july 17/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
69 degrees
humidity: 79% / dew point: 62

10 Things I Noticed On My Run

  1. A shell with a single rower, from above on the marshall bridge. I wondered if they saw me too until I remembered, and then saw, rowers row with their backs leading.
  2. No stones stacked on the ancient boulder.
  3. The river was calm, blue. Saw a small log from high above on the bridge; it looked so tiny and far away.
  4. 2 young (younger than me, at least) runners passed, running much faster. A snippet of their conversation–R1: That was when you just started running again…. R2: Yes, after I recovered from the blood clots in my leg. Not 1, but 2 blood clots.
  5. Brown, dead leaves covering the path for a brief stretch. It looked like they had been dragged from the brush. Why?
  6. The loud buzz, crackle of a cicada.
  7. My right knee feeling a bit strange, almost like the kneecap wasn’t quite in the groove. Almost, but not quite.
  8. A kid approaching me on his bike as I ran over the bridge, doing a great job of staying to his side. Almost wanted to call out and tell their parent what a great job he was doing.
  9. Hearing a beeping sound down in the river, wondering if it was the start of a rowing race, never figuring out what it was.
  10. Running through the Minneahaha Academy parking lot, hearing someone on the field, wondered if they were playing golf

july 15/RUNSWIM

run: 3.5 miles
2 trails
67 degrees

Ah, what a run! Slightly cooler, relaxed. On the Winchell Trail, about halfway done, heard water dripping out of the sewer and got lost in the sound and the words I could use for it: sprinkling, tinkling, shimmering, twinkling…not sputtering. A steady, pleasing rhythm of drips and drops.

At some point, it looks like most of the Winchell Trail was asphalt. Now, some of that asphalt has surrendered to the dirt, especially in the stretch between the start of the trail at 44th to 42nd and also north of the 38th street steps. As I ran past 38th, heading towards the oak savanna, I wondered: How long does it take for asphalt to crumble? To revert to dirt? How many foot steps? How many rain drops? Spring seeps? Sewer drips? Wheel ruts?

Ran up the hill past the ravine with the concrete then limestone ledges. Loose gravel. Difficult to ascend. On other paved hills, I ran up steep slopes on the tips of my toes. Running down, I could hear my left foot slap the asphalt. Heard lots of birds–not specific birds, just birds. Also heard a roller skier and a large group of kids–a summer camp?–yelling and laughing and rushing down the hill between Edmund and the river road. Encountered a series of pairs of walkers, two by two by two. Felt strong and steady and wonderfully lost in the acts of moving and breathing and being outside.

Returning to the question of how long it takes for asphalt to surrender to dirt, I’m reminded of Eamon Grennan’s wonderful poem about erosion in which he laments never having seen that moment, after countless years of slow, relentless erosion, when water and stone, flux and solidity, sea-roar and land-groan meet. Such a great poem! Asphalt erosion involves the clashing–or coming together–of water and stone, but not with such a dramatic conclusion, at least not on the trail. Just a slow, steady sink into the dirt as groundwater seeps down from above. Grennan’s poem also reminds me of the name the Ojibwe gave for the falls at St. Anthony: Gakaabika or severed rock. And, the idea of never witnessing these big moments and/or the slow, steady break down or build up of something reminds me of a poem I wrote for my collection of poems about seeing and swimming. I want to work on all of these poems for the rest of the summer. Revise them, rethink them, reshape them:

DETRITUS/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

No matter how hard I try to concentrate
I can’t seem to see the slimy sand seeping
inside, settling on my skin
but it’s always there when I take off my suit.

I marvel at the unnoticed murk I have carried with me
streaks on my stomach, half moons under my breasts
then wash it off
before my skin turns red and my mood too dark.

Even as the murk dissolves down the drain
the lake never leaves
I smell it in my suit days later
feel it in my dreams all winter.

With some more work, I think this poem has potential.

,swim: 3 miles
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

What a swim! A perfect night for swimming and then meeting STA for a beer at Sandcastle. Swam three loops and felt strong and fast. The first green buoy, on the way back to the big beach, was as far to the right, close to the sailboats, as it has ever been. At first I was irritated by how far out it was, but then I was glad. A challenge! A chance to test my sighting skills and an opportunity to swim farther into the lake. Yes!

july 13/RUNBIKESWIMBIKE

run: 3.5 miles
2 trails
73 degrees/ sunny

Warm this morning, sunny too. Decided to try and run as slowly and steadily as I could using my heart rate. I soon realized that I couldn’t see the heart rate on my watch because it’s in red. My cone dystrophy and my struggle with colors and low contrast, makes red on a dark background especially hard to see. All this time, I’ve been looking at my cadence, which is in white. Why can’t the heart rate be in white too? I need more contrast. Looking through the accessibility options, there’s no way to change the color of the heart rate in a running workout.* Later, walking Delia, I noticed that the heart rate is white in the walk workout. Should I try running with the walk workout on? Yes. Another hack for how to make my eyes work in new ways.

*update: Was telling my 15 year old daughter RJP how I was planning to hack the watch. She told me that I can just twist the crown on the side of the watch to make the bpms white instead of red–when something is red that means it’s highlighted. I don’t think I ever would have figured this one out without her help. Such a apple genius. She should get a job at an apple store.

It was a good run. Everything felt fuzzy and dreamy, like I was swimming in air, not quite there. A great feeling. I don’t remember much. I was sweating a lot and I think I swallowed a bug. I remember hearing some birds, but not how their songs sounded. I saw the river–very blue. I put some effort into loving the world and everyone I encountered–not getting irritated by approaching runners, or trail hogging bikers. Mostly, it worked. I heard some trickling through the sewer pipes. I don’t remember smelling anything. No spazzy squirrels, but one darting chipmunk. Not too many bugs–just the one I might have swallowed. Oh–I saw a peleton on the road, not tightly packed but strung out in a long-ish line. Also heard the rowers just as I was leaving the river trail.

a few delightful verses by Lorine Niedecker

We are what the seas
have made us
longing immense
the very veery
on the fence

*

The eye
of the leaf
into leaf
and all parts
spine
into spine
neverending
head

to see

*

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch

*

We must pull
the curtains—
we haven’t any
leaves

bike: 8.6 miles
lake nokomis and back
88 degrees

Very happy that biking is not too bad this year. Not really scary at all. No feeling of panic, no moments where I can’t quite see what’s in front of me.

swim: 3 miles/3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
88 degrees/ windy
choppy, wavy water

Yes! Big swells today. At least, big for this lake. I don’t mind the choppy water. I like the challenge and the feeling of being pushed around by the water. The buoys (even more) often disappeared in the waves; swimmers did too. I had no problem staying on course. When I could hardly see anything, which was most of the time–due to the waves and the haze from fires in Ontario–I could always see the hovering, shimmering roof at the big beach.

july 9/SWIMRUN

swim: 2 miles/ 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

Maybe because of the breeze and the cloud cover, 70 degrees felt cold this morning. Not too bad in the water, although my right thumb started feeling numb by the end. A great swim. The buoys were way off course. The first orange buoy is usually in a diagonal line from the white buoy at the main beach to the overturned rowboat at the little beach. Today it was in line with the four white buoys at the big beach and far off to the left. The second and third buoys were even farther out–so much closer to the far shore than usual. I have decided that this doesn’t bother me. It adds distance to the loop and it’s a good challenge for my vision. Since it was morning and somewhat sunny, the orange buoys were backlit and invisible. Reaching the little beach for the first time, I thought about a game I created for myself during my senior year of high school. It involved seeing how long I could procrastinate on writing a paper (usually 4-5 pages in high school AP Lit class) and still finish it/get a decent grade on it. I can’t remember, but I think I started a paper as late as the night before–or the early morning the day of? Anyway, it seems now I like playing, How little visual data do I need to still keep swimming, to not panic or swim way off course? The answer, so far: the very rare sighting of a buoy, the feeling of a hulking shape in the distance, the quick flash of something white that looks like it might be a buoy or the bottom of a rowboat, the quick flash of a splash from another swimmer’s arm. Playing this game, which is not really a game because I don’t really have a choice about how much I can or can’t see, takes up most of my attention. It’s hard to get lost in the water when I’m swimming non-stop and trying to stay on course. It’s hard for me to slow down, but I’d really like to try doing an easy loop–where I stop in the middle of the lake occasionally to look around, and where I devote more attention to how the water feels and sounds.

run: 3.5 miles
trestle turn around
72 degrees

After returning home from the lake, feeling cold,I decided to warm up by running. I was inspired by STA’s approach to keeping a lower heart rate by walking and running. Run until your bpms get too high, walk until they get too low. For STA too high = 150, too low = 130. My heart rate is much higher than that; if I used his numbers, I’d never run. I decided to try: high = 170, low = 150. For some reason, my pulse went above 170 after only 2 minutes of running. I stopped and walked and when it reached 150, started running again. I managed to keep my bpms at 164/165 for the rest of the run. Excellent. I felt very relaxed and even though my pace was slower, it wasn’t that slow. I felt great when I finished.

things, other than my heart rate, I noticed

  • no small stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  • the tunnel of trees felt extra green and airy
  • lots of biking groups
  • the rowers were on the river–heard both a male and a female coxswain
  • an abandoned shopping cart was hiding behind a rock below the lake street bridge
  • a quick glimpse of the blue river
  • lots of sweat, dripping down my forehead
  • almost stepped on a chipmunk–their fault, not mine. Stupid chippies!

I used a birthday gift card to buy the collected works of Lorine Niedecker. So good! I love her words:

Smile/ Lorine Niedecker

Smile
    to see the lake
      lay
   the still sky
And
   out for an easy
     make
   the dragonfly

july 7/RUNSWIM

5.5 miles
franklin loop
56 degrees
humdity: 88%/ dew point 55

Much cooler this morning. Overcast, excessively green, quiet. The sky was a light gray, almost white. The river, grayish blue–not quite livid, which I discovered is the name for a blueish-gray color. I could tell the dew point was close to the temperature because I was sweating a lot and felt hot. I ran north on the river road, past the railroad trestle and the steps leading to the Winchell Trail that were just redone earlier this year. Ran over the Franklin Bridge, looking for rowers on the river. None. Noticed the big ancient boulder, wedged between the walking and biking trails on the east side of the river. After running up the hill just past the Meeker Dam Dog Park, I tried to slow my heart rate down by chanting, “I/need to go/slower/so/that my pulse/will lower.” Not sure if it lowered my pulse, but it helped me to lock into a steady rhythm and recover from the hill. I should start doing chants again; I haven’t done them for awhile. Also haven’t done triple berry chants. What have I been doing instead? Not sure.

Open Water/ Ada Limón

It does no good to trick and weave and lose
the other ghosts, to shove the buried deeper
into the sandy loam, the riverine silt, still you come,
my faithful one, the sound of a body so persistent
in water I cannot tell if it is a wave or you
moving through waves. A month before you died
you wrote a letter to old friends saying you swam
with a pod of dolphins in open water, saying goodbye,
but what you told me most about was the eye.
That enormous reckoning eye of an unknown fish
that passed you during that last-ditch defiant swim.
On the shore, you described the fish as nothing
you’d seen before, a blue-gray behemoth moving slowly
and enduringly through its deep fathomless
North Pacific waters. That night, I heard more
about that fish and that eye than anything else.
I don’t know why it has come to me this morning.
Warm rain and landlocked, I don’t deserve the image.
But I keep thinking how something saw you, something
was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean
where you were no one’s mother, and no one’s wife,
but you in your original skin, right before you died,
you were beheld, and today in my kitchen with you
now ten years gone, I was so happy for you.

