march 23/RUN

4.4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
28 degrees
99% clear biking path

Only 28 degrees this morning, but it sure felt like spring! Sun, blue sky, less snow, warmer air! Heard some black capped chickadees and robins cheering me up. Felt the grit under my feet. Noticed my shadow. Saw more walkers walking below on the Winchell Trail. The river was sparkling and beautifully blue.

Before I went for my run, I read the first (and my final) page of the Schuyler poem and thought more about my “How to Sink” poem. I was particularly interested in thinking about the different ways water might sink or fall. About a minute into my run, I heard water dripping fast down the sewer — tinkling or shimmering or sounding like glitter falling. I held onto the memory of this sound throughout the run to the falls, adding more ideas of water falling as I encountered them. Then I stopped and spoke them into my phone. Here’s a brief list:

  1. water dripping down the sewer drain, a glitter of sound, or little dots of sound cascading down
  2. the slow, steady drip
  3. the seeping in or out of the limestone
  4. the falls –a rush or gush, almost like it’s being dumped, buckets of rain — surrender as a sudden collapsing and dumping, all at once, not gradually, like the abrupt shutting down of everything in early March of 2020

The buckets of rain made me think of a poem, but I couldn’t remember which one. In the recording I said, I bet it’s in Hymn to Life. Yep. Page 9. I recall thinking about writing about the “buckets of rain,” but I guess I didn’t.

The rain comes down in buckets:
I’ve never seen that, though you often speak of it. The rain
Comes down and brings depression, too much and too often.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 1

Yes, I’m ending with the first page. It begins with The wind rests its cheek, and ends with Didn’t keep them.

The wind rests its cheek upon the ground and feels the cool damp
And lifts its head with twigs and small dead blades of grass
Pressed into it as you might at the beach rise up and brush away
The sand.

Love it! I need to add this to my collection of lines about the wind. Maybe I should create my own Beaufort Wind Scale. What speed would this be? 2 mph?

The day is cool and says, “I’m just staying overnight.”

I like the idea of the day saying something like this, although I’m not sure I totally understand what it means.

The world is filled with music, and in between the music, silence
And varying the silence all sorts of sounds, natural and man made:
There goes a plane, some cars, geese that honk and, not here, but
Not so far away, a scream so rending that to hear it is to be
Never again the same. “Why, this is hell.”

These first two lines are wonderful. I’d like to use them as epigraph for a poem. And that scream at the end….wow. Have I ever heard a scream like that?

Out of the death breeding
Soil, here, rise emblems of innocence, snowdrops that struggle
Easily into life and hang their white enamel heads toward the dirt

Death breeding soil. To struggle easily. Snowdrops hanging their heads to the dirt instead of up to the sun. Everything flipped

And in the yellow grass are small wild crocuses from hills goats
Have cropped to barrenness. The corms come by mail, are planted.

corms = “a rounded underground storage organ present in plants such as crocuses, gladioli, and cyclamens, consisting of a swollen stem base covered with scale leaves.”

Flowers courtesy of goats and mail-order.

Then do their thing: to live! To live! So natural and so hard
Hard as it seems it must be for green spears to pierce the all but
Frozen mold and insist that they too, like mouse-eared chickweed,
Will live. The spears lengthen, the bud appears and spreads, its
Seed capsule fattens and falls, the green turns yellowish and withers
Stretched upon the ground.

To live! To live!

Tomorrow
Will begin another spring. No one gets many, one at a time, like a long
Awaited letter that one day comes. But it may not say what you hoped
Or distraction robs it of what it once would have meant.

How many people write letters anymore? I don’t because it’s very hard to write by hand with my vision, and I can hardly ever read anyone’s handwriting — not because it’s messy but because of my failing vision. If no one is writing letters anymore, does this metaphor work? How are poets using email in metaphors in compelling ways? Or text messages? Can we even imagine time/life in such slow ways as letter writing and receiving anymore?

Spring comes
And the winter weather, here, may hold. It is arbitrary, like the plan
Of Washington, D.C. Avenues and circles in asphalt web

Here in Minneapolis, the weather remains fairly reliable (reliably bad in spring, that is): a cold March, a big snow storm in April, a lingering chill in the first week of May, then suddenly 90 degrees and summer in mid-May.

and no
One gets younger: which is not, for the young, true, discovering new
Freedoms at twenty, a relief not to be a teen-ager anymore.

My son turns 20! next week. Since returning from his band trip to Spain and France, he is feeling these lines. February and March such big months of transformation for him.

