jan 20/RUN

4.35 miles
minnehaha falls and back
5 degrees

Back outside! Cold, but much warmer than Tuesday. Low (ish) wind, plenty of sunshine, clear paths. I felt a little tired and sore, but still happy to be outside. Was planning to do my usual routine of running without music, then putting some in at my favorite spot by the falls, but I forgot my headphones. Oh well, if I had been listening to music I might not have heard a goose honking.

10 Things

  1. startled some birds in the brush on the path near the ramp that winds down to the falls bridge — some rustling noises, then a silver flash as the sun caught the feathers on one of the bird’s wings — it reminded me of Eamon Grennan’s line about a lark’s silver trail in Lark-luster or EDickinson’s silver seam in A Bird, came down the Walk
  2. the falls were hidden behind columns of ice
  3. a few people (3 or 4?) walking on the frozen creek, admiring the falls from up close
  4. falling water sound: tinkling, sprinkling, shimmering
  5. the creek was frozen over, with just a few open spots where the water flowed beneath it
  6. running past the stretch of woods near the ford bridge — all the leaves are gone, the small rise up to the bridge fully visible
  7. crunch crunch crunch as my feet struck the ground — not slippery or hard or too soft
  8. my shadow, sharp lines, solid, dark, lamp post shadow, softer, fuzzier
  9. the rhythm of a faster runner’s legs as they passed me — a steady lift lift lift — so graceful
  10. a lone geese honking — not seen, only heard

Somewhere near the Horace Cleveland overlook (near the double bridge), I thought about interiors and exteriors and how you can look in or out of windows and then outside as the abstract/thinking/theorizing/writing and inside as the body. I want to remove the barrier between these, to mix writing with being/doing/moving as a body. Then lines from Maggie Smith’s “Threshold” popped into my head: You want a door you can be on both sides of at once. You want to be on both sides of here and there now and then…Yes, I do.

added 21 jan 2024: Reading through a past entry this morning I suddenly remembered the black capped chickadee calling out their fee bee song so loudly as I ran up the hill between locks and dam no. 1 and the double bridge. Wow! I recall thinking they were in beast mode (a reference to Michael Brecker and how some people describe his playing).

Jane Hirshfield’s Ten Windows, Chapter 6 (Close Reading: Windows)

Many good poems have a kind of window-moment in them–they change their direction of gaze in a way that suddenly opens a broadened landscape of meaning and feeling. Encountering such a moment, the reader breathes in some new infusion, as steeply perceptible as any physical window’s increase of light, scent, sound, or air. The gesture is one of lifting, unlatching, releasing; mind and attention swing open to new-peeled vistas.

windows offer an opening, a broadened landscape, fresh air, a lifting, unlatching, releasing, expansion, an escape or a way into somewhere else

In this chapter, Hirshfield does a close reading of ED’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” — yes!

I have called the third stanza (And so of larger — Darkness –/Those Evenings of the Brain –) the poem’s first window, but for me, the true window in Dickinson’s poem is contained in one word; its quick, penultimate, slipped-in “almost.” (And Life steps almost straight). The effect is so disguised it feels more truly trap-door than window: On this close-to-weightless “almost,” the poem’s assurance stumbles, catches. Its two syllables carry the knowledge that there are events in our lives from which no recovery is possible.

I love Emily Dickinson’s almost in this poem. The space it gives — the possibilities — for living your life otherwise. It seems that Hirshfield reads this almost as unfortunate — you almost made it back to your normal life after the darkness, but not quite. I don’t. There’s so much room (and a lot less pressure) in the almost! So much to write about this idea, so little time right now.

