may 21/RUN

3 miles
turkey hollow
66 degrees

Since it was a late Sunday morning on a beautiful day, I decided to avoid the river road path. I ran on Edmund and the grassy boulevard instead. My left hip and knee felt a little sore, and the run didn’t always feel easy, but it was still great to be outside moving. The thing I remember most was the birds at the beginning. So many chirps and tweets and trills. Much louder near my house than by the river.

Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker. Encountered a lot of bikers, runners, a big group of walkers in matching black shirts, 3 kids playing basketball out in the street.

Overheard a conversation and intended to remember what one of the woman said, but I forgot within a few minutes.

Tried to run in the shade, avoid the warm sun. Felt overdressed in shorts and short-sleeved shirt. Next time: tank top.

Looked for turkeys in turkey hollow. Didn’t see even one. Looked at the window of the poem house. Still the same poem from last December.

At the end of the run, as I was walking home, I pulled out my phone, planning to practice reciting the poem I re-memorized the morning — “Writing a Poem”– into it, but there were several people nearby and I felt self-conscious. I was inspired to re-memorize this poem because of the loud weed whacker that was buzzing in my brain late yesterday morning while I was trying to read Mary Ruefle. So loud! It’s dzzzzzzzzzz (not the dizz dizz dizz of the poem) taking over everything.

This morning, during my usual routine or reading poems.org, I discovered this wonderful interview with the poet, Sarah Audsley. There are many things in this interview I’d like to revisit, but especially this:

FWR: You’re also a self-described rural poet. How would you say place and/or the pastoral influence your writing?

Sarah Audsley: “The rural poet” seems like it is in contention with “the city poet.” For me, maybe it is! Because, for me, place and my connection to place is essential. I enjoy visiting cities and being an interloper in city life, but I will always choose to live in a rural place. Walking my dog three times a day, cross country  skiing in the winter, and hiking in the mountains in the summer, offsets all the daily computer grind. I like to think, too, that it feeds the work. To put it in another way, I’m a better poet if I’ve spent some time outside noticing and moving in the woods. The natural world offers me a sense of belonging. So, of course, this will appear in the poems. As for the pastoral poetry tradition, two poets and influences come to mind: Vievee Francis and the “anti-pastoral” poems in Forest Primeval, and Jennifer Chang’s Bread Loaf Lecture, “Other Pastorals: Writing Race and Place” (June 2019, available here.)

Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets”

Secret #7

Every word carries a secret inside itself; it’s called etymology.

It is the DNA of a word. To crack of press a word is to use its etymology to reveal its secrets, all still embedded in the direct action of ancient and original metaphor.

page 91

The psychic energy required and used in writing a poem is also a secret. Where did it come from? How did it get here and where is it going?

These are the questions we ask ourselves when we write, and these are the questions an astronomer asks of the stars.

Consider the word consider, which originally meant “to observe the stars.”

Consideration leads to comprehension, which originally meant “to grasp, to seize something with the hands and hold it tight in the arms”: what the mother does with the child. To hold, to put one’s arms around.

As Jung once wittily noted: “When the neurotic complains that the world does not understand him, he is telling us in a word that he want his mother.”

And who among us is not neurotic, and has never complained that they are not understood? Why did you come here, to this place, if not in the hope of being understood, of being in some small way comprehended by your peers, and embraced by them in a fellowship of shared secrets?

I don’t know about you, but I just want to be held.

To say that consideration leads to comprehension is to say that observation leads to action. The tasks of the outside world must be observed and then embraced privately, just as the astronomer looks through his telescope, considers the stars, and embraces the universe in the closed space of his mind.

Enter the cold dark matter.

Enter the anti-secret of every word. There is no comprehension. Our comprehension is limited. Language can only hold for a moment before the embrace disintegrates.

pages 92-94

The two sides of a secret are repression and expression, just as the two sides of poem are the told and the untold. We must be careful not to take the word as the meaning itself; words no not “capture” a moment as much as they “communicate” it—they are a bridge that, paradoxically, breaks isolation and loneliness without eradicating it. It is the first experience you ever had of reading a decent poem: “Ph, somebody else is lonely, too!”

Secret #9

In the end I would rather wonder than know.

