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 1/RUN

5.7 miles
franklin loop
36 degrees

With the sun and hardly any wind, 36 degrees felt warm and like spring. Ran north on the river road trail, noticing how the floor of the floodplain forest was covered with snow. The river was calm, brown in the middle, pale then darker blue as it reached the shore.

Tracked a plane in the sky in my peripheral vision. When I tried to spot in my central vision it disappeared. Visible from my peripheral, then hidden in my central. It took 3 times of switching between the two before it showed up in my central. Was that because my brain adjusted, or because it had reached a part of my central vision that still has cones cells?

4 distinct smells:

  1. cigarette smoke from a passing car
  2. pot down in the gorge
  3. breakfast — sausage, I think, from Longfellow Grill
  4. fresh paint from the railing on the steps leading up to the lake street bridge, being painted as I ran by

Noticed how the snow and ice emerging from cracks and caves in the bluff made them easy to spot from across the river.

Before the Run

I wrote the following shortly before heading outside for my run:

A new month, time for a new challenge. As is often the case, I have too many ideas at the beginning of the month. It takes a few days (at least) to settle into something. I could read The Odyssey, then Oswald’s Nobody, but I think I’d like to wait until it’s warmer and I’m in the water for open swims. I’ve also thought about doing more on walking, starting with Cole Swenson’s chapbook, Walking, or reading the book on green that I bought last month. I’m unsure. Just now, I came up with another idea, after looking up a quotation from Emily Dickinson that I found on twitter the other day: Reading through some of ED’s correspondence with Higginson. Will this stick? Who knows.

Here’s the ED quotation that inspired my search, as it appeared at the end of a twitter thread by the wonderful poet Chen Chen:

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations

@chenchenwrites

And here’s the original in ED’s letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson from late 1872 (14 years before her death in 1886(:

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations though Friends are if possible an event more fair.

letter

I’m thinking about what, if any, difference it makes to add that last bit about Friends. My first reactions: adding it depicts ED as a social being, not the recluse she is popularly known as, and it tempers the pursuit of astonishment as the only one we do/should have time for. Second reaction: is it mostly (or simply) a polite (and/or affectionate) acknowledgement of Higginson and his friendship? Third, and related to my first reaction: being startled/astonished/in wonder needs to be tempered. To be in that state all the time is too much, at least for me.

Reading Chen Chen’s thread, I found this great idea: “deep delight as a compass, a map.” I really like this, and I’m thinking about how I might switch out the word delight for wonder. Now I need to revisit the terms “delight,” “wonder,” “astonishment,” “joy,” and “surprise.” That might be a great challenge for the month too: thinking/reading/working through these different terms?

Getting back to ED’s letter, I found a description of the change is season from summer to winter in it that I’d like to remember:

When I saw you last, it was Mighty Summer‹Now the Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco, and “Still Waters” in the Pool where the Frog drinks.

letter

Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco? Love it!

I just looked up “startle” in Ed’s lexicon. Here are the two definitions offered:

  1. Shake or twitch due to terror or unexpected surprise.
  2. Be filled with fright; become shocked.

It also directed me to see “start.” Here are those definitions:

start (-ed), v. [OE ‘to overthrow, overturn, empty, to pour out, to rush, to gush out’.] (webplay: quick, quickened).

  1. Spring to attention.
  2. Become active; to come into motion.
  3. Begin; to come into being.
  4. Incite; startle; suddenly bother; abruptly rouse with alarm; movement of body involuntarily due to surprise, fright, etc.
  5. Begin a trip or journey to a certain destination.

And, here’s a poem from ED with startled grass:

PRESENTIMENT is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.

note: presentiment = foreboding

Returning to the letter and connecting to something else I found in an article titled, “The Sound of Startled Grass” about how composers are inspire by ED:

But I think composers are attracted to more than just her [ED] poems’ musicality. She repeatedly presents herself as a music-maker, surrounded by music. Her experience is constantly musical.

The Sound of Startled Grass

Connected to this quotation, here’s something ED writes in the letter:

These Behaviors of the Year hurt almost like Music – shifting when it ease us most. Thank you for the “Lesson.”

letter

During the Run

I think I only thought about some of these themes very briefly as I ran. I recall running, listening to birds singing, feeling the sun shining, and then wondering about how it would feel, at this moment, to be startled by a darting squirrel or a lunging dog or a reckless bike. I wasn’t, and I soon forgot about being startled. I also remember thinking about the sound of startled grass — how would that sound? And then I thought about what startled grass might look like, how it might startle us. Then I thought about the grass on graves and Whitman’s uncut hair and ED’s “The Color of the Grave is Green”:

The Color of the Grave is Green –
The Outer Grave –  I mean – 
You would not know it from the Field –
Except it own a Stone –

To help the fond –  to find it – 
Too infinite asleep
To stop and tell them where it is – 
But just a Daisy –  deep – 

After the Run

After bookmarking it at least a week ago, I finally read Diane Seuss’s fabulous Commencement Address to the Bennington Writing Seminars posted on LitHub. I didn’t anticipate how it might fit with my before and during run thoughts, but it does, particularly the bit about grass and graves and the dead speaking to us, and us giving our attention.

