april 17/RUN

4.4 miles
47th ave loop
37 degrees
Deaths from COVID-19: 111 (MN)/ 33,325 (US)

What a beautiful morning! Hardly any wind, lots of sun, uncrowded paths! Ran south right above the river. Pale blue. At one point, heard a woodpecker and thought about stopping to record it but didn’t. Looked longingly at the lone bench near Folwell with the clear, unobstructed view to the other side. Recited my poem of the week, LOVESONG OF THE SQUARE ROOT OF NEGATIVE ONE. I am the wind and the wind is invisible! Thought about the rhythm in the later lines:

As the hammer / 1 2 / ♫♫
is a hammer / 1 2 / ♫♫
when it hits the nail / 1 2 3 4 / ♫♩♩♩

and the nail / 1 2 / ♫ ♩
is a nail / 1 2 / ♫ ♩
when it meets the wood / ♫ ♩♩♩

Running on the road, after turning off of Edmund, I saw my shadow ahead of me. Hi friend! She led me until I turned again. Listened to my feet shuffle on the grit and my ponytail brush against the collar of my vest. Don’t remember hearing any crows or squirrels or geese–did I? Ran too early to see Dave, the Daily Walker. Didn’t see any roller skiers, but did see 1 or 2 bikers. 2 runners, one with a bright red shirt on.

Thought about the poem I’m working on and that I posted yesterday about sinking. I’m thinking of changing goo to jelly. Also, I’m not sure I like starting with think–I did it partly as a rhyme with sink but I’m not sure now. Here’s different version, in a different form. Instead of cinquains, I’m using couplets:

How to Sink/ Sara Lynne Puotinen (draft 2)

with Paul Tran

Try to recall when your son was young and so upset
all he could do was turn to jelly and ooze

down the couch in surrender — not giving in
but giving up control, a puddle of body parts

pooled at your feet. Learn to retreat like this.
Go to the gorge. Let your bones dissolve,

your legs liquefy. Submit to gravity. Slide
down. Reach the ground first, then seep deeper

through layers of loam, sandstone, shale. Drop lower
and lower, burrow through cracks and fissures, carve

out a way in and follow it farther. Go
so far inside that outside is another idea.

I think I like this version better, especially how some lines can stand alone and make interesting poems by themselves. Like, “out a way in and follow it farther” or “but giving up control, a puddle of body parts.”

It’s warmer today. Maybe spring is finally, actually coming?! Soon there will be flowers and green grass and bees. In honor of the bees, here are 2 wonderful poems by Emily Dickinson (found on this twitter thread about bee poems):

To make a prairie (1755)/ Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

In the name of the Bee –/ Emily Dickinson

In the name of the Bee –
And of the Butterfly –
And of the Breeze – Amen!

april 15/RUN

3.8 miles
47th ave loop, shorter version
26 degrees
Deaths from COVID-19: 87 (MN)/ 26,119 (US)

Sunny and cold this morning. Feels like 15, I think. Ran south on the trail. Made sure to notice the river. A pale blue so light it almost looked white. Bright, glowing. A few extra sparkling spots. More people out this morning. Some other runners and walkers on the trail and in the grass between Edmund and the parkway. Still managed to get my 6+ feet of distance.

Recited “LOVESONG OF THE SQUARE ROOT OF NEGATIVE ONE” again. I love chanting “I am the wind/the wind is invisible/all the leaves tremble/I am invisible.” I kept repeating it as I ran north and into the wind. I’d like to be the wind, making the leaves tremble without being seen.

Been thinking about woodpeckers the past few days. Heard one right as I was leaving the house. Quick, staccato strikes. Later, about 2 miles into my run, I heard a slower, deeper pecking–was this a different type of woodpecker? Not sure.