*
Because I would rather wonder than know, my interests and talents lie in the arts rather than the sciences, although, like the monk who discovered champagne–an accidental event that unexpectedly happened to his wine–I have on occasion come running with open arms toward another with the news, “Look! I am drinking the stars!”

page 101

I would rather wonder than know. Yes!

a few hours later: Scrolling through instagram I found a poem by Laura Gilpin:

IV / Laura Gilpin

The things I know:
how the living go on living 
and how the dead go on living with them
So that in a forest
even a dead tree casts a shadow 
and the leaves fall one by one 
and the branches break in the wind 
and the bark peels off slowly 
and the trunk cracks
and the rain seeps in through the cracks 
and the trunk falls to the ground
and the moss covers it

and in the spring the rabbits find it 
and build their nest inside 
and their young will live safely
and have their young
inside the dead tree
So that nothing is wasted in nature
or in love.

I like this poem; I also like the title of the book it’s from — The Hocus-Pocus of the Universe — which made me remember a line from Ruefle’s lecture on secrets:

the sacred word is a secret and cannot be spoken without consequence, be it blessing or curse. There is simply too much power in certain words, and the unnerving force of naming casts a great spell over language and, in one very important sense, created poetry, since to invoke sacred powers, bypass words were employed, incantations without any meaning at all, such as abracadabra, words that of course became imbued with as much power as what they were trying to invoke. And then, as often happens, it worked in reverse, so that very sacred words or phrases bypassed themselves, through a living version of the parlor game Password, where a word is passed or repeated from ear to ear until it changes into gibberish. To my mind, the most paralyzing example of this process is one origin theory of the term hocus-pocus, that it was once hoc est corpus — This is my body ….”

page 81

may 20/RUN

4.5 miles
marshall loop (to cleveland)
67 degrees

Warmer today. The river was glittering as I ran above it, over the lake street bridge. Ended up at the St. Thomas Campus just after graduation was ending. Oops. Crowded sidewalks, a huge group of people waiting behind me at the stop light. A few near misses with people taking over the sidewalk.

I almost forgot — at the very beginning of my run, one block from my house, I heard someone playing Take Five on their saxophone inside somewhere. Then I saw someone working in their front yard and I thought — it’s nice to be outside in the city in the midst of other people doing their Saturday late morning things.

Anything else? no smells or things tasted that I recall. the feel of soft sandy grit on the edge of the bridge sidewalk, softer and deeper than on other parts of the trail. different voices after graduation, talking about parties and parking and — ? saw the shadow of a bird pass over my head.

Mary Ruefle, “Introduction” to Madness, Rack, and Honey

allegiance to poetry

my allegiance to poetry, to art, is greater than my allegiance to knowledge and intelligence, and that stance is harder and harder to maintain in today’s world, because knowledge and intelligence form the corporate umbrella (the academy) that shelters and protects poetry in a culture that cares about other things.

a definition of poetry

I do not think I really have anything to say about poetry other than remarking that it is a wandering little drift of unidentified sound, and trying to say more reminds me of following the sound of a thrush into the woods on a summer’s eve–if you persist in following the thrush it will only recede deeper and deeper into the woods; you will never actually see the thrush (the hermit thrush is especially shy), but I suppose listening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come, “Fret not after knowledge, I have none,” is what the trhursh says. Perhaps we can use our knowledge to preserve a bit of space where his lack of knowledge can survive.

I love this idea of preserving space for things outside of knowledge or what is considered intelligible by those in power. I remember now running across the lake street bridge and thinking about the value of space and room to breathe and be in as many ways as possible.

may 19/RUN

4.75 miles
veterans’ home loop
50 degrees

Wore my orange sweatshirt today. Partly cloudy, cooler, some wind. My legs felt like logs until I warmed up, about a mile into the run. Listened to some blue jays screeching, kids laughing, old guys talking. Forgot to look at the river or listen for the falls. Avoided a BIG school group above the falls — 4 or 5 full-sized school buses in the parking lot. Didn’t stop to walk up the small hill at the veterans’ home. Kept running until I reached 4 miles then walked while I put in my headphones. I listened to Lizzo for the last minutes of the run — Hi motherfuckers, did you miss me? I’ve been home since 2020. I’ve been twerkin’ and making smoothies. It’s called healing and I feel better. I love Lizzo.