A thought: Could we be the startled grass, surprised, shocked, fearful, but astonished, in wonder, alive and willing to reach down to the dead to give attention and life to their stories and to tell our own? For this to make sense, I should probably spend a little more time with Seuss’s speech…

Wow, I’m no closer to figuring out what my theme will be for this month. Here are the possibilities that I discovered in the midst of writing this entry:

  1. Read, explore ED’s correspondence with Higginson
  2. Define delight, wonder, astonishment, joy, surprise. Find poems that offer definitions
  3. Grass (dirt is also mentioned in the speech)

addendum: 5:20 pm

So, I have figured out what I want to do for my challenge this month. In honor of National Poetry month, I’d like to return to where my recent love of poetry began: with Bernadette Mayer’s list of writing prompts that I discovered in an amazing class in the spring of 2017. I’m hoping to try a different experiment every day. I want to do this so I can push myself to be stranger or more whimsical or ridiculous (in the wonderful Mary Oliver way) in my writing. Lately, it seems like I’m too serious. A goal: to craft a poem that I feel is wonderfully strange enough to submit to Okay Donkey.

march 30/BIKE

bike: 30 minutes
basement
outside: rain/snow mix

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

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

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

I started Early — Took my Dog / Emily Dickinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

march 23/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

The Poets (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

march 14/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dart / Alice Oswald

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

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

source

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

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

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

I don’t know, all I know is walking.

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

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

Here’s another bit that I especially like:

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

Here are some links to more information:

march 10/RUN

5 miles
franklin bridge and back
17 degrees / feels like 7

What a gift this winter-almost-spring run is this morning! A reminder of why I love winter runner with its cold, crisp air and quiet calm. It was a little difficult to breathe, with my nose closing up on me (hooray for sinuses), and it didn’t always feel effortless. Still, I was happy to be outside with the world — the birds (pileated woodpeckers, geese, cardinals), the Regulars (Dave, the Daily Walker and Daddy Long Legs), and the river, sometimes brown, sometimes blue.

Before I went out for my run, I read a lot of different poems and essays about poetry and breath. Decided I would think about rhythmic breathing, running rhythms, and chants. I started by counting my foot strikes, them matching it up with my breathing of In 2 3/ Out 2 or Out 2/ In 2 3: 123/45, 123/45 then 54/321, 54/321. A few miles later, I thought about a verse from Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Tis so much joy! Tis so much joy!” that I imagine to be a prayer or a spell or reminder-as-chant. I started repeating it in my head:

Life is but Life! And Death, but Death!
Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!

With this prayer/chant, I matched the words up to my foot strikes in several different ways, none of which were 123/45 or 54/321.

Equal stress on each syllable/word, and the altering of the poem slightly:

Life Is But Life
Death Is But Death
Bliss Is But Bliss
Breath Is But Breath

Then in ballad form (I think?), with alternating lines of: stressed un un stressed / 3 stressed but silent beats (or not silent, but voiced by my feet, striking the ground):

Life is but Life
x x x
Death is but Death
x x x
Bliss is but Bliss
x x x
Breath is but Breath
x x x

Then in 6, with 2 feet of stressed, unstressed, unstressed (a dactyl):

Life is but Life is but
Life is but Life is but
Death is but Death is but
Death is but Death is but
Bliss is but Bliss is but
Bliss is but Bliss is but
Breath is but Breath is but
Breath is but Breath is but

Then in 4 again, one spoken beat, three silent:

Life xxx
Life xxx
Life xxx
Life xxx

Or, like “The Safety Dance”:

Life life life life
Death death death death
Bliss bliss bliss bliss
Breath breath breath breath

These were so much fun to do, and helpful in keeping me going as I grew tired. When I chanted them, my pace was about 8:40 and my heart rate was in the upper 170s (pretty standard for me). At one point, I pulled out my phone and recorded myself mid-run. Later, when I stopped running and was walking back, I recorded myself again.

Dickinson chant during run
Dickinson chant after run

It’s interesting to check back with the poem now and see that I had added words to make the rhythm more steady and even. Seeing how Dickinson wrote it, I want to try these chants on another run with the right words. How will I fit “And Death, but Death!” with my feet? Is this part of Dickinson’s disruption of rhythm?

I like the repetition of these chants and how, if you repeat them enough, they lose their meaning, or change meaning, or change the space you’re running through, or change you. It reminds me of some lines from a poem I recently wrote about running by the gorge and rhythmic breathing. It’s in 3/2, In 2 3/Out 2:

I

settle in-
to a

rhythm: 3
then 2.

First counting
foot strikes,

then chanting
small prayers.

I beat out
meaning

until what’s
left are

syllables,
then sounds,

then something
new, or

old, returned.

Wow, this is so much fun for me, thinking through how my running, and breath, and poetry, and body, and the words work (and sometimes don’t work) together. Very cool.

And, here’s a poem that doesn’t fit neatly with my running rhythm/chants, but fits with the idea of getting outside to move by the river:

How to Begin/ Catherine Abbey Hodges

Wipe the crumbs off the counter.
Find the foxtail in the ear of the old cat.
Work it free. Step into your ribcage.

Feel the draft of your heart’s doors
as they open and close. Hidden latches
cool in your hand.

Hear your marrow keep silence,
your blood sing. Finch-talk
in the bush outside the window.

You’re a small feather, winged seed, wisp
of cotton. Thread yourself
through a hole in the button on the sill.

You’re a strand of dark thread
stitching a word to a river. Then another.

march 9/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

Second Estrangement/ Aracelis Girmay

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

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

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

feb 23/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Husband’s Answers/ Rebecca Hazelton


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

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

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

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

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

Yes, all Western art. 

I can’t speak to that. 

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

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

He is less interested in the stories we bring. 

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

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

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

feb 22/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

Hum/ Yvonne Zipter

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

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

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

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

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

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

feb 18/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

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

The Ships of Theseus/ STEVE GEHRKE

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

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

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