june 30/RUNBIKESWIMBIKE

2.5 miles
2 trails
73 degrees
9:30 am

Was planning to swim with FWA at the lake, but when that didn’t work out, I went for a quick run. Too warm. I listened to a playlist on the upper, paved path, and the gorge on the lower, dirt trail.

a distinctive sound

When I reached the Winchell Trail, I took my headphones out and stopped to walk for a minute. I could hear the strong buzz or hum of bugs — cicadas? isn’t it too early for them? Whatever the bugs were, I imagined hundreds (thousands?) of tiny wings flapping fast, making this not very pleasing sound. I wondered how long it would last as I kept walking. In a few minutes it faded, replaced by the whooshing of car wheels from above. Hearing this sound reminds me of the poem Babel by Kimberly Johnson:

Babel/ Kimberly Johnson

My God, it’s loud down here, so loud the air
is rattled. Who with the hissing of trees,
the insect chatter, can fix devotion

on holy things, the electrical bugs
so loud the air is stunned, windy the leaves’
applause redoubled by the clapping wings

of magpies? Who with their whispered psalm
can outvoice their huckster cackle, the trees
blustered to howls while the tesla bees

whine loudly to the shocked air? O who
can think of heaven in such squall, shrill wind
of trees, magpie wings, and throats in fracas,

the bluebottle static, the air stupid
with the shrieks of devils,— of angels,—
who in such squall can think of anything

but heaven?

The bluebottle (flies) static. I don’t think I was hearing flies, but it did sound like a sort of static.

bike: 11 miles
lake nokomis and back + extra
90 degrees
5:00 pm (there) / 6:15 pm (back)

Do I remember anything about my bike, other than it was hot and very windy. So windy, and right in my face, both ways! The only other thing I remember is feeling comfortable and not nervous about whether or not I could see. Either my brain has adjusted by tweaking the visual, or it has adjusted by making me feel less anxious about not totally seeing everything. It’s probably a bit of both. Oh, one more thing: the sky looked a bit ominous — some spots of dark gray. At some point, it started raining, barely.

swim: 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
90 degrees
5:20 pm

It wasn’t too choppy in the water. Hooray! I didn’t have any problem sighting, or any problems keeping swimming when I couldn’t sight the buoys, which was most of the time. It’s getting harder to see color, I think. I rarely saw the orange or lime green until it was right in front of me. The final green buoy was lined up right in front of 3 white sailboats. I saw a few silver flashes below me — fish? Some wetsuit ran into me. I don’t think it was my fault, because I was keep my straight line, but who knows?

june 28/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8 miles
lake nokomis and back
70 degrees
9:00 am

Biked over to the lake with both of my kids. I don’t think we’ve done that in 10 years. Very nice. At the lake, we were passed by 2 kids on electric bikes. So many more electric bikes on the trails these days (which doesn’t bother me). A bird (moving too fast for me to tell what it was) flew right in front of me, across the path. Also: the irritating screech of a blue jay.

swim: 500 yards
lake nokomis, big beach
75 degrees
10:00 am

FWA and I had another swim session. Slowly, he’s building up his endurance. Today he did a full loop around the white buoys, which was probably at least (?) 20 minutes of either swimming or treading water — no wall to lean on or tiled floor to step down on. He’s not ready to swim across the lake yet, but he will be. So exciting! The water was much calmer than it has been, hardly any waves. I mentioned that to FWA and he said, “it’s still pretty wavy to me.” I remember how rough the water felt when I was first starting to do open water swim. Noticed at least one kayak just off the white buoys. Two little boys were playing in the water. One of them kept ending every sentence with a “bruh.” His friend called out, “Stop swearing at me!” Little kids at the lake are entertaining, especially when you can observe them from a distance.

Read this tweet the other day. I might want to read this entire book:

https://twitter.com/themoneyiowe/status/1541483203411808256

I like this idea of asking a place/landscape, “Who are you? How do I say your name?”

june 23/BIKESWIMBIKE x 2

bike: 8 miles
lake nokomis and back
85 degrees
8:00 am

A slow bike ride through the neighborhood with my 19 year old son, FWA. We talked a lot about “The Walking Dead,” which he is currently watching, and I’ve never seen. From video games to tv shows, I always appreciate his insights when he’s describing them to me.

swim: testing out the water
water temp: 78 degrees

I’m trying to be as chill as I can about FWA agreeing to swim across the lake with me this summer so I don’t overwhelm him, but it makes me so happy to get to share this thing I love with him. He did 5 years of swim team before high school, but he hasn’t been in any water for 6 years. This first time in the lake went pretty well. He has a long way to go to build up the stamina to make it across (600 yards) and back again, but I think he’ll be able to do it. Hooray!

bike: 8.5
lake nokomis and back
94 degrees
4:45 pm (there) / 6:30 (back)

Biked to open swim club. So hot! I really felt the heat on the way over. I can’t remember anything but feeling hot and happy that I could see well enough to bike. On the way back, I didn’t feel as hot, but I still don’t remember much about the bike ride. It’s hard for me to be open to noticing while I’m biking. I have to devote so much energy to staying alert and concentrating on the path. It can be tiring.

swim: 2 very choppy loops
lake nokomis open swim
94 degrees
5:30 pm

So choppy today. Very big swells and waves. Lots of breathing to one side. In the middle of my first loop, feeling very tired from the waves which seemed to want to drag me under, I remember thinking, “I’m only doing 1 loop today.” But, rounding the final buoy and swimming parallel to the big beach, I decided I could try one more.

I was going to do a list of 10 things I noticed, but instead here’s one image that I want to remember: finishing up my swim, standing in the shallow water and recovering from my effort, I heard so much noise from the beach and the swimming area — not individual voices as much a din of voices. A loud roar. I wonder what the decibel level of the beach was tonight? This loud noise was a sharp contrast to the absence of sound out in the middle of the lake. Out there, all I could hear was the sloshing of water.

june 21/RUNBIKESWIMBIKE

run: 2.25 miles
river road trail, north/south
73 degrees
humidity: 87% / dew point: 73!
7:45 am

I ran north on the river road to the top of the hill just past the lake street bridge. Stopped for a minute, then turned around and headed back. Sunny, but with lots of shade. Forgot to look at the river.

73 for the dew point? That’s bad, or “extremely uncomfortable,” according to Runner’s World. Yes, it was. Do I remember anything other than being uncomfortably warm?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. rower’s voices from down below!
  2. 3 stones stacked on the boulder
  3. a man fully covered in black sweatpants and a black jacket, with a white towel around his neck. Aren’t you hot, I thought as I passed him
  4. dark in the tunnel of trees, difficult to see if other people were there
  5. the pedestrian part of the double-bridge between 33rd and 32nd streets is overgrown with vines and bushes and leaves. Makes it harder to see if someone’s coming the other way, and narrower, making it harder to pass. Thankfully, no collisions today
  6. the small stretch of dirt trail that I take as the path nears the lake street bridge is wet — I think there was a brief, strong storm last night, or was that a dream?
  7. a group of 3 fast bikers riding on the road, a cautious car following behind
  8. a darting squirrel
  9. a flash of movement of the leaves beside the trail – was the flash from the sun hitting the leaves just right, or a critter — a bird or chipmunk or squirrel?
  10. later in my run, encountered Mr. black sweatsuit with white towel again. He said a soft, “morning,” and I nodded my head as a reply

Wow. Finding 10 things today took some thinking and remembering and getting past my overriding feelings of heat and discomfort. Such a great exercise in noticing!

Oh — I almost completely forgot: I also chanted in triple berries. Lots of strawberry/blueberry/raspberry and gooseberry/blackberry/red berry to keep my feet striking steadily. Added in a few mystery/history/mystery, which didn’t quite work, and butterscotch/chocolate sauce/caramel, and please don’t stop. Now I wish I had done more of them. I love the triple berry chants.

At the end of my run, as I was walking back, I listened to my first lecture for the class I’m teaching. I’m asking the students to listen to it on their first walk or run outside. I’m doing this partly because I’d like to make outside be the classroom space as much as possible, and partly because I think listening while moving can help you hear/process the words differently than when you’re inside, sitting still. One thought about the lecture: will my voice put them to sleep?

Mostly I don’t use headphones, but I do like to listen to podcasts or music sometimes. It’s strange how ideas or stories I’ve heard while running get imprinted on where I was on the trail. Even now, years later, as I run below the lake street bridge, I often think of the first season of Serial. Running from downtown to the Bohemian Flats, I think about an episode of “On Being” with Eula Biss. Listening to music or podcasts while moving might seem like a distraction from giving attention to a place, and it can be. But it can also be a chance to create a map of a place, connecting ideas that matter to you with locations that you move through regularly. Does that make sense?

Many people have strong opinions about whether or not you should be listening to anything while you’re moving. Although I do move much more without headphones, I like wearing them too. In my first year of doing this running project, I wrote a series of four acrostic poems exploring this no headphones/playlist debate: Playlist/No Headphones, some reflections

note: I’m typing this paragraph an hour later. When I was writing about headphones and listening, I thought there was something else I wanted to say, but it had drifted from my mind. It came back, in the midst of thinking about podcasts.

When I listen to podcasts, I always wear headphones, not broadcasting them to anyone else on the trail. For the most part, I prefer that others listen with headphones too. Yet, even as I write this, I’m reminded of how hearing someone’s irritating TEDtalk inspired a poem, and how I find some delight in hearing a song blasting from a bike speaker, especially if it’s accompanied by the Doppler effect.

Found this Anne Carson poem on twitter this morning:

Could I/ Anne Carson

If you are not the free person you want to be, you must find a place to tell the truth about that. To tell how things go for you. Candor is like a skein being produced inside the belly day after day, it has to get itself woven out somewhere. You could whisper down a well. You could write a letter and keep it in a drawer. You could inscribe a curse on a ribbon of lead and bury it in the ground to be unread for thousands of years. The point is not to find a reader, the point is the telling itself. Consider a person standing alone in a room. The house is silent. She is looking down at a piece of paper. Nothing else exists. All her veins go down into this paper. She takes her pen and writes on it some marks no one else will ever see, she bestows on it a kind of surplus, she tops it off with a gesture as private and accurate as her own name.

(added this later in the day):

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
87 degrees
4:30 pm (there) / 6:00 (back)

Biked without any problems. 2 distinctive memories, one of the way to the lake, one on the way back.

to the lake: Coasting down the hill between the double bridge and Locks and Dam No. 1, in the hot sun, I passed someone pushing a canoe on wheels. It looked awkward and like they were struggling. I tried to imagine the scenario where you would be pushing a canoe at this spot.

from the lake: Biking under the echo bridge, I heard 2 flutes playing a duet under the bridge, on the other side. It sounded very nice. I imagined calling out, “that sounds great” or “you’re awesome” but I didn’t.