Mary Ruefle and the madness of wasting time

continuing my discussion of her lecture, “Madness, Rack, and Honey.”

before the run

A few of the poets/writers Ruefle cites talk about nothing — the Great Nothing (Tess Gallagher), doing nothing (Gertrude Stein). I’m thinking about Auden and Ross Gay and the idea of making nothing happen, which I recently wrote about on march 29, 2023.

during the run

Every so often during the run, I thought about nothing and being useless — at least if usefulness is measured by capitalism and its values. At one point I thought about my running and writing practice — how much time I’ve put into it, or how much time I’ve wasted on it. Here I’m thinking about wasting time as something a poet (or someone who writes poetry) needs, desires.

after the run

I’m revising a few of my mood ring poems in order to submit all of them for a chapbook contest, so I don’t ave a lot of time to spend on reading Ruefle. For now, here’s a little bit on madness:

madness

The madness of poetry is that it creates sweetness, so that the flies might come and eat till it is gone. “To endlessly make an end of things,” says Paul Celan in a poem, and that’s it, inexplicably and exactly. ”

*

If the flies keep feasting, the honey will be gone. Then the flies will go away. And there will be nothing sweet. The poet has to either begin again–poor Creature!–or write a poem that goes on forever, and what a torment that would be! Even the long poem ends.

140

may 17/RUN

6 miles
annie young meadow and back
55 degrees

The perfect temperature for a spring run. The light looked strange. Filtered through trees, clouds, haze? it looked almost pink or light orangish-pink. I liked it. Everything, everywhere thick with green.

note, 19 may, 2023: talked with Scott and RJP about the strange light, which has continued: forest fires

I greeted the Welcoming Oaks and good morninged Mr. Morning! and another regular — did I ever name him? Maybe it was Mr. Holiday?

I chanted in triple berries to keep a steady rhythm — strawberry blueberry raspberry — and tried to stop thinking or noticing anything, to just be on the path, moving and breathing. What did I notice anyway?

10 Things I Noticed When I Wasn’t Noticing

  1. 2 stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  2. down in the flats, the river was moving fast. I tried to race it
  3. white foam on the river, under the I-94 bridge I thought (or hoped?) it was a rowing shell
  4. a fat tire bike sped down the franklin hill, abruptly turned at annie young meadow and almost ran into a parked car, then called out to the guy in the car — his friend — Hey!
  5. the bucket of a big crane curled under the franklin bridge with a worker in it, studying the underside of the bridge
  6. a guy walking on edmund in a bright yellow vest, no other vest wearers or official vehicles in sight
  7. a runner coming down the other franklin hill — the one near the dog park — then entering the river road trail 25 yards? ahead of me
  8. smell: pot, down in the flats
  9. a woman stopped at the edge of the trail, looking through a camera lens at a tree on the other side of the road. I thought about calling out, what’s in the tree?, but didn’t
  10. the weeds on the edge of the trail, poking out of cracks in the asphalt looked monstrous — now I can’t remember what I thought they were at first, just not weeds
  11. bonus: a turkey! chilling in the grassy boulevard between edmund and the river road

I don’t really remember what I heard as I ran without headphones toward franklin. After stopping 3/4 of the way up the hill to walk, I put in music. I thought I put in Lizzo’s Special but I must have forgot to tap something because when I hit the play button it was Dear Evan Hansen again. Oh well.

Mary Ruefle, “Madness, Rack, and Honey”

Last night during Scott’s community jazz band rehearsal, after our regular community band rehearsal, when I sit for an hour and try to read or write or think about my poetry, I started Ruefle’s titular lecture (is that the correct way to use titular?). Now, after my run, I’m back at it again. This lecture is a chewy bagel and I’m determined to not spend too much time on it.

