march 13/SWIMRUN

swim: 1.25 miles
ywca pool

I love to swim. Today felt really good, relaxed. I didn’t even care that my latest vision problem happened again. Walking on the pool deck, staring intently at the lanes, trying to see if the lane I’m looking at is as empty as I think it is. I checked at least 3 times, staring at the water. It seemed empty. Then I put my stuff down and was about to get in when I noticed someone in the lane. Very frustrating and unsettling to look closely, for a long time, and still not see what is right there. But really, it’s not that big of a deal. I didn’t jump in on top of anyone or cause a swimmer to mess up their rhythm. I just need to get used to it and accept that it will continue to happen.

Lots of friends in the water with me today: weird white, almost translucent, bits near the bottom, a balled up bandaid in one lane over, and perhaps the most disturbing, a fuzzy brown ball floating halfway up to the surface, slowly making it’s way to below me. Would I accidentally suck it up? Yuck! Must have gotten distracted because I lost track of it.

Noticed the sloshing sound of water as my hands broke the surface.

Everything was blue underwater. Blue tiles, a blue lower-cased t on the wall, blue-tinted water. Dark blue shadows below, cast by the trees outside the window, making the pool floor look alive.

Lots of breaststroke around me, some backstroke, an occasional freestyle. One woman was using a kick board. I used a pull buoy for a set.

run: 3.1 miles
under ford bridge and back
29 degrees
95% clear path

Ran in the afternoon, which is always harder than running in the morning for me. I feel more tired, heavier. My legs don’t want to move as much. No headphones on the way south, Beyoncé’s Renaissance on the way back north. The sky was mostly blue, with a few clusters of clouds. I felt a shadow cross over me as I started my run. Hello bird! I think I looked at the river, and I think it was open. Heard the drumming of a woodpecker. Admired the wide open view near Folwell and the Rachel Dow memorial bench. Now I remember seeing the river! Right there by that bench — brownish-gray and open. Encountered walkers, dogs, a runner with a stroller.

Down below, in a discussion of a gray line in Schuyler’s poem, I wonder if I could write about silver. I noticed it today, out on the trail. The blazing bright reflection off a car’s hood, the sun shining on wet pavement.

Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 4

Begins with Bring no pleasure and ends with As one strokes a cat.

And if you thought March was bad
Consider April, early April, wet snow falling into blue squills
That underneath a beech make an illusory lake, a haze of blue
With depth to it.

I love his illusory lake and the haze of blue with depth to it. Squills = a sea onion, a plant in the lily family with slender, strap-like leaves and blue flowers. Until I looked up squills, I didn’t get that the illusory lake was really a cluster of spring flowers. Maybe that’s because April in Minneapolis creates a different kind of fake lake: the giant puddle!

That is like pain, ordinary household pain,
Like piles, or bumping against a hernia.

First reaction: recognition. I am struggling through an extended bout of unexplained constipation that has resulted in piles. Nothing big or overly painful, ordinary, a part of the daily routine. Unsettling. Annoying. A low-lying worry that the ordinary could become something more.

Second reaction: In his episode for VS, Jericho Brown says this:

in any poem, anytime you write something down, one of the things that I’m always doing is I’m trying to make sure it’s opposite soon gets there. Soon as I write something down, I’m like, well, the opposite needs to be there too. The sound opposite, the sense opposite, the image opposite. How do you get the opposites in the poem? Because you want the poem to be like your life.

Jericho Brown VS The Process of Elimination

I’m thinking about how just as the ordinary includes the comfort of the mundane and routine, it includes the discomfort — the steady aches and pains that are nothing special, just always present, a part of the day.

And in the sitting room people sit
And rest their feet and talk of where they’ve been, motels and Monticello,
Dinner in the Fiji Room.

I love this plain, ordinary image of people in a sitting room doing what you do in a sitting room: sitting. There’s something magical about the sitting and talking and not doing anything grander, resting.

Someone forgets a camera. Each day forgetting:
What is there so striking to remember?

Each day forgetting.

The rain stops. April shines,
A Little

Gray descends.
An illuminous penetration of unbright light that seeps and coats
The ragged lawn and spells out bare spots and winter fallen branches.

Yardwork.

What a wonderful description of gray light! It shines a little, an unbright light that seeps and coats and exposes (spells out) the worn spots and the ordinary work needed to be done every spring. Lately, when I think of gray, I think of the opposite — not how it makes everything look shabby, worn, tired, but that it softens everything, making it mysterious and more gentle, relaxed.

It seems like Schuyler could be writing against one classic image of luminous gray light or, it made me think of this at least: the silver lining. Wondering about the origins of the phrase, I looked it up. John Milton’s poem, Comus:

That he, the Supreme good t’ whom all all things ill
are but as slavish officers of vengeance,
Would send a glistring Guardian if need were
To keep my life and homour unassail’d.
Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
I did not err, there does a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night,
And casts a gleam over this tufted Grove.

Thinking about my color poems, and my interest in gray, I wonder how I could write about silver? For me, silver is the color that burns and shines when concentrated on the iced-over river, too bright for my eyes. Silver is also the color of the path when ice is present — it’s a warning sign, a whisper, Watch Out! Slippery.


And now the yardwork is over (it is never over), today’s
Stint anyway. Odd jobs, that stretch ahead, wide and mindless as
Pennsylvania Avenue or the bridge to Arlington, crossed and recrossed

I like wide and mindless, mundane tasks. Well, mostly I do. Tasks that can help me to shift into a different mental space where I wander and day dream. Mowing the lawn, pulling the weeds, doing the dishes.

And there the Lincoln Memorial crumbles. It looks so solid: it won’t
Last. The impermanence of permanence, is that all there is?

I’m reminded of an ED poem with Schuyler’s use of crumbling:

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act (1010)/ EMILY DICKINSON

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

Crumbling is routine, everyday life. Slow and steady, nothing special, ordinary. Not Ruin.

is that all there is? To look
And see the plane tree.

What an awesome enjambment! Sometimes all we need (or all we have) is that tree outside the window.

For this is spring, this mud and swelling fruit tree buds, furred
On the apple trees. And yet it still might snow: it’s been known

This poem is about D.C.. Here in Minneapolis, it almost always snows — a big storm — in April.

dec 5/RUN

4.5 miles
minnehaha falls and back
27 degrees / feels like 21
75% snow and ice covered

Icier than I expected so I went slower. A gray day. Fuzzy, unformed or unfixed or out of focus. The sky filled with static. I ran south, planning to check out my favorite winter spot — just past the oak savanna where the hills part and open to a view of the river — but I forgot, or I was distracted as I tried to avoid slippery spots and pedestrians.

About a mile in, was passed by another runner. I could hear their soft footsteps approaching. After they passed I watched them fly away. Their gait seemed a little erratic, like they were almost about to slip on the snow with each step. Speaking of slips, running up the hill between Locks and Dam #1 and the double-bridge, I witnessed a biker almost wipe out on some chunks of ice the plow had kicked up from the street. Yikes. I stopped to let me go by safely.

The falls were frozen. The river was too, but not completely.

10 (groups of) People I Encountered

  1. a group of walkers, paused by the sign for the bike surreys at the falls
  2. another group of walkers near locks and dam #1. Heard one of them say, “The farmer had to fish her out of the river.”
  3. a guy and an exuberant dog by the Longfellow poem at the park
  4. the speedy runner I mentioned above
  5. the biker who almost fell
  6. someone on a fat tire
  7. kids at the school playground across the street, more subdued than usual, but still laughing and yelling
  8. a guy blasting his phone or radio as he walked. I think he was listening to music, but I can’t remember what kind
  9. a runner in a bright blue jacket, over on the trail, when I was on edmund. we ran parallel for a few minutes then he inched ahead
  10. a runner carefully crossing over some ice as she talked on a bluetooth phone to someone

Running back from the falls, I crossed over to edmund to avoid the crowd, and the ice on the trail. Stopped at my favorite poetry house that puts a poem on their front window. Was there a new one? Yes! Here it is:

Maybe Alone On My Bike/ William Stafford

I listen, and the mountain lakes
hear snowflakes come on those winter wings
only the owls are awake to see,
their radar gaze and furred ears
alert. In that stillness a meaning shakes;

And I have thought (maybe alone
on my bike, quaintly on a cold
evening pedaling home), Think!–
the splendor of our life, its current unknown
as those mountains, the scene no one sees.

O citizens of our great amnesty:
we might have died. We live. Marvels
coast by, great veers and swoops of air
so bright the lamps waver in tears,
and I hear in the chain a chuckle I like to hear.

I’m glad to have found this poem. Think! and we might have died. We live. Marvels/coast by, great veers and swoops of air I love the title of the poem and where it sits at the start of the second stanza. Weather and light like today — the gray, overcast, wintery light, not dim, but not bright either — is conducive for thinking and reflecting and being grateful to be alive and to notice the veers and swoops of air, the chuckle of a bike chain.

Yes, gray is for thinking and wondering and for opening up to the world.

Inciting Joy: Through My Tears I Saw [Death: the Second Incitement]

Before heading out for a run, I read Gay’s second incitement about the death of his father. I don’t want to summarize it because it’s not meant to be summarized, but experienced, endured, read closely without looking away. Wow — Gay is an amazing writer. His descriptions of his dad’s diagnosis of cancer, his illness and decline, his death, are so powerful and vivid. I could feel the pain of my own grief — over my two moms, one dead for 13 years, the other for 2 months — in my body, especially in my sinuses and throat. My body tightening, tingling, wanting to close up.

At one point, as I read the 17 page chapter, I thought of Marie Howe and her entreaty to not look away, even when it’s painful. To face the sadness and grief, to let it in. In the poem I posted yesterday, Levine writes about how this letting in — dragging our grief out of the river and putting our mouth on it — can lead to a loosening, an opening up, a joy. Gay writes about this too, in the conclusion to the chapter, as he says goodbye to his dying father:

Can you hear me Dad, Can you hear me, and by now I was crying hard, and I was kissing my father’s face again and again, telling him I loved him again and again, it was the softest face in the world, my father’s face, so quiet like that, I never knew it, I had never touched it before, I was crying onto his eyelids and cheeks and kissing him and telling him again and again I loved him, I love you Dad, his brown face was lit with my tears. and with my forehead pressed into his, and my hands on his cheeks, I noticed that my father had freckles sprinkled around the bridge of his nose and his upper cheeks. It was like a gentle broadcast of carrot seeds blending into his skin, flickering visible from this distance. It was through my tears I saw my father was a garden. Or the two of us, or the all-of-us, not here long maybe it is. And from that what might grow.