One of us
Had piles, another water on the knee, a third a hernia—a strangulated
Hernia is one of life’s less pleasant bits of news—and only
One, at twenty, moved easily through all the galleries to pill
Free sleep. Oh, it’s not all that bad. The sun shines on my hand
And the myriad lines that criss-cross tell the story of nearly fifty
Years.

In 1951, Schuyler was introduced to Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery at a party in New York. The three poets would go on to share an apartment on 49th Street in Manhattan and to work closely together, often collaborating on a variety of writing projects.

Poetry Foundation

So, which one of them had the piles, which the water under the knee, and which the hernia?

Reading these lines, I was imagining an old man. But, he’s nearing 50! That’s my age. I suppose I do feel old often. I do not will not feel old for the next 30 years. Feeling old is for when I’m 80 — maybe I should chant this to myself every morning, like a spell?

So, that’s it. I read the whole poem. So much fun! Should I leave it at that, or continue exploring Schuyler for a few more days?

march 22/WALK

30 minutes, with Delia
neighborhood, near the river
29 degrees

It rained last night, which helped melt some more snow. Everything wet and dripping today. Mud and muck on the edges, puddles in the middle. Walking by a neighbor’s house I heard a rhythmic drip drip drip. Also heard a pair of woodpeckers pecking, then laughing. Whispered Brooks’ “The Crazy Woman” and Oliver’s “Wild Geese” to myself as I walked.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 10

Begin with As windows are set, end with What are the questions you ask?

As windows are set in walls in whited Washington. City, begone
From my thoughts: childhood was not all that gay. Nor all that gray,
For the matter of that.

Yesterday I looked it up and discovered that Schuyler grew up in Washington, which I would have figured out anyway after reading this line.

Gay and gray. My favorite use of this pair is in Gwendolyn Brooks’ wonderful poem:

The Crazy Woman by Gwendolyn Brooks

I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I’ll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.

I’ll wait until November
That is the time for me.
I’ll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.

And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
“That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May.”

May leans in my window, offering hornets.

What a line! Speaking of hornets — or wasps? or yellow jackets? or something that stings like that? — we have a few nests in our eaves. Every winter I talk about removing them before it gets too late in the spring, and every year we forget. Will we remember this year?

The fresh mown lawn is a rug underneath
Which is swept the dirt, the living dirt out of which our nurture
Comes, to which we go, not knowing if we hasten or we tarry.

The daily tasks, like mowing the lawn, a way for us to try to keep the inevitable at bay, or to think we have some control over death, or to avoid confronting it.

May
Opens wide her bluest eyes and speaks in bird tongues and a
Chain saw.

I love this line and how he brings together these two sounds! I’m always thinking about, and writing about, hearing the birds mixed in with the buzz of chainsaws or leaf blowers or lawn mowers. I like imagining that all of these sounds are May speaking.

The blighted elms come down. Already maple saplings,
Where other elms once grew and whelmed, count as young trees.

whelmed = archaic; engulfed, buried, submerged.

Was wondering if there are elms in the Mississippi River Gorge. Found some info about the invasive species, Siberian Elm.

Also, just remembered a poem I posted back in 2019:

Elms/ LOUISE GLÜCK

All day I tried to distinguish
need from desire. Now, in the dark,
I feel only bitter sadness for us,
the builders, the planers of wood,
because I have been looking
steadily at these elms
and seen the process that creates
the writhing, stationary tree
is torment, and have understood
it will make no forms but twisted forms.

In
A dishpan the soap powder dissolves under a turned on faucet and
Makes foam, just like the waves that crash ashore at the foot
Of the street. A restless surface. Chewing, and spitting sand and
Small white pebbles, clam shells with a sheen or chalky white.
A horseshoe crab: primeval. And all this without thought, this
Churning energy. Energy!

Sometimes I can be dense, so here’s a potentially dumb question: is he talking literally about waves — I know the narrator of this poem lives near the ocean — or is this a metaphor for the waves of debris on post-winter streets, reemerging in spring? I imagine it could be both. I’ll take it as a metaphor and wonder about what crushed up crustaceans might be unearthed in asphalt eroded by winter salts. Here in Minneapolis, near the Mississippi River Gorge, we were once part of the Ordovician Sea, so I can imagine some of that might still be present in the crushed up rock used to pave our paths and roads.

The sun sucks up the dew; the day is
Clear; a bird shits on my window ledge. Rain will wash it off
Or a storm will chip it loose.

Ha ha. I love the word shit and what it does to this image — it doesn’t cheapen or tarnish it, but makes it more real, mundane, less precious. Oh — and it makes it a little gross, which I like.

