jan 6/RUN

4.15 miles
bottom of franklin hill (short)
32 degrees

Another Saturday run with Scott. Last night, we got a light dusting of snow which made everything frosty and a little slick at the start. Scott talked about the latest mash-up he’s arranging with the theme from Taxi and Green Day’s Brain Stew, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4. Then I talked about my latest focus on doors and windows and how it is allowing me to engage with things (poems, essays, ideas) that I’ve collected previously but were buried in a file folder or a log entry.

As we ran down the hill I mentioned something I had read in an essay by George Orwell, Why I Write. He describes how when he was an undergrad at Berkeley* he wanted to be an intellectual, but when he was supposed to be reading Hegel he would always be looking out the window, admiring the flowers instead.

*Scott didn’t hear anything after I said Orwell went to Berkeley; he was confused, believing that Orwell never left England. I checked the essay when I got home and realized that there were two versions of “Why I Write” in the document, one by Orwell, one by Joan Didion. The reference to Berkeley was from Joan Didion. Sometimes I get frustrated with Scott’s attention to details, but he’s usually right and I’m grateful that he caught this mistake (which was my fault, but not totally; the essays were placed one after the other in a document that was not well marked. His almost always being right can be irritating, but that’s more my problem than his, I guess.

Here’s the quote:

During the years when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley I tried, with a kind of hopeless late-adolescent energy, to buy some temporary visa into the world of ideas, to forge for myself a mind that could deal with the abstract.

In short I tried to think. I failed. My attention veered inexorably back to the specific, to the tangible, to what was generally considered, by everyone I knew then and for that matter have known since, the peripheral.

Why I Write/ Joan Didion

I love her mention of the peripheral. That’s where I spend all of my time too — literally and figuratively.

10 Things

  1. stretches of the trail were slick and my feet slipped a few times
  2. the knocking of a woodpecker — the sound echoed through an empty field
  3. the ice chunks on the river yesterday had melted and were replaced with swirls of foam
  4. the quiet thuds of a faster runner approaching from behind
  5. after he passed us, he kicked a big branch off to the side (we were grateful and impressed that he was able to do it while running fast down the hill)
  6. there was a thin layer of snow on the top of the concrete wall next to the river
  7. the suspended path on the other side — in the east river flats — looked inviting — I’d like to run it before it’s closed for the winter — maybe it already is?
  8. passing by the ghost bike hanging from the trestle
  9. the curved fence above the big sewer pipe was easy to see below us — no more leaves blocking our view
  10. passing a guy walking a dog on the sidewalk, saying good morning — realizing it was not morning but afternoon — 12:30 — we went out for the run a little later than usual

At the bottom of the franklin hill, Scott used my phone to take some video of the foamy, fast-moving water. Here’s a short clip:

fast moving foam / 5 jan 2024

Here are two passages from Virginia Woolf’s Street Haunting that include windows and doors:

But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes. The shell–like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye. How beautiful a street is in winter! It is at once revealed and obscured. Here vaguely one can trace symmetrical straight avenues of doors and windows; here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light through which pass quickly bright men and women, who, for all their poverty and shabbiness, wear a certain look of unreality, an air of triumph, as if they had given life the slip, so that life, deceived of her prey, blunders on without them. But, after all, we are only gliding smoothly on the surface. The eye is not a miner, not a diver, not a seeker after buried treasure. It floats us smoothly down a stream; resting, pausing, the brain sleeps perhaps as it looks. 

That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting in winter the greatest of adventures. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comfortingto feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Here again is the usual door 

jan 5/RUN

5.15 miles
bottom of franklin hill turn around
30 degrees

Yes! A great run. A brief runner’s high around mile 4. At the beginning it felt cold, but almost early spring-like: chirping birds, soft shadows, humid air, clear paths. In certain spots the path was dotted with ice.

Passed a group of 4 or 5 runners twice. Smelled cigarette smoke. Watched a car driving over the I-94 bridge. Listened to the group of women laughing, cars passing, ice sizzling heading north. Put it Billie Eilish essentials on the way back — maybe I’m, maybe I’m, maybe I’m the problem.

Something to try today, from Richard Siken: one image

The heart of lyric poetry is music and image. Music is hard to talk about but image is easy. It’s not too late to start an exercise. Write down one image every day that was striking. It’s good as a resource to pull from for writing or just for remembering. Date them. >

Today’s image: sizzling ice on the river chunks? sheets? just starting to form, floating on the surface. I took a video:

ice on the mississippi / 5 jan 2024

Standing there, holding my phone, the ice was moving slowly downstream and sizzling. In the video, I can’t see it moving and all I can hear is the traffic from the I-94 bridge just above. I wish I just kept the phone still; it’s moving around too much. The sizzle sounded like the sizzle I heard in my head after I fainted last week. A sizzle or crackle or static-y sound. The movement of the ice was slow and gentle and persistent (or insistent?).

windows and doors

Yesterday, it came to me: windows and doors. That’s what the theme for January should be. Will it stick? Not sure, but today I begin by thinking about windows and doors as I ran. I held onto a few thoughts and recorded them into my phone right after I finished my run:

Windows as in the frame and how often I see what’s just outside of the frame because I feel it off to the far edge (mainly because of my heightened peripheral vision).

A door as being open — focus on what’s through the other door, the room on the other side, as opposed to the door as framing what you see. Whereas the window is about the frame and about this thing in between you and the is/real. The frame is language, our access to the real. The framing of something as a useful limitation, helping to focus a form. The window is a form where the energy goes, where it’s held in, so the poem still has heat.

I’ve collected door and window poems before on this log, so this isn’t a new idea, I’m just adding to it. Here’s a door and window poem for today — actually, an excerpt from an amazing poem by Victoria Chang:

excerpt from Today/ Victoria Chang

Feb.10.2022
Today the river is in crisis, no
horizon dares to go near it. Today
my father is in a small jar. At dusk,
I went into a painter’s studio,
saw his stretched canvas on the table, white,
empty. What are we without those who made
us? May his memory be your blessing,
people emailed me all week. The artist
was painting a series of doors, which were
so real that I walked through the one that was
slightly open. Inside the room was my
breath that I had held since January
13, an eyelid, a loose eyeball, the
knob the eye fell on, the girl’s hands that tried
to catch him, which were charred and still waving.

Feb.11.2022
The white truck went from one frame to the next
and I thought of the time when someone lied
about me. How day and night I cared so
much about the lie that it split into
two, one part went out the left window frame,
the other out the right. Like the blue car
that disappears at the same time as the
white one, yet I can see both at once. When
they burned my father’s body, I wondered
if the eyeballs spread so far on each side
that they could see Wyoming, these two panes,
me on a small brown chair, looking out the
windows, waiting for oblivion to
travel through with its eighteen wheels and truth.

Feb.12.2022
At the beginning of our family tree
was hope. Or maybe it was just an owl.

Feb.13.2022
The same wind was blowing here eighty years
ago, always snapping families in half.

Feb.14.2022
If I keep the window closed, I am stuck
inside with language as it buzzes back
and forth, trying to get out and start wars.

First, so much of what she writes here (and in the rest of the poem) is echoed in other things I read earlier today and yesterday by Viola Cordova and Jake Skeets. Wow.

Second, at the beginning of the poem, Chang writes: On Kawara’s “Today” Series. Looked it up and found: Paintings: Today Series / Date Paintings

On January 4, 1966, On Kawara began his Today series, or Date Paintings. He worked on the series for nearly five decades. A Date Painting is a monochromatic canvas of red, blue, or gray with the date on which it was made inscribed in white. Date Paintings range in size from 8 x 10 inches to 61 x 89 inches. The date is composed in the language and convention of the place where Kawara made the painting. When he was in a country with a non-Roman alphabet, he used Esperanto. He did not create a painting every day, but some days he made two, even three. The paintings were produced meticulously over the course of many hours according to a series of steps that never varied. If a painting was not finished by midnight, he destroyed it. The quasi-mechanical element of his routine makes the production of each painting an exercise in meditation.1 Kawara fabricated a cardboard storage box for each Date Painting. Many boxes are lined with a cutting from a local newspaper. Works were often given subtitles, many of which he drew from the daily press.

Paintings: Today Series / Date Paintings

In the article, I also found this classroom activity suggestion:

Subtitle Your Days

Many of the Date Paintings have subtitles. Some of these titles record personal anecdotes, such as “I played ‘Monopoly’ with Joseph, Christine and Hiroko this afternoon. We ate a lot of spaghetti” (January 1, 1968). Others record current events, some of them momentous, such as the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Still other subtitles refer to the Date Paintings themselves; one reads, “I am afraid of my ‘Today’ paintings” (May 29, 1966). For this activity, challenge students to record a subtitle for each day of the week for two weeks. These subtitles can be personal, historical, or even arbitrary. What is it like to capture a day with a subtitle?

I like the idea of combining Siken’s suggestion of an image a day with Kawara’s date poems and Chang’s reading of the date as a door into somewhere else. A date as door, an image as door.

july 1/COVID DAY 3

For future Sara, I’m documenting my mostly mundane COVID experience.

day one, my birthday: I woke up feeling agitated — unsettled, anxious, uncomfortable. I went for a 2 mile run with Scott without any problems. A few hours later, my throat started to hurt a little, which was concerning and added to my agitation. I swam three loops (2 miles) without any problems at the lake for open swim. Finally checked my temperature: 99.5. Slept on the couch.

day two, june 30: Slept okay. Woke up, got coffee, went back to sleep for several more hours. Took a COVID test mid-morning. I already knew the answer: positive. Slept the entire day, only waking up to take another dose of NYQUIL. Felt feverish, whoozy, not wanting to do anything but sleep, which I did. Low fever (99-100) all day. Ate a little food, drank some water.

day three, today: Woke up with a raw throat. Hurts to swallow, a feeling I despise. Felt less feverish, a little more like myself. Still tired, sleeping off and on, but also restless — thought about walking on the treadmill for a little while to get my restless body moving but didn’t. Sat outside in my red chair twice to get some fresh air and vitamin D. Mid-afternoon, my throat only hurts slightly. Still have a 99+ fever.

It’s surprising to everyone in the house that I’m the one that got COVID. Me too. In the 2-5 day window of infection, I was only in 3 stores and one other public building. Scott was in these buildings too. Why doesn’t he have it? One theory: he didn’t get it, but carried and spread it to me when he played for the musical last Saturday.

One other thing to note: I’m quarantining in our bedroom, only leaving to go to the bathroom, or out in the backyard. When I need something, I text Scott or one of the kids and they leave it outside my door. I mostly communicate with them by text or through masks and closed doors. I’m starting to feel isolated and it’s only day two of my quarantine. Also, I can see how the need to rely on others to get you everything will start to become a drag soon.

may 10/YARDWORK

1 hour
mowing, raking, pulling weeds
70 degrees

After almost 2 months of preparing for, then waiting, then watching it happen, the house is finally painted. Now I can mow and garden and bring out the umbrella for the deck. Hooray! Since I knew I should have a day off from running — having run 4 days in a row, I decided to do yardwork today.

Yardwork. And now the yardwork is over (it is never over), today’s
Stint anyway. Odd jobs, that stretch ahead, wide and mindless
–“Hymn to Life”/ James Schuyler

Today it feels like summer but the backyard looks like early spring. Tulips in full bloom, peonies popping up with their green shoots that look like asparagus — at least to me. Big bare patches from where robins had dropped crabapple seeds in late winter. Dandelions, garlic mustard, creeping charlie, the half-mulched leaves left over from late fall.

I listened to a Maintenance Phase episode — Oprah v. the beef industry — while I mowed and raked and swept up scattered mulch.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. everywhere, in the back and front yards, the ground seemed soft — too soft. is it the ants?
  2. right next to the front step, a giant mound — an ant hill
  3. the soft metallic whirr of the reel mower blades
  4. the distinctive thunk of the blade getting jammed from a small twig
  5. strange — bare vines by the yucca bushes — is this ground cover dead/dying, or have the leaves not appeared yet. is it the ants?
  6. the sloped front lawn, soft and bare, a few patches of weeds, some suspicious looking soft dirt. is it the ants?
  7. weeds infiltrating the red and yellow tulips on the south side of the house
  8. a few bright green leaves growing on the hydrangea twigs
  9. some small maple leaves poking out from the spirea
  10. small asparagus-like stalks emerging from the earth — time to put the cages around the peonies before they get too big to tame!

Mary Ruefle and Washing Dishes

In the opening lines of “Towards a Carefree World,” Ruefle writes:

Many of the most astonishing writers in the world had ser-
vants. It is doubtful they ever really washed the dishes.
Which is too bad; I think they would have enjoyed wash-
ing the dishes, especially after dinner. Repetitive motion
can take your mind off things. By things I mean the cares
of this world.