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.

dec 2/RUN

5.75 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
34 degrees
50% snow-covered

Found out last night that RJP has COVID. She’s had a cold all week. So far, I feel okay, so does Scott. Will we get it? I’m a little worried, but only a little. A few years ago, I would have been freaking out. Thank you vaccines and better treatments and less severe variants! Unless I feel like total crap, I’m going out for a run when I can. Today I don’t feel like total crap, so I went out for a run. It felt good. Breathing in fresh air! Moving my legs! Admiring the half frozen river!

A great run. Just above freezing, not too slippery. Some wind, but mostly at my back. Ran north with no headphones, south with a playlist.

12 Things I Noticed

  1. a honking goose, its mournful cry amplified by the bridge
  2. a big bird flying above. I think it was a crane
  3. a runner in an orange shirt, running with a dog
  4. another runner — tall, wearing a white sweatshirt and shorts, moving fast, with long, bouncing strides
  5. passing Dave, the Daily Walker: Good Morning, Dave!
  6. a group of young people, high school or college students?, hanging out by the franklin bridge, blocking the path
  7. no sun, but not gloomy, a grayish-white sky. everything bright but with very little color
  8. the river! down at the start of the flats, the river was gray and half-frozen. Not flat or dull but interesting. Not gloomy either, but vast and quiet. Not desolate, but detached, otherworldly
  9. a car, I think it was a Prius, whooshing through a stretch of the road that was part snow, part bare pavement, then suddenly turning silent as it reached a part of the road that was all soft snow. So strange to watch it move without sound
  10. Climbing the franklin hill, encountering a line of cars with their headlights on, crawling down the hill
  11. the faint trace, in light gray, of my shadow ahead of me
  12. the knock knock knock of a woodpecker

Still figuring out my theme for December as I continue working on some color poems — currently, a gray one. Today, I’m posting something from Ross Gay about joy. Wow!

Yes, that’s how it seems to me, that we need practices, or we need to notice the practices we have, that help us be present with our sorrow. I’m not saying that help us drown in our sorrow—I’m saying be present with it, acknowledge it, befriend it even, lest we do some wretched or devastating shit trying to pretend it’s not there, or trying to hide it. And to do it in a mutual way—which, again, might be in some of our practices: dancing, gardening, mourning—but it might also be how we live, how we attend to one another, with the awareness that, yup, like me, your heart is broken. Probably not in exactly the same way, but probably, no, definitely, it’s broken. And it will go on being broken in various ways. It does not make us special, it seems to me. It makes us like each other. It un-others us from each other in fact. What happens if we live like that? My sense is that we’re more inclined to care for one another, we’re more inclined to love one another, which, yes, might be a kind of resistance to institutions who have little care for us, but it might also end up being a kind of offense to them. When we care for each other, and consequently are less reliant on the institutions or systems that, a lot of them anyway, do not care for us, we make those systems less necessary. We might be replacing those systems with something like love.

Cultivating Delight and Meaning with Ross Gay

Be present with our sorrow. Befriend it. It seems difficult sometimes to express sorrow, a brokenness, vulnerability, without it seeming weak or eliciting pity or the frustrating, You’re so brave! Or in ways that put it beside, in conversation with, delight or happiness. To me, gray holds both delight and grief, often in equal measures.

I like this idea that sorrow and broken hearts are something that connects all of us. I was thinking about that as I reread this poem by Didi Jackson, especially the last lines. The first song that is in all songs is that of sorrow/grief/mutual suffering.

Listen/ Didi Jackson

Like a hundred gray ears
the river stones are layered

in a pile near the shed where mourning
doves slow their peck and bobble to listen

to a chorus of listening.
Small buds on the lilac perk up.

A cardinal’s torpedoed call comes
in slow waves of four,

round after round. It’s a love call;
a call to make him known to himself.

The stones listen harder,
decipher the song; attempt

to offer back its echo.
But fail.

This is not a poem of coming Spring.
This is a poem well aware

that gray flesh is dead flesh.
All of the ripe listening

comes at a cost. The first
sky is in all skies.

The first song
is in all songs.

And just now, thinking even more about Jackson’s poem, I realized that the delightful gray ears that the stones become has another meaning. Gray = neutral. The gray ears listen without judgment, are open to witnessing, beholding, hearing what is said without rebuke. Another meaning of gray! Love it. Those gray ears are going in one of my gray poems, for sure!

dec 1/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool

Back to the pool. Hooray! Swam a lot of loops — 99 laps — while breathing every 3, then 4, 5, then 6. Worked on breathing on my weaker side (left) when breathing every 4. Decided not to count, just swam until Scott entered the pool area and stood at the top of my lane. Not very crowded today. A guy in swim trunks to my right, swimming a lot of side stroke. It was fun to watch the wide sweep of his hands as he moved through the water on his side. Empty to my left, then Miss Luna arrived. Almost positive it was Miss Luna — the regular swimmer who swims with fins and paddles and does butterfly, and wears a pale green suit, with pale blue too, that makes me think vaguely of a luna moth. She wasn’t in pale green with blue today, but a similar suit. Same strong stroke, same fins.

They must have added chlorine since my last swim. Much clearer, sharper too. The blue of the tiles on the bottom that make the lines dividing the sides of the lane were a vivid blue instead of almost looking navy or black. Speaking of color, kept seeing yellow and orange when I lifted my head.

Felt strong and happy and buoyant, riding the surface, smoothly powering through the water. At some point, I started thinking about my color poems. I’ve written one about yellow, another about color in general. Before swimming, I started one about gray. Almost everything is gray or seems gray or leads to gray. Other colors are only pops, flashes, suggestions. I thought about making the poem mostly variations on the phrase, a gray day, or singing a song of gray, or gray area, or grayed out. Then I thought about having the poem visually mimic how I often see color. It’s frequently a flat or hazy gray until suddenly, to the side, a slash or pop of color appears, like orange or red. So, most of the words are gray, gray day, gray dreams, sing a song of gray, then off to the side, “orange” appears. Could this work? I’ll give it a try!

december challenge

I’m not sure what my challenge for this month will be. I’m in the thick of working on these color poems and prepping for my finding wonder in the winter writing class in late January (so excited to teach this one!). Should it be about orange? Or the poet that just wrote a collection partly about her degenerative eye disease — Julia B. Levine — titled, Ordinary Psalms? Or joy, inspired by recently purchasing Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy and my desire to explore what gray joy could be? I’ll give it another day, but I’m leaning towards Gay and joy. In the meantime, here’s one of Levine’s psalms from Ordinary Psalms:

Psalm with Near Blindness/ Julia B. Levine

i. 
The world mostly gone, I make it what I want: 
from the balcony, the morning a silver robe of mist.

I make a reckless blessing of it—the flaming, 
flowering spurge of the world, the wind 

the birds stir up as they flock and sing. 
Edges yes, the green lift and fall of live oaks,

something metal wheeling past, 
and yet for every detail alive and embodied— 

the horses with their tails switching back and forth, 
daylilies parting their lobes to heat— 

I cannot stop asking, Sparrow or wren? Oak
or elm? Because it matters 

if the gray fox curled in sleep 
is a patch of dark along the fence line,

or if the bush hung with fish kites 
is actually a wisteria in flower. Though 

even before my retinas bled and scarred 
and bled again, I wanted everything 

different, better. And then this afternoon, 
out walking the meadow together,

my husband bent to pick a bleeding heart.
Held it close as I needed 

to see its delicate lanterns, 
the shaken light. 

ii. 
Deer, he says, our car stopped in traffic. 
And since I can’t see them, I ask, Where?

Between the oaks, he answers,
and since I can’t see the between,
                                                                I ask, In the dappling?                        
He takes my hand and points 
to the darkest stutter in the branches 
                                                                and I see a shadow 

in the sight line of his hand, his arm, 
his blue shirt with its clean scent of laundry, 

my hand shading my eyes from glare. 
There! he says, and I can see 
                                                              the dark flash of them 
                                                              leaping over a fence (or is it reeds?), 

                                                              one a buck with his bony crown, 
                                                         and one a doe, and one smaller, a fawn,

but by then it seems they’ve disappeared 
and so I ask, Gone?
and he nods. 

We’re moving again,

                                                               and so I let the inner become outer 

                                                               become pasture and Douglas firs 
                                                               with large herds of deer, elk, even bison, 

                                                               and just beyond view, a mountain lion 

auburn red, like the one we saw years before, 
hidden behind a grove of live oaks, 

                                                                                        listening.

Oh, I am so excited to find this poem and the brilliant work of this poet! I can relate to so many of her words! The silver mist of the morning, the edges mostly gone, the emphasis on movement, her husband helping her to see, the inner becoming outer. Some differences too (probably partly because I imagine my vision isn’t quite as bad as hers): I don’t think the world is gone, more shifted, italicized, transformed. And I don’t need to know exactly what type of tree I’m seeing. I’d like to be able to tell the difference between a deer or a bush — sometimes I can’t — but the fine details matter less.

My thoughts on this last bit, about seeing exactly what’s there, are partly inspired by Levine’s response in an interview about the psalm. She says:

As I worked on it, this poem felt to me like a meditation on one particular dilemma of near blindness: that is, in the absence of a clear visual image, how the mind fills in, and what relationship this kind of seeing” has to spiritual notions of “vision” as opposed to a medical/anatomical definition of “sight.”

To explain further, there are some absences of visual perception that I actually like: I don’t see how dirty my house is, or whether or not my clothes are covered in blonde dog hair, and my friends and family all look very beautiful to me since I cannot see their wrinkles or whatever else might be considered “flaws.”

But I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me. So, in the poem, I am interested in both how tounderstand what I do “see” as a amalgam of my own mind and memory, plus the relational construction that primarily my husband lends to me, and finally, what I can actually perceive. The result of this perceptual construction can sometimes feel like an important “truth” as opposed to visual fact.

I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me.