In the chapter, Hirshfield references a “popular” Dickinson poem that I’ve never encountered before:

The Brain — is wider than the Sky — (1863) J632/ Emily Dickinson

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —

I’d like to put this into conversation with my mid-run ideas about the body and the mind — maybe add Mary Oliver’s ideas about the difference between a poem and the world from The Leaf and the Cloud too.

august 11/SWIM

2.25 loops (2 big + 2 little)
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees

Open swim was delayed this morning by almost 30 minutes. A lifeguard shortage? Not sure. While I waited I, along with several others, swam a few little loops off the main beach. These loops were calmer and more relaxed than the big loops in the middle of the lake. I liked it.

a dead fish

Yuck! Wading near the shore, I saw something stuck in the shallow water: a BIG white fish, belly up. Was it a fish? With my vision, I can’t always tell. I’ve been known to see things wrong, like thinking a furry hat was a dead squirrel. I asked some other swimmers to check. Yep. One of them, named Sara (or maybe Sarah?) too, said it was a northern pike and too big to be in this lake! I looked it up and it might have been a northern pike, but it wasn’t as big as any of images I saw. Whatever it was, I’m glad I don’t ever see this type of fish in the middle of the lake! Maybe it’s one of the silver flashes I often see below me?

The water was warm and buoyant and choppy, especially on the way back. I strained my neck a little lifting it up over the waves to sight the buoys and my other landmarks. Because of my sore neck and needing to go to the bathroom (of course), I decided to stop after 2 loops.

Every so often I chanted the first lines of a Mary Oliver poem to myself: It is time now, I said, for the quieting and deepening of the spirit among the flux of happenings. And it worked, at least the quieting. Not sure I’d say I went deeper. The water was buoyant and my buoy had enough air in it, so it was more like my spirit was quieting and lifting. When I’m swimming I don’t want to sink, but float. This reminds me of some lines from a Maxine Kumin poem that I’ve written about on here before, “To Swim, To Believe”:

Matters of dogma spin off in the freestyle
earning that mid-pool spurt, like faith.
Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank.

Perhaps to think is to sink, to forget to float? But maybe only when you are in the water.

august 8/RUNSWIM

3.15 miles
2 trails
78 degrees
humidity: 46%

Warm, but low humidity. Ran later, at 11:30. Some shade, mostly sun. Ran south on the dirt trail between edmund and the river road. Yesterday it was mostly wet and muddy, today dry and dusty. Crossed over to the river road trail, then down to Winchell just before 44th. I don’t remember much about the river except that it was white and very bright. The trees were green and thick. No leaning trunks today. Also no sleeping bodies passed out on the path.

Listened to more acorns dropping — clink clunk thump — and kids yelling as they biked or played at the playground for most of the run. After ascending the 38th street steps, I put in Taylor Swift’s 1989 and she welcomed me to New York.

10 Things

  1. right before starting to run: a dark brown, almost black, squirrel sitting up on its hind legs — did it have an acorn? I couldn’t tell
  2. pale, dusty dirt on the boulevard path
  3. the squeaky groan of the bed of a big truck tilting down to drop off some type of giant machine on the road
  4. passing by a walker on the narrow winchell trail — right behind you! — as water dripped dripped dripped out of the sewer pipe below
  5. running on the tips of my toes as I traveled up the short, very steep grade near folwell
  6. 3 or 4 small stones stacked on the ancient boulder by the sprawling oak tree
  7. passing by the old stone steps that lead to the river, the flash of an idea: why not take these steps down to the river? another flash: bugs, heat, no time to stop. So I didn’t
  8. another groups of kids in yellow vests biking on the trail, the leader/adult calling out, stay on your side of the lane!
  9. doing quick steps to avoid the tree roots just barely sticking out of the dirt on the trail at the top of edmund
  10. listening to the line in Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood”:
    Did you have to do this?
    I was thinking that you could be trusted
    Did you have to ruin what was shiny?
    Now it’s all rusted
    and thinking about shiny vs. rusted, and rust in the fall, then I noticed some rust on one of the big metal tubes all around the neighborhood that the city is using for their sewer work — Scott says these tubes get placed vertically in the ground and the workers stand in them as they do their work

The World / Marie Howe

I couldn’t tell one song from another, which bird said what or to whom or for
what reason.
The oak tree seemed to be writing something using very few words.