With these lines, I decided to think about washing dishes.

1

Mother, Washing Dishes/ Susan Meyers

She rarely made us do it—
we’d clear the table instead—so my sister and I teased
that some day we’d train our children right
and not end up like her, after every meal stuck
with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us: gummy plates
in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.

Or did she guard her place
at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss
of the magnolia, the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.

2

What the Living Do/ Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

3

Mostly I like washing dishes. It’s a chance to move after a meal, or as a break from writing. I listen to a podcast — Maintenance Phase, Ali on the Run, Vs., Between the Covers — or an audio book while I soak then scrub then rinse. Sometimes I look out the window at the trees swaying in the wind or the sky glowing orange or a squirrel taunting my dog. Occasionally, but not often, I shatter a dish on the granite countertop.

Usually I can see well enough to properly clean the dirty dishes. Sometimes I rely on feel — if it’s smooth, it’s clean; if it’s rough, it’s dirty. My biggest struggle is with the metal cheese grater. I hold it under the light, tilt it in different directions, trying to see if I missed any streaks of cheese. Almost impossible for me to tell.

We have a dishwasher but it hasn’t been working properly for 2 or 3 years now so I hand wash the dishes. Sometimes I wish our dishwasher worked, sometimes I don’t care. Often I wonder if washing dishes will be one more thing lost to me once all of my central vision is gone.

I don’t remember washing too many dishes with my mom, but I do remember drying them for Scott’s mom and dad after dinner. They always had to do the dishes right after eating. It took me years (15? 20?) to finally feel comfortable enough to help them. They were very particular about how you should wash dishes — don’t waste water, make sure they are absolutely dry before putting any dishes away, use a drying cloth that doesn’t leave lint but also doesn’t dry anything. When they both stopped caring about the dishes and how they were done, I knew we were entering the final stage.

Our kitchen faucet had been dying for three or four years. First, it dripped when you turned it off. Sometimes, if I jiggled it just right, it would almost stop. For at least 3 years this happened. Then, the retractable hose started getting stuck. You could pull it out, but not put it back in. Then you couldn’t move it from one sink to the other. Finally, the whole faucet — base and all — wouldn’t stop moving and leaking water into the cabinet below. When this happened Scott abruptly declared it was time, right this minute, to go out a buy a new faucet. So we did. And when we returned home Scott removed the old faucent, which was hard to get out, and put in the new one, which slid in without a problem. Why, I wondered, had we waited so long to get a new faucet?

april 25/RUN

3.75 miles
2 trails + extra*
42 degrees

*extra = instead of ending the run at the 38th street steps, I kept going past the oak savanna and the overlook, down through the tunnel of trees, over the double bridge, before crossing over to edmund at 32nd and running back home

Felt warmer than 42 degrees with the sun and too many layers — black running tights, black shorts, long-sleeved bright yellow shirt, bright orange pull-over. The thing I noticed most today were the shadows. Heavy shadows everywhere. The shadows of trees, some stretching across the path, others leaning down, just above me. The shadow of a flying bird, a waiting lamppost.

10 Other Things I Remember from my Run

  1. the loud knocking of a woodpecker
  2. someone complaining to someone else on the phone. I first heard them up ahead of me near the old stone steps, then as I passed them on the trail, then about 10 minutes later from across the river road as I ran on the grass near edmund
  3. the river, blue with less foam, not quite as high. I was planning to admire its sparkle near the south entrance to the winchell trail but I was distracted by 2 walkers just ahead of me on the trail
  4. lower on the winchell trail the gorge below me was all river, no shore in sight
  5. a trickle of water at the 44th st sewer, gushing at 42nd
  6. kids playing at the school playground, yelling, laughing. one adult chanting something
  7. the leaning trees I noticed a few weeks ago are still leaning, almost blocking the trail. A few times, I had to duck to avoid small branches
  8. music playing (not loud enough to describe it as blasting) out of a car’s radio — some sort of rock music that I didn’t recognize
  9. one section of the split rail fence — where? I can’t remember — is broken and needs to be repaired
  10. most walkers I encountered were overdressed in winter coats, hats, gloves

Having finished my series of colorblind plates and feeling unmotivated to read the final sections of Ammons’ garbage, I’m project-less. Not a problem, except the lack of focus makes my mind wander everywhere. Here are just some of the things I thought about before my run this morning:

a new-ish bio

Once or twice a year, I take some time to submit poems to different literary journals. Not sure about the exact math, but I’d say I have about a 5% acceptance rate, which I don’t think is that unusual. I got used to rejection as an academic. Still stings though. Maybe that’s why I don’t submit that often. I think I also haven’t submitted a lot because I don’t care that much about being published, especially as a way to achieve fancy poetry status. But, I’d like to share my poems with a wider audience and if I only post them on my blog they don’t get read by a lot of people and I can no longer submit them to journals (most of the journals I’m encountering consider posting a poem on your personal blog as it being published already). I’d also like to apply for a grant and do an exhibit/installation of my vision test poems and I think having some of them published might help me to get that grant. So, with all that in mind, I’m currently sending poems out to different journals. As part of the submission, you write a cover letter and include a 50-150 word bio. A few days ago, I started playing around with my bio — I included a few in a post log entry on here. This morning I was still thinking about the bio. I was hoping my run would help me find another sentence for this unfinished bio:

Sara Lynne Puotinen lives in south Minneapolis near the Mississippi River Gorge where she enjoys conducting experiments in writing while moving, moving while writing, and doing both while losing her central vision. Sometimes she composes chants while running up hills, or uses her breathing patterns as she swims across a local lake to shape her lines. 

The run didn’t help. In fact, I forgot to even think about my bio. Oh well.

april 21, 2022

As part of my daily, “on this day” review, I was reading through past log entries early this morning. Last year’s was especially good (I almost wrote fire, but thought better of it — okay, I did actually write it, but then deleted it). So many things to put in my ongoing projects list!

First, this:

While I ran, I wanted to try and think about fungi as hidden, always in motion/doing (a verb, not a noun), and below. Had flashes of thought about what’s beneath us, and how I’m often looking down through my peripheral, even as I look ahead with my central vision. 

an experiment to try: While moving outside, give special attention to what’s beneath you, what you see, feel, hear at your feet. Make a list in your log entry.

variation: while trying don’t give attention to anything in particular. Just move. Then, in your log entry, try to remember 10 things you noticed below you.

Second:

I heard the creaking, squeaking branches and thought about old, rusty, long hidden/forgotten doors being opening — a trap door in the forest floor. I didn’t imagine past the open door or the idea that it led to the river basement (using basement here like ED in “I started Early — Took my Dog”). Still, I enjoyed thinking that I could access this door and something in my moving outside was opening a long shut door.

a question to consider: what doors await me in the gorge? where do they lead? how can I open them?

This morning, I was refreshing my memory of a Carl Sandburg poem I memorized a few years ago called “Doors.” If a door is open and you want it open, why shut it? If a door is shut and you want it shut, why open it?

Third: I love this poem — Mushrooms/ Sylvia Plath

Fourth:

An idea I have right now (25 april 2022, that is) for a poem involves playing off of these lines from Mary Oliver:

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

And this bit from Arthur Sze in an interview with David Naiman:

I began to think I love this idea that the mycelium is below the surface. It’s like the subconscious, then when the mushroom fruits pops up above ground, maybe that’s like this spontaneous outpouring of a poem or whatever.

Something like this?

Maybe like mushrooms, we rise
or not rise, flare
brief burst from below
then a return 
to swim in the dirt…

I (sara in 2023) would like to do something with this fragment, maybe tie it together with some of my thoughts about Ammons and garbage?

grass

Mary Oliver’s mention of grass reminded me of a poem I like by Victoria Chang, which led me to a log entry from Jan 11, 2022:

Left Open / Victoria Chang

We can’t see beyond
the crest of the wooden gate.
We are carriers
of grass yet to be grown. We
aren’t made of cells, but of fields. 

I like this idea of being a carrier of grass yet to be grown. My first thought was of grass on graves — Whitman’s “uncut hair of graves” or Dickinson’s “The color of the grave is green”. Then I thought of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “To the Young Who Want to Die”:

Graves grow no green that you can use.
Remember, green’s your color. You are Spring.

Of course, all this grass talk also reminded me of this part of the cento I just created as one of my colorblind plate poems:

The world mostly g
one, I make it what I want: I 
empty my mind. I stuff it with grass. 
I’m green, I repeat. I grow in green, burst u
p in bonfires of green, whirl and hurl my green
over the rocks of this imaginary life.

This cento is made out of lines from poems I’ve gathered for this log:
The world mostly gone, I make it what I want (Psalm with Near Blindness/ Julia B. Levine)
I empty my mind. I stuff it with grass. I’m green, I repeat. (Becoming Moss/Ella Frears)
I grow in green (Paean to Place/ Lorine Niedecker)
burst up in bonfires of green (The Enkindled Spring/ D. H. Lawrence
whirl and hurl my green over the rocks (Oread)
this imaginary life (The Green Eye/ James Merrill)

addendum, 26 april 2023: Reading back through my entries about A. R. Ammons as I prepare to post my monthly challenge for April, I encountered these lines from Ammons’ pome “Grassy Sound.” How could I have already forgotten them?!

The wind came as grassy sound 
and between its
grassy teeth
spoke words said with grass

Happy Birthday Ted Kooser!

Discovered via twitter that today would have been Ted Kooser’s 84th birthday. What a wonderful poet! I’ve gathered 6 of his poems for this log:

  1. Grasshopper/ Ted Kooser
  2. The Early Bird/ Ted Kooser
  3. A Heron/ Ted Kooser
  4. In the Basement of the Goodwill Store/ Ted Kooser
  5. Carrie / Ted Kooser
  6. Turkey Vultures/ Ted Kooser

march 17/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.75 miles
basement
outside: 13 degrees / feels like -5

Yes, you read that correctly. It feels like 5 below outside. And, there’s a thin coating of soft snow and ice on every sidewalk. Maybe if we didn’t have a 20 mph wind too, I might have gone outside, despite the cold and snow. But, I can hear the wind howling from my desk and see the shadows of the branches swaying. I’m staying inside.

Watched an episode of Emily in Paris while I biked. I’m not sure I like the show — Emily is mostly likable but a little obnoxious, and I’m not interested in her job of protecting her clients’ brands while making them compelling for American consumers — but I’m giving it a chance. I listened to a Ruth Ware book as I ran. No deep thoughts or insights, just the chance to move my body and get away from my desk.

I had been planning to do some sort of workout yesterday, but I ran out of time. Early in the day, I wrote the following:

tree outside my window: update

Yesterday, because of the mild 45 degree weather, Scott and I decided to deal with the big branch of the tree that had fallen from our neighbor’s yard on March 6th. The branch stretched from the sidewalk near their front door, across their front yard, to the edge of the south side of our house. It wasn’t too cold outside, and the task wasn’t too difficult. My part: stripping off the ugly berries and breaking up the small branches to fit into a lawn and leaf bag. Scott trimmed the tree until all that was left was the thickest part, which he estimates is 6-8 inches in diameter and 6-8 feet long. We left this part because it looked heavy and I didn’t want either of us injuring ourselves as we tried to lift it.

Yesterday I saw a bird on the branch, this morning Scott saw a squirrel frantically attempting to recover some hidden nuts. I’m hoping our neighbors leave it where it is so I can see what else comes to visit — maybe a woodpecker?! — as I work.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 7

Begins with Simply looking, and ends with A friend waving from a small window.

Simply looking. A car goes over a rise and there are birches snow
Twisted into cabalistic shapes: The Devil’s Notch; or Smuggler’s
Gap. At the time you could not have imagined the time when you
Would forget the name, as apparent and there as your own.

Simply looking at a car and the twisted trees. Did Schuyler name these shapes, or did someone else?

Rivers
Reflecting silver skies, how many boys have swum in you? A rope
Tied to a tree caught between my thighs and I was yanked headfirst
And fell into the muddy creek. What a long time it seemed, rising
To the surface, how lucky it didn’t catch me in the groin. That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.

The boys are back — he mentions boys throughout the poem. I don’t think he ever mentions women.

That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.

A reference to Heraclitus and the river. You can find paraphrases of his statement all over the web. I wanted to find a more accurate version, so I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and found this:

Plato’s own statement:

Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river. (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

The established scholarly method is to try to verify Plato’s interpretation by looking at Heraclitus’ own words, if possible. There are three alleged “river fragments”:

B12. potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.

On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius)

B49a. potamois tois autois … 

Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not. (Heraclitus Homericus)

B91[a]. potamôi … tôi autôi …

It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state. (Plutarch)

Heraclitus, 3.1 Flux

I’m partial to the second, Yoda-y version (B49a). Interesting — it’s not that we are not the same, and the river is not the same, BUT we/the river are both the same and not the same. They’re both true. Very cool.