Speaking of woodpeckers, yesterday I started writing a fun little abecedarian poem about woodpeckers. I reworked the first line in my head as I ran this morning. Here’s what I have so far. A fun exercise, if nothing else. And a great distraction, helping me to unclench my jaw and relax my throat when I get too panicked.

woodpecker/ Sara Lynne Puotinen (draft 1)

April’s anthem
Claiming territory
Drumming for love
Echoing, excavating,
Gutter gutter
Hole inhabiter, no headache haver
In possession of indestructible
Jack-hammering jaws
Knock knock knock knocking up to 20 times per second
Loudly looting larvae
Methodically mining maples–
Neighborhood nuisance
Poet of the peck?
Striker of
Tree trunks and telephone poles
Wanting wood, worms, to lay waste to siding
Yellow bellied sap sucking
Zealot of the rat a tat tat

And here’s a great poem I found via Lunchbox Poems:

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

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

april 14/RUN

4.25 miles
river road trail, north/seabury, south + river road, south + edmund, south
26 degrees
Deaths from COVID-19: 79 (MN)/ 24,485 (US)

Much colder today. I think the feels like temperature was in the teens. Decided to try running north. Was able to run by the ravine, the Welcoming Oaks, above the tunnel with trees. Not too many people on the trail. Was able to keep 6+ feet of distance. Also able to run on one of my new favorite spots: the part of the path that winds away from the road and above the rowing club. No one else was close by, no runner crowding me and cluelessly calling out “good morning” instead of moving over. A nice run. I know I looked down at the river at least once, but I don’t remember what I saw. Was the river blue? gray? brown? Not sure. I remember hearing a few birds and I remember not hearing any woodpeckers. Was able to greet Dave, the Daily Walker!

While I ran, I recited bits of the poem I am memorizing for this week: LOVESONG OF THE SQUARE ROOT OF NEGATIVE ONE

I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves/ tremble and I am invisible, flower without bloom, knot/ without rope, song without throat in wingless flight, dark/ boat in the dark night, pure velocity

Wow, what a poem! I think I recited the entire thing in fits and starts. That first line about the wind was fun to say as I ran into the wind.

I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves tremble and I am invisible!

Here was the rhythm/ number of foot strikes I used as I ran:

I am the wind/ 1 2 3 4/ ♩♩♩♩
and the wind is invisible/ 12 34 56 78/ ♫♫♫♫
all the leaves tremble/ 1 2 3 45/♩♩♩♫
and I am invisible/♩♫♫♫

This poem took a bit longer to memorize but it was very rewarding to be able to give more careful attention to it. I love the lines/sounds in: “Through darkness, through silence, a vector, a violence, I labor, I lumber, I fumble forward…” and “and foot by foot I find the groove, the trace in the thicket, the key in the lock, as root breaks rock, from seed to flower to fruit to rot”

A note about the strange weather

All day Sunday it snowed. We got 5.1 inches. Much of it melted Monday morning in the bright sun. On Monday afternoon, we had 2 or 3 flash snow showers that lasted less than 30 minutes at a time: Snow, then sun, snow, then sun. Today (Tuesday), it’s doing the same thing as yesterday: Snow, then sun, snow, then sun. A thin layer of snow covers the deck, then melts in the sun, then gets covered again in the next snow shower. Strange.

april 10/RUN

4.35 miles
47th st loop
34 degrees
Deaths from COVID-19: 57 (MN)/ 17,836 (US)

Sunny. Not too windy. Not too warm or too cold. Not too many people on the path or the road. Not too much pandemic panic. A great morning for a run! Noticed that the river had a few extra sparkly spots–one was over on the other side, right next to shore. A beautiful circle of white gold. Looked longingly at another solitary bench. Is this the one I’ve looked at before? I can’t remember. This bench had a clear view of the river and the other side. And it was not alone. Beside it was a big boulder.

