feb 17/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 2.25 miles
outside: 9 degrees/ feels like -1

Started the next episode of Dickinson. It’s about death, the eclipse and Emily’s growing affection for her father’s law clerk who is definitely going to die (looked up ED on wikipedia and yep, he dies of tuberculosis). I know a bit of her biography, but I hadn’t remember this guy. According to wikipedia he was a mentor but not likely a love interest. Oh and almost forgot to mention: in the last episode Louisa May Alcott comes over for Christmas dinner; she’s visiting another family and they bring her along to the dinner. The show depicts her as a badass hustler whose primary motivation for writing seems to be money and independence. And, she’s a runner! When she finds out Emily’s a writer, she invites her out for a run before dinner. I wondered if this were true, so I googled it. Yes, Alcott was a runner! Nice. Lousia and Emily ran through the fields holding up their skirts.

About 15 minutes into the episode, I got an alert that I needed to log back into my account to keep watching. Decided to stop and move onto running. Before I ran, I listened to myself reciting my latest poem. Another mood ring: incurable. Then, as I ran, I listened to a little more of Wintering and a playlist.

My mood ring poem, Incurable, is about how my eye disease does not have a cure and how I’m okay with that and it’s a response to my frustration with the well-meaning suggestions by others to go to more doctors and keep searching for a cure. My frustration is mostly irritation and annoyance: Both doctors I have talked to and all of the research I have done clearly states that there is currently no cure for cone dystrophy. Subjecting myself to more tests is exhausting and expensive without decent insurance. And, even if there were a cure it would be experimental and prohibitively expensive. Knowing myself and what I need (and what I can afford), this is not a good idea. Yet, when people refuse to believe me when I say there isn’t a cure and encourage me to keep looking, it plants the smallest seed of doubt–am I giving up? Not trying hard enough? I am not and I didn’t ask for advice. Instead of getting angry, I am writing this poem. Here’s my current draft of the main poem:

No cure. That firm sentence brings relief not despair. No terrible trips to countless doctors. No invasive treatments. No experimental implants. No big needles injected into eye balls. No difficult discussions about how much “good” vision is worth. No energy squandered. Everything devoted to adapting experimenting exploring new forms of delight. Someday there may be a way to repopulate the vacant city of my macula. But not now. Acceptance is not weakness but strength. Strength is not a hardening but a softening. And diminished vision is not a death sentence but a door into other worlds. Put back that sugar and salt. Pack away the preservatives. I do not need to be cured.

A few days ago, after the latest encounter with well-intention nudges from people who love me very much, I decided to free-write about my mood. I wrote down: “No cure. Cured, curing. Cured like bacon.” Yes! I started thinking about the different meanings of cure–to heal + preserve meat, fruit, vegetables + embalming/preserving the body. The word incurable came to me. Then I started thinking of fitting phrases, like “incurable optimist” and “incurable romantic.” And definitions: stubborn, irredeemable, incorrigible. And a passage I read in Georgina Kleege’s Sight Unseen about sighted people’s fear of blindess/vision loss:

The belief that human experience, both physical and mental, is essentially visual, and that any other type of experience is necessarily second rate, leads to the conclusion that not to see is not to experience, not to live, not to be. At best, the sighted imagine blindness as a state between life and death, an existence encased in darkness, an invisible coffin (30).

Incurable is my current mood. While I ran, I came up with an additional line (I do not need to be cured) that really helps the poem. This delighted me and made me happy to be able to write and to run and to use these activities to work through difficult moods.

a moment of sound

Went out into the backyard for my moment of sound. It’s snowing light fluffy flakes. Our crabapple tree is loaded with apples and birds–at least a dozen, at one point. I guess they’re too busy eating to sing. Silently, they feast on the fruit. Looked it up and I’m pretty sure they are robins. Also read that cedar waxwings and cardinals like to feast on crabapples in the winter. Notable sounds: crunching snow, a barking dog, a clanging fence, softly falling snow.

feb 17, 2021

feb 16/BIKERUN

bike: 32 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement
outside: 5 degrees/ feels like 5

Stayed on the bike to watch an entire episode of Dickinson. At one point, during their Christmas Eve celebration, Sue starts singing “In the Bleak Midwinter” and I was struck by the lyrics. Looked it up and it was originally a poem by Christina Rossetti. Gustav “the planets” Holst set it to music. Nice. Not sure I have heard this before. Looked it up on spotify and most of the versions were either instrumental or big choirs. So many versions; I guess because it’s a traditional Christmas song. I don’t really care for the whole poem but I love the first stanza. What a great description of midwinter:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Speaking of descriptions of winter, Katherine May provides some excellent ones in the chapter I listened to as I ran (November). If I had the written version, I could look them up. But listening to it while I was running made it hard to hang onto the words. I also liked May’s discussion of Halloween and rituals around death. One thing I remember her saying that struck me was wanting to reread a ghost story that was eerie and not horrific. I like that distinction and thinking about ghost stories that are mysterious, strange, uneasy (eerie) instead of terrifying, shocking, dreadful (horror). As I write this, I am remembering a few of her descriptions of winter: each blade of grass separated and visible with frost; the clear, sharp edges of the leaves. This prompted by mind to wander. I thought about how I can’t ever see that amount of detail. Everything is always fuzzy, smudged, in italics. Winter branches are not sharp and hard and distinct, but fuzzy and soft, gently blending with the sky, especially at dusk. After that, my mind kept wandering and I had an idea, which I spoke into my phone:

notes while running, 16 feb 2021

The idea: check my blind spot again against the wall and retrace it. Assuming that it had changed, use this new shape for a new set of mood ring poems. I could keep doing this until the blind ring becomes a spot–whenever that is.

a moment of sound

A few hours after my run, I took Delia out for a walk on this warmer (9 degrees) day. I guess it felt a little warmer, but it was still very cold on my face.

feb 16, 2021

feb 14/BIKERUN

bike: 27 minutes
run: 2.25 miles
basement
outside temp: -5 degrees/ feels like -21

Colder today than yesterday. More time in the basement, more watching Dickinson and listening to Wintering. The Dickinson episode was about her father’s election, entering a poetry competition, Austen digging up a dead body in the cemetery to make room for Sue to be buried next to him, and the circus. Perhaps my favorite part of the episode is when Lavinia and her “friends”/the popular girls are having a slumber party and sitting around knitting and discussing the election and the need to abolish slavery. At one point Lavinia praises the most popular girl, “You’re so woke!” What a fabulous fantasy.

Listened to some more of Wintering and recorded a few thoughts while I ran:

notes while running/ 14 feb 2021

I wonder if she will discuss the need to address and change some of the harmful structures/habits that demand our wintering? Yes, I think there will always be times in our lives when we need to retreat/winter. And some of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is a given part of work–natural? like the seasons. But not all of it is or should be inevitable. I’m assuming these questions will be addressed at some point. For now, I’m enjoying listening to it.

a moment of sound

14 feb 2021/ feels like -35

This is what feels like 35 below sounds like. Took this recording on my back deck at 9am. Lots of birds, the rumble of the garbage disposal inside, the scraping of a shovel on the icy deck, feet pressing down on crusty snow.

feb 13/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement
outdoor temp: -5 degrees/feels like -19

Another arctic blast of a day. Looking at the dark sky weather app, it will be this cold for another week. Oh well. Finished the Dickinson episode I started yesterday. The poem she is trying to finish as she pretends to be sick is one of my favorites, and one of the first of hers that I memorized: “tell all the truth but tell it slant” Not sure how this poem fits with the episode. I enjoyed watching the second half today. After finding out she is going to die, both parents visit Emily’s room separately for confession. Her mom confesses that she never wanted to have children and Emily dying reinforces that belief: “no person should have to go through this, burying a child!” Then she collapses on the bed with such excess it made me laugh. Then her father confesses that he got drunk one night in college and slept with another women, even as he was engaged to her mom. I thought about how this version of Emily is the vision of the director and I wondered if she had lots of fantasies as a kid about how upset people would be if she died–“I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry when I’m gone!” I never had those fantasies but I know some others who have–I have a kid who does. I also thought about how, even as the director’s vision doesn’t resonate for me, I appreciate how fully and openly and unapologetically she embraces it. She’s not pretending it’s anything less than her highly particular vision.