The title is strange — what does she mean by madness, rack, and honey? — and I was pleased to discover that she devotes the lecture to explaining the title. She begins with a Persian poem:

I shall not finish my poem.
What I have written is so sweet
The flies are beginning to torment me.

honey:

It is so simple and clear: the “figurative” sweetness of the author’s verse has become honey, causing “literal” flies to swarm on the page or in around the autor’s ead. This is turly the Word made flesh, the fictive made real, water into wine. That is the honey of poetry: the miracle of its transformation, which is that of creation: once there was a blank page–scary!–now there is something in its place that is attracting flies. Anyone who has not experienced the joy, pleasure, transport, and who has not experienced the joy, pleasure, transport, and sweetness of writing poems has not written poems.

pages 130-131

rack:

Enter the flies who feast. For teh poem clearly reminds us that honey has complications–those flies are beginning to torment the poet. Torment, pain, torture, is what I mean by the rack.

page 134

It is what poetry does to the world, what poets do with words, and what words will do to a poet. And that’s the rack of it. And if you have never experienced the rack while working on a poem then you have have never worked on a poem. Have you never put language in an extenuating circumstance with dangerous limits until an acute physical sensation results?

page 135

And, if I have time, I’ll return for madness later today.

One more thing to post before I go eat lunch. Instead of posting the poem, which I also like, I’m only posting the poet’s explanation of it.

About This Poem (Evening)

“Sometimes you hear a word as if for the first time, a word you’ve been saying your whole life. I don’t know what in the brain allows the word, in that moment, to reveal itself, but it always makes me feel very smart and very foolish at once. This poem was written during the period when I had just gotten into gardening and was gaining a new appreciation for everything—food, nature, and time. I wonder what else is waiting to reveal itself to me in such a way, and whether I’ll be distracted enough to receive it.”
Jeremy Radin

Now I’m thinking of the opening lines from Marie Howe’s “The Meadow”: As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them…is this idea of walking into words similar to words (and new meanings) revealing themselves to us? As I write this question, I’m reminded of a Mary Ruefle piece in My Private Property: “In the Forest”

When I wander in the forest I am drawn towards language, I see meaning is quaintly hidden, shooting up in dark wet woods, by roots of trees, old walls, among dead leaves…

page 74

And these lines helped me to remember a thought I had as I ran this morning on the part of the pedestrian path that dips below the bike path, the two separated by a slight rise and some bushes. When I first started to run this trail, almost 10 years ago, I was a little afraid of taking this lower trail. It was hidden from the road and other people and I wondered if someone might be lurking, waiting for me. Today I thought, how could I have been afraid of this short part of the path, only hidden from view for a few seconds? It does seem ridiculous.

may 15/RUN

3.45 miles
locks and dam #1 hill
57 degrees

Wow! A beautiful spring morning. Sunny, low wind, birds. Favorite part of the run was hearing, then seeing, the geese under the ford bridge. Honking as they flew low then landing in their river, their feet skimming the water — what a beautiful sound that is — not sure how to describe the sound of a bird coming in for a landing.

Listened to the birds, no specific bird, just BIRDS!, as I ran south, then put in “Dear Evan Hansen” at the top of the hill and listened to that as I ran north.

Mostly my body felt strong and sore, especially the big toe on my right foot.

Mary Ruefle, “On Fear”

before the run

The second form of dread is the anticipatory dread of pain, either physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological, and that, folks, covers nine-tenths of the world’s surface.

Ruefle lists Julian of Norwich’s 4 forms of dread:
dread form 1 = emotion fear — your very first response to smell of smoke
dread form 3 = doubt or despair
dread form 4 = hold dread with which we face that we which we love the most

Dread. I like it better than the word fear because fear, like the unconscious emotion which is one of its forms, has only the word ear inside of it, telling an animal to listen, while dread has the word read inside of it, telling us to read carefully and find the dead, who are are also there.

For some reason, this word play reminded me of a delightful poem I read by Kelli Agodon Russell a few months ago:

Believing Anagrams/ Kelli Agodon Russell

—after being asked why I write so many poems about death and poetry

there’s real fun in funeral,
and in the pearly gates—the pages relate.

You know, i fall prey to poetry,

have hated death.

all my life,
literature has been my ritual tree—

Shakespeare with his hearse speak, Pablo Neruda, my adorable pun.

So when i write about death and poetry, it’s donated therapy

where i converse with
Emily Dickinson, my inky, misled icon.

and when my dream songs are demon’s rags,
i dust my manuscript in a manic spurt

hoping the reader will reread because i want the world

to pray for poets as we are only a story of paper. 