This is the first time I’ve witnessed a canoe being pushed on the paved path or 2 flutes playing a duet under a bridge.

swim: 2 loops
87 degrees
windy

So much wind again. I’m getting used to it. I stayed on course. There was one point where I oriented myself in relation to another swimmer who was off course, so I got a little too close to the buoy, but otherwise, no problem. Again, I seem to swim straight towards the buoys even when I don’t see them, or think I see them. My googles leaked a little, and when I got out of the water there was a film over my eyes. Everything looked like it was fogged up, even though I wasn’t wearing glasses.

One memorable thing: Rounding the last green buoy, parallel to the big beach, I suddenly hit something hard with my hand. Huh? A green plastic bucket. As I flinched and lifted my head out of the water in surprise, I heard a woman laugh. Was she laughing at me? I doubt it. How did the bucket make it out this far?

I breathed every 5 strokes and had fun punching the water when it was extra choppy. Noticed a few planes and clouds above. An occasional flash below, and nothing else but brown, opaque water. Oh — a menancing sailboat, off to my left side. The first one this year!

addendum, june 22: I remembered 2 more memorable things that I don’t want to forget. One while I was swimming, the other while biking.

swimming: I kept seeing another swimmer out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked back again, they were gone. It was strange, because it happened more than once and felt very real, like they were there, and then they weren’t. Maybe it was the yellow buoy tethered to my waist?

biking: Biking back home on the river road trail, I passed a runner, running smoothly and quickly, snapping their fingers repeatedly. Why where they snapping? Not sure. In all the times I’ve passed a runner while biking (or while running), I don’t think I’ve ever heard them snapping!

june 19/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
80 degrees
9:00 am (there) / 10:40 am (back)

My first bike ride to the lake by myself this year. Everything was a bit fuzzy, but I wasn’t scared to bike and I didn’t have any problems almost running into things or hitting a big pothole. Hooray! I’m always grateful to still be able to bike. My most distinctive memory of the ride was on the way there, right after I entered the Minnehaha Creek path, past what we (me, my husband, and our kids who named it 10 or 12 years ago) call the duck bridge. A very irritating sound. A person walking with ski poles, scraping then clicking them on the asphalt with every foot strike. Ssscrape. Click. Ssscrape. Click. Over and over. I wondered if the runner right ahead of this walker couldn’t wait to get away from the sound.

swim: 2 very choppy loops
lake nokomis
80 degrees (air) / 75 degrees (water)
9:30 am

I checked the weather earlier in the day and knew it was going to be very windy. And it was. 25-30 mph gusts, I think. It’s hard for me to tell, but this felt like one of the choppier swims I’ve done ever. And I did a lot of choppy swims last year. I wasn’t scared, just tired out by it. My chest burned a little as I tried to get oxygen to it. Hard to think about much else, other than: where’s the buoy? is that the buoy? breathe away from the wave. is my neck getting too sore? am I almost to the big beach? Nearing the final green buoy, at a part that was extra choppy, a big wave washed over me as I tried to breathe. I didn’t inhale any of the water, I guess because I’m a strong, experienced swimmer, but I imagined if I had, how that might have been very bad. And when I say imagined, I mean I literally imagined the scenario, or a vague, dreamy approximation of it, in my head. Swallowing the water, panicking, flailing, drowning. I wasn’t feeling this, but almost watching it like a movie. I often daydream alternate scenarios in my head right after something has happened. Everybody does, right?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the orange buoys, at least 2 of the 3, were in a neat row, cutting diagonally across the lake
  2. the bottom of the overturned lifeguard boat at the little beach was hard to spot through the waves — no sparkling silver streak to follow
  3. water visibility: I could see my hands in front of me and the bubbles they made with each stroke, but not much else
  4. the final green buoy was drifting in the wind, the rope attached to a weight that anchored it was close to the surface, I barely cleared it as I rounded the buoy
  5. my bright yellow buoy, tethered to my waist, was pushed into me by the wind several times
  6. a few female voices near the orange buoy closest to the little beach, a few swimmers resting and comparing notes before heading back to the big beach
  7. the water felt heavier or slower or like some part of it was trying to drag me down, harder to float
  8. off to the side, I noticed another swimmer swmming very far from the buoys — was this on purpose, or were they way off course?
  9. no vines wrapping around my head or big branches floating in front of me
  10. one seagull flying towards me

Overheard, right before starting, near the lifeguard stand:

Swimmer One: I see you’re wearing the wrong colored cap. The lifeguards will make you get out if your cap’s not the right color.
Swimmer Two: I know. I talked to a lifeguard about it. It’s okay.
Swimmer One: Okay. My daughter’s a lifeguard and she’s always saying how awful it is to make someone have to get out because their cap is wrong. You might have to get out on the opposite side and then walk around.

Was there anymore to this exchange? Was the second swimmer irritated by the first swimmer? Why did she have on the wrong colored cap? Was she confronted by a lifeguard in the water? That would be very irritating to be a lifeguard having to confront someone about the wrong colored cap. I don’t like disciplining people or enforcing rules.

This swim and bike was wonderful, and made me feel so relaxed and happy after I was done. Lake Nokomis swimming is the best.

I found this poem via twitter this morning. So great, so perfect for one of the weeks of my summer class!

Calling Things What They Are/ Ada Limón

I pass the feeder and yell, Grackle party! And then an hour later I yell, Mourning dove afterparty! (I call the feeder the party and the seed on the ground the afterparty.) I am getting so good at watching that I’ve even dug out the binoculars an old poet gave me back when I was young and heading to the Cape with so much future ahead of me it was like my own ocean. I yell, Tufted titmouse! and Lucas laughs and says, Thought so. But he is humoring me, he didn’t think so at all. My father does this same thing. Shouts out at the feeder announcing the party attendees. He throws out a whole peanut or two to the Steller’s jay who visits on a low oak branch in the morning. To think there was a time I thought birds were kind of boring. Brown bird. Gray bird. Black bird. Blah blah blah bird. Then, I started to learn their names by the ocean and the person I was dating said, That’s the problem with you, Limón, you’re all fauna and no flora. And I began to learn the names of trees. I like to call things as they are. Before, the only thing I was interested in was love, how it grips you, how it terrifies you, how it annihilates you, and resuscitates you. I didn’t know then that it wasn’t even love that I was interested in, but my own suffering. I thought suffering kept things interesting. How funny that I called it love and the whole time it was pain.

june 12/RUNBIKE

5k
trestle turn around
71 degrees
humidity: 73% / dew point: 62
11 am

A wonderful run! Another day where it isn’t really cloudy, but CLOUD. The sky, almost white. The air, thick (or thicker than yesterday). Ran north on the river road trail past the welcoming oaks — good morning! And past the big boulder with no stones stacked. Through the tunnel of trees, above the old stone steps, under the lake street bridge, all the way to the trestle. I stopped to walk for a few seconds, turned around, and ran back. Worked on increasing my cadence while trying not to run faster and use more effort. That’s hard. I felt tired by the time I reached the trestle — and warm. The dew point is in the uncomfortable range.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. one of the welcoming oaks is very close to the paved trail, just a few inches away
  2. right before reaching the oaks, above the ravine, a tree that fell last week — or the week before? — is still there, leaning over the edge, split in a few places
  3. chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee
  4. a honk or two
  5. 2 bikers and a roller blader, moving and chatting together on the bike path
  6. comiing up behind me, I heard a voice saying to someone else, “there’s 5 of us coming up behind you,” then one biker with a trailer passing me, then moving over to the side while 5 bikers in bright yellow shirts biked past
  7. another, fast biker, approaching a few seconds later. I tried to listen to hear if they said, “on your left,” I don’t think so
  8. rowers on the river! the evidence: the coxswain’s voice gently offering guidance through a bullhorn
  9. a walker, listening to some funk music through their phone in the tunnel of trees
  10. all (almost all?) of the benches were empty

Nearing the end of my run, when I heard the rowers, I had a moment of clarity. I decided to cross over to the grass betwen the river road and edmund and record my thoughts. Here’s a recording of it, and a transcript, with a few additional remarks:

june 12th

june 12th, 2.5 miles run (note: I ran another 1/2 mile after I recorded this, also: I had only finished my run 20-30 seconds prior to recording this so my heartrate was still high and my breathing was more labored). Try to be open to being interrupted. Take notice of the sounds that interrupt you, that call out to you, almost insisting, “listen!,” as opposed to just trying as hard as you can to notice everything and to constantly be vigilant about the listening, trying to return to it again and again. While this can be useful sometimes, we also need the interruptions, the time to just be, to slow down and let the world speak to us.

Here, I try to remember the name of a poem that I think fits. I decided it was titled “Lost.” It is!

Lost/ David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Also, another example of this is the time I was really focused on running, not paying attention, to the point that I didn’t even notice the geese that were on the other side of the road, congregating in someone’s front yard. All of a sudden, one of them gobbled, not ferociously but loudly, almost yelling at me to listen and to notice.

Three things to note here: First, I wrote about this moment in my running log, under the heading “delight of the day” on march 2, 2022.

Secone, it was not geese who interrupted me, but turkeys (hence, the gobble reference). I think I mis-said geese because I was thinking about Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese and the lines:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Third, this recording was inspired by a moment on today’s run when I was interrupted by something. I forgot to say what that something was in the recording and I’m already struggling to remember it. I think it was the voice of the rower?

And, that’s…to get to that point..ooo! And then I think about how Mary Oliver has that poem where she talks about how some people can just get there right away. They just open up and stuff pours in. Others of us need a lot more practice. It’s a constant struggle…This would be..the exercise is kind of passive insofar as you’re not doing anything to make it happen, you’re just letting it happen and be around and aware when it does.

Mary Oliver doesn’t exactly write, “stuff pours in,” she writes:

from “The Book of Time” in The Leaf and the Cloud/ Mary Oliver

For some souls it’s easy; they lie down on the sand
and are soon asleep.
For others, the mind shivers in its glacial palace,
and won’t come.
Yes, the mind takes a long time, is otherwise occupied
than by hapiness, and deep breathing.
Now, in the distance, some bird is singing.
And now I have gathered six or seven deep red,
half-opened cups of petals betwen my hands,
and now I have put my face against them
and now I am moving my face back and forth, slowly,
against them.
The body is not much more than two feet and a tongue.
Come to me, says the blue sky, and say the word.
And finally even the mind comes running, like a wild thing,
and lies down on the sand.
Eternity is not later, or in any unfindable place.
Roses, roses, roses.