Oh, that fish’s eye! “something saw you, something/was bearing witness to you out there in the ocean”…”you were beheld”. Wow. Makes me think about all of the recent talk of beholding/beholden (my introduction: the wonderful work of Ross Gay). It also makes me think of Jaws 2, a movie I watched repeatedly on cable when I was kid. Chief Brody looking at a photograph of something dark and sinister in the water. It could be nothing, or it could be another great white shark. That eye haunted/haunts me. Someone mentioned on twitter–where I found this poem–that it reminded them of Elizabeth Bishop’s The Fish. Rereading The Fish, I see the connection, but the witnessing (in Limón’s poem, by the big fish of the mother/ in Bishop’s, by the narrator (I) of the fish) seems different in terms of who is the subject/who is the object, and how their subjectivity is represented. I really like both of these poems, but I think I like the subjectivity of the fish in Limón’s poem better.

swim: 1.7 miles/4 loops
cedar lake open swim
69 degrees

Much cooler today. Brr, on the shore. Wore my wetsuit for the first time. I prefer swimming without a wetsuit, but it was nice to keep warmer and more buoyant. I’m sure I went faster too. Yesterday I asked the Open Swim page on facebook for clarification on which way we should be swimming and they answered: keep the buoy on your right shoulder. It helps me to know. Everybody seemed to know now too; almost all of us were going the same way. Tonight I was attacked by the lake. At least, by the vegetation in the lake. Vines wrapping around my wrist and shoulder, scratching my face. I didn’t care. It was a great swim!

july 6/RUNSWIM

run: 1.5 miles
river road trail, north/south
76 degrees
humidity: 80%/ dew point: 70

Before it started raining again, STA and I went out for a quick run. Today is our 25th wedding anniversary. Amazing. Everything felt hot and wet and thick, but I enjoyed it, especially running through the tunnel of trees.

swim: 2 miles/ 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees
overcast, then light rain

I love open swims when it’s overcast and rainy. No one else at the beach. The buoys easy to sight. The rain drops fascinating to watch from underwater. Tonight’s swim was wonderful. I might have done more if my watch hadn’t died and I didn’t have STA and Delia the dog waiting for me in the parking lot. Just like last night at Cedar, I was able to look through the water a few feet in front of me. Tonight I watched my hand as I stretched it out, noticing the bubbles it generated. I felt strong, especially my shoulders, as I plunged my hands into the water. I mostly breathed every 5, but in the first loop I did some every 3, then every 4. And, in the last loop, I did some every 5, then 6. At one point in the middle of the lake I had a scary thought: what if my kneecap displaced mid-lake? How would I push it back in place? Quickly, I realized this was unlikely and returned to happier thoughts about powering through the water and being able to see the buoys and the Indian takeout STA and I were planning to eat after the lake.

Water in Love/ Ed Bok Lee

How to love like water loves
when it’s impossible to even taste
all the ghostly sediments
each time you take a sip

Impossible to savor
the salt in your blood
the light and island shorelines
in each living cell

When even the plainest mouthful
tastes more of you than you of it

Sweetest of absences
that frees in wave after wave
debris of thought like the dead,
the drowned, the vanished, and yet
sails your lips
on a voyage toward another’s, plying
all luck and regret

Worship, splash, guzzle, or forget
It clears any difference
Stone washer and mountain dissolver
that will
outlive us, even the memory of
all any eyes touched

Wasp and cactus in a desert
Comet through outer space
Sleep among all the cloud-shepherds’ children

A love so perpetually current
it doesn’t care that you love
without even knowing you love
what you couldn’t survive
three days without

How to love like that: wild
dream-sparkler and meticulous architect
of every snowflake
Wise, ebullient, and generous
as the rain

Deepest of miracles
for a time
borrowing and replenishing
a self
overflowing with fate

july 4/RUN

5 miles
austin, mn
Hog Jog 5 mile race route
72 degrees
80% humidity/ dew point: 66

Out the door by 7. Still hot. We ran the route for the 5 mile race they usually have for the 4th here in Austin. Stopped for a few walk breaks. In the shade it was fine, in the sun it was not. Very hot. We started at east side lake and ran, mostly on a trail, to Todd Park.

things I remember

  • STA talking a lot, which was nice; I’m usually the one having to talk
  • The sound of the boards on the bridge banging as we ran over them
  • Trying to quicken my cadence to match STA’s. Not to go faster, just to lift my feet more
  • A runner greeting us as we passed–“Good morning! It sure is getting hot”
  • STA telling me a story about a pedestrian bridge that collapsed a few years ago in london
  • Hearing a few firecrackers (already, at 7 in the morning) and joking that someone was pre-partying before the parade. Then we talked about how rarely we have had a drink before noon
  • Remembering past years of running in the race on this trail, especially the people–the heavy breather, the girl who stopped to puke near the end, the guy who ran fast, then stopped, then ran fast, then stopped repeatedly, all the women wearing shorts/skirt combos

june 29/RUNSWIM

run: 3.3 miles
trestle turn around
70 degrees
humidity: 87% / dew point: 66

A birthday run after it rained. Not a downpour, just a light shower. Everything felt cool until the sun came out and my body warmed up. Saw Dave the Daily Walker and we talked about both feeling sick a year and a half ago and meeting on the trail (march 13, 2020). He wondered if we both might have had covid. I’ve wondered too. Probably not.

Tried to see the river, but couldn’t through the veil of green. Greeted the Welcoming Oaks and intended to count the stacked stones on the ancient boulder but somewhere between the last oak and the boulder, I forgot. What happened in those 5 or 10 seconds? I think I was distracted by the clanging of a dog’s collar down below. One of the reasons I decided to run this morning was to travel through the tunnel of trees right after it rained. Everything is dark green. But by the time I had reached this spot, it had lightened up too much. Still, it was peaceful and shaded and green. I quickly glanced down below me and thought about how not being able to see the forest floor (because of the leaves and vines) made me feel higher up–floating or flying in green air.

There’s another spot on the trail, not too far past the old stone steps but before Minnehaha Academy, where the trail splits: the bike path stays above next to the road, the running path drops slightly and hugs the side of the bluff. Any time of the year, the running path is narrow here, being so close to the edge and because of a big tree at one spot–what kind of tree? probably an oak–but it becomes even more narrow in the summer when the all the green comes. Today, it was a tight squeeze. Running through, I felt the dew from a few reaching leaves.

Found this poem on poetry foundation when I searched for “rock.” My family’s farm (sold in 2004) had lots of rock piles and they were part of the legend of our family as Puotinens who persist.

Rockpile/ Robert Morgan (1985)

Sprinkled with a luminous dust
of moss and algae, the rocks seem
alive in the sunken woods, bright
as Christmas balls or peeled and
rotting globes, their maps just rags
of lichens and their worlds oblong,
broken, dented eggs. And ferns feather
through the edges of the mound like
a circle of fire around the cairn
or fallen monument. But no
pagan elders worshipped here or
committed sacrifices on this altar.
Though five or six generations
of children carried the stones out
of a field, pried them up with picks
and poles, heaved and toted them
like curses to the edge of the woods
(what frost had worked to the surface
each year like tubers and bones)
until they had a chimney’s worth
and more, piled for snakes to thread
and poison oak to wind. Though fields
they cleared have been woods for a century
and the kids who struggled the weights
from clay are now grandfathers of
grandfathers, each with his own stone.

About 10 years, I created a digital story out of old footage STA took at the farm:

swim: 3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees/sunny/calm

I felt strong and didn’t stop between loops–I paused a few times to clear my goggles or adjust my nose plug or try and see where the green buoys were. I would like to try for a 5k on Thursday.

It feels like it’s getting harder to see the orange buoys. I am not having any problems staying on course, but I’m relying more on other landmarks. Is this a sign that my vision is declining more? Or, is it just where the light is and how it hits the buoys?

Things I Remember From My Swim

  • Someone was playing a drum somewhere and whenever I briefly paused at a white buoy near a beach, I could hear the thumping. I asked STA, and he said they were playing by the overlook way across the lake. Wow, that drum was loud!
  • At least 2 military planes roared overhead in my 3rd loop. They were so loud that several other swimmers stopped to look up
  • I never really saw the green buoys other than the idea of them being there–not a flash of green, but a quick knowing of where they were and a sudden surge in my stroke as I confidently swam towards them. Strange
  • The green buoys were so far over that the course was more like a square than a triangle
  • As I said to STA, it was a birthday miracle that I didn’t plow through a few swimmers. They were swimming backstroke which, for some reason, made it more difficult to see them. Why? Were their heads lower in the water that way?
  • One of the backstrokers bumped into me
  • I breathed every 5, with a few 5 then 6, and a couple every 3
  • No fish or dragonflies, but some milfoil got stuck on my head, near my goggles for a while
  • A few worries: will I be stuffed up after this? is my calf cramping up? why are my goggles leaking slightly?
  • Near the end of my 3rd loop, as I approached the big beach, my shoulders felt strong and big and wonderful

After typing that last bullet point, I noticed a line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” that I taped on my desk that seems fitting:

I am larger, better than I thought.
I did not know I held so much goodness.

What a great birthday!

june 27/RUN

4.3 miles
minneahaha falls and back
66 degrees/ dew point: 62
light rain

Ran south on the river road trail past the falls and stopped at the big statue just past the pergola garden. When I would walk or bike the kids over here, about 10 years ago, we (or was it mostly me?) called this statue “big feet” because all the kids could see was his big feet. There was also a little feet (John Stevens)–a much smaller statue not too far way. Today I wanted to find out who Big Feet actually was. I assumed he might be someone connected to Fort Snelling–Zebulon Pike or Snelling or Franklin. Nope. Gunner Wennenberg, a Swedish composer, poet, and politician. This statue was erected on June 24th, 1914. Looking him up online, I am amused by this last paragraph in the wikipedia entry (originally found in an old Encyclopedia Britannica):

Wennerberg was a most remarkable type of the lyrical, ardent Swedish aristocrat, full of the joy of life and the beauty of it. In the long roll of his eighty-four years there was scarcely a crumpled rose-leaf. His poems, to which their musical accompaniment is almost essential, have not ceased, in half a century, to be universally pleasing to Swedish ears; outside Sweden it would be difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible.

Difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible? Ouch. I’m not sure if any part of my ears are Swedish–Finnish and Czech and Norwegian–but I listened to one of his hymns, and I thought it was nice (I don’t like the word nice here but I’m not sure I could go so far as to say it was beautiful).

During this run, I felt strong and relaxed and sweaty. So much sweat. The temp was 66, the dew point 62. Difficult for sweat to evaporate and cool me off. I listened to a playlist so I didn’t hear any trickling or gushing water. No rowers or birds or small bits of conversation. I did feel the light rain cooling me off sometimes.

For today’s water and stone poem, I decided to search for a Swedish poet. I found Tomas Tranströmer, the 2011 Nobel Prize Winner for Poetry.

excerpt from The Half Finished Heaven

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Under Pressure

The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening.
We’re living here on a shuddering work-site
where the ocean depths can suddenly open up –
shells and telephones hiss.

You can see beauty only from the side, hastily,
The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream.
The restless shadows in my head are drawn there.
They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.

Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed.
The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat.
You are alone on the water.
Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.

june 26/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
71 degrees/ dew point: 64

It felt hot and humid this morning. Overcast. Ran up the marshall hill without stopping until I reached the bridge steps. It was hard, but I didn’t stop. A good mental victory. Heard some rowers on the river and the coxswain directing them. Crossing back over the bridge, I stopped to read a few small pink signs affixed to the bridge. One was about hope making anything possible, another about how one road block shouldn’t stop you. The other day, as STA and I crossed the bridge in the car, we noticed that the entire bridge was covered in these signs, now only these 2 are left. STA thinks the wind might have blown them off.

Near the start of my run, descending the hill and entering the tunnel of trees, it was a dark, impenetrable green, made darker by my vision. It looked like I was running into a lightless smudge. Very cool–not scary at all. Once I was in the dark green, there was light and trees and thick air. Noticed the 4 fences I’ve written about and the stone wall framed by trees, remembering the time I saw someone perched in one of these trees–hiding? spying?

Now, after the run, I feel sore. I often feel sore in the summer. Not injury-sore but doing-more-exercise-especially-swimming-sore.

Erosion/ Linda Pastan

We are slowly
undermined. Grain
by grain . . .
inch by inch . . .
slippage.
It happens as we watch.
The waves move their long row
of scythes over the beach.

It happens as we sleep,
the way the clock’s hands
move continuously
just out of sight,
but more like an hourglass
than a clock,
for here sand
is running out.

We wake to water.
Implacably lovely
is this view
though it will swallow
us whole, soon
there will be nothing left but view.

We have tried a seawall.
We have tried prayer.
We have planted grasses
on the bank, small tentacles,
hooks of green that catch
on nothing. For the wind
does its work, the water
does its use work.

One day the sea will simply
take us. The children
press their faces to the glass
as if the windows were portholes,
and the house fills
with animals: two dogs,
a bird, cats–we are becoming
an ark already.

The guess will follow
our wake.
We are made of water anyway,
I can field it in the yielding
of your flesh, though sometimes
I think that you are sand,
moving slowly, slowly
from under me.

june 23/RUNSWIM

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls and back + winchell trail
64 degrees
dew point: 60

I feel better at the end of this run than I did during it. A beautiful morning, not too windy or hot, sun that gently dazzled but didn’t beat down. Even so, I sweat a lot and felt hot. Thought about the dew point, trying to remember exactly how it worked. I researched it and wrote about it a few years ago, but when someone asked me what it was a few days ago, I couldn’t remember. How do I forget these things so quickly? Here’s my explanation I wrote in 2017:

It’s not the heat or the humidity it’s the dew point, which is the temperature at which water condenses. The closer the dew point is to the temp in the air, the longer the sweat will stay in your hair because the air is too saturated and your sweat can’t evaporate, which is how your body cools you down.

