april 21/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
45 degrees

Sun! Warmth! Spring! Felt much warmer than 45 degrees, at least once I warmed up. I remembering now, as I write this, that I was chilly for the first 10 minutes.

15 Things I Noticed:

  1. there were 3 stones stacked on top of each other on the big boulder heading down into the tunnel of trees
  2. water was dripping or streaming out of the limestone on the st. paul side — I didn’t see it, but heard it
  3. my feet were shshshshshshing as I ran over grit on the edge of the path on the franklin bridge
  4. one laminated notecard was still attached to the railing on the lake street bridge. It was the one I stopped to read last week: “your story doesn’t have to end.” What happened to the others? Why was this the only kept?
  5. at least one runner was wearing shorts
  6. the wind was in my face as I headed north on the west side, at my back heading south on the east side
  7. there were no rowers on the river and no roller skiers on the path
  8. the edge of the paved path was white. I decided it was stained from salt, not covered in lingering ice or snow — too warm
  9. the walking path under the lake street bridge on the east side is still closed off — I think Scott said the path had crumbled there. Can they (will they) fix it?
  10. there was a tree trunk down on the winchell trail that looked like a sitting person, at least to me
  11. the shadow of a bird crossed over me. I looked up but couldn’t see it in the sky
  12. lots of honking geese, sometimes the sound of their honks became indistinguishable from a yelling kid or a moving car
  13. a peloton of 6 or 7 bikes passed me. Their spinning wheels were so loud! Spinning, whirring, rumbling. My sudden thought: how loud the 200+ bikes I see at the bike races I watch must be!
  14. a deep voice off the side, carrying clearly across the road, cutting through everything, almost rattling my skull
  15. the top of a split rail fence at a steep part of the path is missing — how did that happen?

I was planning to do a list of 10, but I kept remembering more things that I noticed. I like this exercise as a way to remember things from my run.

before the run

For every other “before the run” I’ve done, I write it in a saved post before I go out for my run. Today, I was busy reading Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World, and didn’t have time. It takes some time to read and post all of the stuff I’m thinking about before the run. Maybe too much time? Now, after the run, I don’t have much time either, so I’ll keep this brief. Just listing a few things that I read/did before the run:

Finished re-memorizing Katie Farris’s “What Would Root”

Re-visited Farris’s beautiful poem:

In the Event of My Death/ Katie Farris

What used to be
a rope descending
my vertebrae to the basement
of my spine
grows thin.

In solidarity with my chemotherapy,
our cat leaves her whiskers on
the hardwood floor,
and I gather them, each pure white parenthesis
and plant them
in the throat of the earth.

In quarantine,
I learned to trim your barbarian
hair. Now it stands always on end:
a salute to my superior barbary skills. In the event
of my death, promise you will find my heavy braid
and bury it–

I will need a rope
to let me down into the earth.
I’ve hidden others
strategically around the globe, a net
to catch my body
in the wearing.

Thought about nets and this passage from The Mushroom at the End of the World:

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Fungi are diverse and often flexible, and they live in many places, ranging from ocean currents to toenails. But many fungi live in the soil, where their thread-like filaments, called hyphae, spread into fans and tangle into cords through the dirt. If you could make the soil liquid and transparent and walk into the ground, you would find yourself surrounded by nets of fungal hyphae (137).

Thought about imagining the soil was liquid and transparent and then entering it, surrounded by nets of fungal hyphae. What if I could swim in the soil? Swim through these nets of fungal hyphae?

Wondered about networks and the comparisons Tsing describes between fungi networks and the internet (the wood wide web) and the infrastructure of highway systems. What are some key differences between how the internet and highways work?

during the run

Thought about nets and what they do, what they’re for, as I ran. Nets can trap and confine things, like fish, but they can also hold things — carry, hold together, be a container for, not sealed or airtight but open with many holes, ways to breathe. I thought about these nets as loosely holding organisms/selves together without sealing them into a self-contained, separate Subject.

after the run

There’s a lot to ruminate over with entanglement and fungi and mutuality as a starting point instead of competition. I need to sit with all some more, and maybe do some writing around/with a few lines from the book. I’m hoping to turn my thoughts into a poem for an call for work on entanglement.

In my notes in Plague Notebook, Vol 11 I made a list of words related to nets:

  • weave
  • cover
  • crossing, cross over
  • holds things, gathers things
  • tangled
  • knotted
  • a web, a weaving
  • safety net

april 19/RUN

4.75 miles
veterans’ home loop
33 degrees

Sun. Slightly warmer. Less wind. Hooray! Still wore my running tights, winter vest, and gloves, but felt like spring is almost here. Ran around the falls. They were gushing, but the creek was barely moving. Ran past the “big feet” statue. I can’t remember his name — Gunther something, I think — but I do remember that he was a poet, a hymn writer, and a politician from Sweden. Ran the Winchell Trail too. At the start of it, I slipped, but didn’t fall, in the mud. Said a lot of “excuse mes” as I encountered people from behind. Not irritated at all. A good run on a beautiful morning.

before the run

Thinking about roots and how things become rooted in the ground today. This topic is inspired by a favorite poem that I memorized in May of 2020: What Would Root/ Katie Farris. Here’s what I wrote in an entry from may 20, 2020:

I like the idea of this long, wild story, being rooted at the rock from the beginning of the poem. And I love this idea of rooting, being rooted and how the story unfolds around it. I want to spend some more time thinking about what it means to root, be rooted, take root. I’d also like to write a poem like this–with a story at the gorge–about sinking.

I used to have this poem memorized, and I think I can again, with a little practice. For now, I’m going to record myself reading it, then listen to that recording a few times while I run today.

during the run

Started by listening to the recording of myself reading the poem. It was very cool — dreamy, almost disembodied — to listen the words as I ran through the neighborhood and toward the river. Then, when the recording was done, I put my headphones away and thought about roots as I ran south above the gorge. I remember imagining my skin as more porous and open to the world and grass growing through my pores (instead of Farris’ roots).