Having this moment of clarity was so great. Before heading out for my run, I was struggling to describe the different forms of attention that we’ll be working on in my class. I have too many ideas, too many sources, too many things that I want to share. I was feeling overwhelmed. On the run, I wasn’t thinking about how to work through this problem, but this idea of interruptions and being open to them found me. This “finding” is an excellent example of what I’m trying to teach about the value of moving outside! It’s not all that we can do while moving, and it doesn’t always happen, but it’s part of why I show up almost every day beside the gorge, moving and breathing and trying to be present.

As I thought about attention before I went out for a run, and the types of attention I want to describe in my lecture recording (I’m doing it like a podcast), I thought about Mary Oliver’s poem “Luke” as a good example of being open to attention. After typing up those bits from MO’s The Leaf and the Cloud above, I see some strong connections between it and “Luke.”

Luke/ Mary Oliver

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk,
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen,

hovered—
and easily
she adored
every blossom,

not in the serious,
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

Thank you running and the gorge and my feet for making it possible for me to move so that I could untangle this knot in my thinking and be with the birds and the rowers and the river!

bike: about 12 miles*
around lake nokomis and back

*my very outdated, over-the-hill apple watch crashed again while we were biking, so I don’t know the exact distance. Somewhere between 11.5 and 12 miles. I finally decided that I need a new watch. It’s coming on Tuesday: an early birthday present!

Biked with FWA over to the lake to pick up our swim caps! Tuesday is the first open swim! Hooray!! Several memorable things happened, which I want to remember for me and for FWA:

  1. At Sandcastle, they had entertainment: a singer with a guitar. He sang John Denver’s “Country Roads,” but changed some of the words to fit Minneapolis. Instead of Almost heaven, West Virginia he sang, Almost heaven, South Minneapolis, which was awkward. He kept in Shenandoah River in Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River when, as FWA suggested, he could have sang, Mississippi River
  2. Picking up our caps, a lifeguard asked FWA if he goes to Gustavus (he was wearing a Gustavus t-shirt). When he said yes, she added: “My friend and I just transferred from there to St. Olaf.” Anyone who goes/went to either Gustavus or St. Olaf and knows about their rivalry and might find this remark funny
  3. Biking to lake nokomis on the minnehaha creek path, rounding a hidden corner, we heard a bell ringing repeatedly. It came from a double-recumbant bike, just letting us know they were there. Tne franctic ringing and the sight of a recumbant bike with 2 people on it seemed surreal and strange and funny

june 8/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.4 miles
lake nokomis and back

swim: 400 yards
lake nokomis

My first outside bike ride of the year and my first swim! As my vision declines, I never know how hard it will be to bike. Will I be able to see? Will it be too scary? Today was okay. It’s very hard for me to see potholes or react quickly to unexpected things (crowded trails, passing another biker), but as long as I don’t go too fast and I give careful attention (all the time) as I ride, I should be okay. It’s a bit exhausting, but who cares? I can still bike!

Things I Heard While Biking

  1. drumming woodpeckers, twice
  2. the music from the ice cream truck
  3. a biker calling out calmly and quietly as she passed, “on your left”

Biked to the lake with my 19 year-old son, FWA. He’s planning to swim across the lake with me, at least once, although I’m hoping he’ll try it more than once. I’ve been dreaming about one of my kids being old enough to join me in open swim — you have to be 18. They were both on the swim team and are great swimmers. He wasn’t up for the 69 degree water, but I was. It didn’t seem cold to me. I love the cold water on my muscles. Very nice! It didn’t feel as good inside my right ear. Since FWA was with me, and I haven’t swam since last september, I decided to take it easy and only do one loop around the buoys at the big beach.

10 Things I Noticed While Swimming

  1. the season has barely begun and the part of the white buoys under the water was thick with muck…yuck
  2. no clear views below of biggish fish or hairbands or the bottom
  3. near the shore, dozens of minnows parted as I moved through the water
  4. the water was opaque, with shafts of light pushing their way through
  5. I could see the white buoys, mostly the feeling that they were there
  6. the view as I lifted my head to the side and out of the water to breathe was much clearer than my view as I looked straight ahead
  7. I heard some kids laughing as I neared the far end of the beach
  8. when I started, there were a few groups of people swimming, when I stopped, I was one of the few people still in the water
  9. I breathed every five strokes
  10. there was a seagull perched on the white buoy as I neared it. At the last minute, it flew off — was it looking for a big fish?

Here’s Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day. I love how H.D. imagines the trees as water — and how they describe it! Running in the tunnel of trees, past a part that seems surrounded by green, I’ve felt like I was swimming in a sea of trees.

Oread/ H. D.

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

note: Oread = “a nymph believed to inhabit mountains.”

april 5/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 1.2 miles

Rain and wind. Short workout in the basement. Had to pump my bike tire up again. Definitely a leak. Took me only a minute to pump it up. I was reminded of how much I struggled to do it a few months ago when I hadn’t done it in a while. Thought how important habits/habitual practices are for me. Watched most of the 2018 Ironman television coverage while I biked. Listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation as I ran. Have no memory of what I thought about.

before the workout

Day 3 with dirt: loam. Thinking more about compost and soil and humus, I suddenly remembered loam. I discovered this word a few years ago and it has made it into at least one of my poems. Some definitions of loam use the word humus, others don’t.

 3. A soil of great fertility composed chiefly of clay and sand with an admixture of decomposed vegetable matter.

from Oxford English Dictionary online (via local library)

noun

a fertile soil of clay and sand containing humus.

from Oxford Languages (Google’s dictionary)

Doing a brief search on loam and humus, I also found discussions of the distinctions between sand, silt, and clay. According to an answer on Quora, the difference is about particle size. This answer also offers the following distinction between loam and humus:

Loam is a mixture of clay, sand and silt and benefits from the qualities of these 3 different textures, favoring water retention, air circulation, drainage and fertility.

Humus is a highly complex substance still not fully understood. It is a stable and uniformly dark, spongy and amorphous material which come from the mechanical degradation of organic matter. Humus is fertile and gather all properties suitable for optimal plant growth. It is formed by complex chemical compounds, of plant, animal and microbial origin

Searched “loam” on Poetry Foundation and found a few poems:

Loam/ Carl Sandburg

In the loam we sleep,
In the cool moist loam,
To the lull of years that pass
And the break of stars,

From the loam, then,
The soft warm loam,
We rise:
To shape of rose leaf,
Of face and shoulder.

We stand, then,
To a whiff of life,
Lifted to the silver of the sun
Over and out of the loam
A day.

Things to remember: the whiff of life, the silver of the sun

Speaking of loam as the whiff of life. Here’s another poem that I love:

Unveiling/ Gail Mazur

I say to the named granite stone, to the brown grass,
to the dead chrysanthemums, Mother, I still have a
body, what else could receive my mind’s transmissions,
its dots and dashes of pain
? I expect and get no answer,
no loamy scent of her coral geraniums. She who is now
immaterial, for better or worse, no longer needs to speak
for me to hear, as in a continuous loop, classic messages
of wisdom, love and fury. MAKE! DO! a note on our fridge
commanded. Here I am making, unmaking, doing, undoing.

MAKE! DO! I love the different ways to read this, as: making do, managing, getting by, finding a way with limited resources and make something! do something! create act.

Just one more poem with loam in it. Powerful. Loamy roamers rising.

The Theft Outright/ Heid E. Erdrich

after Frost

We were the land’s before we were.

Or the land was ours before you were a land.
Or this land was our land, it was not your land.

We were the land before we were people,
loamy roamers rising, so the stories go,
or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul—

What’s America, but the legend of Rock ‘n’ Roll?

Red rocks, blood clots bearing boys, blood sands
swimming being from women’s hands, we originate,
originally, spontaneous as hemorrhage.

Un-possessing of what we still are possessed by,
possessed by what we now no more possess.

We were the land before we were people,
dreamy sunbeams where sun don’t shine, so the stories go,
or pulled up a hole, clawing past ants and roots—

Dineh in documentaries scoff DNA evidence off.
They landed late, but canyons spoke them home.
Nomadic Turkish horse tribes they don’t know.

What’s America, but the legend of Stop ‘n’ Go?

Could be cousins, left on the land bridge,
contrary to popular belief, that was a two-way toll.
In any case we’d claim them, give them some place to stay.

Such as we were we gave most things outright
(the deed of the theft was many deeds and leases and claim stakes
and tenure disputes and moved plat markers stolen still today . . .)

We were the land before we were a people,
earthdivers, her darling mudpuppies, so the stories go,
or emerging, fully forming from flesh of earth—

The land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions,
still storied, art-filled, fully enhanced.
Such as she is, such as she wills us to become.

note:

  • Dineh, “the people,” what the Navajo called themselves
  • for Frost = The Gift Outright / Robert Frost … discovered this was the poem he read at Kennedy’s inauguration, through this helpful analysis, Political Poeticizing (found when I searched, “Robert Frost settler colonialism”)

One more thing: Returning to the idea, in Sandburg’s and Mazur’s poem, I’m thinking about the smell of loam. Here’s something helpful I found:

We feel something deep in the smell of that fresh-soil, and it is one of those mysteries that takes us back to a place in time.  The smell of soil invokes something so deep that it never really can be described. Can you describe the smell of soil in a forest, freshly tilled field, or in a swamp?  Have you ever wondered if fresh tilled soil has always had the same sweet aroma? 

Actually it’s not the soil we smell but the bacteria that enters the soil through the geosmin.  It’s the bacteria that is producing the chemical that we smell.  The smell will be different depending on where the soil is found.  Healthy, productive soils should smell fresh, clean and pleasant or have little odor at all.  If the soil smells like ammonia or has a rotten odor that is a good indication there is poor drainage or lack of oxygen in the soil.

The unique smell is because soil is not just dirt.  Healthy soil is living and is a complex ecosystem with an abundance of bio-diversity.  “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals”. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949.  Soil…..”the Latin name for man, homo, derived from humus, the stuff of life in the soil.”  Dr. Daniel Hillel

The Smell of Living Soil

One more link: What your soil is trying to tell you with sound, smell, and color

march 31/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minute warm-up
run: 3.25 miles
outside: wind + thin sheet of ice

Wanted to run outside today, but it snowed and sleeted yesterday and it hasn’t warmed enough to melt yet. I don’t want to fall and get an injury. Speaking of injuries, just watched a YouTube video with one of my favorite triathletes, Lucy Charles-Barclay. She has a small fracture on the inside of her femoral-something-or-other (I remember the femoral part, but forgot the rest). She doesn’t know yet how long it will take to heal or if she can do any exercise. She mentioned how she’s always used exercise as a way to cope with any stress/anxiety she is feeling. Now, she can’t and she’s unsure of how how to handle it. I remember feeling this way with my first “big” injury. It sucked, but then I started memorizing poems and I felt better. That injury was when I really discovered how much I love poetry.