Saw a flash of white, churning water as I ran past the falls. Noticed an opening in the thick trees with a dark winding trail just below the ford bridge–it seemed inviting until I imagined all the bugs that would be waiting for me in there. Heard some voices down in the gorge, on the river. Rowers. Also heard the clicking of a gear change as one bike passed, the clunking of a chain that needed to be greased as another approached.

As I ran on the Winchell Trail through the thick green, I thought that when I’m running by the gorge, I think of in broad, basic ways: tree, rock, bluff, bird, water. Then my mind wandered, and I wondered: (Why) do we need more specific, “technical” names in order to connect with the land? I thought about the importance of names and the violence of occupying and renaming, the value of knowing the history of a place, understanding how it works scientifically, and placing it in a larger context (space, time). Then, as I ran up the short, steep hill by Folwell, I thought about how important it is to learn to think on all of these levels at once, or at least be able to switch back and forth between them. I can experience the gorge as water, rock, tree, bird, wind, or as stolen land occupied and used, abused, restored, protected, ignored, exploited. As a geological wonder, slowly–but not really slowly in geological time, 4 feet per year–carved out by the river eroding the soft St. Peter sandstone. As both wild/natural and cultivated/managed–the site of erosion due to water, and erosion due to the introduction of invasive species, industry, too many hikers, bikers, houses nearby. There isn’t an easy way to reconcile these different understandings and their impacts.

After I finished my run and started walking home, I thought about how these levels/layers could be represented or expressed in a poem. What forms would work best and how to translate all of it into a form? I imagined a mostly blank page with the elemental word in the center (rock or water or tree), then additional pages with other related meanings–you could flip through and somehow add meanings or see all of the meanings at once. Does this make sense? Then I thought about a poem that somehow mimics the form of a fossil, what would that look like? Or the different layers of rock representing different eras of geological time. Not sure if this will go anywhere, but I’ll spend some more time thinking about it.

To chlorophyll, refineries, coal, furnaces beneath early skyscrapers, fossils/ Caroline Kenworthy

after Jane Hirshfield

Back then, what did I know?
The distance between moving cars I could turn into.
How far past EMPTY the engine would run.

I moved daily, rolling over poured rock,
traveling to learn. I was propelled by bodies

of organic matter. First, they were found.
Well, no. First, they were blue flowers carpeting a forest floor,
or the brown and hungry animal moving through them.

Then, they were found, pumped, sifted, melted, strained,
boiled, strained again, divided. Then burned.

Funny to think that we didn’t know what coal was,
and then we did. From there— efficient refinement attracts
our kind— we made these bodies pourable.
The dark rainbow and sharp whiff of petroleum.

I want to explain what I mean by bodies—
at first, I meant sentient movers. As if movement springs only from brains.
Then I thought, an organized, silent burning of sugars. I think,
a system to translate the world into the self.

Life’s long inhale of nutrients, and longer, hotter exhalation in decay. Packed, still, silent.

Hard to remember that matter hums constantly.
These cars and highways— how much of moving is death rearranged.

swim: 1.2 miles/ 4 loops
cedar lake open swim

Cedar Lake! Cedar Lake! Hooray for open swim at both lake nokomis and cedar lake. Very different experiences. Nokomis is 600 yards across, Cedar Lake is 300. Nokomis is about 15-20 feet deep, Cedar is 30-40 feet deep. Nokomis has a big beach with a boathouse and restaurant, Cedar has porta potties. I like both. Today, it was windy and bright. Choppy on the way back and hard to see the shore. My sighting trick: there’s a break in the towering trees where the small beach is.

june 19/RUN

3.7 miles
marshall loop
65 degrees

Writing this a day later, so I don’t remember as much from my run. Another run on the Marshall Loop. North on the river road trail. Past the welcoming oaks which I forgot to greet. Past the ancient boulder which I forgot to check for stacked stones. Through the tunnel of trees, which I remembered to notice and admire, breathing in the silence of an early Saturday morning. Up the short hill and over the lake street bridge until, somewhere in the middle, it turned into Marshall and St. Paul. There I saw at least 2 or 3 shells on the water–rowers! After the bridge, Marshall becomes a semi-steep, multi-block hill. Last week my goal was to run up it and not stop until I got to the top, then walk for a minute before running again. Today’s goal: no stopping on the hill or at the top. No walking, only running. Success!

Still thinking about water and stones for the month of June. Today: fossils. Mostly inspired by the amazing poem (which I posted on here before): And the Old Man Speaks of Paradise: a Ghazal/ Wang Ping, especially this part:

Clams and shells in Kasota stones—layered history of paradise

Put your fingers into the bluff, and pull a handful of sand
From the Ordovician sea, each perfect to make a paradise

Found a few resources for learning more about the fossil in this area:

And here’s a great poem (and an essay explaining the poem) about fossils:

Not the Thing but a Fossil of the Thing/ Rebecca Foust

Fern fronds fletched like a feather etch ache into gray slate,    

five petals float in a now-unbound crown,     

a thumb-sized spine curls and fans out to a tail, a spall splits

into stone pages stamped with tree bark

repeating like wallpaper, a leaf shines like oiled leather, oblate,

and an ammonite’s dull weight   

smells of new snow. A clam called brachiopod, licked, gleams

like a dark marble and tastes

of clapper-less, cast-iron bell, its absence of sound and soft parts

perfecting an imperfection

of knowledge called faith, bare of the lies told by the thing itself

—bravado bloom, spilt perfume, music,

bee-pollen, and blood and all that hot narcotic blur—these casts

and molds pungent as words,   

and as the moon’s craters are seen best in eclipse, so that when

I trace the diamond-on-diamond-on-diamond

of what once was a tree, a canopy spreads overhead, a bud

unwinds and wells with dew,

an ancient sea swells to flood the dry valley below, wet salt

to knees, hips, waist, neck, mouth, eyes   

and under my breastbone—a fish leaps—

I hope I can spend some more time with this poem, it’s great. I’d like to ponder fossils and how they are a thing and the trace of a thing.

june 18/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees

First time since august of 2019 that I’ve biked to the lake. So grateful that my vision is good enough for me to do it. When I lose my central vision, will I still be able to bike? Biking is important because I can no longer drive (or, I no longer feel safe driving): it’s much faster than walking and much more fun than taking 2 buses over to the lake (I don’t think there’s a direct bus route to the lake, so even though nokomis is 4 miles away, you have to transfer). Biking is not too bad unless I have to pass another biker who is going too slow, then it’s scary. Very hard to see for sure if someone’s coming the other way. No passing needed on the way there, and only twice on the way back. What a gorgeous, sunny, summer day!

swim: 3 miles/3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
78 degrees
sunny/no chop

Last year, open swim added more days to their schedule–this bummed me out since I wasn’t doing open swim because of covid and in solidarity with my kids who couldn’t do the fun things they wanted to do in order for all of us to stay safe and healthy. I’m very glad they kept the expanded schedule for this year. Very cool to be able to swim on Friday mornings across the lake!

Morning swims are usually harder for me because the position of the sun makes it difficult to sight the buoys to the little beach, which only has the sparkle of an overturned rowboat as a landmark. Evenings are easier, because when the sun shines in my eyes or the buoys are backlit, I can always rely on the towering light poles or the roof of the boathouse to keep me on track. Today, the sun made it hard to see the little beach, and the buoys were only hulking, colorless shapes, but I was fine. The little rowboat was a bright beacon—at least, I think it was the rowboat; I saw something vaguely shining and decided it was the rowboat and I was swimming the right way. I could sense the final buoy from a long way off. I never saw anything that was orange, no flash or dot. Instead, I felt the buoy was there. I sensed the absence of the water or the beach and my brain told me that that void was buoy. So weird.

I breathed every 5 or every 3 then 4 then 5 or every 6. Before we started, I heard another swimmer on the beach telling a friend:

“I try to breathe every 3 strokes.”
“That’s good, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Yeah, but then I feel like I’m going to pass out!”

Did this swimmer mean that they need more air and every 3 is too many strokes in-between breaths? I guess I’m pretty strange with my breathing every 5 or 6, every so often, 7. It doesn’t bother me to stay underwater that much longer. It helps me stay lost longer.

At one point, heading toward the little beach, I tried reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” After a few lines, I realized that it was too distracting, that I needed to focus more on swimming straight and staying on course.

june 16/RUN

4.3 miles
the falls + winchell trail
65 degrees

A beautiful yet difficult run. Not sure why it was so hard. Maybe because I swam last night and didn’t eat enough breakfast before I ran this morning? Or maybe because of allergies from lake water? Still, it was great to be outside early (but not that early, already 7:20) in the morning. The sun was warm, the river was sparkling, the falls were flowing. I don’t remember hearing them gushing. Must be all the heat and the lack of rain. I wonder how full the creek is right now?

Heading back from the falls, I turned down by the overlook at 44th and entered the Winchell Trail. I walked for the first stretch, where the asphalt has surrendered to the dirt and the trail sits steeply above the river. Not even a dribble of water at the 44th street sewer pipe by the curved retaining wall. Encountered a few more people than I normally do on the trail, but I didn’t care or worry about how close I was to them. It’s fascinating (and a little unsettling) how quickly and easily you forget hyper-vigilance.

As I write this, someone is weed-whacking their lawn with an old, barely working weed-whacker. Sometimes its whine sounds like a person, weakened by age or pain or both, moaning. “Ooooooooooooooo.” Sometimes it sounds like a tiny mosquito buzzing around my ear, hovering too close. This is to say, it’s annoying!

Thought about stopping at the falls and checking out the different signs–with brief history blurbs or poems or names–but I didn’t. I think I’ll bike over there one day for a field trip. Maybe I can convince Scott and then we’ll get a beer at Sea Salt?! Speaking of signs, I just re-read this in Waterlog by Roger Deakin:

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this is that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming [and running] will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things (4).

Waterlog: A Swimming Journey Through Britain/ Roger Deakin

As much as I agree with this idea of wandering away from official versions and ready-made interpretations, I also see the value of some of the historic signs that help us to get a deeper sense of the history of the land, how it has been shaped, and how we are connected to it. These signs need to be read critically and put in the larger context of who is telling the story and how. Sometimes these signs need to be updated or rewritten.

Found this poem via Maggie Smith (the poet, not the actor) on twitter. Like most great poems, after reading it a few times, there’s a lot I still don’t get.

The Blind Leading The Blind/ Lisel Mueller

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of our throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from the palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for occasional bits and bubbles of light—
birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

I love the lines about water and rock: “The sound you hear is water” and “The ground you walk on is rock.” I also like the double meaning of turnoffs, both things you don’t like, and alternate paths and ways to travel.

Thinking about the title, The Blind Leading The Blind. According to Merriam-Webster it is “used informally to describe a situation in which someone who is not sure about how to do something is helping another person who also is not sure about how to do it.” Often this is interpreted as a useless, pointless, clueless thing. But, in a dark cave, where seeing is impossible, a blind person would be better equipped to lead than a normally sighted person. Also, why should being unsure about something mean that you can’t do it, or that you’ll bad at it? How can we ever really be sure about anything? I imagine Mueller’s two “blind” people (you and I) as not helpless from lack of sight, but connected and hopeful through touch.

june 14/RUN

2 miles
austin, mn
70 degrees

Ran with STA to the downtown coffee shop. Saw the “Peanut Mobile” parked outside of the SPAM museum and then was approached by an old guy wanting to talk. At first, it was fine, but then he inched too close and wouldn’t stop talking. Then, after he left, STA mentioned as he talked, the guy spit a lot. I’m vaccinated, so I am confident I’m fine, but I’m not ready for this type of normal. It bothers me how quickly we went from lockdown to completely open. Where is the gradual transition? Where is the space for being uncomfortable, for still wanting to keep distance, for acknowledging and working through the difficulty and fear and anxiety involved in learning to see people as more than covid-carrying weapons (ED’s loaded gun)? I am not ready for normal again. And who wants that old normal, anyway? I want something better, less harmful.*

*update on 15 June

Just read “Dionne Brand: On narrative, reckoning and the calculus of living and dying” and it fits so well with some of my thoughts about the normal:

The repetition of “when things return to normal” as if that normal, was not in contention. Was the violence against women normal? Was the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism normal? Was white supremacy normal? Was the homelessness growing on the streets normal? Were homophobia and transphobia normal? Were pervasive surveillance and policing of Black and Indigenous and people of colour normal? Yes, I suppose all of that was normal. But, I and many other people hate that normal. Who would one have to be to sit in that normal restfully, to mourn it, or to desire its continuance?

and

But I hear what they say and many others do as well, “Look we should never live the way we lived before; our lives need not be framed by the purely extractive, based on nothing but capital.” Everything is up in the air, all narratives for the moment have been blown open — the statues are falling — all the metrics are off, if only briefly. To paraphrase Trouillot, we want “a life that no narrative could provide, even the best fiction.” The reckoning might be now.