Halfway through the run, in Wabun park, I stopped to record my thoughts. Here’s a summary:

  1. Thought about being rooted in a place, then being on the inside or the outside and how being rooted means being both in and out, or neither, at the same time. Just there, part of what’s happening.
  2. Then, I wondered, Does rooted always mean we’re tethered or stuck in one place, immobile? What would it mean to be rooted in a place while you were moving?
  3. Then: how are the roots formed? Instead of one solid, thick, sturdy root that’s difficult to cut down, what if we were a network of roots spread throughout the ground, connected and tangled with other? Roots can be networks — shallow and easy to pull out, like weeds, but multiplying and growing when you do that (rhizomes and nodes).
  4. Getting at the root, radical feminism and the root of oppression, the origin/cause of the problem I often think about the origins of my running story — there is no one root or cause or start, but a series (a network) of reasons.
  5. Chanted: root root root root/root root root root/ roo ting roo ting/root root root root/root root root root/roo ted root less I like these simple repetitions. I’d like to try chanting these for several minutes, then seeing what other words/ideas/chants might appear.

after the run

Here’s a sad, scary headline: Report lists Mississippi as one of ‘most endangered’ U.S. rivers

And here’s a hopeful story about activists making a difference and changing the future of the river: The untold story of our national park’s founding

Thinking about being inside or outside of yourself and being rooted and what of self/Self that suggests, I’m reminded of a poem I put on my reading list the other day:

Full of yourself/ Rumi

Translated from the Farsi by Haleh Liza Gafori

Full of yourself—
a friend’s touch is sharp as a thorn.
A buzzing fly drives you mad.

Forget yourself
and what friend can hurt you?
You mingle with wild elephants
and enjoy the ride.

Caged in self,
you drown in anguish.
Storm clouds swallow the sun.
Your lover flees the scene.

Outside yourself,
the night is moonlit.
Lovers drink Love’s wine.
It flows through you.

Self-conscious,
you’re dry as autumn leaves.
You bite like frost.

Melt yourself,
and winter’s frozen meadows
will become spring’s fragrant fields.

(How) can we travel outside of ourselves? What does this untether/uproot us from? I posted this quotation from Jamie Quatro in a log entry from April 19, 2018 about running as prayer:

a state of prayerlike consciousness. Past the feel-good vibes, past the delusions, my attention moves outward: I’m intensely aware of the cadence of a bird’s song, cherry blossoms weighted-down after a rain. Things light up and I experience an interior stillness that somehow syncs me more profoundly with the exterior world. It’s a paradox: only when I’m fully present in my body do I begin to experience the absence of myself.

 Running as prayer

Does fully present in a body = rooted? I’m also thinking about entanglement and Ross Gay’s critique of buoyancy and floating free (see april 12, 2022). Can we be a self, rooted in a body and a place, and still be other than ourSelf? How do I fit Rumi’s idea of forgetting the self with entanglement?

april 18/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
35 degrees / feels like 25
wind: 16 mph / snow flurries

Before heading out for a run, watched the Boston Marathon. The thing I remember most about it was during the men’s push-rim race, when the announcer (who I think was a push-rim racer himself) talking about the racer’s gloves: they’re plastic and 3D-printed for precision, and when they bang on the metal wheel rim, they create a steady rhythm that the racer’s use for pacing themselves. Very cool. Later, I remembered this fact as I neared the end of my run.

Today, it is cold and windy and snowing again, but the birds are singing and calling — lots of fee bees — so I know spring will be here soon. Maybe by next weekend? I picked the right route for the direction of the wind. It was at my back as I ran over the lake street bridge and up the Marshall Hill. The only part where I was running directly into it was on the way back over the bridge.

Heard: the bells chiming near Shadow Falls; a dog barking and kid yelling below in the gorge; and the branches creaking from the wind again. This time the branches creaking sounded almost like a rusty hinge, with a door slowly creaking open. I like that image and the idea that some sort of door to somewhere was opening for me at that moment — and that there was something mysterious and scary about this door leading down into the woods or the earth. I like mysterious and scary.

Near the end of my run, I think after I remembered the rhythm of the gloves hitting the push-rim, I started chanting some of an ED poem:

Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath

Stopped to study the river for a minute — and to get a break from the wind — on the lake street bridge: it was a steely gray with ripples and a few eddies.

One more thing: Running above the floodplain forest and the Hiawatha Sand Flats, I heard a ferocious dog bark, then a whimper, almost but not quite, like a squeaky toy. Was the dog chasing or killing a bunny down there? Possibly. A minute later, I heard the deep voice of a human calling out repeatedly, then a steady rhythm of dog barks and sharp commands of some sort.

before the run

Scrolling through poems I’ve archived on my Safari Reading List, I found one that builds off of being dug up and excavated, but is also about returning, caring for, and re-planting:

Pear Snow/ Todd Dillard

A flood unzips a graveyard.
Cadavers sluice down Main St.
It’s my job to find the dead,
chauffeur them back to their plots.
The problem being the dead speak.
They want to swing by their old places,
check on spouses, kids grandkids
glimpsed in sepia windows
beneath the blue of evening news.
They whisper: “That tree was a sapling when I planted it,”
or: “I forgot what her laugh was like,”
or they call a dog that refuses to come.
Then, embarrassed by their weeping,
by how dry it is,
the dead ask me to take them home,
and on the drive I recite this line I’m working on
about the graininess of two-day-old snow.
“Pear snow,” I call it.
The dead say nothing
in response. The air velvets
as if it’s going to rain,
though the sky is clear,
the moon wet as the light in a child’s pupil.
Gentle, I lower the dead
back into their cradles. The earth,
for all its stripped rancor,
heavy in my shovel.
The work hard, but familiar.
The pay, at least, good.

What do we do with the ghosts that resurface, whether we want them to or not? How do we care for the stories of those who came before us?

Here’s another poem I posted last year about what the earth can yield and how we might notice it:

After the Rain/ jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield –
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

Yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see –
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

Conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

Across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different view – the glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

Simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

during the run

I tried to think about these two poems and excavating truths and caring for ghosts and noticing the things that are buried in the ground, but I couldn’t hang onto my thoughts. It could have been wind or the effort I was making to run in it that distracted me. Near the end of my run I thought about this before/during/after the run experiment and how it works sometimes and not others. I think I need to fine-tune it — maybe narrow my focus, or be more deliberate with what I want to think about before I head out on my run?

