june 13/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
64 degrees

planes sprinklers cicadas
shimmering leaves in trees interrupting hoses
dry dusty dirt
2 rowers — bright orange shirt — flickering like a bad signal
honking geese drumming woodpeckers crowing bikers
a steep hill
resting roller skiers panting runners hungry bugs
underwater in a sea of green
above water in a sky of blue
sweaty and stuffed up
alone together in a quiet early morning

Cooler today. Not an easy run, but a peaceful one. I love the early(ish) morning outside before most people are up.

Before heading out for my run, I read about the lobster diver who was swallowed and then spit out by a humpback whale. Woah. He dives in shark-infested waters, has lost many friends to great whites, almost died in a plane crash in Costa Rica where the pilot and several people were killed and he was stranded, half-dead in the jungle for days. He only had “soft-tissue” injuries and can’t wait to get back in the water and start scooping lobsters off of the sea floor again. He’s the last lobster diver left. Skimming through the article (Man swallowed by whale by Cape Cod, MA) again. He’s from Provincetown, the hometown of Mary Oliver and the source and inspiration for much of her poetry. If she were still alive would she have written about him? Probably not. More likely, she would have written about the whale:

The Humpbacks by Mary Oliver

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones

toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song.

Most likely, the whale didn’t intend to swallow the man; they were blinded by their billowing mouth as they opened it to feed.

Here’s another poem I posted a few years back, but it’s too fitting not to post again:

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale/ Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

april 29/RUN

3.35 miles
edmund loop, starting north with extra loop around Cooper
60 degrees

Another beautiful morning in shorts! The same pair of shorts I’ve been wearing for probably 6 or 7 years, almost every day in the summer and sometimes with tights in the winter. How many hundreds of times have I worn these shorts? I wish Brooks still made them. I’ve looked but can’t find a pair like them anywhere. They’ve faded a lot and lost a drawstring but they’re still working. How much longer can they last?

Things I remember from my run:

  • running in the street at least 2 or 3 times to avoid people
  • the gorgeous fragrance of the blossoms on the fence of the house with the free fruit—still can’t recall what kind of fruit it is or when it’s free
  • two oak trees lining the path that look like they’re leaning in to chat with each other, while a third oak with the hunched up limbs looks like they’re shrugging their shoulders to gesture, “I don’t know”
  • the old stone steps inviting me to take them down to the river
  • some stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  • a person sitting on the bench near the entrance to the Winchell Trail with the worn wooden steps
  • a runner in a bright red shirt slowly passing me
  • someone using a leaf blower (really?) down on the Winchell Trail to clear out the leaves that pile up against the wrought iron fence
  • the river sparkling at spots—one spot over on the other side was extra bright
  • more pale green leaves
  • several black-capped chickadee conversations
  • a bug buzzing past my face–was it a bee? a dragonfly?
  • more shshshuffling on the sandy debris
  • ending my run thinking about how I’m getting my second Pfizer shot tomorrow and wondering when I’ll feel up to running again. Hopefully on Sunday

Work/ Mary Oliver

How beautiful
this morning
was Pasture Pond.
It had lain in the dark, all night,
catching the rain
on its broad back.
All day I work
with the linen of words
and the pins of punctuation
all day I hang out
over a desk
grinding my teeth
staring.
Then I sleep.
Then I come out of the house,
even before the sun is up,
and walk back through the pinewoods
to Pasture Pond.

I like the simplicity of this poem and the broad back of the pond catching the rain and the connection between her writing work and sewing–the linen of words and the pins of punctuation. My mom was an amazing sewer. I am not. I think this might have something to do with my bad vision, but also my disposition. I don’t have the patience or the desire for precision or the interest in clothes. I’ve always wished I could sew and could make things: useful, practical things. Now I make poems which are not practical but are things I’ve created and are useful, at least to me. This year for her 15th birthday, we got RJP a sewing machine. She’s been knitting for 3 years, crocheting for 6 months, and now sewing for a few weeks. If my mom were alive, she would have loved this and would have mentored RJP. What a loss! Still, it’s exciting to see RJP’s passion for fiber arts and to witness at least one part of my mom reborn in her.

Maybe it was thinking about sewing and then the idea of seams that made me do it: I googled “Emily Dickinson sewing” and found this amazing poem through this very cool blog entry. Not only about sewing but about ED’s failing vision. Nice!

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle — / Emily Dickinson

Don’t put up my Thread and Needle —
I’ll begin to Sew [Sow]
When the Birds begin to whistle —
Better Stitches — so —

These were bent — my sight got crooked —
When my mind — is plain
I’ll do seams — a Queen’s endeavor
Would not blush to own —

Hems — too fine for Lady’s tracing
To the sightless Knot —
Tucks — of dainty interspersion —
Like a dotted Dot —

Leave my Needle in the furrow —
Where I put it down —
I can make the zigzag stitches
Straight — when I am strong —

Till then — dreaming I am sewing [sowing]
Fetch the seam I missed —
Closer — so I — at my sleeping —
Still surmise I stitch —

Now I want to think about edges and limits in terms of seams and stitches!

april 28/RUN

4 miles
river road trail, south/waban park/turkey hollow/edmund, north
50 degrees

Shorts! Sun! Spring! Yesterday’s cold rain really pushed me over the edge. I’m ready for more sun, more sitting on the deck, more spring-y weather. Today the river was calm and blue, peeking through the green that is already starting to spoil my view. Ran on the river road trail all the way to the turn-off to Wabun park, then ran up and turned right just before reaching the Ford Bridge.

Thought a lot about listening, partly inspired by a podcast I began this morning: Taylor Johnson vs. Listening:

Franny Choi: there’s something different between maybe like, looking versus listening, right? Like, I feel like there’s some, I don’t know, what is that thing.

Taylor Johnson: I think there’s a goal in mind. I think with searching, it’s like, I know I’m gonna come out, let’s say, onto the sidewalk or in the woods, and I’m gonna see a particular X, Y, and Z, you know what I mean? Whereas listening, it’s like, things kind of wash over you and happen with you, rather than you having something in your mind where it’s like, I need to see this particular thing, or I’m listening for this particular thing. It’s kind of a more open, open experience.

I listened as I started my run and I remember taking note of many different sounds, all mixing into each other, none seeming that distinctive. Birds, traffic, laughing kids on the playground, shuffling feet on debris, someone raking a yard, wind chimes, my breathing as I settled into my run, a song blasting from a car radio, the faint jingle of my house key in my running belt, a woman sneezing–or was it coughing?

I also thought about Mary Oliver and a few things I was reading this morning–poems and an article by Rose Lucas about MO: Drifting in the Weeds of Heaven: Mary Oliver and the Poetics of the Immeasurable. And thought about the idea of the self and their relationship to nature as observer and observed, as someone who stares/pays attention to the world and someone who participates in it. Then I had a thought—I remember having it just as I was crossing 42nd from the stretch of grass between 42nd and Becketwood (what STA and I call the gauntlet because it’s narrow and close to the road and difficult to avoid other people if they’re on it too) and the wide boulevard of grass separating Edmund and the River Road—about how Mary Oliver’s ethical poetics of noticing, being astonished, and telling others about it involves a lot of standing back and still, staring, stopping, taking notes, sitting at a desk and writing. Yes, becoming connected or immersed in what you are noticing does happen, but the emphasis is on observing/seeing/staring at the world at some sort of distance and when you have stopped moving or doing anything. You stop to notice, or notice then stop, observe or behold (this makes me want to revisit Ross Gay and the idea of beholding), then sit and write. What if you didn’t stop? What if you observed while moving (while running?) Took notes while moving? Wrote while moving? I wonder how far I can push at the limits of writing about the gorge while running at the gorge–not running and noticing then writing, but running while noticing while writing.

Notes from the run, April 28th

Before I went out for my run, I was thinking about a few poems.

Here are two different versions of the same general idea: being lifted out of the tyranny of your thoughts by the beauty of nature.

Enough/ Jeffrey Harrison

It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.

The rising wind pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
wheeling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and lifting above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go.

Terns/ Mary Oliver

Don’t think just now of the trudging forward of thought,
but of the wing-drive of unquestioning affirmation.

It’s summer, you never saw such a blue sky,
and here they are, those white birds with quick wings,

sweeping over the waves,
chattering and plunging,

their thin beaks snapping, their hard eyes
happy as little nails.

The years to come — this is a promise —
will grant you ample time

to try the difficult steps in the empire of thought
where you seek for the shining proofs you think you must have.

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.

The flock thickens
over the roiling, salt brightness. Listen,

maybe such devotion, in which one holds the world
in the clasp of attention, isn’t the perfect prayer,

but it must be close, for the sorrow, whose name is doubt,
is thus subdued, and not through the weaponry of reason,

but of pure submission. Tell me, what else
could beauty be for? And now the tide

is at its very crown,
the white birds sprinkle down,

gathering up the loose silver, rising
as if weightless. It isn’t instruction, or a parable.

It isn’t for any vanity or ambition
except for the one allowed, to stay alive.

It’s only a nimble frolic
over the waves. And you find, for hours,

you cannot even remember the questions
that weigh so in your mind.

For most of my life, up until last year when, during the pandemic, I felt compelled to finally notice them, I haven’t payed attention to birds. So I wasn’t familiar with terns–that might also be because, sadly, I’ve never lived by the sea. Anyway, terns is not a term I’ve known. In fact, my first encounter with it happened just last month, while reading a New Yorker article about the marvelous methods animals have for navigating and not getting lost. Buried deep in the article is this interesting bit of trivia:

Or consider the Arctic tern, which has a taste for the poles that would put even Shackleton to shame; it lays its eggs in the Far North but winters on the Antarctic coast, yielding annual travels that can exceed fifty thousand miles. That makes the four-thousand-mile migration of the rufous hummingbird seem unimpressive by comparison, until you realize that this particular commuter weighs only around a tenth of an ounce. The astonishment isn’t just that a bird that size can complete such a voyage, trade winds and thunderstorms be damned; it’s that so minuscule a physiology can contain a sufficiently powerful G.P.S. to keep it on course.

Why Animals Don’t Get Lost/ Kathryn Schulz

Very cool. MO’s line about gathering up the loose silver reminds me of a ED poem that I read in March:

A Bird came down the Walk—/ Emily Dickinson

A Bird came down the Walk—
He did not know I saw—
He bit an Angleworm 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 around—
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.

I have many thoughts about these three poems that I can’t quite express. About the narrator and their involvement in the scene they’re describing, about the “You”—who they are, what they’re for, about being didactic, about circling, about silver and seams and when the observed becomes the observer. And, about this line from MO:

But nothing you ever understand will be sweeter, or more binding,
than this deep affinity between your eyes and the world.