I couldn’t decide which door to open—they looked the same, or what would
happen when
I did reach out and turn a knob. I thought I was safe, standing there, but my
death remembered

its date: only so many summer nights still stood before me, full moon, waning
moon,
October mornings: what to make of them? which door?

I couldn’t tell which stars were which or how far away any one of them was, or
which
were still burning or not—their light moving through space like a long late
train,

and I’ve lived on this earth so long, 50 winters, 50 springs and summers,
and all this time stars have stood in the sky—in daylight when I couldn’t see
them, and

at night, when most nights I didn’t look.

This idea that stars are there all the time, even in the day when we can’t see them, seems to be (at least in my limited experience) a favorite of poets. Also: the moon!, the fact that stars are dead by the time we see them, so we’re looking at ghosts, and the realization that ponies are not baby horses (I encountered this revelation, sometimes with the annoying phrase, I was today years old when I realized that ponies aren’t baby horses, from poetry people). All of these, sources of wonder and delight. I suppose they are for me, well maybe not the horses/ponies thing.

Currently I’m reading Andrew Leland’s The Country of the Blind and it’s amazing. His descriptions of becoming blind, or being in this state of living while losing sight, not living with lost sight, resonate a lot for me, especially the idea of doubting your own vision loss and his experiences with eye doctors:

(note: I didn’t have time to transcribe this page, but I will come back to do it and put in alt text for others who already can’t see the image, and for me who will soon not be able to.

swim: 3 swell loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

So many swells in the water today. For most of it, I felt like I was being pulled down into the water. Not very buoyant. I wondered if I would able to do 3 loops. But as I got deeper into the swim, I felt stronger and more able to keep going.

10 Things

  1. little minnows near the shore — hello friends!
  2. being rocked — not roughly or gently but in a way that made it difficult to push through the water
  3. getting stuck behind a woman swimming backstroke and getting way off course — is she swimming backstroke? is that the green buoy, way over there?
  4. racing a wetsuit on the back end of the first loop. Did he realize we were racing, or was it just me? I won
  5. the far orange buoy was much closer to the little beach than it has been all season
  6. spotted one swan, no sail boat or wandering canoes
  7. sighting other swimmers by the bubbles their feet made under the water
  8. the orange buoys looked like they had white patches as I got closer to them — the sun was shining extra bright on them, I guess
  9. no birds or planes that I remember but one zooming dragonfly
  10. felt like I was on a people mover for the last stretch between the last green buoy and first orange one — swimming so fast, pushed along by the swells behind me

Recited Mary Oliver’s “Swimming, One Day in August” in my head as I swam the last loop and realized something. She writes:

Something had pestered me so much
that I felt like my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.

The mechanical part? I realized that her heart breaking is a good thing here and that her mechanical heart is the one that follows the beat of organized, tightly contained time, broken down into hours and minutes and seconds so we can be as efficient and productive as possible. Yes! Swimming in the lake can break me open and out of time’s rigid boxes.

august 6/SWIM

3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
68 degrees

First swim back since last Monday. I’ve missed it. Almost thought it wouldn’t happen; it was supposed to rain. Instead, cloudy. Hooray!

I had a rough start. Right before swimming, I couldn’t get my nose plug to stay on my nose. After taking it off and putting it on again several times, I decided it was good enough and headed out to the first orange buoy. A few strokes in, I had to stop. A leaking goggle. Fixed it, started again. A minute or two later, I could tell my nose plug wasn’t on fully. Stopped in the middle of the lake to adjust it. A few minutes after that, my eye began to burn — I hadn’t rinsed out all the baby shampoo I use to de-fog my goggles. I swam with my eyes closed for a few strokes then stopped to rinse my eyes and goggles out while treading water halfway between the shore and the middle green buoy.