Searching for poems about “rock,” I found this great one. I like the multiple meanings of rock bottom here:

ROCK BOTTOM/ Eamon Grennan

So this is what it comes down to in the end: earth and sand
skimmed, trimmed, filleted from rocky bone, leaving only
solid unshakeable bottom, what doesn’t in the end give in
to the relentless hammer, whoosh, and haul-away of tides
but stands there saying “Here I am here I stay,” protestant
to the pin of its absolute collar, refusing to put off the sheen
on its clean-scoured surface, no mourning weeds in spite of loss
after loss–whole wedges of the continent, particles of the main
plummeting from one element to the other and no going back
to how things were once, but to go on ending and ending here.

It’s interesting to put this beside my above discussion about the before times and the after times. How does it and doesn’t it fit for me?

I’m also thinking about the literal bedrock of the Mississippi River Gorge: what is the deepest layer of rock? I think it’s St. Peter Sandstone, but I will gather together my research to verify.

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.

june 12/RUNSWIM

run: 1.1 miles
lake nokomis
72 degrees

Did a quick 10 minute warm-up before going for my swim. 8:30 and already crowded trails. I heard at least one mourning dove. Favorite thing: hearing and feeling my feet shuffling on the sand on the edge of the trail.

swim: 1 mile/ 6 loops
lake nokomis big beach
73 degrees

Another mile beside the white buoys at the big beach. Such a wonderful swim. I don’t remember seeing any minnows at the edge of the water. No ducks either. Instead, milfoil. During my first loop a strand of it wrapped around my shoulders and face and I had to stop and fling it off. Then, a few loops later, I felt something on my thigh. At first I thought it was just the water being pushed by my arm. Then I reached down and pulled out another milfoil strand. I imagined the lake was attacking me, then decided it was embracing me.

When I started, there was a fitness class in the water and I heard the instructor calling out, “Lift those knees!” I saw some kayakers, paddle boarders, another swimmer. I noticed a steady processional of planes in the air above me.

I used my new bright yellow buoy. It works very well. As usual, I wore a nose plug which doesn’t bother me at all. White rimmed open water goggles, a bright blue latex swim cap, a purple-patterned on black TYR suit.

The sun was bright on the water. I definitely don’t have photophobia, a possible symptom of cone dystrophy, because the brightness didn’t bother me at all. Looking out at the water, so shiny and reflective, I briefly wondered how will I see the big orange buoys next week when I swim across the lake.

At one point when I was swimming, I thought about the origins of Lake Nokomis and when it got it’s current name. Looked it up (wikipedia): It used to be called Lake Amelia, most likely named for the daughter or wife of Captain George Gooding who came with the first troops in 1819. When the Minneapolis Park Board purchased the land in 1908 and in 1910 renamed it Nokomis, after (of course) Longfellow’s poem.

See a map of then Minneapolis Park Board Director Theodore Wirth’s ambitious plans for the lake in 1913

from EXAQUA [Oh, that’s what I was]/ Jan-Henry Gray

Oh, that’s what I was originally thinking of with the notion of swimming or orbiting that you mentioned: a giant essay that interrupts (or cleaves?) into the book. To cleave is to separate and to bring together. To yoke. To it: I’m thinking of this essay I want to write as… Essay as Ocean. Not necessarily in a geographic, landscapey way but weirder, queer, dense, full of strange currents with different temperatures, something immersive, at times panicky, the feeling of losing oxygen but delighted by the sight of strange objects that litter the ocean floor. An oasis of sight. Geography textbooks and all of that richly descriptive language. How can anyone read about the unseen formation of volcanoes or the glacial creation of lakes and not feel connected to the Earth—capital E? Essay as a vast, limitless, edgeless, impossible-to-keep-in-one’s-head-all-at-once phenomenon. Essay as a way of breaking up the rest of the poems that surround it. I wanted to offer a break, a reprieve. Freedom from forms.

I love this poem and I want to spend some time with it. I was just telling STA about how great swimming is for disorienting you, distorting your senses. Immersive, panicky, delightful, strange. And the line, “How can anyone read about the/unseen formation of volcanoes or the glacial creation of lakes and not feel connected/ to the Earth–capirtal E?”

june 11/RUN

5k
2 trails + 7 oaks
81 degrees
dew point: 68

How many days have we been above 90 now? Just checked my log, since at least June 4th. Tomorrow the high is only 86. Summer running is not my favorite, although I am learning to endure it more. 55-65 degrees is what I’d like to have for these early morning runs.

I ran south on the river road trail and passed lots of bikes, but not too many runners. All the green made it difficult to see the river. At 42nd, I encountered a roller skier in the grass taking a break. Can it still be my good omen if I don’t hear the clickity-clacks? Entering the Winchell Trail at the southern start, it was dark and quiet and thick with heat. No noise, not even a single dribble from the sewer pipe. A few days ago, STA and I were discussing the grossness of the word “dribble”–it’s a failure to flow or function properly. You dribble drool or pee. It’s like a weaker form of leaking.

Parts of the Winchell trail were a blur. I don’t remember running down the hill to the little bridge with the raised lip of the trail that I have to look out for so I don’t trip on it, or running up the mini hill just before the steeper climb at Folwell. After ascending at Folwell, then descending on the other side, back down a little closer to the river, I realized I was more than half way done with this hot run, and it felt easier because of this realization.

For the last 1/2 mile, I started reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my head. I got as far as the verse, “The Sun came up upon the left/out of the sea came he/And he shone bright/and to the right went down into the sea.”

Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha

Lorine Niedecker’s work is inspiring me to think in deeper ways about the place I run–the Mississippi River Gorge, Minnehaha Falls, Lake Nokomis. Part of this involves thinking more about the rock and stone–the physical geography, and part of it involves reflecting on the haunting trace of dishonest treaties, stolen land, buried stories and traditions, and who controls the stories we encounter/remember/pass on about the river, the gorge, and the falls (St. Anthony and Minnehaha).

Yesterday, I decided to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” It’s in the public domain so I was able to download the entire thing for free on iBooks–all 400+ pages of it! 22 chapters?! Wow. I had no idea it was so long. I wonder what part of it is etched on the stone at Minnehaha Falls? I’ll have to check next time I bike or run over there. Not sure I’ll be reading the entire thing, but it’s interesting to skim it and think about how much of where I live takes names from this poem: Now I live in Longfellow neighborhood, I used to live in Nokomis east. My kids went to Hiawatha Elementary School and spent their summers in camp a few miles away at Lake Hiawatha.. I regularly run to Minnehaha Falls and beside Minnehaha Creek. I do open swim at Lake Nokomis.

The only part of “The Song of Hiawatha” that I remember, is the brief bit that my grandma Ines would recite when we visited her at the family farm in the upper peninsula of Michigan:

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water

Gitche Gumee is another name of Lake Superior. So many connections. In “Lake Superior” Lorine Niedecker never mentions Longfellow or his poem, but she does reference Schoolcraft–the explorer whose notes and book Longfellow relied on for his epic poem. Another thing I just learned about Schoolcraft: he “discovered” and named Lake Itasca. It’s not a variation on an indigenous name, but the mashing up of the latin phrase for true/head source: verITAS CAput

Last night, I checked out a little bit of the final chapter (ch 22): “Hiawatha’s Departure” and I cringed when I got to the description of the white missionary being welcomed by Hiawatha with delight:

From the distant land of Wabun*,
From the farthest realms of morning
Came the Black-Robe chief, the Prophet,
He the Priest of Prayer, the Pale-face,
With his guides and his companions.

And the noble Hiawatha,
With his hands aloft extended,
Held aloft in sign of welcome,
Waited, full of exultation,
Till the birch canoe with paddles
Grated on the shining pebbles,
Stranded on the sandy margin,
Till the Black-Robe chief, the Pale-face,
With the cross upon his bosom,
Landed on the sandy margin.

Then the joyous Hiawatha
Cried aloud and spake in this wise:
“Beautiful is the sun, O strangers,
When you come so far to see us!
All our town in peace awaits you,
All our doors stand open for you;
You shall enter all our wigwams,
For the heart’s right hand we give you.”

“Never bloomed the earth so gayly,
Never shone the sun so brightly,
As to-day they shine and blossom
When you come so far to see us!

*Wabun is also the name of a park near Minnehaha Falls that I sometimes run through and that has a wonderful wading pool that I used to take my kids to when they were younger. I never knew what Wabun meant; it’s sunrise (from the Anishinaabe language).

But, back to Schoolcraft and Niedecker’s poem “Lake Superior.” Here’s an excerpt from the poem that uses details from Schoolcraft’s accounts of reaching Lake Itasca and the source of the Mississippi River. Interesting to note something I just found out: Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” takes place in UP Michigan by the pictured rocks on Lake Superior, near Munsing. Niedecker references Pictured Rocks in this excerpt (“Wave-cut Cambrian rock/painted by soluble mineral oxides”:

Schoolcraft left the Soo–canoes
US pennants, masts, sails
chanting canoemen, barge
soldiers–for Minnesota

Their South Shore journey
as if Life’s—
The Chocolate River
The Laughing Fish
and The River of the Dead

Passed peaks of volcanic thrust
Hornblende in massed granite
Wave-cut Cambrian rock
painted by soluble mineral oxides
wave-washed and the rains
did their work and a green
running as from copper

Sea-roaring caverns—
Chippewas threw deermeat
to the savage maws
Voyaheurs crossed themselves
tossed a twist of tobacco in”

Inland then
beside the great grainite
gneiss and the schists

to the redolent pondy lakes’
lilies, flag and Indian reed
“through which we successfully
passed”

The smooth black stone
I picked up in true source park
the leaf beside it
once was stone

true source park = true source = lake itasca

I love how a poem like this requires some work from the reader. So many references, some might be obvious to those who know, but not to those of who don’t. So, we have to look things up, and it’s not too hard now with so much information online. How did people read these poems in the past? Did you spend your entire day at the library, hunting down sources? That might be fun. I like giving the reader work and some of the responsibility. For too many years I was told, as the writer, it is my sole responsibility to make my writing clear to others. If they can’t understand it, it is my failure. Poetry refuses this obligation and invites the reader to put in some effort to understand.

Chocolate River: I was thinking this was about the color of the river, but after more searching I found a reference to it in an account by Schoolcraft about the discovery of the sources of the Mississippi River: “on the coasts of the lake between Gitchi Sebing (Great River), called by the French, Chocolate River.” In some more searching, I haven’t found any more about a chocolate river. In the process of looking this up, I found a very cool page, What Color is the Mississippi River?–I recall asking this question not too long ago on this log.

june 9/RUN

4 miles
marshall hill
74 degrees
dew point: 66

Delia the dog woke me up and forced me out of bed at 5:45, yesterday it was 5:55. I suppose I should be grateful; I like early mornings in the summer. If she wakes me up at 5:30 tomorrow, we’re taking a walk. Mornings are magical. Getting up so early, I was able to sit, drink my coffee, and still get out for my run before 7. Very nice.

I ran the marshall hill route for the first time since november 24, 2019, just near the end of the before times. Running north on the river road trail, I greeted the Welcoming Oaks. So wonderful to run by them on this sunny morning! And, to run by the sprawling oak that shades the ancient boulder with the stacked stones–2 today. Heading down into the thickening tunnel of trees, I heard the clickity-clack of a lone roller skier and then the coxswain’s bullhorn. Rowers! Later, running over the lake street bridge, I managed to spot the rowers on the smooth, glassy river. Running up marshall hill was tough, but I convinced myself not to stop for a break until I was at the top. Reaching the east river road and running down the hill right above Shadow Falls was fun. Near the end of the run, I could hear the buzz of the cicadas. I liked the noise even though it sounded like heat.

My focus on water and stone this month has led me to Lorine Niedecker and I am excited. Her work is opening many doors for me. I bought Niedecker’s Lake Superior a few years ago, but never really looked at it. Now, I am, and I’m amazed. The book begins with her poem “Lake Superior” and then an excerpt of her notes for the poem. She took 300 single-spaced, type-written notes for a poem that is less than 400 words. Wow! At the end of the notes, the editor of this book mentions that all 300 pages of Niedecker’s notes are available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Nice!

side note: Reading an article about Niedecker, I discovered that her name is pronounced nee-decker, and that it had originally been spelled Neidecker but she changed it to make the pronunciation less confusing. Really? When I see Nie I think nye, and when I see Nei, I think neigh or nye, not nee. But maybe that’s just me?