So I’m thinking about this in relation to my quote about the difference between looking and listening at the beginning of this post, and in terms of my own desire to feel with senses other than sight, or with sight not as Sight (as an objective, unfiltered way of being in and with the world). This idea of sight not as Sight, comes out of my thinking about how I see through my damaged eyes. I can see, but not with sharp focus or precision or mastery–I don’t look and See, as in, capture/own what I see with my eyes. My seeing is softer and involves more fluid waves and forms being felt. Returning to MO’s poem, I could definitely be delighted by the terns as I watched them moving—sweeping and plunging and thickening–because you detect motion in your peripheral vision and my peripheral vision is great. But I probably couldn’t see how many terns there are or how their thin beaks snapped. And I wouldn’t be able to see their hard eyes happy as little nails. But, seriously, can anyone see bird eyes in this way, other than MO?

Thinking about how MO uses seeing as a way to pay attention reminds me of another poem of hers with one of my favorite titles:

The Real Prayers Are Not the Words, But the Attention That Comes First

The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted,
rode the wind.  Its eye at this distance looked
like green glass; its feet were the color
of butter.  Speed, obviously, was joy.  But
then, so was the sudden, slow circle it carved
into the slightly silvery air, and the
squaring of its shoulders, and the pulling into
itself the sharp-edged wings, and the
falling into the grass where it tussled a moment,
like a bundle of brown leaves, and then, again,
lifted itself into the air, that butter-color
clenched in order to hold a small, still
body, and it flew off as my mind sang out oh
all that loose, blue rink of sky, where does
it go to, and why?

I remember reading this a few years ago and thinking how little I might have been able to see of the hawk she describes. I could see the tilting, the riding of the wind, the circling and carving, but not the color of its feet or its green eyes or that it was holding something in its claws. It’s interesting to read these poems and think about them in relation to my vision and the limits of my seeing. I especially like thinking about the ways I can still see and how they might be reflected/communicated in a poem about attention. This idea of describing how I see differently is as important to me as learning how to feel with senses other than sight.

Wow, lots of not quite focused thoughts in this post. Not sure if it makes sense but the act of writing it has been helpful for me in thinking about MO, and attention, and my project of writing while running and running while writing.

april 27/RUN

3.2 miles
trestle turn around
44 degrees

Ran to the trestle today. Was thinking about running more, but the road was closed, so I turned around. As I ran south again, I heard the rumble of a train on the trestle. Nice! Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice! Heard a gaggle of geese below me, honking. Smelled a full porta potty being drained as I ran under the lake street bridge. Yuck. I remember looking at the river, but I don’t remember what it looked like. I bet it was a pretty, light blue. Encountered a few runners, walkers, dogs. We all kept our distance. Heard some rowers getting ready down at the rowing club. At one point, I had “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” from My Fair Lady going through my head. STA and I watched the movie last week. “All I want is a room somewhere/far away from the cold night air” Time to memorize a few more spring poems to recite in my head.

Almost done with my month with Mary and I have mixed feelings. Some beautiful words and stimulating ideas, but something’s missing. Is it the lack of connection to time? Her poems are firmly rooted in a place–Provincetown, MA–but not in specific time. She mentions seasons, and occasionally her age, but not much else. It is all now or eternity or outside of the realm of ticking clocks. Some of this I like, but some of it leaves me feeling adrift and disoriented–that, along with the repetition of the same idea about stopping to notice the world, again and again. I want to experience these moments of clarity, or the Now, or a flare of joy/delight/understanding, but I don’t want that to be all that I experience. The feeling of timelessness, and an endless circling back and repeating the same things, without any specific reference, is too much. My feelings about this right now are probably partly due to a year+ of doing nothing but running, writing, and staying home, trying to avoid people during a pandemic. Every day is the same, every week, every month, every season.

But I think my feelings are also because I’m missing the Mary–the person, that is—in her poems. In so many of them, she is trying lose herself in the world, to become the snail, the pale lily, the hunter, the hound (see “Work”):

from From the Book of Time

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

the enclosure of yourself?

from Riprap

I’m never sure
which part of the dream is me
and which part is the rest of the world.

from I Want to Write Something Simple

and though it be my story
it will be common, 
thought it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words, 
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

I appreciate this gesture against centering herself and towards entanglement (in Upstream she writes: “Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else?”) but I’d like more of herself in the midst of others. Of course, I do this too and am trying to find ways to be bring myself into my work and the world–that’s probably why I’m critical of it in her? What would/could/should it look like to put the person in the poem? I’m not totally sure but I feel like it requires more mention of ordinary, everyday time, grounded in specific minutes (and not moments) of life. I’m not sure if this makes much sense, but I don’t want to spend the whole day trying to figure it out, so I’ll just leave it like this.

april 25/RUN

5k
2 school loop
42 degrees

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

From The Book of Time

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

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

and you did not even know enough
to be sorry,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

april 24/RUN

4.35 miles
the falls and back
36 degrees

I ran to the falls for the first time in a long time. I looked it up, and unless I missed something, the last time I ran to the falls was July 10th. Wow. I read somewhere that the falls were beautiful this winter; I avoided them because of all the people. Was I too cautious? Probably, but it’s hard to run to the falls in the winter in any year. Even though the Minneapolis Parks plows the trail it’s narrow and they can never clear the double bridge.

Today, it’s cold and windy. I didn’t care. It was a great run. The river was pale blue. I heard lots of birds–especially crows. Speaking of crows, here’s a great poem I read the other day by the ornithologist, J. Drew Lanham from his collection, Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts:

No Murder Of Crows/ J. Drew Lanham

I watched a flock of crows
fly by,
counted forty-two black souls, then up to sixty-five,
maybe more.
Not sure whether fish or ‘merican
They were silent as coal,
headed to roost I assumed,
a congregation I refused to a call a murder
because profiling aint’ what I do:
besides,
they was just flyin’ by.
No cause to criminalize the corvid kind.

What else do I remember from my run? The annual Get in Gear race, which STA and I have done a few times, was happening today. Mostly virtual, I think. Low key. I haven’t run in a race since October of 2019–is that right? The falls were gushing! As I approached them I thought I was hearing a noisy truck. Nope, just the rushing water. Encountered lots of packs of runners, a small group of fast moving bikes that completely ignored the stop sign. No roller skiers or eliptagogos. No rowers or roller bladers. Enjoyed listening to my feet shuffling on the sandy grit at the edge of the road.

Here’s a MO poem I found last night. It’s very much like all the others, which used to bother me–why say the same thing over and over again?–but I see it (and her work) differently now. The repetition of the words–the habit of repeating this process of noticing, then being astonished, then telling about it–are needed. Practice is necessary because we always need to remember to remember. Maybe it’s like what they say with running: it never gets easier, you just get better at handling the hurt/pain/difficulty of the effort. And, of course, occasionally, your diligence (what the runner Des Linden describes with her mantra, “keep showing up”) can result in a moment, which is what MO describes in this poem:

Such Singing in the Wild Branches/ Mary Oliver from Owls and Other Fantasies

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves—
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
first, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness—
and that’s when it happened,
when I seemed to float,
to be myself, a wing or a tree—
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,
and the sands in the glass
stopped
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising,
and in fact
became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing—
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky—all, all of them
were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then—open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

april 23/WALK

Drizzling. Took a walk with Delia the dog down the worn wooden steps past the chain-link fence to the slick slats above the ravine. Listened to the water trickle out of the sewer pipe then drip down the ledge. Such calming colors: the rich browns of freshly watered tree trunks mixed with pale green leaves and light gray gravel. Today I marveled at the tree trunks. Three different trunks, coming up from the bottom of the ravine, leaning into the fence. I can’t remember much about them but how beautifully brown they were and that they were of varying degrees of thickness and that one of them curved gracefully away from the others. Thinking about these trees reminds me of an MO poem I read this morning from her collection, Evidence:

The Trees/ Mary Oliver

Do you think of them as decoration?
Think again,
Here are maples, flashing.
And here are the oaks, holding on all winter
to their dry leaves.
And here are the pines, that will never fail,
until death, the instruction to be green.
And here are the willows, the first
to pronounce a new year.
May I invite you to revise your thoughts about them?
Oh, Lord, how we are for invention and
advancement!
But I think
it would do us good if we would think about
these brothers and sisters, quietly and deeply.
The trees, the trees, just holding on
to the old, holy ways.

And here’s another poem that features trees. This one puzzles me; it seems to speak to MO’s conflicted feelings about words and the answers they offer: even as she loves words, she laments how they get in the way of just being. There’s something about her description of her grandmother’s “uneducated feet” and “faulty grammar” that bothers me and I’m not sure what to do with this poem.

Answers/ Mary Oliver

If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.
That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and cicling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.
My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged by lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusing out, how she cooled and labled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

Having just read through both of these poems again, I’m struck by the parallels between the “old, holy ways” of the trees and the easy, eager, uneducated habits of her grandmother. Still not quite sure how I feel about this connection, especially the description of her grandmother.

Here’s another poem that speaks to the holding on to the old, holy ways:

From The Book of Time in The Leaf and the Cloud

7.
Even now
I remember something

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
in the perfect garden

the way a flower
in a jar of water

remembers its life
as a closed seed

the way a flower
in a joar of water

steadies itself
remembering itself

long ago
the plunging roots

the gravel the rain
the glossy stem

the wings of the leaves
the swords of the leaves

rising and clashing
for the rose of the sun

the salt of of the stars
the crown of the wind

the beds of the clouds
the blue dream

the unbreakable circle.

Reading this poem, I immediately thought of these lines from Marie Howe in “The Meadow”:

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.

I also thought of this:

I will not tell you anything today that you don’t already know, but we forget, we human people, and our elders have told us that our job is to remember to remember. And that’s where the stories come in.

Braiding Sweetgrass/ Robin Wall Kimmerer

april 22

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
54 degrees

Wow, what a beautiful morning! A bright blue sky, not much wind, warm air, few people. Ran above the river and made sure to notice it today. Pale blue, almost white or light gray in parts. Flat, no sparkle. Calm. No rowers. Heard a kid below me as I ran above the oak savanna. Heard some more kids at the Dowling school playground. Managed to take my bright orange sweatshirt off and tie it around my waist while I was running. Didn’t see any turkeys but heard a pileated woodpecker and a few black-capped chickadees.