While running, I listened to my latest audio book, which I’m really enjoying: Wintering by Katherine May. Here’s how she describes wintering:

There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world and sometimes they open up and you fall through into somewhere else. Somewhere else runs at a different pace to the here and now where everyone else carries on. Somewhere else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere else exists at a delay so that you can’t quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already resting on the brink of somewhere else anyway, but now I fell through as simply and discretely as dust shifting through the floorboards. I was surprised to find I felt at home there. Winter had begun. Everybody winters at one time or another. Some winter over and over again. Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.

About 3/4s of the way through my run, I had to stop listening (but kept running) to record some of my thoughts about the book so far. In sum: Even as she envisions wintering as something to embrace she understands winter as awful and unwelcome, a struggle with the miserable cold. But I love winter and the cold. I like the book but struggle to get past this point.

notes will running 13 feb/ heart rate: 160 bpm

I need to figure out an app to use that records the audio and transcribes it. I should do more of these.

a moment of sound

Sitting at my desk this morning, I started hearing an irritating sound. What was it? Where was it coming from? Realized it was someone’s car alarm in the alley. In the recording you can hear Scott taking–I didn’t warn him I was recording.

feb 13, 2021

After recording my notes, I turned on my Spotify playlist for the last few minutes. Heard “Teenage Dirtbag” again. Favorite line:

Man, I feel like mold
It’s prom night and I am lonely
Lo and behold
She’s walkin’ over to me
This must be fake
My lip starts to shake
How does she know who I am?
And why does she give a damn about me?
I’ve got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby
Come with me Friday, don’t say maybe
I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby, like you

I feel like mold? This line made me smile.

feb 8/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 2.3 miles
basement
outside temp: -2 degrees/ feels like -14

Took Delia the dog for her first walk in a few days. It’s cold, but there’s no wind. Briefly thought about running outside, then decided it was still cold and slippery. Another day in the basement. No Dickinson today; the episode wouldn’t load. Watched a few races instead. Listened to my audio book again while I ran. Running while listening to a book and at a slower pace really helps.

Forgot to mention yesterday: I ran with my shadow. I could see her dark shape on the towel I put on the treadmill to cover the display. We waved to each other. Saw her again today. There’s a lightbulb on the ceiling just above and behind me as I run which casts a shadow, sometimes on the towel, other times on a far wall. I like watching the shadow flicker n front of me, slightly off to my left side.

Found a useful quotation about paying attention and the attention economy via twitter this morning:

Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

Howard Rheingold, read in Attention Shoppers

a moment of sound

When I took Delia out for a walk around noon, there were lots of birds chirping and calling:

Feb 8, 2021

feb 6/BIKERUN

bike: 13 minutes
run: 3.25
basement
outside temp: 0 degrees/ feels like -18

A windy arctic hellscape out there. You don’t even have to feel the air to know it’s cold, you can just look at how bright it is. In Minnesota in the winter: super bright = super cold. It is supposed to be this cold for the next 10 days. Maybe if/when it’s not so bright or windy, I will venture out there.

I did go outside briefly to record my moment of sound:

Feb 6, 2021

This is how crunching, cracking, creaking snow sounds when it -1, feels like -19.

Did a short bike ride while I finished the 3rd, “house party” episode of Dickinson. Slowly, I am appreciating it more and understanding my reactions to it. Here’s a scene that I like and don’t like at the same time:

After their parents leave for an overnight trip to Boston, Emily tells her younger sister Lavinia and older brother Austin: “We need to throw one of our classic Dickinson house parties!”

Austin: This is going to be a disaster.
Emily: Parties are supposed to be disasters Austin. Parties are like shipwrecks. You should emerge from them soaking wet. Out of breath. And helplessly disoriented.

This scene made me laugh. After that, my reaction: no thanks to shipwrecks and getting soaked. I don’t mind the disorientation, but not when it’s the result of such tumult and destruction. Part of me worries I’m too much of a square (while another part of me doesn’t care if I am a square), but more of me is tired of this narrow definition of exuberant passion as reckless, destructive abandon–destructive to self and others. I want to see other ways of being exuberant that aren’t tragic. Not sure that makes sense, but it’s enough for now.

After the bike, I ran while listening to my latest audio book: 8 Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. It’s good. At one point, the narrator (who may or may not be a murderer) reflects on his love for making lists, asking, “Why does everything need to be a list? What compels us to do that?” His answer: lists fill a void, give us meaning. This answer makes me think of Umberto Eco’s interview: We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die. It’s funny that this list discussion came up in the book because right before heading downstairs to work out, I was thinking about lists and why I like them–why do I like them? Here are 3 reasons I quickly wrote in my plague notebook:

Why I Like Lists

  • Easier for me to see (with my fading central vision)
  • Open-ended, always room for another addition to the list
  • They led me back to poetry: I took my first ever poetry class in 2017, even though I was scared of poetry and didn’t think I was really into it, because the title of the class was: Please Add to this List. I loved the class and discovered I loved and needed poetry.

Today (and yesterday) have been fun, creative days. I’m starting to think about connections in my work and how to possibly return to a project I put away right as trimp (which is what I call him now) was beginning his efforts to destroy everything. I have some more ideas about the Undisciplined Dossier and my haunting question: Am I Still a Teacher. More thoughts soon…

feb 5
bike: 32 minutes

Since I didn’t run yesterday, I didn’t do a log entry. Still, I biked and watched Dickinson–the end of episode 2, beginning of episode 3. I also did my hip strengthning exercises, which I’m hoping will help with my weaker left hip. And I recorded my moment of sound.

feb 5, 2021

This is how it sounds when it feels like it is -6. Brr.

feb 2/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

Stayed inside today. Not that cold (about 20 degrees) or snow-covered, just wanted to stay inside. Finally started watching Emily Dickinson on Apple+. So far, I don’t like it and I was planning to ramble on in this log about it as I tried to figure out what bothers me. But, I deleted what I wrote. I’m planning to give the show a few more chances and watch at least 2 more episodes. If, after that, I still don’t like it, I might write something more. I’m glad that, after wanting to watch it for over a year, I finally am. Thinking about this episode and trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it has taken up almost 2 hours of my time–with nothing to show for it.

After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 30 minutes as I listened to an audio book: Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Nice. I didn’t think about anything but what I was listening to–this book features my favorite sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence.

