oct 19/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
54 degrees

Another nice run. Another beautiful fall morning. Glowing yellow. Sunny, not too much wind, not too warm. Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker twice. Ran past Daddy long legs. Noticed a roller skier. Encountered a clueless human and a small yippy dog, both taking up the very wide path on the franklin bridge, forcing an impatient biker to ring their bell and swerve around them. Some stones were stacked on the ancient boulder, the river was blue then, later, brown. No rowers (although STA and I saw them last night, rowing fast). The trees below the tunnel of trees were almost all gold. Soon: a view!

(The other day, I found a brochure online for the Winchell Trail. Reading through it again, I thought it was where I read about the plaque on a boulder about Newton Horace Winchell that was near the Franklin Bridge, but it’s not.) Having read about a plaque for Winchell somewhere near Franklin, I decided to look for it. When I couldn’t find it above the gorge, I turned and ran up the hill to the Franklin Bridge. There it was, the plaque! I’d never noticed it before.

Running on the east side of the river, between Franklin and the trestle, I thought I heard footsteps behind me, but when I looked back no one was there. I thought again about how ghosts and haunting involves more than visions and apparitions; it can come in the form of strange sounds, echoes, disembodied voices. Footsteps behind you or the rushing of wind past your ears or rustling leaves, amplified in the dry, deadness of fall. These sounds are both strange — hard to place, easy to confuse with other sounds, like beeping trucks that could be chirping birds, crying kids that sound like shrieking bluejays — and familiar. They conjure up memories, invoke the past.

A few days ago, I discovered Annie Dillard’s chapter in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: Seeing. I have read some (all?) of this book years ago, but I didn’t remember there was a chapter titled “Seeing”! Excellent. I read it online, from a pdf. Yesterday, I found my copy, which isn’t really my copy but my dead mom’s copy that I inherited or, more likely, borrowed years before she died in 2009, on the bookshelf next to my desk. I opened it up and discovered a wonderful surprise: a sticker in the front that reads, “This book is the treasured possession of Judy Puotinen.” My mom has signed her name so neatly and clearly. I could stare for a long time at the pretty loops of her J and y; the confident backward slant of her P, almost looking like a person puffing out their chest; the t that looms larger than the other letters and stands like a cross (she was not very religious, or as she might have put it, “I’m spiritual, not religious”); and the errant dot of an i, charging ahead to dot the n instead. This signature, too, is a trace, a haunting, more than a memory. It is her, still speaking 12 years after she died. Such a powerful voice in that signature! For a few years after her death, I would encounter her signature on a box in the basement of my first house in Minneapolis. I had a lot of these boxes; they were care packages she sent almost once a month: a new tablecloth, a candle, a cookbook, baby clothes for my kids. It was difficult to see that signature then. It reminded me of how much I had lost: not just her but the care and love she constantly gave me and would have given to my kids. But now, to stumble across her in this way is wonderful. To spend time with her, delighting in remembering how much she loved books and how carefully and beautifully she wrote her name.

Page/ Jane Hirshfield

It waits now for snows to fall
upward, into a summer
whose green leaves
vanish,
but back into branch, into sap, into rain.

It waits for the old
to grow young, fed and unfearful,
for freighters to carry their hold-held oil
back into unfractured ground,
for fires to return
their shoeboxes of photos and risen homes.

It unbuilds the power line’s towers
before the switch can be toggled,
puts the child, rock still in hand, back into his bed.

A single gesture of erasure
pours back into trucks and then river
the concrete wall,
unrivets the derrick,
replenishes whale stocks and corals.

And why not—it is easy—restore the lost nurse herds
of mammoths to grazing,
the hatched pterodactyl to flight?
Let each drowned and mud-silted ammonite once again swim?

One by one unspoken, greed’s syllables, grievance’s insult.
One by one unsewn, each insignia’s dividing stitch.
One by one unimagined,
unmanufactured: the bullet, the knife, the colors, the concept.

Reversal commands: undo this directional grammar of subject and object.
Reversal commands: unlearn the alphabet of bludgeon and blindness.
Reversal commands: revise, rephrase, reconsider.

And the ink, malleable, obedient, does what is asked.

oct 17/RUN

3.6 miles
minnehaha falls and back
41 degrees
humidity: 87%

Another cooler, wonderful morning. Wore running tights + running shorts + bright yellow long-sleeved shirt + bright orange sweatshirt + buff. It was humid, so even with the cool air, I was sweating. Starting my run, heading into the sun, I could see the moisture in the air. Hovering. Ran south on the path and noticed the river burning through the trees. Such a cool sight. The falls were falling, not quite a gush, but more water than the last time I was here. Encountered a roller skier, a few bikes, lots of walkers, a runner or two, dogs. Watched the back end of a squirrel darting back into the bushes as I approached.

As I ran back north, after the falls, I tried looking up higher so that more of peripheral vision was seeing the path. Last night, watching the 4th Harry Potter movie, I started looking at it through my periphery and was amazed at how much more I could see. I aimed my eyes off the side of the television and the images weren’t sharp and clear, but I could see more of them. Colors were more intense too. Strange–and a strange way to watch a movie, looking off at the wall.

Ending my run, crossing over to the grass between the river road and edmund, I watched my shadow ahead of me and thought about shadows and ghosts and how my shadow sometimes leads me, sometimes follows. Then I thought about the dirt trail I was walking on and wondered how long it had been there. And I thought about how it was formed where it was and not somewhere else on the wide expanse of grass. How many feet (or wheels) were needed to establish this trail as the unofficial path to take when walking or running on this grass? I also briefly thought about the Oregon Trail and how, when we were visiting Scott’s Bluff in Nebraska, you could still see and walk that trail, over 150 years later. Earlier this morning, I had also thought about trails, imagining them as a collaborative poem that walkers/runners offer to the gorge with their feet.

At some point on the path, I also thought about Robert Frost’s classic path poem—maybe it was right after I recited his, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”?

The Road Not Taken/ Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I found an essay about this poem that I’d like to spend more time with, maybe later today or tomorrow?:

You’re Probably Misreading Robert Frost’s Most Famous Poem

oct 16/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
41 degrees / feels like 37!

Winter running is coming! Today was great. Cool enough to not get (too) overheated, sunny, not much wind. More yellow leaves. Right after I reached the river road, I heard 2 runners behind me. One of them had a booming voice that carried. I couldn’t tell how far behind me they were or if they were slowly approaching me. Instead of getting irritated or changing my pace, going faster or slower, I kept it steady and heard a few fragments of the conversation, mostly the loud guy’s part: they haven’t seen each other since the pandemic hit, so they were catching up, talking about their running and injuries and aging. I recall the quiet guy saying something like, Man, it’s tough getting old. Not too far from lake street, the quiet guy left. The last thing I heard before I turned up to the lake street bridge was the loud guy blowing a snot rocket (so glad he was far behind me!).

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The river, part 1: crossing the lake street bridge. Out of the corner of my right eye, barely below the railing, I kept thinking I was seeing a rower. Not the shell, but the wake or trail of the boat gliding through the water
  2. The river, part 2: crossing back later, I realized it had not been a rower or the trail from a boat but something else — the current, ripples from a something just below the water, scum on the surface?
  3. The floor below the Welcoming Oaks was covered in a dead leaf carpet. No visible grass or dirt, just crunching leaves
  4. Still no stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  5. Near the bottom of the marshall hill looking up at the red stop light at the top, seeming far and close at the same time
  6. Hearing voices as I ran above Shadow Falls on the St. Paul side — were they coming from the falls or The Monument?
  7. The women runners I encountered wearing pants or tights; the male runners shorts
  8. The huge empty lot near Summit on the St. Paul side that I’ve seen on zillow. Asking price: 2.75 million just for the land
  9. Right before greeting Dave, the Daily Walker, I heard a bike that had just passed brake loudly — not a squeal but a loud compression of air, or sneakers rubbing on a gym floor– then turning around and passing me again
  10. The river, part 3: Running south on the west river road, nearing the old stone steps, I glimpsed the river, on fire from the sun, burning bright white through a break in the trees

Something about seeing the river burning white made me think more about ghosts and traces and why I am interested in trails and flashes. Right after I finished my run, I recorded my thoughts. In this recording, I can’t remember what prompted these thoughts and I say lake when I mean river. Also, I keep intending to use notes on my phone when dictating my ideas because it can transcribe them. One day, I’ll remember.

after run / 16 october

Speaking of traces, here’s something I encountered on twitter this morning:

“I am slow and need to think about things a long time, need to hold onto the trace on paper. Thinking is adventure. Does adventure need to be speedy? Perhaps revising is a way of refusing closure?…”

Rosemarie Waldrop

Just got Rita Dove’s latest collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse, from the library. I love Rita Dove! Here’s one that doesn’t necessarily fit with this month’s theme, but I want to post it anyway:

Island/ Rita Dove

A room in one’s head
is for thinking
outside of the box,
though the box is still
there—cosmic cage,
Barnum’s biggest, proudest Ring.
My land: a chair, four sticks
with a board laid across:
This is the raft
I pile my dreams on,
set out to sea.
Look for me, shore.

oct 14/RUN

3.5 miles
trestle turn around + extra
49 degrees
19 mph gusts

Brrrr. Colder and windier today. Wore tights and 2 shirts. The leaves continue to change. Today: bright brassy yellow with hints of green and brown. Not mustard or gold — at least to me. So intense and delightful that I exclaimed “wow!” as I reached the edge of the welcoming oaks. Down in the tunnel of trees more oranges and yellows. Still more leaves in the trees than on the ground, but if the wind keeps blowing like it did yesterday and it is today, that will change. By next week, will all the leaves have fallen? I felt strong and relaxed, running at an easy pace. Then a runner slowly approached from behind, not passing me fast enough, running alongside of me. I sped up to avoid them and knew it was a mistake almost immediately. I was running too fast. Ran for a few more minutes at that pace and then stopped to let the other runner pass. The lesson to learn: always slow down or stop to let another runner go by. Do not speed up to avoid them. This is a reminder of a lesson I should have learned several months ago with the group of kids on bikes under the lake street bridge (see may 28, 2021).

