april 20/RUN

4.5 miles
marshall loop (cleveland)
35 degrees
wind: 12 mph

Woke up this morning to snow on the back deck. Only a dusting that melted before Scott got up a few hours later. Cold. Wore my running tights, winter vest, and gloves. It felt windier than 12 mph, especially on the bridge. I took my cap off so it wouldn’t blow away.

10 Things

  1. cold wind in my face, making my eyes water
  2. little ripples on the river, looking like scales
  3. running past street lamps on the st paul side, noticing the wires at the base pulled out
  4. an empty white kitchen trash bag draped over a bench
  5. 2 teen aged boys jumping the fence near the lake street bridge steps
  6. rowers on the river! how do they row in this wind?
  7. the clicking and clacking of roller ski poles
  8. the clicking and clacking of a woman’s running gait — she had a hitch and stepped down in a strange way that made a scraping noise — they way she contorted her body with each step made my hips hurt just watching!
  9. volunteers on earth day just above the floodplain forest, picking up trash — I was almost taken out by little Giovanni — Giovanni! Watch out! an adult called
  10. little birds — sparrows? — swooping, low to the ground, just in front of me

Before I went out for my run, I was reading about images and metaphors and literal and figurative language. As I was finishing up my run, I was thinking that my image of the day — the image I’d like to think about and write around — is the street lamp on the side of the paved trail, its door open and wires hanging out . . . or maybe the image is not just one of them, but lamp after lamp all the way down the hill above shadow falls, all of them gutted or disemboweled, their wire guts hanging out. The idea of them being gutted seems too easy as a metaphor — perhaps I need to think about who or what gutted them? Or something more specific about the guts as veins or tendons? Now I’m thinking about cut wires and losing the circuit and being disconnected.

This afternoon, I took a 3 hour zoom class on ekphrastic poetry. I wrote most of this entry before it; I’m finishing now, after it. A great class with Heid E. Erdrich. Lots of inspiration for public art and responding to art. Erdrich mentioned writing poems or finding poems that fit as labels for artwork in museums. This made me think of my interest in alt-text. I’d like to explore this connection more. Very cool.

april 16/BIKERUN

bike: 16 minutes
run: 2.3 miles
basement
outside: 54 degrees / rain, wind

Before I started writing this but after my workout, I got up from my chair and my right kneecap missed the groove and slipped out hard. So hard that I uncontrollably yelled, “God Dammit!” No pain and it went right back in, or I was able to pop it back in. But it was shocking — mentally and physically. My LCL or meniscus seem as reticent to walk as my brain does — a strange sentence to write: can you imagine ligaments feeling something independent of the brain? Now I’m nervous about when this might happen again. As is usually the case, I had absolutely no warning. I didn’t do anything abrupt or dramatic; I just stood up and turned. I’ll get over it in a few minutes and stop imagining different scenarios in my head when the kneecap suddenly slides and it hurts and I can’t get it back into place. For now, I’ll breathe and attempt to remember how happy I was to work out before my subluxation.

It’s raining today, and there’s a wind advisory. Decided to go to the basement and do a bike run combo. After pumping up the air in my tire — it is still leaking air even though I got new tires last spring — I found the SuperLeague e-tri championships. I’ve been watching SuperLeague while biking in the basement since it started — when? 2018? Then I ran for 22.5 minutes while I listened to a “If Books Could Kill” podcast and then a playlist.

I don’t remember thinking about much except for that I had to go to the bathroom. Scott and I have new euphemism for it: unfinished business. Anything else? I recall looking straight ahead at the water heater and I remember feeling like a badass when I increased my cadence to try and match the bikers I was watching.

