july 20/RUN

3.1 miles
big loop*
68 degrees

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

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

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

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

The Gate, July 20

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

Grasshopper/ Ted Kooser

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

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

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

The Early Bird/ Ted Kooser

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-bully notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

july 19/RUN

3 miles
river road, south/north
71 degrees

Ahhh!! A beautiful morning. Even though it was 71, it didn’t feel too hot. Just after reaching the river road — about .3 miles in — I encountered a woman listening to music without headphones as she ran. I’m pretty sure the song playing was “I Wanna Sex You Up” by the 90s boy band, Color Me Badd — the part at the beginning where they sing “ooo ooo ooo ooo” and just before “tick tock you don’t stop.” Wow. I will choose to believe that that was the song she was listening to and remain impressed that she was willing to listen to such a cringe-worthy song without headphones in a public place. Nice.

For the rest of my run, I recited “The Gate” by Marie Howe in my head. There were a few lines that I couldn’t remember exactly–was it “the gate I would step through” or “walk through”, “the world” or “this world”, “holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich” or just “holding my cheese and mustard sandwich”? I thought about the differences in meaning and rhythm that these word choices might make. Then I started thinking about the line, “having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would ever rinse.” At first, I couldn’t remember what he had folded–was it a towel, a shirt, a sheet? Then, when I remembered sheet and I thought about the subtle differences in meaning between folding a sheet — evoking the intimate space of a bedroom — versus a shirt or a towel. Did Howe immediately think of sheet, or did she deliberate over different choices before settling on it? It was fun to spend some time reflecting on word choice as I ran. I love how packed and precise poetry is, and often in ways that aren’t readily visible but that you can feel as you read it–even when you don’t realize you’re feeling it.

After 30 seconds after I stopped running, I recorded myself reciting the poem: several errors with word choice. I better practice it some more! The most egregious error (at least to me), instead of saying, “This, he’d say, sort of looking around” for the last line, I said, “And he’d say, This.” Starting with “this” is so much stronger.

The Meadow, July 19

july 17/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/north
75 degrees
humidity: 77%

Warmer this morning. Sunny. Decided to listen to a playlist this morning–Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Sia’s “Cheap Thrills”. A relaxed first mile, a much faster second mile mostly because I was behind a roller skier at the start of the second mile that was going about the same pace that I was. I imagined staying in her COVID slipstream for the rest of the run–no thanks! So I sped up a lot to pass her and then kept the pace so she wouldn’t pass me again. First mile: 9:26; Second mile: 8:11.

Because I was listening to music, I didn’t recite the poem I memorized yesterday afternoon, Marie Howe’s “The Gate.” I’ve decided to memorize 5 different poems by her:

  • The Meadow from The Good Thief (1988)
  • The Gate from What the Living Do (1999)
  • What the Living Do from What the Living Do (1999)
  • Magdalene: Seven Devils from Magdalene: Poems (2017)
  • Singularity (2019)

The Gate/ Marie Howe

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man,

but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,

rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.

This is what you’ve been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?

And he’d say, This, holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?

This, he’d say, sort of looking around.

The first line of this poem, about the space her brother’s body made as the gate she would step through to finally enter this world, was confusing to me at first but it has something to do with grief and how his death helped her to remember and value living — but I think there’s more to it than that. I love the way she describes that he’s dead, “done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold and running water.” And I love the use of “This” here — the this, encompassing everything and not one thing in particular.

Spending a little more time googling Howe and thinking about her work, I found a very helpful essay from 2008 on oprah.com: Not to Look Away. In it, she talks about her friend Jason who’s funeral she was attending and the gate:

I’m looking for the gate, Jason used to say when he was in pain. I can’t find the gate, but I’m looking. What was this gate my friend Jason was looking for? Maybe he wanted to find the door in the room of suffering, so that he might walk through it into another story. 

and here’s how she describes what story can do:

Is this what a story can do? Emerge from the most painful event and transform it into something else, too? So sad. So funny. Both. And life is there, for a moment, almost adequately represented. 

the story as window?

The days and nights of my life walk by, arm in arm with time, and the gate to the new story stands just outside the circle of my attention. Sometimes I lie here, Jason said, and walk through the old house of my childhood, through all the rooms, and look out all the windows. 

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.