I haven’t figured out what to watch now that I’m done with Dickinson, so I watched a random running race while I biked. Then I listened to an old playlist while I ran. Felt pretty good. Didn’t think about anything except how much time I had left. 30 minutes on the treadmill is a long time for me. Very tedious.

I guess I thought about at least one other thing: how much I was feeling the lyrics of Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls, which was on my playlist. I remember liking that song at the end of high school, then driving with a future roommate to see them perform at Luther College my freshman year of college. I always appreciated the lyrics, but they didn’t really mean anything to me, more like empty clichés or slogans or something someone else would do. Now I find myself living (or trying to live those) words in my work and my daily practices:

There’s more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
Closer I am to fine

I like the idea of more (possible) answers + crooked lines + not trying to KNOW or find the answers + the idea of getting closer (but never quite getting) to fine + fine (not success or achievement or even happiness) as the goal.

Found this poem on twitter this morning. Wow!

I Wonder If I Need the Rapture or If I Could Just
Swallow A Catastrophe and Call It Good / Kelli Russell Agodon

Find me at a party socializing with someone’s cat.
Pull a decade from my dress and find what’s left
of the bliss sewn in the hem.

In a perfect world, we would slow dance
with someone we love, we would hold childhood
in our palm and call it a foal.

What we love frolics with its mother, while we ache
for our sins. Walk through a field without disturbing
a spider’s web. Turn off the news

when a javelin is thrown through the screen
into our heart. Yes, you are worried–fear
has been our blanket for years.

Yes, you are home alone so your mind
is cashing in every anxiety chip. Bet on less.
Forget the radishes at the store and be joyful

that you did. There are too many false fangs
at the necks of the ones we love. Bite lighter.
Use your lips. Know the lightening

you believed would kill you didn’t. Not every wolf
harms, many just want to find their way
back into the forests we keep cutting down.

march 30/BIKE

bike: 30 minutes
basement
outside: rain/snow mix

Decided to skip the run today and only bike while I watched the final episode of Dickinson. Sad to see this series end, so glad I stuck with it after almost stopping watching it after an episode. I liked how the creator, Alena Smith, ended the series with lots of hope, a greater appreciation of Death as necessary part of the cycle of life, and an emphasis on ED’s famous white dress as central to her empowerment. I didn’t agree with all of it, especially the choice to use the song, “Gynmnopédie No. 1,” which I connect with the movie, My Dinner with Andre and the “Community” episode. I like the song, but not for the ending of this series. But, who cares? I decided early on in this show that I didn’t want to be too critical of the show — to judge it by what I might have done, or dismiss it as too modern. Instead, I took it as one possible way in which we could imagine ED’s world. I’m going to miss Emily’s mom. This show made me a big fan of Jane Krakowski. And, I’ll miss Lavinia too. Of course, Emily was great and it was fun to see how her poems were invoked.

I’m pretty sure I watched every episode while biking in the basement. Now I’ll have to find something new to watch.

One of the poems featured in this last episode is “I started Early — Took my Dog.” I thought I had posted it on this log already, but I can’t seem to find it. So, here it is:

I started Early — Took my Dog / Emily Dickinson

I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion’s Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

Oh, how I would love to start early and take my dog to the sea! All of my reading of Alice Oswald and the sea is making me want to spend some time on a coast.

march 23/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1 mile
basement
outside: rain, snow, wind, 32 degrees

Watched the second to last episode of Dickinson while I biked, then ran a mile while listening to Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” (which I heard on The Current yesterday and thought it would be fun to run to. Mostly, it was). The Dickinson episode was titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” and, among other things, was about Emily (mother) imaging that a mouse in her bedroom was her dead sister Lavinia. She tells a story about how Lavinia loved mice, keeping them as pets — feeding them cheese and naming them after her favorite fairy tale characters. Then she talks to the mouse-as-Lavinia and says goodbye to her. I liked this sweet explanation for why Emily (poet) might have written a poem titled, “Grief is a Mouse,” although I might also like not having an explanation for why she chose a mouse to describe grief. It reminds me of an essay I read about Emily Dickinson last year:

Whenever I introduce Dickinson’s poems into my classes, I always begin by doing a version of an exercise that I learned from one of my great mentors, Carolyn Williams, and that has long circulated through a community of people who work on 19th-century poetics. Over the years it has come to be called “Dickinson Mad-Libs.” The way it works is this: I choose a line, a stanza, or a whole poem, and I take out some of its words (usually nouns and adjectives, but sometimes verbs as well), and I simply leave blanks where those words were. Then I ask the students to fill in the blanks. I tend to switch up which poems I use, even though I know several that work particularly well. I’ll never forget the time I used “Grief is a ________.” 

Students go ahead and put in the blanks what is expected: Grief is a pain, Grief is a bitch. The ones who want to take imaginative leaps deliver up: Grief is a thunderstorm, Grief is a tidal wave. But I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how many budding poets you have in a class, nobody who hasn’t already read Dickinson’s poem would ever write the phrase the way she wrote it.

There are lots of fascinating conversations to have about what, exactly, Dickinson might have meant when she wrote “Grief is a mouse,” but the more interesting point, to me at least, is simply that Dickinson was a master of unexpected, yet absolutely perfect, word choice.

The Poets (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson

Before I went downstairs to exercise, I worked on my second read-through of Dart. I’m making note of all the voices that appear. It’s helpful as a way of tracing how these voices flow from one to the next, sometimes easily, more often as interruptions. In focusing on these voices, I’m starting to see the tensions over the language used to describe how the river works, especially in terms of order and control. I’ll have to write more later, when I have time.

Here is one of the poems read in Dickinson (season 3, ep 9):

These are the days when Birds come back— / Emily Dickinson

These are the days when Birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

march 14/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.2 miles
basement
outside: 30 degrees / light snow

Partly because I wanted to watch more Dickinson, and mostly because of the thick, wet snow that has covered the huge puddles on the sidewalk making everything a mess, I decided to bike and run inside this late morning. Before I started biking — on my bike, on a stand — I pumped up my back tire. There’s a small leak, so I’ve been pumping up the tire all winter. Finally, I have gotten the hang of my complicated pump and the strange (to me) tire nozzle!

While I biked, I watched another Dickinson episode. I stayed on the bike longer to finish it. In this one, Emily realizes (again) her Dad is a sexist jerk and that her brother Austin was right. Then she meets up with Nobody and falls through an open grave to travel to the other side of false hope. This part of the episode was difficult for me to see, it was too dark, but it looked like she was in a bizarro version of her house (with weird lighting). She ends up on a Civil War battlefield, dressed in uniform, watching as Henry calls out something like, “victory is ours!” Then, Emily sees true hope: a bird in the tree. I checked and I have 2 episodes left.

While I ran, I listened to the first three songs on Taylor Swift’s Reputation. I didn’t think about much, just moved, which I always like to do.

Yesterday, I came up with a project (or experiment?) for the rest of March. I will closely read Alice Oswald’s 48 page poem about the River Dart. It’s called Dart, and I got it for Christmas this year — after years of having it on my wishlist. I’ve wanted to read it for some time (I first mentioned it here on June, 2019) because I love rivers and Oswald and I’m very curious about how she writes about a river. Plus, after working for some time on a series of poems, then a proposal for a class, I’d like to dive deep into someone else’s words for a while.

Today, some background and a few pages. First, here’s how Oswald describes her project at the beginning of the book:

This poem is made from the language or people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two year I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters — linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a singing from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes into another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s muttering.

Dart / Alice Oswald

In an earlier description of her project for The Poetry Society, Oswald offers more details about this project, both before and during her work on it. All of it is interesting, but I was especially intrigued by her method for combining the recordings of others talking about the river and her imagination.

I decided to take along a tape-recorder. At the moment, my method is to tape a conversation with someone who works on the Dart, then go home and write it down from memory. I then work with these two kinds of record – one precise, one distorted by the mind – to generate the poem’s language. It’s experimental and very against my grain, this mixture of journalism and imagination, but the results are exciting. Above all, it preserves the idea of the poem’s voice being everyone’s, not just the poet’s.

source

I’d like to try doing this with the documenting of my runs: experimenting with combining recordings with my memory/imagination of what happened.

This poem begins at the start of the east River Dart at Cranmore Pool with an old man (Old Man River? or is that an American expression?) who walks the river. Here are a few lines I especially like:

listen to the horrible keep-time of a man walking,
rustling and jingling his keys
at the centre of his own noise,
clomping the silence in pieces and I

I don’t know, all I know is walking.

What I love is one foot in front of another. South-south-west and
down the contours. I go slipping between Black Ridge and White
Horse Hill into a bowl of the moor where echoes can’t get out

Speaking of the bowl of the moor where echoes can’t get out, I found a BBC tour of the Dart. The opening lines seem to speak about that echo-trapping moor. Also, the line, “What I love is one foot in front of another,” is wonderful. I could imagine that as a poem title.

Here’s another bit that I especially like:

one step-width water
of linked stones
trills in the stones
glides in the trills
eels in the glides
in each eel a fingerwidth of sea

Here are some links to more information:

march 9/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 1.55 miles
basement
outdoor temp: 17 degrees / feels like 5

It wasn’t the cold that kept me inside today, but the water from yesterday that turned to ice overnight. So many slick spots on the sidewalk and the road! I read my entry from last year on this day, and it was 54 degrees outside. And I wore shorts. Shorts?! As much as I like winter running, I’m ready for spring. Less layers, open walking paths. I’m tried off dodging big ice chunks and running on the bike trail.

Biking and running inside wasn’t so bad. Finished watching the Dickinson episode I started on Feb 23. In this one, Emily and Lavinia take a wild ride on a gazebo and end up in the 1950s where they meet Sylvia Plath. Emily’s parents find some hemp growing in Emily’s conservatory and decide to smoke it. I’m not sure how many episodes I have left, but it’s not many.