Tried to breathe mostly through my nose while I was running but it was hard. Sometimes I could do it, other times I could breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, but often I had to resort to all mouth breathing. Is this because of my left nostril plugging up a lot? I’m reading Breath by James Nestor right now and he’s a very big proponent of nose over mouth breathing. Is it good for running? I decided to google it and discovered that it’s not that simple; sometimes runners need to breathe through their mouths, especially during faster runs, to ensure they get enough oxygen. I’m glad I checked; now I won’t worry as much if/when I mouth breathe while running. This is a helpful resource: How To Breathe While Running

While I was running, I tried to think some more about Mary Oliver and her messy and irresolvable tensions around poetry, words, language, being human, the Self, the World, and nature. One question I kept asking myself is: why am I spending so much time on these tensions?

Before I went out for my run, I took the following notes:

Mary Oliver and the Bedeviled Human

from The Meadow/Marie Howe

Bedeviled,
human, your plight, in waking, is to choose 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.

Reading MO, I’ve noticed, and have been trying to articulate, a tension in her poems between the I, the World, Nature, God, Eternity, Work. This tension seems to take many forms and MO imagines it to be endlessly intriguing and part of the process of living. Never to be resolved but to be puzzled over. One element of this tension involves the plight of the human—born to doubt and argue and question what it all means, to be both brought closer to and further away from the world by language and the power and beauty of words, which are never as powerful or beautiful as the world itself. To want a name and a useful place, to claim a life, but also to belong to the world, to be “less yourself than part of everything.”

from “Work” in The Leaf and the Cloud

3.
Would it be better to sit in silence?
To think everything, to feel everything, to say nothing?

This is the way of the orange gourd.
This is the habit of the rock in the river, over which
the water pours all night and all day.
But the nature of man is not the nature of silence.
Words are the thunders of the mind.
Words are the refinement of the flesh.
Words are the responses to the thousand curvaceous moments—
we just manage it—
sweet and electric, words flow from the brain
and out the gate of the mouth.

We make books of them, out of hesitations and grammar.
We are slow, and choosy.
This is the world.

Words can help us to remember a beloved but long dead dog:

And now she’s nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

and console us in our anger and grief:

and what could be more comforting than to fold grief
like a blanket—
to fold anger like a blanket,
with neat corners—
to put them into a box of words?

Words can keep us company, offer exits out of difficult spaces, open thousands of doors, give us a place in the world. But, they can also separate us from the world, feeding our hubris:

Understand from the first this certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, entierh do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive—that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.

Upstream/Mary Oliver

or our constant doubts:

from “Riprap” in The Leaf and the Cloud

2.
In my mind, the arguers never stop—
the skeptic and the amazed—
the general and the particular, in their
uneasy relationship.

O what is beauty
that I should be up at
four A.M. trying to arrange this
thick song?

5.
And, anyway, what is thought
but elaborating, and organizing?
What is thought
but doubting and crying out?

From The Book of Time in The Leaf and the Cloud

5.
What is my name,
o what is my name
that I may offer it back
to the beautiful world?

from “Gravel” in The Leaf and the Cloud

6.

It is our nature not only to see
that the world is beautiful

but to stand in the dark, under the stars,
or at noon, in the rainfall of light,

frenzied,
wringing our hands,

half-mad, saying over and over:

what does it mean, that the world is beautiful—
what does it mean?

april 21/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
41 degrees

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty. All 3 counts. Thank god. I cried when I heard the judge, from both grief and relief.

Ran through the neighborhood with STA in the afternoon. Cold and windy. I don’t remember much, except for STA’s description of the video project he’s working on. Anything else? A for sale sign at the house on the next block, a cracked sidewalk, a few dogs, a kid outside the daycare at the church on 43rd and 32nd, the warm sun, the brisk wind, a fat tire hauling ass on Edmund, a truck stopped at the stop sign unwilling to move until we passed even though we were still far from the intersection.

Reading an article about Mary Oliver last week, I was struck by this passage:

…it’s tempting to be blinded by the more immediately visible parts of speech: the monolithic nouns, the dynamic verbs, the charismatic adjectives. Mousier ones—pronouns, prepositions, particles—go ignored. In “Cold Poem,” for instance, from her 1983 collection American Primitive, overlooking the “we”s and the “our”s, of which there are many, is almost irresistible. One is tempted instead to luxuriate in the broader strokes and be seduced by the wholesome imagery: “I think of summer with its luminous fruit, / blossoms rounding to berries, leaves, / handfuls of grain.” There’s a mental manipulation to Oliver’s rhapsody, a mesmeric quality, as though by conjuring these organic elements, she leaves her readers vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion. Do you feel relaxed? Are you ready for nature? But you miss a lot by allowing the large language to overshadow the more muted connective tissue.

Mary Oliver and the Nature-esque/Alice Gregory

Mary’s Mousier Words: A Few Favorites

Meanwhile (adverb): at the same time

from “Wild Geese”

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain…
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air…

Meanwhile is a cousin to my favorite word, besides. Maybe more so than besides, it suggests that there are other lives/worlds/events happening too, that it is not just about you.

Anyway (adverb): as an additional consideration or thought

from “Flare”

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

from “Don’t Hesitate” in Swan

It could be anything, 
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the 
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Anyway leaves room for other ideas, maybe even encourages you to get over whatever idea you’re fixated on.

Everyday (adjective): ordinary
note: not the same as every day, which means each day and evokes routine, repeated practice

from “Work”

Everyday—a little conversation with God, or his envoy
Everyday—I study the difference between water and stone.
Everyday—I stare at the world

Everyday—I have work to do:

It took me some time to realize that MO meant everyday, as in ordinary time (which she discusses in Upstream), and not every day as in habit, repeated practice. The distinction seems subtle, but rhetorically more powerful to start each line with Everyday instead of Every day. And, everyday suggests a more distant connection with specific time. It isn’t that you do these things each day on repeat, but that you do them when in the realm of the ordinary–does that make sense?

But, actually, I like to read her use of everyday/every day as both at the same time, or as both being possible meanings: the ordinary world (which is inside the clock, is ordered time, and is disciplined and useful), and the creative work she does every day that is both ordinary and extraordinary–the work of paying attention, being astonished, and telling others about it.

As I’ve been reading MO’s poems, I’ve been sensing this tension over what “work” means and the relationship between her work (poems), the world, and Eternity. I feel like the double-meaning/ambiguity of everyday/every day might be speaking to this tension—maybe it’s not intended to be resolved but to puzzled over and that’s part of the work? Or, maybe the ambiguity of it is about our circling around it, always looping through everyday and every day?

Here’s an example of MO expressing the tension between her work, the poem, and the world:

From The Book of TIme

1.
I rose this morning early as usual, and went to my desk.
But it’s spring,

and the thrush is in the woods,
somewhere in the twirled branches, and he is singing.

And so, now, I am standing by the open door.
And now I am stepping down onto the grass.

I am touching a few leaves.
I am noticing the way the yellow butterflies
move together, in a twinkling cloud, over the field.

And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.

Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.

april 20/RUN

2.4 miles
neighborhood + tunnel of trees + above the oak savanna +Howe
38 degrees

The jury is deliberating and it is difficult to not feel consumed by the fear and worry over what ifs, but I’m trying and running and breathing are helping. Sunny, cold, not much wind. So many birds! Lots of pileated woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees and cardinals. Just starting my run on the next block, ran past a couple meeting with a realtor (I think) about a house and heard them say, “Such a great location!” I agree.

The street cleaning trucks were out; some streets were completely leafless and debris-less, some were just wet, and others had mini mounds of muck blocking the curbs at each intersection. Where do they take these leaves?

I ran past Cooper School, Minnehaha Academy, and a fence covered (would festooned be too much here?) with intensely white blossoms that will turn into some fruit that I can’t recall–this mystery must be solved later. Crossed over to the river and ran through the tunnel of trees. Forgot to look for the river or notice how green the branches below me were. Running near the spot where the four barriers congregate—2 walls and 2 fences, I noticed how the stone wall, holding up the dirt, was crumbling or, if not crumbling, jutting out in awkward ways. I think I saw exposed roots of a tree too. Will they need to rebuild this wall soon? I hope not.

I found an excerpt at the end of a random word document, buried deep in a folder I created a few years old. It’s from Mary Oliver’s book of essays and poems, Long Life. Until I noticed it, on the last page, I hadn’t realized I’d typed it up. Good job, past Sara!

Once, years ago, I emerged from the woods and in the early morning at the end of a walk and—it was the most casual of moments—as I stepped from under the trees into the mild, pouring-down sunlight I experienced a sudden impact, a seizure of happiness. It was not the growing sort of happiness, rather the floating sort. I made no struggle towards it; it was given. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished. Any important difference between myself and all other things vanished. I knew that I belonged to the world, and felt comfortably my own containment in the totality. I did not feel that I understood any mystery, not at all; rather that I could be happy and feel blessed within the perplexity—the summer morning, its gentleness, the sense of the great work being done though the grass where I stood scarcely trembled. As I say, it was the most casual of moments, not mystical as the word is usually meant, for there was no vision, or anything extraordinary at all, but only a sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world: leaves, dust, thrushes and finches, men and women (34).

A few days ago, on april 15th, I posted a few passages from Upstream on getting lost. Today’s passage speaks to the other side of this: being found. Belonging to the world, feeling comfort in the containment and complexity of everything, sensing the citizenry of all things.

Before my run, I recorded myself reciting this passage. Then I listened to it once while I was walking. Throughout the run, I tried to think about it. I’m sure I had lots of thoughts, but the one I was able to hold onto is this: I started wondering how the work of writing fits into these moments of clarity—or being found, or lost, depending on your perspective. (MO refers to these moments somewhere else as now, now, now, now or eternity or extraordinary time.) I decided that we can’t find the now through the process of writing; writing is what we give back in gratitude for the now—its very existence, and our recognition of it. It is the praising, or the admiration, or the expression of astonishment, wonder, delight. Do I agree with this? Not completely because the process of creating worlds through words can do more than praise the extraordinary/eternity; it can participate in it. So, maybe like being lost or found, writing is both at the same time, or at different times. A few more of these both things I’ve worked on: attention/distraction; here/there; remember/forget

Anyway, I like how she puts it: not a growing happiness but a floating one. I like the word floating and its connections to running as floating above the path, or ghosts haunting the path, or feelings hovering, or not being grounded, feeling untethered.

But, back to the now: this moment of now reminds me of all of my interest in the runner’s high and the idea of running as getting lost (or being found). I’ve read a lot of different descriptions of these feelings, and I’m always searching for my own words to describe it.

The feeling of being beside yourself, or being part of something that is not You but Us or We, can happen anywhere, but more often happens on the edge of something (MO says this in Upstream): the edge of the woods, the rim of the gorge, while you’re outside, moving, barely able to hold onto thoughts, when you’re uncertain or confused or overwhelmed.