This poem is from her collection, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room. It seems fitting to read and post this poem on Emily Dickinsons death date — May 15, 1886. I love her anagram for Emily Dickinson: inky, misled icon

during the run

I thought about reciting Dickinson poems as I started running, but forgot about it before I even reached the river. Near the end of the run, while I listened to “Dear Evan Hansen,” I thought about fear and dread and wondered where worry fit in.

after the run

I’m slowly reading more of Ruefle’s “On Fear”:

She talks about the difference between emotions (instinct) and feelings (cognitive), and emergencies of feeling. She lists what other poets have said about fear, then lists her fears. And she returns to Julian of Norwich:

“Fear and dread are brothers,” says Julian of Norwich. As desire is wanting and fear is not-wanting.

After this mention of Norwich, Ruefle devotes several pages to Keats and his idea of negative capabilities. I’ll leave a discussion of that for another day, when I have time.

She ends with a reference to Emily Dickinson, which, like Russell’s poem seems fitting to include:

What has life taught me? I am much less afraid than I ever was in my youth–of everything. That is a fact. At the same time, I feel more afraid than ever. And the two, I can assure you, are not opposed but inextricably linked. I am more or less the same age Emily Dickinson was when she died. Here is what she thought: “Had we the first intimation of the Definition of Life, the calmest of us would be Lunatics!” The calm lunatic–now that is something to aspire to.

The passage from ED comes from a letter and also includes these wonderful lines:

There is a Dove in the Street and I own beautiful Mud – so I know Summer is coming. I was always attached to Mud, because of what it typifies – also, perhaps, a Child’s tie to primeval Pies.

Letter from Emily Dickinson to Mrs. JG Holland (about March 1877)

Two more things I found from an early (1862) letter from Dickinson to Higginson. The first fits with Ruefle’s discussion of fear and poets:

I had a terror-since September-I could tell to none-and so I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground-because I am afraid-

The second I’m including because I find it delightful:

You ask of my Companions Hills- Sir-and the Sundown-and a Dog-large as myself, that my Father bought me-They are better than Beings-because they know-but do not tell-and the noise in the Pool, at Noon – excels my Piano. 

may 11/RUN

5.85 miles
ford loop
62 degrees
humidity: 77%

Too hot, too humid, tired. I tried running earlier today (9 am instead of 10:30), but it was still too late. Even so it was a good run that I’m glad I did. Ran the ford loop and spent the first 3.5 miles convincing myself to keep going, to not stop until I reached the overlook near the ford bridge. (I did it!) Then I put in “Dear Evan Hansen” and started running again, or should I say struggle running. Stopped a few times to walk, feeling wiped out, but kept running again. Whew.

At the start of my run, I heard the robin’s cheer up! cheer up! and a woodpecker’s knock. Later, I heard a pileated woodpecker’s laugh, not sounding exactly like Woody the woodpecker, but close enough.

Smelled wet cinnamon — dripping blossoms? — and thought about chewed-up Big Red.

Felt too hot, my face burning, probably bright red. The drip drip drip of sweat from my ponytail on my neck.

Greeted the Welcoming Oaks, noticed the floodplain forest was hidden in green.

Mary Ruefle, White, Brown

before the run

I’d like to do one color at a time, but I couldn’t decide between her white or brown color poems so I’m including both of them. I think I’ll let running Sara decide. Will she choose to focus on white things or brown things, both or neither?

from My Private Property/ Mary Ruefle

White sadness is the sadness of teeth, bones, fingernails,
and stars, yes, but it is also the sadness of cereal, shower
caps, and literary foam, it is the sadness of Aunt Jenny’s
white hair covering her body like a sheet, down to her toes,
as she lay on the sickbed, terrifying the children who were
brought in one by one to say goodbye. It is the sadness of
radio waves traveling through space forever, it is the voice
of John Lennon being interviewed, his voice growing
weaker and weaker as the waves pass eternally through a
succession of galaxies, not quite there, but still . . .