One other thing I remember was thinking about surfaces and depths, and the value of both. And now, writing this entry hours later, I’m thinking about how both of the poems in my “before the run” section involve water (rain) and how it brings the things buried to the surface. This reminds me of writing about water last July and Maxine Kumin’s idea of the thinker as the sinker (july 22, 2021). I’m also thinking about floating and bobbing to the surface and how humus (which I wrote about earlier this month) is the top layer of soil — 12 inches at the surface.

after the run

I want to return to the creaky branches sounding like the rusty hinge of a door. Last April, I read a poem by Mary Oliver with a hinge in it:

from Dogfish/ Mary Oliver

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

I’m thinking of door hinges and poems as opening a thousand doors and the wings of the seven white butterflies and “how they bang the pages/or their wings as they fly/to the fields of mustard and yellow/and orange and plain/gold all eternity” (Seven White Butterflies/ from West Wind)

april 17/RUN

1.5 miles
winchell trail, south/42nd st east/edmund, north
41 degrees

Headed to the gorge with Scott this morning — a quick run above the river. I know I looked at the river, but I can’t remember much about it. Most likely, with this gloomy sky, it was a brownish-gray or grayish-brown with no sparkle. We talked a lot about Lizzo and what a great job she did on SNL last night, both as the host and the musical guest. The only other thing I remember right now is running the opposite way on the Winchell Trail (usually I run north on it) and noticing how much longer the Folwell hill was this way. The other way it’s steep but short, this way it’s slightly less steep, but winding (or wind-y?) and long.

before the run

Yesterday I suggested that my next dirt topic should be gardens/gardening. Here are a few ideas:

1 — tune my body and my brain

My exploration of dirt began when I started thinking about the phrase from a kids’ song, or a song often sung to or by kids: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” Here’s another kids’ song that doesn’t have the word dirt in it, but is about dirt and death and life and gardens. Both my kids sang it in elementary school concerts:

Here are a few verses:

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground

Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumblin’ down

Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand

Rainful rain, sun and rain
Find my way in nature’s chain
Tune my body and my brain
To the music from the land

2 — Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”

It is perhaps this blending of the ecological sensibilities learned through gardening with those of the poet that makes reading Oswald’s editorial and poetic work so compelling, and not only for the many pleasures it brings. It also offers an acoustically informed aesthetic, a way of re-tuning how we think about and make beauty and meaning in verbal forms, especially those inspired by the earth’s processes, things, places. Principled with the desire to bring living things unmediated into text, Oswald’s writings illustrate a heightened and recursive sensitivity to the acoustics of environment, with the ear, of course, in its critical role as converter of signals. They recognize sound as summons, access, and mode. They value gardening (and other physical work) for the ways it creates possibilities for encounter by situating the body in motion and out-of-doors. They invite and invent expressive forms that are organic to these encounters, or that modify existing forms so they are apt and up to the task. They reveal a rootedness in rhythm, syncopation, harmony, or some other musicality within the external world. They practice acute hearing and engage in humble, patient, and empathie listening. They gesture toward the sonic rounding out of envi-ronments and their many natural, social and cultural complexities. And they practice accretion as a writer’s technique inspired by a natural process. Thus Oswald begins to define what I might term an “echo-poetics.”

Voice(s) of the Poet-Gardener: Alice Oswald and the Poetry of Acoustic Encounter/ Mary Pinard

3 — digging work

It’s certainly true that when you’re digging you become bodily implicated in the ground’s world, thought and earth continually passing through each other. You smell it, you feel its strength under your boot, you move alongside it for maybe eight hours and your spade’s language (it speaks in short lines of trochees and dactyls: sscrunch turn slot slot, sscrunch turn slot slot) creeps and changes at the same pace as the soil. You can’t help being critical of any account of mud that is based on mere glimpsing.

“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise” / Alice Oswald

Digging/ Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

4 — listening work

People often ask me what I like best about gardening. . . . The truth is it’s the sound. I don’t know anything lovelier than those free shocks of sound happening against the backsound of your heartbeat. Machinery, spade-scrapes, birdsong, gravel, rain on polythene, macks moving, aeroplanes, seeds kept in paper, potatoes coming out of boxes, high small leaves or large head-height leaves being shaken, frost on grass, strimmers, hoses . . .

“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise”/ Alice Oswald

Poems are written in the sound house of a whole body, not just with the hands. So before writing, I always spend a certain amount of time pre- paring my listening. I might take a day or sometimes as much as a month picking up the rhythms I find, either in other poems or in the world around me. I map them into myself by tapping my feet or punch- ing the air and when my whole being feels like a musical score, I see what glimpses, noises, smells, I see if any creature or feeling comes to live there. Then, before putting pen to paper, I ask myself, “Am I lis- tening? Am I listening with a soft, slow listening that will not obliter- ate the speaker?” And if, for example, I want to write a poem about water, I try to listen so hard that my voice disappears and I speak water.

“Poetry for Beginners” for the BBC’s Get Writing/ Alice Oswald

5 — In Search of our Mother’s Gardens*

*a reference to the powerful essay by Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” that I often taught in my Fem Theory classes.

things to think about while running:

  • How can I “tune my body and brain to the music of the land”?
  • What is digging work? Where can/do we do digging work?
  • What are the sounds of my backyard garden?
  • What can I plant in my garden this year?
  • Why do I love doing physical, outdoor work? How is digging/gardening/weeding work different from listening/noticing/caring/writing work? How is it similar?

during the run

Ran with Scott, and we didn’t talk about gardens or digging until the end, when I mentioned gardening, digging, and the digital story about my mom. He suggested that I look up the lyrics for Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt.”

after the run

Here are a few lyrics from Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt”:

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind
I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes
I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes

This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
This time you’ve gone too far
I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you

And the refrain at the end, repeated several times:

Digging in the dirt
To find the places we got hurt

And here’s the video, which I can’t embed). Wow, the imagery in this fits with so many things I’ve been discussing! Worms, digging as excavating deeper truths (I think I’ve mentioned this before), death, dust, grass, pebbles, sand, rocks, mushrooms speaking! (in the video they spell out “help”).

video: Digging in the Dirt/ Peter Gabriel

addendum, 18 april 2022: almost forgot to add this image from my notes for my memoir (still in progress) about my student and teaching life”

planting a seed, lower right

Instead of cropping out the key part — the picture of a plant growing inside a head in the lower right with the text, “planting a seed” — I decided to post the entire image. When I taught feminist and queer classes a decade ago, my aim was to plant seeds. Not to force ideas on students or to expect instant results — where they could immediately “get” something or be transformed, but to introduce ideas and offer up invitations that might, in the future, lead to transformation and deeper understandings.

