’s helpful as a way of tracing how these voices flow from one to the next, sometimes easily, more often as interruptions. In focusing on these voices, I’m starting to see the tensions over the language used to describe how the river works, especially in terms of order and control. I’ll have to write more later, when I have time.
Here is one of the poems read in Dickinson (season 3, ep 9):