Here’s a victory: I didn’t think at all about the text exchange I had with FWA about what “fun” or “interesting” or “non-music” classes he could take to fill up his pretty bare schedule for senior year. No double major or minors for him. Just music, which he’s very good at, but still . . . . I’m trying to let him figure out his own way, but it’s so hard to watch him make choices that seem foolish or short-sighted. Sigh. Parenting is hard; backing off is hard; trusting is hard. When I worry too much, I’ll go back and watch his recital from Sunday and remember how proud I am of him and that he can (and is) creating an exciting future for himself.

before the bike and run

Yesterday was the poet, Tomas Tranströmer’s birthday. He would have been 92. I’ve posted a few poems from him on here before. While looking for “air” poems, I found this one. It’s an ekphrastic! Those ekphrastic poems keep appearing. Are they trying to encourage me to keep working on my ekphrastic project? I’d like to believe so. Anyway, here’s the Tranströmer poem I found:

Vermeer / Tomas Tranströmer

translated by Robert Bly

It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
— the wrong man’s —
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers who sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn’t; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren’t any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

I love this poem and how it imagines the world outside of the painting and its relationship to the world inside of it. Starting with the first line: It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall . . . . That alehouse, that psychotic brother-in-law. The explosion, the money being dropped into the wrong man’s pocket. Then the airy studio and the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries — the differences between what we notice and try to remember and what we ignore or try to forget — what is worthy of attention, a painting, and what is not.

What is worth noticing in a poem describing a painting, and what is not? The Vermeer painting the poem is titled, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” but there’s no mention of the letter or the woman’s expression, and the blue described by Tranströmer is the blue fabric on the chair, not of the woman’s jacket.

This poem is about the wall, the other side of the wall, the pressure that the other side creates, pressing in on us. The wall between our interior and the exterior world. The edge of the void, the abyss. All of this is kind of, almost, not quite making sense to me. I should spend some more time rereading Tom Sleigh’sToo Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer“.

I’m struck by the last lines:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
‘I am not empty, I am open.’

I’m thinking of the gorge here and the limestone walls that contain it and how it is both empty of land/rock and filled with air and openness. To think of the void — the unknowable, unsayable, mystery — as both frightening (emptiness, nothingness) and inviting (openness, possibility).

Yesterday I talked about believing in the unseen. Today I’m thinking about what it could mean to be believe in the unseeable. Unseen could mean, not-yet-seen or unnoticed, but unseeable suggests that seeing is never possible.

Before writing this, I was reviewing an old log entry from April 16, 2022. In it, I discuss Elisa Gabbert’s article about poetry and the Void.

They [poets] write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there.

The Shape of a Void / Elisa Gabbert

This past weekend, Scott and I watched the 2 part documentary about Steve Martin, STEVE! I really enjoyed it. I remember responding to this idea offered by one of Steve Martin’s artist friends:

How to close the void. I think that’s the nature and the drive in art, it comes from that deep awareness of that void.

STEVE! — 53:30, part 2

I agree with the second part of that statement, about the deep awareness of the void, but not the first — at least how it’s worded. It’s not to close the void, but to navigate it, develop a relationship to it, engage with it, learn how to live with it. I mentioned this to Scott and he argued that the void in this quotation is not the unknown or mystery, but something else. Maybe lack or longing? A desire to be whole? To have/feel meaning? I still don’t like the word close. Can you ever close the void? Tranströmer doesn’t think so; it’s always on the other side of that wall. Even with a wall between you and it, you feel its pressure in your ears. And it’s this pressure that drives/shapes/enables your art — that makes each fact float/and makes the brushstroke firm.

A final (for now) word on this ekphrastic poem: I like how Tranströmer is responding to the work of art in this poem, how we uses the image to reflect on the abyss/void, history, interior/exterior, and why we make art. I want to think about it some more and try to write something for my “How to See” project inspired by his approach.

april 10/RUN

5.1 miles
bottom of franklin and back
61 degrees
wind: 8 mph / gusts: 18 mph

Ah, spring! Sun and shorts and short sleeves! Birds — black-capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, a turkey! I looked at the river but I don’t remember what I saw. Too distracted by blue sky and sharp shadows and the spring breeze — which is less relaxed than a summer breeze, but still pleasant — a word my mom used to say, or did she say it just that once when I was barely four and was talking with her in our new backyard in Hickory, North Carolina as she hung laundry out to dry. It feels pleasant out here or It’s a pleasant day. It’s a terribly bland word, but I love it because I always think of her and that moment.