While I ran, I listened to an old playlist: Lizzo, Justin Timberlake, Ke$ha. Felt good. I don’t remember thinking about anything, or noticing anything. No strange smells or shadows or hairballs that look like spiders wanting to jump on me. Running on the treadmill is helpful for enabling me to move when I can’t outside, but it’s not very exciting or inspiring — especially when the treadmill is in the cold, unfinished basement of a 100+ year-old house.

Found this poem by Aracelis Girmay on twitter yesterday. Wonderful!

Second Estrangement/ Aracelis Girmay

Please raise your hand,
whomever else of you
has been a child,
lost, in a market
or a mall, without
knowing it at first, following
a stranger, accidentally
thinking he is yours,
your family or parent, even
grabbing for his hands,
even calling the word
you said then for “Father,”
only to see the face
look strangely down, utterly
foreign, utterly not the one
who loves you, you
who are a bird suddenly
stunned by the glass partitions
of rooms.
How far
the world you knew, & tall,
& filled, finally, with strangers.

One of my favorite poetry people pointed out the line, “who loves you, you” and I’m so grateful. Maybe I would have noticed this hidden message/one line poem on my own, but not as soon. I love imagining this as the center/heart of this poem, as the poem within a poem. It makes me want to try to do this too, to put in a line that offers something extra.

I don’t remember accidentally taking a stranger’s hand in a crowded store when I was a kid, but I do still remember the absolute terror of realizing I was lost, and alone, in a store. I remember pacing around, trying to calm myself down as I looked for my mom. Such an awful feeling: flushed face, tingling scalp, queasy stomach.

feb 23/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.4 miles
basement
3 degrees / feels like -10
about 5 inches of snow

Brr. I thought about running outside (I almost always do), but the feels like temperature is -10 and the paths are covered in snow, which is probably hiding ice, so I went to the basement. Tomorrow it will be as cold as today, but I’ll go anyway.

Finished the rest of the Dickinson episode I was watching where Emily and her family take a “daycation” (Lavinia’s words) to an insane asylum. Emily’s dad does not commit her in order to become a trustee. Emily’s mom wants to stay, but isn’t allowed, so when they return home, she announces that she will be going upstairs to sleep. Confused and concerned, Lavinia asks, “For a short nap?” The elder Emily answers, “No. Wake me up when the war is over.” Meanwhile, Henry (a free Black man who used to work for the Dickinsons, abolitionist, married to Betty, who traveled South to fight for the Union) is teaching a group of free Black soldiers, or almost soldiers if the white men in charge would give them the rank and better uniforms and weapons and the pay they deserve, to read. Emily’s mentor, Higginson, is the main white man in charge and, although his intentions seem good, he patronizes and bullshits them. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: Higginson as both Emily’s mentor and a well-meaning but clueless white savior/liberal.

As the Dickinsons are leaving the asylum, Emily recites this poem (in her usual way on this show: voice-over, with the cursive words scrolling fleetingly across the screen):

A little Madness in the Spring (1356) / Emily Dickinson

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown – 
Who ponders this tremendous scene – 
This whole Experiment of Green – 
As if it were his own!

As I ran, I listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation again. I tried to avoid looking at my watch, so the time would pass faster, or without notice. It mostly worked; it is still much harder to run for more than 20 minutes on the treadmill. Much easier outside. I didn’t think about anything as I ran — did I? I don’t plan to run on the treadmill much beyond February. I should try to experiment with ways to find delight, or be curious, or to track how words move as I do before March happens.

And here’s another poem that isn’t really about anything else I’ve mentioned here yet, but I wanted to remember it, especially the lines about the bird:

The Husband’s Answers/ Rebecca Hazelton


The images don’t explain a story. They are a counterpoint. 

It’s understandable to mistake them for metaphor, but still, a mistake. 

The trouble comes from thinking. I could stop there. The trouble comes from thinking an image is a story. 

This is how painting began. Little glimpses into little worlds. Little glimpses into the faces of the divine. 

But we know that the gods don’t really look like us. 

Yes, all Western art. 

I can’t speak to that. 

Berger says the image, disconnected from a fixed location, proliferates, and changes through new context, strange juxtapositions, reframing. 

What they do to us, yes. The stories they tell us, and how we accept those stories. 

He is less interested in the stories we bring. 

If I show you an image of a bird flying, you might think freedom, or graceful, or wings. You might remember your mother pointing to the sky, naming the bird starlingheroncrow. But all of that is yours. 

The bird is just the bird, flying, following the magnetic fields of the earth home. 

I did not say the trouble was a bad thing. I only said that it was trouble. 

feb 22/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.3 miles
6 degrees / feels like -9
snow (about 4 inches so far)

The snow and cold are here. And some wind too. Today, I’m inside. Started another Dickinson episode. In this one, the “girls” (the Emilys + Lavinia) accompany Edward to an insane asylum for women. The younger Emily is too curious and poetic for the warden; he deems her a lunatic and is trying to pressure Edward into committing her. Will he do it? I’ll have to find out in the next episode. The other Emily (mom), decides she wants to be committed so she can have some rest, while Lavinia starts crying uncontrollably with an inmate who is distraught over the death of her boyfriend/fiance in the war.

Listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation while I ran on the treadmill. This album isn’t very original, but the beats in it match my foot strikes well. It helped me to feel like I was flying or floating or slightly untethered for a few minutes.

Nothing interesting to notice in the basement today. No spiders or sara-shadows or unpleasant smells wafting down from the kitchen.

Found this poem while scrolling through a journal I’m submitting some poems to:

Hum/ Yvonne Zipter

For longer than memory, we thought giraffes
silent, their thirteen-foot windpipes too great
a climb for the air pushed from the bellows
of their lungs to quiver the cords of their voice boxes.

The truth is, they hum under cover of night,
and given the long tube of their tracheas,
I imagined they sound like didgeridoos,
and it seems that’s so—low and throbbing,

a lullaby for a gangly baby—though in fact
we don’t yet know why they hum. Perhaps
it’s merely for the pleasure of it, like my wife
who can barely breathe without also singing.

Did she always sing like this? I queried
my mother-in-law. Yes, she said. She hummed
constantly. It drove me crazy!
But I like the way
song waves move through her, use her,

as if she were the soundtrack to her own life,
a movie made for joy. Of course, it’s possible
giraffes simply convey giraffish data with their
rumbling vibrations. But I prefer to believe

they’re humming from a sense of safety,
knowing they can let their guard down,
that they’re among their own kind, humming
through the dark hours on a swell of happiness.

feb 18/BIKERUN

bike: 24 minutes
run: 2.2 miles
basement
28 degrees
light snow

As usual, I thought about running outside, but when I took Delia the dog for a walk, I noticed how much ice was on the sidewalk — smooth, flat, slick ice. It was on the road too. So, even though it wasn’t that cold, and the birds were chirping like it was spring, I decided being inside was safer. I suppose it helped that I knew I could watch more of the episode of Dickinson that I started yesterday while I biked. I checked and I have 5 more episodes after this one in the entire series. Bummer. I’d like to finish it this winter, before I start always running outside.

After I biked, I listened to a playlist titled, Summer 2014, while I ran. This title was not accurate; I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” in 2014 (it didn’t exist yet, right?), but it was on this playlist. I have a habit of deleting and adding songs whenever I want. I suppose my playlists are ships of Theseus. I wonder, do I have any playlists that don’t have any of the original songs on them? Possibly.

Totally unrelated to my run or bike, but I’d like to remember this: Last night, or early this morning, my mom appeared in my dream, and she was not sick but healthy and happy. Still now, 11.5 years after she died, if she appears in my dreams, it’s often the sick and dying version of her. What a gift to get this healthy version of her today!

Decided to look up ship of Theseus on poetry foundation to find my poem of the day:

The Ships of Theseus/ STEVE GEHRKE

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians    …    for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.
— Plutarch, Vita Thesel

The answer of course is that the ship
doesn’t exist, that “ship”
is an abstraction, a conception,
an imaginary tarp thrown
across the garden of the real.
The answer is that the cheap
peasantry of things toils all day
in the kingdom of  language,
every ship like a casket
of words: bulkhead, transom,
mast steps
. The answer
is to wake again to the banality
of things, to wade toward
the light inside the plasma
of ideas. But each plank
is woven from your mother’s
hair. The blade of each oar
contains the shadow of
a horse. The answer
is that the self is the glue between
the boards, the cartilage
that holds a world together,
that self is the wax in
the stenographer’s ears,
that there is nothing the mind
won’t sacrifice, each item
another goat tossed into
the lava of our needs.
The answer is that this is just
another poem about divorce,
about untombing the mattress
from the sofa, your body
laid out on the bones of the
double-jointed frame, about
separation, rebuilding, about
your daughter’s missing
teeth. Each time you visit
now you find her partially
replaced, more sturdily
jointed, the weathered joists
of   her childhood being stripped 
away. New voice. New hair.
The answer is to stand there
redrawing the constellation
of   the word daughter in
your brain while she tries
to understand exactly who
you are, and breathes out
girl after girl into the entry-
way, a fog of   strangers that
almost evaporates when
you say each other’s
names. Almost, but not quite.
Let it be enough. Already,
a third ship moves
quietly toward you in the night.

I love this line: “and breathes out/girl after girl into the entry-/
way, a fog of strangers that/almost evaporates when/you say each other’s/names.”

feb 17/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 3.1 miles
basement
2 degrees / feels like -10

Very cold and icy outside. It looks warm, with the bright sun, but it’s not. Finished another episode of Dickinson. On the advice of Higginson, Emily reads Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and has some wild fantasy about meeting him in New York City at a hospital, where he’s a nurse. Louisa May Alcott’s there too. As she pretends to be a dying soldier’s sister, and then gets drunk at a bar with Whitman, Emily reflects on the need for connecting with the world in order to write about it. These experiences are seductive but also excessive (and reckless?), suggesting that living life fully (feeling all its pain, all of its pleasure — Billy Eichner as Walt Whitman says) has its problems too. When I finished that episode, I started the next. So far, this one includes: Lavinia taking a vow of silence in solidarity with all the dead soldiers; the whole family, except for Austin, attending a local quilt show (with “Quilted” by Shiloh Rafe playing in the background), with Emily’s mom donating then demanding back her mother’s (or grandmother’s?) quilt; Emily receiving an affirming letter from Higginson reassuring her that her poetry was not dead, but alive; and the beginnings of a plan for celebrating Edward’s birthday: an old-fashioned family sing-a-long. I wonder what will happen next?