Life, I do not understand. The
Days tick by, each so unique, each so alike: what is that chatter
In the grass?

Sometimes I’d like to understand, to have my questions answered, but more often I like not knowing, or not yet knowing what that chatter in the grass is. I like having the space to imagine all the different things it could be. Perhaps what it is is more magical than I could have imagined. Understanding is necessary, and so is imagination and possibility.

May is not a flowering month so much as shades
Of green, yellow-green, blue-green, or emerald or dusted like
The lilac leaves.

A few days ago, while doing some research on colorblindness for the series of color poems I’m currently writing I came across a video about “what it’s like to be colorblind.” In the video they included some side-by-side images of “normal” and “colorblind.” Both images looked almost the same to me, especially what was green. I could tell it was green, but it also could have been gray or brown (and maybe it was in the image that someone who is colorblind would see). The variations of green, the subtle differences between yellow-green or blue-green or emerald green are mostly lost on me. Instead, I see green or light green or dark green or gray green or brown. This May, I’ll have to pay close attention to green and what I see, then write about it.

The lilac trusses stand in bud. A cardinal
Passes like a flying tulip, alights and nails the green day
Down. One flame in a fire of sea-soaked, copper-fed wood:
A red that leaps from green and holds it there.

I have lost the ability to be shocked or startled by red, especially from a cardinal. There is a cardinal that summers in our yard — my daughter has named him Chauncy — but I never see his red coat. I only know him by the shape of his head, looking like an angry bird, and his birdsong. This month he has decided to help usher in spring by perching himself on the tree outside my kitchen window.

A lot is lost and missed when you can’t see the red flash — the flying cardinal, a small blinking light, a flare somewhere — that everyone else sees and instantly understands and assumes that you see too.

Reluctantly
The plane tree, always late, as though from age, opens up and
Hangs its seed balls out.

It’s not just me, right? You are picturing an old guy with his balls hanging out too?

Winter is suddenly so far away, behind, ahead.

Yes, like it never happened, or it happened to someone else. I call her Winter Sara.

From the train
A stand of coarse grass in fuzzy flower.

I love tall, ornamental grasses with fuzzy ends that look like feathers or flowers! Someday I will plant some in my yard.

I like it when the morning sun lights up my room
Like a yellow jelly bean, an inner glow.

I’m not a huge fan of jelly beans, but I appreciate that Schuyler’s line gave me the chance to think about them and to imagine that intense yellow in the center of a jelly bean, one that has a translucent shell, not an opaque one. As an adult, I’ve grown to love the color yellow. I wonder, would a yellow marble work for this too?

May mutters, “Why
Ask questions?” or, “What are the questions you wish to ask?”

I love this as the last line of the poem!

march 21/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
32 degrees

Right before I started I saw some snow flurries but by the time I was running, they had stopped. Windy, humid. A cold 32 degrees. Began the run needing to lose my anxiousness. I did. Some parts of the run were hard; I’m not sure I’m completely over my sickness. But some parts of it were great. For a few minutes I felt like I was flying and free. I did a lot of triple berry chants on the way north. Stopped at the trestle to look down at the brown flat river. Then I put in the Fame (1980 version) soundtrack and ran back south. Timed it so “I Sing the Body Electric” was on as I ran up the last hill. As I sped up, I could hear some geese honking over the gorge, almost like they were racing me. Yes!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. mud — thick, gooey, dark brown — on the edge of the path and alongside the lingering snow
  2. sporadic geese honks throughout the run
  3. the path was almost completely clear, only a few puddles and strips of ice
  4. the wind was strong and in my face as I climbed out from under the lake street bridge
  5. under the bridge, a parked suburu was facing the wrong way
  6. some of the walking path was clear
  7. the river was open and brown. It looked less like water and more like a flat wall
  8. near the end of the run, I stopped for a minute to admire the view between the trees of the lake street bridge and the cars traveling over it
  9. faintly recall hearing some birds chirping in a distinctive way — was it cheer up cheer up?
  10. can’t remember if I heard the sound of my feet striking and sliding on the grit, but I felt it

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 9

Begins with Have much to thank you for, ends with the evening star seems set.

This page — wow.

And someone
You know well is suffering, sees it all but not the way before
Him, hating his job and not knowing what to change it for. Have
You any advice to give? Have you learned nothing in all these
Years? “Take it as it comes.” Sit still and listen: each so alone.