Interview with Julia B. Levine

I love the natural world, but I’ve never needed to see it accurately in the ways that Levine seems to be invoking. I’m not interested in critiquing her perspective, but in positioning mine in relation to it. Also, I’d like to understand more of what she means by accurate. The more I (attempt to) study how vision and sight work, the more I’m fascinated by how much guesswork it involves for everyone, even “normally” sighted people. The brain filters, guesses, fills in. What does it mean to see nature accurately? Also, what about other senses? Can they enable us to access parts of nature that our limited/biased vision can’t? Losing some sight and the ability to easily, and more quickly, with much more detail, sucks, and I struggle with it. But I’m also interested in ways of knowing/understanding/recognizing/becoming familiar with beyond central vision and fine detail. I have a different project than Levine, but I deeply appreciate her words.

nov 30/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around
17 degrees / feels like 4
99% snow-covered

Is this the coldest day of the season? Just checked, and the next coldest was on November 20th when it was 19, feels like 9. I was worried it might be too cold, but it felt great! What a winter wonderland. White ground, pale blue sky, dark gray river. The trails were plowed — thanks Minneapolis Parks! — with only a few rough spots. I didn’t notice the ice because I was wearing yak trax. Just past the railroad trestle, I stopped to put in my headphones and a Taylor Swift playlist.

layers

  • 2 pairs of black running tights
  • green base layer shirt
  • pink jacket with hood
  • black vest
  • 2 pairs of gloves — 1 black, 1 pink and white striped
  • 1 pair of white socks with stripes, mismatched — 1 with green stripes, the other teal
  • fleece lined cap with ear flaps
  • buff
  • sunglasses
  • yak trax, a new pair

10 Things I Noticed

  1. a pale blue sky — not an intense BLUE! sky, more like the hint of blue, like if someone had taken a black and white photo of the gorge and painted in a blue sky
  2. lots of dry, brittle leaves swirling in the wind. Running by the double bridge to the north, I watched something dark fly through the fence then back again. A bug? A bird? No, a dead leaf
  3. Later on, I saw a few birds flying very fast across the path in front of me. They added to the chaos of the blustery wind and the swirling leaves
  4. 2 other runners, one near the trestle, the other further south
  5. a few walkers — any dogs? I don’t think so
  6. a group, some kids and adults, spread across the entire path, getting ready to go sledding down by the river
  7. remember to look at the river. A strange illusion. It was a dark, dark gray with a hint of brown and it looked like a wall. Instead of stretching flat on the gorge floor, it looked like it rose out of it, up towards the other bank. I’ve written about this wall of water in past winters
  8. the path was covered in mostly packed snow. The sun illuminated some of the slicker spots
  9. smelled a burnt something — I think I might have seen bits of rubber on the side of the road
  10. a truck with a plow, clearing the parking lot above the tunnel of trees

I don’t remember thinking about gray at all. Did I? Thought more about how I love running in the winter and whether or not my fingers were going numb or if my sunglasses would fog up or my foot would be sore again later today. Oh, and of course, I wondered what the drivers thought when they saw me running on this cold and windy day.

Today on the last day for singing a song of gray, I’m thinking about gravel. Here’s a bit from Mary Oliver’s “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m struck by how she makes gray here with equal mentions of black and white: the black bog and white-circled eye, the white lilies and the black ant.

from “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud/ Mary Oliver

Even the mosquito’s
 dark dart,
flashing and groaning;
 even the berries, softening back
into the black bog;
 even the wood duck’s
white-circled eye,

and the first white lilies
on the shaggy pond,

and the big owl, shaking herself
out of the pitchpines,

even the turtle scratching in the dust,
even the black ant, climbing the mile-high hill,

even the little chattering swift
diving down into the black chimney.

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

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

In the distance, the rabbit-field.
Ben—his face in the grass, his chomping.
His sweet, wild eyes.

Thinking about gray as balanced, as both dark and light, black and white, grief and delight.

nov 29/WALKBIKERUNSHOVEL

a walk with Delia
longfellow neighborhood
27 degrees / snow
100% snow-covered

Took Delia the dog for a walk around 2 blocks. She needed the exercise, I wanted the fresh air and to see the conditions of the sidewalk. Too much snow. If I hadn’t tweaked by foot on uneven snow a few weeks ago, I’d be more willing to risk it and go for a run by the gorge, but not today. Everything white and gray. Walking north the snow felt like sharp shards. I breathed deeply. Oh, that cold air! Brittle, abrasive, cleaning me out. Taking these breaths in the cold air, walking in the soft silence, or almost silence, are some of my favorite things to do.

…a few hours and 6+ inches of snow later

bike: 20 minutes
bike stand basement
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill, basement

Lots of unshoveled/unplowed snow and uneven ground outside. Watched a running race while I biked, listened to a “Taylor Swift fitness” playlist while I ran. In between, I listened to 2 versions of another colorblind plate poem. This one is about the various strange ways I see color and how those shift depending on some things I can predict, some I can’t. I’m calling it, “Shifty.”

shovel: 32 minutes
deck, front sidewalk

The snow has stopped. I’m not the greatest at guessing, but I’d say there’s at least 6 inches. Okay, I had to do some digging (excuse the pun), but I found a snow total for St. Thomas, which is about a mile from my house. 7.5 inches. Yikes. That snow was no joke to shovel. Almost too much. Listened to Mexican Gothic and got to the part, almost 8 hours in, where the big secret of the evil house is revealed. Surprising and interesting and gross too — I won’t spoil it for anyone who might be reading this and hasn’t read the book.

Today’s song of gray

I can’t quite remember what it was now, but something made me think of gray air and breath. Searched for “gray breath” on Poetry Foundation and found this poem. This past summer, I watched a lecture from Aimee Nezhukumatathil in which she began with this poem:

First Grade/ Ron Koertge

Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.

So who is this woman with the gray
breath calling out names and pointing
to the little desks we will occupy
for the rest of our lives?

Earlier today, I had another poem I was thinking of posting as today’s song of gray — granite. I’ve decided to post it too because of the wolf and snow connection:

nunatak/ Jane Lovell

a stone ridge exposed by wind,
a lip of stone curled at the glaucous wind,
its harrying across blown snow;
a skyline ridge, blade-and-socket spine
of something fossilised, claws sunk
in the hidden world below;
a ridge of stone, a pebbled egg
abandoned in its cleft, the embryo
a shock of livid skin in frozen oils;
a granite ridge, its icebound edge
orbited by tracks of lupine shadow
swerving out across the void.

nov 28/RUN

4.4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
33 degrees

Overcast, a bit blustery. Everything muted: burnt orange, not yellow but yellowed, brown, gray. A few clumps of snow scattered on the grass. Kids laughing and yelling on the school playground. Water trickling at the falls. I remember looking down at the river, but I don’t remember what I saw. I know it was clear and probably steel blue. Did I see any ripples from the wind?

At the start of my run, the sky glowed a pale yellow — the sun trying to break through the clouds. A strange light, reminding more of a sunrise or sunset than late morning.

Noticed the faintest trace of my shadow running ahead of me. Because the sun was still behind the clouds, it was dim, almost more the idea of my shadow than an actual one.

Listened to the gorge running south, Beyoncé running north.

My kneecap shifted a little, but I didn’t panic or feel any pain during, or swelling afterwards.

No fat tires or roller skiers or Mr. Walker or Mr. Morning! or Dave, the Daily Walker. I did pass a very tall runner in a red jacket near the end of my run.

Anything else? The creek was mostly frozen, but I could hear some drips and dribbles dropping down from the limestone ledge.

Today for my gray, I’m thinking about gray or grey dreams:

Little Grey Dreams/ Angelina Weld Grimké – 1880-1958

Little grey dreams,
I sit at the ocean’s edge,
At the grey ocean’s edge,
With you in my lap.

I launch you, one by one,
And one by one,
Little grey dreams,
Under the grey, grey, clouds,
Out on the grey, grey, sea,
You go sailing away,
From my empty lap,
Little grey dreams.

Sailing! Sailing!
Into the black,
At the horizon’s edge.

nov 27/RUN

3.4 miles
trestle turn around
32 degrees

Another beautiful morning. Sunny and calm and not too cold. Clear trails, no big groups of runners. No fat tires or roller skiers either. Exchanged greetings with Mr. Morning! Remembered to look at the river. It was open and blue. At one spot, it shimmered. I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989, then Reputation instead of the gorge.

Before my run, I fit the draft I did of my yellow poem into the colorblind plate form. I think it works pretty well.

yellow, plate 2

I haven’t come up with the single word hidden in the colorblind plate yet.

I’m nearing the end of my month of singing a song of gray. Here’s a gray poem about tombstones and spirits by Edgar Allen Poe:

Spirits of the Dead/ Edgar Allen Poe

I

Thy soul shall find itself alone
’Mid dark thoughts of the gray tombstone—
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

   II 

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead who stood
In life before thee are again
In death around thee—and their will
Shall overshadow thee: be still.

   III 

The night, tho’ clear, shall frown—
And the stars shall look not down
From their high thrones in the heaven,
With light like Hope to mortals given—
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

   IV 

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more—like dew-drop from the grass.

   V 

The breeze—the breath of God—is still—
And the mist upon the hill,
Shadowy—shadowy—yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token—
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Speaking of gray and Poe, I encountered this line from his short story Eleonora:

They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. 