Here’s another description of it/about it from MO in The Leaf and the Cloud.

From the Book of Time

6.
Count the roses, red and fluttering.
Count the roses, wrinkled and salt.
Each with its yellow lint at the center.
Each with its honey pooled and ready.
Do you have a question that can’t be answered?
Do the stars frighten you by their heaviness
and their endless number?
Does it bother you, that mercy is so difficult to
understand?
For some souls it’s easy; they lie down on the sand
and are soon asleep.
For others, the mind shivers in its glacial palace,
and won’t come.
Yes, the mind takes a long time, is otherwise occupied
than by happiness, and deep breathing.
Now, in the distance, some bird is singing.
And now I have gathered six or seven deep red,
half-opened cups of petals between my hands,
and now I have put my face against them
and now I am moving my face back and forth, slowly,
against them.
The body is not much more than two feet and a tongue.
Come to me, says the blue sky, and say the word.
And finally even the mind comes running, like a wild thing,
and lies down in the sand.
Eternity is not later, or in any unfindable place.
Roses, roses, roses, roses.

april 19/RUN

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

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

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

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

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

Bobolinks!

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

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

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

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

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

…..

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

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

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

No uncle no table no kitchen.

Only a long lovely field full of bobolinks.

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

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

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

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

from “Work”

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

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

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

Bobolink/ Didi Jackson

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

My favorite part of this poem today are the lines:

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

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

Some bobolink sources:

God must be exhausted

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

one: Radiation Prayer/ Katie Farris

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

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

Enough.

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

two: The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac/ Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

so why not get started immediately.

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

And to write music or poems about.

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

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

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

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

three: I Never Wanted to Die/ Dorianne Laux

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

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

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

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

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

april 18/RUN

2.7 miles
neighborhood + Howe loop
46 degrees

Sometimes 46 feels cold, but not today. Sunny and calm with a symphony of birds calling and trilling and chirping and drumming. Ran with STA through the neighborhood. I don’t remember much of what I saw or what we talked about. Just lots of birds….oh–and bikes. We saw at least 2, maybe 3, pelotons on the parkway or the trail. Yesterday during our morning walk with Delia, we saw a group of 15 or so bikers speeding down the road, their wheels whirring and buzzing. Also yesterday we saw some rowers racing on the river! Excellent. The rowers were so loud, yelling to each other as they tried to win.

Reading more Mary Oliver and thinking about the idea of the flare–a sudden burst of light, or understanding, or ecstasy, or illumination, or lifting out and free of yourself, or experiencing eternity “now, now, now, now.” Found this poem in Dream Work:

Sunrise

You can
die for it —
an idea,
or the world. People
have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound
to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But
this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

Reading through more of MO’s The Leaf and the Cloud and noticing her reference to circles, which has me thinking about her love of Emerson (who wrote, Circles), and of how her use of circles does or doesn’t fit with ED and her idea of Circumference. More reading and thinking is needed.

april 16/RUN

2.8 miles
river road trail, south/turkey hollow/Winchell Trail, north
58 degrees

Ran with STA in the afternoon. Sunny and warm! We were able to run on both the upper and lower trails. Not too crowded. I remember the river looking pale blue–such a pretty complement to the light green limbs below us. Encountered a few annoying bikers and a roller skier who refused to move over. Boo–normally, I love roller skiers. I can tell that it is going to take some time for me to love the world again–especially the people in it who don’t seem to care about the amount of space they take up or about the effects of their actions on others. But, I believe I can get there. Maybe Mary Oliver can help?

Speaking of MO, here are some useful words for enabling me to think and reflect on what work is for her:

Everything/ Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, Vol 2

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly,
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister
the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything

from Mysteries, Four of the Simple Ones

And what else can we do when the mysteries peresent themselves
but hope to pluck from the basket the brisk words
that will applaud them

What I Have Learned So Far

Meditation is old and honorable, so why sould I not sit, every
morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining
world? Because, properly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is
suggestion. Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the
sublime, and the holy and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I
don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a story, all kind-
ness begins with the sown seed. Thought buds toward radiance.
The gospel of light is the crossroads of–indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.

from Sometimes/ Red Bird

Instructions for living a life:
Pay Attention.
Be Astonished.
Tell About It.

from “Work” in The Leaf and the Cloud

3.

Would it be better to sit in silence?
To think everything, to feel everything, to say nothing?
This is the way of the orange gourd.
This is the habit of the rock in the river, over which
the water pours all night and all day.
But the nature of man is not the nature of silence.
Words are the thunders of the mind.
Words are the refinement of the flesh.
Words are the responses to the thousand curvaceous moments—
we just manage it—
sweet and electric, words flow from the brain
and out the gate of the mouth.

We make books of them, out of hesitations and grammar.
We are slow, and choosy.
This is the world.

7.

So I will write my poem, but I will leave room for the world.
I will write my poem tenderly and simply, but
I will leave room for the wind combing the grass,
for the feather falling out of the grouse’s fan-tail,
and fluttering down, like a song.

april 15/RUN

run: 3.1 miles
turkey hollow
44 degrees

I wish it was a little warmer, but it wasn’t too windy or crowded, so it was a good run. Ran on the trail right above the river. Very nice. I remember admiring the river, but I can’t recall what color it was or if any rowers were on it. I was planning to do the lower trail on the way back because no one was on it, but just before the turn around I noticed a dog and a walker entering the narrowest part of it. So, I stayed up above and ran past turkey hollow instead. No turkeys. Lots of woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees though.

Still spending time with Mary Oliver this morning, reading through the second section of The Leaf and the Cloud called “Work.” incidentally, the ending stanza of “Work” is what was displayed on a neighbor’s window that inspired me to start this April with Mary (Oliver) project. I’m thinking about what work is–for me, for others, for Mary–and whether or not it includes saving ourselves (as Limón talks about it).

Rereading the early chapters of Upstream, I found the passage I had loved so much when I came across it the first time that I posted it as a description for my How to Be project:

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

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

“I have made for myself out of work and love….” Sometimes, I think I combine these things, work and love–loving (as in caring, noticing, beholding) the world is the work–but I like the distinction she offers. Work is work, love love. Work as useful, ordered in “heat-retaining” efficient, proper forms. Love, as being “good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.” In “Work,” she writes about her beloved dog, Luke:

All day I have been pining for the past.
That’s when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.

One of the first Mary Oliver poems I memorized, back in 2017 when I got injured and memorized poems to feel better, was “Luke.”

Luke

I had a dog
who loved flowers.
Briskly she went
through the fields,

yet paused
for the honeysuckle
or the rose,
her dark head

and her wet nose
touching
the face
of every one

with its petals
of silk
with its fragrance
rising

into the air
where the bees,
their bodies
heavy with pollen

hovered—
and easily
she adored
every blossom

not in the serious
careful way
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—

the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way

we long to be—
that happy
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.

Love without judgment or anger or distinction. Happy, wild. I kept thinking about this distinction between work and love as I ran and, just after cresting the hill at 47th, I decided to stop and record my thoughts:

thoughts on work and love, april 15, 2021

What kind of work do we need to do on ourselves to be loving? To notice the world–to stop and stare and be open to beholding and praising the green pea as it “climbs the stake/on her sugary muscles” or how the “rosy comma of the radish/fattens in the soil”? Perhaps, having been raised in a family of “serious,” driven people who work a lot, and having spent decades of my life doing the work of thinking (too) seriously and critically, not working and just being–standing still, staring hard, loving everything with pure admiration–is harder for me than for other people? I have devoted the last few years to learning how to look, how to be simple in my joy, how to be satisfied with “tiny little things” and the slow, small moments of the birds and the trees and the gorge. To me, this has been important and necessary, and it has been work. A lot of work.

Continuing my run, I kept thinking about how messy and complicated the division between work and love is and then I wondered if that seam (here I’m thinking of ED and her idea of the seam, the Circumference) where they come together is a spot of creative possibility as you try to navigate your useful, “serious” work of managing and shaping words into forms that flare with your whimsical, overwhelmed with delight, untidy exuberance for the trees and the stones and the flowers and the bees and your beloved dog Luke that died years ago.

Of course, these ideas only flashed briefly as I ran. Now, I’m home and writing this log entry and as I read through the “Work” section again, I’m finding more help in my efforts to understand. But, as I try to form my thoughts into words, I’m struggling, so I’ll stop and think and hopefully write more about work and love tomorrow. Two more things:

One: different definitions of work

I’m thinking about the differences between work as a vocation/calling (to admire/behold/praise the world), work as set of practices (physical/mental labor of shaping words), and work as product (the forms, usually poems, made from that labor).

Two: the meaning of wild

At the end of “Luke,” MO writes, “that wild, that loving.” This got me thinking about MO’s use of “wild” and what she might mean by it. One of her most famous uses of the word (aside from in “Wild Geese”) is in:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Here, I think of wild in relation to bewilderment and being lost and beyond the ordinary (civilized, responsible, measured by the clock and your tasks) world. And I think of the passages I just re-read in Upstream:

I walked, all one spring day, upstream, sometimes in the midst of the ripples, sometimes along the shore. My company were violets, Dutchman’s-breeches, spring beauties, trilliums, bloodroot, ferns rising so curled one could feel the upward push of the delicate hairs upon their bodies. My parents were downstream, not far away, then farther away because I was walking the wrong way, upstream instead of downstream. Finally I was advertised on the hotline of help, and yet there I was, slopping along happily in the stream’s coolness. So maybe it was the right way after all. If this was lost, let us all be lost always. The beech leaves were just slipping their copper coats: pale green and quivering they arrived into the year. My heart opened and opened again. The water pushed against my effort, then its glassy permission to step ahead touched my ankles. The sense of going toward the source.

…May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

april 14/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn-around!
43 degrees

Woke up this morning to a dusting of snow on the deck. It melted in a few hours. Worked on Mary Oliver in the morning, then ran in the early afternoon. Started in the neighborhood then decided to keep going north on the trail all the way to the trestle. Hooray! Ran right above the river and the rowing club. What a view! No snow, hardly any other people, only a little wind. Lots of drumming woodpeckers and cardinals and a few black-capped chickadees. This spring, I need to add another bird sound to my collection. Felt relaxed and strong until the last mile when I still felt strong but also sore in my back and heavy in my legs. Can’t remember what I was thinking about. All thoughts gone, soundless words scattered over the tops of the trees. Scheduled second pfizer shot for April 30th. Almost there! Later today, I’ll sign up for open swim. This year, you can swim at Nokomis and Cedar. Awesome.