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A bright orange tree on the grass between edmund and the river road. Difficult to quite remember, but I think it wasn’t completely orange, maybe giving the idea of orange or orange-tinted leaves on an otherwise green leafed tree
  2. The man in black who was not in black at all but still has the very long legs. I think I might rename him “daddy long legs” — is that bad?
  3. The trees above the ravine and the slick slats and sewer pipe and concrete ledge were bright yellow and red
  4. The wind was blowing in many different directions, never at my back
  5. The jingling of my house key in the small zippered pocket in the front of my orange running shirt
  6. A roller skier without his poles — no clicking or clacking, lots of awkward arm movements
  7. No stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  8. Hardly any leaves left on the welcoming oaks
  9. An approaching runner avoiding me by running on the other side of a tree and through the grass
  10. 3 sets of steps (all inviting me to take them): the old, uneven stone steps after the tunnel of trees; the big stone slabbed steps before the trestle; the recently replaced wooden steps after the trestle. All leading to the Winchell Trail

Ran north listening to the wind, south listening to a playlist with Miley Cyrus and 2 songs by Silk Sonic — nice! At the end, above the ravine, I thought about how I rely less on a watch, and much more on the weather and the trees to keep track of time. Much more enjoyable to think in seasons or the progress of the leaves than minutes, hours, days.

Earlier today I was thinking about pace — and only slightly in relation to running pace, more about pacing and restlessness and ghosts that haunt the path. Pace and pacing, like watches or clocks, impose limits and boundaries: a running pace uses seconds and minutes per mile (or km) and pacing involves walking back and forth in a small or confined space, retracing your steps again and again until you rub the grass away and reach dirt, or wear the carpet bare. What to do with that information? I’m not quite sure…yet.

I found this poem on twitter yesterday. Even though it doesn’t deal with my theme (ghosts, haunting, haunts), I wanted to post it and tag it with water so I would have it for letter. Such a wonderful poem and poet!

Portrait of a Figure Near Water/ Jane Kenyon

Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner
arsonist, held a match to her brain.
She observed her life: against her will
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes
no sound.

favorite bits: anger, the inner arsonist; the bats and the rafters the roof sagged between; the line break for “the stone trough was still/filled with water”; and water as the soundless balm for our burning alone.

random sighting/thought: Saw a sign in front of a house that read:

We love our rocks!
Please do not
take our rocks.

I thought about the importance of line breaks here. Maybe it’s just my faulty vision, but when I read this sign I am just as (or maybe more) likely to read the line “take our rocks” on its own and think they want me to take their rocks. How does the meaning of the sign change with different breaks:

Please do
not take
our rocks.

Please do not take
our rocks.

Please
do not take
our rocks.

What if you mix up the order?

Our rocks
do not take
please

Our rocks do
please take not

rocks? please.
ours do not take

do ours not please? (rock’s take)

take rocks — ours
please — (do not)

Too much useless fun!

addendum: I told STA about my fun wordplay, and he offered this one:

Our rocks please.
Do not take!

oct 12/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
59 degrees
humidity: 78%

Overcast today. No sun. I like how this makes the colors — the reds, golds, greens — glow more. Almost peak color in the trees. When I started my run, I felt awkward, almost like my limbs were working against instead of with each other. By the time I reached the river it was fine. Ran south to the falls on the trail, which I’ve been trying to avoid, and it was crowded. 4 roller skiers, skiing 2 x 2 were causing all sorts of problems for bikers and me as I encountered the bikers. Made it to the falls, stopped to check out the statue of Minnehaha and Hiawatha. Hardly any water in the creek. Ran north, heading home. Took the Winchell Trail and admired the leaves — their intense colors and the fact that many of them had already fallen. My view is coming back!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The slow approaching clicking and clacking of ski poles. Click clack click clack
  2. A squirrel emerging from the trees then darting back in as I neared
  3. The lights from a bike coming closer, a sharp contrast with the gray gloom
  4. The trickle of the sewer pipe near 42nd. Drip drip drip
  5. Many leaves on the ground. In some spots erasing the trail
  6. 2 spindly, bare branches poking out from behind a golden tree, reaching up to the sky
  7. A clicking or rattling noise coming from some animal, probably a squirrel. Sounding a little like the rattle of a rattlesnake
  8. The falls barely falling. Hardly any water
  9. Kids laughing, yelling, talking at playgrounds — Minnehaha Academy and Minnehaha Falls. More kids playing tag around the fountain and the benches with parts of “Song of Hiawatha” etched on them
  10. Winchell Trail in full color — a perfect fall scene (can this perfection last for more than a day?)

As I ran, I was thinking more about the act of haunting (frequenting) a place, returning to it and then about trails and how I might want to write more route/trail/loop poems that play with ideas of haunting. At the end of my run, I recorded some of my thoughts. Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about trails and frequenting and haunting. And then I was thinking as I was running over the leaves, how the trails are hidden, can’t see the cracks or the trail at all. But then, when the leaves are gone and the snow starts to fall, when it’s just barely flurrying and there’s just a dusting on the ground, it illuminates the trails. You can only see that when the leaves are off and it’s just a dusting of snow. Thinking about how I want to play with that as part of this tracing. And also thinking about the different ways I can see — the visible and not visible. When is it a matter of seeing and when is it a matter of feeling? And thinking about the type of seeing I can do with the peripheral, which detects movement and gives you a larger sense of the terrain. What does that mean for these well-worn trails and how I experience them?

Voice Memo Notes / 12 Oct 2021
after run notes / 12 oct 2021

Here’s my ghost/haunt poem for today:

Seven Types of Shadow – an extract / U A Fanthorpe 

Part iii

This is a country of ghosts. Down the eastern shore
Lie the drowned villages, drowned luggers, drowned sailors.

After a hot summer, fields grow talkative.
Wheat speaks in crop marks, grasses in parch marks.

Wheat or grass, what they tell is the truth
Of things that lay underneath five thousand years ago,

The forts, the barrows, the barns, the shrines, the walls.
These are the native ghosts. After a hot summer.

No haunting. No rattle of chains. They just lie there
In their rigid truthfulness, the ghosts of things.

Part iv

We carry our human ghosts around with us.
As we grow we face the mirrors, and see

The spectre of a great-aunt, a vague look
Known only from sepia snapshots. The hands we’re used to –

Yes, these – their contours came by way of a long retinue
Of dust. We are photofits of the past,

And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews.

We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born.

Part vi

Ghosts of past, present, future.
But the ones the living would like to meet are the echoes
Of moments of small dead joys still quick in the streets,

Voices calling I’ve passed / We won / QED /
It didn’t hurt much, Mum / They’ve given me the job /
I have decided to name this apple Bramley;

And the women convicts singing their Holloway march,
While Ethel Smyth conducts from her cell with a toothbrush.

Part vii

These are the ghosts the living would prefer,
Ghosts who’d improve our ratings. Ghosts
Of the great innocent songs of freedom
That shoulder their way round the world like humpback whales,

Ghosts of the singers, the dancers, the liberated,
Holding hands and cheering in parks, while the tanks
Squat immobilized. Ghosts of the women on the fish quay
Hugging each other when at last the boats come in.

Ghosts of the last night of the Proms. And ghosts of lovers,
Wandering round London, so happy that they could
Have danced danced danced all night.