Earlier today, someone tweeted about retinal detachments. I was curious so I looked it up. Signs: you see floaters (like spiders) or flashes of light. I’ve been seeing flashes of light for about 6 months now–not sure how many each day. I don’t think I have a retinal detachment. I think my thinning retina is thinning even more, and might be tearing. This is not unexpected. Luckily it’s not painful, just part of the process of losing my central vision. Every so often, it can feel strange–I’ve been known to call out, “woah, trippy”–but not scary. My first thought: I am so glad that I already know what is happening to me and that I have had 4+ years to adjust to my inevitable vision loss. If these flashes were the first things I noticed and then I looked up retinal detachment, I would be freaking out right now. Instead, it’s good to know what these flashes most likely indicate.

I want to give attention to this flash of light, so I can describe what it looks/feels like to me. Next time it happens, I’ll try to write down some thoughts.

a moment of sound

I recorded today’s moment of sound while out on a walk with Delia. I would have liked to stop so I could record the birds better, but Delia wouldn’t let me. As a result, you can hear Delia’s collar, my footsteps, and my noisy pants. It’s funny how when I was listening, as I was recording, all I could hear were the birds. My brain had completely tuned out the collar and my footsteps/pants. Finally, you can hear the chirping birds and some cawing crows. So many loud crows lately!

Feb 2, 2021

jan 30/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

While I biked in the basement, I watched this great video lecture by a neuroscientist from Harvard, Margaret Livingston about vision and art. Very fascinating–and something I’ll have to watch a few more times before I get it all. Near the beginning she says,

So if you take anything at all away from this talk tonight, please try to remember: Vision is information processing; it is not image transmission. Your visual system does not just transmit an image of the world up to your brain, because there’s nobody up there to look at an image. There’s nothing up there except nerve cells and all they do is either fire or not fire. So seeing is whether some neurons are firing and some neurons are not and what information those cells are extracting by the firing patterns from the pattern of light that lands on your retina.

Yes! Vision is not just using your eyes to see an image that gets transmitted to your brain. Vision is a complex series of processes involving light entering your eye through your cornea then landing on the retina, traveling through the optic nerve to the brain where it is processed not merely reproduced.

During my run I continued listening to the audio book, The Guest List. Wow, the men in this book are terrible; I was actually getting angry and sad about what assholes they are. Despite this, finally, three-quarters of the way through I am invested in listening to the entire thing and finding out how it ends. Whenever I make it to this point in a book where I’m finally hooked even though I had thought about giving up on it several times, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

a moment of sound

On the deck again. Listening to a crow and my neighbors’ scare rods spinning in the wind, sounding like the scratching noise that Voldemort’s soul makes in one of his horacruxes in the last movie. For the first 20 seconds or so, Delia joined me. You can hear her collar clanging, then the door open as she goes back inside. Too cold or boring for her, I guess.

Jan 30, 2021

Note: Working earlier today on some notes about vision, I think I figured out my new project: peripheral vision. So much to think about literally and metaphorically! I was inspired by a line I came up with:

If central vision represents the trees, peripheral vision is the forest. I will never lose the forest, even as the trees fade further away.

jan 28/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

Thought about running outside again this morning but decided that I should run inside where it felt warmer than 0 and so I could listen to my audio book which is due in 8 days. (As usual, all of my books became available from the library at the same time.) Watched a few random races while I biked, then listened to the audio book, The Guest List, while I ran. I’m not quite sure why I keep reading/listening to books in this Ruth Ware/Paula Hawkins type genre: British, murder, troubled past, terribly toxic friends, forced gatherings. Do I even enjoy them? I guess I do a little because I always finish them, but I hate most of the characters: lost, selfish, never having their shit together. Listening to it this morning did help the 32 minutes on the treadmill go by much faster. The first few minutes were difficult as I thought, how can I stay on here for another 28 minutes? But it got easier. It is still easier (and much more fun) to run outside. I think one of my goals for this winter will be to work on my aerobic base (the long, slow miles at a lower heart rate) so that when it gets warmer and the paths are clearer I will be fit enough to run for an hour. Yes! I miss running for longer distances, traveling farther away from my house beside the river. So much more to write about.

how we see: eyes and brain

For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing how vision works, from when light enters the eye and hits the retina and then travels through the optic nerve to the visual cortex and the occipital lobe. So much jargon–names for parts of the cells and the neurons and the areas of the brain, ways of discussing direction (dorsal, medial, ventral). How much do I need (or want) to know about this process? When does it become too much, a distraction? What I find fascinating, from my limited research, is how, even as scientists use their fancy language to name/classify the parts of the brain and what they do, there is so much they can’t name or understand. I am not dismissing the important work that is/has been done on how we see, but I’m drawn to the limits of that language and knowledge. The mysterious parts. It seems like there is a lot that scientists don’t know about how the brain processes images and visual information. I’m basing this last conclusion mainly off of the lack of recent articles (in the last 10 years) on how we see and the conclusion to this article (it’s from 1993 so it’s old, yet I haven’t found many more recent articles):

Let me try to give you a sense of where we are, says Margaret Livingstone, in an effort to assess the status of visual research today. Take form perception. Human beings are very good at it. We recognize contours, faces, words, a lot of really complicated things. What we understand is that in the retinas, the lateral geniculate bodies, and the first layer of the visual cortex, we code for changes in brightness or color. In the next stage, cells become selective for the orientation of the change–that is, they code for contours, or edges. In some places cells select for the length of the contour. Then, if you go up very high, you find cells selective for certain faces. Livingstone pauses. We know remarkably little about what happens in between. It’s frightening how big a gap there is.

The Vision Thing

Instead of understanding these gaps as failures to KNOW, I like to think of them as reminders that seeing/vision is so much more than we can or ever will understand. It is complex and can’t be reduced to the simple, naive idea that our eyes see what’s in the world and then our brain correctly communicates that exact image to us. I am not sure this makes sense, but I have been interrupted several times in writing this entry and I think I lost my train of thought. I’ll keep it in and work on it later.

a moment of sound

Listen to those birds! Right outside my front door. It’s 18 degrees, but sounds like spring.

jan 28, 2021

jan 25/BIKERUN

bike: 24 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

Cold this morning with snow-covered sidewalks. We got about 5 inches of snow on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I thought about running outside, but decided to stay inside to be warm and safe from slippery roads and/or crowded trails. Running inside on the treadmill is a good challenge for me, I think. It helps me to go slower and steadier and to work on pushing through the long minutes of monotony. Plus, I can work on my form and posture. I listened to my audio book (The Mesmerizing Girl) as I ran for just over 30 minutes.

moments of sound

Jan 24, 2021

For yesterday’s moment of sound, Scott and I were on a walk with Delia, right by Howe Elementary. Two sounds dominate: the buzzing/ringing of the furnace at the school (I think it’s the furnace) and the shshshshshing or crushcrushcrushing or thrashing? of my snow pants as I walk. We passed some kids playing on a mound of snow. I wish my phone would have done a better job of picking up what the one kid was saying. It was something about a sword and cutting something in half “with my MIND!” I have decided that I need some tips from Scott (the sound expert) on how to record better sound. That might be a goal for February.

Jan 25, 2021

For the majority of this recording, you get to hear the delightfully irritating crunch crack crush of ice breaking under my winter boot as I walk across the driveway. Yesterday this driveway was sheer ice, but Scott sprinkled some salt or sand on it and it melted and refroze in shards overnight. Love this sound! For the last 10 seconds or so, it’s much quieter. If you listen closely, you can hear a bird or two calling out. Today it is cold but sunny, and with the birds chirping and the sun warming my face, it feels like April not January.