My Morning’s Work

Started by reading Dreamwork which is one of MO’s more painful (and personal?) books in which she addresses her childhood with an abusive father. The first poem is “Dogfish.” Intense. When I looked for it online, one of the first results that came up was Mary Oliver reading for a celebration of Emily Dickinson posted on the Dickinson Electronic Archive. Here’s the description of the event:

A marvelous centennial tribute in South Orange, New Jersey thate featured contemporary women poets reading hour after hour, from morning until night “to commemorate the centenary of the death of Emily Dickinson,” which occurred on May 15, 1886. Adrienne RichRuth Stone, Amy Clampitt, Katha Pollitt, Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker, Carolyn Kizer, Toi Derricotte, Maxine Kumin, Mary Oliver, Joyce Carol OatesSandra GilbertAlicia OstrikerGwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov were all there– “Poetry-in-the-Round” it was called, an apt descriptor not only because of the shape of the theater in which the readings took place, but because of the taking turns, the offerings making their way around a range of our contemporary poets who have at least two things in common with Emily Dickinson–they are each and all women, and poets. 

Dickinson Electronic Archives

For her part, MO read several of ED’s poems, then several of her own. The site has a transcript and a recording, with music strangely playing in the background?

ED poems read by MO:

  • What is Paradise
  • There came a mind like a Bugle
  • Under the light, yet under
  • Because I could not stop for Death

MO poems read by MO:

  • Morning Poem
  • Blossom
  • Dogfish
  • Acid
  • Stanley Kunitz
  • Blackwater Words
  • Humpbacks

Very cool to have found this, partly for the MO and ED connection, but also for the other poets. I might want to read Maxine Kumin in May or June–I love her swimming poems. Anyway, back to Dogfish. I’ve never heard of dogfish, so I looked them up. They’re little sharks that don’t eat humans but travel in big packs and are aggressive and relentless in hunting their prey–squid, herring, sea cucumber, shrimp, jellyfish. They are also known as spiny dogfish because they have a sharp spine: “Using sharp, venomous spines in the front of each dorsal fin, the spiny dogfish is a small but mighty predator that isn’t afraid to take a jab at passing fish.”

Dogfish/ Mary Oliver (from Dreams)

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?

*

I wanted
the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of a song where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery; I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was

alive
for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
And anyway it’s the same old story-
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is bulging toward them

*

And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Wow. Favorite bit of this poem for today:

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

I’m thinking of door hinges and poems as opening a thousand doors and the wings of the seven white butterflies and “how they bang the pages/or their wings as they fly/to the fields of mustard and yellow/and orange and plain/gold all eternity” (Seven White Butterflies/ from West Wind). And I’m thinking of the explosion, the discovery, as a flare, a burst of light, of intense emotion, which is the name of the first section of MO’s book-length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. Last week, I decided that doing a close, sustained reading of this book would be part of my April with Mary (Oliver) exercise. But, before getting to that, here’s how my thoughts about Mary progressed as I read through “Dogfish” and then some of the other poems in Dreamwork:

A few poems later is Trilliums. I think it’s interesting to put these together, connecting them through the idea of an easy life, which is referenced and rejected in both poems–actually in Dogfish, Trilliums, and the one I just mentioned, Seven White Butterflies, which ends with the question: “who/would have thought it could be so easy?”

Trilliums

Every spring
among
the ambiguities
of childhood
the hillsides grew white
with the wild trilliums.
I believed in the world,
Oh, I wanted
to be easy
in the peopled kingdoms,
to take my place there,
but there was none
that I could find
shaped like me.
So I entered
through the tender buds,
I crossed the cold creek,
my backbone
and my thin white shoulders
unfolding and stretching.
From the time of snow-melt,
when the creek roared
and the mud slid
and the seeds cracked,
I listened to the earth-talk,
the root-wrangle,
the arguments of energy,
the dreams lying
just under the surface,
then rising,
becoming
at the last moment
flaring and luminous —
the patient parable
of every spring and hillside
year after difficult year.

Trilliums, along with Dogfish, really got me thinking about “Flare” in The Leaf and the Cloud, which I had already read through at least twice, and then I felt a bit overwhelmed, then stuck, about what to post (or what not to post because I wanted to add more and more of MO’s lines) for this entry. Having listened to an On Being Podcast with Mary Oliver and read Upstream, I knew about MO’s hard childhood. I wondered how much of this dogfish was her dad, and did she imagine herself as one of the three unnamed fish? So I read through “Flare” again and was blown away, both by how she writes about her parents, and by how it connects so much with “Dogfish” and “Trilliums.” So I decided to stop trying to add it all into this entry and to make notes in the margins of the book and to not worry about saying smart, complete things in this post. So, I did. And, I enjoyed writing in the margins of my book, something I did a lot of in grad school. And, I had lots of thoughts about lightness and darkness and flares and fathers and the color green and hinges as not just connected to doors but to edges and seams. And, I could keep writing about this for a long time, but I’ll conclude this post with 2 thoughts.

thought one: the real work is saving ourselves

Mary Oliver writes a lot, in her essays and poems, about the work she is meant to do, or that she wants to do. She often describes this work as the work of noticing. Could this work also be the work of saving the I in the poem–which she often identifies as herself but also suggests that it could be any readers who recognizes themselves in the poem? In her interview with Krista Tippet, MO says:

Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted the “I” to be the possible reader, rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. That was my feeling about the “I.”

And in one of her poems that I posted a few days ago, I Want to Write Something So Simple, she writes:

that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words, 
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

In discussing her own work as a poet, Ada Limón says that she writes her poems to save herself.

I believe that poetry can heal us and help us. But, I mean, if I’m very honest, I think they can only do that for the poet. (LAUGHS) And then they may, if we’re lucky, help someone else or move someone else or inspire someone else or get them out of a rut. But I think it begins with like, I write my own poems to save myself. You know, then if, in, you know, some series, lucky series of events, a poem becomes larger than me and reaches someone else, that’s, that’s beautiful. But I don’t always know that that’s gonna happen, right? I have to start by how is this poem recommitting me to the world?

Ada Limón VS. Epiphany

In the Krista Tippet interview, Mary Oliver says about leaving her childhood home, “I saved my own life by finding a place that was not in that house.” So, could the work of writing, of creating worlds through words, be how she does it? What if that, and not the act of noticing for noticing’s sake, is the primary work? Or, maybe the work is both.

thought two: the nourishing dark

The final 2 lines of “Flare” are:

This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.

Thinking about the dark as nourishing, I’m reminded of ED and the value of the Dark in, “We grow accustomed to the Dark”:

 That unknown mental and spiritual domain is a “larger – Darkness.” That is where our great poets and philosophical explorers venture while the rest of us pursue our hobbies or just relax. Dickinson spends time in this darkness and most of her most evocative, ambiguous, and challenging poetry comes from there.

the Prowling Bee

And then, MO’s discussion of the edge in Upstream:

No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Still, there are indications. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen. It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind, It likes solitude. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker. It isn’t that it would disparage comforts. or the set routines of the world, but that its concern is directed to another place. Its concern is the edge, and the making of a form out of the formlessness that is beyond the edge.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Whew! That was a lot of thinking today. Time to stop.

april 13/RUN

3.4 miles
edmund, heading north loop
35 degrees/ 15 mph wind
snow flurries

O, cruel April with your warm sun, blooming flowers, then snow flurries and mornings where it feels like 25 degrees. Even so, it was a good run. Bundled up, with the pink hood of my jacket up and my gloves on, I didn’t feel the wind. A benefit of colder, windier weather: no one on the trail! I ran through the tunnel of trees and was able to attend to its slow and gradual greening. The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said/the recent buds relax and spread/their greenness is a kind of grief (Phillip Larkin). I memorized that poem last year in May and it has stuck.

Ran past the ancient boulder with a few stones stacked on top, past the welcoming oaks, above the ravine and the oak savanna and the muddy trail that climbs up near the tree stump with chain link limbs. Looked down at the Winchell Trail and thought about taking it, but I didn’t. At 42nd, I heard a bird that almost sounded like a black-capped chickadee, but not quite. 3 notes instead of 2, and no rising up or down the scale. What was it? Also heard the drumming and calling of some woodpeckers.

Even though this is not a Mary Oliver poem, I had to post it–because I’d like it and because it gave me an opportunity to reflect more on my vision loss:

Pastoral/ Forest Gander

Together,
you
standing
before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into,” I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
processual,
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
instantaneous,
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

I really like this poem and Gander’s reading of it. I was struck by his explanation of it, especially the idea that we see all instantly, that seeing, as a process, happens without effort, is immediate, and whole/complete. Occasionally seeing is not like this for many people–they experience visual errors, their brains receive conflicting data from their photoreceptor cells and generates confusing, ambiguous images. More frequently, seeing is like this for me. It is work, and sometimes, I can almost feel my brain trying to make sense of an image or a landscape. I witness them changing shape until they settle into what my brain decides they are. But, unlike Gander suggests in his recorded explanation of the poem, I can’t just “look once and find the near and far equally accessible” and the world doesn’t just present itself to me.

I like how Naomi Cohn describes it in her essay, “In Light of a White Cane.”

What I remember of better eyesight is how the world assembled all at once, an effortless gestalt—the light, the distance, the dappled detail of shade, exact crinkles of a facial expression through a car windshield, the lift of a single finger from a steering wheel, sunlight bouncing off a waxed hood.

Naomi Cohn

more mary oliver

So far, I’ve read through Devotions and Swan. Now I’m reading Evidence and Dream Work and then New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II. I’ve read her collection of essays, Upstream too. And, I’m planning an extended study of her book length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m reading through it several times, along with the article, “‘An Attitude of Noticing’: Mary Oliver’s Ecological Ethic” by Kirstin Hotelling Zona. It sounds like a lot, but I’m not doing a close reading of every poem in every book. Just reading through, letting the words wash over me, and picking out a few things I want to remember.

more Evidence

Deep Summer

The mockingbird
opens his throat
among the thorns
for his own reasons
but doesn’t mind
if we pause
to listen
and learn something
for ourselves;
he doesn’t stop,
he nods
his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes,
he flirts
his supple tail,
he says:
listen, if you would listen.
There’s no end
to good talk,
to passion songs,
to the melodies
that say
this branch,
this tree is mine,
to the wholesome
happiness
of being alive
on a patch
of this green earth
in the deep
pleasures of summer.
What a bird!
Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

I Want to Write Something So Simple

“And this is good for us.”
I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
thought it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

april 12/BIKERUN

Another young black man killed by the police today in a twin cities suburb. Apparently, the cop meant to reach for their taser, but pulled their gun instead and then shot Daunte Wright. Fucked up. This is not simply an unfortunate, “heart breaking” accident. This is not a matter of bad apples or a few incompetent or overly anxious cops. This is a fucked up system that doesn’t value human life, that almost always prioritizes certain (white) lives over others, and that is murdering black people. Abolish the police.

bike: 35 minutes
run: 1.5 miles
basement
outside: rain, wind

Biked in the basement because of the wind and rain. Watched another episode of Emily Dickinson. This one focused on ED’s conflicted feelings about having her poem published and whether or not she wants fame and to be known and seen by others. It features the poem, Split the Lark:

Split the Lark/ Emily Dickinson

Split the Lark – and You’ll find the Music –
Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled –
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
Saved for your Ear, when Lutes be old –

Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent –
Gush after Gush, reserved for you –
Scarlet Experiment! Skeptic Thomas!
Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?