Like this bit: “And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews./ We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born.” Love this way of messing with linear time. On a smaller scale, I think about this with past, present, and future Saras.

oct 9/RUN

4 miles
wabun park + turkey hollow
65 degrees
humidity: 86% / dewpoint: 61

A little too sticky, but what a beautiful morning for a run! Sunny, calm, quiet. Before running felt uneasy about something I couldn’t name; running helped. I’m thinking about ghosts and haunting the path (frequenting it, floating above it, flashing through it) and trying to find a way into my next big project — my annual fall project. Something about the periphery and the approximate as not quite (human, able to see or connect, in this world, real). I need a door, or at least a window — anything that might let me enter this project.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The trail, covered in leaves, a lot of them red — not bright red, but faded, almost pink
  2. A processional of walkers, bikers, big groups of runners on the trail between 36th and 42nd
  3. A clanging collar on the other side of the boulevard, following me as I ran south
  4. Someone playing frisbee golf at Wabun, throwing a frisbee from the path. Were they playing or working, picking up frisbees others had left behind? Why were they throwing from the path? Why did it look — in my quick, unreliable, glance — that they had a golf bag?
  5. For over a year and a half, every time I run up 47th, as part of the turkey hollow loop, there is a dumpster parked on the street, in front of a house. It was still there today. Have they been remodeling their house for that long?
  6. The ford bridge, from the top of the hill at wabun, then from below, at the bottom of the path
  7. My shadow in the grass as I walked across turkey hollow
  8. The too white, newly redone road between 42nd and folwell, one side of it covered in leaves
  9. Feeling someone running at my same pace–me on edmund, them on the river road. Not wanting to look over to check too closely, trying not to race them
  10. The dirt trail between Becketwood and Minneahaha Academy Lower Campus, dry, covered with leaves, much more worn and well-traveled (haunted) than the barely there mostly tamped down grass, partly dirt path in front of Minnehaha Academy Upper Campus

Haunt/ Maya Phillips

Because there are so few hobbies left
to the dead, my father gives himself this:
his usual route, the Queens-bound F
to Continental, where he walks with the living
to work. Every day he finds a new occupation—
picks trash off the tracks, changes a dirty lightbulb,
makes rounds on the platforms,
tries to make some small use of his hands,
though no one notices
or acknowledges. Yet still he returns
every day, in his tan shirt and brown slacks
ironed with the impatience
of the perpetually late,
his keys jingling carelessly
in his left front pocket.

Twenty-plus years with the MTA
but some other guy’s got the job now,
someone younger, maybe someone
my father knows, standing in the operating booth
at the end of the platform, watching
the miniature trains on the board
carry lights through a digital New York.
And maybe the young man knows nothing
of the dead man, has no words
for a ghost who builds a home
of his absence. And if my father says haunt

he doesn’t mean the way rooms forget him
once he’s gone; he’s saying his leather chair
now in his coworker’s office, his locker
in the back room newly purged
of its clutter, or his usual table
in the break room where he sits
at 10:30 each night eating
the same steak club and chips, counting
the 10, 20, 30 more years till retirement,
cuz he’s close, he’s in the final stretch—any day
now and he’ll finally go on that vacation.

oct 5/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin and back
58 degrees
humidity: 91%

A good run. I’m looking forward to even cooler temps — I wore my shorts and a tank top, which is the same thing I’d wear on the warmest summer day. I wasn’t cold. When I started out, I felt good. Around 2 miles in, I didn’t feel as great but kept going. I planned to stop at the bottom of the hill and walk all of it, but when I got there I felt good enough to keep going. I made it almost to the very top before I stopped to walk for about a minute. Then I ran the rest of the way back.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The path covered in leaves, making it difficult to see the edge of the asphalt
  2. Chirping birds — not sure what kind, but not geese or crows
  3. Circles–with minneapolis park logo or something else?–stamped into the trail. I saw at least 2
  4. The buzzing, whirring of a speeding back rushing past me at the top of the franklin hill
  5. The branches with red leaves poking out of the big hole at the edge of the trail heading down the hill
  6. Voice below, somewhere on the Winchell Trail
  7. A group of people — in their 60s, maybe — standing at the top of the old stone steps, contemplating whether or not to descend. One person saying, “It’s pretty rough” or “uneven” or “dicey down there” (I can’t remember their exact words)
  8. Someone on a fat tire, talking on a phone, powering up the steep franklin hill, not even out of breath — maybe they were on an ebike?
  9. A walker either talking to herself or through a (invisible, at least to me) bluetooth headset
  10. At least 2 different people walking with 2 dogs each, letting their dogs stretch out over the entire path

Chanted some berry triples: “strawberry, blueberry, raspberry” and recited Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” in my head. Didn’t get very far because I kept getting stuck on the second and third lines: “You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” I couldn’t remember the order of the clauses: was it walk for a hundred miles, or walk through the desert, or walk on your knees. Not sure why I struggle with this bit.

a theme for october?

I was just starting to write that I’d decided to devote the rest of October to the peripheral, but then, as I typed those words I suddenly thought about ghosts and monsters and october as a scary month. So now I’m not sure. Because I love Halloween and scary movies — at least ones from the 70s and 80s — I think I will spend some time with ghosts, and then maybe monsters, like Medusa. I could also try to find a poem or two about creepy dolls/mannequins. Maybe think about the uncanny valley some more? All of these things are fascinating to me, and have started appearing in my writing (and my thoughts about my writing). Haunting and haunted places; feeling not quite there, floating; dead people, things, ideas suddenly being remembered or forgotten.

I’ll start with a poem that I found in a special feature on ghosts in poems at poets.org:

Unbidden/ Rae Armantrout

The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something
undone.

Did the palo verde
blush yellow
all at once?

Today’s edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.

The way a lost
word

will come back
unbidden.

You’re not interested
in it now,

only
in knowing
where it’s been.

oct 4/RUN

2.1 miles
2 trails
60 degrees

Feeling a little cooler and a lot brighter out by the gorge this late morning. Yellows, reds, and oranges. Heard some kids at the school playground, some women talking. Earlier, when I was walking Delia, I heard a white-haired man on a bike loudly tell his friend, “At the end of next summer, I’m going to Maine, and I’m staying until the leaves have finished falling.” Am I remembering that right? Not totally sure. Saw and heard some people from the parks department chain-sawing some trees in the grassy boulevard. Encountered a few squirrels, heard a honk from a goose. Counted to 4, chanted in triples (strawberry blueberry raspberry). Ended my run at the bottom of the 38th st steps and walked on the Winchell Trail to the Oak Savanna. So many crickets and crunching leaves. One other walker who dramatically moved off to the side to give me room to pass.

Found this poem just now. It doesn’t fit with October or any theme I might have for this month, but it’s a wonderful love poem, to add to my month of love poems from August:

The Patience of Ordinary Things/ Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

The lovely repetition of stairs! The generosity of a window! I love it.

oct 3/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
58 degrees
dew point: 55

Ran with Scott to the falls before the marathoners raced on the river road. Not too warm, but humid. A mile in, I already felt like a damp sponge. A nice run with lots of fall color. Saw at least 2 turkeys chilling in the parking lot, the same spot they were at last week. Heard a bird calling out as we entered minnehaha park. Might have been a red-breasted nuthatch. The falls were rushing but not quite roaring, the creek was higher but not high. Listened to the leaves crunch as I ran over them. Saw at least one roller skier and lots of volunteers getting ready for the race — the twin cities marathon. Anything else? I’m sure I heard at least one goose, avoided more than one squirrel. I recall looking down at the river through the thinning leaves and hearing some rowers.

random thing for future Sara to remember: “Out of an abundance of caution” (as they like to say at RJP’s high school), we got covid tests last week. The spit test. I have a lot of trouble spitting and filling up the cup. That, combined with my inability to see signs or anything else well at the testing site, makes getting these tests incredibly difficult for me. Spitting into a cup seems like a basic thing that everyone can do without thinking. Not me. I’m actually going to have to practice before we take another test — whenever that will be. I’m trying to see this as funny, because it is, but it’s hard to laugh when it’s so upsetting. Not just because I can’t spit, but because I can’t see — it’s a reminder of how bad my vision is getting.

I love this October poem:

Neighbors in October/ DAVID BAKER

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.

oct 1/RUN

4 miles
most of the franklin loop
68 degrees
humidity: 81%

I love October. Today it looked like October but didn’t quite feel like it — almost, with crunchy, earthy-smelling leaves, but too warm. Scott and I walked to the river together then split up — I went north for the franklin loop, he went south for the ford loop. We met in St. Paul at the Marshall bridge and walked the rest of the way.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The leaves are thinning and more of the river is visible everywhere including the spot above the floodplain forest
  2. 2 rowers on the river
  3. A class of kids and their teachers, biking on the trail, all wearing bright yellow vests
  4. The guy that Scott and I used to see at the Y, walking around the track in the winter–this time he was walking near the trestle on the east side of the river
  5. A guy pushing a stroller, walking a dog, taking up most of the path. When he noticed me approaching he moved over and muttered to himself, or to his kid, “I’m taking over the whole path”
  6. Walking over the marshall ave/lake st bridge, looking down at the water: blue with a faint texture of ripples from the wind
  7. The east side of the river has more color than the west side
  8. The steps just past the trestle glowing with orange, red, and yellow leaves
  9. The trail down to the Meeker Dam Dog Park glowing too, looking like THE fall scene, what I might describe to RJP as “so fall” in the same way I say certain trees are “so tree”
  10. The trees at my favorite spot just up from the marshall bridge giving off an intense golden light

1 Thing I Didn’t Notice

Right after I met up with Scott, he called out “bald eagle!” I couldn’t see it before it flew away

I’m not sure what my theme will be for October — or, if I’ll have one. For now, here’s an October poem I want to memorize:

October/ Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

sept 29/RUN

4 miles
wabun park and back
64 degrees

Warm again this morning. More fall colors — mostly golds with a few hints of red. Recited “Spring and Fall” a few times, but didn’t think about it much. I might memorize a few fall poems for October.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The river glowing through the trees
  2. A kid’s cry coming from somewhere
  3. Several loud rustling sounds in the dry underbrush
  4. Two or three wild turkeys near the start of the Winchell Trail, on the other side of the chain link fence. I’ve never encountered them here before!
  5. The curve of a log, serving as a bench at the frisbee golf course in Wabun Park
  6. A loud chirping sound that might have been a bird or a squirrel
  7. The flailing arms of an approaching runner
  8. High in the sky, the moon, faintly glowing
  9. The new (is it new?) fence surrounding one side of the bottom of the ford bridge near Locks and Dam #1
  10. A few regulars: the older man (mid 60s, white hair) runner whose fast and friendly and the walker with shoulder length blonde hair

A solid run that improved my mood.