To be present, not to look away, and to transform suffering into something else also–still suffering but more too. Wow, this makes me think so much about Ross Gay and his idea of joy and suffering in the Book of Delights (I checked it out of the library a year ago, and just ordered my own copy arriving today)!

july 16/RUN

3 miles
1 big loop + 2 smaller loops*
64 degrees
humidity: 79%

*big loop = 36th st to 42nd ave / little loop 1 = 36th st, down hill to 34th st, up hill to 36th st / little loop 2 = 36th st to 38th st to 36th st

Another beautiful morning. Checked out my form in my shadow as she ran beside me. Listened to the cardinals. They were loud enough that I couldn’t hear any other birds–was it all just cardinals? Tried to recite “Love Song For The Square Root of Negative One” but had trouble getting past, “I am the hand that lifts the rock, I am the mind that strings the worm.” Overheard a woman, pushing a stroller, talking loudly on the phone, “I mean…I have a job and some savings…”–not sounding upset but judgmental. What was she talking about and why SO LOUDLY for everyone to hear? Encountered a few roller skiers, bikers, walkers, runners, dogs, cars (when I turned off the river road and went on Edmund). No squirrels or crows or woodpeckers. No rowers or Daily Walker or little old ladies with straw hats or the tall man in black or anyone I remembered ever seeing before. No intense colors or strange running gaits. No views of the river or the ravines. Only an abundance of calming green.

During the last 1/2 mile or so I recited “The Meadow” again which helped the last bit go faster. Then, a minute after I stopped, as I walked home, I recited it into my phone. I have a few pauses because I got distracted by someone walking nearby or when a woman stopped to tell a neighbor how much she loved their garden–I love that garden too. (If you listen closely, you can almost hear it on the recording).

The Meadow, July 16

july 15/RUN

4 miles
river road, north/south
66 degrees
humidity: 83%

Ah! Such nice weather this morning. Still humid, but cooler. Almost sunny. A thin layer of clouds covered most of the sky. So thin that the sun was still casting shadows on the road. A strange sight. Is there a word for that? I tried looking it up just now and I couldn’t find anything.

I was able to run above the river for a few minutes and saw some blue through the green. Heard several roller skiers, a few bikers, runners, walkers. No music coming out of bike radios or snippets of conversation that made me curious. No rushing water, hardly any birds. I’m sure I heard traffic but I don’t remember that either—actually, thinking about it for a few minutes, I do remember some traffic. As I ran down the hill and under the lake street bridge, I heard cars and trucks on the bridge and kept thinking they were on the river road, just behind me. Noticed many cars in the parking lot at Minnehaha Academy–are they planning to open the campus this fall? I hope not. Also saw soccer practice on the field. Ran past the railroad trestle almost to Franklin. Felt relaxed and strong.

As I ran, I tried thinking about the idea of the dream-like state and Howe’s line, “this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget what you are.” What is this small time? Is forgetting what we are a type of getting lost in a (day) dream (Emily Dickinson’s revery*?) or practicing pure attention (another line from Howe: “speaking for the sound alone”?). And, what is it that we are, that we must forget? Yesterday I suggested that we are creatures who struggle against their solitude, suffering, and the inevitability of death. Here’s another answer from Marilyn Nelson in “Crows”:

What if to taste and see, to notice things,
to stand each is up against the emptiness
for a moment of an eternity—
images collected in consciousness,
like a tree alone on the horizon—
is the main reason we’re on the planet.

*To make a prairie/Emily Dickinson

To make a prairie it takes a clover, one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

july 14/RUN

3 miles
river road, south/north
73 degrees/ light rain
humidity: 89%/ dew point: 70

Woke up to darkness. Rain coming and staying all day. Decided to take Delia the dog out for a quick walk before it started. Not soon enough; by 1 block it was drizzling and by 2 blocks raining. We ran back. Delia did a great job–except for the time when she ran right in front of me and almost tripped me. Maybe I should try training her to run?