It was helpful to read the words after watching the show; I didn’t get the meaning of them when I heard them sung by Sue:

Wow. That is some intense, violent imagery. “Gush after gush” and “Scarlet experiment.” It makes me think of the article I read about ED and “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” earlier this month, when the author writes about doing Emily Dickinson Madlibs and asking students to fill in the blank for “Grief is a ___”.

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

The answer: “Grief is a mouse”
This poem about splitting the lark also seems very original and imaginative and very ED.

A turkey interruption!

Just as I was writing the above paragraph, I looked out the window and saw…a big turkey walking in my front yard. Nice. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. That’s definitely the delight of the day. When I first saw it, I yelled out to STA, “Come here, quick. There’s a turkey in the front yard” and he posted about it on instagram.

After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 14 minutes. Our treadmill works, but strangely, these days. The speed is off, always too fast. Listened to my playlist.

Right after I got up this morning, I wrote about Mary Oliver and her collection, Evidence:

Yellow from Evidence/ Mary Oliver

There is the heaven we enter
through institutional grace
and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing
in the lowly puddle.

I’d like to put this one beside Emily Dickinson’s Some Keep the Sabbath going to Church (236):

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

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

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

In my March 26th log entry, I wrote a bit about yellow and how I’ve grown to like the color. It’s funny that I like yellow now because I can’t see it very well, especially on the page and especially when it’s used to highlight text. Sometimes I use my yellow colored pencil in my Plague Notebook, like today, for the title to MO’s poem.

from the Plague Notebooks, Volume 7

When viewed straight on, through my central vision, the yellow disappears. When seen from the side or with my eyes lowered, looking down, the yellow is bright–of course, viewed this way, through my peripheral vision, the words are a blur. Isn’t it strange how that works? Other colors aren’t as bad, like green or blue (although in other situations, those colors disappear too). But, how does this work? I know the retina has 3 types of cone cells: blue/short (B/S), green/medium (G/M), red/long (R/L) and that we have a lot more red (64%) than green (32%) or blue (2%). And that “the color yellow is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones (cone cells/wikipedia). But what does that mean about my vision and cone cell loss? How many red versus green versus blue do I have left? Is there a way to test that? And, is it worth testing? I might ask my eye doctor when I’m fully vaccinated and finally have a check-up in the next few months.

I’m looking through MO’s collection, Evidence today, which I was able to immediately check-out from my libby app (very awesome). Something I’ve noticed: the structure/form (I’ve forgotten the difference between these two) is often, first a very detailed and lush description of something or someone (an animal, stone, tree, flower, etc), then a question or a moment of wonder about it/them, then a revelation.

Like, in Swans from Evidence: A long and beautiful description of swans flying overhead and hurrying on to “wherever it is/that swans go.” A moments of curiosity/praise/wonder and a question: “How could I help but wish/that one of them might drop/a white feather/that I should have/soemthing in my hand/to tell me/that they were real?” Finally, a revelation (or a reminder of something always already known but forgotten): “What we love, shapely and pure,/is not to be held,/but to be believed in.” Love that last line. It’s a nice little prayer and seems to work without the details and the moment of praise, but I wonder what happens to its power when it loses those details? Does it become just a easily spreadable soundbite? I’m not sure, and I guess my doubt about this practice of picking out favorite lines, won’t stop me from doing it now:

from Thinking of Swirler

In a week he would be dead,
arrowed down by a young man I like,
though with some difficulty.

I was planning to pick one part of this poem, but I love the whole thing and I think I might need to memorize some or all of it:

Then Bluebird Sang

Bluebird
slipped a little tremble
out of the triangle
of his mouth
and it hung in the air
until it reached my ear
like a froth or a frill
that Schumann
might have written in a dream.
Dear morning
you come
with so many angels of mercy
so wondrously disguised
in feathers, in leaves,
in the tongues of stones,
in the restless waters,
in the creep and the click
and the rustle
that greet me wherever I go
with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!

I could also see part of this poem serving as a writing prompt, or an opportunity to create your own moment of wonder/prayer: “Dear morning/you come/with so many angels of mercy/that greet me wherever I go/with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!” Prompt: what greets you in the morning? Make a list, then pick one and describe it as much detail as you can. Moment of Wonder: When you’re outside, running beside the gorge, create a chant or greeting to offer back to the welcoming oaks or the floodplain forest or the old stone steps or whatever else you want, letting them know you’re still here too, alive.

Okay, just one more for today:

The Poet Always Carries a Notebook

What is he scribbling on the page?
Is there snow in it, or fire?
Is it the beginning of a poem?
Is it a love note?

This poem makes me think about MO’s discussions of carrying a notebook around with her while she’s walking in the woods, which also makes me think about the different methods writers/thinkers use to remember words when they’re outside, away from their desk: Jonathan Edwards would pin notes to his clothes we traveled on horseback, the writer Jaime Quatro would scratch them into her arm with a stick when, out on a run, she had nothing else to use, I speak a note in my voice memo app or, turn the thought/idea into a chant and repeat it until I return from my run.

april 11/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
47 degrees

Ran with Scott this almost afternoon. Windy and bright. I remember hearing some calling–not drumming–woodpeckers and a couple of cardinals, maybe a robin, a few warblers. Noticed some dogwood blossoms, a lot of green grass. Ran by turkey hollow. No turkeys. Didn’t see the river or many other runners. Did see a surrey over on the bike path as we ran up edmund just past turkey hollow. It must be spring. Anything else? Ran on the grass between Becketwood and 42nd in the soft, muddy dirt straight into the wind.

I’m really enjoying my time with Mary Oliver. Yesterday I checked out her collection West Wind from the libby app for my library. Such convenience!

Stars from West Wind/ Mary Oliver

Here in my head, language
keeps making its tiny noises.
How can I hope to be friends
with the hard white stars
whose flaring and hissing are not speech
but pure radiance?
How can I hope to be friends
with the yawning spaces between them
where nothing, ever is spoken?
Tonight, at the edge of the field,
I stood very still, and looked up,
and tried to be empty of words.
What joy was it, that almost found me?
What amiable peace?…
Once, deep in the woods,
I found the white skull of a bear
and it was utterly silent-
and once a river otter, in a steel trap,
and it too was utterly silent.
What can we do
but keep on breathing in and out,
modest and willing, and in our places?
Listen, listen, I’m forever saying.
Listen to the river, to the hawk, to the hoof,
to the mockingbird, to the jack-in-the-pulpit-

then I come up with a few words, like a gift.
Even as now
Even as the darkness has remained the pure, deep darkness.
Even as the stars have twirled a little, while I stood here,
looking up,
one hot sentence after another.

What can we do
but keep on breathing in and out,
modest and willing, and in our places?

I like this idea of the breathing in and out, and of the humility, the openness, the recognition of having our place (in the family of things?–Wild Geese).

an excerpt I like from The Osprey/ West Wind:

I came back
and stood on the shore, thinking—
and if you think
thinking is a mild exercise,
beware!
I mean, I was swimming for my life—

another, from Fox/ West Wind:

I was hot I was cold I was almost
dead of delight. Of course the mind keeps
cool in its hidden palace—yes, the mind takes
a long time, is otherwise occupied than by
happiness, and deep breathing. Still,
at last, it comes too, running
like a wild thing, to be taken
with its twin sister, breath. So I stood
on the pale, peach-colored sand, watching the fox
as it opened like a flower, and I began
softly, to pick among the vast assortment of words
that it should run again and again across the page
that you again and again should shiver with praise.

april 10/RUN

2.65 miles
2 schools loop (cooper and howe)
46 degrees

Windy this afternoon! Everything green, budding. Spring-like. Ran around Cooper School then down to Edmund. Up to 47th and over to Howe. A soccer team was practicing on the field. Didn’t stare to see if they were wearing masks. I wonder how youth sports is doing these days in Minnesota; the uptick in cases with the UK variant started in some suburban youth sports games. Anything else I remember from the run? Encountered some walkers. Did I see any other runners? I can’t remember. Ran by a neighbor’s fruit trees or vines on 32nd–I can’t remember what they are, I just remember that last year they had a sign encouraging you to take all the fruit you’d like. Apples? Anyway, the trees/vines right by their fence were blooming pale pink flowers. Beautiful.

I didn’t run yesterday because we drove up to Duluth and got our first doses of the Pfizer vaccine–well, me, FWA, and STA got our first doses, RJP is a year too young. Such a bummer for her. Anyway, I still haven’t processed it all, how remarkable and amazing and relieving it is to be getting this vaccine and to be fully vaccinated before Mother’s Day! Wow.

Even though I didn’t run, I still read some Mary Oliver. I’m finding it difficult to stick with just one poem. I like reading several and letting the repetition of her words about attention wash over me and soak in slowly. Yesterday and today, I read through her collection, Swan, and noticed, among other things, that she did a lot of: 1. inviting the reader (you) to be curious, to enter the field, to notice things, 2. admonishing the reader for not noticing and calling it a life, and 3. commanding the reader to notice things, to leave the desk and enter the world. I have started making a list and adding lines from her poems to each of these categories. So far, my list includes the poems in Swan and a few others that I found in her compilation, Devotions.