Encounters:

  • Dave: Hi Sara!
  • while running up a hill, a woman walking down it: Looking good! me: Thank you!
  • two women walking towards me after I finished my run: Well, you look springy!

overheard:

  • from talk radio across the road: Don’t you think I think about it? Don’t you think it keeps me up at night?
  • distorted music coming out of a bike radio

Listened to birds, my breathing, and the smooth wheels of a rollerblader as I ran north. Ran up the franklin hill and sang, Running up that hill, in my head. Put in “It’s Windy” playlist: Let’s Go Fly a Kite: not childish but childlike; Don’t Mess Around with Jim: karma; Ride Like the Wind: haul ass; You’re Only Human (Second Wind) — be generous to yourself; Summer Breeze: relax

my birding moment: running north, listening to Billy Joel, distracted by the song or memories or some thought, something suddenly appeared in front of me — a turkey! It wasn’t too close, but close enough that I was able to watch it awkwardly run across the path. For the poem: distraction, interruption, awkwardness, dragged out of the inner into the outer

Stuck inside
a thought

Unaware
seeing

only bare
path when

Poof! Bobbing
head sleek

body move
past me

faster than
I thought

possible
I watch

then admire
this show

grateful to
be dragged

out into
the world.

a breeze

Before I run, I decided today’s version of the wind would be: breeze.

breeze 1

The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
(from The Work of Happiness/ May Sarton/May Sarton)

breeze 2

definition of breezy: pleasantly wind; airy, nonchalant — as in, breezy indifference

breezy 3

Easy breezy beautiful cover girl
Beautiful skin can be a breeze with sea breeze — or, what my sister Marji used to sing, Beautiful skin can be a breeze with sea grease

breeze 4

Yet again, the ekphrasis appears!

How to Look at Pictures/ Rebecca Morgan Frank

title after Robert Clermont Witt, 1906

Refuse to make eye contact with the subject.
He has been following you around the gallery.
You are certain that he can see down your shirt.
Look at other subjects, but know that they, too,
are not of primary interest. Even when they watch
you. Try not to consider what happened
to the small girl staring furiously, the thin-faced
woman wanly looking away. Do not think about
what they had for breakfast, if the bread was hard.
Certainly do not consider the odors underneath
their arms and skirts. Do not allow a breeze into
the room they sit in. Do not assume I am talking
about any painting: step away from the subject.
All subject. Was the painter in love? Do not ask
the question. Imagine you are the painter,
blocking out everything you don’t want to see.
Everything is out of the picture. Stop looking.
Stop seeking what isn’t there. Tuck your narratives
back in your pocket. Look for perspective, light,
shade. Let your eyes wander back to the girl.
She is trying to say something but her mouth
has been painted deliberately shut. Her lips, thin.

march 28/RUN

4.15 miles
minnehaha falls and back
28 degrees

Back outside! There were a few patches of ice and some of the walking trails were covered in snow, but the rest was clear and dry. So bright, not just the sun but the sun reflecting off of the snow. My calf continues to make noise — mostly gentle whispers or soft, short groans. Today I didn’t wear the calf sleeves during my run. Maybe I should next time.

Did my usual thing: ran south listening to the world, north to music — Winter 2024

Heard lots of chirping and tweeting birds. Sharp squirrel claws on rough bark. A noise that I thought was a bird or a drill but decided was a dog that wouldn’t shut up — bark bark bark bark bark bark

The favorite shadow I (thought I) saw: approaching a tree, I suddenly saw a shadow moving up the trunk, then realized it was actually a squirrel climbing up the tree.

birding:

Right after my lower calf near the ankle — or was it a tendon? — tightened a little and I was worried, I saw the shadow of a small bird flying over the snow, almost like it was saying, don’t worry; notice me instead.

tweeting birds. I heard: TWEET tweet tweet tweet tweet — Walking back, this tweeting mixed with water dripping from a gutter, a squirrel’s nails scratching tree bark, a kid across the street squealing with delight.

One mixed with
many

the drips and
squeals and

scratching feet
and the

Tweet tweet tweet
tweet tweet

That’s the version I spoke into my phone. I’ll work on it some more.

before the run

one

Red Shoulder Hawk by Ciona Rouse was the poem of the day on poets.org. Instead of just posting the poem, as I usually do, I

We met in the middle of the street only to discuss 
the Buteo lineatus, but we simply said hawk 
because we knew nothing of Latin. We knew nothing 
of red in the shoulder, of true hawks versus buzzards, 
or what time they started their mornings, 
what type of snake they stooped low 
and swift to eat. We knew nothing.