Recited the poem I memorized yesterday, And Swept All Visible Signs Away. I stumbled a few times, but I enjoyed hearing the words in my head as I moved. The toughest part: “except to those who want for shade,/ and find it there. Who keep finding they hardly/ care anymore–almost, some days, as if they’d never cared–” It was the hardly and anymore and almost that I kept having to remember to add in. Did reciting change my perspective on the poem, add any new insight? I’m not sure. The lines that were most fun to say: “I am stirred. I’m stir-able. I am a wind-stirred thing.” and “Green as water, the willow’s motion. Green as oblivion/ the willow’s indifference.” It is very rewarding to memorize a poem, to repeat the lines until they are etched inside of you. It helps me to understand the flow of words and their meaning better. I’d like to build up a bigger basket of them (I initially put arsenal, but I’m not interested in war imagery) and try to remember them for longer.

After reciting this poem over and over again, I also recited Dickinson’s “Tell All the Truth but Tell it Slant,” “Auto-lullaby,” and my version of it, “Pandemic Lullaby”. I have decided to change back the line with the stump to tree stump–running and reciting, I determined it needs that extra syllable. Also, still trying to figure out Cyclops Baby or big cyclops–what about one-eyed tot?

Found this poem the other day about pandemics from the March 2013 issue of Poetry Magazine:


There are fewer introductions
In plague years,
Hands held back, jocularity
No longer bellicose,
Even among men.
Breathing’s generally wary,
Labored, as they say, when
The end is at hand.
But this is the everyday intake
Of   the imperceptible life force,
Willed now, slow —
Well, just cautious
In inhabited air.
As for ongoing dialogue,
No longer an exuberant plosive
To make a point,
But a new squirreling of air space,
A new sense of  boundary.
Genghis Khan said the hand
Is the first thing one man gives
To another. Not in this war.
A gesture of  limited distance
Now suffices, a nod,
A minor smile or a hand
Slightly raised,
Not in search of   its counterpart,
Just a warning within
The acknowledgment to stand back.
Each beautiful stranger a barbarian
Breathing on the other side of the gate.

“Each beautiful stranger a barbarian/ Breathing on the other side of the gate.” Wow. Love this line. This take on social distancing is very masculine, which is fine, but I’d also like to read a poem with a non-war, non-masculine perspective on dialogue and interaction–one that doesn’t see conversation as debate and greeting as aggressive assertions. Should I try writing one? Sounds hard, but I might try. I’ll add it to my unabridged list of exercises.

april 9/BIKERUN

bike: 28 minutes
bike stand, basement
run: 1.8 miles
treadmill, basement
Deaths from COVID-19: 50 (MN), 15,774 (US)

11 deaths in MN reported for today. Up from 39 yesterday. A big jump. The peak here is supposed to hit at the end of April. We’re expected to have almost 600 deaths.

Very windy today. Decided to bike and run in the basement. Before heading down there, I sat at my desk upstairs, looked out at the small pellets of snow coming down–looking like little styrofoam balls–and memorized the beautiful poem, And Swept All Visible Signs Away/ Carl Phillips. I was drawn to it back in September because of Phillip’s discussion of seeing the face and connection and the line about wanting less for company than for compassion.

What’s a face, to a willow?

Thinking about my difficulty in seeing faces, I wondered (and still do): What’s a face, to me? Is a face–having it, recognizing it, expressing with it–necessary for connection?

If a willow had a face, it would be a song. I think.

I like the idea of the willow’s face (does face = Oliver Sack’s definition in his essay about face blindness: that which “bears the stamp of our experiences, our character”?) being a song, this song: “I am stirred, I’m stir-able, I am a wind-stirred thing.” What is my song? What might the songs of those I love–Scott, my kids–be? Fun to think about.

For the first 5 minutes of my bike ride, I recited the poem out loud. I can’t remember if I recited it when I started my run.