april 16/RUN

4.2 miles
marshall loop + extra
30 degrees

Still winter. Still wearing running tights, vest, a thick orange sweatshirt. I wish it were warmer but, with the sun, I didn’t mind the cold. Soon, it will be too warm — at least, for me. The most memorable thing that happened on my run, beside what I write about below, in my “during the run” section, was seeing a big bald eagle soaring in the sky. I was running down the hill towards the lake street steps on the st. paul side, and there it was. I stopped for a minute to marvel, both at it, and my ability to still see and identify a bird flying above me. After I continued running, I thought about the bird flu that’s happening in Minnesota — a few days ago, I read a tweet about an owl family at Lake Nokomis that is suspected to have died from it. So sad to think about all of these beautiful birds dying. How big of an impact will this have on birds here? Looked it up and found an article. The picture of the owl, and the words about the young owls in the article — “extreme neurological distress”, is haunting.

before the run

Just as I was about to write that today’s “before the run” would offer a brief break from dirt, I realized that what Ocean Vuong is talking about so beautifully here in the video below, is what their mother planted for them: the ability to look patiently at the world in wonder and awe and with joy.

transcript:

“Brief But Spectacular Take on Reclaiming Language for Joy” on PBS News Hour

When my mother passed in 2019, my whole life kind of contracted into 2 days. And what I mean by that is that when a loved one dies, you experience your life in just 2 days: today, when they are no longer here, and yesterday, the immense, vast yesterday, when they were here. And so my life, as I see it now, is demarcated, by one line: the yesterday, when my mother was with me, and now, when she is not.

I think you realize that when you lose your mother, no matter how old you are, you’re suddenly a child; you feel like an orphan. And so I went back to the blank page, which is the only safe space for me, the only space I have control over. And I guess I learned that by putting one word after another. The beauty is that we’re all going to lose our parents, and in this sense, death is the truest thing that we have, because it’s the one thing we are all heading towards. And when language can lift the veil, we can see each other.

My mother never really understood my vocation and my work. She couldn’t read. It perplexed her, you know. Why would all these folks come to hear your sad poems? But, when she came to my reading, she started to see how my language landed in other people’s bodies. And after a while she started to position her seat to look at the audience and she came to me one day and said, “I get it. People’s faces change when they’re listening to your lectures, to your words.” My mother taught me something, that you can look at something, at people and scenarios endlessly and still find something new. Just because you have seen it, does not mean you have known it. And so, the vocation of the artist, is to look at something with the faith that whatever you’re seeing, will keep giving meaning to you. And I think that patient looking was what she gifted me and it has to do with her sense of wonder. We think of terms like refuge, immigrant, war, survivor and we rarely think of wonder and awe. But I think when it comes to families and being raised by folks who are survivors, they keep wonder and awe closely to their chest. I learned so much from my mother’s joy in response to the world and the life she lived and that informs my artistic practice.

thoughts to ponder while running: what seeds did my mother plant for me? how does language land in our bodies? how do we grow the seeds from our ancestors in our bodies? what does it mean to look with patience? how do we find new meanings? if what we look at gives meaning to us, what do/can we give to it? what can look mean beyond literal vision/sight?

during the run

Without really intending it, the last question, “What can look mean beyond literal vision/sight?,” was the one that I remember thinking about. Here’s how it happened: Running above the floodplain forest, through the tunnel of trees, I started hearing the gentle whooshing of car wheels above me. Whoossshhh whoossshhh whoossshhh in a steady rhythm. Then I heard something creaking just below me — the wind passing through the trees, making the bare branches creak or groan. Is it only the wind pushing a branch, or is this squeak from branches rubbing against each other? Or both? Or, am I hearing a squirrel or a bird or something completely different? Anyway, I thought about that creaking sound and how its cause is invisible and unknown/uncertain. Then I thought about something I read this morning in Elisa Gabbert’s excellent essay, “The Shape of a Void: Toward a Definition of Poetry”:

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.

Poetry writes around what’s unknown or missing or can’t be seen. So, maybe the creaking noise of the wind or a tree or something else is a poem–a noise being made around an absent tree or the invisible wind? That was a lot of words for me to try to translate my sudden flash of understanding, which only lasted from the lowest point of the trail, where the four fences meet, to the top, past the old stone steps!

I remember also thinking that it’s difficult to set out on a run with a specific task — think about this! — and stick to it. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. Instead of stubbornly trying to make the ideas come, I try to let go and let whatever happens happen. For me, running helps with this; I’m putting enough effort into running that I usually can’t give too much energy to thinking about this or that thing. Right after having this thought (if I’m remembering correctly), I stopped thinking and started listening, then whoossshhh whoossshhh

after the run

As I started writing about the creaking noise, which might have been a tree, I was reminded of a beautiful poem I posted last summer:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Getting back to Ocean Vuong and their words about grief, I want to think more about what we might plant in the ground for future selves, or future generations, and what understanding of time that requires. Maybe tomorrow my focus will be on planting seeds and gardens and gardening time?

addendum: found the whole poem about the monarchs’ missing mountain migration:

A Walk as Bright and Green as Spring as Cold as Winter/ Shane McCrae

At forty most often neighbor even as / We walk together

Want everywhere we go to go home everywhere

but oh / Oh did you see the story

About 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 southlllllagain and now / Biologists believe they

turn to avoid a mountain

That disappeared millennia ago / And did you

know I didn’t no one butterfly

lives long enough to fly the whole

migration / From the beginning to the end they

Lay eggs along the way

just / As you and I most often neighbor / Migrate together in our daughter

over a dark lake

We make with joy the child we make

And mountains are reborn in her

I love this poem. I’ve done some research (google + google scholar) trying to find the scientific study that claims that monarch migrate around a missing mountain, but can’t find anything. Why does it matter? It doesn’t have to be scientifically true (as in, proven through a close study/set of experiments), to be a wonderful bit of information — whether there’s evidence or not, I like imagining that’s what they’re doing, but when scientists are invoked (in the popular headlines about this topic), I’d like to read more about what scientists actually said and how they came to this conclusion.

april 15/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around + extra
29 degrees / feels like 20
wind: 15 mph

Cold and windy. Again. Ran north, thinking I would have the wind at my back. Nope, in my face. Difficult. As I got closer (but not too close) to the porta-potty under the lake street bridge, it suddenly opened and a runner ran out. He was ready to go, I guess. Also saw a woman ahead of me walking down the service road to the Minneapolis Rowing Club. Rowers on the river today? If there were, I didn’t see or hear them. Ran past the trestle and stopped at the recently replaced steps. Then took them — about 30 steps, I think — down for a closer look. The river, with the sun reflecting the blue sky, the brown trees, the gray stone, looked almost mauve to me. Mostly brown, with hints of blue and gray and dark pink — where/how was I seeing pink? Saw a few fluttering birds, some ice on the edge of the entrance to the trail.