I like how we meet in the middle sounds. The discussion of not knowing the latin name of the bird reminds me of J Drew Lanham and his interview with Krista Tippet — you don’t have to know the name, just be with the bird. It also makes me think of Robin Wall Kimmerer and how she navigates her scientific and indigenous ways of knowing, how she values the Latin names but also the names beings call themselves. And it makes me think of May Swenson and section 7 of her wonderful poem, “October,” which is part of my My 100 list of memorized poems: His shoulder patch/which should be red looks gray. I like how this first sentence unspools.

Or, I should say, at least I knew nothing, 
and he said nothing of what he knew that day 
except one thing he said he thought, but now I say 
he knew: I’m going to die soon, my neighbor said to me 
and assured he had no diagnosis, just a thought. He said it 
just two weeks before he died outdoors just 
twenty steps away from where we stood that day— 
he and I between the porch I returned to and twisted 
the key to my door to cross the threshold into my familiar 
like always I do and the garage he returned to 
and twisted some wrench probably on a knob of the 
El Camino like always he did every day when usually 
I’d wave briefly en route from carport to door 
sometimes saying “how’s it going,” expecting 
only the “fine” I had time to digest.
 

I knew nothing, and he said nothing of what he knew. Is this a chiasmus, where the order of the words is reversed for dramatic effect (I wrote about this device on 13 nov 2023)? Again, the unspooling of the story is wonderful: how the neighbor’s death is revealed, the details that help us to imagine the scene. There is punctuation in these lines, but there are also a lot of lines that are written in a way that make sense without punctuation. I’m reminded of June Jordan’s rules for critiquing other people’s poems:

Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

June Jordan

I don’t know if I completely agree with her, and I know Emily Dickinson wouldn’t, but I do like the idea of trying to focus on each word and trying to have them work without punctuation.

I think I like, to cross the threshold into my familiar like always I do. Do I? I like the use of threshold into my familiar instead of home, but is it too wordy, and awkward with the like always I do?

Except today 
when I stepped out of my car, he waved me over to see 
what I now know to call the Buteo. When first I read its 
Latin name, I pronounced it boo-TAY-oh 
before learning it’s more like saying beauty (oh!).
 
I can’t believe I booed when it’s always carrying awe.

Booed instead of awed? Love it.

Like on this day, the buzzard—red-shouldered and 
usually nesting in the white pine—cast a shadow 
upon my lawn just as I parked, and stared back at us— 
my mesmerized neighbor and me—perched, probably hunting, 
in the leaning eastern hemlock in my yard. Though 
back then I think I only called it a tree because I knew nothing 
about distinguishing evergreens because I don’t think I ever asked 
or wondered or searched yet. I knew nothing about how they thrive 
in the understory. Their cones, tiny. And when they think 
they’re dying, they make more cones than ever before. 

A bird casting a shadow — a favorite of mine. The way time works in this poem is interesting. I didn’t know yet. How far in the future is the narrator telling their story? How long after the neighbor’s death did they begin learning trees? note: I keep wanting to refer to the narrator as he — why? I can’t distinguish evergreens and I’m constantly calling pine trees fir trees and all evergreens fir. Will I ever learn? Something in my brain resists this sort of specificity, and not just because of my bad vision. A line from Diane Seuss in “I look up from my book and look out at the world through reading glasses: All trees are just trees/ death to modifiers

How did he 
know? Who did he ask and what did he search to find 
the date that he might die, and how did he know 
to say soon to me and only me and then, right there 
in that garage with his wrench and the some other parts 
unknown for the El Camino and the radio loud as always 
it was, stoop down, his pledge hand anxious against his chest,
and never rise again?
 

I’m always fascinated by how people know certain things, like, how did Truman in The Truman Show know that something wasn’t right? What enabled him to trust that knowing and not discount it? Or, another perspective: how do our wandering brains lead us to knowing? I like tracing the strange circuits I take to arrive at ideas.

There are many details in this poem, but also many details left out. What kind of loud music is coming out of the radio?