I had hoped to recite Mary Oliver’s “Swimming, One Day in August” as I swam, at least the first lines: It is time now, I said,/ for the deepening and the quieting of the spirit/among the flux of happenings. But, it was hard to think about deepening and quieting when my eyes were burning and my nose plug was leaking. After completing 2 loops, I decided to stop and stand and rest at the big beach for a minute and then find a way to get deeper and quieter for my last loop. I think it worked.

10 Things

  1. seagulls! Maybe a dozen, standing in the water near the shore
  2. a gray morning with rain coming
  3. water temperature warmer than the air
  4. opaque water — no silver flashes
  5. a few boats in the water, mostly lifeguards in kayaks
  6. the buoys were off from my line of landmarks — the top of the building, the over-turned boat, so I swam wide and on the edges of the course as I kept the landmarks in sight
  7. smooth water — were there any waves?
  8. no vines or weeds or floating chunks of vegetation
  9. no sun
  10. at least one plane in the sky

A strange sensation. I keep having flashes of memory about the swim that seem like dreams. Was I dreaming as I swam, or did I dream about swimming last night? Maybe a bit of both?

Hard for me to believe, but it looks like I haven’t posted Mary Oliver’s poem, “Swimming, One Day in August” in its entirety. Here it is:

Swimming, One Day in August/ Mary Oliver

It is time now, I said,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit
among the flux of happenings.

Something had pestered me so much
I thought my heart would break.
I mean, the mechanical part.

I went down in the afternoon
to the sea
which held me, until I grew easy.

About tomorrow, who knows anything.
Except that it will be time, again,
for the deepening and quieting of the spirit.

feb 4/RUN

4.3 miles
lake nokomis — one way
19 degrees / feels like 10
50% snow and ice-covered

Hooray for moving outside! Hooray for warmer air! Hooray for getting to run to Lake Nokomis! It felt good to be outside breathing in fresh air. My legs and lungs felt strong. At one point, I remember breathing in deeply through my nose, then out through my mouth and watching the frozen breath as it hovered in front of me.

layers:

  • 2 pairs black running tights
  • 1 bright yellow TC 10 mile racing shirt (2018)
  • 1 pink jacket with hood
  • 1 black winter vest
  • 1 pair of black gloves, 1 pair of pink and white striped gloves
  • 1 fleece lined cap with brim
  • a gray buff
  • 1 pair of socks

Only a few layers short of my most layered look. Maybe someday I’ll invest in an expensive running jacket and be able to wear less layers, but maybe not.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the call, but not the drumming, of a pileated woodpecker
  2. the path on the biking side of the pedestrian bridge had packed down snow that was uneven, but not too slick. It had little flecks of light brown — sand? grit? dirt that Minneapolis Parks put down to make it less slippery?
  3. a fat tire! I could hear the crunching of their wheels as they approached from behind. After they slowly passed me, they stopped just past the locks and dam #1. Why? To rest? To figure out where they were? To take a picture?
  4. a few days ago I mentioned hearing construction noises near the falls. Heard them again today. Pounding hammers at another new apartment building going up on the other side of Dairy Queen
  5. heard a high-pitched whine near all of the apartments; it was coming from a gas vent by the roundabout
  6. minnehaha creek was mostly frozen, with a few stretches of open water
  7. heard, but didn’t see, kids’ voices — yelling, laughing — somewhere on the creek
  8. more voices down by the dock, near the shore, at lake hiawatha
  9. noticed the creek water leading into the lake was not completely iced over
  10. there were stretches where the path was an inch of solid brown ice, but most of it was a combination of bare pavement, stained with salt, patches of packed snow and smooth ice

I don’t remember noticing anything particular delightful. I devoted a lot of attention to my effort, staying relaxed, and avoiding slippery spots.

I follow the Mary Oliver Bot on twitter and they posted a line from this beautiful poem:

The Moths/ Mary Oliver

There’s a kind of white moth, I don’t know
what kind, that glimmers
by mid-May 
in the forest, just 
as the pink mocassin flowers
are rising.

If you notice anything, 
it leads you to notice
more
and more.