Here’s my approximate/almost/not quite poem of the day:

When Night is almost done – / Emily Dickinson

When Night is almost done –
And Sunrise grows so near
That We can touch the Spaces –
It’s time to smooth the Hair –

And get the Dimples ready –
And wonder We could care
For that Old – faded Midnight –
That frightened – but an Hour –

sept 28/RUN

5.5 miles
franklin loop
58 degrees
humidity: 84%

Nice morning for a run, although I wish it had been less humid and a few degrees cooler. Sunny, not too windy, a clear path. Was initially planning to run 8 miles and the double loop route, but felt too tired. Still pleased with 5.5 miles. Recited Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall.”

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The wind blowing the leaves off of the trees, sometimes looking like snow, sometimes a bird flying through the air
  2. (started at 8:45) Too crowded near my street — 3 runners, 2 different groups of walkers with dogs
  3. The welcoming oaks turning golden
  4. Multiple towers of stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  5. From the spot above the floodplain forest, the trees are not turning yet. Still green and airy and blocking a view of the river
  6. The all-white bike hanging from the trestle, memorializing the death of a biker a decade or so ago, decorated — flowers or something else?
  7. Nearing the franklin bridge, thinking I saw a rower on the river, then not finding it again as I ran across the bridge
  8. Trying to see the paved path down below on the east river side but not being able to — too much green
  9. Hearing big trucks beeping and bull-dozing down in the gorge
  10. The dark shadows of trees on the water

Short Story/ Ellen Bryant Voigt

My grandfather killed a mule with a hammer,
or maybe with a plank, or a stick, maybe
it was a horse—the story varied
in the telling. If he was planting corn
when it happened, it was a mule, and he was plowing
the upper slope, west of the house, his overalls
stiff to the knees with red dirt, the lines
draped behind his neck.
He must have been glad to rest
when the mule first stopped mid-furrow;
looked back at where he’d come, then down
to the brush along the creek he meant to clear.
No doubt he noticed the hawk’s great leisure
over the field, the crows lumped
in the biggest elm on the opposite hill.
After he’d wiped his hatbrim with his sleeve,
he called to the mule as he slapped the line
along its rump, clicked and whistled.
My grandfather was a slight, quiet man,
smaller than most women, smaller
than his wife. Had she been in the yard,
seen him heading toward the pump now,
she’d pump for him a dipper of cold water.
Walking back to the field, past the corncrib,
he took an ear of corn to start the mule,
but the mule was planted. He never cursed
or shouted, only whipped it, the mule
rippling its backside each time
the switch fell, and when that didn’t work
whipped it low on its side, where it’s tender,
then cross-hatched the welts he’d made already.
The mule went down on one knee,
and that was when he reached for the blown limb,
or walked to the pile of seasoning lumber; or else,
unhooked the plow and took his own time to the shed
to get the hammer.
By the time I was born,
he couldn’t even lift a stick. He lived
another fifteen years in a chair,
but now he’s dead, and so is his son,
who never meant to speak a word against him,
and whom I never asked what his father
was planting and in which field,
and whether it happened before he married,
before his children came in quick succession,
before his wife died of the last one.
And only a few of us are left
who ever heard that story.

I found this poem today and picked it for my theme of approximate for a few reasons: 1. The “short story” is never quite “true” with details changing slightly, 2. it’s never quite a story with nothing really happening, 3. it’s not really (not exactly) about killing the animal but something else — what? the grandfather, family, the narrator’s father’s relationship with his dad, memory, passing on/remembering stories? I like this poem. At first, it’s strange and unsatisfying and confusing, but slowly it gives me images and makes me think about farming and my grandparents and illness and aging and how we remember and tell stories (and why). I think the vagueness/fuzziness of this poem makes it more powerful to me than another poem would that was sharper, more exact, more direct with details and with conjuring a scene of the grandfather.

Listening to my Daily Mix 4 on Spotify as I write this, and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor, my eyes” just came on. Because of the title I was curious, so I looked up the lyrics and read them as I listened. I liked his rhythms and slant rhymes (would they be called slant?). Thinking more about how vision works here…

Doctor, my eyes/ Jackson Browne

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

People go just where they will
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it’s later than it seems

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what you see
I hear their cries
Just say if it’s too late for me

Doctor, my eyes
They cannot see the sky
Is this the prize
For having learned how not to cry?

sept 23/RUN

5.8 miles
ford loop
54 degrees

Fall! Ran the ford loop (north to lake street bridge and across, south to ford ave bridge back across, north on west river road). Sunny, hardly any wind. Calm. Thought about stopping at the overlook on the st. paul side but didn’t. Next time, I hope. It’s hard for me to stop.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. Running down through the short steep hill just before reaching the double bridge, a glowing orange tree
  2. Some more slashes of red on the low-lying leaves–what are these trees? Basswood? Buckthorn? Looked it up and I think these leaves come from an ash tree
  3. No leaves changing in the floodplain forest yet. All green
  4. The river was calm and blue and empty
  5. Water at Shadow Falls gushing
  6. Mostly empty benches, often facing a wall of green — no view yet
  7. The small, wooded path down from the Ford Bridge was thick with leaves, dark with only a small circle of sunshine at the bottom
  8. Most of the shoreline was still green too
  9. My feet, shshshushing on the sand on the side of the path
  10. Two women walking, talking, one of them say sarcastically something like, “it’s just money”

Before I went out for my run, I memorized Robert Frost’s short poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. Recited it in my head for much of the run. Tried to recite it into my phone at the end of my run and blanked on the fifth line — the word subsides — and gave up. More practice needed.

Nothing Gold Can Stay/ Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to gold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing Gold can stay.

At first I didn’t like the ABABABAB rhyme scheme, but it grew on me. It helped to listen to a recording of Frost reciting it and to repeat to myself over and over again.

sept 21/RUN

7.2 miles
bohemian flats and back
56 degrees
humidity: 82%

Cooler this morning. Hooray! Sunny, fall-like. Had been planning to run 8 or 9 miles today, almost all the way to downtown, but the road was closed, and the turn around point was less than 4 miles, so 7+ miles was all I did. I still feel good about it. I’m building up distance. My goal is to be able to do about 20-25 miles a week, with one long (about 10 mile) run.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The leaves are turning, mostly yellow, a few slashes of red, one all-orange tree
  2. Under the Franklin Bridge I started smelling smoke–I think the walker up ahead of me had a cigarette in their hand
  3. Lots of acorns littering the trail
  4. Honking geese. I couldn’t see them, but I heard them, high in the sky as I ran near the turn off for the West Bank of the U
  5. More geese taking over the walking part of the path beside the flats parking lot. A dozen or so. No honking or hissing, thankfully
  6. The river sparkling in the sun and the silhouette of a person fishing below the bridge
  7. A truck rumbling over the Washington Ave bridge as I crossed under it
  8. The newly repaired steps, near the railroad trestle, inviting me to take the lower trail — too many bugs!
  9. A walker listening to the news on the radio, a reporter mentioning Germany and riots or protests or something like that
  10. The solid white line that separates the biking and walking path in the flats is wearing off in one stretch — will they repaint it this fall?

After finishing my run, I listened to a recording of me reciting the latest poem I am writing/revising. I listened to it about 5 times, and did a voice memo with my revisions: 1. make the rhyme of land stand sand be less obvious, 2. which flows more slowly, slowly spreads or spreads slowly?, and 3. change the word “land” at the end to rock. Here’s my updated version:

AFTERGLOW/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Reaching the big beach
for a final time
land’s logic returns
too soon. Unsteady
I stand then drop down
kneeling in wet sand
waiting for tired legs
to remember how
to be vertical.

Muscles are grateful
happy to be used.
A delicious ache
slowly spreads not pain
or heat but glowing
satisfaction. Me
& Shoulders. We are
pleased with our effort.
We feel confident
strong. Enough. More than
enough. Enormous.
Too big to fit in
this lake. No longer
wanting to be water
formless fluid but
the rock that contains
it. Solid defined
giving shape to the (its?) flow.