Listened to a playlist (Lizzo, Harry Styles, Ke$ha, Justin Timberlake) a I ran on the treadmill. I can’t remember exactly what I thought about, just that I was happy. About 10 or so minutes in, I glanced down to my right, and noticed something hanging off the bar of the treadmill. A spider? It looked like a spider to me but, with my vision, and the low light, and the fact that I was moving, I couldn’t tell. I didn’t stop to check. Instead, I tried keep an eye on it and stick closer to the other side of the treadmill. I had some irrational fear that it might jump on me. I tried to convince myself that this was a friendly spider that was joining me on my run. And I thought I should find a spider poem to post on here once I finished my run. When I stopped, I checked. No spider; a small bit of fuzz and a hairball dangling down from the bar. Of course.

When I thought about posting a spider poem, I thought about 2 things: first, a Virginia Woolf (very) short story I had read for a class a few years ago that I thought was about a spider — it wasn’t; it’s about a moth, The Death of the Moth. And, second, a poem by Robert Frost. I’m almost positive that this was the first poem I ever memorized and recited in an english class (actually, one of the only that I ever recited in a class). I can’t remember if it was in elementary or middle school.

Design/ Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

The line that made me certain that this was the poem I had memorized was the one with the heal-all in it. I remember the awkwardness of that word and not knowing what a heal-all was. Pretty sure I didn’t look it up. I did today: (from wikipedia) “Prunella vulgaris, the common self-healheal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earthcarpenter’s herbbrownwort or blue curls, is a herbaceous plant in the mint family Lamiaceae.” It’s invasive, and very hard to get out of your backyard once it takes root. Of course, “looking it up” back in 1986 or so wouldn’t have involved google or wikipedia but the library and a librarian.

I can’t imagine I understood this poem at all as I memorized and then recited it. I have a vague memory that I picked it because it was the shortest option. Did my teacher tell me anything about the poem? Now I can tell it’s a sonnet with a classic sonnet rhyme scheme in the first 8 lines (ABBAABBA), then a variation in the last 6 (ACAACC). Supposedly it’s in iambic pentameter — I say supposedly because I always struggle to hear meter. Here’s a recording of the poem.

feb 13/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 1.3 miles
basement
4 degrees / feels like -5

Finished one episode, started another of Dickinson while I biked. Some celebrity appearances: Sojourner Truth and Walt Whitman (played by Billie Eichner!), plus the introduction of one of Dickinson’s key mentors: Thomas Wentworth Higginson, when he reads the letter Emily sends to him about her poetry. After I finished biking, I listened to a playlist while I did a short run to reach my weekly goal of 20 miles. Excellent.

Last night, Scott, RJP, and I went to Gustavus for FWA’s home concert. Amazing. I never would have guessed how much it would mean to me to have FWA attend Gustavus — to see him thriving, and to reconnect with the place where my life began.

I continue to work on my mannequin poem. It’s getting closer, now just down to picking a few new words to make it better. This part is a lot of fun, much less stressful than the part with the blank page. I listened to a recording of myself reading my latest draft as I cooled down on the treadmill. Thought about changing some words to fit better with my new name for the mannequins, not Queens but Crones. When they were queens, I described them as surveying the kingdom, as Crones, should they survey the forest? Also, queens are adorned in hats, what is the best word for how Crones are dressed?

Thinking about Crones and old women and wondering what poems have been written about them. Here’s one I especially liked:

Old Woman in a Housecoat/ GEORGIANA COHEN

An old woman in
a floor-length housecoat
had become sunset
to me, west-facing.
Turquoise, sage, or rose,
she leans out of her
second floor window,
chin slumped in her palm,
and gazes at the
fenced property line
between us, the cars
beached in the driveway,
the creeping slide of
light across shingles.
When the window shuts,
dusk becomes blush and
bruises, projected
on vinyl siding.
Housecoats breathe across
the sky like frail clouds.

feb 11/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 1.3 miles
21 degrees
wind + ice + snow

Watched most of the next episode of Dickinson. Emily is trying to help everyone, yet is failing to help anyone. She’s torn between Sue and her mother and sister, Austin and her father. She wants to lock herself in her room and write, believing that her poems are the only/best way to help others — her family and the nation, both divided, and the dying soldiers. A key question comes up a few times: what can poetry do? (and, is poetry ever more than just words?) I haven’t quite finished the episode, but this answer seems to be the most compelling, offered by the local seamstress, an African American woman named Betty:

Emily: So what if I can’t fix all the messy relationships in my family? The best thing I can do for the world, is to lock myself in my room and write my poetry.

Betty: But what good are your poems going to be if you do that? If you can’t handle the mess of the world, why should anyone need to hear what you have to say? Writing that shuts real life out is as good as dead.

Right before I started running, I listened to a recording of myself reading my mannequin poem. I have too many details, but I like the direction it’s going. Lots of editing needed. Here’s the beginning:

At the far edge of the fair
behind Merchandise Mart
in a red brick building
squeezed into an enormous glass case
are the mannequins.
Surrounded by
a glorious mess
of mismatched
textures textiles techniques
and adorned in handmade
hats and sweaters and coats
these legless armless women
preside over
a celebration
of an art form
both timeless and timed out.

Listening to the recording before I ran didn’t help me solve any of my poetry problems. Instead, I focused on my playlist as I ran.

It’s windy and white, with ice and snow covering the sidewalks. A blah day. February in its dreariest. Speaking of which, a poetry person posted this awesome news segment about February:

The idea about the trees revealing the truth, telling it like it is, seems like another version of, “What you see is what you get.” It’s funny because I have the opposite reaction to bare branches; I love the view they offer, and the gnarled truths they reveal. This could be another “WYSIWYG” poem.

feb 9/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.45 miles

32 degrees, feels like 22, with 22 mph wind gusts. Puddled paths that are part slushy water, part ice. With these conditions, and since I ran outside yesterday, I decided to stay inside. Watched another episode of Dickinson. Sue is in labor, Emily’s mom (also named Emily) is her self-appointed midwife. Austin is drunk and hosting a maple sugaring party. And Emily is meeting up with Austin’s college friend who is about to leave for the war and who Emily believe will die (and become the “nobody” ghost that haunted her in season 2). He tells her that she is the only person who is willing to tell the truth about the horrors of the war, to “call it like it is,” to look straight into the darkness. Could this be another definition of “what you see is what you get”? A straight shooter, truth-teller who calls it like it is? While I ran, I listened to a playlist and tried to think some more about out-of-date mannequins and the “as is.” And, maybe I did, but now, about 30 minutes after I finished my run, all I can remember is connecting my love for the unloved, dismissed mannequins with the aging body and a fear of death.


feb 7/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 2.6 miles
7 degrees / feels like 0

Thought about running outside, but decided that it would be warmer tomorrow, and that I wanted to watch some more of Dickinson. Finished the first episode of season 3, which was all about death — Aunt Lavinia’s death, too many young men in the community dying due to the Civil War, Edward (Dad) having chest pains and then almost dying from a heart attack, the barely alive relationship of Austin and Sue. Some of the parallels between the never-ending, nation dividing war and the pandemic seemed a bit heavy-handed, but it was funny to hear Lavinia (sister) lamenting her lost 20s because of the war: “It’s soooo boring and taking sooo long. This is our 20s, we’re supposed to be having fun!”

Started my run by listening to Erik Larson’s No One Goes Alone, but then decided I wanted to listen to music and think more about my latest version of “what you see is what you get”: as is…In praise of the “as is,” the outdated, bargain basement dwelling forgotten ones. I’m thinking about the State Fair mannequins and how I’ve wanted to write about them for years now. Maybe I finally will? I hope so.

A few minutes into the run, I had some ideas, so I stopped my music, pulled out my phone, and recorded them while running. A bit awkward, but I didn’t drop the phone or fall off the treadmill. Listening back to the recording, it’s hard to hear my voice over my striking feet, so I won’t post the recording. I talked about the “as is” as the old, out-dated, bargain basement, and progressive lenses versus bifocals and how the type of cone dystrophy I have is progressive cone dystrophy because my vision has not stabilized and is continuing to grow worse — it’s progressively deteriorating, as opposed to stationary cone dystrophy where your vision stays at the same level; it’s already lost what it’s going to lose. The progress I’m experiencing is progress as getting worse not better, which is a type of progress that rarely gets mentioned in all the appeals to it. This reminds me of Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing and a line she has about capitalism wanting uncontrolled/unlimited growth and how that’s what cancer is. I found it on goodreads:

But beyond self-care and the ability to (really) listen, the practice of doing nothing has something broader to offer us: an antidote to the rhetoric of growth. In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and are as productive in the same way.

How to Do Nothing/ Jenny Odell

I also found a similar, and much earlier quotation by the park ranger/ troublemaker/ writer/ environmental activist Edward Abbey:

growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

Edward Abbey

About a mile later, my thoughts went in a different direction with the as is. Here is some of the notes I recorded into my phone mid-run:

  • “as is” in terms of metaphor — I think I was thinking about the “as” or “as in this or that…” — and how what you see is what you get is the opposite of metaphor, the what that you see is what it is and nothing else, not almost or approximate.
  • what you see = your perspective, how you perceive/interpret/understand the world is how it is (or, more precisely how it seems/appears) to you. I was thinking particularly about my struggles to see/recognize other people’s faces and how I imagine others see me as rude or distant or unfriendly because of it. But, do they, or is that how I see myself? I feel like I’m not quite explaining this as I’d like to, but I’ll leave it for now

Of course, when I think about “as is,” I also think about IKEA and their as-is department:

The As-Is section is where you can view the selection of floor samples, discontinued pieces, and customer returns at a reduced price. IKEA has a certain amount of merchandise throughout the year that we retire, which ensures that we keep our selection of products up-to-date. That merchandise can end up in As-Is along with seasonal products that are left over after summer or after the winter holidays.

source

priced to sell, reduced, retired, discontinued, out-of-date, used, floor sample, damaged, banged up, unwanted or not wanted enough, last chance, remainders, hidden in plain sight (you know it’s there, but you ignore it), minor flaws (descriptions from the IKEA interview).

As Is/ Nicholas Friedman

Just north of town, a quaint Sargasso Sea*
for bric-a-brac: the barn, itself antique,
spills over with a grab-bag panoply
of outworn stock revalued as “unique.”
Typewriters tall as headstones fill the loft
where they’ve been ricked away like sacks of grain;
a coffer yawns the must of oak—gone soft—
when one man, squinting, lifts the lid to feign
intrigue. Nearby, his wife surveys the smalls:
art deco bangles bright as harpsichords,
a glut of iron trivets, Christmas balls,
Depression glass and warping Ouija boards.
One man’s junk is another’s all the same.
They don’t buy much, but that’s not why they came.