Here’s a poem of hers that I imagine is one of her more well-known:

Poet’s work/ LORINE NIEDECKER

Grandfather   
   advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
         and condense

No layoff
   from this
         condensery

I love this poem–the idea of condensing as a trade, the valuing of condensing, the exemplification of it in the poem, “Lake Superior”–300 pages of notes condensed down to 300+ words!

Here are a few reasons I’m excited about Niedecker now, at the beginning of my encounters with her:

  • She writes about the lake I was born on, Lake Superior, and geology and geography that resonates with me
  • Her process: all the notes condensed down to a pithy, beautiful poem + the type of notes: history mixed with her travel stories, critical commentary on land and language and globalization
  • The forms of her poems and how the later ones might be influenced by her vision diagnosis when she was 46–she had nystagmic (your eyes constantly move, struggle to focus)
  • Her attention to and writing about rocks and water
  • The impact of her work through the WPA Writers program on the guide for Wisconsin + her work with Aldo Leopold
  • This brief essay, Switchboard Girl, in which she writes about her struggle to find work with her eye condition. I’m planning to read this closely; it might give me some useful language for understanding and communicating my own struggles with work after my diagnosis

It’s exciting to me how, slowly–4+ years of writing, reading, studying, listening to, memorizing poetry–I’m finding more ways into beautiful, useful, powerful, better words.

water and stone, another perspective

After posting this entry, I read some more of Tom Weber’s Minneapolis: An Urban Biography–specifically about the Dakota people, the settler colonizing of the area, and how Ramsey (gov. of Minnesota when it became a state + responsible for the Dakota Exclusion Act, making all Dakota people illegal in Mn + namesake of the county in which St. Paul resides) and Pike (responsible for the shady illegal treaties that led to Dakota people ceding all of their land to the US) were awful. Then I googled some more about St. Anthony Falls and found this interesting bit of information:

Owamni-yomni is ‘whirlpool’ in the Dakota language.
Gakaabika is ‘severed rock’ in the Ojibwe language. 

Water and rock. I want to read more about this naming and why the Dakota chose to emphasize water and the Ojibwe rock. Both viewed the place as sacred–I know a little more about the Dakota and how importance this water was for them, but not as much about Ojibwe and sandstone/limestone.

june 8/SWIM

1 mile/6 loops
lake nokomis, big beach
84 degrees

My first real swim (30 minutes straight) since September of 2019! Very exciting. My apple watch consistently underestimates the distance, so I’m not quite sure, but based on my pace and past loop swimming, I’ve decided I swam a mile. My first mile of many this summer, I hope. It’s ambitious, but I’d love to swim 100 miles this summer. Only 99 left.

The water was about as good as it gets. Not too cold, no chop, no debris. I could see the white buoys out of my periphery. I think I saw a few big fish swimming below me and some beams or streaks of light. Swimming so close to the white buoys, I got a good look at the brown muck on the underside of the buoys at each end. Yuck. I “raced” a paddle boarder paddling in from the middle of the lake, and avoided a few other boats. I mostly breathed every 5 strokes. Sometimes 5, then 6. A few times, 3. A lot of the time I thought about how my right shoulder–the one I injured last spring scraping paint off of the deck–ached a little more than my left, and whether or not the every-so-often sharp pain in my right ear was the start of something, but occasionally I thought about how much I love swimming, and how, even more than running, it gives you a way into another world, where your senses don’t work, or work strangely. Very cool. I like this water world.

For a few hours after I had finished, my body, especially my shoulders, felt slightly and pleasantly sore–not that miserable sore where you can barely move, but the sore you feel when you have worked your muscles and they are grateful to be used in this way finally, after a long 16 months away from the water.

My theme this month is water and stone. As I read through various essays, poems, articles, I’m coming to realize that I’m understanding the theme through the work of one of my new (not new, she’s died 4 years before I was born in 1970, but new to me) favorite poets: Lorine Niedecker. Here’s the opening to a beautiful poem that might serve as an inspiration for me (note: her cool spacing didn’t work when I pasted it into wordpress. Click on the poem to read it with the cool spacing):

Paean to Place/ LORINE NIEDECKER

And the place
was water
Fish
fowl
flood
Water lily mud
My life

in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
born
in swale and swamp and sworn
to water

I was born on water, Lake Superior in Hancock, Michigan, and my mom was too, Mississippi River in West St. Paul, Minnesota. While my mom never learned to swim, or love being in the water, I did. As a digital story I created more than 5 years ago begins: “I have loved water all my life.”

june 7/RUN

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
75 degrees

Too warm this morning. Decided I needed the distraction of headphones and my old spotify playlist. Ran on the trail for the first half, then walked across turkey hollow (no turkeys today) and ran up 47th. I don’t remember glancing down at the river. I was too busy looking out for other runners. Do I remember much of this part of the run? Only the 4 or 5 times I had to cross over the bike path to give approaching runners room, and that it was uncomfortably warm outside. After running up 47th I headed over to the guantlet (the narrow strip of grass between Becketwood and 42nd, with the river road on one side, a small wood on the other) and then to Edmund. I decided to stop at the house on Edmund that posts poems on their front windows to see if they had posted a new one–the last one I saw was M Oliver’s “Work.” Yes, they did. The sun was too bright on the window to see the top of the poem, but the rest of June Jordan’s “These Poems” was wonderful. I love that my neighbors post these poems.

These Poems/ June Jordan – 1936-2002

These poems
they are things that I do
in the dark
reaching for you
whoever you are
and
are you ready?

These words
they are stones in the water
running away

These skeletal lines
they are desperate arms for my longing and love.

I am a stranger
learning to worship the strangers
around me

whoever you are
whoever I may become.

Ah, love this poem. And it fits with my theme of water and stone with the line, “These words/they are stones in the water/running away” Not sure about the image of stones in the water running away? Do stones run away? I’ve seen them skip or tumble or be a throw away or roll, but never run. I’m probably missing something…

june 6/RUNswim

2.5 miles
lake nokomis
75 degrees

STA and I drove over to the lake early to avoid the heat and then ran around it. Hot and sunny, but not too bad for me; STA was having some difficulty with his knee and hip, so not so good for him. Lots of people to dodge, mostly in packs of 2 or 3 or more. We weren’t trying to avoid them as much as just not run into them. The highlight of the run: passing 3 people standing near a pooping dog, hearing one of the people say: Such a big poop and right by a trashcan! Good dog! He said this in a voice that you usually hear when someone is praising a toddler. Okay, maybe I also liked feeling the breeze coming off of the lake and watching it glimmer and feeling almost normal and locking into a steady rhythm with my arms swinging the same amount and in perfect chorus with my legs. Oh–and I also remember stretching at a table near Sandcastle and noticing the light from the overhang reflecting on the pavement, making it glow a pale, pretty blue.

swim: just a quick dip in the drink (100 yards?)

I wanted to test out the water before open swim, which starts on the 15th!, so I decided to try a quick swim. It wasn’t that cold, just lots of waves from all the wind. My first time swimming since August of 2019. It felt like I never stopped, and strange and unknown at the same time. In other Junes the lake water has been clear, but not today. Couldn’t see a thing below me. Also hard to see above water. Time to prepare for vague shapes, and not knowing where I’m going, and trusting straight strokes. Always good practice and it makes every swim more exciting–will I get way off course? will the lifeguard have to come get me? I really hope that I can swim a lot this summer. Could I manage 100 miles? I’ll see. Open swim has expanded; I can swim 6 days a week. Minneapolis Parks is amazing.

Here’s a poem for this month’s theme of water and stone. Wow.

The Museum of Stones/ Carolyn Forché – 1950-

These are your stones, assembled in matchbox and tin,
collected from roadside, culvert, and viaduct,
battlefield, threshing floor, basilica, abattoir–
stones, loosened by tanks in the streets
from a city whose earliest map was drawn in ink on linen,
schoolyard stones in the hand of a corpse,
pebble from Apollinaire’s oui,
stone of the mind within us
carried from one silence to another,
stone of cromlech and cairn, schist and shale, horneblende,
agate, marble, millstones, ruins of choirs and shipyards,
chalk, marl, mudstone from temples and tombs,
stone from the tunnel lined with bones,
lava of a city’s entombment, stones
chipped from lighthouse, cell wall, scriptorium,
paving stones from the hands of those who rose against the army,
stones where the bells had fallen, where the bridges were blown,
those that had flown through windows, weighted petitions,
feldspar, rose quartz, blueschist, gneiss and chert,
fragments of an abbey at dusk, sandstone toe
of a Buddha mortared at Bamiyan,
stone from the hill of three crosses and a crypt,
from a chimney where storks cried like human children,
stones newly fallen from stars, a stillness of stones, a heart,
altar and boundary of stone, marker and vessel, first cast, lode and hail,
bridge stones and others to pave and shut up with,
stone apple, stone basil, beech, berry, stone brake,
stone bramble, stone fern, lichen, liverwort, pippin and root,
concretion of the body, as blind as cold as deaf,
all earth a quarry, all life a labor, stone-faced, stone-drunk
with hope that this assemblage of rubble, taken together, would become
a shrine or holy place, an ossuary, immoveable and sacred
like the stone that marked the path of the sun as it entered the human dawn.

This poem. Beautiful and powerful and haunting. I need to spend some time with it. So much to think about and reflect on. Here are two other things to put beside it:

From the Emily Dickinson Lexicon, entry for stone

stone (-s), n. [OE stán, wall; Gk. ‘pebble’.] (webplay: body, buildings, cold, dead, earth, express, eye, fall, fences, forgot, glance, gold, great, hard, heart, lie, lifeless, means, mirror, myself, perfectly, Philosopher’s, sense, set, small, stand, still, supposed, turning, universally, use, walls, water, weight).

  1. Hard mineral substance.
  2. Piece of rock; [fig.] thing which has a characteristic of a rock: unbreakable, inanimate, unfeeling, immovable, lack of consciousness, used to throw at things, used to break things, used in building structures.
  3. Jewel; precious gem.
  4. Grave; sepulcher; crypt; mausoleum; burial vault; [fig.] large stone covering the entrance of Jesus Christ’s sepulcher which was removed at the time of his resurrection.
  5. Coffin; casket; solid enclosure holding a dead body.
  6. Headstone; monument marking a grave.
  7. Imaginary substance thought to be able to turn other substances into gold. 
  8. Phrase. “[Written / set / stamped] in stone”: unalterable; prescribed by fate; will of God.

gneiss (which has come up in a few different places for me in the last few days):

Gneiss is a foliated metamorphic rock identified by its bands and lenses of varying mineral composition. Some of these bands (or lenses) contain granular minerals that are bound together in an interlocking texture.

Gneiss: Metamorphic Rock

STA’s favorite joke from high school science class:

She was gneiss, but he took her for granite.

june 4/RUN

3.3 miles
2 trails
72 degrees

Ran earlier this morning–at 6:30–to beat the heat. High of 99 today. We already turned the air on. 90s for the next 5 days. All this heat should warm up the lake. Less than 2 weeks until open swim begins!

I ran south on the upper trail. I tried to look at the river but it was hard. Too much green. Even at the overlook by the entrance to Winchell Trail was green. Only slashes of silver–or white heat–burning through the trees. Running north again on the Winchell Trail at the steepest spot above the river, I could feel the river through my peripheral vision. Sometimes it was a constant brightness, other times a rhythmic flash, keeping time with my striking feet as I passed one tree after another.

Yesterday I mentioned noticing the large crack in the trail that’s been marked with white spray paint and looks like Florida or a tube sock. Glancing at it today, I think it looks more like a knee-high sock or a compression sock, and not really Florida–although it still reminds me of Florida which, despite all the shit happening there these days, is not a bad thing. I have fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Deltona–the heat, the tropical humidity, the beach, Epcot, even the swampy salty tap water. I miss the ocean; I haven’t been there since FWA was a few months old, he’s 18 now.

Other things I noticed: a tall tree on the Winchell Trail leaning over a little too much–was it about to fall?; the trickle of water from the sewer pipe at 44th and the faster flow at the 42nd street pipe, the noise of water mixing in with the noise of rustling leaves; the river more light than water; my good omen: a lone roller skier; the shuffling, stomping feet of a runner behind me, becoming more distant with each step; a furry, big dog sitting calmly, perched at the top of the 38th street steps next to a bench and a human; some singing birds–robins, I think; a greeting from a runner; my new running shorts irritatingly riding up on the one side–probably due to the heat.