And now the hemlock, which also goes 
by 
Tsuga canadensis, which is part Latin, part Japanese, 
still leans, still looks like it might fall any day now, weighed 
down by its ever-increasing tiny fists. And the 
Buteo returns 
each winter to reclaim the white pine before spring.

The passing of time, vague: now, still, returns each winter

Most hawks die by accident—collision, predation, disease. 
But when it survives long enough to know it’s dying, it may 
find a familiar tree and let its breath weaken in a dark cranny.

to know it’s dying — Back to Swenson’s “October”: this old redwing has decided to/ stay, this year, not join the/ strenuous migration. Better here,/ in the familiar, to fade.

And my neighbor’s wife and I now meet in the middle, 
sometimes even discussing birds but never discussing 
that day. And I brought her roses on that first anniversary 
without him because we sometimes discuss a little more 
than birds. And the 
Buteo often soar in twos, sometimes solo. 
So high I cannot see their shoulders, but I know their voices 
now and can name them even when I don’t see them. No matter 
how high they fly, they see me, though I don’t concern them. 
They watch a cottonmouth, slender and sliding 
silent in tall grass.
 

Birding by ear, the indifference of nature. Another line, this one from Frederic Gros: You are nothing to the trees. To me, this is a good thing.

And the cardinals don’t sing. 
They don’t go mute, either. They tink. 
Close to their nests and in their favorite trees, they know 
when the hawk looms. And their voices turn 
metallic: tink, tink, tink.

A metallic tink as warning call? I’ll have to listen for that. I like how the poem ends with the robins and the narrator-as-transformed-through-curiosity. The narrator has been changed by their neighbor’s death, they have learned to notice and to listen. As I write this, I realize that these last few lines are all about listening and not looking. Very cool!

two

I keep returning to the ekphrastic poem, or ideas close-by/near-enough to the ekphrastic. Thinking about made things and things being made and makers and the world somewhere between wild (as “untouched”?) and civilized (culture/made). Landscapes as not just there, but the living beings/systems, crafted through various “hands” — three in particular: the brain and its way of filtering and guessing and shaping visual data into something I can see; the Minneapolis Parks Department (and maybe other actors in and of the city, too: Army Corps, with its locks and dam and timber and flour industries) and how they’ve managed the land and created the paths I run on, the views I admire — and also created illusions of the “wild”; and water — the river, seeps, springs, drips down to limestone ledge, all carving out and slicing through rock, making: a gorge, rubbled asphalt, cracks, rust, waterfalls.

With all of this I wonder, What is Art? Who is/can be an artist? What is the difference between art and the everyday? There are too many things I could read about how other artists/poets have approached this — that would be the work of past Academic-Sara. And maybe I don’t want to answer these questions, just pose them through my juxtapositions? Or, maybe I should try to stop asking these questions, and just start writing!

march 24/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
run; 1 mile
basement
outside: snowing

A big storm, just starting, but not quite. Now, light snow. We’re expecting 5-9 inches. I wasn’t sure how icy the sidewalks were or how ready my calf was to run, so I decided to work out in the basement.

calf update, for future Sara (and maybe her physical therapist?): during the race yesterday, my calf felt a little strange a few times — a slight tightening? no pain — but was otherwise fine. After the race: some soreness and tightness. today during the bike: a few more flares, an occasional twinge with a little pain. during the run: started feeling sore about 8 minutes, then a little strange. It’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is — stop running? ignore it as nothing, or as a calf that cramped and is now recovering? schedule a pt appointment? If I can get an appointment, I’d like to see a pt. Even if the calf is nothing, it would great to be checked out before serious marathon training begins.

Watched the women’s road race (cycling) from Tokyo while I biked. When the silver medalist, Annemiek Van Vleuten, crossed the line, she thought she had won gold; she didn’t realize that someone in the breakaway had stayed away. background: A. Van Vleuten had been about to win the gold in Rio but had a horrific crash into a cement barricade. She put off retiring for another 5 years just to try and win the gold in Tokyo. Wow. How do you recover from that disappointment? I’m always amazed at the resilience of athletes.

While I ran, I listened to a winter playlist. Other than my calf, I felt good.

Earlier today, I found an article about James Schuyler and this wonderful poem, which I may have read before, but was delighted by today:

The Bluet/ James Schuyler

And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.