Speaking of not seeing faces, this morning my daughter was talking to me. I was sitting at my desk, she was on the couch, in the shadows. Looking at her for several minutes as she told me about her homework, I couldn’t see her facial features at all. Her head was a shadowy blob with hair. I could, however, see her hand gestures. Her small, graceful hands waved and pointed and flexed and reached out as she discussed her assignment. I did not need to see her face or her eyes to understand her.

april 6/RUN

4.35 miles
47th ave loop*
46 degrees
Deaths from COVID-19: 30 (MN)/ 10,524 (US)

*a new loop for this year: Edmund Bvld, south (or, if really early and uncrowded on river road trail)/grass just after 42nd to Becketwood to short stretch of paved trail/cross 44the Edmund/Right on 47th/right on 44th/right on short paved trail to Becketwood to grass/Edmund Bvld, north/left on 32nd/left on 43rd

Started at 8:30 this morning and there was hardly anyone out near the gorge! Decided to risk it and run south on the river road trail. I encountered two other people–both walkers, both respectful of the need for distance. It makes such a difference to be out there alone! It was overcast. The river was not shimmering or sparkling. I couldn’t tell if it had ice on it or foam or what. Ran past a solitary bench overlooking the gorge and thought how nice it would be to sit there and watch the river. Heard a woodpecker. Some workers laying fiber internet lines. 2 bikers on the road. Some cars–after I passed it, one car started honking. Not sure why. Was someone biking on the wrong side? Were they saying hello? I always have trouble understanding honks. Did some triple berry chants for a while. Also, recited “Auto-lullaby” and my variation, “Pandemic Lullaby.” Decided that my line: “think of a tree stump/housing a gnome” would fit better as “think of a tree stump/that houses a gnome.” Now that I’m saying it again, I think it should actually be: “think of a stump/housing a gnome”


The new route I’ve been trying during this social-distance era has many different surfaces: street, sidewalk, dirt path, grass, shoulder, curb, asphalt trail. Smooth, rough, wet, slanted, uneven, muddy, gritty, high, low, full of divots, leaf-covered, cracked, pot-holed, narrow, wide. Straight, curved, up, down, partially blocked.

from “The Victorious Ones”/ Chris Nealon

Then came fire

It wasn’t yet a new world, or the end of the old one

But water, money, feeling overspilled their banks

                There was finally something real to be afraid of

                There was finally no reason to fear

Even animals approached us as they hadn’t in ten thousand years

Buildings were either shelter or they weren’t

Music got quiet

And poetry—

Poetry began to ask the question it had hidden in the forest

Poetry returned to lists, enumeration, inventory

It chose sides

This was not the same as prophecy

Look around you now        and ask yourself

Which of these—

                The innovators, profit-makers, the ones behind high walls,

                                The ones who are planning for the great catastrophes—

                Or the ones with no ability to plan,

                Who live from hour to hour, year to year,

                                In whom terror waits to be uncurdled,

                Who live in the great wide world—

Which of these will be the victorious ones?

Nobody knows.

Love this line: “Poetry began to ask the question it had hidden in the forest.”

march 16/RUN

4.25 miles
top of the franklin hill and back
35 degrees
snow, big fluffy flakes

Feeling a bit better today. Wonderful and strange to be outside, trying to avoid encounters with others while breathing in the beautiful fresh air. Dark and gloomy. It started snowing just after I got outside. At first, very light. Then, big fluffy flakes flying right into my face–I should have worn my baseball cap or visor to block them out. Oh well. The snow didn’t bother me too much although I wondered if it was the best idea to be outside with a cold or sinus infection in this weather. I think it’s fine. It feels important to get out by the gorge as much as I can.

Was able to do all the walking trails, including the one through the tunnel of trees which is not a tunnel right now but a bunch of bare branches and trunks. The floodplain forest was a beautiful, fuzzy brown. I know I glanced at the river but I don’t remember what color it was or how it looked. I think that’s because of all the snow flying in my face. The gorge was a misty, blurry white. Encountered a few walkers, one or two runners, and Dave the Daily Walker, back in uniform! I’m glad he’s feeling better.