Almost forgot, but was reminded by hearing a dog bark here at my desk: Running south from the trestle, across the road from the fancy houses on Edmund, I heard a dog barking a deep, low bark in one of the houses. Then another a few doors down dog joined in. The second bark sounded almost like the impersonation of a frantic bark, like an unhinged kid trying to sound like a dog. I wondered which it was — a dog barking like a spazz, or a spazz barking like a dog? I never did find out, even as I listened for several minutes.

before the run

Today’s dirt topic: dust. Dust as the great equalizer (we all come from dust and return to it); how we are dust and more than dust; dusting as a sacred chore; dust as a fine powder we inhale/absorb without noticing; toxic dust; environmental racism and who does/doesn’t have access to cleaner air

1 — Dust Poem/ Philip Jenks

The idea was.
At least in theory,
Dust was a bad thing.

There was a bowl
Of it. At another
Point in time
The conclusion
Was reached
That everything
Was of it.

No season, no
Nothing to measure
To measure against
So no love or hate.
Left us without no
Moorings or so my
Father told me

Vanity tables of it?
Isn’t that what a vanity
Table is for?
What happens to
As its failings accrue?

No mission but to be clean.
Of itself.
But existing (time)
And problems there –
The problem of now
We are back here.

See the whole dust problem’s
No measure.
All’s dust, check.
All’s virtuous, check.
So why not live it up then?
And thus, YOLO etc. etc.

{These fok whirr pretty smart.
Thing is, even in
The dust bowl, the
Idea, a very American
One was that something
Wasn’t dust.
I wasn’t.
The Bowl wasn’t.
The dust wasn’t.

Since Ecclesiastes,
Been trying this one on.
(how’s that working out for you?)
One needn’t be geologically
Or for that matter
Psychologically trained to
Begin unpacking the diffident
And sometimes strained
Relation the nation holds with
All that is vanity.

The poet’s explanation of the poem was helpful for me in trying to dig in:

And I don’t say of myself much, or “I” much. I sometimes even just do search replace and take out “I” and put in “it” to try to take myself out as some small measure of humility.

“What happens to
As its failings accrue?

No mission but to be clean.
Of itself.

Dust Poem in PoetryNow

The idea of an “I” — writing as an “I,” being an “I.” How to navigate between a recognition that we are both more than dust and only dust (“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”–Eccleasiastes 3:20)? What is the “more” and how do we express/live it in ways that don’t deny the dust and in which our humility doesn’t erase our own existence? Is this too vague sounding? This question of being an “I” — having a unique voice, claiming a space — without doing violence to others (being too arrogant, taking too much) is one of the primary questions I struggle with in my life/writing. I tend to be too humble, too quick to erase or replace my “I”.

2 — Dusting/ Marilyn Nelson

Thank you for these tiny
particles of ocean salt,
pearl-necklace viruses,
winged protozoans:
for the infinite,
intricate shapes
of submicroscopic
living things.

For algae spores
and fungus spores,
bonded by vital
mutual genetic cooperation,
spreading their
inseparable lives
from equator to pole.

My hand, my arm,
make sweeping circles.
Dust climbs the ladder of light.
For this infernal, endless chore,
for these eternal seeds of rain:
Thank you. For dust.

I like how Nelson connects the chore of dusting — an everyday act of labor — with the deeper substance/s of life: tiny particles of ocean salt, algae and fungus spores, winged protozoas. For Nelson (and Jenks mentions it in his poem too), dust is more than dust, it is life, everything — and dusting is more than chore, but our access to that life.

Nelson’s reimagining dusting as sacred, reminds me of a poem I posted earlier this year, or late last year, Drift, which is about, among other things, rethinking the possible joy in shoveling snow.

3 — Dust/ Dorianne Laux

Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor —
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like a fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes —
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

Dust = fine powder we inhale, surrounding us but often unnoticed. For Laux, truth as dust

dust: fine, dry powder consisting of tiny particles of earth or waste matter lying on the ground or on surfaces or carried in the air.

4 — Household Dust and Our Health

My 100+ year old house in the middle of the city gathers a lot of dust. I don’t often think about what all that means, and what all I’m inhaling/absorbing inside. Yikes.

As sure as the sun rises, houses collect dust. It gathers on our knickknacks and dirties the carpets. More than just dirt, house dust is a mix of sloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic. It’s our detritus and, it turns out, has a lot to reveal about our lifestyle.

For one thing, dust is far from inert. Those shed hairs and old skin cells can soak up a constellation of contaminants originating from consumer products that we bring into our homes. Other environmental contaminants can be tracked indoors on the soles of our shoes. So in addition to fluffy hair and garden dirt, dust can hold a witch’s brew of persistent organic pollutants, metals, endocrine disruptors, and more.

Not only does dust hold a long memory of the contaminants introduced to a house, but it’s also a continual source of exposure for the residents. Dust gets resuspended when it’s disturbed and will recirculate throughout the house, picking up substances before returning once more to the floor. “Year over year, dust accumulates in the home,” says Miriam L. Diamond, an environmental chemist at the University of Toronto. Even after regular cleaning, it still accretes because homes are tightly sealed environments, and the dust gets entrenched in carpets and crevices. Dust from an old house may retain legacy pollutants such as DDT that were banned almost half a century ago, she says.

Tracing the chemistry of household dust

5 — Dust, Toxins and Environmental Racism

So, we’re breathing in a lot of bad shit inside our individual houses — toxic chemicals that may not have even be used for decades. What about in our neighborhoods? And which neighborhoods are subject to more toxic and why?