Eleonora/ Edgar Allen Poe

nov 26/RUN

5.6 miles
fairview loop
42 degrees

A little warmer today so I wore the late fall, early winter layers: black tights, black sorts, long-sleeved green shirt, orange sweatshirt, black and white polka dot baseball cap. Sunny, quiet. Almost all of the trail and sidewalks were completely clear. Only a few spots of ice on the Marshall hill just before reaching Cretin. Managed to get greens at all of the stoplights climbing the marshall hill– no quick breaks for me. Had to stop at the two on Summit.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. heard the bells at St. Thomas at both 10 and 10:15
  2. was dazzled by the light burning bright off the river
  3. felt the wind pushing me from the side as I crossed the bridge
  4. the strong smell of bacon or ham as I neared longfellow grill
  5. a few stretches of ice on marshall, some patches of wet sidewalk that looked like ice but was only a trick of the light
  6. a bus stopped, a few passengers getting out
  7. statues at the end of the walk of fancy houses on Summit: pineapples, lions
  8. a kid’s voice somewhere below in the ravine leading to shadow falls
  9. a runner stopped on the bridge to take a picture of the river as it shimmered with a wide swath of bright light
  10. a woman and a dog carefully making their way under the chain closing off the old stone steps

Climbing the short hill that starts at the Monument and ends at an entrance to Shadow Falls, I suddenly had a thought about yellow that made me stop and pull out my phone to record it:

Thinking about colors and yellow and then I was thinking about how sometimes it used to be this warning, this shout, like watch out, be careful and now it’s become more of a whisper or a soft cry or more hushed and it’s increasingly getting that way so colors are more muted and muffled… [the other voices in the recording are 2 bikers and 2 then 2 runners].

yellow/ 26 nov 2022

Not sure what happened with the recording here, but I remember saying more about how distant yellow seems now. I never see it as bright, but faded, from the past, or through the gauzy veil of my damaged cones. Sometimes only the association with objects. I might not see that something is yellow but I know that it is because I know safety vests or crosswalk signs or the middle light on a stoplight are yellow. Orange works differently for me. It’s not faded, but it often only appears as a blip or flash or slash or flare in my peripheral vision. Again, yellow offers a soft, constant glow. I was also thinking about Van Gogh and his idea that every color is ultimately a variation of gray.

excerpt from Yellow Lullaby/ Leontia Flynn

A spill of sunlight and a yellow dress.
A yolk.
A yellow flower.                                                
A candle flame.
A moth-light, moon-like,
in the nursery’s darkness . . .

nov 24/RUN

3.3 miles
trestle turn around
35 degrees / humidity: 92%
haze/fog

The annual Thanksgiving 5k with a little extra. Was greeted by Mr. Morning! near the trestle: Good morning and Happy Thanksgiving! Everything was a light gray, shrouded in a fine mist or fog. The tall pine trees, dark gray green. The cars, light grays and dark grays and pale green grays. The only other color I remember was the burnt orange of the dead leaves still on the trees. Forgot to look at the river. Smelled some smoke from chimneys. Near the end of my run, the smoke was so intense I could taste it—hickory, mesquite.

nov 23/RUN

4.4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
30 degrees

Another sunny, warmer (than last week) day. The paths were clear, the sky was blue, the sun was out. Earlier today, driving over to my annual mammogram, there was a haze in the gorge, but by a few hours later, during my run, it was gone. No headphones on the way to the falls, Lizzo’s Special on the way back. The falls was half frozen, half dripping. All the steps down below are blocked off now for the winter. The steps down to Winchell are too. Heard the general chatter of birds, sounding like spring. Greeted Mr. Walker (I named him in an entry on sept 12 of this year) — Hello not Good morning.

11 Things I Noticed

  1. the strong smell of pot as I passed a car in the 36th st parking lot
  2. a guy walking, listening to music without headphones — can’t remember what kind of music it was. Passed him twice
  3. a woman and a kid walking above the falls, admiring it at my favorite spot
  4. bright orange below the double bridge — somebody must have spray painted it
  5. a lone walker below me on the Winchell Trail
  6. Later, 2 laughing women on the Winchell Trail
  7. the river was burning white again — shimmering in the sun through the trees
  8. running past the southern entrance to the Winchell Trail, I could see through the bare trees all the way to the stone wall that wrapped around the grassy overlook
  9. also had a clear view of the oak savanna and the mesa through the leafless trees
  10. a loud scraping noise from some part of a car, dragging on the road
  11. my shadow, running beside me — strong in form and definition, a very dark gray in color

Today’s gray: fog and mist

Fog/Giovanni Pascoli

Translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock

Hide what is far from my eyes,
pale fog, impalpable gray
vapor climbing the light
of the coming day,
after the storm-streaked night,
the rockfall skies…
Hide what has gone, and what goes,
hide what lies beyond me…
Let me see only that hedge
at my boundary,
and this wall, by whose crumbling edge
valerian grows.
Hide from my eyes what is dead:
the world is drunk on tears…
Show my two peach trees in bloom,
my two pears,
that spread their sugared balm
on my black bread.
Hide from my eyes lost things
whose need for my love is a goad…
Let me see only the white
of the stone road –
I too will ride it some night
as a tired bell rings.
Hide the far things – hide
them beyond the sweep of my heart…
Show only that cypress tree,
standing apart,
and here, lying sleepily,
this dog at my side.

In the Fog/ Giovanni Pascoli

TRANSLATED BY GEOFFREY BROCK

I stared into the valley: it was gone—
wholly submerged! A vast flat sea remained,
gray, with no waves, no beaches; all was one.

And here and there I noticed, when I strained,
the alien clamoring of small, wild voices:
birds that had lost their way in that vain land.

And high above, the skeletons of beeches,
as if suspended, and the reveries
of ruins and of the hermit’s hidden reaches.

And a dog yelped and yelped, as if in fear,
I knew not where nor why. Perhaps he heard
strange footsteps, neither far away nor near—

echoing footsteps, neither slow nor quick,
alternating, eternal. Down I stared,
but I saw nothing, no one, looking back.

The reveries of ruins asked: “Will no
one come?” The skeletons of trees inquired:
“And who are you, forever on the go?”

I may have seen a shadow then, an errant
shadow, bearing a bundle on its head.
I saw—and no more saw, in the same instant.

All I could hear were the uneasy screeches
of the lost birds, the yelping of the stray,
and, on that sea that lacked both waves and beaches,

the footsteps, neither near nor far away.

Mist/ Alice Oswald

It amazes me when mist
chloroforms the fields
and wipes out whatever world exists

and walkers wade through coma
shouting
and close to but curtained from each other

sometimes there’s a second river
lying asleep along the river
where the sun rises
sunk in thought

and my soul gets caught in it
hung by the heels
in water

it amazes me when mist
weeps as it lifts

             and a crow 

calls down to me in its treetop voice
that there are webs and drips
and actualities up there

and in my fog-self shocked and grey
it startles me to see the sky

nov 22/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
27 degrees

Warmer this morning. Hardly any ice or snow on the path. My foot is only slightly sore at the end, but otherwise okay. Sunny and bright. A blue sky. As I reached the river at the beginning of my run I heard then saw a lone goose. Thought about color, especially yellow and gray. Listened to my breathing. Focused on taking deep breaths in through my nose, out through my mouth. Was good morninged by Mr. Morning! He called out from across the trail, Good morning! and I called back.

10 Colors I Noticed

  1. the yellow dotted lines on the bike trail
  2. the orange spray paint around the cracks that need to be replaced
  3. a pale blue sky
  4. a dark blue trash can
  5. the dark gray pavement that seemed to have a hint of blue
  6. the silver river — or was it white gold? through the trees, the river burned a bright white
  7. beige or sepia-toned ice on the river
  8. the grayish-dark brown of the bare trees
  9. the slab of white snow decorating one side of the ancient boulder
  10. the dark greenish-gray of a fir tree

In other color news: an essay I wrote 5 years ago popped into my head while I was running — “My Purple Toe” — and I thought about how the toe in it is not purple but lavender gray

Update on my foot: Scott and I had to go pick FWA up from Gustavus, so I’m writing the rest of this later in the day. A few hours in the car, not moving much, my foot felt stiff and sore again. I walked around a bit and it felt okay. I asked Scott if that’s what happens with his foot and he said yes. Does this mean I have plantar fasciitis? I hope not!

Today’s gray theme: more on the color gray

[Here on this edge I have had many diminutive visions.]/ Diane Seuss

Here on this edge I have had many diminutive visions. That all at its essence is dove-gray.
Wipe the lipstick off the mouth of anything and there you will find dove-gray. With my
thumb I have smudged away the sky’s blue and the water’s blue and found, when I kicked it
with my shoe, even the sand at its essence is pelican-gray. I am remembering Eden.
How everything swaggered with color. How the hollyhocks finished each other’s sentences.
How I missed predatory animals and worrying about being eaten. How I missed being eaten.
How the ocean and the continent are essentially love on a terrible mission to meet up with itself.
How even with the surface roiling, the depths are calmly nursing away at love. That look the late
nurser gets in its eyes as it sucks: a habitual, complacent peace. How to mother that peace, to wean
it, is a terrible career. And to smudge beauty is to discover ugliness. And to smudge ugliness is to be
knocked back by splendor. How every apple is the poison apple. How rosy the skin. How sweet
the flesh. How to suck the apple’s poison is the one true meal, the invocation and the Last
Supper. How stillness nests at the base of wind’s spine. How even gravestones buckle and swell
with the tides. And coffins are little wayward ships making their way toward love’s other shore.

nov 21/SWIM

1.5 miles (2700 yards / 108 laps)
ywca pool

Very glad to be able to swim this morning. My foot, which has been sore the past few days, feels much better today. Swimming instead of running will help even more. I swam my usual continuous 200s. Decided not to count the laps and just keep swimming until Scott came to the pool and stopped at the end of my lane. A few workouts ago, I asked him to stop at the end of my lane instead of going straight over to the hot tub to wait for me to be finished. I explained that it’s hard for me to recognize him — I might not be able to do it. Now I don’t have to worry. It’s not hard for me to see a person with bright orange shorts at the end of my lane. Just another strategy for dealing with not being able to see that well.

10 Things I Noticed While Swimming

  1. a few more things on the ground, at least one stringy thing floating in the water — I was in a different lane, so that might it explain why there were more things. It could also be that it’s time for them to clean the pool again
  2. no chlorine stings
  3. crowded — most lanes had 2 people
  4. the woman sharing the lane with me was a great swimmer. I liked watching her freestyle as I approached her, and the way she shot off the wall
  5. 2 Regulars — Mr. Speedo, the older white man who is lanky and probably has been swimming for 1/2 a century, and who wears a dark speedo and the oldish white woman in the pale blue and green suit who sometimes wears fins or booties on her feet, mitts on her hands. Today, after about 30 minutes in the water, she started swimming butterfly. It might be a stretch, but I think I’ll call her Miss Luna after the luna moth which is pale green — this luna moth is not a butterfly, but people often mistake it for one
  6. predominant color I noticed again: orange. I think a lot of the orange I see are the small sandwich board signs that are orange and read, caution wet floor, or someting like that
  7. looking straight ahead through the cloudy water, I could just barely see my lane partner approaching. She was in a solid dark suit and was streamlined, making me think of a small shark — surprisingly, this didn’t make me nervous
  8. at one point, Miss Luna and the shark were swimming at the same speed, on either side of me. It was fun speeding through the two of them — like what, a rocket?
  9. one distinctive noise — the squeak of my nose because my nose plug was not on properly
  10. 2 older women in the locker room discussing the big snow storm in upstate New York. 2 things in particular I remember: first, that the football game had to be moved somewhere else and two, about how after a big storm there are always tons of pictures on social media of people who are stuck and can’t open their front doors

Today’s gray theme: gray variations

The Nomenclature of Color/ Richard Jones

Absinthe green: Laura’s eyes.
Bishop’s purple: Evening skies.
Cornflower blue: Dreams of the wise.
Dragon’s-blood red: My mother’s dark sighs.
Elephant’s breath: Imagination.
Forget-me-not blue: The dust of cremation.
Guinea green: Ruination.
Hessian brown: The dust of creation.
Iron gray: The paradox of clouds.
Jade green: The bride’s necklace.
Kingfisher blue: Justice and grace.
Lavender gray: A widow’s shroud.
Medici blue: The heart that is jealous.
Nile blue: The color of water.
Onionskin pink: A poem for my daughter.
Pearl gray: The wedding gift.
Quaker drab: The virtue of thrift.
Raw sienna: Dirt we sift.
Seafoam green: The rowboat adrift.
Tyrian rose: Love’s ardor.
Ultramarine blue: Heaven’s color.
Venetian pink: Hell below.
Wedgewood blue: The little we know.
Xanthine orange: The taste of life.
Yvette violet: The lips of my wife.
Zinc orange, zinc blue, zinc white: The colors of houses in paradise.