Reading Lorine Niedecker’s “Lake Superior.” I’m thinking about rocks and layers and these two opening lines, one from her poem, “Lake Superior,” and one from her essay, “Lake Superior Country, Vacation Trip ’66”:

from Lake Superior

In every part of every living thing
is stuff that once was rock

In blood the minerals
of the rock

from Lake Superior Country, Vacation Trip ’66

The journey of the rock is never ended. In every tiny part of any living thing are materials that once were rock that turned to soil. These minerals are drawn out of the soil by plant roots and the plant used them to build leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. Plants are eaten by animals. In our blood is iron from plants that draw out of the soil. Your teeth and bones were once coral. The water you drink has been in clouds over the mountains of Asia and in waterfall of Africa. The air you breathe has swirled thru places of the earth that no one has ever seen. Every bit of you is a bit of earth and has been on many strange and wonderful journeys over countless millions of years.

june 2/RUN

3 miles
2 trails + the tunnel of trees
65 degrees

Even though I ran yesterday, I decided that I had to run today too, on my 10th anniversary of running. Taking those first steps with the couch to 5k program 10 years ago changed my life, and, honestly, saved my life. Not so much my literal life, as my livable life.

Today I ran south on the river road trail, then turned down at 42nd and ran north on the Winchell Trail. I heard lots of woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees and a tinny mechanical chirp that I think might be a robin but I’m not sure. At the end of my run, right by my house, I also heard a bird calling out, “tweet tweet look at me!” What is this bird? I looked up birdsong mnemonics but couldn’t find anything close to the phrase I heard. I encountered some other walkers and runners and bikers and a maintenance truck with someone up in a bucket trimming a tree. I heard the kids laughing and yelling on the playground. I greeted the Welcoming Oaks and got lost in the green in the tunnel of trees. I counted the stacked stones (2) on the ancient boulder. I noticed the cottonwood fuzz piled up on the edges of the grass. I thought about water and stones and how different yet connected they are here near the gorge. I stopped at the fallen tree branch balanced precariously on the fence creating a bridge to cross under and measured (roughly) the distance from my head–about 2 or 3 inches. No wonder I always want to duck! I avoided the dip in the road and the big crack that is marked by white spray paint in the shape of a tube sock or Florida (at least that what it looks like to me!). I tried to breathe deeply through my noise and swing my arms so that the right swung back as much as the left. I monitored how my left quad felt and my lower back. I crossed the road twice at crosswalks, twice not, making sure to triple check before I went. I peered down at the inviting opening carving out a space between dark green near the oak savanna.

But I didn’t look down at the river, or, if I did, I can’t remember anything about it. What color was it? Were there any rowers on it? Was it smooth or rough? This seems to happen a lot–I lose the river. Is it because when I look at it, I often don’t see anything but water–blue or brown or gray–just there. A blob or a streak or a wide swath. I guess I’m too far away, and it’s too hard to notice anything in a flash–unless it’s sunny and it sparkles or reflects.

Today’s poem on the theme of water and stone is from the amazing Alice Oswald:

Evaporations/ Alice Oswald

I

What I admire is Dew
To have the strength of Dew
To pass apparitional through a place
Without trace or title
To be Snow!
To be almost actual!
Oh pristine example
Of claiming a place on the earth
Only to cancel
Rain
Rain
Smashed against stone
I love leaf and un-leaf
Of frost and un-fern
All these incisions
And indecisions of the Dawn
Yes Yes there is Ice but I notice
The Water doesn’t like it so orderly
What Water admires
Is the slapstick rush of things melting
I have taken my bedding to the fields
First it was Mist
Uncontrollably whispering
Then it was Dew
Disclosing the cold in my mind
Saying simply that it
Comes from nothing
And will return to nothing
Then it was…

II

In their lunch hour
I saw the shop-workers get into water
They put their watches on the stones and slithered
frightened
Into the tight-fitting river
And shook out cuffs of splash
And swam wide strokes towards the trees
And after a while swam back
With rigid cormorant smiles
Shocked I suppose from taking on
Something impossible to think through
Something old and obsessive like the centre of a rose
And for that reason they quickly turned
And struggled out again and retrieved their watches
Stooped on the grass-line hurrying now
They began to laugh and from their meaty backs
A million crackling things
Burst into flight which was either water
Or the hour itself ascending.

O, Alice Oswald! I read somewhere that when she does readings of her poems, she often?always? does it from memory. Very cool. I love so much about this poem: the gentle rhyming at the beginning–dew/through, place/trace. The idea of being almost actual. Frost and un-fern, the slapstick rush of things melting, the way the dew and the mist speak to her. Then, in the second part: the watches on the stones reminds me of M Oliver’s lamenting of clocks and the prison of normal time. I love the cormorant smiles and the meaty backs (which is kind of gross), and the “million crackling things” that burst into flight which could be water drops or the evaporation of the magical hour in and of the water.

june 1/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha creek trail + lake nokomis
71 degrees

Today is STA’s 10 year anniversary of running (his runnaversary); mine is tomorrow. We decided to celebrate them together by running part of the path where it all began in 2011: Minnehaha Creek Trail. What a beautiful day! Maybe a little too bright and warm, but it feels like summer, normal summer.

Running on the trail brought back memories of the kids when they were kids. We lived over by this trail, and not as close to the river, for 10 years. I walked and biked it with FWA and RJP countless times, probably mostly in the summer–to camps, to and to the lake. It was strange to be on this path—for the first time in almost a year–and notice all the differences, like how the trail travels under 28th avenue now instead of steeply climbing up to a crosswalk. As we ran on it, STA remarked on how you would never be able to tell there had been a different trail here unless you remembered it. Yes, the importance of remembering. I’m good at that. It’s strange to be visiting these known, yet unfamiliar, places in the same city in which I still live. Growing up, I never lived in a town for more than 5 years: 4 years in UP Michigan; 5 years in Hickory, North Carolina; 1 year in Salem, Virginia; 4 years in a northern Virginia suburb of D.C; 4 years West/Des Moines, Iowa–well, when I was in college in Minnesota, I still lived in West Des Moines for the summer, so I guess you could count that as 8 years. Anyway, after a few years in the LA area, and a few years in Atlanta, we moved to Minneapolis for good. We’ve lived here since the late fall of 2003, when FWA was 6 months old. He’s 18 now. Wow. I love this place, and I love it even more since I started running around it. Tomorrow is my official 10 running anniversary, so I think I’ll write about what running means to me tomorrow.

Remembering Today’s Run

  • Such a warm, bright sun. Annoyingly (to STA, I’m sure), I had to recite a few lines from the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”–the part after the Mariner has killed the albatross and the whole ship is paying the price: no breeze, “all in a hot and copper sky/the blooding sun at noon/right up above the mast it stands/no bigger than a moon.” The part I recited was: “Day after day, day after day/we stuck, no breath, no motion/as idle as a painted ship/upon a painted ocean.” We were moving but the air was not. When in the direct sun, I remember feeling hot and stuck
  • Checking out the menu for Sandcastle and thinking about how we could get some beers and fries after some of my swims this summer
  • Feeling sad about the big willow tree just past the echo bridge–a tree that I’ve featured in at least 2 poems–was recently cut down. Bummer
  • Stopping a lot so STA could take pictures (he posted them on instagram). At one spot, we noticed how still the water was and how clear the reflection of the boat was on its surface. I remember mentioning the myth of Adonis and how he looked at his reflection–but, I should have known better; checking my log entries I found the entry where I first mentioned this story and it was Narcissus. Here’s my entry from just over a year ago:

a mirror reflecting the fluffy clouds. I imagined that the water was another world, doubled and reversed, like in May Swenson’s great poem, “Water Picture“: “In the pond in the park/ all things are doubled:/ Long buildings hang and/ wriggle gently. Chimneys/ are bent legs bouncing/ on clouds below.” Love how “In the pond in the park” bounces on my tongue. I kept glancing over at the water and admiring its smooth beauty and how it looked like a mirror. I started thinking about the Greek myth (which I couldn’t really remember) about the hunter who looked at his reflection. I looked it up just now–of course it was Narcissus. Here’s an interesting article I found that discusses him and the idea of mirrors in water–it even has a picture of Salvadore Dali looking into the water.

april 27, 2020

A new month, a new theme. Last month was birds; this month is water and stone. Today’s poem is one I posted on this log a few years ago (I think), but it’s time to revisit it:

Wind, Water, Stone/ OCTAVIO PAZ

TRANSLATED BY ELIOT WEINBERGER

for Roger Caillois

Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone’s a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.

Stone: stops/blocks, holds things, is still
Water: carves out stone, escapes and transforms, sings

may 30/RUN

5 miles
downtown loop
56 degrees

STA and I drove to the Bohemian Flats parking lot then ran to downtown Minneapolis: starting on the steep hill, past the Guthrie, under the Hennepin Avenue bridge, over the Plymouth bridge, through Boom Island Park, over the railroad bridge, over the North line tracks, on the cobblestones in St. Anthony Main, over the Stone Arch Bridge, up past the Guthrie again, and down the steep hill. My IT band was tight afterwards, but it feels okay now. I guess I need to keep taking it easy. A great run. It almost felt normal. A few things I wrote down in my plague notebook to remember: ran up the entire steep hill, noticed the calm water, heard so many birds everywhere–not cardinals or robins or chickadees, maybe finches and warblers and sparrows? Lunging dogs, porta potty stops, and the rush of the light rail crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge as I stretched in the flats parking lot.

Right as we reached the Stone Arch Bridge, I remembered Scott saying that the past tense of glow should be glued not glowed (he said this after I remarked on how someone’s bright yellow vest glowed in my peripheral vision), which made me wonder if “glued” might be an archaic past tense, which then made me think about the archaic words in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” like swound–“The ice was here. The ice was there./The ice was all around./It cracked and growled and roared and howled/like noises of a swound.” Swound is an archaic version of swoon, but I like thinking of it in the context of the poem as a collection or gathering of swoons–noises of a swound would be all the noise you’d hear when a bunch of people fainted, like maybe in a revival tent or at a pentecostal service. A rushing and wailing and whooshing and thudding and gnashing.

Yesterday I finished memorizing the first section of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”– all 80 lines. Last night I recited it to STA on the deck while we drank some beer. Then we listened to Iron Maiden’s epic, 13+ minute tribute to it. Very cool. It was hard to make out the words because they were sung so fast, but it was exciting when I heard “wedding guests” or “hermit” or “the albatross” or the dice. Nice! I’m going to try memorizing some (or all) of the next part today. I’m a little reluctant because I don’t want memorizing this epic poem to consume me. I’ll see how I feel after today.

In the midst of memorizing this poem, I came across Robert Frost’s “The Oven Bird,” and wondered, why the hell is it called an oven bird? Looked it up: it’s because the nest of this bird is shaped like an old-fashioned oven. It has a small round hole for an opening.

may 28/RUN

may 27/REST

This morning, as I listened to the rain and absorbed the green gloom, I read more about birds. Today I learned about birds’ unique and highly efficient respiratory systems. Small lungs and a series of air sacs around their bodies that store extra air and act as bellows–typically they have 9 sacs. Birds that fly higher might have more sacs, birds that do a lot of deep diving, less–birds who dive in the water need to be less buoyant. I love thinking about how birds are made up of so much air. I was wondering how much air–what percentage of their bodies is air–but I couldn’t find anything. Instead I found an article about the new record holder for the longest continuous flight: the common swift can stay in the air for 10 months straight! Common swifts raise their chicks for 2 months in Scandinavia, then migrate to sub-Saharan Africa. Wow. I also read that they are lost and “pathetic-looking” when on the ground. Awkward, clumsy, and easy prey.

It’s fun (and maybe a little dangerous because I could wander forever through bird facts) to learn more about birds–to devote attention to these “little dinosaurs” that I have often ignored in the past. And it’s satisfying to move past the generic concept of “birds”, to explore more involved, specific understandings of swifts or cardinals or two birds I read more about today:

guillemot: a deep diving bird that lives on the Arctic coast + rocky shores of Canada and Maine and looks almost like a duck except it’s black with some white and has bright red legs

albatross: a high soaring bird with the largest wing span of birds–11 to 12 feet–who flies long distances, often without even flapping their wings, through the fiercest storms, and that has tubes–called “tubenose”–in and just above their bills that remove salt so they can drink seawater

Speaking of the albatross, I came across the name while searching for “poems about birds” and “bird metaphors in poems”: Bird Metaphors in Writing. The albatross is often used as a symbol of burden or curse. This meaning comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Instead of the cross, the Albatross 
About my neck was hung. 

I’ve always thought of the albatross as the burden, as an annoying, pesky bird. But it’s not. It was thought to be good luck for sailors and it’s beautiful and graceful and impressive to see with its long wingspan. The burden is not the albatross, but the sailor’s reckless, immoral act of shooting it. It’s almost as if the albatross is killed twice, first by the sailor/ancient mariner and second by the harmful, negative metaphor it must bear!