The analysis in this essay is all helpful to me, but I was particularly struck by this bit:

. . . Schuyler’s description of the flower transforms it into art, and that this kind of transformation is his signature poetic activity; it happens again and again in his poems: he describes what he sees before him as if it were a painting so that observation of the natural world becomes ekphrasis. That’s why—to skip down a little—the leaves are likened to a rug, crossing outside and inside, nature and culture, and those leaves “set off” the gray the way a painter or sharp dresser uses one color to set off or complement another, why the air is like a made thing, too, if one you eat, and why the bluet is called “the focus,” the way art critics say something is “the focus of the composition.” Schuyler’s words are paintbrushes, what he describes becomes a painting (though he treats it as already painted)—paint, a medium that splashes and then holds. There are examples of this everywhere in his books. In “Evenings in Vermont,” for instance, a rug again mediates between inside and outside, art and nature: “I study / the pattern in a red rug, arabesques / and squares, and one red streak / lies in the west, over the ridge.” In “Scarlet Tanager,” the bird in the tree provides “the red touch green / cries out for.” In “A Gray Thought,” “a dark thick green” is “laid in layers on / the spruce …” And so on. Touches, layerings: color as paint, natural phenomena perceived as art.  

It’s This Line / Here” : Happy Belated to Birthday James Schuyler

This idea of natural phenomena as art and of Schuyler as describing flowers with painting terms and of him doing ekphrastic poems might be a way into my “How I See” ekphrasis project!

march 5/RUN

2.6 miles
2 trails
39 degrees

Sun! Blue skies! Hardly any wind! Wore compression socks while I ran for the first time. I felt fine while I was running and after I stopped, so they must be working (or, at least not not working).

Heard birds. No particular bird, just birds. Earlier, while walking with Scott to our polling station to vote in the primary, I heard a downy woodpecker and blue jays and cardinals. But, just now, running, only Bird.

I know I saw the river, but I can’t remember what it looked like. The leaves on the winchell trail were slippery, the mud up above was not. I thought about my mom a few times — mostly about her prolonged death and how I recently started understanding it as an expression of resistance and rage against cancer and dying too young and “redemption” and the expectation that she should/would be a good girl who died a nice and neat death.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I’ve written before about how I dislike the idea of this Dylan Thomas poem. I’ve changed my mind.

earlier today

A morning of wandering (and some worrying too — not quite panic, but unease, discomfort for no real reason — peri-menopause anxiety?). Began with some thoughts about my mom, who would be 82 today if she were still alive, and a beautiful poem-of-the-day about a daughter’s grief and guilt. Then a skim of an article about W. H. Auden, which led me to his poem, “Musée des Beaux Arts” — an ekphrasis! — and the memory of an amazing, interactive essay about the poem by Elisa Gabbert, which I found and then read. I recall encountering this essay when it first came out, thinking it was great, but not having any interest in studying it. Now, on my dead mom’s birthday and with a new interest in ekphrastic poetry, I was ready for it.

encounters:

Musée des Beaux Arts/ W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

In her wonderful essay about this poem, Gabbert writes:

No matter how familiar a poem is, rereading it always gives me a sense of first encounter, as though I’ve gone back to sleep and re-entered the dream through a different door.

Each time I return to this one, I’ve read a lot of other poems in the interim, which change and expand my reading. But I’ve also done more living, so I understand more about suffering myself. Pain is a kind of wisdom, maybe. As I age, I’m making the poem better.

A Poem (and a Painting) About the Suffering That Hides in Plain Sight/ Elisa Gabbert

Today, reading the first lines — the first stanza-long sentence — almost took my breath away. There it was, what I felt when my mom was dying and dying then dead, that suffering happens in the midst of others’ living their daily, mundane lives. This can lead to indifference, as Gabbert describes Auden as suggesting (he wrote this on the brink of WWII), but it can also lead to relief or acceptance or an expanded understanding of how we are all living and grieving and suffering and eating and walking at any given time. Life is defined by all of those things together, not just one of them. I suddenly thought of some lines from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: Tell me about despair, yours, and I will you mine/Meanwhile, the world goes on.