I’m also not sure of the punctuation or if I should change the line breaks. So far, I’ve been using 5 beats per line. How would it work if I changed where each link broke?

sept 20/RUN

2 miles
2 trails
73 degrees
humidity: 74%

Fall weather please come back. I want my crisp, cool air. The run wasn’t too bad, but now that I’ve finished, I’m sweating a lot. Rain is coming in a few hours and everything will cool down. It’s already dark, ominous. Running above the river on the dirt trail just past the 38th street steps, everything was a slight blur. Dreamy. Unreal. The lack of light makes my already diminished central vision even more dim. Thought about how I couldn’t really see the path but didn’t worry about tripping because I know most of the dips and holes and rocks on this stretch and because even when my eyes don’t see the trail, my feet seem to. I glanced at the river but I don’t remember anything about it.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A walker with a white (or was it yellow?) sweatshirt wrapped around her waist pushing a stroller moving fast. It took me a few minutes to reach and then pass her. As I approached, I stared at her sweatshirt, one of the only bright things on this dark day
  2. Another bright thing: a runner in a bright yellow shirt
  3. Someone paused on the path, getting ready to start walking or running on the Winchell Trail?
  4. The small section of the river trail at 42nd that was blocked off for sewer work last week is open again and so is the road
  5. A tree leaning over the trail, not yet fallen, but looking like it might soon
  6. Flashing lights from a construction/city truck and a man in a yellow vest standing next to it near the sidewalk
  7. The damp dirt down in the oak savanna, not quite mucky or muddy yet
  8. 2 steep spots on the Winchell Trail: running down from the upper trail, right by 42nd street and a giant boulder and running up the short stretch near Folwell
  9. An approaching walker who turned down on an even lower dirt trail before I reached them
  10. The voice of a kid up above me as I ran down towards the mesa

Thinking about my growing number of swimming poems, some re-edited version of old poems, some new. My tentative title for the collection: Every Five (as in breathing every five strokes). All poems will play around with 5 as part of the structure — 5 beats or 5 lines or ?. Scott suggested I do something with iambic pentameter (5 feet of one short one long beat). A sonnet? Maybe a love poem to my swimming body/muscles/shoulders? Hmm…not sure if I’m feeling that.

Here’s a poem for the month’s theme of the approximate. This one is taking up the idea of almost, not quite or not exactly. It’s a poem that features an object — a cucumber — but it is not about the cucumber, but something else.

The Cucumber/ Nazim Hikmet

The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and still coming down hard:
it hasn’t let up all morning.
We’re in the kitchen. On the table, on
the oilcloth, spring —
on the table there’s a very tender youn
cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a daisy.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it.
It softly lights up our faces,
and the very air smells fresh.
We’re sitting around the table staring at it,
amazed
thoughtful
optimistic.
We’re as if in a dream.
On the table, on the oilcloth, hope —
on the table, beautiful days,
a cloud seeded with a green sun,
an emerald crowd impaties and on its way,
loves blooming openly —
on the the table, there on the oilcloth, a very tender
young

cucumber,
pebbly and fresh as a
daisy.
The snow is knee-deep in the courtyard
and coming down hard.
It hasn’t let up all morning.

This poem and the idea of not exactly, reminds me of listening to the radio in the car yesterday with Scott and RJP. First, the sappy song, “Make it with You” by BREAD came on, then “Hot-blooded” by Foreigner. Both of them sung by someone who is trying to seduce the listener. Scott pointed out how the first song is much more indirect/oblique in its suggestions, while the second is very blunt. I started thinking about how the indirect song is a form of the approximate, the almost, or Emily Dickinson’s idea of the slant. It implies and circles (or what the poet Kaveh Akbar might call orbits and I might say in thinking about my swimming this summer, loops) around the actual meaning, never quite saying it. For Akbar, I think, orbiting is often because we can’t ever fully get at the meaning, while for BREAD it’s an unwillingness to reveal exactly what they mean in order to get what they want. One of the swimming poems I want to revise is about loops and looping around the lake. Maybe I can play around with loop as orbiting or circling, never quite getting there, always near but not quite.

This reminded me of another approximate phrase: close but no cigar. Looked up the origins and several sources gave this explanation:

It comes from traveling fairs and carnivals from the 1800s. The prizes back then were not giant-sized stuffed teddy bears, they were usually cigars or bottles of whiskey. If you missed the prize at a carnival game, the carnie folk would shout, “Close! But no cigar!”

source

sept 19/RUN

3 miles
austin, mn
67 degrees
humidity: 90%

Ran with Scott in Austin. It felt much warmer than 67 degrees. Very humid. The gate was open, so we ran through the county fairgrounds. Scott and the kids made it here, but I was on my trip up north, so I missed it. No cheese curds for me this summer. At the far end of the fairgrounds, dozen of geese had were congregating in a treeless, empty field. Lots of geese in Austin, lots of geese up here in Minneapolis too. Sometimes, the sky is filled with their honking. Love that sound, and love this time of year.

Found this poem by Rumi on twitter the other day. I think this fits with my theme of approximate:

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing
and rightdoing
is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

sept 17/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
61 degrees
humidity: 83%

What a storm early this morning! So much wind and flashes of light around 2:30 am. Running this morning, I expected to see big branches down everywhere. Not too many (any?) on the minneapolis side, but on the st. paul side they had to shut down the right lane and the sidewalk so a crew could clear all the debris. I saw that the road was closed right at the spot where I turn, so I assumed I would be able to get through. Nope. Had to turn around and run past a long line of cars that had probably watched me running towards the closed sidewalk and wondered why I kept going. Oh well. Turning around added a small bit of distance to my run, which was a bonus.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The squeak of my shoes running over wet leaves and pulverized acorns
  2. Little branches, some still covered in green leaves, some bare, littered all over the trail
  3. From my view above on the bridge: a streak of muck/silt? in the river near the st. paul shore
  4. No rowers or roller skiers
  5. A radio playing near the ravine by Shadow Falls. I wondered if the song was coming from down in the ravine or on a bike across the ravine
  6. The more than trickling, not quite gushing, of falls at shadow falls
  7. some fall color: a few yellow trees, a slash of red
  8. someone stopping at the memorial just above the lake street bridge, reading the signs or taking pictures or both
  9. a backpacked kid biking with his dad, heading to school
  10. A shirtless runner speeding past me, almost wheezing

word of the day: majusculation

The act or practice of beginning a word with a capital letter when it is not the beginning of a sentence.

Here’s a poem for the theme of approximate:

[I remember partially]/ Jane Huffman

I remember partially

My searching
Party going out in search

Of my own
Life my lantern light

Like water sloshing
Down the front

Of me and calling
My own name

Into the forest dusk
A partial sound

A painful braying
Syllable

That grounded
Like a current

In the dirt a yard
In front of me

But I resorted to it
Like a witness does

To memory

I was planning to swim this afternoon, but the buoys are gone. Lake swimming is officially over. Sad, but it’s time to focus on fall and winter running!

sept 15/RUN

5 miles
franklin loop
56 degrees
humidity: 81%

Fall! It doesn’t quite look like fall yet, but it’s starting to feel like it. A solid, wonderful run around the river.

1 Thing I Noticed

Running over the marshall/lake street bridge back to Minneapolis, I looked down at the river. Near the shore, on the St. Paul side, some towering trees were casting a shadow on the root beer colored water. As I left the shore, the water lightened to a brownish green (or greenish brown?). Looking downstream, the river gradually turned blue as it met the sky. A single rower with a bright orange shirt was rowing across from minneapolis to st. paul. Perpendicular to shore instead of parallel. At the last minute, just before leaving the bridge, I remembered to check the trees lining each shore to see if they were changing colors. Not yet, but soon.

Returning to the theme of approximate (sort of). Thinking about the idea of exact or definite as leading to understanding and the goal of making sense of things. The amazing poet Carl Phillips — I’m reading his collection of essays on craft, Daring, right now too — tweeted this poem the other day:

May Day Midnight/ Michael Palmer

In the light of day
perhaps all of this
will make sense.

But have we come this far,
come this close to death,
just to make sense?

I love this poem, especially it’s use of just in the last line. Making sense is important/necessary, but it’s not all we can/should do. How does the approximate, almost or not quite, the not exact or fixed or finished, enable us to do more (or less) than make sense?

sept 13/RUN

8 miles
lake nokomis and back
58 degrees
humidity: 79%

The 8 mile run this week was much harder than last week’s. I am wiped out. Ran 6.5 miles without stopping, then walked for a few minutes before finishing up the run. Running all the way to lake nokomis and back seems farther than looping around the river.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. The buoys are still up at the big beach
  2. There is orange paint outlining the cracks in the path near nokomis avenue
  3. The creek is still very low
  4. Under the duck bridge, on the other side of the creek from the trail, a little kid was singing the melody of a rock song that I can’t quite remember
  5. It was windier at the lake and the water looked choppy
  6. The water was gushing at the 42nd street sewer pipe
  7. A giant monarch butterfly sign was on the fence at the lake nokomis rec center playground–left over from the festival this weekend
  8. The purple and yellow flowers near the parking lot of minnehaha falls are in full bloom
  9. So are the zinnias in the yard with the cat who thinks she’s queen of the block (and is)
  10. 4 IKEA kids plastic chairs left in the boulevard — at least 2 were powder blue

This list took me a while. It was hard to remember anything from the run because I’m so tired. Will I be up exhausted all day?