Invitation

  • Inside the river there is an unfinishable story/and you are somewhere in it/and it will never end until all ends (What Can I Say/Swan)
  • How many kinds of love/might there be in the world,/and how many formations might they make/and who am I ever/to imagine I could know/such a marvelous business? (On the Beaach/Swan)
  • Did you see it, drifting, all night in the black river?/Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air?/And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?/And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?/And have you changed your life? (Swan/Swan)
  • With what words can I convince you of the/casualness with which the white swans fly? Do you give a thought now and again to the/essential sparrow, the necessary toad? Have you ever seen a squirrel swim? Is it not incredible, than in the acorn something/has hidden an entire tree? (More Evidence/Swan)
  • Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/of other lives? (Have you ever tried to enter/ West Wind)

Admonishment

  • It is a negligence of the mind/not to notice how at dusk/heron comes to the pond (How Heron Comes/Swan)
  • We are all good people/except for when we are not (Four Sonnets/Swan)
  • Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
  • Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
  • For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,/caution and prudence?/Fall in! Fall in! (Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/West Wind)

Command

  • If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,/don’t hesitate. Give in to it. (Don’t Hesitate/Swan)
  • Sing, if you can sing, and if not still be/musical inside yourself (More Evidence/Swan)
  • Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then/keep going (At the River Clarion/Evidence)
  • Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk! (Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/ West Wind)

In addition to categorizing her lines, here are a few other things I noticed/liked/want to remember:

1

She likes the word “meanwhile,” which I first encountered and enjoyed in her wonderful poem, “Wild Geese”: “Meanwhile, the world goes on./ Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain…/Meanwhile, the wild geese…” I like this idea of meanwhile as another word for beside/s, and to mean: there are other things beside you happening in the world AND you are not alone in your suffering/sorrow/joy AND life/the world contains more than we can imagine or reconcile, all happening at the same time. I like thinking about meanwhile as a way to connect different stories/lives/creatures without collapsing them into each other as one story or way of living/being–if that makes sense?

2

Okay, I confess to wanting to make a literature of praise.

4 Sonnets/ Swan

I like this idea of a literature of praise. In Long Life she talks about her words as little alleluias on the page. Can we think of this as spiritual, as about admiring and finding joy in things, without linking it to God or organized religion? Yes, I think.

3

I want to step out into some/fresh morning and look around and hear myself/crying out: “The house of money is falling! The house of money is falling! The weeds are rising! The weeds are rising!”

Evidence/ Evidence

That sounds like fun and something I can’t imagine myself ever having the nerve to do. But I think it quite a lot when I’m out near the gorge and witness the sumac vines wrapping themselves around the fenceposts.

One more thing: Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that I’ve been rereading a lot over the past few days:

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO ENTER THE LONG BLACK BRANCHES/ Mary Oliver

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,

to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,

to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?

Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daisies,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

april 8/RUN

3.25 miles
43rd ave, north/seabury, north/seabury, south/41st ave, south
63 degrees

Rained in the morning, so STA and I ran in the afternoon. We thought the rain was done, but 2 or 3 times during the run it started up again. A soft, steady, colder than expected rain. A good distraction from the effort of our striking feet and swinging arms. Heard lots of black capped chickadees and cardinals. Avoided many sidewalk puddles. I don’t like how the puddles soak my socks but I do like how they reveal the dips and cracks and holes in the sidewalk that I normally can’t see.

As I dig deeper into the work of Mary Oliver, I’m conflicted. I find myself saying, “Yes!” then “yes?” then “Yes. But…” Her words are seductive and entrancing. Easy to read and understand and share–so many pleasing lines. And easy to consume quickly–to skim once and imagine you fully understand them. But, is that all they are? In reference to a tweet I posted about yesterday, are they candy instead of kale? (And, is that a bad thing?) Well, even as I find myself skimming through her poems quickly, or as quickly as I can with my bad vision, they are still making me think, suggesting associations, raising interesting open-ended questions, inviting me into deeper understandings of my own project and the idea of attention as an ethical/moral/political practice. This last bit is key to me: through her words, Mary Oliver is offering a “door–a thousand opening doors!” (Upstream) into new worlds.

Here are 2 poems from Swan that get me thinking more about the limits and possibilities of naming and language and knowing.

Wind in the Pines

It is true that the wind
streaming especially in fall
through the pines is saying nothing, nothing at all,
or is it just that I don’t kow the language?

Bird in the Pepper Tree

Don’t mind my inexplicable delight
in knowing your name,
little Wilson’s Warbler
yellow as a lemon, with a smooth, black cap.

Just do what you do and don’t worry, dipping
branch by branch down to the fountain
to sip neatly, then flutter away.

A name
is not a leash.

I’d like to put these poems beside:

Sometimes, what I try to get people to do is to disconnect for a moment from that absolute need to list and name, and just see the bird. Just see that bird. And you begin to absorb it, in a way, in a part of your brain that I don’t know the name of, but I think it’s a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it. And then, guess what? The name, when you do learn it, it sticks in a different way.

On Being episode with Drew Lanham

and

Goldenrod/ Maggie Smith

I’m no botanist. If you’re the color of sulfur
and growing at the roadside, you’re goldenrod. 

You don’t care what I call you, whatever
you were born as. You don’t know your own name. 

But driving near Peoria, the sky pink-orange,
the sun bobbing at the horizon, I see everything

is what it is, exactly, in spite of the words I use:
black cows, barns falling in on themselves, you.

Dear flowers born with a highway view, 
forgive me if I’ve mistaken you. Goldenrod, 

whatever your name is, you are with your own kind. 
Look–the meadow is a mirror, full of you,

your reflection repeating. Whatever you are,
I see you, wild yellow, and I would let you name me.

april 7/RUN

2.3 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road trail, south/edmund, north
67 degrees

Managed to make it out for a run right before the steady rain started. Was able to run through the tunnel of trees, above the river. Noticed the beginning of green on the brown branches. It’s coming—the leaves, the veil, the obscured view, the warmer mornings, the deck, falling asleep in the red chair in the backyard, spring, summer, vaccines. Saw a stack of stones on the taller boulder at the edge of the trail, near the oak with the long reach. Turned around at 38th and headed north on Edmund. There, it was sunny; where I had just been, near 34th, it was gloomy and darkish blue, ominous. Such a strange, cool sight.

Did a lot of thinking and reading this morning. Here’s a sampling of what I encountered this morning:

And, I’m thinking about words like: inefficient, clockwork, pace (as in, “keep up the” or running pace or the hectic pace of modern life), mechanization, industrialization, useless, instrumental, accessible, smooth, easy, fast, relevant, order, discipline, attention economy, rest, restlessness, sleep, internal clocks, spending time vs. passing it, paying or giving attention, eyeballs on the page, obscure, unnoticed, unnoticing.

Lots of words and thoughts swirling in my head about work, labor, productivity. And about why Mary Oliver’s poems are so popular–how/why does she speak to so many, especially those who don’t normally “like” poetry? As I skimmed through her collection, Devotions, I started thinking about how so many of the poems talk directly to the reader, inviting them to attend to the beauty of the world, to notice the long black branches, or to chastise them, nudging them to do and be better:

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/of other lives?
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

Can you Imagine? Oh, do you have time? Come with me into the fields of sunflowers. What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks flew in circles around your head? Surely you can’t imagine they just stand there looking the way they look when we’re looking?

Mary Oliver’s invitations, and even her admonishments, are seductive. Yes, I will notice! Yes, I will look and imagine and take the time! Her words inspire, making it seem attainable to be better, to change your life, to do more than merely breathe. Even as I have loved and admired her work since the first poem I read–was it “Invitation”?–I have also been wary of it. She makes it sound so simple–just change your life! Stop, take a break, notice those goldfinches!

I was bothered enough by this idea to write a poem about her poem “Invitation”, and then a chapbook about the phrase, “change your life” that features my poem which I titled, “You Must Change Your Life.” In my only workshop experience, for a great Advanced Poetry class at the Loft, the rest of my class didn’t seem to like “You Must Change Your Life”. Too wordy, too full of explanation, too much Oliver, not enough Rilke. So I put it away. But, reading it again now, I like it. It needs some cleaning up, but I’m proud of it and the questions I’m posing about will and attention, how we hear the call to notice things and change our lives, how we sustain that call.

Back then in 2018, I focused a lot on how change happens whether we want it or not and I explored different meanings and causes of change. Now, I’m interested in how we might choose to act on her invitation, how it becomes possible for us to “enter the long brown branches of other lives.” First, the easy answer: say yes, take up her invitation, decide to stop and smell the roses, watch those goldfinches and their musical battle, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk! But, don’t do this just once. Do it repeatedly–every month or week or morning. Make it a habit. Of course, making this into a habit isn’t necessarily easy; it requires effort and discipline and commitment, but it’s possible to believe, on any fresh day, that we can make this choice and change ourselves. This Yes! answer is the one that I imagine gets many readers excited about MO’s work and is why she’s so popular and important.

But, there’s another answer to the question of how we take up her invitation that is harder and more hidden, and that involves the difficult, messy work of saying no to many things in order to say Yes! to the goldfinches. And, this saying no is not simply choosing to not do this or that busy, important thing in order to notice the goldfinches. It is to refuse some of the fundamental (and toxic) values that shape who we are and what we should be doing in 21st century, late capitalism: work, always work, that is productive, useful, efficient, busy, fast, that makes lots of money for someone else, that yields status and success, that creates more things, that doesn’t waste time, that generates quantitative (not qualitative) results. Refusing these values is difficult and requires breaking habits we have been disciplined into following and practicing since elementary school. I describe this work of refusal as undisciplining yourself. And I’ve been working very hard at it for the last decade.

As far as I can tell, Mary Oliver rarely mentions this work, but it’s there, haunting every page. Each Yes! is tinged with the effort of the no that made it possible. (is this last sentence too much? maybe I’m getting carried away.) Anyway, I happened to remember one poem in which MO briefly describes her own undisciplining process:

Just as the Calendar Began to Say Summer/ Mary Oliver

I went out of the schoolhouse fast
and through the gardens and to the woods,
and spent all summer forgetting what I’d been taught—

two times two, and diligence, and so forth,
how to be modest and useful, and how to succeed and so forth,
machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.

By fall I had healed somewhat, but was summoned back
to the chalky rooms and the desks, to sit and remember

the way the river kept rolling its pebbles,
the way the wild wrens sang though they hadn’t a penny in the
bank,
the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.

april 6/RUN

3.3 miles
turkey hollow
51 degrees

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

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

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

1.

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

to the secret lodges to tell everyone
spring had come.

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

2.

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

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

3.

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

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

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

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

5.

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

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

april 5/WALK

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

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

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

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

Attention/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

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

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

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

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

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

Here’s my MO poem for April 5th:

Softest of Mornings from Long Life/ Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the poems be
the little snail’s trail.

Everywhere I go,
every inch: quiet record

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

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

To a Snail/ Marianne Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
but slowly, slowly

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

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

april 4/RUN

4.6 miles
franklin loop
64 degrees

Mostly ran, with a little bit of walking, the franklin loop with STA. Sunny and over-dressed in shorts and a long-sleeved shirt. Who cares when it feels this wonderful outside! Usually I lament the leaving of winter, but not this year. I’m ready for summer and vaccines and less time inside. We talked for almost the entire time, but I can’t remember what we discussed. Noticed the river, looking calm and blue, glittering in a few spots. No rowers today. Easter, I guess. Heard some pileated woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, cardinals. Still no geese. Also heard one runner’s deep, booming voice cutting through everything else. So loud, creeping up behind us. We slowed way down, almost to a walk, so he could pass faster, but it still took forever. Someday I’ll be able to block out these irritations–or, will I?