Iron gray
Lavender gray
Pearl gray

Doing a google search about gray, I found this article with 6 Popular Gray Paint Colors: Agreeable Gray, West Coast Ghost, Seize the Gray, Balboa Mist, Comfort White, and White Metal.

from “ode to gray”

Gray in the wild opens and spills. Put two grays together and you’ll see the color each one hides within, the “endless variations” noted by Van Gogh. I think of the handful of river pebbles I once snuck into my pockets on a day trip to a waterfall: they were dusty gray when I got home, but underwater, each concealed a secret separate life as green or red or blue. So many things that seem gray on the surface have a treasure to unlock—myself, I hope, included.

from To Theo van Gogh (a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his son)

As regards black in nature, we are of course in complete agreement, as I understand it. Absolute black doesn’t in fact occur.2 Like white, however, it’s present in almost every colour and forms the endless variety of greys — distinct in tone and strength.3 So that in nature one in fact sees nothing but these tones or strengths. 

The 3 fundamental colours are red, yellow, blue. Composite: orange, green, purple.

From these are obtained the endless variations of grey by adding black and some white — red-grey, yellow-grey, blue-grey, green-grey, orange-grey, violet-grey. 

It’s impossible to say how many different green-greys there are for example — the variation is infinite.

But the whole chemistry of colours is no more complicated than those simple few fundamentals. And a good understanding of them is worth more than 70 different shades of paint — given that more than 70 tones and strengths can be made with the 3 primary colours and white and black.4 The colourist is he who on seeing a colour in nature is able to analyze it coolly and say, for example, that green-grey is yellow with black and almost no blue, &c. In short, knowing how to make up the greys of nature on the palette.  

nov 20/RUN

5.6 miles
franklin loop
19 degrees / feels like 9
5% ice and snow covered

Because it was sunny and because there wasn’t much wind and because I had the right number of layers on, today’s run was great. Not too cold. Maybe it helped that I did a 5 minute warm up on the bike in the basement? Very happy to be out there, beside the gorge, breathing in the cold air, and greeting Mr. Morning! and Dave, the Daily Walker.

The arch of left foot hurts a bit. I think I overdid it with the old shoes, the yak trax and the ice clumps on Thursday. I should not run tomorrow. Bummer.

Layers: 2 pairs of black running tights; pale green long sleeved shirt; pink jacket with hood; gray buff; black fleece lined baseball cap; 2 pairs of gloves — pink with white stripes on top, black underneath

Took the pink and white gloves off about 1 1/2 miles in. Pulled down the buff 5 minutes in, pulled off the pink hood at 1 mile. Unzipped and re-zipped my jackets throughout. At the end of the run I wasn’t cold, just soaked with sweat, my pony-tail dripping.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the river, 1: running on franklin bridge the river was a clear blueish gray, no ice yet
  2. snow was covering the north face of an ancient boulder on the east side of the river
  3. random goose honks throughout the run, usually a lone goose flying low
  4. the sky was a pale blue, the gorge was giving off a blue-gray hue
  5. the only other colors: brown, white, a runner’s orange jacket, another runner’s pink one
  6. the river, 2: standing above the lake street bridge at my favorite spot on the east side I admired the open river, stretching wide, looking calm
  7. the river, 3: off in the distance the water glowed, burning a silver fire — not white, or any color, just shimmering light
  8. the river, 4: from the lake street bridge the river was studded with ice
  9. a voice on a hill on Edmund: a kid going sledding
  10. ending the run and crossing over to the boulevard the snow crunched in an unusual way. It sounded almost like the crinkle in a dog toy, or like I had some brittle paper stuck on my shoe

I made a recording of the crinkling snow:

crinkling snow / 20 november 2022

Scrolling through twitter, this piece — a prose poem? an essay fragment? — by Mary Ruefle from My Private Property. I might have to buy this book; I’ve posted at least one other essay/poem from it on here already:

from My Private Property/ Mary Ruefle

Gray sadness is the sadness of paper clips and rubber bands, of rain and squirrels and chewing gum, ointments and unguents and movie theaters. Gray sadness is the most common of all sadnesses, it is the sadness of sand in the desert and sand on the beach, the sadness of keys in a pocket, cans on a shelf, hair in a comb, dry-cleaning, and raisins. Gray sadness is beautiful, but not to be confused with the beauty of blue sadness, which is irreplaceable. Sad to say, gray sadness is replaceable, it can be replaced daily, it is the sadness of a melting snowman in a snowstorm.

The everydayness of gray sadness, its mundane, real, nothing special-ness, reminds me of a bit from the lyric essay I posted last week, Ode to Gray. Especially this bit:

Look at enough black-and-white photography and color comes to feel like an intrusion. Eggleston’s photos seem too vital to be real, as though depicting an alternate reality. Each image is delirious with hue, spectacular, delicious, but a little bit too much. The eye craves rest—and mystery, the kind of truth that can be searched only in subtlety. Dorothy may tumble, tornadic, into Technicolor, but still she always wishes to go home.

In addition to exploring gray this month, I’m also thinking about color in general, and colors that have been significant for me in this running log, like green. Here is a great green poem I found a few days ago. I haven’t thought of the coming of green as fire and flame before, but it works.

The Enkindled Spring/ D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

nov 17/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin hill turn around
26 degrees / feels like 20
light snow / wind: 15 mph gusts
100% snow-covered

Winter! Woke up to another dusting — maybe an inch? — on the ground. Wore my old yak trax, the ones I got 3 or 4 years ago that are worn down, but still work. Mostly I’m glad I did, but several times snow clumped up in the grooves. Was it because of the yak trax, the high water content of the snow, or something else?

My Favorite Things

  1. the feel of snow under my feet — more interesting than boring asphalt
  2. the creaks and crunches of that snow
  3. greeting Mr. Morning! and Dave, the Daily Walker
  4. 3 geese flying west — I heard their harsh honks first, echoing across the gorge, then they appeared, flying low near the trestle
  5. open water, brownish-gray
  6. in the second half of the run, the snow stopped and the sun was trying to pierce through the thick clouds. Everything looked slightly blue — the snow, the sky, the trees
  7. the graceful runner who passed me, their feet bouncing up and down, up and down
  8. in the first half, when it was much darker, the headlights cutting through the dim
  9. running up the Franklin hill — I felt strong and free, untethered
  10. ending at the ancient boulderS after (almost) sprinting up the hill — my winter running tradition

Ishihara colorblind plates as form

Still thinking about my next series of vision poems. A plan seems to be forming. Here’s what I wrote:

A series of colorblind (Ishihara) plates describing how I see and don’t see color and what that means for how I move through the world. 

The actual series of plates for the test are 38. I think that might be too many. Each poem will consist of 2 plates: the “actual” plate (designed by Scott) with the circles and the hidden message. In the original, it’s numbers. In mine, it’s a word that can stand alone as a poem, but also (might) connect with the other plate words and is the unifying theme for a prose poem that is on the second plate. This second-plate poem will (most likely, but maybe not?) take the form of the circle of the plate. Tentatively, I’m imagining it as a prose poem, but it might be its own thing, a series of words, descriptions related to seeing and not seeing color. 

The plates will be divided into different topics related to color: 

a story about why this test matters to me
what everything looks like, how it feels
struggles/quirks/strange
a focus on gray — contrast — light and dark, not in color

Scott found something on github that enables you to easily (or easily for Scott) design your own plates. Here’s a sample of what he did. He put the word red in it. I’ll take his word for it because I can’t see the letters at all.

Scott’s Ishihara plate, “Red”

today’s gray theme: duck duck gray duck

Still thinking about gray this month. Today, inspired by the wonderful geese I heard while running, I’m thinking of the passionate way Minnesotans defend their name for the childhood game, Duck Duck Gray Duck over what the rest of the country calls it, Duck Duck Goose. I am not one of those passionate Minnesotans because I grew up on the east coast in North Carolina and Virginia. We played Duck Duck Goose. I’m fine with calling it Duck Duck Gray Duck, but I don’t really care. Scott does. No matter how often we’ve discussed it, he gets fired up every time the topic is mentioned. It is fascinating to me that Minnesota is the only state that uses gray duck and not goose, especially thinking about how many kids who grew up in Minnesota probably have a moment when they realize that not everyone else calls it that.

Because I’m that person, I had to wonder, are gray ducks rare? Yes, especially in Sweden. According to my quick googling, the most common color for ducks in Sweden is blue.

I already have 2 wonderful poems about wild geese — Wild Geese/Mary Oliver and Something Told the Wild Geese/Rachel Field — but I can always use another!

The Geese/ Jane Mead

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going—
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese

are calling—while time
and the heart take measure.

nov 16/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool

Another swim this week! Hooray for strong, sore shoulders and buoyancy. Googles and nose plugs and flip flops with a cartoon image of bloody, frankenstein-y toes (an awesome gift from my sister Marji from a few years ago). I’m not sure how far I swam. I stopped counting laps at a mile, wanting to be surprised by my watch when Scott would appear at the end of my lane and I’d end my workout. Looked at my watch. Oops. No workout on. I forgot to push the extra green button for lap distance. Oh well. Judging by my calories and time, I must have swum a little farther than Monday, but I’ll keep it at 1.5 miles.