Wow, this is a long poem. At some point while reading it I had the idea of challenging myself to memorize it–that was when I thought I was close to being done, but wasn’t. 143 verses. Could I do it? Not sure, but maybe I’ll try to start it and see if it’s possible?I like the challenge because ever since I started memorizing poems, I’ve read about how it used to be required in school, sometimes even this ridiculously long poem. Memorizing this poem could serve as the “final exam” for my memorizing exercises?!

update, 1/2 a day later: Today I memorized the first 10 verses (40 lines), which is 1/2 of the first part of 4. I will experiment with practicing while I’m running tomorrow (may 28).

From the article, “Why We Should Memorize”:

Much of our daily lives would be dizzyingly unrecognizable to people living a hundred years ago: what we wear and what we eat, how we travel, how we communicate, how we while away our leisure time. But, surely, our occasional attempts to memorize a poem would feel familiar to them—those inhabitants of a heyday of verse memorization. Little has changed. They, too, in committing a poem to memory, underwent a predictable gamut of frustrations: the pursuit of stubbornly elusive phrases, the inner hammering of rote repetition, tantalizing tip-of-the-tongue stammerings, confident forward marches that finish in an abrupt amnesiac’s cul-de-sac.

Why We Should Memorize

The author mentions the frustrations, but I also think of the joy that happens when you suddenly remember the word or the phrase you’d forgotten. I’ve found many more discussions of forgetting/losing words than of remembering them. Why is that?

may 28/RUN
3.25 miles
trestle turn around
49 degrees

Sunny, bright, and cold. Brr. I wore shorts, and warmed up by the end, but at the beginning my hands and feet were cold. Was distracted by an approaching runner that turned around in front of me. She was going about the same speed so I just had to follow her. And I did until we reached the hill from under the lake street bridge and I powered up it faster. I ran faster partly because I sometimes do that when climbing hills and partly because there was a group of elementary school kids biking up the hill and, without realizing it, I decided to race them. Of course, once I passed her, I had to keep going faster so she didn’t catch up, which messed up my plan for an easy run.

All of these encounters distracted me as I tried to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in my head. Earlier today, while looking for an audio version of the poem, I found Ian McKellen’s wonderful recitation of it and discovered that there is an earlier, and in my opinion better, version of the poem. It’s from 1797, while the one I had been memorizing is from 1817. Most of the lines are the same, but there are a few different verses, with different lines that I think are helpful for me as I try to not just memorize the poem but convincingly try to tell the story of it from memory. Even though the popularly accepted/known version is from 1817, I’m memorizing the 1797 version.

Anyway, I attempted to recite this version as I ran. Difficult with all of the distractions. I can’t remember if I made it through all of the lines or what I thought about any of them. I struggled with this stanza, one of the few that is different in the 2 versions: “He holds him with his skinny hand/He quoth—There was a ship /Now get thee hence, thou gray beard loon!/Or my staff shall make thee skip!” In looking at it, I realized the problem: I had memorized it wrong and had quoth he at the end instead of ship; everytime I got to the line that ends skip it sounded wrong. Of course it did; it’s supposed to rhyme with ship!

Here’s the version I’m using: The Original Lyric Ballads Version of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
And here’s a link to Ian McKellen reciting the poem (the video is 30 minutes long! Yikes): Ian McKellen reads “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

may 26/RUNBIKE

2.4 miles
43rd ave, north/31st st, east/river road trail, south/edmund, north
55 degrees

Decided to run a little less distance today to make sure my knee was doing okay. It is. Cooler and windy this morning. Crowded with cars, but not people. Sunny. What do I remember from my run? Not much. Avoiding the uneven, cracked up sidewalk on 31st, looking carefully for cars as I crossed the street, noticing there were no stones stacked on the boulder, hearing voices at the overlook. I forgot to glance down at the river when I had a chance. I don’t remember hearing any woodpeckers or black-capped chickadees or red-breasted nuthatches. I’m sure I heard many cardinals and robins. No geese or ducks or hawks circling the sky. No rowers on the river. Maybe I didn’t notice much because I was worrying about my knee and listening to the rushing wind?

bike: 4 miles
to the falls and back
62 degrees

Biked with RJP in the afternoon. Wasn’t too worried about my vision, more about my left knee, which started to hurt a few minutes into the ride. When I was done, my quad–or the IT band?–felt strange and tight. Should I keep up my goal of biking every day, or take a break from it too? It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so the weather will probably decide for me. Aside from the knee pain, I’m liking the biking. It’s a little scary, but not anything I can’t handle. Yes! I hope I can bike a lot this summer.

Before I went out for my run, I started thinking about birds in songs. It started with Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird,” which I remember liking back in the day (2001). Wow, 2001. I was living in Atlanta, working on my Ph.D.

I’m Like a Bird/ Nelly Furtado

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is (Soul is)
I don’t know where my home is
And baby, all I need for you to know is
I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away

Looking up the song, I also watched the video. I’m impressed that the clothes don’t seem too dated; I’d love to have those jeans and orange shirt! Anyway, I’m not digging her simile of a bird here. The part about flying away makes sense, but “I’m like a bird…because I don’t have a soul…because I don’t know where my home is?” When I think of birds, one of the fundamental characteristics of most (all?) birds is their amazing navigation skills, their ability to find home as they migrate. I started to wonder about birds who are bad navigators–do they exist?–and then found this source about 7 Birds Who Will Never Leave You and 1 That Really Ought To (tl;dr: mallards, ravens, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, great horned owl are the 7; european starling is the 1). When I told Scott about my search for bad navigating birds and birds who don’t migrate, he said something about flightless birds which got me wondering what characteristics define a bird, and also about what a major bummer it would be to be a bird that couldn’t fly. Then we started talking about how costly (energy zapping) it is for bird’s to fly and I thought about how many poets go on and on about birds and the freedom of flight and wanting to be as free as a bird without mentioning the immense cost of that freedom. In the process of thinking about this and searching more online, I found the article, Big Birds Don’t Fly:

Many will cite a bird’s ability to fly, sing and use its feathered wings to take flight. So it may seem a bit strange that included in the more than 10,000 species of birds in the world today is a group that literally cannot fly or sing, and whose wings are more fluff than feather. 

These are the ratites: the ostrich, emu, rhea, kiwi and cassowary.

I wonder what are the defining characteristics for birds that poets use? Is it: feathers, flight, birdsong. Anything else? Eating worms? Getting up early? Migration? I think I could follow this rabbit hole a lot deeper if I didn’t stop myself. I loved to read about the physics of flight, and search for references to birds in poems that didn’t involve flying or plumage or song, and keep trying to find out about birds that get lost, but I need to stop myself.

But of course, stopping is hard, and so I didn’t and found an article–Why do birds get lost?–that mentions new research that suggests birds use quantum mechanics to navigate–something about how cryptochromes (blue light sensitive proteins found in the retina of birds and some other animals) respond to magnetic field to create an inner compass. Wow. Is it just me or does using quantum in a phrase instantly make it seem smarter and fancier and less intelligible. Also in that article: birds are good navigators and when they get lost, it’s because something has malfunctioned–their ability to make a compass, bad weather. And: scientists discovered that some birds have magnetic particles in their ear hairs(!) so they believed that they used those particles to navigate. But, those particles are in non-sensory cells so they can’t function as compasses. Woah.

And, just one more article…In this one–Why don’t birds get lost?–I found this very exciting passage, which made me call out, “Oh my god!”:

It’s thought that light-sensitive proteins called cryptochromes — which have been found in the retinas of birds, butterflies, fruit flies, frogs and humans, among others — are at the center of the mystery. When light strikes the proteins, it creates radical pairs that begin to spin in synchrony; they’re entangled.

Ever since I listened to a podcast with Ross Gay (VS) and heard him discussing entanglement, I’ve been fascinated by that word and concept. What does it mean in the context of cryptochromes, birds, and navigation? I will stop myself from looking now.

Whew. As I mentioned before falling down this rabbit hole, I was thinking about birds in songs before my run, earlier in the morning. I had already typed up a few notes:

Don’t Worry/ Bob Marley

Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou: “)

What kind of bird are these 3 little birds? Googling it, I found a source that suggests 2 answers: 1. the 3 canaries that Marley would see every morning and 2. his 3 back-up singers

Edge of Seventeen/ Stevie Nicks

Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, ooh, ooh
Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh

Here’s some more information about the white-winged dove, which resides in the southwest in desert thickets. It does make an “ooh ooh” call. This song is about the death of Nick’s uncle and the white-winged dove represents his soul leaving the body. The idea of the bird being the soul reminds me of ED and her poem, “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.” It also makes me think about Furtados line about being like a bird who doesn’t know where her soul is.

In another lyric from this song, Nicks sings about the night bird telling her to “come away.” I thought the night bird might be a blackbird, which made me think of The Beatles song “Blackbird.” Bird is slang for girl in England and Paul McCartney wrote the song after reading an article about Little Rock, Ruby Bridges, and desegregation. Ruby Bridges is the black bird he’s singing about. Speaking of McCartney, he’s big into birds. He has another great bird song: “Bluebird” with his band, Wings. And he wrote a poetry collection, released in 2001, called Blackbird.

may 25/BIKE!
to the falls and back
77 degrees

Today I rode my bike outside on the trail for the first time since September 28, 2019. A few days shy of 20 months. The absence of outdoor biking is because of the pandemic–mostly because I didn’t want to get too close to others who might have covid, but also because more people were biking last summer and it was too difficult for me, with my bad vision, to feel safe navigating the trails.

Since my last bike ride, I have learned more about my vision and how my brain, specifically my visual cortex, adjusts to the quantity and quality of data it receives from my cone cells. As I understand it, the brain is constantly adjusting and adapting to incomplete, insufficient data. For me, this adjustment is not immediate; it requires practice and repetition. My brain slowly and gradually learns how to see something even when the data is fuzzy or blurry or too bright or barely registering a fast-moving form approaching. It’s not perfect or precise, and I definitely need to travel at a slower pace and use my brakes, but I can see enough to bike. As I write this, I’m realizing that just as my visual cortex learns to do more with less data, other parts of my brain learn to live with more discomfort and uncertainty. I stop being so afraid of my unfocused view and start using my other senses to help me navigate.

The bottom line: if I keep practicing–pushing through the panic, traveling on the trails, being careful and trusting in my ability to notice and navigate and not bike into anything–it will become easier, less scary, enjoyable, manageable. And I should get better at it–unless I go through another burst of rapid deterioration of cone cells (I wanted a phrase that means the opposite of a growth spurt, but I couldn’t find it, so I went with “burst of rapid deterioration” but I’ll keep looking because I don’t quite like this phrase).

Today was my first day of trying to do this. It went well. I was scared, especially before I started, but also as other bikers approached and I tried to make sure I wasn’t missing a walker or a runner. Today’s ride involved a lot of faith and hope and willingness to trust my abilities. It didn’t involve trusting other people to see me or make room for me. I am trying to work on this lack of trust because I am sure there are many people who pay attention and share the trail and don’t expect/demand that everyone else look out for them, but they hardly ever seem to be on the trail when I am. It helps tremendously that I have memorized this trail. I know all the curves, and when it narrows or joins the walking trail or dips down or veers toward the road. And I know most of the bumps and cracks and fissures and splits.

One thing I was reminded of that I really need to remember: When a person is walking a dog I rarely can see the leash or the dog, especially when they’re small and/or not right next to their human. I have never run into a leash or a dog, but it could happen if I don’t give a wide berth to anyone I’m passing–which can be difficult when the path is crowded. Of course, if walkers kept their dogs on a tighter leash, this also wouldn’t be a problem.

Other than feeling scared about what I could and could not see, the bike ride was good. No-shift-Sara is back (I wrote about her 2 summers ago); I need to practice shifting my gears more, I think. When I got to the falls, I stopped by the Longfellow fountain–an elaborate fountain that no longer holds water but plants and that has “The Song of Hiawatha” etched on a small retaining wall that creates a rectangular perimeter around the fountain. I walked my bike to the overlook. There was someone playing the accordion and some people sitting on benches while others peered over the retaining wall admiring the view. Very nice. As I headed back, I passed a small flock of black birs, some on the grass, some in the sky, and I wondered if they were crows or ravens or rooks or what.

Googled, “birds bike poem” and found this one:

Going Down Hill on a Bicycle/ Henry Charles Beeching

A Boy’s Song

With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.

Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:—
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.

“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”

Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.

Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.

Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.

may 24/RUN!