Found out about this wonderful poem on twitter yesterday:

Story/ Tiana Clark

with its waterlogged wings spread open,
drying off on a rock in the middle
of a man-made lake after diving for food
and it makes me think about wonder
and it makes me want to pry and stretch
my shy arms open to the subtle summer
wind slicing through the park, sliding
over my skin like a stream of people
blowing candles out over my feathery
body and it makes me think about my
church when I was a kid, and how I
lifted my hands to Jesus, hoping
for surrender, but often felt nothing,
except for the rush of fervent people wanting
to be delivered from their aching, present
pain, and how that ache changed the smell
in the room to money and how I pinched
my face and especially my eyes tighter,
tighter and reached my hands higher—how
I, like the cormorant, stood in the middle
of the sanctuary so exposed and open
and wanted and wanted so much to grasp
the electric weather rushing through
the drama of it all like a shout
in the believer’s scratchy throat.

I don’t go to church anymore, but today
I woke up early and meditated. I closed
my eyes and focused on a fake seed
in my hand and put my hands over
my heart to shove the intention inside
my chest to blossom—I’m still stumbling
through this life hoping for anyone or
something to save me. I’m still thinking
about the cormorant who disappeared
when I was writing this poem. I was just
looking down and finishing a line
and then I looked back up—gone.

What a wonderful poem! I’d like to read this next to Mary Oliver’s “The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, But the Attention that Comes First

Reading this poem, I was not familiar with the cormorant, so I looked it up. Here’s a great site: Cool Cormorants, and Little known facts about one of nature’s feathery fisherman

  • They’re big, the size of a goose, with turquoise eyes.
  • They have matte black feathers and yellow-orange facial skin.
  • They eat a lot of fish–about 1 lb a day.
  • Their feathers are not waterproof, so their wings become water-logged.
  • They’re excellent swimmers and divers, but don’t look like it. Their water-logged wings make them look awkward.
  • They don’t fly as well as they swim (because: short wings), expending the most energy of any flying bird.
  • They regurgitate pellets–like owls–made up of undigested fish bones and animal parts.

jan 23/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 5K
basement

Unless I get out the door early, I don’t like running outside on the weekends. Too crowded on paths already narrowed by snow and ice. So I biked and ran in the basement. Watched the HOKA 100k challenge live online as Jim Walmsley tries to break the world record for 100K (currently held by Japan’s Nao Kazami 6:09:14/ 5:56.5 mile pace for 62.2 miles). Good god. Almost 5 hours in, he’s still holding on, running with blood on his shoulder–he clipped his shoulder on the edge of a fence early into the race. Hard core. Then I listened to my audio book as I ran. I decided to do a relaxed 5k. It’s getting easier to run longer on the treadmill. It will never be as fun or inspiring or invigorating as being outside, but it’s still the chance to move and not feel trapped in my restless body.

Before I starting working out, I memorized Emily Dickinson’s “Snow flakes,” partly because it’s supposed to snow later today. Such a fun little poem! I learned that this poem is only 1 of 3 (out of 1780) poems that Dickinson titled. Cool.

Snow flakes/ Emily Dickinson

I counted til they danced so
their slippers leaped the town —
and then I took a pencil
to note the rebels down —
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig —
And ten of my most stately toes
are marshalled for a jig!

I love the energy and the surrender to the delight of falling snow and her word choices: jolly, resign the prig, stately toes, marshalled a jig.

a moment of sound

Playing with Delia in the backyard, walking up the deck steps, then opening the door to let her in the house. I hear a few birds as the snow begins to fly on this cold (20 degrees/feels like 10) afternoon.

jan 23, 2021

jan 21/BIKERUN

bike: 24 minutes
run: 2.1 miles
basement

I guess I’m turning into a wimp this winter because the sidewalks looked uneven and icy and the wind was howling, so I decided to stay inside and work out in the basement. Actually, I think it has less to do with being a wimp, and more to do with it being harder to run in the road and the sidewalks than on the river road trail and harder to avoid people and harder to stay motivated to run outside when I can’t see the river or the gorge. That’s okay. I don’t mind running inside a bit more this month–hopefully just this month.

Watched some races while I biked, and listened to an audiobook, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, for the first half of my run. For the second half, I listened to a playlist and recorded video of my running. With my right knee prone to subluxations and my left hip and lower back often sore, it’s helpful to study my form. I think I need to do a better job of setting up the camera–either that or I really hunch over with my shoulders. Maybe I should try checking my form from the side too? It’s fascinating to me how, over almost my 10 years of running, I’m slowly learning how to accept and take care of my aging body. Oftentimes it sucks to have to worry about all of these aches and pains, but it is also very helpful and satisfying to learn how to work with my body instead of being afraid of its failures.

a moment of sound

I recorded today’s moment of sound on my driveway, back near the alley, in a spot sheltered from the wind. It was very windy. The loud whooshing sounds are not traffic but the wind rushing through the trees. If you listen carefully, you can hear wind chimes (my favorite) and water dripping off of the eaves on my garage (not my favorite). At one point, there’s a pop or a creak or a crack–some siding or wood fence contracting.

Jan 21, 2021

THINGS TO DO/ James Schuyler

Balance checkbook.
Rid lawn of onion grass.
“this patented device”
“this herbicide”
“Sir, We find none of these
killers truly satisfactory.  Hand weed
for onion grass.”  Give
old clothes away, “such as you
yourself would willingly wear.”
Impasse.  Walk three miles
a day beginning tomorrow.
Alphabetize.
Purchase nose-hair shears.
Answer letters.
Elicit others.
Write Maxine.
Move to Maine.
Give up NoCal.
See more movies.
Practice long-distance dialing.
Ditto gymnastics:
The Beast with Two Backs
And, The Fan.
Complain to laundry
any laundry.  Ask for borrowed books back.
Return
junk mail to sender
marked, Return to Sender.
Condole.  Congratulate.
” . . . this sudden shock . . . “
” . . . this swift surprise . . . “
Send. Keep.  Give.  Destroy.
Brush rub polish burn
mend scratch foil evert
emulate surpass.  Remember
“to write three-act play”
and lead “a full and active life.”

-from Collected Poems

I love lists. Making them, reading them, turning them into poetry. I think I’d like to write another series of lists.

nov 24/RUN

2.5 miles
around the neighborhood + tunnel of trees
34 degrees
97% humidity

Dark, damp, deserted. Not desolate because I didn’t find it gloomy or bleak, just empty. Ran through the tunnel of trees, encountering only oneperson. I’m noticing that everyone is more careful lately; giving lots of space to others. On the way to the tunnel, noticed the old stone steps were blocked off for the winter. Even so, someone was running up them as I went by. Did they run back down them? It seemed like they might. Running west on 38th, I suddenly heard loud music off to my side–now I can’t remember what the song was even though I know it–which freaked me out: a person singing along with a radio, about to leave their house and turn onto the sidewalk. Glad they didn’t run into me–that scenario is a Covid nightmare for me.

Let the transition begin! So happy and relieved to hear the news last night that Biden can finally move forward.

oct 30/RUN

3.25 miles
turkey hollow
31 degrees

I love this weather for running! Right around freezing. Not much wind. Clear paths. No rain or snow or ice. Ran south on the river road trail, listening to an audio book. Near 42nd, I heard a wedge of geese honking as they flew south to my right, and a playground of kids, yelling and laughing to my left. Which was louder? Not sure. Ran by those same kids again later as I ran north. So loud–there’s no way they were wearing masks and I doubt they were keeping distance from each other. Is that safe?