10 Things I Noticed While Swimming in the Pool

  1. the slight burn of chlorine in my nose
  2. a few more bits of something on the bottom of the pool — was it more, or was it just because I was swimming in a different lane? were these bits moving, or was that a trick of the light or my eyes?
  3. the older woman to my right, swimming breaststroke — slow, steady, graceful frog kicks
  4. the older woman to my left, swimming sidestroke — more grace and the calm, slow sweep of arms through the water
  5. this sidestroking woman was wearing a wonderful bathing suit — all black in the back, in the front: black at the bottom with red or pink or orange horizontal panels up above
  6. “racing” a guy 2 lanes over, swimming freestyle at about the same speed as me, until he stopped and I kept going
  7. a regular — the older, trim woman in the pale blue and green suit whose stroke is strong and fast, and who sometimes wears fins or booties
  8. the feeling of orange everywhere up above, blue below
  9. my foot (the right one?) feeling a little strange near the end, not quite numb but like it might cramp up (it didn’t)
  10. arriving, a crowded pool, everyone sharing lanes. A few minutes later, it began to empty. By the time I was done, only 2 people left

Thought about Ishihara’s colorblind plates as form. I feel drawn to this form because taking this test, and failing it, was my first evidence that something was wrong with my vision. But, this form is difficult to recreate or embody. I decided, as I looped, that I should do a little more research on how the form was created and how it works. Maybe that will help me to figure out what I want to do with it, or whether I want to use it all.

Here’s a place to start: Eye Magazine / Feature / Ishihara

And this video: The Science Behind the Ishihara Test

I can’t remember which poetry craft book I read this poem in, but I like how Soto uses color here — as flashes, sparks, flares against the “gray of December”:

Oranges/ Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.
Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

nov 15/RUN

4.5 miles
minnehaha falls and back
30 degrees / steady light snow
walking path: 60% snow-covered / bike path: 10% snow-covered

The first winter run in the snow of the season! Wonderful. Slushy, a few slick spots, little snow flakes occasionally pelting my face. Loved it! Not too many people on the trails. Exchanged greetings with Mr. Morning! Morning! Good morning!

I forgot to look at the river or, if I looked, I don’t remember what I saw. It was probably blue gray. There’s no way it was white yet.

We already have a few inches on the ground, so it looks like a winter wonderland. Some of the snow has painted the trees white.

The falls were falling, but not gushing.

The sky is a very light gray. Almost everything some shade of gray. Somewhere on the trail — maybe near the falls — I saw some light green leaves decorating a tree. How is that possible?

Thought about Emily Dickinson and the idea I had earlier this morning, based on my current reflections on gray and my devotion to her poem, “We grow accustomed to the Dark –“: I grow accustomed to the Gray. For me, not everything is dark, really. It’s gray. Literally — as colors drain away in light that isn’t just right, many things often look gray. I don’t usually notice it until I think about how that dark car over there isn’t dark blue or dark red, it’s just dark gray. Or that fir tree outside of my writing studio window isn’t dark green but a very dark gray. It’s also metaphorical — I’m in this in-between state, where I can sometimes see, sometimes can’t. Or I can see well enough to get by, but not very well. I’m in transition, in the process of losing, not in the state of having lost.

today’s gray: gray area

definition from google: an ill-defined situation or field not readily conforming to a category or to an existing set of rules.

Not sure if this really fits, but the in-betweeness and ambiguity of a gray area, makes me think of optical illusions like the duck and the rabbit, or the old lady and the young woman, or the white and gold or blue and black dress, which makes me think of this passage from Georgina Kleege:

I surmise that my general visual experience is something like your experience of optical illusions. Open any college psychology textbook to the chapter on perception and look at the optical illusions there. You stare at the image and see it change before your eyes. In one image, you many see first a vase and then two faces in profile. In another, you see first a rabbit then a duck. These images deceive you because they give your brain inadequate or contradictory information. In the first case, your brain tries to determine which part of the image represents the background. In the second case, your brain tries to to group the lines of hte sketch together into a meaningful picture. In both cases there are two equally possible solutions to the visual riddle, so your brain switches from one to the other, and you have the uncanny sensation of “seeing” the image change. When there’s not much to go — no design on the vase, no features on the faces, no feathers, no fur — the brain makes an educated guess.

When I stare at an object I can almost feel my brain making such guesses.

Sight Unseen / Georgina Kleege

Sometimes, but not always, I can feel my brain making guesses. I usually notice this when it guesses wrong and then I realize what the thing I’m looking at actually is. Or, maybe it is more like this: I see something that seems strange to me, like a dead or sleeping squirrel on a big rock. That’s what it looks like, what the visual data is telling me (Sara’s brain) it is, but I can’t quite believe it. It seems off. I look closer. Finally, after staring for too long, I realize it is a stocking cap with a furry brim.

Ambiguous. It could mean this or that or this and that.

nov 14/SWIM

about 1.5 miles (2550 yards)
ywca pool

Woke up to flurries, then a steady snow. 2-4 inches possible. I would have run in it, but I had already run 5.6 mile yesterday and planned to go to the y to swim this morning. How wonderful it was to be in the water! Made me feel good, so much better than before! After my swim, Scott and I soaked in the hot tub. We both agreed, it’s nice returning to routines that we used to do 4 or 5 years ago. I also like being around happy, older woman in the locker room. I’m not usually talking to them, but I like hearing their chatter post-workout. Joyful, relaxed, pleased to have moved their bodies. I want to be one of those old women one day. I want it even more knowing that it’s not guaranteed. My mom didn’t make it. Scott’s mom didn’t make it, either.

Did my usual swim, broken up by 200s — breathe ever 3/4/5/6. Didn’t have my nose plug on quite right and with the first few flip turns, my nose and then my head burned. Ouch. The water was cloudier today than it had been last week. Saw at least one thing floating in the water, a few marks or spots or bits of something on the bottom. Shared a lane with an older woman for the first few minutes. She did sidestroke and breaststroke and backstroke. A guy in the next lane (was it the same guy as last week?) was running to the edge of the deeper end, then swimming freestyle or breaststroke. At one point, he sped along underwater, parallel to the bottom, kicking furiously.

Colors I Noticed:

  1. the red swim trunks of the guy swimming in the next lane
  2. lots of orange — an orange sign on the pool deck, my orange bay, some other orange things
  3. a swimmer in a pale blue and green suit
  4. deep blue tiles on the bottom of the pool
  5. someone in a black suit, walking along the pool deck

I tried to think about a form for my vision poems that I’d like to use, but I’m not sure how: the Ishihara colorblind plates. The ones that are a circle with colored dots and a number embedded in the center in a different color. Maybe a year before I was diagnosed, I looked at one of these and couldn’t see the number. It was my first clearcut indication that something was strange about my vision. I remember crying — not from sadness, but relief. I wasn’t making it up. There was something wrong with me! Of course, at that moment, I had no idea that what was wrong with me was that all my cone cells were dying. Anyway, I tried to think about the plate as form as I swam, but I keep getting distracted. I want to use this form, but I don’t know how or even if I could do it with my limited design skills. I’ll keep thinking about it and maybe I’ll figure it out.

Before I swam, early this morning, I thought about color and not being able to see it, or being able to see it sometimes, and usually strangely. I found a documentary by Oliver Sacks: Island of the Colorblind

Do I mind that my colors are strange or wrong or not always there? Not too much. Often, I don’t realize I’m not seeing color.

Here’s part of a gray poem I found last week. The entire thing is amazing, and better read on Poetry Foundation site with all the proper spacing. I’m posting a excerpt from it because I like the way color appears in it. Is it almost like slashes and flashes?

from Grayed In/ Martha Collins

2

Cloud on cloud, gray
on gray, snow fallen

on snow, tree on tree
on unleafed tree—

only a river silvered
with thin ice and a slash
of gold in the late gray sky.

3

Grayed snow slush trudge but

snow falling coating filling

in for absence Present!

child with stringed mittens

here to take her place

to take over on

snow showing up air

4

White sky, whiter sun brushing
trees with tints of red, then

in the distance streaking
mauve gold, filling in
between the now filagreed

trees, silhouettes against
the now red burning sky.

nov 13/RUN

5.6 miles
fairview loop
26 degrees

Yes! Love this weather: cold, but not too cold, hardly any wind, no snow or ice on the paths yet. Cold enough to keep the crowds away and for me to keep my gloves on for the whole run. Calm enough for the river to be a mirror reflecting an upside world — the arches of lake st bridge smiling instead of frowning.

Layers: black running tights (the thicker ones), green base shirt, pink jacket with hood, pink head/ear band, black and white polka dot twins cap (used to my daughter’s because, yes, my head is small enough to fit into a girl’s cap), black gloves

Heard a strange bird call in the gorge, which made me think “whip-poor-will,” but it’s most likely not that bird because they’re nocturnal and they’re listed as rare in my birds of the mississippi river guide.

Just as I neared the river road on the east side I heard a honking goose and the bells of St. Thomas.

Saw a few, and by a few I mean less than 10 total, snow flurries in the air.

This route is only 5.6 miles and takes only a little over 50 minutes, but it felt like I ran through a lot of places: cooper neighborhood, on lake street, over the lake street bridge, up marshall in st. paul, beside St. Thomas, on Summit, above the river on the east and west sides, past grand old houses, big brick apartment buildings, corner stores, salons, ice cream parlors, gas stations, cafes, a university, a WWI monument, falls hidden in ravines.

Today’s gray theme is: gray as (the absence of?) color

Thinking about color: Yesterday afternoon, in the chapel at Gustavus, which was not dim but not bright either, I started to notice that looking one direction, toward the far window on the other side, the only color I could see was an occasional red square embedded in the walls (I double-checked with Scott; there were also a bunch of blue squares too). The hymnals 15-20 feet away, which I know are red, looked dark but colorless. Staring out at the crowd of people, everyone looked like they were dressed in dark or light — not quite black or white, just dark clothes or light clothes. No variation, no purples or blues or oranges or anything but dark and light. It was strange, partly because it didn’t feel strange. It wasn’t like I thought, where is all the color? It felt more like when I wake up in the dark and, after my eyes adjust, I see the room and it looks like the room, but just darker, dimmer and without color. And, usually I don’t think there’s no color — sometimes I might even think I see color because I know my robe is purple or the pillow is yellow, or I don’t see yellow, but I recognize the pillow on the couch as that yellow pillow because I already know it’s yellow. Hope this description makes sense to anyone reading this, including future Sara.