One more thing about this line: I love how poets drop references without direct citation. It’s much more fun (rewarding? interesting?) when it’s not spelled out — Like Heraclitus said… In an early poem for my chapbook You Must Change Your Life, I admit that I did this:

Heraclitus claimed you can’t step into the same river twice.

Did you know you also can’t
run beside the same river twice?

I like recognizing a reference. I also like when I don’t recognize it, and all that I learn when I look it up. The trick, I think, is to reference something in a way that isn’t alienating. To make it easy to be found, if you take the time to search for it.

That summer sun was the same
As this April one: is repetition boring? Or only inactivity?

Repetition can be boring, but it’s more comforting to me. Usually I’m too restless to be inactive — maybe that’s why it isn’t boring to me, but novel, wanted.

And, what’s wrong with boring? This reminds me of the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and his book, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, which I know I read a decade ago, but don’t remember much about. The Marginalia has a helpful essay to remind me of what Phillips wrote. In terms of Schuyler and his poem, I’m thinking about boredom as emptiness, being in a state of doing nothing with (too much) time to think and reflect, to look at yourself. On page 6, Schuyler offers the line:

Why watch
Yourself? You know you’re here, and where tomorrow you will probably
Be.

Quite
A few things are boring, like the broad avenues of Washington
D.C. that seem to go from nowhere and back again. Civil servants
Wait at the crossing to cross to lunch at the Waffle House.

What’s the difference between boring and ordinary? And, is boring the opposite of interesting?

In
This twilight Degas a woman sits and holds a fan, it’s
The just rightness that counts. And how have you come to know just
Rightness when you see it and what is the deep stirring that it
Brings? Art is as mysterious as nature, as life, of which it is
A flower.

This just rightness makes me think of a quote I like from Oscar Wilde, which I wrote about on my trouble blog in 2012:

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

Good = just, right Not sure how/if this totally fits, but Schuyler’s discussion of boredom, then his mention of just rightness made me think of it.

Under the hedges now the weedy strips grow bright
With dandelions, just as good a flower as any other.

Again, I’m amazed at how Schuyler predicts, or does he set me up for, some of my questions. On March 14th, looking at page 5 I asked: What is a weed and what is a wildflower? The implication: which plants do we value as flowers, and which do we dismiss as weeds? And now here he is, two pages later, answering my question!

You see death shadowed out in another’s life. The threat
Is always there, even in balmy April sunshine. So what
If it is hard to believe in? Stopping in the city while the light
Is red, to think that all who stop with you too must stop, and
Yet it is not less individual a fate for all that. “When I
was born, death kissed me. I kissed it back.”

Death, a common fate, but felt uniquely by each of us. The same river twice, and not twice.

Meantime, there
Is bridge, and solitaire, and phone calls and a door slams, someone
Goes out into the April sun to take a spin as far as the
Grocer’s, to shop, and then come back. In the fullness of time,
Let me hand you an empty cup, coffee stained. Or a small glass
Of spirits: “Here’s your ounce of whisky for today.” Next door
The boys dribble a basketball and practice shots. Two boys
Run by: high spirits. The postman comes. No mail of interest.
Another day, there is. A postcard of the Washington Monument,
A friend waving from a small window at the needle top.

Life — the fullness and emptiness of time — is both ordinary (cards, calls, door slams) and extraordinary (spirits, spirited boys, postcards of the Washington Monument). The empty, coffee stained cup reminds me of a line from page 6 that I don’t think I mentioned:

the sun
Comes out from behind unbuttoned cloud underclothes—gray with use—

Gray. Stained with use. Used up. Old bones, old bodies.

Wow, this exercise of slowly reading Schuyler’s poem, a page a day, is so much fun! It does take time, which can be difficult to find.

feb 25/RUN

5k
ywca track

Ran on the track with Scott this morning, not together but at the same time. I thought about swimming, but knew it would be crowded, so I ran. Listened to a playlist titled, Sara 2020. Started with Tower of Power’s “What is Hip” and ended with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Focused on my cadence, arm swing, and not running into people as I passed them, including 2 runners who were running in the far lane. There were soccer games going on below me in the big gym, but I didn’t notice them at all. Too lost in my run.

The thing I noticed the most were the people:

  1. a man with white hair, wearing shorts and a tank top, running
  2. a woman in turquoise shorts and a tank top, running in the far lane, making it difficult to pass
  3. another runner in dark sweatpants and a light shirt running in the far lane
  4. 2 people walking, one of them carrying dumbells
  5. another pair of women, the one in the middle lane wearing a bright blue shirt
  6. a woman in mid-calf light blue patterned running tights and a white tank top running in the middle lane
  7. someone in tan shorts walking faster than the other walkers
  8. a woman stretching her calf muscles on the steps in the far corner
  9. a guy in gray, walking
  10. someone in red (I think?) sitting on the bench near the punching bag and the exit

I was listening to music, so I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but Scott told me that he overheard 3 interesting things from the pair of women walkers (#5 above). He called them chatty Cathys, he guessed they were in college, and he heard them say this: First, just as he passed them, he overheard one of them call out in disgust, Yuck! Next time, They’ll see it on your transcripts. Finally, You should really stop binging. Binging a show, food, alcohol? What will they see on your transcripts, and is this a good thing, or a bad thing? I love overheard conversations and imagining what they’re about.

Here are two poems I discovered today that move in opposite directions:

Rain/Jack Gilbert

Suddenly this defeat.
This rain.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray
And yellow
A terrible amber.
In the cold streets
Your warm body.
In whatever room
Your warm body.
Among all the people
Your absence
The people who are always
Not you.

I have been easy with trees
Too long.
Too familiar with mountains.
Joy has been a habit.
Now
Suddenly
This rain.

Love: I have been easy with trees/too long.

Opera Singer/Ross Gay

Today my heart is so goddamned fat with grief
that I’ve begun hauling it in a wheelbarrow. No. It’s an anvil
dragging from my neck as I swim
through choppy waters swollen with the putrid corpses of hippos,
which means lurking, somewhere below, is the hungry
snout of a croc waiting to spin me into an oblivion
worse than this run-on simile, which means only to say:
I’m sad. And everyone knows what that means.

And in my sadness I’ll walk to a café,
and not see light in the trees, nor finger the bills in my pocket
as I pass the boarded houses on the block. No,
I will be slogging through the obscure country of my sadness
in all its monotone flourish, and so imagine my surprise
when my self-absorption gets usurped
by the sound of opera streaming from an open window,
and the sun peeks ever-so-slightly from behind his shawl,
and this singing is getting closer, so that I can hear the
delicately rolled r’s like a hummingbird fluttering the tongue
which means a language more beautiful than my own,
and I don’t recognize the song
though I’m jogging toward it and can hear the woman’s
breathing through the record’s imperfections and above me
two bluebirds dive and dart and a rogue mulberry branch
leaning over an abandoned lot drags itself across my face,
staining it purple and looking, now, like a mad warrior of glee
and relief I run down the street, and I forgot to mention
the fifty or so kids running behind me, some in diapers,
some barefoot, all of them winged and waving their pacifiers
and training wheels and nearly trampling me
when in a doorway I see a woman in slippers and a floral housedress
blowing in the warm breeze who is maybe seventy painting the doorway
and friends, it is not too much to say
it was heaven sailing from her mouth and all the fish in the sea
and giraffe saunter and sugar in my tea and the forgotten angles
of love and every name of the unborn and dead
from this abuelita only glancing at me
before turning back to her earnest work of brushstroke and lullaby
and because we all know the tongue’s clumsy thudding
makes of miracles anecdotes let me stop here
and tell you I said thank you.

This poem! The beauty that interrupts us and forces us out of ourselves and into the world! Ross Gay is wonderful.

My Emily Dickinson, part two

a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation

Emily Dickinson took the scraps from the separate “higher” female education many bright women of her time were increasingly resenting, combined them with voracious and “unladylike” outside reading, and used the combination. She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on inteIlectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy. Pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a “sheltered” woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation. HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer. To hold back in doubt, have difficulty speaking. “He may pause but he must not hesitate”-Ruskin. Hesitation circled back and surrounded everyone in that confident age of aggressive industrial expansion and brutal Empire building. Hesitation and Separation. The Civil War had split American in two. He might pause, She hesitated. Sexual, racial, and geographical separation are at the heart of Definition.

Here’s something I wrote about this passage on March 17, 2021:

I really like this idea of hesitation and humility and aboriginal anagogy as a sharp contrast to progress, aggression, confidence/hubris, and time as always moving forwards (teleology). I tried to find a source that could explain exactly what Howe means by aboriginal anagogy but I couldn’t. I discovered that anagogy means mystical or a deeper religious sense and so, when I connect it to aboriginal, I’m thinking that she means that ED imbues pre-Industrial times (pre Progress!, where progress means trains and machines and cities and Empires and factories and plantations and the enslavement of groups of people and the increased mechanization of time and bodies and meaning and, importantly, grammar) with the sacred. Is that right? Is it clear what I’m saying?

A few paragraphs later, Howe writes this about ED’s grammar of “hesitation and humility”:

Naked sensibilities at the extremest periphery. Narrative expanding contracting dissolving. Nearer to know less before afterward schism in sum. No hierarchy, no notion of polarity. Perception of an object means loosing and losing it. …Trust absence, allegory, mystery–the setting not the rising sun is Beauty. No outside editor/”robber.” Conventional punctuation was abolished not to add “soigne stitchery” but to subtract arbitrary authority. Dashes drew liberty of interruption inside the structure of each poem. Hush of hesitation for breath and for breathing….only Mutability certain.

Some of this is starting to make sense. The periphery, the dashes as hesitation, mystery. I was curious about her take on sunsets over sunrises so I googled it and found this ED poem and helpful account from the Prowling Bee (love her!). She includes a list of ED’s sunset poems.

Howe ends Part One with one more description of ED’s hesitation and humility:

Forcing, abbreviating, pushing, padding, subtraction, riddling, interrogating, re-writing, she pulled text from text (29).

feb 18/RUN

4.5 miles
minnehaha falls and back
31 degrees
5% ice-covered

Felt off this morning — sore, unsettled. Wasn’t sure I should go for a run, but did it anyway. I’m glad. It felt like spring again: less layers, birds, sun, bare grass in a few spots, gushing water at the falls. My mood has improved. My back felt a little sore, my knees too, but most of the run felt good. The other day, I saw an instagram post on running form and arm swing. From the video I saw (with no audio) it looked like you should swing your arms further forward and higher than you’d expect. I tried it by focusing on swinging forward — not quite, but almost, like punching the air in front of you — instead of what I’ve usually done, focusing on extending my arms back more. It seemed to help, making my run feel more smooth, effortless, locked in.

moment of the run

Running north, approaching the double bridge, I heard a strange howling noise. It repeated several times. What was it? A coyote? Dog? Human? I couldn’t tell. I also couldn’t tell if it was right below on the west side, or over on the east side. I also started hearing sirens, and a bunch of dogs yipping. Crossing over from the river road to Edmund to run past my favorite poetry window, I suddenly remembered a bit of a poem I encountered this morning on twitter:

from March, 1979/ Tomas Tranströmer

Weary of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-covered island.
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on every side!
I come upon the tracks of deer in the snow.
Language but no words.

Was this the cry of language but no words? Or, just some kids trying to imitate a howl?

Here are 2 earlier (as in, before Almost an Elegy) Pastan poems that I found today:

Emily Dickinson/ Linda Pastan (1971)

We think of hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well-kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won’t explain the sheer sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain.

The economy of pain, I like that.

Wind Chill/ Linda Pastan (1999)

The door of winter
is frozen shut,

and like the bodies
of long extinct animals, cars

lie abandoned wherever
the cold road has taken them.

How ceremonious snow is,
with what quiet severity

it turns even death to a formal
arrangement.

Alone at my window, I listen
to the wind,

to the small leaves clicking
in their coffins of ice.

I like the last stanza with its small leaves clicking in their coffins of ice.

jan 3/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.25 miles
basement
outside: winter storm/snow

Winter storm today. Heavy snow mixed with some freezing rain. No running outside or driving to the y. Glad to have the bike and treadmill in the basement. While I biked, I watched a few minutes of a documentary by Tracksmith called “The Church of the Long Run.” (interesting side note: a search for “the church of the long run tracksmith” will also take you to tracksmith’s catalog for long run gear — the marketing of a sacred ritual…I have mixed feelings about this, and no time to explore them). Also watched some of the 2012 Women’s Triathlon from the London Olympics. As I ran, I listened to a book: Disappearing Earth. Such interesting storytelling about the disappearance/presumed kidnapping of 2 young girls and its impact on a wide range of women living in remote Russia.