Ran past turkey hollow looking for the turkeys. All of sudden, there they were. 7 or 8 of them bunched together in someone’s yard. So close to me. They gobbled and started running a little as I passed by. Nice!

Admired the river again. A wide open view.

The Friday before the election. Woke up this morning and made the mistake of scrolling through twitter and finding some tweets about how violent it might get if Trump loses. How worried should I be about this?

Thankfully twitter isn’t all bad. I only go on it because of the poetry people and all their posts about poems. Here’s one I found just now. I love the first stanza:

Black Cat/ Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875-1926

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

A ghost, though invisible, is still like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear

oct 29/RUN

3.2 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river road trail, south/edmund, north
33 degrees

A nice run on a windy, gray morning. Still a few patches of snow on the grass. Most of the leaves off the trees. Everything brown and golden and rusty red and burnt orange. I love this time of year. Late fall. Everything almost bare but not yet covered in snow. Clear views of the river. Noticed my favorite late fall view, just past the oak savanna. Beautiful. I don’t remember seeing any bikers, just walkers and runners and one roller skier getting ready to start skiing up the hill on Edmund. No dogs or squirrels or coyotes.

Running past a modern house on Edmund–the house that was built last year on the extra lot next to a huge traditional 1980s-style house that was on the market for over a year but didn’t sell because it was too big and outdated and expensive (asking over a million)–I noticed some loud noises and white powder or smoke or something coming from the garage. Then I ran by a truck with the words “concrete specialists” on it and I guessed they were doing something with concrete. Maybe a poured concrete countertop? I hope so. I’d like one of those.

Listened to an audio book–The Alchemist’s Daughter–so I didn’t think about much or hear hardly anything except the narrator. Briefly I thought about how dreamy everything looks, all fuzzy and out of focus as I run. Partly because of the light, partly the motion, but mostly my vision. I want to write about this as a mood–dreamy? fuzzy? blurry? I was thinking I’d like to incorporate the line from a Diane Seuss poem, “the world italicized.”

Only a few days until Halloween and then election. Can it please be over? Can we please start trusting science and doctors and thinking again?

oct 8/RUN

2.15 miles
a few loops by the river
46 degrees

A shorter run this morning. I took Edmund to the river road and then did a few loops. I listened to an audiobook, Circe by Madeline Miller. Encountered at least one roller skier, several strollers, some dogs and their owners. A nice morning but so bright that I couldn’t see much–not because the sun was in my eyes but because of my failing vision. Felt like I was in a daze. I don’t remember noticing the river or any squirrels. No brightly shirted runners or speeding bikes blasting music. No yellow-vested workers digging holes for high-speed internet. No energetic, bare-footed boys racing me as I run up the hill.

Today’s October Surprises

Today’s first surprise is from last night’s walk with Scott. We saw an albino squirrel running across the road, looking like a rat or a mouse instead of a squirrel. Part of the surprise was that it was an albino squirrel, such a bright white!, and part of it was that I could see it at all, moving so fast, not giving me much time to focus my remaining cones. I’m always in awe of my ability to still see things.

The second surprise was also from yesterday: a northern cardinal drinking from Delia’s water dish on the deck while RJP and I sat in the yard, enjoying the sun. For at least a minute it drank and chirped, as we tried not to move or breathe too loudly so we could watch it.

excerpts from Corsons Inlet/ A. R. Ammons

the walk liberating, I was released from forms,   
from the perpendiculars,
      straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends   
               of sight:

There’s a lot I love about this poem but it was too long to post the whole thing. I picked this bit because I love how he describes his walk as a release from rigid forms. As the poem continues, he suggests that there are forms (formless forms) but that they are not closed or fixed:

I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,   
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
          from outside: I have
          drawn no lines:

But the lack of conclusion and clear boundaries doesn’t mean there is no order:

in nature there are few sharp lines: there are areas of   
primrose
       more or less dispersed;
disorderly orders of bayberry; between the rows
of dunes,

The order that you encounter during a walk near the sea (or by the gorge) takes a different form that can’t be fully grasped by our logic:

by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek   
to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
       change in that transition is clear
       as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,   
allowed to occur over a wider range
than mental lines can keep:

march 10/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
33 degrees

According to my weather app, the wind was 1 mph. Nice! Turned right when I reached the river and was able to run on the walking path the whole way even when it separated from the biking path. I’m trying to finish an audio book (Pachinko) before the loan ends later today, so I listened to that instead of the gorge. Noticed the river. Open and beautiful. Can’t remember if it was sparkling. The falls were gushing. Not too many people on the path. Below me, the Winchell trail looked mostly clear. The oak savanna looked bare and open–they’ve trimmed back and removed a lot of the trees down there. I remember hearing the chainsaws this past fall. Anything else? Feel like I have a slight cold so it was a little more difficult to run.

Feeling slightly stressed out about the corona virus, unsure whether I’m worrying too much or not enough. I’m appreciating Lynda Barry’s instagram posts about it, like this one:

View this post on Instagram

March 9, 2020

A post shared by Lynda Barry (@thenearsightedmonkey) on

And this one:

dec 10/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
4 degrees/feels like -12
100% snow-covered

Yes, -12 feels cold but today felt even colder than that. Tried out some hand warmers in my gloves. I guess they worked. It snowed so little yesterday that they didn’t bother to plow–at least an inch of snow covering the path, one narrow-ish strip of it packed down. The wind was in my face heading north, which wasn’t fun, but then at my back heading south, which was. Only the crazy-for-winter fools were out here today. I encountered one fat tire and one other runner besides me. We had the path to ourselves–one of the big advantages of winter running. Noticed that the river is icing over. The path was snow-covered but not icy or slippery. I could hear it crunchy delightfully over the noise of my audio book.

Layers: I was almost too warm at one point. Felt bulky in my 2 pairs of gloves + 2 shirts + vest + jacket + 2 pairs of tights + 2 pairs of socks + buff + hat + sunglasses.

Happy Birthday Emily Dickinson!

It’s all I have to bring today (26)
Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Today I brought my heart, and my legs, and my lungs, and the crunching snow, and the river, and the bright white solitude of an almost empty path.

dec 4/RUN

3.2 miles
ford bridge and back again
34 degrees
15% snow-covered

Ran to the river and turned right instead of left today, heading towards the falls. So much sun. Encountered several walkers, a few runners. Any bikers? The river was sparkling, much prettier today. The bike path was mostly clear of snow, the walking path was not. Encountered a group of walkers taking up the entire path and refusing to move at all. I actually had to stop moving as they approached me. Finally the guy realized I was there and moved over a little. After I turned around, catching up to them again, I had to call out “excuse me” 2 or 3 times before they moved. Surprisingly, I was not mad at all. I wish I could be this chill about path hoggers all the time.

I just discovered a wonderful book (and project) from Georges Perec, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place. A wonderful inspiration for my running beside the gorge. In his brief introduction he writes:

My intention in the pages that follow was to describe the rest instead: that which is generally not taken not of, that which is not noticed, that which which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.

what happens when nothing other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds?

Cherry blossoms
Toi Derricotte – 1941-

I went down to
mingle my breath
with the breath
of the cherry blossoms.

There were photographers:
Mothers arranging their
children against
gnarled old trees;
a couple, hugging,
asks a passerby
to snap them
like that,
so that their love
will always be caught
between two friendships:
ours & the friendship
of the cherry trees.

Oh Cherry,
why can’t my poems
be as beautiful?