*I am familiar with Jean Rhys’s book, but wasn’t sure how Sargasso Sea worked here. Looked it up: “a vast area of the northern Atlantic Ocean which is home to sargassum, a kind of seaweed. The Sargasso Sea is legendary for being an oceanic black hole, where ships get ensnared by huge forests of floating seaweed, or drift helplessly when the wind ceases to blow.” Also found out: It’s the only sea not bounded by land.

feb 5/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minutes
bike stand
run: 3.25 miles
treadmill
10 degrees / feels like -6

Watched a few more minutes of Dickinson. Austin is drunk all the time, Sue is expecting his baby, Sue and Emily have declared their love for each other, Edward (Emily’s Dad) is having chest pains, and the mean girls are back. Oh, and the Civil War is raging and all the men in the town are dying. Should be an interesting season. Began listening to Erik Larson’s new book about William James and his expedition to a haunted house while I ran. Excellent! It’s called, No One Goes Alone. Listening to a book on the treadmill might help me to run longer. 30 minutes went by pretty quickly.

While I ran, I had some ideas of what and how to write about what you see is what you get: a lyric essay that juxtaposes many different ideas about it. I pulled out my phone and recording myself as I ran:

notes while running

Later, after I finished my run, while I was doing a cool down walk on the treadmill, I thought of another idea about what you see is what you get and Medusa and spoke it into my phone:

notes while walking

And, thinking about WYSIWYG as whizzywig, here’s a delightful poem I discovered about wigs:

Wigs Everywhere/ Justin Jannise

The brown squirrel, coiled & clinging
to the guardrail of my balcony,
is a wig.

I stepped out of the shower to dry my feet
on a damp wig.

You can fold a wig in a certain way
that it becomes a cup from which you can swig

water or juice or wigskey,
which is whiskey distilled
from fermented wigs.

I met Dolly Parton & she was all wig.

Kristen Wiig is a wig.
So was Ludwig van Beethoven.

In Britain, there used to be two political parties
—the Whigs & the Wigs.

There are wigs that are mops
& wigs that seduce cops.

In some countries, it is illegal for wigs
to marry other wigs.

Have you ever slept in a wig? It’s itchy.

The best wigs in life are free,
but the second-best cost
extraordinary amounts of money.

Somewhere in Detroit, you can trade
20 small wigs for one giant wig

& the award for Best Wig Ever goes to
Medusa. I love how she’d rather lose her head
than part with it

& how, even without a heart,
the head maintains its awful power.

feb 4/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
bike stand
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill
7 degrees / feels like -8

Finished the final episode of season 2 of Dickinson and started the first episode of season 3 while I biked. This first episode of season 3 is titled, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I memorized that poem last March. Didn’t think about it that much while I was finishing up my bike, but it, particularly the idea of hope, returned to me on my run.

I started my run feeling out of sorts, thinking about the possibility of a job I could apply for that sounds like a good/fun opportunity, but might require more vision than I have. As often is the case, I wondered: am I not pushing myself enough, using my vision loss as an excuse, or is this job just something too far beyond my abilities — too demanding, too much, too impractical for someone who can’t see fast enough? It took listening to several songs before I forgot these worries.

As I ran, I stared ahead at the blank tv screen, noticing how that empty black screen filled most of my central vision, while all around it, on the edge and outside of the frame were images — the light above, the wall to the side, parts of the treadmill and the floor below. All the things I can see in my periphery. Even when my central vision is all gone, if/when that happens, I don’t think I will see the world like this, with a black space surrounded by slightly fuzzy, but identifiable shapes. Everything in the center will be more like a smudge, or a fogged up window.

Thinking about my periphery and what I can see with it, I’m reminded of watching ice skating on the olympics last night. I can tell my vision is worse; it is very difficult to follow, or to see the skater — well, I could see the skater, but mostly just flashes of their movement, not as a whole, complete object. To actually see the skater, I tried looking off to my right so I could see them through my periphery. Much better. Not completely clear, but they became a discrete, stable object on the ice.

So, I was thinking all morning about my theme for the month, what you see is what you get. I discovered that it was the catch phrase of Flip Wilson, used by his character, Geraldine. One source I found suggested it meant: this is me, accept me for who (and what and how) I am. I also was reminded that this phrase turns into a computer acronym: WYSIWIG. I mostly use the WYSIWIG editor on wordpress. I forgot it was called that because now they refer to it as the visual editor (as opposed to the code editor). I kept thinking about how this idea that what you see on the screen is what appears on the printed page is an illusion, concealing all the code that is required to make it appear as you want it. About a decade ago, I started learning some of that code (html, css). I don’t know much, just enough to understand that everything about how words or images look online involves a ton of behind-the-scenes brackets and semi-colons and classes and ids (and more). I find a lot of value in understanding, or at least being familiar with, how this works. And, I find a lot of danger in believing that all of what appears on a screen just is the way it is, almost by magic. I’m not suggesting that everyone should learn to code — wasn’t that a trendy slogan a few years ago? — but that they should be aware of how it works, and that it exists.

This ignoring of the process, and the naive belief that “things just happen,” reminds me of how many (most?) people believe vision works: you see what’s there with your eyes. They don’t think about the complex processes of vision, from cornea to retina to visual cortex, and how the brain, to make things easier and/or efficient, or because it has limited data, distorts or alters or guesses. When we see, we are not seeing the world as it is, but how our brains have figured it out.

Human perception is patently imperfect, so even a normal brain must fabricate a fair amount of data to provide a complete sense of our surroundings. We humans are lucky that we have these fancy brains to chew up the fibrous chunks of reality and regurgitate it into a nice, mushy paste which our conscious minds can digest. But whenever one of us notices something that doesn’t exist, or fails to notice something that does exist, our personal version of the world is nudged a little bit further from reality. It makes one wonder how much of reality we all have in common, and how much is all in our minds.

Chuck Bonnet and the Hallucinations/ Alan Bellows

As I was running, I thought again about E Dickinson and her feathered hope, and then the idea of hope and faith, and why we need it, how we envision it. Then, I pulled out my phone and recorded myself, mid-run:

What you see is what you get is an illusion, a type of empty hope, false faith, that some need to survive.

Is this fair? I’m not sure, but it’s something to think about some more, the idea that people invest an uncritical faith (I’m resisting the impulse to write “blind faith” here) and superficial hope in the belief that what we see is what is there, and that what we see is what is real. This belief provides comfort, makes it easier, enables them to not have to question or challenge, just accept.

Also on my run, as I listened to the excellent-for-running song, TNT by AC/DC, I thought about alt-text, and alt-text poetry, and how I might use it for a poem that pushes against the idea that what you see is what you get. Maybe vivid text descriptions of some things I see in my strange, slightly off ways, paired with straight, clear/basic description of those same things? I really like this idea; I’ll keep going with it to see if it could work.

To remember:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers/ Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all –

And sweetest — in the gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird —
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest sea —
Yet, never in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

“Faith” is a fine invention / Emily Dickinson

“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!

feb 2/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
bike stand
run: 2.8 miles
treadmill
2 degrees/ feels like -13

Another short stretch of very cold weather. Started the next episode of Dickinson while I biked, which is continuing the themes of fame, whether or not to be published, and the possible value of being invisible/ a Nobody. Fame is associated with glory and the impending Civil War and is presented almost exclusively as empty and unsatisfying. Invisibility, a quiet power, is better.

While I ran, listened to a playlist. Stared at the blank, black screen of the television. Don’t remember hearing anything, other than my music, or smelling anything. When I ran a few days ago, my daughter was cooking herself some lunch and had left the basement door open; I smelled her Velveeta mac-n-cheese. It was unpleasant. I don’t remember feeling much, other than my feet striking the belt. No wisps of hair falling out of my ponytail, feeling like spider webs. Did I feel any drips of sweat? Probably.

Missed Time/ Ha Jin

My notebook has remained blank for months 
thanks to the light you shower 
around me. I have no use 
for my pen, which lies 
languorously without grief. 

Nothing is better than to live 
a storyless life that needs 
no writing for meaning— 
when I am gone, let others say 
they lost a happy man, 
though no one can tell how happy I was.

I found this poem buried deep in a folder yesterday afternoon. It fits with the conversation I’ve been having with Dickinson as I watch and reflect on fame and being invisible. I didn’t think about many things while I was running, but I do remember thinking about how so much of my writing and documenting my life, on this running log, and my other online spaces (trouble, story, undisciplined, unofficial student transcript), is about recording my life for future others, including future Sara. This impulse (or compulsion) to document is partly the result of my love of storytelling, but it also comes from my desire to give others, especially my kids or their kids, etc., what I desperately wanted from my mom after she died: more words about a life lived — thoughts, experiences, accounts, stories. I missed the epic conversations I used to have with my mom, and I would have loved to continue them with her words. And, I wanted to know more about how she felt, what she thought about. Will my kids want my words? I’m not sure, but if they do, they’ll be there, a lot of them.

I disagree with the idea that nothing is better than to live/a storyless life that needs/no writing for meaning, and I don’t think happy is how I’d like to be remembered. Delighted? Joyful? Patient? Satisfied?

jan 28/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
bike stand
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill

Watched the rest of the Dickinson episode about fame, which includes ED in a carriage with Death (Wiz Khalifa) and recently deceased, Edgar Allen Poe (Nick Kroll), who tells her how unsatisfying fame is, to which she utters: “Fame is a bee.” Nice. I wish they would have had the bee in the carriage too.

Fame is a bee./ Emily Dickinson

Fame is a bee.
It has a song—
It has a sting—
Ah, too, it has a wing.

Ran to my new playlist. Again, didn’t think about much, or if I did think about anything, I don’t remember what it was. Returning to Dickinson, here’s a poem that includes doors (I mentioned a twitter thread a few days ago about doors in poetry) and ghosts!

One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted —/ Emily Dickinson

One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted —
One need not be a House —
The Brain has Corridors — surpassing
Material Place —

Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting
External Ghost
Than its interior Confronting —
That Cooler Host.

Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
The Stones a’chase —
Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter —
In lonesome Place —

Ourself behind ourself, concealed —
Should startle most —
Assassin hid in our Apartment
Be Horror’s least.