Anyway, because my theme for today is gray as color (or colorless) and because I was still thinking about my experience in the chapel last night, I gave particular attention to noticing colors today. I wondered if I would struggle to see colors because it was a gray, darker day. I don’t think so. Would I be able to tell? Here’s the colors I noticed:

10 Colors I Noticed

  1. green grass, green stoplight
  2. red stop sign, red stop lights
  3. yellow stop light, yellow leaves
  4. rusty brownish red stain on the lake st bridge
  5. blueish water
  6. pinkish, purplish jacket on a walker
  7. orange traffic cone
  8. brown dirt
  9. white patches of snow in the corners of the sidewalk
  10. my black running tights

A few grays that come up a lot in poetry: gun metal gray, pewter

added a few hours later: Thinking about color more and how I see it or don’t see it. This afternoon I was wondering about how others describe their inability to see color in the dark/low light, like when you wake up in the middle of the night, look around, and nothing has color. It’s all dark or light or gray. Using the search, “seeing color in the dark,” I came across this article: Why We See Swirling Color When Our Eyes Are Closed. Among other interesting things, it mentions intrinsic gray or eigengrau:

The color black is often referred to as the absence of light, but when it comes to the human visual system, eigengrau is the color perceived in the absence of light. Eigengrau is a German term that roughly translates to ‘intrinsic gray’ or ‘own gray.’ When deprived of light — as in when our eyes are closed, or when we are in darkness with our eyes open — we are unable to perceive true blackness, and rather, perceive eigengrau. This is because light provides the contrast necessary to perceive darker-ness. For instance, the black ink of text might appear darker than eigengrau because the whiteness of the page provides the contrast the eyes need to understand black.

Here’s a little more info from another article:

Scientists believe that Eigengrau is the dark grey colour that human eyes see in perfect darkness and this is said to be the result of visual signals from optic nerves.

German philosopher and physicist Gustav Theodor Fechner is believed to have investigated and popularized the term Eigengrau. He is also known for his key role in the genesis of the measurement of human perception.

Eigengrau is the Dark Gray Colour That Most People See in the Absence of Light

The term eigengrau is not used that often now. Instead, it’s referred to as visual noise or the static in your retina. In the article, eigengrau was also called “brain gray.”

nov 11/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 2 miles
river road, north/32nd, west/edmund, south
28 degrees

Didn’t want to run as much today, just to be careful with my knees, so I tried something new: bike in the basement, then do a shorter run outside. I liked it. The bike was a nice warm up for going outsider in the cold, or colder than it has been. I don’t remember much from the run. There were several stones stacked on the ancient boulder, the sky was gray, no roller skiers or bikers, a few walkers, the roots on the dirt trails seemed extra treacherous and ready to trip me. I don’t remember if there were any runners out there or what color the river was. No smoke or sewer smells. No sweet scent from decomposing leaves.

Today’s gray theme: silver (yes, I know silver is not the same as gray, but in my close enough/approximate world, it works).

I haven’t worn jewelry for years, but when I did, I always preferred silver to gold.

One of my favorite video memories from my kids when they were young is a digital story I created called, “Silver and Gold…and Poop.” Every so often I still sing, Yeah, let’s doooo it.

Years ago, RJP sang this beautiful, sweet version of “Land of the Silver Birch” for her grandmother, who cherished it:

Land of the silver birch home of the beaver
Where the mighty moose, wanders at will
Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more
Boom de de boom boom, boom de de boom boom
Boom de de boom boom, boom.

Reading up about one of my favorite poets, Rita Dove, I found this quote from her:

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare’s “Silver” in Mrs. Edna Pickett’s sophomore English class circa 1962.

Silver/ Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

And, one more favorite mention of silver in a poem by a favorite poet:

A Bird, came down the Walk (359)/ Emily Dickinson

A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. – 

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers, 
And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon, 
Leap, plashless as they swim. 

Emily Dickinson’s Lexicon: silver

silver, n. [OE, obscure origin.]

  1. Eloquence; beautiful words; elegant language; [fig.] poetry; literary verse; creative writing.
  2. Argent color.
  3. Melody; musical transcription; [fig.] scripture; sacred written text; [metaphor] lyric poetry; metrical verse.
  4. Seawater; shining expanse of ocean; [fig.] sky; heaven; [metaphor] eternity; infinity.

nov 10/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin hill turn around
64 degrees

Warm, sticky, damp. Thunderstorms coming in a few hours. Blizzards possible up north. A gray morning. Right before I left for my run the sun came out, then left again. Hazy, gloomy. I like this weather, although I’d prefer it to be colder, less humid. The gray sky looked smudged and made the bare branches seem extra wispy and fragile. I felt good running, relaxed. Ran north with no headphones, south with a Lizzo playlist.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A runner passing me wearing an orange shirt that lost its glow in the gloom of the gorge
  2. A walker wearing bright yellow (like me)
  3. A roller skier climbing the Franklin hill. I don’t remember hearing any poles clicking or clacking or scraping
  4. Unlike yesterday, the cars on the river road had their headlights on
  5. Passing under the bridge at the bottom of the hill, I noticed a big blue circle on the ground with the numbers “94” on it. Interstate 94. Maybe now I will always remember that this bridge is 94, and the bridge near downtown is 35?
  6. Running north above the gorge, from the left (closer to the road) the wind was blasting very warm air, from the right (near the gorge) the wind was blasting cold air. Overdressed in long sleeves, I preferred the cold
  7. A bird flying up above me. Every time I tried to see it straight on, it disappeared. I could only see it off to the side
  8. I don’t think I looked at the river once, even when I was right by it below Franklin
  9. The pavement is wet, the dirt trails soft and muddy
  10. a big truck with a chain track like a tank instead of wheels on the road near the Danish Center — why was it there?

I don’t have one big theme for gray today, just a few smaller thoughts:

  • gray as a mix of white and black and gray as the mix of 2 opposites — like the hot and cold air I experienced as I ran above the gorge
  • what the gray of the sky did to the bare branches of the trees, making the small branches at the tips look wispy or like they were fading or dissolving or just soft and fuzzy

Googled “poem the color gray” and found this wonderful lyric essay: Ode to Gray

the color of cubicles and winter camouflage, of sullage, of inscrutable complexity, of compromise. It is the perfect intermediate, an emissary for both black and white. 

It is the color of soldiers and battleships, despite its dullness. It is the color of the death of trees. The death of all life when consumed by fire. The color of industry and uniformity. It is both artless and unsettling, heralding both blandness and doom. It brings bad weather, augurs bleakness. It is the color other colors fade to once drained of themselves. It is the color of old age.

I’m drawn to gray, as to a dream, but not to any old gray. Not storm-cloud gray or corporate monolith. I prefer tranquil gray: the undyed wool of sheep in rain, the mood inside a Gerhard Richter painting, the mottle of an ancient cairn. I don’t mean any one gray either but the entire underrainbow of the world, the faded rose and sage and caesious. Liard, lovat, perse. The human eye perceives five hundred—not a mere fifty—shades of gray. Paul Klee called it the richest color, “the one that makes all the others speak.” 

Gray is the endless and. It can be cooled or warmed, made magic or mundane. It’s almost always tinged with color, but nothing quite so bold as to commit.

In the realism of the black-and-white, gray is every color—without the tartness. The understudies take the stage, and not one seems to miss the headliners. We see the world without distraction. Andre Gide called gray the color of the truth.

Gray in the wild opens and spills. Put two grays together and you’ll see the color each one hides within, the “endless variations” noted by Van Gogh. I think of the handful of river pebbles I once snuck into my pockets on a day trip to a waterfall: they were dusty gray when I got home, but underwater, each concealed a secret separate life as green or red or blue. So many things that seem gray on the surface have a treasure to unlock—myself, I hope, included. [note: this idea of seeming gray on the surface reminds me of something I read about gray matter yesterday. The brain tissue only looks gray when it’s outside of the body being observed, inside the brain it’s more pink — I wish I could find the source for that now]

It is the perfect neutral, balanced and dignified—and yet it is so effortlessly swayed; it is the pool that takes in other colors as they bleed. It complements; it brightens light and lightens dark. It isn’t flat. It’s deep, endlessly deep. Gray is the dark end of the light. The light end of the dark. Unsettling, perhaps, but full of possibility. Just think how beautiful we all look in the gloaming. It’s liminal, the color of our own potential to become.

nov 9/RUN

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls turn around
53 degrees / humidity: 96%

A great run this morning. I felt strong and relaxed and never like I wanted or needed to stop. A gray morning. At the start, the sky was almost white with a little gray and the idea of light blue. By the end, the sky was still white, but a little more gray and thick, heavy. Returning above the gorge, there was some haze over the water.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. gushing water from the sewer pipe at 42nd st
  2. trickling water at the falls
  3. most of the leaves are off the trees, the ones that remain are burnt orange
  4. other colors: blue-gray asphalt at minnehaha park, green grass, my bright orange sweatshirt
  5. a runner in a light colored shirt passed me going fast under the ford bridge. I enjoyed watching his bobbing shoulders bounce off into the distance for the next 5 minutes
  6. almost empty parking lots at the falls, a few groups of walkers
  7. the beep beep beep of a car alarm from a car being towed through the roundabout near the falls
  8. even though it was a little dark and gloomy, few cars had on their lights
  9. the river was half light, half dark
  10. a elementary school class visiting the ravine, a line of them stretching across the sidewalk. I found a big gap and tried to quickly pass through. Some kids sprinted, trying to catch me or run into me (they didn’t)

Little Gray Cells

Today’s gray theme is: the brain, the little gray cells, gray matter. When I think of gray matter, I first think of the “little gray cells” and Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, especially in one my favorite movies, Death on the Nile:

“And to rest the little gray cells.”

Gray matter is tissue found in the brain. It contains a lot of neuronal cells. Reading about it, I could feel myself shutting down. Too much science-y jargon! Here’s a description of their function to remember for later:

Grey matter serves to process information in the brain. The structures within the grey matter process signals from the sensory organs or from other areas of the grey matter. This tissue directs sensory stimuli to the neurons in the central nervous system where synapses induce a response to the stimuli.