A young woman in a fur-trimmed
coat sets a card table
with linens, candles,
a picnic basket & wine.
A father tips
a boy’s wheelchair back
so he can gaze
up at a branched
heaven.
All around us
the blossoms
flurry down
whispering,

Be patient
you have an ancient beauty.

Be patient,
you have an ancient beauty.

No cheery blossoms for a long time, but I couldn’t resist posting this beautiful poem and its description of a place and a relationship. Oh Cherry Blossom, why can’t my poems be as beautiful? I love the answer: be patient.

nov 19/RUN

6.1 miles
flats turn around
39 degrees

Gloomy and humid. Greeted the Daily Walker. Encountered some squirrels. Admired the tree tunnel and the forest floor. Noticed the seeping water on the limestone cliffs near the U in the flats. All frozen. Ice patches everywhere. Almost looked like raindrops were falling on the river but I didn’t feel them on my skin. Saw some geese hanging out in the park. Ended near the tall boulder. Whatever was on top of it was still there–I think it’s a hat, not a dead animal. It’s always interesting what I see through my cone dystrophy eyes.

Happiness
BY JANE KENYON

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

nov 14/RUN

6.5 miles
river road, south/falls/minnehaha creek/lake nokomis
30 degrees
30-40% snow-covered

Ran over to Lake Nokomis for the first time in a while. Ran straight into the wind for most of it. The path was slick in spots. Will this small bit of snow ever go away or it will just keep melting during the day, then re-freezing at night? Some annoying squirrels almost got in my way. Pretty sure I spotted an albino squirrel on the creek path between the duck bridge and the echo bridge. No ice on the creek but the lake was covered with snow. When I reached the lake, I met Scott and ran around it with him. He pointed out how the snow illuminated a narrow crack in the ice that spanned the entire lake. Strange looking out at the water as we ran, so many trees have been cut down–the view here too clear, too exposed. For most of the day it was sunny, but during my run it was gray. Felt like January.

Hardly a month left in this decade and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in the past ten years. So much of it is documented on my many virtual spaces and in my notebooks. Might be fun to read through it all.

I love Maggie Smith’s poetry. So many beautiful ideas and images. The hum as an appliance inside of us, then as the soul. So cool.

The Hum/maggie smith

It’s not a question
without the mark: How do we live
with trust in a world that will continue

to betray us. Hear my voice
not lift at the end. How do we trust
when we continue to be betrayed.

For the first time I doubt
we’ll find our way back. But how
can we not. See how the terminal

mark allows a question
to dress as statement and vice versa.
Sometimes if I am quiet and still,

I can hear a small hum inside me,
an appliance left running.
Years ago I thought it was coming

from my bones. The hum
kept me company, and I thought
thank god for bones, for the fidelity

of bones—they’ll be there
until the end and then some.
Now what. How to continue.

I’ve started calling the hum the soul.
Today I have to hold
my breath to hear it. What question

does it keep not asking
and not asking, never changing
its pitch. How do I answer.

nov 13/RUN

4.9 miles
franklin bridge turn around
24 degrees/light snow

Warmer today. Paths completely snow covered. Not slippery yet, just crunchy. Hooray for crunching, compacting snow. Such a delightful sound! Falling from the sky, the snow shimmered–or did it sizzle? scratch? lightly tap? Whatever it did, it generated a lovely sound. The snow illuminated the paths in the woods. The mystery of where and when the Winchell trail begins or ends near the Franklin bridge is solved! Finally, I can see how the trail enters the wood below the bluff and hugs the rim. Also saw the path that winds through the forest beneath the tree tunnel. Noticed snow on the tall, slender boulder, partly covering the cairn on top. Felt the snow pelting my eyelashes. Stopped at the overlook and admired how wintery and cold and desolate the river looked today. Smelled the sewer. Avoided the frantic squirrels. Greeted the Daily Walker. Today is one of my favorite kinds of winter runs!

This poem!!