How often do people, when they’re suffering and tell others about it, want advice? How often do I? Sometimes. Mostly I want acknowledgment. Someone to witness what I’m feeling and to honor that it is real, true. Rarely do I want someone to tell me it will be okay or that I’m making a bigger deal out of it (whatever it is) than I should. I try not to give advice, often falling back on the classic, that sucks. More often than I should — should I ever do this? — I try to relate to the other’s pain, share a story of what I think is a similar experience. My daughter hates when I do this, it makes her feel worse. Often I can’t help myself. Slowly, I’ve been getting better at just listening, sitting still.

“Time heals
All wounds”: now what’s that supposed to mean? Wounds can
Kill, like that horse chestnut tree with the rotting place will surely
Die unless the tree doctor comes. Cut out the rot, fill with tree
Cement, score and leave to heal.

I think about this one in terms of grief, especially my grief over my mom’s death. It’s true that it isn’t as hard, and I’m not as undone as I was right after she died. But, what does it mean to heal? And, how often do things heal on their own, without any effort or attention? Maybe time doesn’t heal but…gives you more practice living with it? I’m sure this doesn’t totally apply, but I always think about what I’ve heard long-time and/or pro runners say about running long distances: it never gets easier, you just get better at enduring it.

And there
Is the fog off the cold Atlantic. No one is at his best with
A sinus headache. It will pass. Stopped passages unblock

I appreciate that he put this detail in. Just before reading this page, I was having what I call, a sinus episode. Not quite a headache, but a strange ache and heaviness that descends. No sharp pain, but discomfort, a queasy uneasiness. Pressure. Sometimes feeling like a thick iron plate is pressing down on my face. I’ve been getting these ever since the pandemic started — are they anxiety? Maybe partly? They used to last all day, but now that I’ve learned to put on a breathe right strip, they usually go away pretty quickly.

why
Let the lovely spring, its muck and scarlet emperors, get you
Down. Unhibernate. Let the rain soak your hair, run down your
Face, hang in drops from facial protuberances. Face into
It, then towel dry. Then another day brings back the sun and
Violets in the grass.

Unhibernate. Face into it, then towel dry. I like this idea better than time heals all wounds.

Far away
In Washington, at the Reflecting Pool, the Japanese cherries
Bust out into their dog mouth pink. Visitors gasp. The sun
Drips, coats and smears, all that spring yellow under unending
Blue.

Why does this poem keep returning to DC? I’ll have to look that up. I did (hours later). Not sure if this is the only answer, but he grew up in D.C.

I love his description of the intense, over-the-top ripeness and showiness of spring. I’m reminded of Ada Limón and her line, “the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton-candied color blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains” (almost remembered it word for word!). The difference is Schuyler’s sun and how it drips, coats and smears, all that spring yellow. This reminds me of living in Atlanta and the yellow pollen, coating every surface. Yuck! For me it just looked gross and stained everything, for others it made it very hard to breathe.

Only the oaks hold back their leaf buds, reticent.
Reticence is not a bad quality, though it may lead to misunderstandings.
I misunderstood silence for disapproval, see now it was
Sympathy.

Are the oaks the last to bud here in Minnesota. I’ll have to watch in the next month. Is it reticence or patience, or maybe a desire to hang back and stay out of the fray of frantic growing and greening? I might be asking this of myself and not the oaks.

Reticent = reserved, holding back, restrained
Patience = not hasty or impetuous, measured

I’m not sure whether or not oaks are the last to bud here in Minnesota, but when they do, they aren’t reticent, and their leaves don’t hold back. Within weeks they have consumed the trees, then my view of the gorge. Never in pleasing, controlled shapes like maples, but a hungry, sprawling green everywhere.

Thank you, May, for these warm stirrings. Life
Goes on, it seems, though in all sorts of places—nursing
Homes—it is drawing to a close. Abstractions and generalities:
Grass and blue depths into which the evening star seems set.

Not sure what to say about this bit, but I wanted to leave it in.
note, 29 march 2023: Looking back at these lines I started thinking about vision — my vision as an old person’s vision — and how details are lost, things appear mostly in the abstract and as forms — outside, blue sky and grass.

march 20

3.1 miles
ford bridge turn around
29 degrees

First day back after getting slammed with a 24 hour bug (a test for COVID was negative). For the first time in a decade?, I slept all day Saturday after being up all night sick on Friday. Yuck! The run was hard. I felt sore. But I was able to get outside, breathe in fresh air, hear a woodpecker drumming, see the river shimmering, move! Stopped to walk briefly after turning around under the ford bridge and encountering a stretch of slick ice. When I started again, I decided to chant triple berries to keep my rhythm steady. Strawberry Raspberry Blueberry Strawberry Raspberry Blueberry, over and over for at least a mile. Close to the end of the, nearing the oak savanna, I thought about a line from today’s Schuyler excerpt and the difference between contemplation and day dreams (below).