And anyway
I was so full of energy.
I was always running around, looking
at this and that.

If I stopped 
the pain
was unbearable.

If I stopped and thought, maybe
the world
can’t be saved, 
the pain 
was unbearable.

Finally, I noticed enough.
All around me in the forest
the white moths floated.

How long do they live, fluttering
in and out of the shadows? 

You aren’t much, I said
one day to my reflection
in a green pond, 
and grinned.

The wings of the moths catch the sunlight
and burn
so brightly.

At night, sometimes, 
they slip between the pink lobes
of the moccasin flowers and lie there until dawn, 
motionless
in those dark halls of honey.

nov 30/RUN

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

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

layers

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

10 Things I Noticed

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

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

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

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

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

and the first white lilies
on the shaggy pond,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

july 10/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees (there) / 80 degrees (back)
9:15 am (there) / 10:45 am

Biked with Scott to the lake. Went a little faster than with FWA. Do I remember anything? Not much. Hearing the lifeguards setting up the buoys as we neared the lake, feeling the wind rush past my ears, being passed by a very nice biker near Nokomis.

When I asked Scott what he remembered, he reminded me of a cool image I pointed out to him: a band of orange light, about a foot high, stretching across the brick wall of the beach house, above the bike racks. It was a reflection from the solar panels near Sandcastle.

swim: 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
78 degrees
9:45

Very choppy today. Still wonderful. Open swim is one of my favorite things. For the first loop, the waves pushed me out farther away from the buoys. Mostly, I liked the rocking — not too rough, but not gentle either. I think I noticed a few silver flashes below me. Didn’t see the sky much, too many waves. Today I mostly saw water or a lifeguard kayak, a pink cap, or a yellow or orange buoy tethered to a swimmer. Swimming around the last green buoy was a wild ride; it felt like the water was pushing me along. Noticed a few other swimmers getting away off course, being pushed by the waves. Sometimes I breathed every 5 strokes, but more often it was every 4. I breathed on the side that was away from the waves.

I don’t remember seeing any ducks, or being brushed by any vegetation, or waring noticing a menancing sailboat. No extra loud beaches or little kids asking me questions about swimming across the lake.

I found a quote from a Mary Oliver poem (in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s first post for her World of Wonder column) that I’m planning to use in my lecture for my class this week. This is the orgin of the quote (with the quote in italics):

The Ponds/ Mary Oliver

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

MO’s description here of choosing to believe in the beauty or the good or whatever you’d call it, and not the flaws, reminds me of how I mostly see the world with my diseased eyes: because I can’t always look closer (not much central vision), I see the world as softer, in more general forms. I can’t see the small flaws or the ugliness as often. This inability to see details causes lots of problems, but it also enables me to look on the world with less scrutiny. Not sure how it works for other people who have damaged central vision, but that’s how it works for me.


april 18/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
35 degrees / feels like 25
wind: 16 mph / snow flurries

Before heading out for a run, watched the Boston Marathon. The thing I remember most about it was during the men’s push-rim race, when the announcer (who I think was a push-rim racer himself) talking about the racer’s gloves: they’re plastic and 3D-printed for precision, and when they bang on the metal wheel rim, they create a steady rhythm that the racer’s use for pacing themselves. Very cool. Later, I remembered this fact as I neared the end of my run.

Today, it is cold and windy and snowing again, but the birds are singing and calling — lots of fee bees — so I know spring will be here soon. Maybe by next weekend? I picked the right route for the direction of the wind. It was at my back as I ran over the lake street bridge and up the Marshall Hill. The only part where I was running directly into it was on the way back over the bridge.

Heard: the bells chiming near Shadow Falls; a dog barking and kid yelling below in the gorge; and the branches creaking from the wind again. This time the branches creaking sounded almost like a rusty hinge, with a door slowly creaking open. I like that image and the idea that some sort of door to somewhere was opening for me at that moment — and that there was something mysterious and scary about this door leading down into the woods or the earth. I like mysterious and scary.