At MCEA we believe in seeking justice for communities that have been harmed by historic and ongoing toxic pollution and contamination. By design and neglect, this harm has affected Black, Indigenous and other communities of color to a much greater extent than white neighborhoods.  Whenever municipal development is proposed in these communities, a necessary first step is to make sure the voices of neighboring community members are engaged and respected. Key decisionmakers must invite community members to the table to work towards a goal of eliminating new, harmful sources of pollution in neighborhoods experiencing systemic pollution and poor air quality.

The East Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis is one of these communities. This neighborhood continuously ranks as having some of the worst air quality in Minneapolis, and it is still being harmed by one of the most brazen and widespread urban polluters in Minnesota history.  An insecticide manufacturer at East 28th St. and Hiawatha Ave. polluted the neighborhood with arsenic from the 1930’s to the 1960’s, resulting in a massive cleanup of contaminated residential yards. 

The area surrounding this Superfund site is recognized in state law as being overburdened by pollution. State law requires that no permit shall be issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the area “without analyzing and considering the cumulative levels and effects of past and current environmental pollution from all sources on the environment.” 

The City of Minneapolis has proposed building a new “Hiawatha Campus” adjacent to the former manufacturing site to house city offices and vehicles. 

Ensuring community voices are heard in East Phillips

Environmental racism: Although the proposed project is expected to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in city operations, this would come at the direct expense of local environmental quality by increasing pollutants from traffic near this site. As a neighborhood that is 83% Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the East Phillips community would be expected to bear the brunt of the impact for the “greater good,” which is an unacceptable trade-off. Racism has recently been declared a public health emergency in Minneapolis. Knowingly increasing the amount of pollution in a neighborhood primarily populated by Native American, Latinx, East African and Black communities will only exacerbate this problem and demonstrate the hypocrisy of the city’s words.

Poor governance to bring new toxicity to the ‘Arsenic Triangle’

during the run

Did I think about dust while I was running? I tried. At one point, I remember thinking about the invisibility of dust and how it’s in the air, as opposed to dirt on the ground or sandy muck in the water. I also thought about breathing and breath and how dust travels between lungs.

after the run

Here’s something to add to the list of invisible things around us all the time, and another possible reason why I have “sinus episodes” so often: dust mites

Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like pests that feed on dead human skin cells and thrive in warm, humid environments. They are not parasites that bite, sting or burrow into our bodies. Instead, people who are allergic to dust or dust mites are reacting to inhaling proteins in dust that comes from dust mite feces, urine or decaying bodies. Any inflammation of the nasal passages caused by dust mites is considered a dust allergy.

Dust and Dust Mites

april 14/RUN

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

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

before the run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations on the Ground“/ Mary Ruefle

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

2 — digging in and developing foundations

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

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

from Dirt Work

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

“Dirt work is foundation work.”

3 — the Golden Shovel

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

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

Introduction: The Golden Shovel

The Golden Shovel/ TERRANCE HAYES

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. 1981

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


II. 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the original poem from Gwendolyn Brooks:

We Real Cool/ Gwendolyn Brooks

The Pool Players.
        Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.

during the run

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

after the run

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

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

Human Lessons: On Mary Ruefle’s My Private Property

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

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

She also offers a great definition of poetry:

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

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

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

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

april 12/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
40 degrees

When I started my run, I wasn’t sure where I was headed, except north. At some point, I decided to cross the bridge and run the marshall loop. Not much sun, lots of gray and brown. The river was a dull blue with small waves from the wind. Don’t remember many birds, except for a few crows. I felt cold when I started, in tights, shorts, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and warm when I was done.

before the run

Thought about expressions and songs with the word dirt in them. Here’s an incomplete list:

  • dirt bag + Teenage Dirt Bag
  • dirt nap
  • dirt bath
  • dirt ball
  • as old as dirt
  • dish out the dirt
  • dig up some dirt
  • hit pay dirt
  • as poor as dirt
  • eat dirt
  • Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
  • Dirty Laundry
  • opp.: clean up my act
  • dust: Another One Bites the Dust
  • dirty and low down

dirt = dirty = bad = undesirable, unwanted = death = uncivilized = impure = contaminated So much to say about how being clean (and not dirty) is partly about establishing/protecting status and power over others and the earth, and about establishing boundaries and hierarchies. Also clean = pure = discrete = uncluttered, not messy = neat = separate

during the run

Thought about the hierarchies that the vilifying of dirt creates, then thought about the binaries too, when things are divided into pairs, with one member of the pair being better/having more power and status: clean/dirty, white/black, rich/poor, men/women, culture/nature, mind/body. Then I thought (again) about how much these unjust distributions of power are connected and decided entangled was a better word. Connected almost seems too neat, like they’re linked in some row or continuous chain. The webs of power overlap and aren’t neat or linear. This lead me to remember Ross Gay’s criticism of buoyancy and the idea that we are free, able to float above, untethered. We are entangled — down in the dirt with everything and everyone else.

Later running on the bridge, I stopped briefly to read one of the many yellow tags attached to the railings. It said, “this is not the end of your story” and had a hashtag. I didn’t stop long enough to read the # carefully, but it was something like #youarenotalone Was this about suicide prevention? Nearing the bridge from the St. Paul side, I saw a sign: Citywide Clean-up Campaign. The phrase, “clean up your mess” came into my head and it bothered me to think about a clean-up campaign beside the message about your story not ending — one wants you get rid of something, the other to not. I thought about the violence of cleaning as eliminating, erasing, removing, expunging, rendering non-existent or having never existed.

after the run

Here, in the second half of a poem by Aracelis Girmay, is another way of saying, “taking a dirt nap”:

from Kingdom Animalia/ Aracelis Girmay

one day, not today, not now, we will be gone
from this earth where we know the gladiolas.
My brother, this noise,
some love [you] I loved
with all my brain, & breath,
will be gone; I’ve been told, today, to consider this
as I ride the long tracks out & dream so good

I see a plant in the window of the house
my brother shares with his love, their shoes. & there
he is, asleep in bed
with this same woman whose long skin
covers all of her bones, in a city called Oakland,
& their dreams hang above them
a little like a chandelier, & their teeth
flash in the night, oh, body.

Oh, body, be held now by whom you love.
Whole years will be spent, underneath these impossible stars,
when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you
& touch you with
its mouth.