*

Brown sadness is the simple sadness. It is the sadness of
huge, upright stones. That is all. It is simple. Huge, up-
right stones surround the other sadness, and protect
them. A circle of huge, upright stones–who would have
thought it?

Ruefle’s line about the stars and galaxies in her white sadness poem, makes me think of the new word I learned this morning from the title of a poem: sidereal

sidereal: (adj) of or with respect to the distant stars (i.e. the constellations or fixed stars, not the sun or planets).

pronounced: cy deer e ul

during the run

Running Sara tried to think about both white and brown and it worked, mostly, but green kept declaring, I’m here! Notice me! Green Green Green! So much green everywhere and all of a sudden. There I was, on the trail, running and noticing white sweatshirts tied around waists or brown leaves littering the ground, when green would hijack my thoughts. brown trunk GREEN leaves pale white sky GREEN air

5 Brown Moments and 5 White Ones

  1. river: brown with light brown foam
  2. same river from the other side: deep blue with white foam
  3. brown tree trunks
  4. a brown sound: the knocking of a woodpecker on a dead tree
  5. a flash of the white, almost silver, river through the trees
  6. a limestone wall, the part of it illuminated by sunlight was white
  7. white sands beach, viewed from the other side of the river
  8. the brown trail leading down to Shadow Falls
  9. a white sound: the vigorous tinkling of the falls falling
  10. the brown boulder with 4 small stones stacked on its top

I like listening to “Dear Evan Hansen” while I run. Together they — the emotional lyrics/music combined with how I soften as I exert myself — make me feel things: sad, tender, hopeful, a deep aching joy. I thought of how Ruefle’s color poems can be read as sadness or happiness, which then made me think of Ross Gay’s understanding of joy as both grief and delight.

Another thought I had about brown while running: Thinking about the brown sadness of Ruefle’s huge upright stones, I suddenly thought: the gorge. The gorge, with its huge limestone, sandstone walls is both brown sadness and brown happiness.

after the run

White happiness is the happiness of crisp sheets hang-
ing on the line just to the side of the farmhouse, of soft
shimmering salt pouring out of a cheap salt shaker, of a
button-down oxford reluctantly worn.

Here’s the poem about the white stars that I mentioned earlier in the post:

Sidereal/ Debra Albery

Consider this an elegy with silo and fever.
Call it barn and gravel and gone. Grasses’ obeisance

in the wake of a pick-up, sun searing the leaves
green to gold in the season’s time-elapse.

Where does it go, the Sunday angle of sunlight
once only yours, wide and open as a window?

Here’s what I remember: the flaking mural
on the brick wall of neighborhood grocery, saying

Food for the Revolution for twenty-five years.
Stacked landscapes in my rearview, blank as a calendar

until a bend in the road brought the Blue Ridge;
the pocked metronome of tennis balls outside

while I harnessed what I had lost and missed
in minor-key pentameter. So what, my mentor

talked back to his tercets in draft after draft:
so what so what so what. “This essay is accurate

but never ignited,” the Derridean scrawled
in red ink when I was writing about Bishop writing,

I can scarcely wait for the day of my imprisonment.
Her keen eye ever cast on the homely unheimlich.

Call this a road story about the slow burn of foliage,
about containment, what conspires against arrival.

Astonish us, Diaghilev said to Cocteau,
but all I ever wanted was to consider

its roots in the auguries of our shifting stars.

About This Poem

“‘Sidereal’ is, as the poem declares itself, a road story, a cross-country retrospective traversing decades. It is, as it also states, an elegy—in part honoring a past teacher, Larry Levis. The ‘so-what-so-what’ refrain is his, handwritten above a line on an early draft of his poem ‘Caravaggio: Swirl & Vortex.’ That self-interrogation set in motion a poem of motion that longs for dwelling—as did the swirl and vortex of etymology, sidereal and consider both deriving from sidereus, meaning ‘star,’ itself of uncertain origin.”
Debra Allbery

words I looked up, which I mostly knew, but wanted to be precise:

obeisance: deference
auguries: omens
unheimlich: uncanny

I like the line, barn and gravel and gone. Reading it again, and thinking about this poem about restlessness and belonging, I’m reminded of a time in my life when I tried to (still) belong to a farm that was barn and gravel and gone — a family home place, sold.

may 10/YARDWORK

1 hour
mowing, raking, pulling weeds
70 degrees

After almost 2 months of preparing for, then waiting, then watching it happen, the house is finally painted. Now I can mow and garden and bring out the umbrella for the deck. Hooray! Since I knew I should have a day off from running — having run 4 days in a row, I decided to do yardwork today.