Usage
BY HAYAN CHARARA

An assumption, a pejorative, an honest language,
an honorable death. In grade school, I refused to accept
the mayor’s handshake; he smiled at everyone except
people with names like mine. I was born here.
I didn’t have to adopt America, but I adapted to it.
You understand: a man must be averse to opinions
that have adverse impacts on whether he lives
or dies. “Before taking any advice, know the language
of those who seek to advise you.” Certain words
affected me. Sand nigger, I was called. Camel jockey.
What was the effect? While I already muttered
under my breath, I did so even more. I am not
altogether sure we can all together come. Everything
was not all right. Everything is not all right.
Imagine poetry without allusions to Shakespeare,
Greek mythology, the Bible; or allusions without
the adjectives “fanatical,” “extremist,” “Islamic,”
“right,” “left,” “Christian,” “conservative,” “liberal.”
Language written or translated into a single tongue
gives the illusion of tradition. A lot of people murder
language—a lot fully aware. Among all the dead,
choose between “us” and “them.” Among all the names
for the dead—mother, father, brother, sister,
husband, wife, child, friend, colleague, neighbor,
teacher, student, stranger—choose between
“citizen” and “terrorist.” And poet? Immoral,
yes, but never amoral? Large amounts, the number
between 75 and 90 percent of the estimated
150 million to 1 billion—civilians—killed during wars,
over all of recorded human history. Anxious is “worried”
or “apprehensive.” American poetry, Americans.
Young, I learned anyone born here could become
President. Older, I can point to any one of a hundred
reasons why this is a lie. Anyway, I don’t want to be
President, not of a country, or club, not here or there,
not anywhere. He said, “I turned the car around because
it began raining bombs.” There’s no chance of ambiguity—
an as here could mean “because” or “when”; it makes
no difference—he saw the sky, felt the ground,
knew what would come next; it matters little
when the heart rate in less than a second jumps from
70 to 200 beats per minute. What they did
to my grandfather was awful—its wretchedness,
awe-inspiring; its cruelty, terrible; it was awfully
hard to forget. Just after 8:46 AM, I wondered awhile
what would happen next. At 9:03 AM, I knew
there was going to be trouble for a while to come.
When in her grief the woman said, “We’re going
to hurt them bad,” she meant to say, “We’re going
to hurt them badly.” For seventeen days, during
air strikes, my grandfather slept on a cot beside
a kerosene lamp in the basement of his house. Besides
a few days worth of pills, and a gallon of water,
he had nothing else to eat or drink. Given these conditions,
none of us were surprised that on the eighteenth day,
he died. Besides, he was eighty-two years old.
I can write what I please. I don’t need to ask, May I?
Like a song: men with capital meet in the Capitol
in the nation’s capital. Any disagreements, censored;
those making them—poets, dissenters, activists—
censured. The aftermath, approximately 655,000
people killed. “The Human Cost of War in Iraq:
A Mortality Study, 2002-2006,” Bloomsburg School
of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore,
Maryland); School of Medicine, Al Mustansiriya University
(Baghdad, Iraq); in cooperation with the Center
for International Studies, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts).
The figure just cited—655,000 dead—resulted from
a household survey conducted at actual sites, in Iraq,
not the Pentagon, or White House, or a newsroom,
or someone’s imagination. Of course, language has been
corrupted. Look, the President, who speaks coarsely,
says, “We must stay the course.” The problem with
“Let your conscience be your guide” is you must first
be aware, conscious, of the fact that a moral principle
is a subjective thing. I wonder: when one “smokes ’em
out of a hole,” if the person doing the smoking
is conscious of his conscience at work. Am I fully conscious
of how I arrived at this? The continual dissemination
of similar images and ideas. The continual aired footage
of planes striking the towers, the towers crumbling
to the streets, dust, screams, a continuous reel of destruction,
fear, as if the attacks were happening twenty-four hours
a day, every day, any time. For a while, I couldn’t care less
about war. Then I saw corpses, of boys, who looked
just like me. This was 1982, at age ten. Ever since,
I couldn’t care less why anyone would want it.
In 1982, any one of those boys could have been me.
Now, it’s any one of those dead men could be me.
The Secretary of State offered such counsel
to the ambassadors of the world that the United Nations
Security Council nodded in favor of war. Criterion
easily becomes criteria. Even easier: to no longer
require either. The data turned out false. The doctrine
of preemption ultimately negated its need. While we
both speak English, our languages are so different from
each other, yours might as well be Greek to me.
When the black man in the park asked, “Are you
Mexican, Puerto Rican, or are you Pakistani?”
and I said, “I’m Arab,” and he replied, “Damn.
Someone don’t like you very much,” I understood
perfectly what he meant. The President alluded
to the Crusades because of (not due to) a lack
of knowledge. Later, he retracted the statement,
worried it might offend the Middle East;
it never occurred to him the offense taken was due to
the bombs shredding them to bits and pieces. “You are
either with us or with the terrorists” (September 20, 2001).
“You’re either with us or against us” (November 6, 2001).
The day after, the disc jockey advocated, on air,
a thirty-three cent solution (the cost of a bullet)
to the problem of terrorists in our midst—he meant
in New York; also, by terrorists, I wonder did he know
he meant cab drivers, hot dog vendors, students, bankers,
neighbors, passersby, New Yorkers, Americans;
did he know he also meant Sikhs, Hindus, Iranians,
Africans, Asians; did he know, too, he meant Christians,
Jews, Buddhists, Atheists; did he realize he was eliciting
a violent response, on the radio, in the afternoon?
Among those who did not find the remark at all illicit:
the owners of the radio station, the FCC, the mayor,
the governor, members of the House, the Senate,
the President of the United States. Emigrate is better
than immigrate. Proof: no such thing as illegal emigration.
Further proof: emigration is never an election issue.
I heard enthusiastic speeches. They hate our freedoms,
our way of life, our this, that, and the other, and so on
(not etc). Not everyone agreed every one not “with us”
was “against us.” Detroit was farther from home
than my father ever imagined. He convinced himself
soon after arriving here he had ventured further
than he should have. Fewer people live in his hometown
than when he left, in 1966. The number, even less,
following thirty-four straight days of aerial bombardment.
First (not firstly) my father spoke Arabic; second
(not secondly) he spoke broken English; third (not thirdly)
he spoke Arabic at home and English at work;
fourth (not fourthly) he refused to speak English
anymore. Not every poem is good. Not every poem
does well. Not every poem is well, either. Nor does
every poem do good. “To grow the economy”
is more than jargon. Can a democracy grow
without violence? Ours didn’t. They still plan to grow
tomatoes this year, despite what was done.
Several men, civilian workers, identified as enemies,
were hanged on a bridge, bodies torched, corpses
swaying in the breeze. Photographs of the dead
were hung with care. I can hardly describe what is
going on. Day after day, he told himself, “I am
an American. I eat apple pie. I watch baseball.
I speak American English. I read American poetry.
I was born in Detroit, a city as American as it gets.
I vote. I work. I pay taxes, too many taxes. I own a car.
I make mortgage payments. I am not hungry. I worry
less than the rest of the world. I could stand to lose
a few pounds. I eat several types of cuisine
on a regular basis. I flush toilets. I let the faucet drip.
I have central air conditioning. I will never starve
to death or experience famine. I will never die
of malaria. I can say whatever the fuck I please.”
Even words succumbed; hopefully turned into
a kind of joke; hopeful, a slur. However, I use the words,
but less, with more care. The President implied
compassion; but inferred otherwise. This is not
meant to be ingenious. Nor is it ingenuous.
The more he got into it, the more he saw poetry,
like language, was in a constant state of becoming.
Regardless, or because of this, he welcomed the misuse
of language. Language is its own worst enemy—
it’s the snake devouring its own tail. They thought
of us not kind of or sort of but as somewhat American.
Lie: “To recline or rest on a surface?” No. “To put
or place something?” No. Depleted uranium, heavy
like lead; its use—uranium shells—led to birth defects.
When in his anger the man said, “We’re going
to teach them a lesson,” I wonder what he thought
they would learn. In a war, a soldier is less likely
to die than a civilian. He looks like he hates our freedoms.
You don’t know them like I do. He looks as if he hates
our freedoms. You don’t know them as I do.
When in his sorrow my father said, “Everybody
loose in war,” I knew exactly what he meant. It may be
poets should fight wars. Maybe then, metaphors—
not bodies, not hillsides, not hospitals, not schools—
will explode. I might have watched the popular sitcom
if not for my family—they were under attack,
they might have died. Others may have been laughing
at jokes while bodies were being torn apart.
I could not risk that kind of laughter. Of all the media
covering war, which medium best abolishes the truth?
I deceive myself. I will deceive you myself. In the Bronx,
I passed as Puerto Rican. I passed as Greek in Queens,
also Brazilian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, even a famous,
good-looking American movie actor. As Iranian
in Manhattan. At the mall in New Jersey,
the sales clerk guessed Italian. Where Henry Ford
was born, my hometown, I always pass as Arab.
I may look like the men in the great paintings
of the Near East but their lives, their ways, I assure you,
are in the past. Plus, except in those paintings,
or at the movies, I never saw Arabs with multiple wives,
or who rode camels, lived in silk tents, drank from
desert wells; moreover, it’s time to move past that.
Did language precede violence? Can violence proceed
without language? It broke my father’s heart
to talk about the principle of equal justice.
The news aired several quotations from the airline
passengers, one of whom was a middle-aged man
with children, who said, “I didn’t feel safe with them
on board.” He used the word “them” though only one,
an Arab, was on the plane. Being from Detroit,
I couldn’t help but think of Rosa Parks.
Then I got angry. I said to the TV, to no one
in particular, “If you don’t feel safe, then you
get off the goddamn plane.” You can quote me
on that. I was really angry—not real angry,
but really angry. The reason? A poet asked me
why I didn’t write poems about Muslim and Arab
violence against others, and I said I did. And then
he said he meant violence against Americans and Israelis,
respectively, and I said I did, and before I could
go on he interrupted to ask why I didn’t write
poems about mothers who sent their sons and daughters
on suicide missions. As if, as if, as if. I respectfully
decline to answer any more questions. Write your own
goddamn poem! Does this poem gratify the physical senses?
Does it use sensuous language? It certainly does not
attempt to gratify those senses associated with
sexual pleasure. In this way, it may not be a sensual poem.
However, men have been known to experience
sexual gratification in situations involving power,
especially over women, other men, life, and language.
My father said, “No matter how angry they make you,
invite the agents in the house, offer them coffee,
be polite. If they stay long, ask them to sit. Otherwise,
they will try to set you straight.” When in his
frustration he said, “Should of, could of, would of,”
he meant, “Stop, leave me alone, I refuse to examine
the problem further.” Because (not since) the terrorists
attacked us, we became more like the rest of the world
than ever before. This is supposed to be a poem;
it is supposed to be in a conversation with you.
Be sure to participate. “No language is more violent
than another,” he said. Then he laughed, and said,
“Except the one you use.” Do conflicts of interest
exist when governments award wartime contracts
to companies that have close ties to government officials?
From 1995 to 2000, Dick Cheney, Vice President
of the United States, was CEO of Halliburton,
which is headquartered in Houston, Texas,
near Bush International Airport. Would they benefit
themselves by declaring war? Please send those men
back home. My grandfather lay there unconscious.
For days, there was no water, no medicine, nothing
to eat. The soldiers left their footprints at the doorstep.
His sons and daughters, they’re now grieving him.
“Try not to make too much of it” was the advice given
after two Homeland Security agents visited my house,
not once, not twice, but three times. I’m waiting for
my right mind. The language is a long ways from here.
After the bombs fell, I called every night to find out
whether my father was alive or dead. He always asked,
“How’s the weather there?” Soon enough, he assured me,
things would return to normal, that (not where)
a ceasefire was on the way. Although (not while)
I spoke English with my father, he replied in Arabic.
Then I wondered, who’s to decide whose language it is
anyway—you, me? your mother, father, books,
perspective, sky, earth, ground, dirt, dearly departed,
customs, energy, sadness, fear, spirit, poetry, God,
dog, cat, sister, brother, daughter, family, you, poems,
nights, thoughts, secrets, habits, lines, grievances,
breaks, memories, nightmares, mornings, faith, desire,
sex, funerals, metaphors, histories, names, tongues,
syntax, coffee, smoke, eyes, addiction, witness, paper,
fingers, skin, you, your, you’re here, there, the sky,
the rain, the past, sleep, rest, live, stop, go, breathe