3 miles
river road trail, south/winchell trail, north/river road trail, north
71 degrees/ 90% humidity
dew point: 69

For the past few weeks, my left knee + left quad has been sore. After my run on the 17th, when my knee hurt enough to make it difficult to walk, I decided to take more of a break. Today is my first day back since then. Sunny, still (at least it seemed still), humid. Wow–90% humidity. Summer running. Ran at 8:30, which is not my favorite time to run. Too warm already + too many cars on the road, making crosswalks difficult and drowning out bird sounds with their whooshing wheels.

I felt a little stiff and over-heated, but it was a good run. Very happy to be back out by the gorge, admiring the river and assessing the progress of the leaves and the wildflowers. No mosquitos…yet…or sex-crazed gnats. I remember hearing a loud cardinal in some tree on the edge of trail, rapidly trilling and calling out, “what cheer what cheer.”

Things I Remember

  • almost slipping on the muddy, wet leaves at the edge of the concrete steps leading down to the Winchell Trail
  • not hearing the sewer pipe near 44th and my favorite retaining wall curve, but hearing it gushing at 42nd
  • feeling the glow of the water below out of the corner of eye as I ran on the part of the winchell trail without railing that seems too close to the edge of the steep bluff–I turned briefly to glance down at the bright water
  • noticing more bikers than runners and walkers on the trail
  • wondering when the bugs and the cottonwood fuzz will be arriving
  • breathing in through my nose for 3 beats, out through my mouth for 2
  • feeling a little anxious about my knee and my left IT band, hoping that I took enough time off

Here’s my bird poem for the day:

Of Being is a Bird/ Emily Dickinson

Of Being is a Bird
The likest to the Down
An Easy Breeze do put afloat
The General Heavens — upon —

It soars — and shifts — and whirls —
And measures with the Clouds
In easy — even — dazzling pace —
No different the Birds —

Except a Wake of Music
Accompany their feet —
As did the Down emit a Tune —
For Ecstasy — of it

It’s helpful for me to read through The Prowling Bees’s analysis of this poem (linked in poem title), although I still don’t totally understand ED’s words. I’m struck by her use of easy twice. Ever since I encountered Mary Oliver’s use of easy in her poems (first mentioned on April 14, 2021), I’ve been thinking about the differences between easy and difficult and about how easy is dismissed as immoral or not noble and not nearly as good as difficult. If it’s too easy, you’re not working hard enough, or you’re taking the easy way out, or you’re lazy. I’ve been thinking about it even more after reading Richard Siken’s “The Language of Birds”–see below–and his line about it being easy to ask how, much harder to ask why:

Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

Why does everything have to hard to be good? Can easy ever be better? Can we fetishize the difficult–making things more difficult for ourselves than we should?

may 18/STIFF RIGHT KNEE, HARD TO WALK

Yesterday, after taking 2 days off from running, I ran again. Not too long after I finished, my left knee felt stiff and sore. Not a good sign, but, surprisingly, I’m chill about it. Just need to take more of a break I guess. Maybe the whole week? If my knee feels a little better tomorrow, and I can walk without limping or tensing up, I’ll try out my bike. After 2 years in the basement, it’s time bring it outside to test it out. Will I be able to see? Eventually, I’m sure, my brain will adjust enough.

Spending a lot of time sitting today. Started early-ish (7:30) this morning by sitting cross-legged on a cushion on the deck, trying to not move much. I was inspired by the wonderful essay I read about “just sitting” yesterday: Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont

Then I sat at a chair and listened to the daycare kids next door playing outside. I’m not sure how long they were outside, but I took notes about their interactions with the unprepared, harried daycare worker. A lot of fun (not for the daycare worker) and a great exercise in paying attention and taking notes about it. At one point, they played “Ring Around the Rosie.” I wrote in my notes: plague rhyme. I wondered, what other cautionary, plague-related rhymes do children still chant? Googled it and became increasingly skeptical about any nursery rhymes that claim to be about plagues. Then I found this very helpful source–Ring Around the Rosie: Metafolklore, Rhyme and Reason from the Library of Congress. Lots of interesting information about why it’s doubtful that the ring around the rosie is about the plague.

Refreshed my memory of a poem I memorized last summer–Love Song of the Square Root of Negative One by Richard Siken. Love this poem and love Siken. Found another great poem in the same collection (War of the Foxes): The Language of the Birds

The Language of the Birds/ Richard Siken

1

A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.


2

A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy—series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?

And just because you want to paint a bird, do actually paint a bird, it doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. Who gets to measure the distance between experience and its representation? Who controls the lines of inquiry? We do. Anyone can.

Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.

Unless his heart is a metaphor for his heart, as everything is a metaphor for itself, so that looking at the paint is like looking at a bird that isn’t there, with a song in its throat that you don’t want to hear but you paint anyway.

The hand is a voice that can sing what the voice will not, and the hand wants to do something useful. Sometimes, at night, in bed, before I fall asleep, I think about a poem I might write, someday, about my heart, says the heart.


3

They looked at the animals. They looked at the walls of the cave. This is earlier, these are different men. They painted in torchlight: red mostly, sometimes black—mammoth, lion, horse, bear—things on a wall, in profile or superimposed, dynamic and alert.

They weren’t animals but they looked like animals, enough like animals to make it confusing, meant something but the meaning was slippery: it wasn’t there but it remained, looked like the thing but wasn’t the thing—was a second thing, following a second set of rules—and it was too late: their power over it was no longer absolute.

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

The night sky is vast and wide.

They huddled closer, shoulder to shoulder, painted themselves in herds, all together and apart from the rest. They looked at the sky, and at the mud, and at their hands in the mud, and their dead friends in the mud. This went on for a long time.


4

To be a bird, or a flock of birds doing something together, one or many, starling or murmuration. To be a man on a hill, or all the men on all the hills, or half a man shivering in the flock of himself. These are some choices.

The night sky is vast and wide.

A man had two birds in his head—not in his throat, not in his chest—and the birds would sing all day never stopping. The man thought to himself, One of these birds is not my bird. The birds agreed.

may 20/ABLE TO WALK, CLICKING KNEECAP

Feeling much better today. I can walk almost normally, even if I have to remind myself how to do it when I start: bend the knee! I was planning to get out my bike and try it on the trail, but it’s raining, so maybe I’ll bike inside and watch another Dickinson? I want to take a break from running until next Monday, I think, just to be safe. Hopefully that is enough time to recover from whatever happened to my knee. Sitting in the front room, with the windows wide open, I’m enjoying listening to the rain hitting the pavement. It’s a soft, steady, gentle rain. I also hear a siren a few streets over.

Returning to this post, a few hours after I wrote the previous paragraph: Took Delia for a walk around the block and did 30 minutes on the bike in the basement while watching the ITU Yokohama Men’s Triathlon. Most memorable moment: It was a tough, hot race–30 degrees celsius (86 F)–and racers were exhausted at the finishing line. As the commentary continued, I could hear several racers puking in the background. No mention of it by the commentators. Gross, yet a good reminder of how ridiculously hard these races are and how much these racers have learned to push their bodies. I’m troubled by and in awe of that ability.

Thinking about Richard Siken’s “The Language of the Birds”:

1.
A man saw a bird and found him beautiful. The bird had a song inside him, and feathers. Sometimes the man felt like the bird and sometimes the man felt like a stone—solid, inevitable—but mostly he felt like a bird, or that there was a bird inside him, or that something inside him was like a bird fluttering. This went on for a long time.

I love this first stanza. Thinking about ED and “Hope” is thing with feathers. Also thinking about MO and some great lines from The Leaf and the Cloud, which, when I found them again, I realized were even more fitting with this poem or at least my reading of it right now:

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

6.
It is the nature of stone
to be satisfied.
It is the nature of water
to want to be somewhere else.

Everywhere we look: the sweet guttural swill of the water
tumbling.
Everywhere we look:
the stone, basking in the sun,

or offering itself
to the golden lichen.

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,
writing our hands,

half-mad, saying over and over:

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

What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

Siken’s poem isn’t really about a bird; it’s about metaphor and representation and the work of doing something useful (meaningful?) with the noticing of a beautiful bird. And it’s about the doubt an artist/writer feels when they try to create something in response to that bird, and about what language does to the artist’s connection to the bird, the distance it creates between “experience and representation.” And, it’s about asking the question: why do anything at all? “existentially why bother, what does it solve?”

And maybe it’s also about not answering this question, not trying to find ultimate meaning, not trying to solve “it”–where it = the problem of death/that everyone dies, or it = the overwhelming “vast and wide” night sky,” or it = our inability to capture/own a bird in our representation (painting, poem) of them.

Yesterday, when I looked up “The Language of the Birds” I discovered this: The Mantiq al-tair(Language of the Birds) of 1487. I had discovered this Sufi poem earlier in the month when I looked up conference of birds, which is it’s more known title. Very cool. Here’s some more information:

Attar (ca. 1142–1220), the author of the Mantiq al-tair, is one of the most celebrated poets of Sufi literature and inspired the work of many later mystical poets. The story is as follows: The birds assemble to select a king so that they can live more harmoniously. Among them, the hoopoe, who was the ambassador sent by Sulaiman to the Queen of Sheba, considers the Simurgh, or a Persian mythical bird, which lives behind Mount Qaf, to be the most worthy of this title. When the other birds make excuses to avoid making a decision, the hoopoe answers each bird satisfactorily by telling anecdotes, and when they complain about the severity and harshness of the journey to Mount Qaf, the hoopoe tries to persuade them. Finally, the hoopoe succeeds in convincing the birds to undertake the journey to meet the Simurgh. The birds strive to traverse seven valleys: quest, love, gnosis, contentment, unity, wonder, and poverty. Finally, only thirty birds reach the abode of the Simurgh, and there each one sees his/her reflection in the celestial bird. Thus, thirty birds see the Simurgh as none other than themselves. In this way, they finally achieve self-annihilation. This story is an allegorical work illustrating the quest of Sufism; the birds are a metaphor for men who pursue the Sufi path of God, the hoopoe for the pir (Sufi master), the Simurgh for the Divine, and the birds’ journey the Sufi path.

One of the valleys the birds have to travel through is the valley of wonder/astonishment/bewilderment. This makes me think of the Sufi poet Rumi and their focus on bewilderment, which I discovered through Fanny Howe. Here’s “Bewilderment” by Rumi:

Bewilderment/ Rumi

There are many guises for intelligence.
One part of you is gliding in a high windstream,
while your more ordinary notionstake little steps and peck at the ground.

Conventional knowledge is death to our souls,
and it is not really ours. It is laid on.
Yet we keep saying we find “rest” in these “beliefs.”

We must become ignorant of what we have been taught
and be instead bewildered.

Run from what is profitable and comfortable.
Distrust anyone who praises you.
Give your investment money, and the interest
on the capital, to those who are actually destitute.

Forget safety. Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
I have tried prudent planning long enough.
From now on, I’ll be mad.

Since I keep wanting to put these bird poems in conversation with Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson, I’ll add that Mary Oliver loved the poetry of Rumi. In her interview with Krista Tippett, she describes how she reads a different Rumi poem each day. And, the last line of “Bewildernment” reminds me of this ED poem:

Much Madness is divinest Sense – (620)/ EMILY DICKINSON

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

may 21/WALKED 2 BLOCK ON A SLIGHTLY STIFF KNEE

My left knee continues to improve. The kneecap still shifts and clicks, but I can bend and move my knee without pain. I continue to remind my knee how to walk. Rain on and off all day. Showers then sun then showers with sun. Will it ever end? Pumped up the tires in my bike. It’s still in the basement, but soon I’ll bring it upstairs. Heard so many birds this morning: cardinals and woodpeckers and black-capped chickadees and robins. Heard a metallic 2 note song in a neighbor’s tree as I walked around the block with Delia the dog. Was that robin too? Also heard a rapid trilling that sounded like a car alarm. I’m pretty sure it’s a cardinal.

Finishing up a great book, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl. Here’s one of her essays? prose poems? that uses one of my favorite words: still, which can be used as an adjective (not moving, calm), a verb (to calm down, to quiet), a noun (a period of calm or silence), and an adverb (up to a time, to an even greater degree, nevertheless).

Still/ Margaret Renkl

I pause to check the milkweed, and a caterpillar halts midbite, its face still lowered to the leaf.

I walk down my driveway at dusk, and the cottontail under the pine tree freezes, not a single twitch of ear or nose.

On the roadside, the doe stands immobile, as still as the trees that rise above her. My car passes; her soft nose doesn’t quiver. Her soft flanks don’t rise or fall. A current of air stirs only the hairs at the very tip of her tail.

I peek between the branches of the holly bush, and the redbird nestling looks straight at me, motionless, unblinking.

Every day the world is teaching me what I need to know to be in the world.

In the stir of too much motion:
Hold still.
Be quiet.
Listen.