After I finished my workout, I quickly had my last meal before a (nearly) 2 day fast for a colonoscopy on Thursday morning. My first colonoscopy. I wonder how I’ll handle not being able to eat tonight and all day tomorrow? I’ll be very glad when it’s over.

note: I don’t want to write that much about it now, but for the sake of future Sara and because this log is, among other things, about aging and learning to love/live in and with an aging body, I’ll say that this colonoscopy is stressing me out. Difficult to put into words (maybe a poem after?), but it’s about a lot of different things: frustration and feelings of helplessness over bad insurance and medical care that prioritizes profit over patients, too many people I love dying or diagnosed with different forms of cancer lately, anxiety over what I will or won’t be able to see because of my bad vision as I check-in and deal with people at the clinic, wondering if they’ll find anything that explains my gastro problems for the past 6 months. To relieve anxiety, maybe I should turn colonoscopy into anagrams?

a few minutes later: I thought colonoscopy would be difficult, so I tried endoscopic (for endoscopic exam) and it was hard too. Here’s how I did it. I put each of the letters on a different post-it note and then moved them around on my desk. I could only think of 3. I like this post-it note approach. I’ll have to try it again! Maybe I should use some old scrabble letters?

It’s not an endoscopic exam, it’s a

No Cod Spice Exam
Ponce (as in the Atlanta road, Ponce de Leon) Disco Exam
In Cop Codes Exam

Not the greatest, but still fun to try!

Working on my winter wonder class that starts at the end of this month. Seems fitting as I look outside at the snow falling, then stopping, then falling again. The snow has been heavy, but not blizzard-heavy. Not quite as bad as in this poem by Linda Pastan that I’m planning to use in my class:

Blizzard/ Linda Pastan

the snow
has forgotten
how to stop
it falls
stuttering
at the glass
a silk windsock
of snow
blowing
under the porch light
tangling trees
which bend
like old women
snarled
in their own
knitting
snow drifts
up to the step
over the doorsill
a pointillist’s blur
the wedding
of form and motion
shaping itself
to the wish of
any object it touches
chairs become
laps of snow
the moon could be
breaking apart
and falling
over the eaves
over the roof
a white bear
shaking its paw
at the window
splitting the hive
of winter
snow stinging
the air
I pull a comforter
of snow
up to my chin
and tumble to sleep
as the whole
alphabet
of silence
falls out of the
sky

dec 27/RUN

3.3 miles
under ford bridge and back
18 degrees / feels like 8
95% snow-covered, a few slick spots

And, goal achieved! In the middle of my run, I reached 1000 miles. Probably as I ran over the double bridge on my way back, maybe as I encountered another person who was stopped on the bridge. We did that annoying thing where we both went the same way, then shifted and went the same way again, then finally went in opposite ways.

A good run. It felt hard at the beginning. Difficult to breathe through a stuffed-up nose. I’m not sick, it’s just living inside in the dry air for too much of the day. As I warmed up, it got a little easier. The sidewalks were covered in packed, uneven snow, slick in spots.

I think I saw my shadow. I can’t remember if I saw them today, but a few days ago, driving on the river road, I admired the long, dark, twisted shadows the trees were casting on the completely white, completely snow-covered river road.

I heard some chirping birds, sounding like spring. As I started the run on my block, I heard a howl or a bellow. A dog? A coyote? A dog. Whining at the back door of a neighbor’s house. And I heard my feet striking the packed snow on the path. No pleasing crunch, or delightfully annoying grind. Only muffled thuds. Thought I heard some wind chimes coming from a neighbor’s deck. No headphones heading south, my “swim meet motivation” playlist heading back north.

Smelled the fire at the house on edmund that always seems to have a fire in the winter.

Felt my feet slip a little as I ran over slick spots. Enjoyed feeling the dry pavement — solid, secure — on the very rare and brief spots where the path was dry. Felt my burning, flushed face — was I overdressed? Felt a strong, sharp wind blowing in my face.

At some point in the run, I was interrupted by the sound of the wind rushing through some dead, orange leaves on an oak tree. What was I interrupted from? Maybe thinking too much about my effort or whether or not I would encounter another person or concentrating on the words to the song I was listening to. This interruption reminded me that one key way I use moving outside to pay attention is through passive noticing, answering when the world calls to me. Making myself open and available to the world. Yes! Before I went out for a run, I was working on the schedule for the class I’m teaching in the winter. I was trying to figure out how to tighten it up, rein it in a little, so I didn’t have too much (too many ideas, activities, readings) that might overwhelm students. I think this idea of passive attention and letting the world in, being open, is key to that. Cool.

Speaking of my class, here are some passages from an essay (Thinking Like a Sidewalk) on sidewalks and running in the winter that I might want to use in my class:

gradations of gray

My hometown of Carbondale, Colorado is buried in enough snow each winter to force most of us to become connoisseurs of concrete. Having spent the spring inviting peaking greens, all summer squinting across a singed expanse, and the fall celebrating the leafy explosion, each winter I relearn how to appreciate the gradations between smoke, cool ash, slate, pewter and pearl.

treadmill window

I realized what made me feel part of the wild was not physical proximity, but emotional. The intimate connections I formed with my wintery tableau from the treadmill felt as real and important as any experience on the trail. I became more familiar with that patch of snowy creekbed than many people ever would, and even worried when my nuthatch friend failed to report for pine-branch duty (If you’re reading this, please reach out). 

The treadmill window allowed me to become what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “transparent eyeball” in his essay, “Nature.”

I am nothing, I see all. 

a practice

Similar to a new strength routine, or a pre-race visualization, cultivating the habit of noticing the confident posture of a rook on its telephone pole perch takes focus, intent and repetition.

This demands turning attention toward the rustle of grass that says you aren’t running solo or the shallow pawprint that shows you aren’t the only critter perfecting their strides. Each run offers an opportunity to broaden our understanding of what wildness is, and connect with it in and around ourselves. 

Perhaps the sidewalk doldrums are due less to the monochrome concrete as the decline in our ability to appreciate the wilderness that exists between the cracks, and that exists in us.  It’s one thing to value a majestic vista worthy of posting on Instagram, something more subtle to celebrate the subtlety of snowy sidewalk. 

Thinking Like a Sidewalk

Wow! I’m definitely going to use bits of this essay for my class. Love it. note: the title, Thinking Like a Sidewalk, is a reference to Aldo Leopold and his essay, Thinking Like a Mountain.

Other things I want to read that are mentioned in the essay:

dec 4/WALKBIKERUN

walk: 20 minutes
neighborhood
32 degrees

note: Reviewing this entry the next morning I’ve found several typos, which I corrected just now. There are probably more that I still can’t see. As my ability to see clearly diminishes, I imagine these typos will increase.

COVID update: RJP’s doing fine, felt like her usual cold. She’s been in her room since Wednesday night, only leaving to go to the bathroom or eat. So far, Scott and I are okay. He tested today: negative. Neither of us are too anxious.

update from the next morning: Even though she feels fine, RJP is still testing positive. It was the same for FWA when he had it in September. He thought he had a cold. Finally tested near the end of it. Felt fine, tested positive for 10 days.

Scott and I took Delia the dog for a quick walk around the neighborhood. Warmer, sunny, slushy sidewalks. Fresh air! He talked about video games, I talked about this log and the latest episode of ‘You’re Wrong About.” The only memorable thing about the walk: the field at Howe School was covered in snow — not smooth or flat but filled with mini mounds from hundreds of boots kicking and stomping, and hundreds of bodies rolling around in it during recess last week.

bike: 14 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill

Too dark to run outside in the later afternoon, so I went to the basement. Watched Miss Space Cadet on YouTube while biking, listened to Apple’s 80s “Fitness” playlist on the treadmill — “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Material Girl,” “Super Freak,” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” I need to put together a running playlist again. Didn’t think about much while I ran. As always, it felt good to move.

Inciting Joy: Day One, The First Incitement

This afternoon I started Ross Gay’s wonderful book, Inciting Joy. I’m going to try and read an incitement (there are nine) this month. Here are some notes and thoughts for the first incitement:

To define joy, he begins by saying what it’s not: it’s not sparking joy or capitalist-joy-as-acquiring-better-stuff-or-doing-big-things. It’s not the happy place where you go to be safe or comfortable — a sanctuary protected with a heavy lock, keeping out all the bad stuff: heartbreak, sadness, worry. It’s not unserious or frivolous to talk about (or experience), even as we are made to think it is, and it’s not separate from pain and suffering:

But what happens if joy is not separate from pain? What if joy and pain are fundamentally tangled up with one another? Or even more to the point, what if joy is not only entangled with pain, or suffering, or sorrow, but is also what emerges from how we care for each other through those things? What if joy, instead of refuge or relief from heartbreak, is what effloresces from us as we help each other carry our heartbreaks?

effloresces = blossoms

He suggests that instead of avoiding/ignoring/quarantining sorrow that we invite it in, and invite others in too so they can meet our sorrow, and we can meet theirs. Then he offers a vivid description of what that party might look like, all of us bringing a dish for a potluck, along with our sorrow, breaking bread together (and some furniture, I guess):

…and the thud skips the record back to the beginning of Sly Stone’s “Family Affair” and the dancing, which has been intermittent, just blasts off, all of us and our sorrows, sweaty, stomping and shaking, tearing it up, the pictures falling off the walls, the books from the shelves, some logs ablaze even spilling from the stove, riotous this care, this carrying, this incitement, this joy.

At the end of the chapter, he describes the goal of his book: to investigate what stuff we think/do/believe that incites joy and to wonder what joy might incite. He has a hunch — it might incite solidarity, which incites more joy, and then more solidarity — not over the same sorrows but over the shared experience of sorrow. This sharing of sorrow might lead us to discover what we do or might love together, which might help us survive.

I deeply appreciate this idea of joy as connected to suffering and that, when shared and cared for, might lead to love. Did that last sentence make sense? I’m excited to read the rest of these incitements. I think I might add my own incitement: gray days. Or, I might develop my own idea of gray joy?

Gay’s vision of a raucous party, overflowing with people meeting each others’ sorrows, seems a bit overwhelming to me. I’m not sure I would find joy in caring and developing solidarity in such a big, messy crowd. But, there are others ways, I think, in which we can invite sorrow in too. Gay’s discussion reminded me of another psalm poem I read by Julia B. Levine, especially her last lines:

Psalm with Wren in Daylight Saving Time/ Julia B. Levine

Late afternoon, I chop onions by feel,
listening to crows cry to each other across the ridge.

Gone now, white recipe card on the white floor,
green sea glass found on a Humboldt beach.

But this hour I have been given back, carried out
of gorse, red flash of maples, finches in our cedar.

Meaning, today I returned for the first time
to the moment I understood I was going blind.

Months I hid from myself that the V of geese
flying over the valley extinguished too soon into fog,

a darkness fine as sugar sifted over the chard, the roses.
Now I hear the soft tick of a bird landing on the counter.

Feel her gaze turn away from mine. When she hops
table to chair to floor, I open all the windows and doors.

Sometimes we must drag our grief out of the river
and put our mouth on it. And then a loosening comes.

One morning I rose and sat outside on my lawn
under budded glory vines. There is no hurry, I say

to the stirrings of one so small it has to be a wren.
Once I let the missing in, there was possibility.

There was a heavy rain in sun—every blade of grass
blurred, and for a moment after, only shine.

Let that missing in! Open those doors and windows! Drag the grief out of the river! I imagine this opening up to grief as more than a solitary practice. It’s an opening up to and connecting with the world.

nov 1/RUN

3.1 miles
turkey hollow
67 degrees

A memory: wild turkeys near Beckettwood. One, flapping its wings as it moved away from me.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master

On Sunday, November 6th, Scott accidentally deleted everything I had written for the past six days. I lost this entry. I don’t want to try to remember everything/anything that happened on that day, but I do want to document the basic details of the run and to have it marked on my calendar so that later, when I glance at it, I can see when I worked out that month.

I didn’t just lose this entry, I lost all the entries for this week. I lost 2 new pages I created for my big (as in, spanning decades) project, How to Be. One called, “How to be…a Bell.” The other, “How to be…Enough.” I lost the various edits I did to my writing portfolio site, announcing the publishing of 2 of my mood ring poems at The Account. I lost the poem links I added to my “poems gathered” section. I lost an “On this Day” page I created for all the entries, from 2017-2021, that I posted on November 4th. And I lost little bits — quotations, interviews, video clips — that I posted on various pages on Undisciplined. At least, that’s what I remember losing.