The line,

life in
Contemplation, which is hard to tell from day dreaming,

I started chanting contemplation — con tem pla tion con temp pla tion
Then:

con tem pla tion
con tem pla tion
won der ing
won der ing

When I was done and walking home, I took out my phone and spoke a little poem into it:

con
tem
pla
tion
con
tem
pla
tion
won
der
ing
wan
der
ing

Maybe the
difference
between con
templation
and wonder
ing is the
difference
between 4
syllables
versus 3
even not
odd method
ical not
haphazard
exactness
instead of
spilling o
ver?

Is anything there, in this fragment? Not sure, but it was fun to have it appear in my ears at the end of a run. I didn’t even realize I’d brought the Schuyler with me on my run! As I write this last bit, I’m thinking about the movement and associations in Schuyler’s poem, how he travels from idea to idea. I think 4 counts is a tidier, more exact, everything in it’s proper place kind of a beat. While 3 counts offers more movement, freedom, the ability to shift from thing to thing to thing without needing to pin anything down in one place.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 8

Begins with Hoo” he calls, ends with So much, too much. Tried something new today; I listened to Schuyler’s recording as I read the page.

Another day, and still the sun shines down, warming

Ever since I read a line from Ada Limón’s poem “Privacy,” I’m still standing, as I’m standing still and not as I continue to stand, I always read still in both ways when I encounter it. So, still the sun, is not only even so the sun, but calm/quiet/peaceful sun

Life in action, life in repose, life in
Contemplation, which is hard to tell from day dreaming, on a day
When the sky woolgathers clouds and sets their semblance on a
Glassy ocean.
At first I thought that Schuyler had made up woolgather, like Gerard Manley Hopkins did with his golden grove unleaving, but then I looked it up. It’s a word! “to indulge in wandering fancies or purposeless thinking; to be in a dreamy or absent-minded state: said esp. of ‘the wits’, etc.” (from the online OED, accessed through my public library).

What are the differences between contemplation and day dreaming? And, is it day dream or daydream — is that another instance of me turning a verb (the day dreams) into a noun (a daydream)?

Only its edge goes lisp.

I love how he uses lisp here. I anticipated limp. The idea of the day going soft, getting quieter instead of stale or stiff or injured is more interesting to me.

On no two days the same.
Is it the ocean’s mindlessness that troubles? At times it seems
Calculatedly malevolent, tearing the dunes asunder, tumbling
Summer houses into itself, a terror to see.

Here I’m thinking of nature’s indifference to humans. On the podcast You’re Wrong About, Sarah Marshall and her sometimes guest co-host, Blaire Braverman, explore survival stories and the comfort they find in recognizing that nature is not out to get us, but is indifferent to us. It might kill us, but not out of malevolence. I’m also thinking about Carl Phillip’s indifferent willow in his poem, In Swept All Visible Signs Away.

They say there are
Those who have never felt terror. A slight creeping of the scalp,
Merely. How fine. Finer than sand, that, on a day like this.
Trickles through my fingers, ensconced in a dune cleft, sun
Warmed and breeze cooled. This peace is full of sounds and
Movement. A couple passes, jogging. A dog passes, barking
And running. My nose runs, a little. Just a drip. Left over
From winter. How long ago it seems! All spring and summer stretch
Ahead, a roadway lined by roses and thunder.

So much movement — wandering — here! From the terror of nature to only feeling terror as a creeping of the scalp, which is fine like the sand and that trickles through my fingers at a beach filled with sounds and movement: a couple jogging, a dog running like my nose which now only drips from a winter ended. Wow!

“It will be here
Before you know it.” These twigs will then have leafed and
Shower down a harvest of yellow-brown. So far away, so
Near at hand. The sand runs through my fingers. The yellow
Daffodils have white corollas (sepals?). The crocuses are gone,
I didn’t see them go. They were here, now they’re not. Instead
The forsythia ensnarls its flames, cool fire, pendent above the smoke
Of its brown branches.

It will be here before you know it, and it will be gone too soon. Sand as time passing too quickly. The flower we wait to see all winter will bloom and die without us noticing. Somehow, we forgot to check that one week they were out. It all happens too quickly.

sepals = The outer parts of the flower (often green and leaf-like) that enclose a developing bud.

From the train, a stand of larch is greener than
Greenest grass. A funny tree, of many moods, gold in autumn, naked
In winter: an evergreen (it looks) that isn’t. What kind of a tree
Is that? I love to see it resurrect itself, the enfolded buttons
Of needles studding the branches, then opening into little bursts.