I remember admiring the railroad trestle as I ran by it, noticing the river below. Also, glancing at the Winchell Trail, close to Franklin. The trail looked like a muddy mess.

Memorized a new poem for today’s run:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant/ Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lie
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

It was fun to recite this over and over again as I ran. I really love Emily Dickinson’s poetry–her phrasing, the rhymes, the rhythm, the ideas. I think (I don’t know that much about Emily Dickinson right now–maybe I should learn?) this is one of her more famous poems, especially the idea of telling the truth slant. I like it because of how it fits with my vision. I read that Dickinson became blind temporarily for a few years and that she wrote about it in her poetry. With my cone dystrophy, I rely much more on my peripheral (sideways, slantways?) vision to see. And, while I need bright light to see and read things, if the light is too bright it makes it almost impossible to see. Also, my unfocused, fuzzy vision is softer and less harsh, which sometimes results in kinder, more gentle visions–things that might look ugly in sharp edges and lines, appear beautiful in the soft, fuzzy, absence of detail (one example: gnarled, bare branches in the winter).

march 11/RUN

4.25 miles
river road, north/south
36 degrees

Gray and calm outside. Nice to get some fresh air. Almost all the paths are clear. Thought about trying to run on the path that dips below the road and winds through the trees, but decided it would still have too much ice. I was right. Greeted Dave the Daily Walker just after running up the hill from under the lake street bridge. I know I saw the river but I don’t remember what it looked like. Did I ever really look at it? Heard a woodpecker pecking away. I wonder, is it a yellow bellied sapsucker? Listened to some of its sounds, like drum #1 and mew call and drums, and it might be. Later, when I was almost done with my run, I heard another woodpecker, not sure if it was the same kind. Sounded like a small jackhammer, which made me start thinking about my fascination with how machines mimic animals (for example, airplanes always remind me of sharks).

This morning, after I got up, I decided to memorize a poem to make myself feel better. I have a cold or allegories or something and my throat is tightening up, which is making me extra uncomfortable and worried as I read about people testing positively for the corona virus here. It’s amazing how memorizing a poem can make me feel better. Today, I re-memorized one of my classics: Auto-lullaby by Franz Wright.

Auto-lullaby/ Franz Wright

Think of a sheep
knitting a sweater;
think of your life

getting better and better.

Think of your cat
asleep in a tree;
think of that spot
where you once skinned your knee.

Think of a bird
that stands in your palm.
Try to remember
the Twenty-First Psalm.

Think of a big pink horse
galloping south;
think of fly, and
close your mouth.

If you are thirsty, then
drink from a cup.
The birds will keep singing
until they wake up.

Oh, I love this poem. It was a fun (and sometimes challenging) one to recite in my head as a ran. It was interesting to see how the meter worked differently and how I recited it to make it fit with my cadence. It helps to pick poems with rhymes–I have also memorized/recited Shel Silverstein’s “Sick.” How hard would it be to recite a poem with no rhyme or meter? Would I force it into a meter? Maybe I should try that.

possible exercise: reciting while running

Step One || Pick a poem.

Start with an “easier” poem–one that rhymes and isn’t too long, like a kid’s poem. Later, try a “harder’ poem that doesn’t have a meter or rhymes or is longer.

Step Two || Memorize it.

A few hours before running, spend some time memorizing it.

Step Three || Recite it while running.

Once you’ve warmed up, begin reciting the poem in your head (or, if you feel comfortable enough, out loud). At first, just focus on trying to recite it without stopping or without screwing up too much. Later, when you’ve mastered that, start paying attention to how the words do or don’t match up with cadence. If you are trying to sync it up with your steps and breathing, how does this affect the poem–it’s meaning? how it sounds? how it moves (or doesn’t move)?

Step Four || Take notes.

After your run, take some notes about the experience of reciting while running. What effects did reciting have on your running? Running on your reciting?