Near the end of my run, I think after I remembered the rhythm of the gloves hitting the push-rim, I started chanting some of an ED poem:

Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath
Life is but life/And death but death/Bliss is but bliss/And breath but breath

Stopped to study the river for a minute — and to get a break from the wind — on the lake street bridge: it was a steely gray with ripples and a few eddies.

One more thing: Running above the floodplain forest and the Hiawatha Sand Flats, I heard a ferocious dog bark, then a whimper, almost but not quite, like a squeaky toy. Was the dog chasing or killing a bunny down there? Possibly. A minute later, I heard the deep voice of a human calling out repeatedly, then a steady rhythm of dog barks and sharp commands of some sort.

before the run

Scrolling through poems I’ve archived on my Safari Reading List, I found one that builds off of being dug up and excavated, but is also about returning, caring for, and re-planting:

Pear Snow/ Todd Dillard

A flood unzips a graveyard.
Cadavers sluice down Main St.
It’s my job to find the dead,
chauffeur them back to their plots.
The problem being the dead speak.
They want to swing by their old places,
check on spouses, kids grandkids
glimpsed in sepia windows
beneath the blue of evening news.
They whisper: “That tree was a sapling when I planted it,”
or: “I forgot what her laugh was like,”
or they call a dog that refuses to come.
Then, embarrassed by their weeping,
by how dry it is,
the dead ask me to take them home,
and on the drive I recite this line I’m working on
about the graininess of two-day-old snow.
“Pear snow,” I call it.
The dead say nothing
in response. The air velvets
as if it’s going to rain,
though the sky is clear,
the moon wet as the light in a child’s pupil.
Gentle, I lower the dead
back into their cradles. The earth,
for all its stripped rancor,
heavy in my shovel.
The work hard, but familiar.
The pay, at least, good.

What do we do with the ghosts that resurface, whether we want them to or not? How do we care for the stories of those who came before us?

Here’s another poem I posted last year about what the earth can yield and how we might notice it:

After the Rain/ jared Carter

After the rain, it’s time to walk the field
again, near where the river bends. Each year
I come to look for what this place will yield –
lost things still rising here.

The farmer’s plow turns over, without fail,
a crop of arrowheads, but where or why
they fall is hard to say. They seem, like hail,
dropped from an empty sky,

Yet for an hour or two, after the rain
has washed away the dusty afterbirth
of their return, a few will show up plain
on the reopened earth.

Still, even these are hard to see –
at first they look like any other stone.
The trick to finding them is not to be
too sure about what’s known;

Conviction’s liable to say straight off
this one’s a leaf, or that one’s merely clay,
and miss the point: after the rain, soft
furrows show one way

Across the field, but what is hidden here
requires a different view – the glance of one
not looking straight ahead, who in the clear
light of the morning sun

Simply keeps wandering across the rows,
letting his own perspective change.
After the rain, perhaps, something will show,
glittering and strange.

during the run

I tried to think about these two poems and excavating truths and caring for ghosts and noticing the things that are buried in the ground, but I couldn’t hang onto my thoughts. It could have been wind or the effort I was making to run in it that distracted me. Near the end of my run I thought about this before/during/after the run experiment and how it works sometimes and not others. I think I need to fine-tune it — maybe narrow my focus, or be more deliberate with what I want to think about before I head out on my run?

One other thing I remember was thinking about surfaces and depths, and the value of both. And now, writing this entry hours later, I’m thinking about how both of the poems in my “before the run” section involve water (rain) and how it brings the things buried to the surface. This reminds me of writing about water last July and Maxine Kumin’s idea of the thinker as the sinker (july 22, 2021). I’m also thinking about floating and bobbing to the surface and how humus (which I wrote about earlier this month) is the top layer of soil — 12 inches at the surface.

after the run

I want to return to the creaky branches sounding like the rusty hinge of a door. Last April, I read a poem by Mary Oliver with a hinge in it:

from Dogfish/ Mary Oliver

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)