Have I ever seen a larch? Do they even grow in Minnesota. Looked it up. Yes:

the Tamarack (also known as Larch, or Tamarack Larch) is a deciduous conifer — a tree with needles that drop in the fall. There are around 10 species of Larch in the northern hemisphere; this one is native to Minnesota and doesn’t mind our cold winters and wetland soils.

When the needles begin to form in the spring, the trees are covered in cute, soft tufts that slowly lengthen. Our trees are relatively young (planted in 2012), but eventually they may grow up to 50 feet tall. You might catch a glimpse of these golden beauties in mass as you head north or east of the Twin Cities later in the fall.

Mississippi Watershed Management Organization

a little more (added an hour later): Just finished Rebecca Makkai’s latest book, I Have Some Questions for You. It was excellent — wonderfully complicated and messy and compelling. I finished it a few hours before it was due on a 3-week loan from the library. These days it is a huge accomplishment to actually finish a book before it is due. I can still see words (as opposed to hearing words) enough to read the pages, but it takes a very long time. I get too tired — I often fall asleep after a page — or distracted. The words rarely look blurry; I just can’t seem to read a lot of them. I am very happy to have finished today because this book is new and very popular and if I had put it on hold after it was returned (it’s an ebook that is automatically returned), I wouldn’t get to finish it for months. Hooray!

One other thing to note: I was struck by how Rebecca Makkai emphasized eye contact several times. I might have missed a few, but I tried to screen shot the instances I noticed. I’m collecting examples of the idea that to “look into someone’s eyes” is to truly see them, or to connect with their humanity, or to see the truth, or means you are telling the truth. Here are the examples I found in her book — because I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, I won’t give any context for these):

I’d been waiting four years to see Omar, to look him in the eyes. I didn’t want or expect anything from him; I just wanted to see his face.

even if I couldn’t quite tell the color of his cheeks, I could see it in his eyes

I stood beside her, sweating, hands on hips, made eye contact with
her in the mirror.

meaningful eye contact across the dining hall, the kind that said We’d both do best to keep our mouths shut?

The few things I know: She was facing him when he slammed her head back, more than once; they were eye to eye.

march 17/BIKERUN

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

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

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

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

tree outside my window: update

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

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

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 7

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

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

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

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

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

That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.

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

Plato’s own statement:

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

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

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

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

B49a. potamois tois autois … 

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

B91[a]. potamôi … tôi autôi …

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

Heraclitus, 3.1 Flux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

march 15/RUN

3.5 miles
marshall loop
40 degrees
50% puddles and ice

Lots of stopping to hop over big puddles. Yes, spring is coming slowly. Windy, especially on the Lake Street bridge. For a minute, I had to hold onto my cap so it wouldn’t blow off and into the water. Felt mostly good, although my left knee and left hamstring were a bit tight by the end.

the little wet things of ordinary life

In my discussion of Schuyler below, I mentioned his line, the little wet things. Everything today was wet or about to be wet. The path was covered with puddles. The deepest ones were on the stretch of the east river trail near Shadow Falls. They were also bad at every sidewalk crossing heading south on Cretin. Some mud too. Yuck! Water was dripping down and through drainpipes, gutters, off the railing at the bridge. The river was open and rough with the wind making ripples and little waves. Some of the ripples were shimmery, caught by the sun. The bridge was a mix of puddles, streaks of ice, and narrow slashes of bare, wet pavement. When I was paying attention, I could hear my feet shuffling on the wet, but not too slick, asphalt.

layers

  • 1 pair of black running tights
  • 1 long-sleeved green shirt
  • 1 black running vest
  • 1 gray buff around my neck
  • my mother-in-law’s quick-dry baseball cap — pink and purple tie-dyed note: I originally typed the last word as tie-died. I think it was because I wanted to mention, bt hadn’t, that this is my dead mother-in-law’s hat. Or, as is often the case these days, it was just another one of my typos.

After finishing my run, I heard the loud knocking of a woodpecker. I tried to find its source, but couldn’t. It wasn’t the utility pole with a slight, but noticeable lean. Maybe it was in one of the far trees? How far can the sound of a woodpecker’s peck travel?

Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 6

Begins with And just before the snap, and ends with Old views and surges. Note: the themes of cat, lover, rain, laundry/chores, sun and sex continue. After I’m finished with each page, I might go back through and pull out these themes?

Strongly the pleasure of watching a game well played: the cue ball
Carom and the struck ball pocketed. Skill.