Running felt good so I decided if there was a break in the rain, I would go out for a run. There was and I did. Hardly anyone out by the gorge. I was able to run on the trail right above the river for most of the time. Hooray! I saw the river, heard some birds, ran by my favorite benches, heard the roar of the water gushing out of the sewer pipes down to the river near both ravines — at 36th and 42nd. And then, at the end, I ran through the Welcoming Oaks and greeted each one, “good morning!” “good morning!” “good morning!” Haven’t been able to do that in awhile.

color

There’s something about cloudy, gray light that makes my vision even stranger than usual, especially when it comes to seeing colors. I am amazed that I can still see any color with almost all of my cones damaged. Here are some colors I saw this morning, some stranger than others:

  • From about 2 blocks away from the river road, I could see an orange sign for a pedestrian detour. So bright and so prominent, a glowing smudge in the midst of fuzzy dark green and gray.
  • Twice I encountered, from a distance of about 15-20 feet, a woman in blue running tights. As I approached her, seeing her through my central vision, the tights looked dark, almost navy blue. But when I saw her from the side, through my peripheral vision, the rights were a bright, electric blue. Blue is a strange color with my vision. Last winter, I used to walk by a house with lights in the shape of a peace sign. The circle was red, the inner sign blue. Looking at the sign straight on all I could see was a red circle. It wasn’t until I looked at it from the side that I could just barely see the blue lines.
  • A walker in a pink–or was it coral?–jacket.
  • The river was a pale blue, almost white in the gray light.

on the dream, forgiveness, and forgetting

Still thinking about Marie Howe and “The Meadow,” especially these lines, “My love, this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget who you are” and “Bedeviled, human, your plight, in waking, is to chose from the words even now asleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.” In yesterday’s entry in my plague notebook, I wrote: “We forget what we are because what we are are creatures attempting to find the right words to feel better — less alone, less suffering, less closer to death.”

I want to think more about the value of forgetting. Here’s a poem I’d like memorize to get me started:

Let It Be Forgotten/ SARA TEASDALE

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long forgotten snow.

july 13/RUN

3 miles
44th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/38th st, west/river road, north
70 degrees
humidity: 77%/ dew point: 63

Another beautiful morning! Not much wind, not too hot, some shade. Ran past the aspen eyes and towards downtown, up the hill from under the lake street bridge, then turned around. I think I saw the river, or the idea of the river hiding behind the green. Recited “The Meadow” a few times during the first two miles of my run, then stopped to put on some music and sprinted up a hill while blasting Demi Levato’s “Sorry, not Sorry” — a great song to run to. I got it in my head yesterday after I responded to Scott about something jokingly rude I had just said with, “sorry, not sorry.”

At some point, as I was reciting it, I thought about the line, “The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence everyday.” I wondered, isn’t small, as in “small white pony” redundant? Aren’t ponies always small? Would it flow as well without the extra syllable of small? Now, sitting here at my desk in the front room, listening to a young child right outside vacillate between cute, calling out “I Love You!” to his mom, and annoying, babbling in a high-pitched voice, I am also struck by Howe’s use of white. Nothing else in the poem has a color–no green meadow or dappled gray horses or golden hay or anything. Why is the pony singled out–given a color and a redundant size? With its mysterious escape, is it a ghost? Still thinking about this line: I like how she uses “design” in this sentence. And I love the self important, clueless horses and the next line’s follow-up: “This is a miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp.”

I’m trying to make sense of the meaning of this whole poem (admittedly, I feel like I’m often dense when it comes to understanding poetry) and I’m wondering if these three lines are the most important:

  1. As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them…
  2. My love, this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you forget what you are.
  3. Bedeviled, human, your plight, when waking is to chose from the words that even now sleep on your tongue and to know that among them, tangled and terribly new, is the sentence that could change your life.

In our dreams, we can forget what we are (the meadow forgets how to make wildflowers, the horses are weary of hay, the wasps are tiny prop planes, the knock of a woodpecker becomes a phone ringing). But, we always wake up (the meadow thinks suddenly, “water, root, blossom,” the horses lie down in daisies and clover, we/humans suffer–moaning, and know we will die). The task as human is to find the right (?) words to give meaning to/transform what we are? Does that work? And how does this line fit in: “I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone”?

Discovered another delightful abecedarian!