Yardwork. And now the yardwork is over (it is never over), today’s
Stint anyway. Odd jobs, that stretch ahead, wide and mindless
–“Hymn to Life”/ James Schuyler

Today it feels like summer but the backyard looks like early spring. Tulips in full bloom, peonies popping up with their green shoots that look like asparagus — at least to me. Big bare patches from where robins had dropped crabapple seeds in late winter. Dandelions, garlic mustard, creeping charlie, the half-mulched leaves left over from late fall.

I listened to a Maintenance Phase episode — Oprah v. the beef industry — while I mowed and raked and swept up scattered mulch.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. everywhere, in the back and front yards, the ground seemed soft — too soft. is it the ants?
  2. right next to the front step, a giant mound — an ant hill
  3. the soft metallic whirr of the reel mower blades
  4. the distinctive thunk of the blade getting jammed from a small twig
  5. strange — bare vines by the yucca bushes — is this ground cover dead/dying, or have the leaves not appeared yet. is it the ants?
  6. the sloped front lawn, soft and bare, a few patches of weeds, some suspicious looking soft dirt. is it the ants?
  7. weeds infiltrating the red and yellow tulips on the south side of the house
  8. a few bright green leaves growing on the hydrangea twigs
  9. some small maple leaves poking out from the spirea
  10. small asparagus-like stalks emerging from the earth — time to put the cages around the peonies before they get too big to tame!

Mary Ruefle and Washing Dishes

In the opening lines of “Towards a Carefree World,” Ruefle writes:

Many of the most astonishing writers in the world had ser-
vants. It is doubtful they ever really washed the dishes.
Which is too bad; I think they would have enjoyed wash-
ing the dishes, especially after dinner. Repetitive motion
can take your mind off things. By things I mean the cares
of this world.

With these lines, I decided to think about washing dishes.

1

Mother, Washing Dishes/ Susan Meyers

She rarely made us do it—
we’d clear the table instead—so my sister and I teased
that some day we’d train our children right
and not end up like her, after every meal stuck
with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us: gummy plates
in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.

Or did she guard her place
at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss
of the magnolia, the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.

2

What the Living Do/ Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

3

Mostly I like washing dishes. It’s a chance to move after a meal, or as a break from writing. I listen to a podcast — Maintenance Phase, Ali on the Run, Vs., Between the Covers — or an audio book while I soak then scrub then rinse. Sometimes I look out the window at the trees swaying in the wind or the sky glowing orange or a squirrel taunting my dog. Occasionally, but not often, I shatter a dish on the granite countertop.

Usually I can see well enough to properly clean the dirty dishes. Sometimes I rely on feel — if it’s smooth, it’s clean; if it’s rough, it’s dirty. My biggest struggle is with the metal cheese grater. I hold it under the light, tilt it in different directions, trying to see if I missed any streaks of cheese. Almost impossible for me to tell.

We have a dishwasher but it hasn’t been working properly for 2 or 3 years now so I hand wash the dishes. Sometimes I wish our dishwasher worked, sometimes I don’t care. Often I wonder if washing dishes will be one more thing lost to me once all of my central vision is gone.

I don’t remember washing too many dishes with my mom, but I do remember drying them for Scott’s mom and dad after dinner. They always had to do the dishes right after eating. It took me years (15? 20?) to finally feel comfortable enough to help them. They were very particular about how you should wash dishes — don’t waste water, make sure they are absolutely dry before putting any dishes away, use a drying cloth that doesn’t leave lint but also doesn’t dry anything. When they both stopped caring about the dishes and how they were done, I knew we were entering the final stage.