I love watching performances of skill, someone confidently knowing what they’re doing in a task — not arrogant, just performing something well. I call it “having your shit together,” and I keep an ongoing list — I hardly remember who is on it, but when I witness it with my family I say, that person is going on my shit-together list. My main source for this list is: 1. out by the gorge, watching graceful bodies moving confidently and 2. service workers who take orders and solve problems effectively — all the (often) invisible skill needed to keep the line moving without rushing, handle arrogant customers without them realizing it, looking out for others, caring. Oh my god — am I talking about Aristotle’s excellence here? I might be. I KNOW he distinguished between moral virtue and athletic skill — 20 years ago I almost devoted an entire chapter of my dissertation to it. I should find my notes!

Update, hours later: I found something I wrote in my dissertation prospectus on page 13 — passed less than 24 hours before I went into labor with FWA! I was interested in the distinction between virtues and skills (and tactics). I’m not as interested in that theoretical and practical distinction now, but a return to Aristotelean virtue ethics, to play with it of course, could be fun. Instead of making a sharp distinction between skills and virtues, I might want to entangle them. I love how my dissertation, again and again, has given me a guide for the rest of my life. It’s wild how much I’m following what I mapped out in it. I’m not following it exactly; maybe it’s more like a compass? Thanks Sara age 29! Also, thanks Sara age 38 for finding the digital file of my prospectus and creating an online archive for Sara age 48.5 to find easily!

FWIW, I prefer saying shit-together over excellence, much for fun and far less pretentious.

To continue this ramble: Last night I witnessed someone having their shit together during band rehearsal. She was a classmate of FWA’s and has been in the band with me since the year before COVID. She is neurodivergent. Last night I heard her talking about the order of music for next week’s concert so I asked her what it was. She told me that it was up on the board. When she noticed me get closer to the board, she could tell I couldn’t see it. She said, Oh, I’m sorry you can’t see. I’ll tell it to you. It’s possible she had overheard me talking about not being able to see well, but it’s unlikely. I think she is just more aware of people’s struggles and open to noticing and caring about those struggles, and then caring for people with them.

And still the untutored
Rain comes down.

I like this idea of untutored (undisciplined?) rain, but I’m trying to imagine it. Is it falling in all directions? In uneven bursts?

Open the laundry door. Press your face into the
Wet April chill: a life mask. Attune yourself to what is happening
Now, the little wet things, like washing up the lunch dishes. Bubbles
Rise, rinse and it is done. Let the dishes air dry, the way
You let your hair after a shampoo.

The little wet things of ordinary, everyday life? I love it.

All evaporates, water, time, the
Happy moment and—harder to believe—the unhappy. Time on a bus,
That passes,

All evaporates — the happy and unhappy moments. I like the mention of riding on a bus. It seems specific in a vague way, like it is indicating some actual experience by Schuyler. I wonder, is the time on the bus a happy or unhappy moment for him, or both?

and the night with its burthen and gift of dreams. That
Other life we live and need, filled with joys and terrors, threaded
By dailiness: where the wished for sometimes happens,

Burthen = old way of saying burden. The dream life as the other life, threaded by dailiness. Does this dream life compare to Mary Oliver and her extraordinary “eternity” — the one she mentions in Upstream?

Change in everything yet none so great as the changes in
Oneself, which, short of sickness, go unobserved. Why watch
Yourself? You know you’re here, and where tomorrow you will probably
Be. In the delicatessen a woman made a fumbling gesture then
Slowly folded toward the floor. “Get a doctor,” someone said. “She’s
Having a fit.” Not knowing how to help I left, taking with me
The look of appeal in faded blue eyes.

You (should? shouldn’t?) look away.

Between these sharp attacks
Of harsh reality I would like to interpose: interpose is not the
Word. One wants them not to happen, that’s all, but, like slammed
On brakes—the cab skids, you are thrown forward, ouch—they
Come.

His general sense of not actually doing anything about bad things (other than accepting that they will come) fits with the story about the woman having a medical emergency in the diner. He’s not going to interpose, he’ll just look away.

Life, it seems, explains nothing about itself. In the
Garden now daffodils stand full unfolded and to see them is enough.

I love the idea of small things, like blooming daffodils, as enough.

They seem no more passing than when they weren’t there: perhaps
The promise when first the blades pierced the wintry soil
Was better? You see, you invent choices where none exist. Perhaps
It is not a choice but a preference? No, take it all, it’s free,
Help yourself. The sap rises. The trees leaf out and bloom. You
Suddenly sense: you don’t know what. An exhilaration that revives
Old views and surges of energy or the pure pleasure of
Simply looking.