I could spend the rest of the afternoon trying to find better, more precise and coherent, words to describe what I mean here, but I don’t want to. Maybe future Sara can take it up?

even more fun with medical terms!

I mentioned that I bought compression socks, or compression sleeves: they stop at the ankles, so nothing for the foot. Anyway, I decided to take out my scrabble tiles and try to do something with the letters for compression then compression sleeve.

compression

  • Ms. Ion Corpse
  • Price on moss?
  • O Prim Scones!
  • Poem is scorn
  • Poems r icons

compression sleeve

  • Impress Console Eve
  • Crisp moon sleeves (leftover e)
  • O seem clovers spines
  • Poems never close [is]
  • moon splice verses (leftover e)

feb 19/RUN

5 miles
john stevens’ house
34 degrees

So bright out by the gorge today. Sharp shadows. Clear path. Black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers, construction workers, little kids all chattering. Before I saw the creek, I heard it gushing below me near the falls. Oh — and wild turkeys! A dozen of them pecking the snow just north of locks and dam no. 1.

My favorite part of the run was in minnehaha park near John Stevens’ house, where the serpentine sidewalk — completely cleared and dry — snaked through the grass covered in several inches of untouched snow. O, the sun and the shadows and the curves and the warmer air and the dry paths and the open lungs and humming legs!

an illusion

Glance one: running south on the stretch near 38th street, I noticed something dark and solid up ahead on the trail. A loose dog or wild animal? No.
Glance two: Still staring, the black thing turned into a dark, deep puddle on the road.
Glance three: How could I have mistook this puddle for an animal?
Glance four: Wait — it’s not a puddle, it’s someone’s disembodied legs in dark pants walking on the edge of the path.
Glance five: And their legs are attached to a torso in a light colored (gray? tan? pale blue?) jacket which blended into the sky.
Glance six: Getting closer, I can see a head, some shoes

This illusion is not unusual for me. Mostly, it doesn’t bother me because I am used to it and I have time to figure out what it is I’m seeing. Sometimes, when I don’t have time to look and think and guess, it’s scary and unsettling and dangerous.

Found an interview with Andrew Leland from Joeita Gupta and The Pulse this morning and wanted to remember this helpful definition of blindness:

The Pulse

What is blindness? Blindness isn’t merely an absence of sight. Blindness is a central identity for some, a neutral or marginal characteristic for others. Not all blind people are the same. There are blind vegetarians, athletes, academics, you name it. Some people have been blind from birth, others lose their vision as adults. Blindness can come on suddenly or gradually. Blindness is then more than a physical experience. It has its own culture, language, and politics. Blindness is not the same for any two blind people anymore than sight is experienced the same way by two sighted individuals.

note: This podcast has some other great episodes, including one about birding while blind, which I added to my May is for the Birds page.

How I See

I’m continuing to work on my alt-text/ekphrastic image project. Still trying to figure out the best way into the actual poems. Not quite writer’s block, but a grasping, grappling with, wrangling ideas. Anyway, maybe detouring will help a little. I’d like to gather lines from vision poems that describe how I see. I’ll begin with one of the most well-known blind poets, Jorge Luis Borges:

 In Praise of Darkness / Jorge Luis Borges

Old age (the name that others give it)
can be the time of our greatest bliss.
The animal has died or almost died.
The man and his spirit remain.
I live among vague, luminous shapes
that are not darkness yet.
Buenos Aires,
whose edges disintegrated
into the endless plain, has gone back to being the Recoleta, the Retiro,
the nondescript streets of the Once,
and the rickety old houses
we still call the South.
In my life there were always too many things.
Democritus of Abdera plucked out his eyes in order to think:
Time has been my Democritus.
This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
it flows down a gentle slope,
resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
women are what they were so many years ago,
these corners could be other corners,
there are no letters on the pages of books.
All this should frighten me,
but it is a sweetness, a return.
Of the generations of texts on earth
I will have read only a few–
the ones that I keep reading in my memory,
reading and transforming.
From South, East, West, and North
the paths converge that have led me
to my secret center.
Those paths were echoes and footsteps,
women, men, death-throes, resurrections,
days and nights,
dreams and half-wakeful dreams,
every inmost moment of yesterday
and all the yesterdays of the world,
the Dane’s staunch sword and the Persian’s moon,
the acts of the dead,
shared love, and words,
Emerson and snow, so many things.
Now I can forget them. I reach my center,
my algebra and my key,
my mirror.
Soon I will know who I am.