nov 12/RUN

4 miles
west river parkway, north/south
12 degrees/feels like 0

Day two of the early cold snap. Brr. Liked the fresh & cold air but not how it made my feet feel, like heavy inert blocks of concrete. Saw a squirrel dart across the path in front of me, a biker, a few dogs and their humans, some walkers, bundled up. Thought I heard the clickity-clack of a roller skier but it was just a nail gun across the boulevard–a house getting a new roof. Very windy on the way back south. Felt tired and wanted to stop but convinced myself to keep going. Like most of the time, it got easier. My face burned from the cold. Again, too many layers. Next time I should lose a shirt. My favorite part of the trail–in the tunnel of trees, just above the forest that leads to the river, was bare & beautiful, all the leaves turning into mulch on the ground. Listened to an audiobook and ran in a daze. Couldn’t remember running over parts of the path that I had just crossed a few minutes before–at least 5 minutes where I was able to leave my Self. Cool.

Thinking about form a lot again. Found a YouTube video made in 2014 by a woman with cone dystrophy. She mentioned how her cones are almost all destroyed (just like me) and she relies on her rods. Cones enable us to see fine details, rods outlines of shapes and forms. Yes! I love the forms and shapes at the gorge–I don’t need to see them sharply to appreciate their beauty or to recognize what they are. Had an idea: what if I try to represent those forms/shapes in a poem? It could be concrete poetry or something similar. I really like the book cover for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (I also loved reading the book).

Thinking about simple forms combined with strong, compact language–possibly verbs? Ways in or Finding a Way In or The Way In? Took some pictures of the gorge at my favorite spot for inspiration.

a final thought:

“Matter has potential that is made actual by form” (jane alison).

oct 12/RUN

2 miles
river road, north/south
34 degrees
Snow!

Of course I had to get out and run in the snow. A bit blustery but not too bad. The snow is not sticking to the path or the road but it is staying on the trees. Down below the road, the snow makes some of the trees glow white. Greeted the Daily Walker. Today he’s wearing 2 shirts and gloves, still no jacket. Ran above the lake street bridge and then turned around. Lots of walkers, a few runners. At the end of the run, stopped and looked down at the ravine. Lots of leaves gone, the wrought iron fence below almost visible. No view of the river here.

sept 29/RUN

5 miles
river road, north/south
51 degrees, drizzle

Ran through a light drizzle, which I loved. Wasn’t sure how much I would run when I started, but ended up feeling good and running 5 miles. Listened to an Agatha Christie audio book and didn’t think about much. Perhaps if I had remembered before heading out, I would have tried to conjure my mother to run with me. She died 10 years ago today. 10 years. I had imagined that this day would be a bigger deal, that I’d do something important to mark it. But I’m not. Why not? How has it already been 10 years?

sept 23/RUN

5 miles
franklin hill
60 degrees

Cooler. Is Fall finally here? Sunny. Calm. Some beautiful light purple wildflowers lining the path. Do they come every year? I’ve never noticed them before. Saw the Daily Walker and a roller skier who called out, “you’re going race pace!” Encountered a few annoying strollers taking over the entire path. Did a lot of counting to 4. 1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4. Reached the bottom of the Franklin hill and immediately turned around without noticing the river. Saw more slashes of orange and red in the trees. Thought more about my writing project and how narrow to make the focus.

A Blank White Page
BY FRANCISCO X. ALARCÓN

is a meadow
after a snowfall
that a poem
hopes to cross

What a beautiful way of describing a blank white page. Speaking of blank white pages, this morning I finished writing in my 4th running/training notebook and started the 5th one. Very satisfying to completely fill so many notebooks.

sept 21/RUN

1.5 miles
river road, north/south
76 degrees

I’m writing this log entry the next day so I’m not sure what I remember. Ran a little later in the heat and humidity. Listened to an audio book. Noticed that stones were stacked on both of the boulders just past the welcoming oaks and before the tunnel of trees. More leaves on the ground–a lot of orange this year, which I love.

sept 15/RUN

2.1 miles
2 trails
62 degrees/humidity: 94%!

An organized run took over the path–marathon training. Trots of runners forcing me to aggressively claim my own space on the upper path. Sunny. Humid. Happy to turn down at the 44th street parking lot and take the lower trail. Hardly any traffic. Saw the shining river. Heard the water trickling out of the sewer pipe. Felt my legs getting stronger. Noticed how the leaning tree near the 38th street steps is still leaning. Forgot to check if the yarn is still dangling from it.

Searching for “leaning tree poetry” on google, I found this fabulous poem on the third page of results. This poem! I want to spend some time with it, thinking about knowing and writing and language and experience and how words do and don’t matter.

Learning the Trees
BY HOWARD NEMEROV

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
And their venation—palmate and parallel—
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

sept 13/RUN

4 miles
almost to franklin turn around
59 degrees

Such weird weather. Windy. Sunny then cloudy then misting then sunny again. Cool then warm then cool. Listened to my audio book (Once Upon a River) and avoided slow squirrels sauntering on the path. Felt strong and relaxed. Greeted the Daily Walker. Faintly heard some rowers in the gorge. Stepped on and over acorns and piles of fallen leaves littering the path. Occasionally glanced down at the river. Hard to see through all the green. Even when it was overcast and the sun was hidden, I glowed in my neon yellow 2018 10 mile race t-shirt.

Returning to my haibun route project. Started reading Lorine Niedecker’s Lake Superior for inspiration. Here’s an excerpt:

The journey of the rock is never ended. In every tiny part of any living thing are materials that once were rock that turned to soil. These minerals are drawn out of the soil by plant roots and the plant used them to build leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Plants are eaten by animals. In our blood is iron from plants that draw it out of the soil. Your teeth and bones were once coral. The water you drink has been in clouds over the mountains of Asia and in waterfalls of Africa. The air you breathe has swirled thru places of the earth that no one has ever seen. Every bit of you is a bit of the earth and has been on many strange and wonderful journeys over countless millions of years.

page 7