Our kitchen faucet had been dying for three or four years. First, it dripped when you turned it off. Sometimes, if I jiggled it just right, it would almost stop. For at least 3 years this happened. Then, the retractable hose started getting stuck. You could pull it out, but not put it back in. Then you couldn’t move it from one sink to the other. Finally, the whole faucet — base and all — wouldn’t stop moving and leaking water into the cabinet below. When this happened Scott abruptly declared it was time, right this minute, to go out a buy a new faucet. So we did. And when we returned home Scott removed the old faucent, which was hard to get out, and put in the new one, which slid in without a problem. Why, I wondered, had we waited so long to get a new faucet?

may 9/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin turn around
66 degrees
humidity: 70%

Just as I started my run, one bird then another flew right across my path. Were they sparrows? Heard the squawk call of the downy woodpecker several times. Smelled a smell like Big Red cinnamon gum. I know it’s a flowering bush or tree, but every year I forget what it is. Tried looking it up; I still don’t know. I was tired and sore so the run was hard. I should probably take a break tomorrow. I remember looking at the river but not what it looked like. Heard a dog collar clanging below then something — a dog, I assume — running through the bushes. Noticed a few cars and bikes with headlights on.

No sun today. Everything a rich green, thick and quiet.

Since last week, painters have been painting the outside of our house. A dark gray (gibraltar) with white trim and a bright green (parakeet) door. Very nice. Not only does it look good but by fixing the rotting boards on the garage, scraping away the peeling paint just below the kitchen, and sanding and painting the deck railing, they have eliminated several of the worries that have simmered on low on the back burner in my brain for years. Of course they’ll be replaced with new worries — bothersome ant hills, a yard with more weeds than grass — but I always like to acknowledge the passing of worries so they don’t continue to haunt me.

Listened to cars, my breathing, birds as I ran north, “Dear Evan Hansen” on headphones as I ran north.

Mary Ruefle, “I Remember, I Remember”

Today’s Ruefle selection is the lecture, “I Remember, I Remember.” Each one of Mary Ruefle’s series of recollections about poetry and writing and childhood begins with the phrase, I remember.

I remember, I remember refers to the a poem by Thomas Hood in the first poetry book she ever owned.

Ruefle remembers sending a poem to the publishing company, Little, Brown, and Company as a child and learning from them that Laura Ingalls Wilder was dead and that one of her favorite characters from the book series had died in a threshing accident.

Ruefle remembers reciting “Ode to a Nightingale” to cows in a field when she was 18 and weeping because she loved the poem so much.

Then she remembers many other things — 16 more pages of them — about writers she encountered and poetry.

before the run

I only read the first page of this lecture before going out for my run.

during the run

I remember, about a mile and a half in, I had a thought about remembering and forgetting. I remembered it and then, when I reached the bottom of the hill, I stopped to record what I remembered into my phone:

Thinking about “I Remember” and remembering, origins and when things began. I thought about how there is a sort of origin point to all of this (my writing poetry) and it’s my eye doctor diagnosing me with a rare eye disease then saying, you should write about it which prompted me to want to work on my writing so I could better explain what I was experiencing. But, I had already been writing and already had those desires, so it was really more of a slight shift, a stutter step or a quick stumble off the path, just briefly, which changed the trajectory, slightly, incrementally. Difficult to pinpoint what all changes your path.

after the run

Ruefle’s recollection of reciting a poem in a field to some cows reminds me of how I liked to memorize poems, especially by Shakespeare, and recite them to 3 of my friends as we trudged through Iowa cornfields de-tasseling corn the summer before heading off to college. At that point, I didn’t think I liked poetry. I guess I did.

I remember when I turned 40 and was trying to remember what happened to me as a child, I felt like I had forgotten everything. I wondered how other people could remember so much, me so little.

I remember reading an article about Marilou Henner and how her brain doesn’t forget anything that happens to her, she remembers every detail of every day. I remember thinking that sounded miserable.

I remember writing the phrase, “remembering to forget” and “forgetting to remember” in two different log entries and thinking those were interesting ideas.

I remember the moment of struggle, trying to remember a word from a poem that I had just memorized, then the moment of awareness, realizing what the word was — the moment when forgetting became remembering. Then thinking that the moment of remembering was invigorating and strange and magical — how suddenly something lost was found.

I remember trying to find someone else’s poem that expressed similar feelings about the joy of remembering, but all I could find were poems of sorrow about forgetting.