“when dirt’s the only animal who will sleep with you”

Girmay’s mentioning of bones and dreams and plants, reminds me of something else I looked up before my run but decided to save for later: the kids’ song Garden Song, or what I refer to as “the inch by inch song”– “inch by inch, row by row/gonna make this garden grow.” Here’s the verse I’m reminded of:

Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones
Man is made of dreams and bones
Feel the need to grow my own
‘Cause the time is close at hand

So much about dirt is the mixing of life and death, growth and decay. Dirt is where we come from, where we’re going.

april 11/RUN

4.8 miles
Veterans’ Home loop
49 degrees

A wonderful morning for a run. Sunny, warm, mostly calm, not too crowded. Saw Dave the Daily Walker at the start of my run. “Good morning Dave!” Ran south. Noticed the river a few times, sparkling in the sun. Heard lots of woodpeckers. The falls and creek were rolling along. I heard Minnehaha as I ran above it, over to the Veterans’ Home.

My favorite sound was the unexpected duet between a roller skier’s clicking and clacking poles and the sharp steady beak of a woodpecker. My second favorite sound was the way water gurgled and gushed in spurts out of the sewer pipe below the 44th street parking lot.

before the run

today’s theme for dirt: gravel, rubbled asphalt.

1 — definitions of gravel

Here are a few definitions from the online OED:

gravel (n): a material consisting of coarse sand and water-worn stones of various sizes, often with a slight intermixture of clay, much used for laying roads and paths. 

gravel (v): 4. To set fast, confound, embarrass, non-plus, perplex, puzzle; and 5. of a question, difficulty, practice, subject of discussion, etc.: To prove embarrassing to; to confound, perplex, puzzle. Also U.S. To irritate, to ‘go against the grain with’.

2 — gravel in the gorge

Looked up gravel in the Gorge Management plan from an extensive study in 2002, and found out this about what I’m above near the start of my run:

Sandberg Loamy Coarse Sand is found within the savanna areas near the end of 36th Street and sloping areas to the north. Depth to bedrock is generally more than 60 inches and the soil is excessively drained. The soil has an available water capacity to a depth of 60 inches and an organic content in the upper 10 inches of 2%. A typical profile is as follows:A — 0 to11 inches; loamy coarse sand
Bw —11 to 27 inches; coarse sand
C — 27 to 80 inches; gravelly coarse sand.

3 — gritty gravel

I like the grit of gravel under my feet as I run. I’ve written about it a lot: the sibilant sound, the soft slippery slide when I run over it.

4 — dirt and gravel words

Had a vague recollection of posting a tweet that talked about words that were like gravel. It took me several minutes to find it, but I finally did! It’s from a log entry on august 21, 2020:

 I’ve been thinking about how useful and wonderful it is to record myself reciting a poem and then listening back to the words, which are often correct but sometimes wrong in unexpected ways. I found a tweet yesterday, which doesn’t totally fit with this memorizing but connects:

“transcriptions rly show how much of our talk is dirt & gravel, how clear thoughts have to be panned for like gold 

yet all the human pleasure is in the gravel, in the second-guessing & laughter & short sighs, the repetitions & amens, the silences where thoughts turn & settle

One bit of “gravel” I find in my recitation recordings is when I struggle to remember a word or phrase or line. Such delight in hearing the moment of remembering and the struggle to achieve it! What would it look like to transcribe that into a poem, I wonder?

august 21, 2020

5 — Oswald and the Tin-extractor

Reading the bit about panning for gold, I’m reminded of Alice Oswald’s Dart and her lines about the Tin-extractor (pages 17-18):

you can go down with a wide bowl, where it eddies round bends
or large boulders. A special not easy motion, you fill it with
gravel and a fair amount of water, you shake it and settle it and
tilt it forward. You get a bit of gold, enough over the years to
make a wedding ring but mostly these dense black stones what
are they?

he puts them in Hydrochloric acid, it makes his fingers yellow,
but they came up shiny, little wobbly nuts of tin

and the stones’ hollows hooting back at them
off-beat, as if luck should play the flute

can you hear them at all,
muted and plucked,
muttering something that only be expressed as
hitting a series of small bells just under the level of your
listening?

you rinse it through a shaking screen, you take out a ton of
gravelly mud for say fifty pounds of tin…

Dart / Alice Oswald

6 — Mary Oliver and gravel as dust as death

One section of The Leaf and the Cloud is titled, “Gravel.”

from 3.

Everything is participate.
Everything is a part of the world
we can see, taste, touch, hold onto,

and then it is dust.
Dust at last.
Dust and gravel.

8.

Listen, I don’t think we’re going to rise
in gauze and halos.
Maybe as grass, and slowly.
Maybe as the long leaved, beautiful grass

I have known, and you have known—
or the pine trees—
or the dark rocks of the zigzag creek
hastening along—

or the silver rain—

or the hummingbird.

9.

I look up
into the face of the stars,
into their deep silence.

10.

This is the poem of goodbye.
And this is the poem of don’t know.

My hands touch the lilies
then withdraw,

my hands touch the blue iris
then withdraw;

and I say, not easily but carefully—
the words round in the moth, crisp on the tongue—

dirt, mud, stars, water—
I know you as if you were myself.

during the run

Difficult to remember now that the run’s done, but I remember listening for the grit under my feet and thinking about how I like feeling something under me as I run. Also thought about Wittgenstein and the importance of rough ground, how smooth surfaces offer nothing to grab onto, to notice. And how uneven, gravelly ground offers a good distraction from the effort of a run.

Running past the Wabun playground, I suddenly remembered the time that Scott ran up the slide with the kids and into the metal bar at the top with his head. If he had hit it just right, or just wrong, he might have died — at least that’s what we thought when it happened. He was fine, but as I kept running, thinking about dust and death, I had a quick flash — how different life would have been for me and the kids if he had hit it wrong and would have been gone for more than a decade now. Thankfully the thought evaporated quickly, replaced by the rush of the river as it roared over the dam, and the ache in my legs as I ran down the steep hill below the Veterans’ Home.