The Body — borrows a Revolver —
He bolts the Door —
O’erlooking a superior spectre —
Or More —

And, here’s another poem that includes both doors and ghosts that I’ve posted before:

Doors/ Carl Sandburg

An open door says, “Come in.” 
A shut door says, “Who are you?” 
Shadows and ghosts go through shut doors. 
If a door is shut and you want it shut,
why open it? 
If a door is open and you want it open,
why shut it? 
Doors forget but only doors know what it is
doors forget.

jan 26/BIKERUN

bike: 16 minutes
bike stand
run: 3.25 miles
treadmill
0 / feels like -8

Cold. Reviewing the temp now, maybe I could have run outside. Hopefully, tomorrow. Watched more of the Dickinson episode that I started yesterday while I biked. On the same day that her poem is published in the paper, Emily wakes up invisible and is confronted with the limits of fame, and the freedom that not being noticed can bring. Fame is a common theme in ED’s work. From what I’ve read, scholars/lovers of ED don’t always agree (surprise surprise) on how much fame did or didn’t matter to her. Did she crave fame? Did she keep her poems private because she was happy to be anonymous? Was she shunned? I need to revisit my notes, to remember more of the thoughts. In the beginning of this episode, fame is presented as empty and fickle. According to the “Nobody” ghost that haunts her in this episode (it’s been too long since I watched this show, but I know this dude appeared in earlier episode. I’ll have to check if I mentioned him before), being invisible is better, while being noticed is overrated. I agree. More on this soon, I think.

Listened to a new playlist while I ran, with some good songs for my pace: Wannabe/ Spice Girls, Work It/ Missy Elliot, Poker Face/ Lady Gaga. One song that didn’t work as well, but that I really like anyway: Get Ur Freak On/ Missy Elliot. A little too fast. Didn’t think about much while I ran. One thought: it’s harder to run longer in the basement. Very little to distract you, or maybe engage/delight you. More time to think about how many miles/minutes are left.

In between biking and running, I listened to a draft of my 3 new haunt poems: 1. Before there was girl, there was ghost; 2. Before there was ghost, there was girl; and 3. Before there was ghost or girl, there was gorge. I’m happy with them. I can’t decide whether to put them altogether, as one poem — they’re about 13 5 syllable lines each — or, to sprinkle them between my other haunts poems. Which will work better?

Here’s the poem-a-day from poets.org for Jan 26th:

Inspiration Point/ Jennifer Jean

We’d stare at horses at Will Rogers Park, then hike
the Loop Trail to Inspiration Point, &
I’d lag back 
to be a kid. Alone. & under that aloofness—hid
vengeance. A rusty burr or two 
in my left sneaker. & under that—anxiety. The salt 
dripping through chaparral 
brows, into my brown lashes. &
under that—rage. A perfectly purple 
shell some kid favored & lost.
& under that—hope. The pounded 
ground. & under that—a vast
clearing on the cosmos, also called Inspiration
Point. A gorgeous, inner hilltop

with a curious figure 
taking in the Pacific view. 
Breathing chicory & chamise. Naming 
every wind-boarder near Catalina 
Island. That high-noon, far-sighted figure—seemed
a bit burnt, but warm. A bit divine. 
But—sometimes—I didn’t find that figure 
wow-ing at a thing 
no one had ever seen—at a new bird 
better than a phoenix. (There’s something better than 
a phoenix!) Sometimes, my hand 
stretched towards some nether new
creation & I was the figure 
who named it.

I like the repetition of, & under, and how the poets uses it to peel back layers of her emotions as a kid. I also like the description of rage as a perfectly purple shell. I don’t remember experiencing rage as a kid. Is it because my memory’s bad? or, maybe because my intense emotions would usually manifest themselves in overflowing exuberance (or obnoxiousness)? From what I do remember, I always had trouble hanging onto anger; by the time, I would yell, the anger was gone.

more awesome poetry people

Here’s a thread about meter in poetry that I’d like to spend more time with. I struggle with meter; it’s hard for me to hear. But, I know it’s important, and I’d like to become more familiar with it (in a way that sticks).

jan 25/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 1.5 miles
treadmill

Started watching Dickinson again while I biked. Finished the episode where they’re at the “spa,” and started the one in which her poem is published and she’s invisible. Listened to a new running playlist while I ran. Stopped to record myself running to check my gait, but it didn’t quite work. I’ll have to try again. My left thigh/hip was sore by the end.

I checked out Paige Lewis’s Space Struck from the library — on the libby app — and I marked a few to remember, including yesterday’s Saccadic Masking. Here’s another for today. I think I wanted to keep it for the question about being the sound or the stillness.

Chapel of the Green Lord/ Paige Lewis

This spring, the smog is so thick
I can’t see the stars, which means
there aren’t any stars left. It’s pointless
to argue against this, to say,
no they’re on vacation, no
they’ll come back with new summer
hats and an answer
to my question: If this world
is a plucked violin string, am I part
of its sound or its stillness?
Once, I woke and believed myself full
of the old heaven. I wanted to trap it,
make it stay. I swallowed
a hive’s worth of honey, and—
and still, no stars. This smog
is thick enough to turn my lungs gummy.
I stay inside, line my bed
with spider plants and succulents,
christen it Chapel of the Green Lord,
and go to sleep with the sheets pulled up
over my sticky mouth.

poetry people for the win!

A great thread on twitter this morning. I’m always looking for poems about exits, entrances, openings, closings: doors!

jan 24/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill

More cold, more basement. Watched a Spartan race while I biked, listened to a podcast while I ran. Covered the display panel and didn’t look at my watch, so I (sort of) lost track of time, which was nice. Felt pretty good until the last few minutes, when my legs were sore — my left hip + knee. Did I think about anything? I don’t remember. Oh, I do remember thinking about stopping to set up a camera and do some video of my running. I want to see if I’m raising up my left hip enough. I didn’t stop. Then I thought about physical therapy and remembered the last time I was there, when the therapists recorded some of my running on an iPad. Anything else? Nope. All the thoughts, good or bad, gone. That’s cool.

I’m continuing to work on my Haunts poem. Not sure how I will weave these in, but I want to add a few more parts that deal explicitly with my story of vision loss. Here’s what I have so far. It’s still in the 3/2 form, but turned into 5 syllable lines:

Before there was ghost,
there was girl. Fiercely
physical, sturdy,
not certain but sure
footed, the ground firm
beneath her, able
to shake worlds with her
body, to make worlds
with one glance — meadows,
forests, stintless stars —-
all hers instantly.

Before there was girl,
there was ghost, carried
deep within unknown
ancestors, passed on
to the girl.* Scrambled
code in the back of
each eye, starting a
shift from sharp to soft
so slow it will go
unnoticed until
lines dissolve, letters
blur, ground unmoors, and
a gorge is carved out
between girl and world.

*initially, I wrote this line as:

there was ghost, carried
deep within the girl,
passed on from unknown
ancestors: scrambled…

I can’t decide which I like better.

Since I’m thinking more about vision, and how to express it in poetry, here’s a poem about saccadic masking from Paige Lewis. Like most poems I really like, I don’t quite get it yet.

Saccadic Masking/ Paige Lewis from Space Struck

a phenomenon where the brain blocks out blurred images created by movement of the eye

All constellations are organisms
and all organisms are divine
and unfixed. I am spending
my night in the kitchen. There
is blood in the batter—dark
strands stretch like vocal
cords telling me I am missing
so much with these blurred
visions: a syringe flick, the tremor
of my wrist—raised veins silked
green. I have seen the wings
of a purple finch wavering
around its body, stuck, burned
to the grill of my car, which means
I have failed to notice its flight—
a lesson on infinities, a lesson I
am trying to learn. I am trying.
Tell me, how do I steady my gaze
when everything I want is motion?

jan 22/BIKERUN

bike: 23 minutes
bike stand
run: 3.25 miles
treadmill

Still cold, still inside. Earlier, while I was sitting at my desk, I saw someone run past with their dog. I thought about running outside, but the feels like temp is -6, the wind speed is 15 mph, and the sidewalk is 100% snow and ice covered. Yes, I wimped out, and I’m okay with that. Watched a replay of the Men’s Triathlon at the Tokyo Olympics while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran.

In between the bike and run, I listened to a recording of 2 new parts of my haunts poem. I’m playing around with adding in more of my story about losing my vision, and the ghosts that surround it. The two parts begin: 1. Before there/was ghost/there was girl and 2. Before there/was girl/there was ghost

before there was / 22 jan 2022

I was hoping to think about these lines as I ran, but I was mostly distracted by my effort and the beat. Then, in the last 3 minutes of my run, Salt n Pepa’s “My Mic Sounds Nice” came on and I had a flash of an idea. It happened when I heard the lines, “cuz every curve on my body has a story to tell.” I started thinking about the stories our bodies tell, then my damaged retina/macula, and then how to express that in my poem: scrambled macula, abandoned retina, sleeping retina? It’s not much of an idea…yet.

Anyway, Salt n Pepa are awesome, and their rhymes made me laugh, and remember how much I was into hip hop in high school, especially 89-92.

Here’s a poem I found the other day from Rebecca Lindenberg, who is wonderful.

Letter to a Friend, Unsent/ Rebecca Lindenberg

I haven’t written        in a while
because I don’t want to talk
                          about anything
I’ve been unable to stop
thinking about: the knotted thread
             of bad capillaries on my retinae,
money, or that my morning was ruined
by the unusual tightness
              of jeans around my thighs,
                                         like the obligations
of having a body
so ill-fitting, oppressively snug
             around an obstinate will.
And while       I don’t want
             to be distracted
from this Duchamp thing
I’ve been working on—     I am
itched out of reverie
                        over and over again
              by this feeling I don’t deserve
my raptures anymore.
So I’m sorry. I don’t want to
             bring you down. It’s unfair
to have to hear about needles
and envelopes and flies
                  when you might just have been
enjoying an iced tea outside
             and when I would prefer to tell you,
                          really,
there’s a family of pheasant living
              in the massive cottonwood
we call the Tree of Life.
The male’s red, green, gold plumage
                          makes him look
            like a Christmas present
I would want to give you.
So except “I hope you’re well,”
                                                   that’s all.

jan 20/BIKERUN

bike: 24 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 2.1 miles
treadmill

Too cold, too windy. Another basement workout, which doesn’t bother me. I did this one in the late afternoon, too late to write my entry right after I finished, so I’m writing this 2 days later. I can’t remember much about the workout. I think I watched another Women’s Spartan race while I biked, and listened to a playlist while I ran. Felt pretty good running. Our treadmill developed some quirks last year: it won’t start moving until you get the speed up past 2, and it seems to increase exponentially, where 2 is much slower than 3, and 5 is much faster than 4. I keep it at 5 (before it got strange, I usually had it between 6 and 6.5), and that’s fast enough for me. I’ve decided that for me at least, 5 = a 9:45 pace.