The Simply looking is part of the next page, but it seemed important to add it in here to my thought about looking and not looking. An interesting contrast between the pure pleasure of looking at the trees coming into leaf versus the discomfort of looking at someone else’s suffering. Also thinking about simply looking as only looking, not doing anything more to help or contribute.

march 14/RUN

5.35 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
22 degrees
95% clear path

Sun! Blue skies! Clear path! Birds — chirps and trills and pecks and caws! Both of my knees are sore, and my hamstrings too, but it was a good run. Was able to greet Dave, the Daily Walker at the beginning, in-between dodging patches of rough ice on the one stretch that wasn’t dry. Thought about why the sky, then later the river, looked blue. The sky, always blue. The river, blue then brown then gray, depending on how much sun it was getting. Also thought about something I just on some ways ancient Greeks classified color:

Glitter effect and material — scattering and textural effects resulting from the type of surface being observed — things like the shimmering of pigeon neck-feathers. 

How to make sense of ancient Greek colors

Studied the snow and thought about texture and what impact it makes on what color it is to us. Then later, when I was running back up the Franklin hill, I thought about texture and a line from Schuyler (below): Gray depression. A depression = a hollow. I noticed how most of the snow, in the bright sun, was white, or maybe a blueish white, but certain bits, where there was a depression in the snow that caused a shadow to be cast, were gray. Gray depression!

Listened to the birds, my feet on the gritting ground, and random voices as I ran north. After turning around and running more than halfway up, I stopped and put in a playlist.

Schuyler, Hymn to Life, page 5

Begins with It behind its ears, and ends with Not to quarrel? note: There’s a thread throughout this section between the cat, Schuyler’s lover, and the Sun that I’ve left out because it didn’t quite fit with what I’m currently moved by in this poem.

Meantime, those branches go
Ungathered up. I hate fussing with nature and would like the world to be
All weeds. I see it from the train, citybound, how the yuccas and chicory
Thrive.

I like weeds, mostly pulling them, so I’m not sure if I’d like to leave them alone. These lines make me think of my reading/research on the management of the gorge — so much regular effort needed to maintain these spaces: pulling up invasive species such as garlic mustard, trimming away dead branches, removing trees that have fallen over the path, mowing the patches of lawn. Often in the summer, in-between the Minneapolis Parks’ scheduled mows, I witness how quickly the land can revert to uncontrolled green. What is a weed, what a wildflower? Here’s some information about native and invasive species at the Mississippi River Gorge.

So much messing about, why not leave the world alone? Then
There would be no books, which is not to be borne. Willa Cather alone is worth
The price of admission to the horrors of civilization. Let’s make a list.
The greatest paintings. Preferred orchestral conductors. Nostalgia singers.
The best, the very best, roses.

These remind me of my love or delight lists, except for Schuyler’s seem to be judging and assessing which things are best, the greatest. Mine are meant to be without judgment.

After learning all their names—Rose
de Rescht, Cornelia, Pax—it is important to forget them. All these
Lists are so much dirty laundry. Sort it out fast and send to laundry
Or hurl into washing machine, add soap and let’er spin.

Make a list, then forget it. Does this mean the act of making the list is more important than the list itself?

I wish I could take an engine apart and reassemble it.
I also wish I sincerely wanted to. I don’t.

I feel these lines.

There’s a song for you. Another is in the silence
Of a windless day. Hear it? Motors, yes, and the scrabbling of the surf
But, too, the silence in which out of the muck arise violet leaves
(Leaves of violets, that is).

The silence as a song. Silence not as absence, but as something too.

The days slide by and we feel we must
Stamp an impression on them. It is quite other. They stamp us, both
Time and season so that looking back there are wide unpeopled avenues
Blue-gray with cars on them, parked either side, and a small bridge that
Crosses Rock Creek has four bison at its corners, out of scale
Yet so mysterious to childhood, friendly, ominous, pattable because
Of bronze.

These bronze bison monuments make me think of some interesting things I learned about color and the ancient Greeks: the sky was not blue, but bronze, because the ancient Greeks classified it in terms of brightness, not color. It might be even more complicated than that — need to read more before I can write about it.

Gray depression and purple shadows, the daffodils feigning sunlight
That came yesterday.

Gray depression — a lowering of physical or mental vitality; a hollow or a place than the surrounding area. Purple shadows — at twilight, ED’s purple woods. Yellow as daffodils with yesterday’s sun.

One day rain, one day sun, the weather is stuck
Like a record.

I don’t have time to write about this, but I’d like to remember it for later.

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.