Sitting on the deck an hour after the run, I thought about some differences between Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson. Here’s one: MO focuses on the moment when we are able to find meaning or understanding or joy or delight or something worthwhile, despite the mess of the world. Yesterday I described it this way: “MO is interested in that moment, albeit fleeting, of clarity that opens you up, or opens to you, inviting you in.” So, MO wants to find a way in. Maybe Emily Dickinson does too, but, with her emphasis on Circumference–the edges, seams, periphery, the perimeter, she also urgently wants to find a way out, an exit.

Mary Oliver is a big fan of Walt Whitman (she has a brief essay in Upstream titled, “My Friend Walt Whitman”). Could this be point where her differences with ED are visible? Here’s what Joyce Carol Oates says about the differences between ED and WW in her introduction to Essential Emily Dickinson:

Between them, our great visionary poets of the American nineteenth centry, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, have come to represent the extreme, idiosyncratic poles of the American psyche: the intensely inward, private, elliptical and “mystical (Dickinson); and the robustly outward-looking, public, rhapsodic and “mystical” (Whitman). One declared: “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” The other declared: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos…”

Here, ED’s understanding of in is being outside the world, and WW’s out is being fully inside it (at the center?). I think this in/out, private/public, introvert/extrovert is too reductive. Still, it is helpful as a way to start thinking about the differences. In her essay on her friend, Whitman, MO writes this about why she values him:

Whitman’s poems stood before me like a model of delivery when I began to write poems myself: I mean the oceanic power and rumble that travels through a Whitman poem–the incantatory syntax, the boldness affirmation. In those years, truth was elusive–as way my own faith that I could recognize and contain it. Whitman kept me from the swamps of a worse uncertainty, and I lived many hours within the lit circle of his certainty, and his bravado. “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” And their was the passion which he invested in the poems. The metaphysical curiosity! The oracular tenderness with which he viewed the world–its roughness, its differences, the stars, the spider–nothing was outside the range of his interest. I reveled in the specificity of his words. And his faith–that kept my spirit buoyant surely, though his faith was without a name that I ever heard of. “Do you guess I have some intricate purpose? Well I have…for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.”

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Such bold, confident, excessive declarations! I wonder if Susan Howe has anything to say about this in My Emily Dickinson when she writes about ED’s new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation? Lots to digest here. Now I want to read more about ED’s faith and her understanding of Circumference and how it’s positioned in relation to inside and outside.

Here are 2 MO poems, originally from Swan, that I found in Devotions:

I Worried/ Mary Oliver

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Don’t Hesitate/ Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

april 3/RUN

2.15 miles
2 school loop: Cooper and Howe
60! degrees

Spring! 60 degrees and sunny just before noon. No snow or ice, all melted. Shorts and one long-sleeved shirt (bright yellow). Nice. Did a short run today because it’s Saturday and I’ve already run 3 days in a row. Listened to my playlist–“Leave the Door Open,” “I Feel for You,” “Levitate,” and “I Forgot that You Existed.” As I listened to the last one, I imagine that the You in the song was all of my worries–about pandemics and sinus infections and headaches and kids getting together with their friends and white supremacy and racial injustice and climate crisis and and and…. It worked (I guess until I listed them here). Ran on the sidewalk through the neighborhood, nowhere near the river. I figured it was too crowded.

I have “officially” decided that April is a month for Mary (Mary Oliver). I will read her poems, some interviews, her memoir Upstream, and whatever else I might find and be moved to read/hear/watch. Today’s poem: April

April/ Mary Oliver

I wanted to speak at length about
The happiness of my body and the
Delight of my mind for it was
April, a night, a full moon and-

But something in myself for maybe
From somewhere other said: not too
Many words, please, in the muddy shallows the

Frogs are singing.

Many thoughts about this poem. I love the idea of putting aside words, or not needing words, to experience joy and delight. This makes me think of MO’s poem, The Real Prayers are Not the Words, But the Attention that Comes First. I’m also thinking of a passage I read in MO’s Upstream about the humility of the leaf-world:

Understand from the first this certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, neither do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive–that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Wanting to express joy and delight in words is not always motivated by hubris, and not using words doesn’t always signal its lack. Often I search for better words to connect (with others, with ideas) and I appreciate suspending words because too many words hurts the weakening cone cells in my eyes. But, I do find that often the people who won’t shut up (with their voices or their long-winded writing) could use some humility; they should listen to the frogs more.

Speaking of frogs, I’m reminded of ED’s strange poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” In it, there’s a frog: “How public — like a Frog!/To tell one’s name — the livelong June — /To an admiring Bog!” ED’s frog seems very different, very public, very Somebody. But, is that right? I looked up “Emily Dickinson frog” and found an amazing article: The Poems (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson. I am so delighted to have uncovered this essay–to learn more about this poem, about frogs, about ED, about poetry and its purposes. This article makes me want to read Mary Oliver beside Emily Dickinson–and I think I will all this month. What interesting conversations they might have had!

Anyway, back to frogs. According to the author of the ED article, Alexandria Socarides, frogs were a favorite for 19th century writers, including Poe, Twain, and Thoreau. Here’s how Socarides links Thoreau and Dickinson:

If Dickinson was listening to frog-sound with the same attention as Thoreau, which I think she was, then what is it that she learned from them? What do these old, lazy creatures have to say? Part of the point of the second stanza of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” is, as with Thoreau’s passage above, that frogs say the same thing over and over again, that there is no sense to be made of their guttural noises, that there is no meaning in the same name said on a loop. But what lurks in both acts of listening is the awareness that there is a kind of beauty to nonsense sounds, a beauty that only the bog itself (and maybe the poet in the bog) can recognize. 

The Poems (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson

Returning to Oliver, I’m thinking about one purpose of the frog in her poem. When I searched “Mary Oliver frog” I found a helpful essay, Mary Oliver’s Nature and this poem by MO: What We Want

In a poem
people want
something fancy

but even more

they want
something inexplicable
made plain,
easy to swallow

The frog’s singing as plain but inexplicable, and easy to listen to? I like the idea of something inexplicable made plain, but I’m not sure about the “easy to swallow” part. My inclination is to not like it because I don’t like things to be easy to swallow, and I don’t think poetry is about giving us “easy to swallow” things. But, there’s something deeper about faith, belief, a refusal to be skeptical, and a turn to a different understanding of mystery/ineffability that doesn’t demand confusion and discomfort and utter disorientation that I appreciate about MO’s poem. I want to think about this idea more, and push myself to take it seriously. Is this understanding of what to do with the inexplicable–MO seems to want to make it plain and accessible, while ED seems to want it to unravel you (she writes about poetry as that which makes the top of your head come off–a fundamental difference between the two poets? I’d like to explore it more.

note: just after posting this entry, I looked up MO’s poem “What We Want” and found the rest of it, which I think is helpful for pushing at the ideas more:

not unlike a suddenly
harmonic passage

in an otherwise
difficult and sometimes dissonant
symphony—

even if it is only
for the moment
of hearing it.

MO is interested in that moment, albeit fleeting, of clarity that open you up, or opens to you, inviting you in. Much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ll leave it that for now. I have a whole month to explore it!

One more frog mention: I’m not sure it’s possible to post about poetry and frogs without including Basho’s most famous haiku:

Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
Translated by Lafcadio Hearn

Mastuo Basho’s Frog Haiku (30 translations)

april 2/RUN

3.2 miles
neighborhood + Howe loop
42 degrees
wind: 15 mph with gusts 33 mph

The wind has returned, trying to slow me down for half of the run, speed me up for the other half. It didn’t bother me too much and, because of it, I got to hear lots of cool wind chimes. Ran on the sidewalk, the street, the trail, the grass. Past 2 elementary schools, one high school, a daycare at a church. Above the river, beside the boulevard, through the tunnel of trees. Saw the Daily Walker just leaving the trail, heading home. Thought about calling out, but decided that might be a little strange since I was behind him and not that close. I remember starting to think about my Emily Dickinson exercise for March. Did I come up with any ideas? I don’t think so. If I did, only the wind knows, I guess. Noticed the shadow of a bird moving very fast. Heard the “feebee” call of the black-capped chickadee. Don’t remember hearing any geese or pileated woodpeckers or cardinals or warblers or mourning doves. When I reached Howe school, I turned on a playlist for the last few minutes.

Gross runner moment: Watched as a drop of sweat below my nose suddenly flew off my face and far off into the air when the wind picked up. Even though I don’t have covid, I’m very glad no one was around. Gross and scary, witnessing how far sweat can fly.

It’s April 2nd, and I’m thinking about how to build off of my March with Emily Dickinson. Maybe focus on circumference? Not sure. After encountering this discussion of ED’s use of bees, and then randomly finding a bee poem by Mary Oliver, I’m thinking about bees. Yes, I like the idea of focusing on bees, flies, and beetles. I can think of many poems from ED, this one from Mary Oliver, at least one from Maggie Smith, and one about flies, When I come home they rush to me, the flies by Aracelis Girmay.

Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of Isaac Watts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).

Here’s the Mary Oliver bee poem I found:

hum/ mary oliver

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They’re small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?—
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout-sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.

I love the line: “the bees have gone simple, sipping.”

Mary Oliver has been criticized for being too simple or R/romantic, not poetic enough, too accessible. And, in the years before her death, she was often not taken seriously. I love Mary Oliver and when I read this poem I don’t think of it as an “easy” romantic poem just about how great bees are. This poem is the declaration of someone who has done and is still doing the very difficult work of learning how to notice and love the world–every bit of it, no matter how small or how broken (here I’m thinking of her line in “Invitation”–“believe us, they say,/ it is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in this broken world”). She writes:

I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t
admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I
haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to.

That’s impressive and something I aspire to. For several years now, I’ve been working to find delight in these small moments, to recognize them as enough, more than enough, to make life fulfilling, to ensure flourishing. I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. There are things I don’t admire and, too often lately, I’ve thought about them more than the things I do admire. Maybe I should spend a month with Mary Oliver instead of with insects? Or maybe I should save the insects for a month that’s filled with them–May or June? Yes, I have decided. April is for Mary (Oliver)! I think yesterday’s poetry sighting was the nudge I needed:

Seen in the neighborhood on a house that likes to put poetry on their front windows.