Still thinking about fish and the fish in me and my poem borrowing some lines from Anne Sexton. I started the run intent on these topics and managed to think a bit about Sexton’s line “the real fish did not mind” but soon forgot all about it as the run got harder.

From some tweets I read, I thought today was Mary Oliver’s birthday. Double-checked, it was on the 10th. Still, her recent birthday inspired me to find a fish poem by her to post here:

The Fish/ Mary Oliver

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.

So many poems about fish are about catching them or eating them. I want more poems that aren’t about fish as food.

I’m interested in contrasting Oliver’s idea about consuming the fish as a way to become one with it and the water with Sexton’s idea about the fish in us escaping. Fish going out instead of in. What does this mean? Not entirely sure yet, but I think it might help me figure out what to do with the next part of the poem and what I might be trying to say about “the fish in me” and its dis/connection from real fish.

sept 9/RUN

4 miles
top of the franklin hill and back
59 degrees
humidity: 80%

Fall running! Love the cooler weather. Thought about a poem I’m revising from my chapbook about open swim at lake nokomis. It’s called “detritus,” although I might change that title, and originally it was about the muck that gets into my suit while I’m swimming and that I need to wash off and was inspired by this fun alliteration: “I can’t see the slimy sand seep inside and settle on my skin.” I’m editing it to fit the form of 5 beats (5 strokes in the water then a breath) and expanding it to go beyond what the lake leaves with me to wonder what do I leave with the lake? This new part is inspired by the metal detector dudes I overheard at the lake a few days ago. Speaking of the lake, I just read about how 2 young kids (8 and 11) were rescued after drowning at lake nokomis on monday, just hours after I swam there. There is critical condition. Wow. I never think of this lake as dangerous — it’s really not that deep — but it is.

Back to my run: I barely looked down at the river. Was it because the path was more crowded? Ran by 2 walkers with a dog taking up the entire walking path. As I ran by, the dog lunged at me. When the owner apologized I said, “that’s okay” and meant it. Later I wished I had said, “sorry I didn’t warn you” and decided that I would either warn walkers in the future or steer much clearer of them and I did. Greeted the Welcoming Oaks and then Dave, the Daily Walker. Heard a crow. Thought about how I felt strong and relaxed. My right kneecap clicked a little but finally settled into its groove.

Here’s a poem I found by searching, “metal detector poetry). When I first read it and realized how long it was, I exclaimed, “Ahh! This is looong.” But I decided to type up the whole thing, and I’m glad I did.

MAN WITH METAL DETECTOR / Robert B. Shaw

You know me. I’m the one
who isn’t dressed for the beach,
arriving late in the day
when you’re folding your umbrella
or shaking out your towel.
I must look from a distance
like some insane slave-laborer
tasked with tidying up
as much sand as I can
with some pathetic tool, some
peculiar carpet sweeper.
In fact what this picks up
is hid below the surface.
I put its ear to the ground
and when, from inches under,
it hears the note, inaudible
to me, of something metal,
the needles on its dials
shiver to full attention.
Then I use my grandson’s
shovel to excavate.
Sometimes a soda can,
sometimes even jewelry
(though more of that turns up
in playgrounds and in parks
than down here by the ocean.)
It’s more like prospecting
than like archeology.
Unwittingly let slip
or purposely discarded,
these relics offer few
hints of their past owners:
a lost coin is every
bit as anonymous
as a chucked beer-tab.
Once in a long while
I came across initials.
It gives me a bad feeling.
I don’t really want to know
who M.S.M. is, whose ring
I picked up near the boardwalk.
Eighteen carat gold
and set with a seed pearl.
Smaller than all my fingers.
Was it loose on hers?
Did she put it in a pocket
which then proved treacherous?
Or (and this is worse) did she
strip it off and throw it
to rid herself of someone
she got it from, someone
she would have liked to see
thrown down hard and buried?
My Sad Monogram,
what’s the use of asking?
You’ve long since found out
insurance didn’t cover it,
or if you meant to lose it
you didn’t even ask.
Pardon me for making up
your story from such meager
evidence — it shows how
things turning up these days turn naggingly suggestive,
won’t leave my mind the way
I want it: matter-of-fact.
Something about this hobby
is getting out of hand.
I only took it up because
the doctor wants me walking.
I feel like knocking off
sooner than usual today
and simply sitting awhile
to watch the way the tide
oversteps itself in long
rippling strikes of silk,
making a cleaner sweep in time
than any I could make.

What a great poem! I’d like to wander/wonder to a story like this in a poem.

sept 6/SWIM

1.6 miles / 42 minutes
lake nokomis main beach
68 degrees

Choppier and cooler today, both the air and the water. Not that much cooler, but enough to tell the difference. Today is the last official day of the swim season. Tomorrow begins the game, “How long before they take the buoys down?” A few years ago, the buoys were up until October. Very nice. I’m not sure this year. I’m expecting they’ll take them down soon. It would be wonderful if I could get in another week or two.

Lots of kayaks on the water, one other swimmer, waves. Much choppier. I still felt strong and happy to be in the lake. My goggles fogged up a few times, which was annoying. Because of the waves, it was hard to see anything but water. Today, I did some breathing every five and some breathing every four or every six on the side where waves weren’t crashing into me (the right side).

Later, after the swim, when we were having a final beer at Sandcastle, I heard a seagull, but I didn’t see any perched on a white buoy when I was in the water. No ducks or geese either.

Sitting at Sandcastle, I noticed a guy pretty far out from the shore, with only his feet getting wet. This year, the drought has made the water very low. Pointing him out to STA, I said, “He looks like Jesus.” I think that image and line should be in a poem.

This month, even as I’m thinking about “approximate,” I’m struggling to keep up the theme. So today, instead of approximate, I searched for a poem under the topic “late summer” and found this beautiful one. So much amazing imagery!

Late Summer/ JENNIFER GROTZ

Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly

along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.

Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle

mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when

city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.

Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

Today, the last day of swim season, one day before FWA starts his college classes, and 2 days before RJP begins 10th grade, is the end of summer. A slight summery feeling, with hot, sunny afternoons and overripe gardens, will be here for another month, but summer is over. A very good summer. So much to love about it, even in the midst of fear and disappointment and frustration. So much swimming and devotion to water!

september 2/ RUN

4 miles
wabun park and back
64 degrees

Cooler this morning. Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker at the start of my run, when I was heading south on Edmund. Instead of running all the way to the falls, I turned at Godfrey and ran through Waban park and down the steep hill beside the river. I was beside the river for much of the run but I barely glanced at it. I remember seeing it once, while on the steep part of the Winchell Trail, through the trees. I’m sure I heard some birds, but If I did, I forgot. I remember hearing the click click click of a roller skier’s poles just above me. Last night, while driving to the Twins’ game, Scott pointed out a group of roller skiers skiing without poles but waving their arms like they were using poles. We imagined that practicing without poles might strengthen your leg muscles. It looked strange and awkward and difficult.

Encountered a few people at Waiban park, walking towards the VA home, which is right next to the park. One woman was wearing a bright yellow vest. Ran down the steep hill, and saw a few more walkers. A fast runner sped by me, running on the bike trail. I passed a walker with shoulder length blond hair that I’ve passed a lot this summer. They always wear hiking sandals and a skirt. Anything else? I don’t remember hearing any water coming out of the sewer pipes or any kids on the playground. I ran by a spazzy squirrel that flung itself on the chain link fence as I went past. Also almost stepped on a chipmunk in the part of the Winchell Trail where the trees are thicker.

It took me some time, but I finally found a poem that fits my theme, approximate:

There Is No Word/ TONY HOAGLAND

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack 
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging 
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits. 

There is no single, unimpeachable word 
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you

as it exceeds its elastic capacity        
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street

chatting with an old friend 
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance, 

a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye 
I think we share a feeling of relief,  

a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,   
though to tell the truth 

what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then 
around the circumference of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the 
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.

sept 1/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
71 degrees

A great day for a bike ride. I haven’t rode my bike since August 3rd (wow), and it took a few minutes for my brain to get used to it again. Much harder to see at the beginning. No panic. Pretty soon, it was a little easier. I’m hoping to bike more during September and October before it gets too cold and I have to bring the bike inside to the basement. I never know if this will be the last season I can see well enough to bike.

swim: 2 miles / 10 loops
main beach
73 degrees

Windier and choppier today. Still a wonderful swim. Sunny, sparkling water, some sailboats, blue sky, fuzzy green trees. The first loop was harder than the rest. Difficult to get into a rhythm. Once I did, I was able to stop thinking about sighting or stroking and let my mind wander.