Abecedarian For the Future/ Ada Limón

All the old gray gods have fallen
back to their static realms of myth
cleared from the benches, thrones,
dragged kicking to their strongest tombs,
each one grizzled by their swift exile
frayed, bedraggled, forced to kneel,
give up their guns, armor, swords,
hand over their passports, global security
identification, and be stripped bare.
Justice has relegated them to history,
kept nothing but the long rancorous
list of crimes (slaughterers all)
molded them into dull cement statues
not to worship. but as a warning most
ominous. Here stood Greed and his brother
Pride, note their glazed inhuman eyes,
question their puny stature now, how
rodent-like, how utterly overthrow-able.
Still, remember how long they ruled?
Tyrannical and blustering, claiming
universal power, until the kinder masses
voted the callous thin-lipped lizards out?
What a day that was! The end of hatred,
xenophobia, patriarchal authority–but
yes, we waited too long, first we had to
zero out, give up on becoming gods at all.

july 12/RUN

3.5 miles
47th street loop
67 degrees

Cooler this morning with a lower dew point–in the upper 50s or low 60s, I think. As I write this at my upstairs desk, a few hours after my run, I can hear chickadees and it reminds me of the birds I heard as I ran: lots of black capped chickadees doing their feebee call, several cardinals pew pew pewing. Very crowded on the road this morning. Even so, I made sure to keep my 6 feet of distance. Saw many runners, bikers, walkers both be-dogged and dog-less. I think I saw a blue sliver of the river at some point. Ran down past turkey hollow but forgot to check for turkeys–are they here in the middle of the summer? do they hide during the heat of the day and emerge at night?

Recited the entire “The Meadow” a few times through. Such a beautiful poem with wonderful last lines: “Bedeviled,/human, your plight, in waking, is to chose from the words/that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled/among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.” 3 years ago I encountered that line not too long after reading Mary Oliver’s “Invitation” and her final lines, “It could be what Rilke meant when he wrote/You must change your life.” I started thinking about this idea of you could/must change your life and how it works, what it might look like. And then, all of this wondering became the inspiration for my chapbook, You Must Change Your Life.

I’m interested in revisiting those ideas now for many reasons: I’m not entirely happy with my poems and how I worked through the ideas; having dedicated 3 more years to studying poetry and thinking about these ideas, I have new insights to add; it’s fascinating to see how my perspective has/hasn’t changed in these 3 years (for example, in one of the poems I wrote, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” This year, I do, quite a bit); and I’d like to explore this in relation to the radical change that has happened in 2020 due to the pandemic–but, is it a change/transformation or merely a disruption? I hope it’s a transformation.

Here’s a recording of me reciting the poem after I returned home:

The Meadow, July 12

july 11/RUN

3.15 miles
trestle turn around
72 degrees
humidity: 81%/ dew point: 65

Thunderstorm early this morning then sun and humidity. I’m pretty sure the Olympian Carrie Tollefeson passed me right before the lake street bridge. Very cool. Heard some black capped chickadees. Ran up 43rd ave then down 32nd st to the river so I was able to run right by the aspen eyes. Didn’t hear any rowers or see the river or any “regulars,” like the Daily Walker or last year’s man in black or the tall, slim, older man in the running shorts. I don’t see any regulars this year. Strange and sad.

Recited the first half of Maria Howe’s “The Meadow” — a poem I memorized 3 years ago when I was injured but have mostly forgotten. I had been planning to memorize Wordsworth’s “I wander lonely as a cloud” but it seemed too cheesy or sing song-y or poem-y (whatever that means). I think I’ll wait to memorize his snowflake this next winter instead.

The Meadow/ Marie Howe (first half)

As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together

and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.
Imperceptibly heaving with the old impatience, it knows

for certain that two horses walk upon it, weary of hay.
The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design

how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence everyday.
This is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp,

and they turn from his nuzzling with irritation. Everything
is crying out. Two crows, rising from the hill, fight

and caw-cry in mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass
bewildered by their weight. A dozen wasps drone, tiny prop planes

sputtering into a field a farmer has not yet plowed,
and what I thought was a phone, turned down and ringing,

is the knock of a woodpecker for food or warning, I can’t say.
I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone.

On my walk home after I finished, I recorded myself reciting this first half. A few wrong words or forgotten phrases. I love the line, “this is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp” and the pleasing rhymes in “two crows fight and caw-cry mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass”

The Meadow, first half, July 11

Discovered Antonio Machado, a Spanish poet who lived from 1875-1939, and his delightful “Proverbs and Canticles” yesterday. Here are a few:

canticle: a hymn or chant, typically with a bible verse

I

The mode of dialogue, my friends,
is first to question:
then . . . attend.

III

The poets does not pursue
the fundamental I
but the essential you.

IV

In writing verses, seek
to give them a double light: one
to read square by, one oblique.