penumbra: shroud, fringe, a shaded region surrounding the dark portion of a sunspot, in an eclipse the partially illuminated space between full shadow and light

Here are a few lines that I think describe how I see:

This penumbra is slow and does not pain me;
it flows down a gentle slope,
resembling eternity.
My friends have no faces,
women are what they were so many years ago,
these corners could be other corners

A slow, gentle deterioration. No dramatic or sudden shifts. / When I look at people directly, I usually can’t see their faces. / I either see a smudge or darkness or the face I remember from before, when I could see. / sharp edges or corners are difficult to see and streets once familiar are strange. Traveling to a new street corner, I struggle to read signs, to recognize where I am, everything there but not, everything the same forms: Building, Sign, Door

feb 18/RUN

5.8 miles
down the franklin and back
31 degrees

A little icy, a little windy, a little crowded. Difficult to run together in these conditions, so Scott and I split up. The sun was bright and I saw some wonderful shadows of trees — gnarled and sprawling across the sky. Heard some geese, smelled some bacon.

When we ran together, Scott and I talked about the half frozen river and how it looked like a gray slushy. What flavor is gray slushy, I wondered. Scott suggested, all the flavors then added, I bet that would taste good. I wondered if this “everything” slushy would include blueberry. No, Scott said, blue raspberry. I mentioned how there is no consensus on the origins of the rasp in raspberry, which I had come across while reading a past entry a few days ago.

How I See

As I continue to work on this project, I want to return to ekphrastic poems. In an article for Lithub — Back to School for Everyone: Ekphrastic Poetry with Victoria Chang — Chang offers some helpful thoughts about the form:

how poets engage with visual art:

  • write about the scene or subject being depicted in the artwork
  • write in the voice of the person or object represented
  • write about their personal experiences
  • fictionalizing a scene within the art
  • write about the work in the context of its socio-political history

In essence, ekphrastic poems are a way to interact with the world and a way to respond to the world. The process of writing ekphrastic poetry also brings into question aspects of viewing, the culture of viewing, and the gaze, always asking the questions of who is looking at what, when, and why?

3 thoughts about Ekphrasis

1: I’m as interested in how someone is looking as who, what, when, or why they are looking.

2: Maybe part of the ekphrasis angle is the idea that sometimes the world looks like a painting to me — pointillism or abstract expressionism or?

3: the contrast between how a photo captures/stills the image in a way that my eyes never can

A view from the ford bridge, poorly framed. Not sure what color other people might see here, but to me it's all gray: light gray sky and river, broken up by chunks of dark gray trees. I like how the sky and the river look almost the same color to me.
8 nov 2023

original description: A view from the ford bridge, poorly framed. Not sure what color other people might see here, but to me it’s all gray: light gray sky and river, broken up by chunks of dark gray trees. I like how the sky and the river look almost the same color to me.

5 nouns/ 5 adjectives/ 5 verbs

nouns: river, water, shore, trees, sky, branches, a bend, surface
adjectives: winding, scraggly, soft, fuzzy, drab, dark, light, gray, wide, flat, contrast, wide
verb: stretching, reaching, standing, stilled, separated, cutting through,\

one sentence about the most important thing in image: The sky and the river are the same color; only the disruption of trees enables me to distinguish between them.

a second sentence about the second most important thing: Everything gray: light gray sky and river, broken up by chunks of dark gray trees.

a third sentence about the third most important thing: In this soft, wide open view, when everything is stilled, silent, nothing is happening.

The nothing that’s happening in this image is full of meaning. Here nothing = no things are doing anything/ nothing to see; nothing = a void, absence, unknowingness; nothing = a rest for my eyes, no movement, everything still, satisfied, stable.

The idea of no separation, no edges or divisions between forms, reminds me of a wonderful poem that I thought I’d posted already, but hadn’t. I think when I first encountered it a few years ago, it didn’t resonate for me. Now, I want to call out, yes!, with almost every line.

Monet Refuses the Operation/ Lisel Muller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.