These signals reach the grey matter through the myelinated axons that make up the bulk of the white matter. The grey matter that surrounds the cerebrum, also given the name cerebral cortex is involved in several functions such as being involved in personality, intelligence, motor function, planning, organization, language processing, and processing sensory information.

Grey Matter in the Brain

Reading this description I’m wondering how they work with vision for both motor function and processing sensory information. As I walked through my alley at the end of my run I also wondered, How does exercise affect gray matter? Looked it up and found a pop description of a recent small study from an Australian site that suggests aerobic activity increases the gray matter, especially in terms of cognition. I found the word choice in this line interesting:

Recent research from Germany shows that aerobic exercise increases local and overall gray matter volume in the brain by an average 5.3 cubic centimetres.

This is a significant increase and more than the total brain volume of some American Presidents.

Well played, Australia.

I looked up “gray matter vision poem” and this one came up. I’d like to spend more time with it and Forrest Gander’s notes about his translation.

Echo/ Pura López-Colomé

translated by Forrest Gander

It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—

—Emily Dickinson

Afloat between your lens
and your gaze,
the last consideration to go
across my gray matter
and its salubrious
deliquescence
is
whether or not I’ll swim,
whether I’ll be able to breathe,
whether I’ll live like before.

I’m caught in the bubble
of your breath.
It locks me in.
Drives me mad.

Confined to speak alone,
I talk and listen,
ask questions and answer myself.
I hum, I think I sing,
I breathe in, breathe in and don’t explode.
I’m no one.

Behind the wall
of hydrogen and oxygen,
very clear, almost illuminated,
you allow me to think
that the Root of the Wind is Water
and the atmosphere
smells of salt and microbes and intimacy.

And in that instant comes
the low echo
of a beyond beyond,
a language archaic and soaked
in syllables and accents suited
for re-de-trans-forming,
giving light,
giving birth to
melanin
hidden within another skin:
the hollow echo of the voice
which speaks alone.

It would have taken me a lot longer to understand (some of) what’s happening with Emily Dickinson in this poem if I hadn’t listened to Forrest Gander’s introduction, or read his translator notes. First, he says in his introduction before reading the poem:

Her poem seems to take place at a time when she’s undergoing physical trauma, which is cancer, and in this poem she is sort of slipping under a narcotic before some kind of treatment or operation, and in the last moments of consciousness what’s going through her mind is a poem of Emily Dickinson’s

And then he writes, in his translator notes:

Written at a difficult time in the poet’s life, at a time when her life was emphatically at stake, this poem includes an echo of Emily Dickinson’s #1295:

I think that the Root of the Wind is Water—
It would not sound so deep
Were it a Firmamental Product—
Airs no Oceans keep—
Mediterranean intonations—
To a Current’s Ear—
There is a maritime conviction
In the Atmosphere—

In Pura López-Colomé’s “Echo,” it seems as though the poet, going under in both the sedative and the psychological sense—”the last consideration to go”—finds her mind looping a Dickinson poem concerned with going under, for if air is water, we drown in it. (There are allusions to other Dickinson poems as well.) But Dickinson’s re-de-transformational language brings her into the living poet’s present, even as that present may be slipping away. (I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s hope that “in black ink my love may still shine bright.”) Dickinson’s addictive syllables and rhythms bring her to life—her flesh takes on color (so the melanin). And López-Colomé, who has been speaking to herself alone, finds in herself a place where another poet is speaking to herself.

Translator’s notes/ Forrest Gander

Wow, it’s funny that I randomly came across this poem because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how Emily Dickinson is shaping my experiences of understanding and coping with vision loss. I’ve wondered about how to gesture at this influence in some new poems about my current seeing status. Also, I’ve been quoting some Dickinson, especially, “Before I got my eye put out” and “We grow accustomed to the Dark” in my head as I drift off to sleep.

one thing thing, added on November 13: Last night, while out for dinner with my son after his fabulous fall band concert, I happened to mention that I did a day on gray matter. FWA, a Breaking Bad fan, said, Gray matter is the name of the company that Walter White co-founded and then was cheated (or did he say screwed?) out of. It’s why he had to become a chemistry teacher and why he started making meth. I’ve never watched the show, although FWA really wants us to check it out. Maybe I will…

update, 9 nov 2023: Not too long after writing this, Scott and I started watching Breaking Bad and loved it. It took most of the spring, but we watched (and enjoyed? appreciated?) it all. After an extended break from the Walt world, we started watching Better Call Saul last week.

nov 7/RUN

6.2 miles
Hidden Falls loop*
33 degrees

*south on river road trail/under ford bridge/up to Wabun/over ford bridge/continue south on the east river road trail/above Hidden Falls/cross over to the Highland Bridge (the old ford plant site)/north on trail/cross back over to east river trail/under Ford bridge/across Ford bridge/north on west river road

A 10k without stopping. Hooray! Completing a loop I’ve wanted to try for a few weeks. Double hooray!! Today it wasn’t bright blue, or gray, but sepia-toned. Subdued, weathered. Lots of light brown and brownish-orange leaves on the trees and the ground. Colder. I wore some of my winter layers: pink-hooded jacket, winter running tights, black winter vest, gloves. I felt good. My left kneecap shifted a bit about 5 minutes into the run. Maybe not as much? After the run, it’s a little stiff, but not too bad. A great run. I love this colder weather.

Before heading out for my run, I wrote the following:

The theme for November is gray, inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “The Crazy Woman” and the line, And sing a song of gray. I came across a reference to gray hair and getting rid of it this morning and it immediately made me think of a commercial I remember watching as a kid. In 1980, I was six.

I’m pretty sure I heard this commercial way before the original song from the musical South Pacific, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair.” Also, when looking up this commercial on YouTube, I found three versions, 1980 (above), 1983, and 1985. It’s fascinating to see the evolution to working girl/power woman.

For the record, I like my gray hair. I have a lot of it. And I don’t want to get rid of it. I don’t mind being old. Okay, not totally true. I mind the aches and pains, the witnessing of more loved ones dying, the gradual breaking down of my body. I’m not sure if I always embraced old age, but I know that a passage from Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century,” has had a huge impact on me. I love this essay. I devoted a whole chapter of my dissertation to her concepts of home and coalition, and I taught her words many times in my feminist theory classes. Here’s the passage that I’m thinking about in terms of old age and survival:

None of this matters at all very much is you die tomorrow—that wouldn’t even be cute. It only matters if you make a commitment to be around for another fifty more years. There are some grey haired women I see running around occasionally, and we have to talk to those folks about how come they didn’t commit suicide forty years ago. Don’t take everything they say because some of the stuff they gave up to stay around ain’t worth considering. But be sure you get on your agenda some old people and try to figure out what it will be like if you are raging radical fifty years from today.

Think about yourself that way. What would you be like if you had white hair and had not give up your principles?

Coalition Politics: Turning the Century” / Bernice Johnson Reagon, and here’s an easier-for-me-to-read pdf of the essay.

These words above, the whole essay actually, are important to read and digest as I anticipate tomorrow’s midterm elections. They could be bad.

I thought about grey hair (I like spelling it grey too, which is more common outside of the US. Why? Not sure. I also like writing European 7s) and getting older and being able to endure and survive. Suddenly I understood Brooks’ poem in a different way. I’ve always been drawn to it because I love November and gray, colder, barer days. I imagined this crazy woman as literally singing in November, which is what I like to do (and terribly too — as Brooks’ line continues in the next verse). But, Brooks is talking about an old woman who has gray hair, and her song of gray is the song of a woman who has managed to survive to old age. Duh. This interpretation seems obvious to me now, but I was hung up on the gray, early winter days of November and my love of them. Managing to still be around when you’re old is not easy. Both my mom and Scott’s mom weren’t able to do it — my mom dead at 67, Scott’s at 74. That’s too young. And to be able to sing about it? To me, that feels like a real accomplishment. To live to your 80s is a lot about luck and managing to avoid cancer or car accidents or any number of calamities. But some of it, I hope, is about how you take care of yourself and whether or not you embrace a longer view. When I think about what my goals are for running, this is a big one: I want to be running in my 70s. That’s my long view. I want to do what it takes to keep me healthy and able to run for several more decades. And, if I can’t run, at least walking along the gorge.

As I ran back across the Ford bridge, I was still thinking about old age and running and how completing a long run might serve as a metaphor for living a long life. In the past, I’ve thought about this in terms of enduring and pushing through pain and bad thoughts (I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I want to stop) by keeping moving, putting one foot in front of the other. Whatever bad thoughts/feelings I’m having almost always pass within a few minutes. Today, I thought about it in terms of a phrase I heard several times when I watched the Ironman World Championships a few weeks ago: burning a match. One woman was going out too fast and burning a match. Another woman looked like she was feeling good and had to decide if she wanted to burn a match now and probably pay for it later. And yet another woman — Daniela Ryf, maybe the GOAT of Ironman — was burning several matches to catch up to other racers. Not sure what to do with this phrase, but it popped into my head as I ran.

an aside: 2 other running phrases I often encounter: the wheels come off (when your race falls apart, when your body stops working) and go out there and rip it (run as fast as you can).

The idea of burning a match and endurance and old age makes me think of 2 poems: Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Dark Night” and Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “First Fig.”

Here’s the first verse from the Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And here’s the entire Millay poem:

First Fig/ Edna St. Vincent Millay

My candle burns at both ends;
    It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
    It gives a lovely light!

I don’t like the Dylan Thomas poem, and I can’t relate to the Milay’s candle burning at both ends. I should say more about what I mean, but that would take more time than I have right now. Maybe in a vague way, my dislike of both of these poems has something to do with my love of gray?

one more thing: I just realized that Dylan Thomas’ poem is in villanelle form, which I was just writing about in my reconstructed post for November 1st. I need to spend some time reviewing poetic forms!

nov 5/RUN

5 miles
prior loop
35 degrees
fine mist

Another gray day. A fine mist I barely noticed. Sprinting through one green light, having to stop at two other red ones. Some less than generous feelings toward a few path hoggers. Reciting the poem, “The Crazy Woman in November.” Wondering what “a song of gray” is, after reciting the lines, I’ll wait until November/And sing a song of gray. Decided that the theme for November will be gray.

On November 6th, my original entries for this week were accidentally erased. Now, Monday (7th) morning, I’m trying to remember a few things from them. For a lengthier explanation, see my entry for november 1st.