An idea occurred to me: when I think about how much I love swimming in the lake, it’s rarely (if ever) about being fully and completely immersed, deep under the water. It’s about being just below the surface, or at the surface but under the water, with an occasional raising of my eyes to see the air or a boat or the world beyond the water. I was thinking about this partly because I’ve become increasingly interested in surfaces and depths (sinking and floating), but mostly because I’m editing a poem I wrote a few years ago titled, “submerged.” Here’s my latest version of it:

submerged

Every 5 strokes a breath
twist left lift up mouth opens
twist right lift up air enters
quick intake above then
5 full beats below this
exhale a chance to dream
a little longer a
way to forget one thing
remember something else
a thought: could above be
the dream below what’s real?
Are hard surfaces the
Illusion fluid edges
the truth? Is belief in
a separate self false? Yes.
My body is not mine
but ours together — fish
water swimmers — all lake
all longing to stay submerged
5 strokes at a time I
am not I but we joined
freed from gravity’s pull
hungry lungs’ demands. Home.

After I finished my swim and was sitting on the sand, I recorded a voice memo with some thoughts:


after swim sept 1

According to the dictionary, submerged means under water–not necessarily deep under water or at the bottom, just fully under water. I want to think more about this word and if it is the right title for my poem. Do I want to be submerged, or something else?

Today is the first day of September. Time for a new theme. Approximate. I wrote about it on August 20:

not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either. 

Here’s today poem on the theme:

Approximate Poem/ Paul Hall (1977)

The things that I habitually say
are obvious. Why repeat them? Besides,
they are never what I meant to say.
The things that I want to say are like the book
next to the book that you took from the library
shelf. Now you’re disappointed, aren’t you. Now you’re
dozing with that book sunk into your chest
like a gravemarker, and from now on, that book
keeps your place in death, wherever it is.
But that has nothing to do with what I
want say in this poem. And even if
you had picked the right book, what I would like to say
would be beneath your thumb as you turn the page,
(In the margin, actually, and would
that make me a marginal type? marginally
human?) What I want to say is always
peripheral. What I really have to say
limps. What I want to say causes people
to dial our number by mistake. Your
abruptness with them gags me. The man
across the street is idly swinging
a golf club. What I would really like to say
is disintegrating from wind divots.
What I’d like to say loses traction
along my larynx and comes out “uh.”

However, clearing my throat accordions
what I intend to say into an
unintelligible grunt. An important
oration that I had in mind was
sky written in sparrow farts. I suppose
you missed it. I have a sore throat. It is
the pass over of intended statements.
My dentist says that I eat too much sugar.
I say that my cavities are the
terrorist bombings of a frustrated
authority. Consequently, important
clues to what I have always wanted to say
are buried under my fillings. Much of
what I’d still like to say gets in the way
of breathing. I had to quit smoking. What I
meant to say was escaping under
a smoke screen. What I would like to say is
every word that you have ever regretted
saying. So the next time you think you’re about
to make a fool of yourself, don’t stop.
Say it. You can always defend yourself
by saying that you didn’t mean to say
that. You can even blame it on me.
And I will know what I had in mind
and everybody will be satisfied.
That is to say. . .

august 31/RUN

7 miles
franklin loop + marshall loop
69 degrees

Thought about biking over to the lake and swimming this morning, but decided to run instead. I need to build up my distance for my 10 mile race in October. Last week I ran 7 miles too, but I stopped for a 5 minute break after 4 miles. Today I ran the entire distance without stopping. Many hills, including one that will be in the race. I ran the franklin loop then, when I reached the lake street bridge, I kept running up the hill on the east river road just above Shadow Falls. At the top, I crossed over to Cretin, which is a reverse of the way I normally run the Marshall loop. Reversing it, I realized that Cretin is all slightly uphill. Ugh.

Things I Remember:

  • Running through the welcoming oaks
  • Noticing that there are no stacked stones on the ancient boulder
  • Smelling the stinky sewer above the ravine
  • Wondering why the trail is closed right by the railroad trestle
  • Greeting Dave, the Daily Walker
  • Smelling the stinky trash, ripening in the heat
  • Slowing down, almost to a stop, to let an approaching runner pass me before we reached a narrow part of the trail
  • Noticing there were no rowers on the river
  • Admiring the wonderful view of the river from one of my favorite spots–on the east side, just above the marshall/lake bridge, right before the crosswalk
  • Wondering why there were so many signs and balloons near the crosswalk–was someone else killed here? Such a dangerous spot. I try to avoid crossing over it; too hard for speeding drivers to see pedestrians, even with the big bright yellow crosswalk sign
  • Listening to the rowdy crows caw-caw-cawing near the ravine–so loud, so many!
  • Working on revisions to a poem I wrote a few years ago. A line contrasting the solid immovability of land with the fluid flow of water popped into my head. Not quite there, but a start

A good, hard run. I’m hoping I have lots of great fall and winter running this year and that I’m able to build up to more miles.

The last day of August, the last day in a month of love poems. Very fitting to finish with the wonderful Katie Farris. A few years ago, my sister Anne asked me who my favorite poets are. I struggled to answer then, but now, having spent a lot more time reading and exploring poetry, I can offer some suggestions: Mary Oliver, Maggie Smith, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Alice Oswald, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Marie Howe, Richard Siken, Rita Dove, and Katie Farris.

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World/ Katie Farris

To train myself to find, in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.

The body, bald, cancerous, but still
beautiful enough to
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body
going —

this scene has a tune
a language I can read
this scene has a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
I stand within its shield

Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself, in the midst of a buring world,
to offer poems of love in a burning world.

august 29/RUN

1.65 miles
neighborhood
80 degrees

Back from Austin. Even though it was warm and mid-afternoon, I decided to do a quick run through the neighborhood. Listened to a playlist and ran to and around cooper school, then by Minneahaha Academy, up Edmund and back home. I can’t remember if I say any other runners. Saw lots of cars on the river road and some walkers and bikers.

Encountered this excerpt from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Story. I had no idea the collection was about water-as-river/river-as-water. Wow! Very cool. I must read the entire collection now.

The First Water Is the Body/ Natalie Diaz

The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States— also, it is a part of my body.

I carry a river. It is who I am: ‘Aha Makav. This is not metaphor.

When a Mojave says, Inyech ‘Aha Makavch ithuum, we are saying our name. We are telling a story of our existence. The river runs through the middle of my body.

So far, I have said the word river in every stanza. I don’t want to waste water. I must preserve the river in my body.

In future stanzas, I will try to be more conservative.

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. 
The secret is in the relenting, 
the partnership. I let my body work
accepting the dangerous favor
from the king-size pool of waters. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 25/SWIM

.35 miles / 1 loop
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

Most likely the final open swim of the season. One more is scheduled for Lake Nokomis tomorrow (Thursday) night, but it is supposed to thunderstorm in the late afternoon, so it will probably be canceled. Forced myself to only swim one loop, even though the water was calm and uncrowded and I would have loved to swim many more. My right side, my upper back and all down my forearm, is very sore and I don’t want to injure it. Even as I wish the season wasn’t ending, my body needs a break, I guess. What a great season. I exceeded my goal of 100 Sara miles and only missed a few open swims at either lake.

The beaches won’t be closed until (at least) after labor day–one year they kept the buoys up until October!–so I’m hoping to swim another week or two. Not sure if I’ll be able to swim indoors at all this winter. In a more perfect world, I would be able to walk a few blocks to an indoor pool. Oh well. More time for fall and winter running!

Unlike Lake Nokomis, which has a huge open parking lot that is directly off of the main beach, Cedar Lake has a small parking lot (that is always filled) and a gravel path with woods on one side, the lake on the other, that leads to a small beach. This difference makes cedar feel more like a lake up north, which I like. As we reached the edge of the gravel on our way out, I noticed a dead tree leaning up against a living one in the woods. I mentioned to STA that I had just read a beautiful poem about two trees like this. This is the poem:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Grief, a burden but also a friend, a companion, is a form (expression?) of love.

august 23/RUN

run: 7 miles
lake nokomis and back
70 degrees / dew point: 66

My longest run in a few years. I’m tired. Ran to the lake then stopped for a few minutes by the little beach. Walked for a few minutes, then ran next to the parkway until I reached minnehaha falls. On the way to the lake, I ran by the creek. It’s not completely dried up, but there’s hardly any water. I didn’t run through it, just by it, but I’ve seen pictures of minnehaha park–no falls. The entire state of Minnesota is in a drought, with a few parts in severe drought. The creek is almost dry because it gets its water from Lake Harriet and Lake Harriet is too low. I haven’t noticed Lake Nokomis being any lower–is it?