I know I had more thoughts than that, but they’re all gone now.

addendum, 12 april: I almost forgot. I chanted about gravel to keep my pace steady and my mind focused (or distracted or shut off?):

gravel gravel
pebble pebble
rock / rock /
stone / / /

Nothing that creative, but it worked as a chant and I liked the sharpness of rock and the way stone stopped the sound, making room for 3 beats of silence.

addendum, 23 april: Re-reading this entry, I think I like this chant slightly better:

gravel gravel
pebble pebble
rock rock stone /

after the run

Searched “walt whitman gravel” and this was the first result:

Walt Whitman

A high nutrient amendment comprised of compost, rice hulls and chicken manure. A little goes a long way. Blend with existing soil at 25-30% by volume and follow with a thorough irrigation immediately after planting. Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility for plant establishment.

Contains: Wonder Green™ Compost, Rice Hulls, Chicken Manure

American Soil and Stone

“Walt Whitman when used at an appropriate rate will provide adequate fertility…”. Yes, this sounds about right—with his excess of words and exclamation points and enthusiasm for everything, I always need to use moderation when reading Whitman!

Also, searched “gravel” on Poetry Foundation and found this haunting poem. Wow.

An Ordinary Misfortune [“She is girl. She is gravel.”]/ EMILY JUNGMIN YOON

She is girl. She is gravel. She is grabbed. She is grabbed like handfuls of gravel. Gravel grated by water. Her village is full of gravel fields. It is 1950. She is girl. She is grabbed. She is not my grandmother, though my grandmother is girl. My grandmother’s father closes the gates. Against American soldiers, though they jump over stone walls. To a girl who is not my grandmother. The girl is gravel grabbed. Her language is gravel because it means nothing. Hands full of girl. Fields full of gravel. Korea is gravel and graves. Girl is girl and she will never be a grandmother. She will be girl, girl is gravel and history will skip her like stone over water. Oh girl, oh glory. Girl.

april 10/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
51 degrees

Spring! Spring! Spring! Sunny and warm. Shorts with no running tights. Lots of birds singing and drumming and casting big shadows across the path. Near the end of my run, I saw the shadows and stopped briefly to catch a flash of a soaring bird. An eagle or a kestrel or a hawk? It couldn’t be an owl, could it? Do they fly that high? Didn’t hear any rowers and barely noticed the river — even when I stopped at the overlook at the end of my run and was looking straight at it. I think I noticed the dirt trails leading down to the gorge the most. Heard some dogs barking down in the gorge. Ran past a peloton on the road. Saw some graffiti on the door of the porta-potty under the lake street bridge. Overheard a conversation, or one brief bit of a conversation:

walker 1: “I’ll just have to get up tomorrow and go to work, and forget about it.”
walker 2: “uh huh”

This reminds of something I heard yesterday from one biker to an other: “They don’t have a leg to stand on to fire him.” A leg to stand on? I don’t hear that expression that often anymore. Also, why was “he” being fired, and from where?

before the run

This popped up on my twitter feed:

Very cool. Read the article in The Guardian, then the study it linked to: Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity. Here’s a summary:

Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech.

and

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, found that these spikes often clustered into trains of activity, resembling vocabularies of up to 50 words, and that the distribution of these “fungal word lengths” closely matched those of human languages.

Mushrooms communicate with each other using up to 50 ‘words’, scientists claim

I find this interesting — how they did it, by placing iridium coated spikes in their nerve centers and measuring electrical impulses, then analyzing the impulse clusters and comparing their length to human languages — but I’m particularly struck by the researches explanation of why this matters:

a modified conception of language of plants is considered to be a pathway towards ‘the de-objectification of plants and the recognition of their subjectivity and inherent worth and dignity’ [28].

Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity

So, to care for and grant dignity and worth to fungi we need to understand them to be as “smart as us” — that is, able to use language? Why? Even as I enjoyed reading this experiment and thinking about fungi communication as language, I wonder about its purpose and why we need fungi to speak in ways we can understand in order for them to have value. And, why do we assume that, 1. human language is the most valuable (or complex/sophisticated) and/or 2. to value something it needs to be like us? Perhaps I’m reading too much into their claim?

I found a comment at the end of the article that offers a useful critique from a slightly different perspective than mine:

This kind of anthropomorphic work would do well to define terms including words, language, information, and communication. These are technical terms in communicology and in linguistics but are indiscriminately used in this research. Plants do not produce meaning but merely exchange information. They do not, therefore, communicate in any human way. Language is not merely a syntactical system, as implied here. Language consists of the necessary components syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics. In short, the image of the human cast over the findings is inappropriate. It is also not needed to make the research interesting.

comment on article from I Catt

I also found this poem about a type of mushroom (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) that invades carpenter ants:

The Ants/ Matthew Rorher

Nothing is more important to the ant
whose exoskeleton has been breached
by mushroom spores that are now
controlling his nervous system
and compelling him to climb to a high leaf
only to die and release the spores
over the whole forest
than this poem about his sad plight.

Otherwise his life is meaningless.
Forage. Chew. Recognize by scent.
Abdication of the will. A huge wind
that comes and sweeps his fellows
off the grass. When he dies up there
in the treetops the mushroom grows
right out of his head and breaks open
lightly dusting the afternoon.

Everything he thought he was here
on Earth to do has been left undone.
Through the trees
the spores move on their sinister ways.
I put down the science magazine written
for elementary school kids
in which I have briefly disappeared.

during the run

Stopped at the end of my run to record some of my scattered thoughts during the run:

  1. Remembering the poem about the parasitic mushrooms and the carpenter ants that a poet found in a kids’ science magazine. Why and how do we lose the wonder we had as kids?
  2. Then I was thinking about care, and why and how we care about things. What do we need to care? Do we care about things we can understand? That we know? That have use value for us? What about things that make us wonder and delight in their strangeness? Why can’t that be a reason to care?
  3. Finally, I was thinking about Alice Oswald and something she said in an interview about otherness and how our encounters with the land and nature are ones of encountering that which is alien and other to us. So, we don’t recognize nature in how it’s like us, or we’re like it, but in how it is strange to us.

after the run

Found Oswald’s words, or my rough transcription of them, from a podcast:

I exert incredible amounts of energy trying to see things from their own points of view rather than the human point of view.

It’s a day long effort to get your mind into the right position to live and speak well.

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

Does it always have to be terrifying? Can we access this strangeness through wonder and curiosity, and marvel that there is so much that is different, and more, than us?

Thinking about this idea of connecting to “things” and nature through making them like us, anthropomorphizing them, I just remembered a delightful poem I posted by Lisel Mueller this last fall:

Things/ LISEL MUELLER

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.