It happened on Sunday morning around 9. I was sitting upstairs reading something. I heard Scott sigh loudly. Uh oh. What’s wrong, I asked. I think he might have started with, I have some bad news or I’m sorry, but…. Scott is like his dad when he tells a story. He likes to give a lengthy, dramatic explanation before getting to the point. As he rambled on with details, I tried to guess what the conclusion would be. I am like my mom when I hear a story; I worry and jump to conclusions and don’t care about the details. I want the ending first, then I can listen to the excrutiating minutia of what happened. As he talked, I thought he was going to tell me that he had deleted all of the customizations I had made to my wordpress themes for my 3 main sites. When he said that he had lost anything I had written/posted in the last six days, I was relieved. At least I don’t have to redo the themes, and try to remember all the css that Ive forgotten because I only use it every couple of years when I redesign my sites! But slowly it hit me. How much I had written this week. A lot. More than most weeks.

I’m a little sad about the words I’ve lost, but not angry. I’ll remember them, or I won’t. Maybe I’ll even remember better versions of them.

One Art/ Elizabeth Bishop (audio version)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

I knew I knew, somewhere in the dim caverns of my mind, what form Bishop’s poem is in, but I forgot and had to look it up: a villanelle. Of course! I tried writing a few of these way back in year 2. I searched in my archive and found the entry, jan 18, 2018. Here’s what I wrote:

Yesterday, I experimented with the villanelle form and wrote a poem about running around the track. Here’s the form of a villanelle:

19 lines; 5 tercets + 1 quatrain; 1st and 3rd line of beginning tercet are alternately repeated in third line of remaining tercets, then last two lines of quatrain; rhyme scheme = aba/aba/aba/aba/aba/abaa

A RUN AROUND THE TRACK ISN’T HARD TO DO

A run around the track isn’t hard to do
with its road that never runs out
An endless loop, run until you’re through

Warm and dry with a clear avenue
no cars to avoid, no need to shout
A run around the track isn’t hard to do

A little tedious, a lack of view
but a chance to fly fast, to go all out
on this endless loop, run until you’re through

Your brain can go blank, your thoughts can be few
mechanically moving without doubt
A run around the track isn’t hard to do

It can be monotonous, that’s true
encountering the same people on this repetitive route
of endless loops, run until you’re through

So little to look at, so little to do
but keep track of the laps, not losing count
A run around the track isn’t hard to do
but it’s a boring, endless loop, run until you’re through

Wow. This is definitely a poems that’s about trying out a form. Should I try again? Maybe this month…

A poem I posted in one of the lost entries:

Wild Turkey/ Heid E. Erdrich

Not the bottle
Not the burn on the lips
lit throat glow
Not even wild     really
but a small-town bird
whose burgundy throat
shimmers like nothing ever
A huge bird    impressive
who lurches and stalks me
window to window in this
desert retreat
What does he want?
Clearly he is lonely
pecks his reflection
and speaks to it in a low gubble
(not gobble) gubbles so tenderly
Soon as I think of him     his eye hits on me
We have watched each other for days
His shifting colors fascinate me  his territorial strut
But it is his bald and blue-red head
his old man habits and gait that move me
If I even think of him        I taste whiskey
Drunk on solitude    I’d talk to anybody
I try his language on my lips
His keen response burns     like shame

october 29/RUN

5.25 miles
fairview loop*
44 degrees

*another Marshall loop variation/expansion. This is my fall 2022 weekend routine. Today I added some more distance by staying on Marshall until I reached the next main street after Prior Avenue at Fairview. A few more blocks, a little more distance, some more of St. Paul to see.

A good run, even if my kneecap was not quite in place for the first mile. Mostly it’s okay, though I worry about it rubbing and creating another bone spur. The weather was close to perfect: mid 40s, sun, not much wind. I felt strong and relaxed and not wanting to stop for any lights. I like this loop, even if it feels longer than it actually is. The hill up Marshall is not bad, especially after Cretin, and the hill down Summit makes it feel easier. I wonder how much I can keep adding onto this loop?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. running across lake street bridge, looking over the railing, I saw an 8-person shell heading south. I stopped briefly to admire it
  2. the river was smooth and dark blue and beautiful
  3. graffiti below the bridge on the st paul side
  4. running by the former Izzy’s ice cream, where FWA and RJP shared a birthday party, I noticed a wooden shelf jutting out of a window — was this the takeout window?
  5. a big apartment building with huge windows near the door stretching multiple floors—I think I remember seeing a big gold chandelier
  6. a big fancy house on Summit with stone pineapples at the end of the driveway
  7. the hill on marshall: steepest at the beginning, then much more gradual until it kicks up a little between prior and fairview
  8. the bells at st. thomas were ringing
  9. reaching the river, running up the hill near Summit, hearing voices behind me — runners, I think. One of them encouraging another to go! go! go! Were they going faster than me? No. Either they turned off or were slower
  10. more shells on the river. I could hear a male coxswain instructing the rowers. Also heard people cheering for the 1/2 marathon races on the west side

This poem makes me think of the various poems I studied last October about bells. Maybe it’s time to revisit the bell for the end of October?

Let this darkness be a bell tower/ Rainer Maria Rilke

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am

june 3/RUN

5.25 miles
franklin hill and back
60 degrees

Ah, such lovely weather this morning! Ran north on the river road, through the tunnel of trees, under the lake street bridge, above the rowing club and the white sands beach, under the trestle, down the franklin hill, then everything again, in reverse. A nice run. I sped up too much in the second mile, and paid for it at the bottom of the hill. Decided to walk a bit of it. Then put in a playlist and ran back.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. cigarette smoke from somewhere — a car driving by? a person below, in the gorge?
  2. a screeching blue jay (or is it bluejay?)
  3. no stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  4. rowers on the river! I didn’t see them, but heard the coxswain calling out instructions through her bullhorn
  5. a roller skier slowly approaching from behind, not moving much faster than me. At first, the striking of the their poles was a loud sharp “clack!” in a steady rhythm. Clack! Clack! Clack! Clack! Then, heading up a hill, it shortend and softened: “clack clack clack” It took them almost half a mile to pass me
  6. saw at least 3 people with fishing poles — 2 walking on the trail, one by the edge of the river, ready to cast their line — what fish can you get in the river near franklin avenue?
  7. wind and a few creaks from the trees
  8. a large group of bikers spread out on the franklin hill, traveling up it at various speeds. Some were charging up it, others steadily plodding, one biker was weaving back and forth, another barely crawling. The bikers at the very back were walking their bikes
  9. all the benches were empty — were they lonely or relieved to have some solitude?
  10. ended in the tunnel of trees and marveled at the dappled/dappling light

Standing in the tunnel of trees was wonderful. Quiet, sheltered, calm. And, no bugs! Pretty soon that won’t be possible. I did a recording of the wind in the trees but listening back to it, I mostly hear static and car wheels whooshing from up above. I have decided that I’d like to give some more attention to the creaking trees and the sound of the wind moving through the branches. I have such happy memories of listening to the wind in the aspens up at my grandparent’s farm. It used to be my favorite sound.

The Sound of Trees/ ROBERT FROST

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.

may 12/RUN

4.5 miles
Veterans’ Home loop
65 degrees
humidity: 90%

It felt much warmer than 65 degrees. The humidity, my nemesis! I felt drained and decided to walk a few times after reaching the falls. Speaking of the falls, they were gushing. We had a intense storm last night, with tornado warnings and severe weather sirens going off at least twice. Everywhere I looked this morning, I witnessed the aftermath. Nothing too bad, just small branches on the ground, water gurgling out of the sewer pipes, dirt and mud washed up on the sidewalk, leaves piled up on the path.

Someone posted an excerpt from a Louise Glück poem on twitter the other day that made me stop scrolling. I liked it, but wanted to find where it came from: her poem, “October,” in Averno. I particularly wanted to know what happened to Beauty. Here’s the excerpt from twitter:

What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty

And here’s the larger (more complete) excerpt from “October“:

3.
Snow had fallen. I remember
music from an open window.
Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.
Sunrise. A film of moisture
on each living thing. Pools of cold light
formed in the gutters.
I stood
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.
What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher—
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.

I posted a different section from this poem 2 or 3 years ago. It’s a beautiful poem, so I decided to request the collection from the library.

may 9/RUN

3.3 miles
trestle turn around +
65 degrees / humidity: 70%
wind: 18 mph / gusts: 30 mph

So much wind! As I neared the river, a surprise gust swept through and ripped my visor off my head. Luckily, that was the worst thing the wind did. No knocking down thick branches onto my shoulders. No pushing me off the edge of the gorge. Just a few big gusts, and a wall to run into after I turned around at the trestle.

The wind and the humidity distracted me from noticing much else. Did I even look at the river? One thing I do remember noticing: the green in the floodplain forest is thickening. Already the view through to the river is gone in that spot. I also noticed the welcoming oaks. They’re still bare and gnarled.

Near the end of my run, when I had one hill left and wanted to be done, I chanted some of my favorite lines from Emily Dickinson again: “Life is but life/Death but death/Bliss is but bliss/Breath but breath.” It helped!

10 Things I Noticed While Running*

*4 thoughts that distracted me from noticing + 6 things I still noticed despite the distractions

  1. my left hip is a little tight
  2. it is very humid
  3. I hate my sinuses and allergies; I wish I could breathe fully through my nose
  4. I wish I had worn a tank top. I’m so glad I didn’t wear that sweatshirt I almost put on because I was cold in the house!
  5. an intense floral scent — lilac, maybe?
  6. only a few big branches down near the trail
  7. a woman walking and pushing a stroller, a dog leash in one hand, a dog stretched across the trail
  8. several walkers dressed for winter in coats and caps
  9. an inviting bench perched at the edge of the gorge, taking in the last of the clear view before the green veil conceals it
  10. the creak of some branches in the wind: another rusty door opening!

This final thing I mentioned noticing, the door, made me want to find another door poem, so I did:

Doors opening, closing on us/ Marge Piercy

Maybe there is more of the magical
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It’s always a matter of going
through into something else. But

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal,
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside
to outside, light into dark, dark into
light, cold into warm, known into
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise
or music. We slice our life into
segments by rituals, each a door
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was.

april 18/RUN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

before the run

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

Pear Snow/ Todd Dillard

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

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

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

After the Rain/ jared Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

during the run

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

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

after the run

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

from Dogfish/ Mary Oliver

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

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

april 17/RUN

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

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

before the run

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

1 — tune my body and my brain

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

Here are a few verses:

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

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

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

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

2 — Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”

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

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

3 — digging work

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

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

Digging/ Seamus Heaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 — listening work

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

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

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

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

5 — In Search of our Mother’s Gardens*

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

things to think about while running:

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

during the run

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

after the run

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

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

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

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

And the refrain at the end, repeated several times:

Digging in the dirt
To find the places we got hurt

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

video: Digging in the Dirt/ Peter Gabriel

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

planting a seed, lower right

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

feb 25/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around
17 degrees / feels like 9
100% snow-covered

I was planning to do a short run on the treadmill today, but when I went out to shovel the 2 or 3 inches we got yesterday afternoon and felt the warm sun on my face, I knew I needed to run outside by the gorge. What a beautiful day! Clear sky, bright sun, chatty birds. No wind or frozen fingers. I ran north towards the trestle today, first listening to the gorge, then to an old playlist (songs I remember hearing: “Eye of the Tiger”, “I Knew You Were Trouble”).

10 Things I Noticed

  1. running above the tunnel of trees, on the plowed biking trail instead of unplowed walking path, there were big chunks, almost balls, of snow on the edge of the path. Some were bright white, others with a tinge of gray. I made sure to avoid them but wondered, are these chunks of snow soft or hard? If I hit one with my foot, would it crumble or would my toe?
  2. lots of birds singing, sounding like spring, mostly cardinals, I think. At least one black-capped chickadee doing their fee bee song
  3. ran by the porta-potty below the lake street bridge. The door was closed so I steered clear of it, imagining someone might quickly open it on me, if I was too close. Last week, I ran by it and it was wide open. Why?
  4. the path was completely covered in snow. Some of it was soft, like sand, and difficult to run on. Some of it, was packed down or scraped away by a plow. Will most of this melt in the sun?
  5. the smell of the sewer, near 28th street as I passed a crosswalk. Stinky and fishy and foul
  6. a car doing a 3 point road turn at the top of hill, just past lake street, near longfellow grill
  7. a man and his dog, hanging out near the trestle, just above the steps down to the winchell trail, which are closed for the winter
  8. 2 runners, one of them wearing a red coat, shuffling her feet
  9. looking back to check if a biker was coming, see my shadow following me
  10. running down the hill to under the bridge, feeling like I was flying, my arms and feet in sync, my breathing easy

No geese or woodpeckers or kids laughing or crying. No overheard conversations about war or winter. No smells of burnt toast or breakfast sausages. No good mornings to anyone. No run-ins with squirrels or lunging dogs. A great run in which I forgot about a lot of things, and synced up with time in such a way that we both seemed to get lost or disappear or dissolve into the clean, blue air.

While doing some research for a course proposal I’m working on, I found a great article, “Running, Thinking, and Writing.” Here’s a question that was asked to some writers who run, and their answers:

Do you have trouble remembering your creative ideas after you have finished your workout? If so, any strategies?