It is 4 miles to lake nokomis. Sometimes it seems longer than that because of all the different areas you run through:

  • river road
  • minnehaha falls
  • mustache bridge on the parkway over hiawatha avenue — which years ago had a handlebar mustache spray-painted on the side, but now (just noticed it yesterday) has a mushroom spray-painted near but not on it
  • near the duck bridge by my old neighborhood
  • the echo bridge
  • my favorite part of the path, right before nokomis avenue
  • the new part of the trail that travels under 28th avenue
  • near lake hiawatha
  • up the hill between hiawatha and nokomis lakes
  • beside lake nokomis rec center on the hill
  • down to the lake

I ran this route partly to check out how dry the creek is. I almost forgot to look, too distracted by the effort of running. Didn’t see any herons or cranes. Heard a few black-capped chickadees. No geese or ducks or turkeys. Encountered bikers, walkers, runners, 2 swimmers.

Yesterday I posted a poem by Rita Dove and wondered about the connection between love and mercy. Here’s a poem by another favorite poet, Carl Phillips, in which this connection is questioned:

Sky Coming Forward/ Carl Phillips

How the birches sway, for example. How they
tilt, on occasion, their made-to-tilt-by-the-wind
crowns. How by then he had turned his head
away, as if a little in fear; or shy, maybe . . . Also
the leaves having stopped their falling. Or there
were no leaves left — left to fall. Which to call
more true? Love
                        or mercy? Both of his hands
upraised, but the better of the two tipped more
groundward, the other a lone bird lifting, as if from
a wood gone steep with twilight. Sometimes, an
abrupt yet gentle breaking of the storm
                                                                       inside me:
for a moment, just the rings that form then disappear
around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned —
dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget —
then remember . . . What if, between this one and the one
we hoped for, there’s a third life, taking its own
slow, dreamlike hold, even now — blooming in spite of us?

mercy = compassion, forgiveness
love = deep affection, intense interest in something, attachment, devotion

I need to spend a lot more time with this poem in order to begin to understand it, but here are a few thoughts:

“Which to call/ more true? Love/ or mercy?” Just a few days, I was revisiting another Phillip’s poem I memorized last year, “And Swept All Visible Signs Away.” As I read this question about love and mercy, I was reminded of these lines from “And Swept…”: “And what is a willow doing in the darkness?/ I say it wants less for company than compassion,/ which can come from afar and faceless.” Compassion = mercy, connection = love? I’m fascinated by this distinction between mercy/compassion and love/connection, and Phillip’s almost, but maybe not quite, preference for compassion. What if, as we try to live with/are dependent on and vulnerable to a wide range of people, we thought more about compassion, less about love? Or, could compassion (a form of generosity?) be a different type of love?

“the rings that form then disappear/ around where some latest desire — lost, or abandoned — dropped once, and disturbed the water. To forget –/ then remember . . .” Rings and ripples disturbing the water. Not sure what to do with this yet, but I like the image and the idea (which I’ve explored before) of ripples–traces of something that moved, disrupted, transformed. How long do those ripples last? What does it mean to forget then remember? And then, the idea of rings as loops or orbiting and encircling? Very cool.

“there’s a third life” This reminds me of a quote from a D.H. Lawrence poem that was mentioned in a book I was reading about water:

Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one,
but there is also a third thing, that makes it water

Water as another way to be, another life, another possibility beyond what is and what we want/imagine and hope for? I love this idea and want to spend more time with it.

swim: 2 miles
cedar lake open swim
90 degrees

What a great night for a swim! Warm, sunny, calm. The water was mostly smooth and buoyant, easy to swim in. Felt strong and confident and happy. As I started, someone swimming about my pace was just ahead of me. I followed them for a few laps, occasionally wondering if they noticed me and if they cared I was there. Part of me was enjoying following them, and part of me considered pausing to let them go ahead. Usually I like to swim alone. After two laps, they were gone.

Other Swimmers

  • Someone swimming almost right down the center from buoy to buoy, at times looking like they were way over on the wrong side of the buoy. They probably weren’t that close; it was just my vision and my inability to judge how close or far away someone is — usually, everyone looks closer, too close, which is especially difficult for me because I like/need to have space, room. This swimmer splashed a lot and when they reached the buoy they started to do a tight turn, which I was following, but then abruptly stopped. Narrowly avoided running into them
  • Someone ahead of me, swimming breaststroke. I was swimming into the bright sun, unable to see much of anything but the break in the trees I use for sighting. I began to feel something in the water, some churning. I knew it was another swimmer but I couldn’t see them at all. Finally, a bright pink head appeared. A breaststroker. As I swerved around them I thought about the different ways other than sight that I use to become aware of other people
  • Someone swimming even farther away from the orange buoy than me. I could see their elbows and splash out of the corner of my eye. As we neared the beach, swimming at about the same pace, I wondered when they could cut in closer to round the buoy and whether or not I might have to watch out for them so we wouldn’t collide
  • Another swimmer swimming breaststroke. As usual, it seemed like it took too long to pass them. Once I had, I glanced back over my shoulder as I breathed to see their jerkily bobbing head

Because the water was calm, I was able to breath on both sides (it’s called bilateral breathing). Every five. Sometimes, every 3 then 4. No neck or hip or thigh pain, but a slight twinge under my right shoulder blade. Now, out of the water, writing this the morning after, my upper back on the right side is sore.

Anything else? I swam 4 loops without stopping. Stopped for a minute or two, then did one more loop. Oh–felt some extreme temperature changes in the water right near the shores. Much warmer then much colder. I like the extra cool pockets better than the warm ones. Why was it so warm?

Learned that one popular motto for open water swimming is: No lanes, no lines, no walls (sometimes with the addition: no limits — also found one instance of no mercy). Maybe this could be the title of a poem?

random thought: For several years now, I’ve been reading/listening to Agatha Christie books. Yesterday I finished, Destination Unknown, which is about spies and money as power and hidden labs, and not quaint village murders. The ending of it, which I won’t reveal, reminded me yet again of Christie’s anti-capitalist streak. She writes a lot about the decay of moneyed families, lost wealth (through mismanagement, especially being swindled into investing in worthless Argentinian mines), the nihilism of those trying to hang onto their wealth–their willingness to murder to retain just a bit of it, the decline of the servant class, and how terrible suburbs are. I came up with a title for something — a blog? a poem? a band?: Agatha Christie Hates Suburbs. When I searched “Agatha Christie anti-capitalism,” I found an intriguing article by the postmodern cultural critic (someone I read a lot in grad school) Slavoj Žižek: On Agatha Christie and the Dawn of a Postcapitalist Era. It’s a close reading of her 80th book, Passenger to Frankfurt, which I just started listening to. When I’m finished, I’ll read the article. Nice.

august 22/SWIM

3.75 miles / 3 full loops + 1 slightly shorter loop*
lake nokomis open swim
65 degrees

*About halfway through this swim, I hit 100 Sara miles, which was my goal for the summer. 100 Sara miles is probably a little short of 100 actual miles, but it’s still a big number and was an ambitious goal that encouraged me to swim longer and more frequently than I normally do, so I’m proud of myself for reaching this goal.

Final Sunday open swim of the season. A wonderful morning, a wonderful swim! Sunny, not too windy–at least not until the last loop. I swam 4 loops without stopping. For the final loop, I didn’t swim all the way to the white buoy near the little beach, but just rounded the third orange buoy so it was a little shorter. I felt strong and relaxed and very happy to be swimming. I will miss these swims when they end next week.

Many different thoughts/ideas came to me today:

  • Circling and looping and swimming in the lake from big beach to little beach, my route never forming a perfect circle but triangles and trapezoids and elongated ovals. Always swimming on the edge, not inside or near the center of the marked off swim area. Thought about my interest in edges and Emily Dickinson’s Circumference and Oliver’s and Emerson’s circles
  • As the wind picked up, I wondered about future summers of swimming and how the warming of the oceans/earth and increasingly erratic weather patterns will affect lake nokomis. Will it be windier more often? More thunderstorms? More vegetation? A lower quality of water? Will there be a time when the water is not safe to swim in? I hope not
  • A reminder: I feel so confident in the water. Sure of my self, sure of my abilities. I don’t doubt or question or worry–well, except for my fears of getting another calf cramp or a neck cramp or a knee subluxation–when I’m in the lake. I know it’s not possible to become a fish–and I don’t really want to anyway, but I wish I could bring my lake confidence into the rest of my life. The phrase, “fish out of water” popped into my head as I had these thoughts
  • In the lake, I am never really lost, and if I feel disorientation or bewilderment, I soon figure out a way to re-orient myself, to find some landmark or signal that reassures me that I’m swimming the right way. These indications are small and only come in flashes, but I’m learning how to get by with less information, less certainty. This is not living in bewilderment but living with it–and finding ways to mitigate the confusion and discomfort it provides. So, I’m not living in it all the time, but I’m also not ignoring or avoiding the moments when it happens. I think this makes sense to me…

Here’s a poem from one of my favorite poets, Rita Dove. It’s in her new collection, Playlist for the Apocalypse. I think it fits in with love, if we connect love with kindness and mercy:

Green Koan/ Rita Dove

That the mind can go
wherever it wishes
we’ve come to rely on;
that it returns
unbidden to the soul
it could not banish
and learns to thrive there
is life’s stubborn mercy–given
to soften or harden us,
as we choose.