Aschwanden: “I don’t use a special trick to remember. If the ideas are any good, I’ll remember them. At times I’ll repeat the thing to myself a few times as I run to make sure I’ve instilled it.”

Epstein: “I have a ton of trouble remembering the ideas I come up with while running. Sometimes I’ll tell myself, ‘I must remember this,’ and then five minutes later it’s totally gone. So I’ve taken to doing my own modified version of a memory palace where I make a little story that contains the cues that will remind me. Occasionally I’ve made notes in my phone’s memo app.”

Magness: “Yes, I forget them. This is the biggest problem I have with running as a path to insight. I don’t carry a phone or pen with me, and I don’t have a perfect solution. I often forget my big ‘breakthrough’ and spend hours trying to remember the insight. I try to retain thoughts by repeating them over and over in my head, and tying them to a landmark on the run. For example, if I get an idea while crossing a bridge at mile 4, I’ll incorporate that fact into what I’m trying to remember.”

McDougall: “I don’t want to screw things up by stopping to write notes. I just let it flow and try to visualize the big ideas as movie scenes in my mind. It’s not the words or phrases that matter. You just need to retain the Big Picture, and that’s easier to retain as an image rather than some syntactical word sequence.”

Miller: “Sometimes, I’ll forget. I try to remember by repeating the thought over and over in my head. Or I’ll type a note into my phone.”

Pappas: “I will stop and type in my phone if I have an idea that needs to be actually remembered.” 

Switzer: “They are absolutely very difficult to remember. I choose three of the most important ideas, and repeat them like a mantra. I’ll forget others, but can generally hold onto three. I do have to write them down as soon as I get home. If I shower or even stretch first, they’re gone.”

Thompson: “Yes! I do forget. But if I remember something genuinely useful, I will jot it down in Evernote at my desk after the run.”

Here’s a poem I bookmarked last spring. It seems fitting as I think about how running (or just being) by the gorge and noticing more things, then making note of those things, and turning some of them into poems, helped me to endure the 2 years of the pandemic.

Every day as a wide field, every page/ NAOMI SHIHAB NYE

1

Standing outside
staring at a tree
gentles our eyes

We cheer
to see fireflies
winking again

Where have our friends been
all the long hours?
Minds stretching

beyond the field
become
their own skies

Windows   doors
grow more
important

Look through a word
swing that sentence
wide open

Kneeling outside
to find
sturdy green

glistening blossoms
under the breeze
that carries us silently

2

And there were so many more poems to read!
Countless friends to listen to.
We didn’t have to be in the same room—
the great modern magic.
Everywhere together now.
Even scared together now
from all points of the globe
which lessened it somehow.
Hopeful together too, exchanging
winks in the dark, the little lights blinking.
When your hope shrinks
you might feel the hope of
someone far away lifting you up.
Hope is the thing …
Hope was always the thing!
What else did we give each other
from such distances?
Breath of syllables,
sing to me from your balcony
please! Befriend me
in the deep space.
When you paused for a poem
it could reshape the day
you had just been living.

jan 30/RUN

2 miles
43rd north/32nd east/edmund south/37th west/43rd north
22 degrees

A quick run to get the last miles I need for my weekly goal (20 miles), to enjoy the “mild” weather and mostly clear pavement, and to recite the poem I’m re-memorizing today, “Lovesong of the Square Root of Negative One.” I ran through the neighborhood, which I don’t do as much this year now that I’m vaccinated and not as nervous about encountering people. Ran by Cooper School, then the abandoned house that has stood almost, but not quite, finished for at least 3 years now. It’s sealed, with a door and windows, so it’s safe from the elements. I can’t remember if it has siding. If this house were finished, it would probably be worth at least 1/2 million (update, 7 dec 2022: finally someone fixed this house up! I found it on zillow last night during one of my many bout of restless legs. Listing price: $795,000). Strange to see it still here, still not done. Did the builder go bankrupt? When I almost reached the river, staying on edmund instead of crossing the river road, I saw lots of cars — Sunday drivers, I guess.

I recited my poem a few times. Probably because of the cold, I didn’t stop and record myself reciting it at the end. I should start doing that again, to make sure I’m getting all of the words. I noticed how certain bits of the poem worked very well with the steady rhythm of my running: “the trace of the thicket, the key in the lock, as root breaks/ rock, from seed to flower to fruit to rot”. Others did not, like “dark boat in the dark night”.

Scrolling through some of my running instagram (I use twitter for poetry; instagram for running; facebook for family/IRL friends), I discovered the Quadratus Lumborum muscle, which causes lots of problems for runners, and might be why my lower back often hurts. Nice. Never heard of this muscle before. It’s located in the lower back and involves the iliac crest, the lumbar vertebrae, and the 12th rib. Here are some stretches I’m planning to try: Top 5 QL Stretches

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!

oct 9/RUN

4 miles
wabun park + turkey hollow
65 degrees
humidity: 86% / dewpoint: 61

A little too sticky, but what a beautiful morning for a run! Sunny, calm, quiet. Before running felt uneasy about something I couldn’t name; running helped. I’m thinking about ghosts and haunting the path (frequenting it, floating above it, flashing through it) and trying to find a way into my next big project — my annual fall project. Something about the periphery and the approximate as not quite (human, able to see or connect, in this world, real). I need a door, or at least a window — anything that might let me enter this project.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The trail, covered in leaves, a lot of them red — not bright red, but faded, almost pink
  2. A processional of walkers, bikers, big groups of runners on the trail between 36th and 42nd
  3. A clanging collar on the other side of the boulevard, following me as I ran south
  4. Someone playing frisbee golf at Wabun, throwing a frisbee from the path. Were they playing or working, picking up frisbees others had left behind? Why were they throwing from the path? Why did it look — in my quick, unreliable, glance — that they had a golf bag?
  5. For over a year and a half, every time I run up 47th, as part of the turkey hollow loop, there is a dumpster parked on the street, in front of a house. It was still there today. Have they been remodeling their house for that long?
  6. The ford bridge, from the top of the hill at wabun, then from below, at the bottom of the path
  7. My shadow in the grass as I walked across turkey hollow
  8. The too white, newly redone road between 42nd and folwell, one side of it covered in leaves
  9. Feeling someone running at my same pace–me on edmund, them on the river road. Not wanting to look over to check too closely, trying not to race them
  10. The dirt trail between Becketwood and Minneahaha Academy Lower Campus, dry, covered with leaves, much more worn and well-traveled (haunted) than the barely there mostly tamped down grass, partly dirt path in front of Minnehaha Academy Upper Campus

Haunt/ Maya Phillips

Because there are so few hobbies left
to the dead, my father gives himself this:
his usual route, the Queens-bound F
to Continental, where he walks with the living
to work. Every day he finds a new occupation—
picks trash off the tracks, changes a dirty lightbulb,
makes rounds on the platforms,
tries to make some small use of his hands,
though no one notices
or acknowledges. Yet still he returns
every day, in his tan shirt and brown slacks
ironed with the impatience
of the perpetually late,
his keys jingling carelessly
in his left front pocket.

Twenty-plus years with the MTA
but some other guy’s got the job now,
someone younger, maybe someone
my father knows, standing in the operating booth
at the end of the platform, watching
the miniature trains on the board
carry lights through a digital New York.
And maybe the young man knows nothing
of the dead man, has no words
for a ghost who builds a home
of his absence. And if my father says haunt

he doesn’t mean the way rooms forget him
once he’s gone; he’s saying his leather chair
now in his coworker’s office, his locker
in the back room newly purged
of its clutter, or his usual table
in the break room where he sits
at 10:30 each night eating
the same steak club and chips, counting
the 10, 20, 30 more years till retirement,
cuz he’s close, he’s in the final stretch—any day
now and he’ll finally go on that vacation.

august 9/RUNSWIM

run: 4.35 miles
minnehaha falls and back
70 degrees
humidity: 93% / dew point: 68

Ran south to the falls. More rain last night. The dirt, muddy. The tree branches, dripping. Stopped to check out the falls. More water falling. Also noticed how much I was sweating. Hard for my sweat to evaporate when the dew point is so high. Heading north, I turned down on the Winchell Trail. The mud was slippery and the path was crowded–more people on it than I’ve seen in weeks. No noise from the sewer pipe at 44th, but the one at 42nd was gushing. Los of cars and bikes rushing by on the path. A good run.

moment of curiosity

Just south of the double bridge at 44th, the walking trail splits from the bike trail and briefly descends down before climbing back up to meet with the bike trail beside the road again. This path is bumpy and narrow and steep–a perfect place to trip. And it adds an additional mini hill to climb. If you stay up above, the trail is all downhill. I never used to take it because it was easier (and safer) to stay up above, but lately I’ve been enjoying it. Today, as I was climbing out of it, I noticed a suitcase and a lampshade tucked away, under the low branches of a tree, hidden from the road. Who put it there, I wondered, and why? Had they left, and were they coming back for it later? Did they live down below, by the river? Had they hidden it a few days ago, or much longer? What did this suitcase contain? Clothes? Money?

swim: 2.25 miles / 6 loops
cedar lake open swim
84 degrees

A great Cedar Lake swim! Smooth and not too crowded. Near the shore, the water was very cold, but as I swam out deeper, it warmed up. I did a better job of sighting the orange buoy at the far beach and staying away from other swimmers. The thing I remember most: so much milfoil! Scratchy, persistent. It felt like some of it got in my suit–rough and irritating. It wrapped around my shoulder, my arm. Moved slowly down my back. No fish, some paddle boarders, a few planes.

At point beach, there’s a sandbar near the shore, but very soon, it drops away. How deep is the water here? I’m not sure. In other spots, where you can touch bottom, there’s lots of vegetation. The floor feels slimy and soft and gross. At east/hidden beach, the bottom is mostly small rocks.

Rounding the buoy, starting a new loop, a swimmer coming from shore cut me off and I had to stop for a second. I wasn’t upset because I’m never sure who has the right of way here. The swimmer seemed like they were going pretty fast. I followed behind, steadily. I think they almost ran into a few other swimmers. Just before we reached the far buoy, I passed them. Is it bad that this made me feel good? I’m not really competitive in the water, but I do enjoy passing people, not because I’m beating them (well, not too much because of this), but because swimming past someone slower than you makes you feel like you’re swimming fast. It’s fun to feel fast–powerfully gliding on top of the water.

I wanted to be surprised./ Jane Hirshfield

To such a request, the world is obliging.

In just the past week, a rotund porcupine,
who seemed equally startled by me.

The man who swallowed a tiny microphone
to record the sounds of his body,
not considering beforehand how he might remove it.

A cabbage and mustard sandwich on marbled bread.

How easily the large spiders were caught with a clear plastic cup
surprised even them.

I don’t know why I was surprised every time love started or ended.
Or why each time a new fossil, Earth-like planet, or war.
Or that no one kept being there when the doorknob had clearly.

What should not have been so surprising:
my error after error, recognized when appearing on the faces of others.

What did not surprise enough:
my daily expectation that anything would continue,
and then that so much did continue, when so much did not.

Small rivulets still flowing downhill when it wasn’t raining.
A sister’s birthday.

Also, the stubborn, courteous persistence.
That even today please means please,
good morning is still understood as good morning,

and that when I wake up,
the window’s distant mountain remains a mountain,
the borrowed city around me is still a city, and standing.

Its alleys and markets, offices of dentists,
drug store, liquor store, Chevron.
Its library that charges—a happy surprise—no fine for overdue books:
Borges, Baldwin, Szymborska, Morrison, Cavafy.

—2018

I like this poem and thinking about wanting to be surprised, and then about the differences between experiencing pleasure and joy and love and surprise. Is one of these more important than the others?

june 27/RUN

4.3 miles
minneahaha falls and back
66 degrees/ dew point: 62
light rain

Ran south on the river road trail past the falls and stopped at the big statue just past the pergola garden. When I would walk or bike the kids over here, about 10 years ago, we (or was it mostly me?) called this statue “big feet” because all the kids could see was his big feet. There was also a little feet (John Stevens)–a much smaller statue not too far way. Today I wanted to find out who Big Feet actually was. I assumed he might be someone connected to Fort Snelling–Zebulon Pike or Snelling or Franklin. Nope. Gunner Wennenberg, a Swedish composer, poet, and politician. This statue was erected on June 24th, 1914. Looking him up online, I am amused by this last paragraph in the wikipedia entry (originally found in an old Encyclopedia Britannica):

Wennerberg was a most remarkable type of the lyrical, ardent Swedish aristocrat, full of the joy of life and the beauty of it. In the long roll of his eighty-four years there was scarcely a crumpled rose-leaf. His poems, to which their musical accompaniment is almost essential, have not ceased, in half a century, to be universally pleasing to Swedish ears; outside Sweden it would be difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible.

Difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible? Ouch. I’m not sure if any part of my ears are Swedish–Finnish and Czech and Norwegian–but I listened to one of his hymns, and I thought it was nice (I don’t like the word nice here but I’m not sure I could go so far as to say it was beautiful).

During this run, I felt strong and relaxed and sweaty. So much sweat. The temp was 66, the dew point 62. Difficult for sweat to evaporate and cool me off. I listened to a playlist so I didn’t hear any trickling or gushing water. No rowers or birds or small bits of conversation. I did feel the light rain cooling me off sometimes.

For today’s water and stone poem, I decided to search for a Swedish poet. I found Tomas Tranströmer, the 2011 Nobel Prize Winner for Poetry.

excerpt from The Half Finished Heaven/ Tomas Tranströmer

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Under Pressure/ Tomas Tranströmer

The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening.
We’re living here on a shuddering work-site
where the ocean depths can suddenly open up –
shells and telephones hiss.

You can see beauty only from the side, hastily,
The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream.
The restless shadows in my head are drawn there.
They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.

Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.
The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat.
You are alone on the water.
Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.

april 25/RUN

5k
2 school loop
42 degrees

Another colder day. I’m tired of wearing running tights, a winter vest, gloves. Time for spring and shorts and short-sleeves. Ran on the trail heading south. I don’t remember looking at the river once. I was too busy avoiding people. Listened to a playlist as I ran so I didn’t hear anything but Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Harry Styles. Anything else? No roller skiers. No bright, glowing shirts. No peletons. No turkeys or eagles or geese. No rowers on the river. No daily walker. Just an ordinary run.

From The Book of Time

2.
For how many years have you gone through the house shutting the windows,
while the rain was still five miles away

and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north,
away from you

and you did not even know enough
to be sorry,

you were glad
those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple,

were sweeping on, elsewhere,
violent and electric and uncontrollable—

and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget
all enclosures, including

the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf, and will you
dash fnally, frantically,

to the windows and haul them open and lean out
to the dark, silvered sky, to everything

that is beyond capture, shouting
I’m here, I’m here! Now, now, now, now, now.

This part of the poem reminds me of part of Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes” from Red Bird—this is the poem that includes her famous instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

In the west, clouds gathered.
Thunderheads.
In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled
with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.
Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lightning brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.

And here’s one more poem that I’d like to put beside these two and beside the idea of a thunder storm:

Beat! Beat! Drums!/ Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would hey continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

april 19/RUN

3.6 miles
2 trails + tunnel of trees
35 degrees
snow flurries

Cold and windy this morning, with snow flurries. Running south at the beginning of my run, the wind was my friend, pushing me along. Running, north on the trail below, hugging the side of bluff, I hardly felt it at all. Everyday, everything is getting greener. Too soon! I heard one girl on the playground at Minnehaha Academy, laughing, some water dripping out of the sewer below 42nd, a disembodied voice down in the oak savanna. And, I heard at least 2 black-capped chickadees calling out to each other

I’ve noticed that the bird who calls out “fee Bee” first usually is more insistent, interrupting whoever is “Fee bee-ing” back to him. Today’s first caller was particularly inpatient. Is this because it’s a call of aggression, warning the other bird to stay away? Or is it because it’s an amorous male who can hardly wait to hear an answer back from a potential mate?

Anything else I remember from my run? I remember admiring the river, looking such a calm blue. I remember getting stuck behind a walker who didn’t know I was coming and having to call out “excuse me” three times–and I remember not being mad about it. I remember the extra bright yellow shirt of a runner up ahead as I started on my run, the warnings posted on poles and on signs staked near the street about the road being closed for cleaning soon, the street-cleaning truck lumbering along on the river road, blasting water near the curb, the bright orange jacket of someone climbing the old stone steps.

Today the jury begins deliberations on the Chauvin trial. I am scared, but hopeful, choosing to believe he will be found guilty. It’s a war zone here in Minneapolis, with armed National Guard members all around, and huge convoys–did I see a tank yesterday?–menacing the streets. A disgusting display of force, and a reminder of who does and does not matter.

Bobolinks!

Checking the “poem of the day” on poets.org, I found a beautiful poem about the Bobolink. When I read the line, “a black and white bird,” I remembered on April 5th (which I posted at the end of my April 6th entry), I mentioned a bird that sounded a little like a robin but was black and white. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Could it have been a bobolink? I’ve decided to believe that it was.

On March 23rd, I wrote about bobolinks when they were mentioned in the Emily Dickinson poem I was reading, Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236):

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

I was reminded of the bobolink (BOB a link) when I read “Flare” in MO’s The Leaf and the Cloud:

2.
You still recall, sometimes, the old barn on your great-grandfather’s
farm, a place you visited once, and went into, all alone, while the grownups
sat and talked in the house.

…..

You could have stayed there forever, a small child in a corner, on the
last raft of hay, dazzled by so much space that seemed empty, but wasn’t.

Then—you still remember—you felt the rap of hunger—it was noon—
and you turned from that twilight dream and hurried back to the house,
where the table was set, where an uncle patted you on the shoulder for
welcome, and there was your place at the table.

11.
Anyway,
there was no barn.
No child in the barn.

No uncle no table no kitchen.

Only a long lovely field full of bobolinks.

Both ED and MO see the sacred in birds like the bobolink, and in nature. ED continues her poem with 2 more stanzas:

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

And, here is a bit from The Leaf and the Cloud that echoes that idea:

from “Work”

2.
The dreamy heads of the grass in early summer.
In midsummer: thick and heavy.
Sparrows swing on them, they bend down.
When the sparrow sings, its whole body trembles.

Later, the pollen shakes free.
Races this way and that way,
like a mist full of life, which it is.
We stand at the edge of the field, sneezing.
We praise God, or Nature, according to our determinations.

Here’s the poem that inspired these continued reflections on the bobolink:

Bobolink/ Didi Jackson

In a meadow
as wide as a wound
I thought to stop
and study the lesser stitchwort’s
white flowers lacing up
boot-level grasses
when I was scolded in song
by a black and white bird
whose wings sipped air,
swallow-like, until he landed
on the highest tip
of yellow dock,
still singing his beautiful warning,
the brown female
with him in fear.
The warning was real:
the anniversary of my husband’s suicide.
What was the matter with life? Sometimes
when wind blows,
the meadow moves like an ocean,
and on that day,
I was in its wake—
I mean the day in the meadow.
I mean the day he died.
This is not another suicide poem.
This is a poem about a bird
I wanted to know and so
I spent that evening looking
up his feathers and flight,
spent most of the night
searching for mating habits
and how to describe the yellow
nape of his neck like a bit
of gothic stained glass,
or the warm brown
females with a dark eyeline.
How could I have known
like so many species
they too are endangered?
God must be exhausted:
those who chose life;
those who chose death.
That day I braided a few
strips of timothy hay
as I waited for the pair
to move again, to lift
from the field and what,
live? The dead can take
a brother, a sister; not really.
The dead have no one.
Here in this field
I worried the mowers
like giant gorging mouths
would soon begin again
and everything would be
as it will.

My favorite part of this poem today are the lines:

This is not another suicide poem.
This is a poem about a bird
I wanted to know and so
I spent that evening looking
up his feathers and flight,
spent most of the night
searching for mating habits
and how to describe the yellow
nape of his neck like a bit
of gothic stained glass,

I like the way those first two lines ease me back from the shock of the previous lines about her late husband’s suicide with the comforting claim that this poem is about the bird, not suicide, and the pleasing, gentle rhymes of know/so and flight/night, and the beautiful image of the “nape of his neck like a bit/of gothic stained glass.”

Some bobolink sources:

God must be exhausted

At the risk of making this entry too long and too packed with poems, I’m adding three more, prompted by death, and God’s exhaustion, and the choosing of life or death (or, maybe, like MO, both life and death?), and the recent discovery that cancer has most likely returned for a loved one.

one: Radiation Prayer/ Katie Farris

I love the poetry of Katie Farris–a favorite, “What Would Root”–and I have, with sadness, followed her year+ battle with breast cancer on twitter. Every few months, she posts a new, beautiful poem about her treatment. Today’s involved a gut-wrenching decision:

I find in the mirror a woman–breastless, burned–who
in an advisory capacity,
asks, “How much do you
want to live?”

Enough.

Oh–that enough, which I initially read as enough to choose the damage to prevent the chance of more cancer, but now realize it could also be a command: Enough. Too much. Stop. I can’t take anymore.

two: The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac/ Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. She wrote about it in Blue Horses:

1.
Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.

2.
The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
remembering nothing?
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.

3.
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

4.
Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
life?

The fierce wanting, the life not wasted, the darkness that gets you going, cancer’s hungry, careful intent.

three: I Never Wanted to Die/ Dorianne Laux

It’s the best part of the day, morning light sliding
down rooftops, treetops, the birds pulling themselves
up out of whatever stupor darkened their wings,
night still in their throats.

I never wanted to die. Even when those I loved
died around me, away from me, beyond me.
My life was never in question, if for no other reason
than I wanted to wake up and see what happened next.

And I continue to want to open like that, like the flowers
who lift their heavy heads as the hills outside the window
flare gold for a moment before they turn
on their sides and bare their creased backs.

Even the cut flowers in a jar of water lift
their soon to be dead heads and open
their eyes, even they want a few more sips,
to dwell here, in paradise, a few days longer.

I love a lot about this poem, especially her praising of openness, and her idea of paradise as on earth (paradise as Nature, like ED and MO?).

april 6/RUN

3.3 miles
turkey hollow
51 degrees

Wow! Another magnificent morning in Minneapolis. Thunderstorms last night, sunshine today, thunderstorms tonight. Ran on the trail, above the river. At one of my favorite spots, just past the oak savanna, I marveled at the burning white light of the sun reflecting on the water, through the bare branches. A mile later, I thought some more about this light and remembered ED’s phrase, “white heat”–it’s part of a poem—-“Dare you see a Soul at the “White Heat”?/Then crouch within the door”—, and the name of the Darmouth blog tracking ED’s most intensely creative year: 1862.

I was able to greet Dave, the Daily Walker! I’m so happy to see that this terrible year hasn’t stopped him from doing his regular walks. When I said “Good morning Dave!” he said” “Good morning Sara! So great to see you out here again!”

Heard woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees and—I almost forgot, geese, or was it a goose? Honking as they flew over the gorge. The geese have returned for spring! This reminded me of an MO poem I read yesterday titled “Two Kinds of Deliverance.” The geese are the first kind:

1.

Last night the geese came back,
slanting fast
from the blossom of the rising moon down
to the black pond. A muskrat
swimming in the twilight saw them and hurried

to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come.

And so it had.
By morning when I went out
the last of the ice had disappeared, blackbirds
sang on the shores. Every year
the geese, returning,
do this, I don’t
know how.

2.

The curtains opened and there was 
an old man in a headdress of feathers,
leather leggings and a vest made
from the skin of some animal. He danced

in a kind of surly rapture, and the trees
in the fields far away
began to mutter and suck up their long roots.
Slowly they advanced until they stood
pressed to the schoolhouse windows.

3.

I don’t know
lots of things but I know this: next year
when spring
flows over the starting point I’ll think I’m going to
drown in the shimmering miles of it and then
one or two birds will fly me over
the threshold.
                           As for the pain
of others, of course it tries to be
abstract, but then

there flares up out of a vanished wilderness, like fire, 
still blistering: the wrinkled face
of an old Chippewa
smiling, hating us, 
dancing for his life.

Reading through this a first time, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her description of the “old Chippewa,” but then I googled it, and found a helpful article: The Native American Presence in Mary Oliver’s Poetry. Here’s what the author has to say about this poem:

This discussion of the third type of deliverance–the joy of future springs combined with memory of the pain of others–makes me think of another bit of a MO poem I just read. It’s from “One of Two Things” in Dream Work:

5.

One or two things are all you need
to travel over the blue pond, over the deep
roughage of the trees and the through the stiff
flowers of lightening—some deep
memory of pleasure, some cutting
knowledge of pain.

I often think about how the land I run on, when I’m running by the gorge, was once the sacred home of Dakota and Ojibwe people. But I don’t think about it enough, and I have barely started doing the important (ongoing) work of putting that pain (which is not in the past, but still present) beside my deep love for the gorge. Maybe MO’s poems can offer a way into this work?

april 5/WALK

After 5 days of running in a row, today a break. Amazing weather! STA and I took Delia on a long (3+ mile) walk. So calm and quiet and warm! We heard a bird that sounded like a robin to me–a tin-whistle type of call–but Scott said it had black feathers with white tips, which is not how a robin dresses. Spent some time trying to find what kind of bird it was, but couldn’t. Also saw some turkeys hiding in the tall grass between Becketwood and the lower campus of Minnehaha Academy. Ah, spring!

Continuing to read Mary Oliver’s Upstream. I read some of it several years ago, and it had a big impact on me, especially her line at the end of the first chapter, “Upstream”:

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

So much so, that I wrote a sonnet about it for a poetry and form class:

Attention/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

is the beginning of devotion
devotion the beginning of prayer
prayer undertaken while in motion
gliding in and through the outside air
air offered from trees entering lungs  
lungs releasing air and praying with feet
feet absorbing ground self coming undone
slowly shaking loose to a steady beat
beat river gorge rhythms almost in sync
sync stride breath oak wind sky path water time 
time slowing not stopping just on the brink
of not being noticed, closely aligned
with the sweat on the surface of my skin
see hear taste smell touch acts of attention

I didn’t make it much farther past that point in the book. Why not? I don’t think I was ready. Now, reading it again, I’m finding all sorts of wonderful inspiring exciting passages that I want to use, maybe in the same way that MO hears/reads some helpful words and “quickly slips the phrase from the air and puts it into [her] pocket.” This one is going straight into my pocket:

And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe–that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

This quote seems like a great Walt Whitman-esque declaration: Having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life. Yes! This claiming of a life and making out of it something wonderful–generous, beautiful, sturdy, useful–is a great way to describe what I’m trying to do over on my undisciplined site with my how to be project. Because I’m so young (only almost 47), I’d say I’m making not made this life.

Here’s my MO poem for April 5th:

Softest of Mornings from Long Life/ Mary Oliver

Softest of mornings, hello.
And what will you do today, I wonder,
to my heart?
And how much honey can the heart stand, I wonder,
before it must break?

This is trivial, or nothing: a snail
climbing a trellis of leaves
and the blue trumpets of flowers.

No doubt clocks are ticking loudly
all over the world.
I don’t hear them. The snail’s pale horns
extend and wave this way and that
as her fingers-body shuffles forward, leaving behind
the silvery path of her slime.

Oh, softest of mornings, how shall I break this?
How shall I move away from the snail, and the flowers?
How shall I go on, with my introspective and ambitious life?

I love the opening question; I think I might try asking it to the morning after I greet it on some spring and summer days: “Softest of mornings, hello./And what will you do today, I wonder,/to my heart?”

Reading about the snail in the second stanza immediately reminded me of the wonderful Ars Poetica by Aracelis Girmay:

May the poems be
the little snail’s trail.

Everywhere I go,
every inch: quiet record

of the foot’s silver prayer.
             I lived once.
             Thank you. 
             I was here.

I decided to look up “snail 19th century poetry” and found 2 more snail poems to ponder:

To a Snail/ Marianne Moore

If “compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Found this poem on the UK Guardian along with a helpful analysis (and I needed it!), including this fun bit about the ending:

The line ends with a colon, and the list begins with “the absence of feet”. Critics have read this as a witty allusion to free-verse structure. Such a reading may be complicated by the fact that the snail does, indeed, possess a single foot. This is a fundamental demonstration of compression!

I think Moore is saying that “in the absence of feet” there is “a method of conclusions” (walking a line?) and that “a knowledge of principles” is exhibited “in the curious phenomenon” of the snail’s “occipital horn”. Eye-tips on the ends of tentacles are as essential for stylish poets as for cannily evolved snails. The principles invoked are acuity of vision, keenness of all kinds of judgment.

This post also links to an interesting article about snails and the eyes on their tentacles. I’m trying to read it, but it makes my brain hurt–not the ideas but the size and compression of the font. Not very accessible.

This is a very different poem from Oliver’s. Was MO thinking about this poem at all when she mentions her small snail? I don’t know. I imagine she might have been thinking a little about this final poem, by the famous Japanese poet Issa:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
but slowly, slowly

In addition to the snail, I’m thinking about the clocks and a passage I just read earlier today in Upstream about the ordinary world, the attentive, social self (as opposed to the child-self and the artist-self), and the clock!

The clock! That twelve-figured moon skull, that white spider belly! How serenely the hands move with their filigree pointers, and how steadily! Twelve hours, and twelve hours, and begin again! Eat, speak, sleep, cross a street, wash a dish! The clock is still ticking. All its vistas are just so broad–are regular. (Notice that word.) Every day, twelve little bins in which to order disorderly life, and even more disorderly thought. The town’s clock cries out, and the face on every wrist hums or shines; the world keeps pace with itself. Another day is passing, a regular and ordinary day. (Notice that word also.)

jan 6/RUN

5K
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/edmund, north
29 degrees
50% snow-covered

Still lots of snow on the road and the sidewalk even though it’s been above freezing most afternoons this week. The uneven, sometimes sloppy, trail makes my legs more sore, but I don’t mind it too much. I slipped today on a patch of ice as I ran up from the road to the sidewalk. I didn’t fall–or even feel like I might–just felt that brief loss of control. I couldn’t get that close to the river but I was able to catch a very brief glimpse of it through the trees as I ran on the highest part of Edmund. It looked white and covered–is it, or are there still open spots? No sun to make it sparkle or dance. It looked flat and still. Listened to a black-capped chickadee–it was difficult to hear over the roar of the city. It has been so loud these last few days–is it the air quality? What does humidity (80%) do to sound? I looked it up, and yes, humid air makes sound travel farther. I think I heard some helicopters–does it have to do with any protests? Anything else? Noticed someone over on the river road trail wearing a bright orange shirt–or was it shorts? I can’t remember now. Heard someone (thankfully 20 or 30 feet away) vigorously coughing. Saw a few dogs–identified them more from the clanging of their collars than actually seeing them. Felt strong and fast and happy as I headed back north on Edmund.

a moment of sound

I like the idea of doing a moment of sound everyday, but I don’t always want to run everyday and I only want to post on days when I run (mostly for the calendar so I can quickly glance at it and see which days I ran in a month, and which days I didn’t). So I’m trying to figure out how to post the moments. For now, I’ll post the non-run day moments of sound on the next running day (how boring was that explanation, future Sara?):

For yesterday’s moment of sound, I was sitting on the deck, with only a sweatshirt on, feeling the warm sun on my face, listening to the snow melting off the eaves. Such a nice moment!

jan 5, 2021

For today’s moment of sound, I stopped right after I finished running (listen for my heavy breathing). For the first half, I stood on the sidewalk, holding my phone out, listening to the birds and the roar of a plane. For the second half, I started walking and sniffing and making the delightful sound of crunching snow. If you listen carefully, you can hear the crunch sound change a little as I move from mostly snow to a stretch of ice.

jan 6, 2021

Yesterday, while cleaning out my safari reading list, I found this great poem from last year–or the year before?

notes on winter holidays/ daniel biegelson

Even you are responsible
to more than you. My daughter likes visiting
the pet store. It’s like a zoo she says. She wants
a calico she can walk with a string. On the way
home she says do we sing poems before we light candles.
‘Not to see by but to look at.’ On one level,
the mind doesn’t impose order. The mind
doesn’t impose order. Order presumes
priority. Good credit score. A forwarding address.
My bills accumulate in empty spaces.
My subject position won’t stand still.
On one level, we are not casual acquaintances.
Imagine we are pressed upon one another.
For a while we lived on the second story
above The Leader Store just down the street
from The Woolworth, which still had a griddle
and a soda fountain and smelled of melted butter.
I am not nostalgic. No need. I can still remember
the photographs. I am a frame. Sometimes
a window enclosing and disclosing. We take
the subway to the museum exchanging yous
through the tunnel and into the terminal. Imagine
we are pressed against each other. ‘Mingled breath
and smell so close’ The silver doors. A cell membrane.
You are a witness only to what you admit. Some words
emit so many possibilities they threaten to burst.
What is light. What is rain. Now a metaphor.
Take two and answer in the morning. We look
and do more than look. My daughter says
you talk with your eyes off. Why should everything
we see interact with light. I am counting
clouds destined for Florida. I moved the store here.
This is inescapably common. Where is here. Will you pray
with me. Pray with your feet on the pavement.
When she was born we didn’t know if she would ever
walk. Now my daughter says my whole body is a winter
storm as she leaps across the couch cushions. No digging
out. The self is a reintegration of exponential
apologies—a crowd of people in multi-colored coats
holding handmade signs and choosing to sit or stand
in the same world. After you. No, I insist. After you.

Some favorite lines for today:

I am not nostalgic. No need. I can still remember
the photographs. I am a frame. Sometimes
a window enclosing and disclosing.

My daughter says
you talk with your eyes off. Why should everything
we see interact with light. I am counting
clouds destined for Florida.

Favorite parts of words: the ts in tunnel and terminal, the pleasing rhyme in admit and emit,

dec 11/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 1.9 miles
treadmill, basement

Not too cold or too covered in snow outside today, but I decided to stay inside to cross train and try out my new shoes on the treadmill. Can’t remember what I watched while I biked–some running race, I think. After about 20 minutes on the bike, when my heart rate was at 120 bpm, I recorded myself reciting the two poems I reviewed this morning: Emily Dickinson’s “Before I Got My Eye Put Out” and Vincente Huidobro’s “Natural Forces.”

Dickinson and Huidobro/ 11 December

I love fun challenges like this–trying to remember and recite a poem while working out. I did a good job. I like the juxtaposition of these two poems, with Dickinson cautioning against the hubris of “owning” objects–Mountains, Meadows, Dipping Birds, Amber Roads– by seeing them, and Huidobro celebrating the power of his glances to hold back a landscape or relight the stars or hold down a plummeting train. I memorized both of these poems as part of my Loving Eye/Arrogant Eye theme this summer. I like thinking about it in relation to Kelly’s scouring eye “that scrubs clean the sky and blossomed tree” in “Perhaps You Tire of Birds.” What if vision’s power was not in its penetrating gaze, but something else? I used this question as the start of my “Awed” mood ring poem:

Behold the power of sight! Not found in one destructive glance but in the accumulation of looks. Against the odds and in spite of damaged cones misfiring signals and incomplete data these looks produce something resembling vision — an image feeling fuzzy form.

It’s cool to think about how the poems I memorized and recited this summer helped to inspire my work this fall.

After I finished reciting the poems, I hopped off the bike and ran almost 2 miles on the treadmill. Listened to my Bday 2018 playlist while I tried out my new shoes. Very nice! I wonder if I will run faster outside in these? Felt good to move and sweat and not think about much.

This morning I made it outside for a walk with Delia the dog. Cooler and windy, but clear, uncrowded, and seeming like October and not December. No snow or ice, just lots of brown leaves, bare branches, and yellowing grass. Passing a house on the corner of a street a few blocks away, I noticed the curtain slightly open and the face of an eager dog–a small poodle or Bichon?–watching us walk by. I had noticed the open curtain the day before and thought there might be a dog or cat in the window, but couldn’t look long enough to see. It takes a lot more time (than it used to, and than “normally” sighted people) to be able to determine what I’m looking at. Often I don’t bother; I dislike stopping and staring. It seems rude. One day I will get over this and take as much time as I want stopping to look at things until they make sense. I’m working on it!

From a twitter thread about poems that changed your life, I found this great one by Rumi. I’ve hardly read any Rumi, although I know Mary Oliver (one of my favorites), read them every day.

The Guest House/ Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and
invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

july 20/RUN

3.1 miles
big loop*
68 degrees

*44th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/42nd st, west/edmund, south

Another good run. Cooler and very calm, still, quiet. Don’t remember hearing (m)any birds, no conversations, no rowers. At least 3 separate times, I thought I was hearing the clickity-clack of roller skiers, but was actually hearing a bike with noisy wheels or messed up gears or something. Strange that it happened 3 times when I don’t remember ever making that mistake before. Was it the quality of air? Hardly any wind this morning. Sunny, but not bright. Did I see my shadow? Can’t remember.

Recited “The Gate” one more day and thought about gates and openings and doorways and thresholds and windows and spaces where movement and breathing and new stories/ways of being are possible. I think this is my new theme for the month and/or for a series of poems/essays.

Recorded myself reciting it just after finishing my run–my heart rate was probably around 140 or so as I spoke. I got it mostly right but messed up the second to last “this.” The order she writes the three thises–“This is what you’ve been waiting for, ” “And he’d say, This,” and “This, he’d say” is important. It doesn’t have as much impact the way I recited it.

The Gate, July 20

Yesterday, reading Ted Kooser’s Delights and Shadows, I found these two poems that I really liked:

Grasshopper/ Ted Kooser

This year they are exactly the size
of the the pencil stub my grandfather kept
to mark off the days since rain,

and precisely the color of dust, of the roads
leading back accross the dying fields
into the ’30s. Walking the cracked lane

past the empty barn, the empty silo,
you hear them tinkering with irony,
slapping the grass like drops of rain.

The Early Bird/ Ted Kooser

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-bully notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.