august 15/RUN

3.3 miles
winding down to the river, pt 2*
62 degrees

*A slight variation on yesterday’s route: 43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/45th ave, south/36th st, east/47th ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river road, north/bottom of hill/river road, south

What a nice morning for a run! Cooler and calm. Sunny. Relaxed. Ran through the neighborhood and ended by running up and down the hill near the Welcoming Oaks twice. Saw some bikers, runners, and walkers. Heard some music blasting from a bike’s speaker but couldn’t identify the song–the biker was going too fast and/or the doppler effect was distorting the music too much. Also heard the quiet, gentle hum of crickets. So many acorns littering the sidewalk! No spazzy squirrels in sight. Are they too busy up in the trees? No roller skiers or rowers. No Daily Walker or tall, old guy in short running shorts.

Recited “Babel” several times as I ran. Struggled with the word blustered in the line, “the trees/blustered to howls.” Throught about the order of this line: is it, “the tesla bees/whine loudly to the shocked air” or “the tesla bees/loudly whine to the shocked air”? Is the second not grammatically correct, or is it just preference? The first seems better, so why am I sometimes drawn to reciting the second? It felt strange to be reciting this poem, especially the first line, “My God, it’s loud down here,” when it isn’t loud at all this morning. It’s calm, peaceful, with only a quiet hum.

Thought about reciting the poem as I ran up the hill for the second time, but I wimped out. I should really try doing this sometime soon. Instead, I recited it a few seconds after I stopped running, as I walked home, still out of breath. Just like I had struggled with the word blustered as I ran, I couldn’t remember it now. I like how I captured this moment of forgetting and then remembering: blustered!–you can almost hear the exclamation point in my voice. I thought I knew this poem better than yesterday, but I still struggled with some wrong words and the flow seemed off. It feels like I can’t quite connect with this poem or the poet’s writing style. Will I ever? From where does this lack of connection come?

Babel, August 15

august 14/RUN

2.4 miles
winding down towards the river*
77 degrees
humidity: 88%
dew point: 70

*43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/47th ave, south/edmund, north/32nd st, east/river road trail, south (including tunnel of trees)/36th st, west

Inspired by Scott and his winding routes through the neighborhood, I decided to try one of own. It’s a nice change of pace to run on different streets after running the same way for so long. I’m surprised this route isn’t a bit longer.

When I reached the river, I noticed Dave the Daily Walker up ahead! I haven’t seen him for months–since April or May, I think. So glad he’s doing okay. I’ve wondered about him.

Ran through the tunnel of trees. Dark and thick and wonderful. Encountered one runner but we both moved over as far as we could–almost 6 feet apart, I think.

I’m pretty sure I glanced at the river quickly. I can’t remember if I heard the rowers today, or was it yesterday? Yesterday.

I recited “Babel” several times as I ran. I know it better today than yesterday. The most awkward lines:

the electrical bugs so loud
the air is stunned, windy the trees’
applause redoubled by the clapping wings
of magpies?

Windy the trees’ applause? That sounds strange to me. I tried to find some audio of Johnson reading the poem but I couldn’t. I don’t feel like I can properly deliver that line yet because the windy the tree part doesn’t quite make sense. Favorite bits? “the trees blustered to howls,” the “huckster cackle,” and “the air stupid with the shrieks of devils,–of angels,–“

I recorded myself reciting it when I returned home. I’m finding this poem to be awkward to read. Some of the lines, like the awkward one about windy the leaves’ applause, are very difficult to keep flowing. I struggle to keep the tone of a question throughout the long sentence. I’d like to try recording myself reciting this while I run and/or walk? Would it be flow better or worse?

Babel, August 14


august 13/RUN

3 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road trail, south/edmund, north
72 degrees
humidity: 87%
dew point: 69

Warmer today. Started slow and got faster each mile. Ran north on 43rd again, noticing more of the familiar houses. I run on the right side so I miss running by one of my other favorite 43rd avenue houses on the left side: the one with the 2 lion statues guarding their stoop, at the edge of the sidewalk. For every season, they wear different visors. Since the pandemic began, they’ve been wearing masks–or at least they have the last time I checked, which was a month ago. In the spring, they wear bunny ears, in July, spangled stars, at Christmas-time, reindeer antlers. I know they do something for Halloween too, but I can’t remember what.

Ran past the field at Cooper school, the Aspen eyes, the parking lot at Minnehaha Academy, filling up with cars. Decided to try running on the trail through the tunnel of trees again. No problem! Forget to check out the amphitheater of green air, but did notice the construction trailer–where they’re doing the sewer work–and how, on this side, it was heavily tagged with graffiti. I was moving too fast to read what it said, but it looked cool with the big, brightly colored block letters. Heard the voices of 2 women behind me somewhere. So loud! Was it the two runners I passed–and managed to get 6 feet of distance from because I ran up the side of a small hill–right before entering the tunnel of trees? Ran through the welcoming oaks and above the ravine. Wondered why I wasn’t hearing any water gushing through the pipe, over the limestone ledge, down to the river after all of the rain yesterday. Stayed on the trail until 42nd st when I turned around but was too busy looking out for other people to notice the river. It is often difficult for me to see when a person is ahead–most of the time I can, but I have to be extra careful for those times when I can’t. Haven’t run into anyone yet!

Tried reciting the poem I started memorizing this morning: “Babel” by Kimberly Johnson. I thought I had it memorized, but I got hopelessly stuck halfway through. I thought about briefly stopping and looking up the words on my phone but didn’t.

My God, it’s loud down there, so loud the air
is rattled. Who with the hissing of trees,
the insect chatter, can fix devotion

on holy things, the electrical bugs
so loud the air is stunned, windy the leaves’
applause redoubled by the clapping wings

of magpies? Who with their whispered psalm
can outvoice their huckster cackle, their huckster cackle, their huckster cackle!?

Stuck. I knew the next line had something to do with trees but no matter how hard I concentrated, patiently waiting for the words to appear, they didn’t. When I got home, I checked and, of course!, the line is:

can outvoice their huckster cackle, the trees
blustered to howls while the tesla bees

whined loudly to the shocked air?

Yes! How could I have forgotten those howls or the tesla bees? Are tesla bees a thing? I looked it up and aside from a mention of Nikola Tesla’s idea that women would soon rule the world as “Queen Bees” and references to the “tesla of honey” on a beekeeping forum, I couldn’t find anything. I asked Scott and he wondered if it could be a reference to the buzzing sound a Tesla coil makes. When I looked up, “Tesla coil sound” I found an article about a band that gets the Tesla coil to “sing”. Wow.

Here’s the full poem:

Babel/ Kimberly Johnson

My God, it’s loud down here, so loud the air
is rattled. Who with the hissing of trees,
the insect chatter, can fix devotion

on holy things, the electrical bugs
so loud the air is stunned, windy the leaves’
applause redoubled by the clapping wings

of magpies? Who with their whispered psalm
can outvoice their huckster cackle, the trees
blustered to howls while the tesla bees

whine loudly to the shocked air? O who
can think of heaven in such squall, shrill wind
of trees, magpie wings, and throats in fracas,

the bluebottle static, the air stupid
with the shrieks of devils,— of angels,—
who in such squall can think of anything

but heaven?

I love this poem and all it’s chatter. I was thinking about it this morning as I drank my coffee, sitting in the chair I always sit in while drinking my coffee with all the windows open, listening to all the birds and the low insistent hum of the crickets. So much noise!

august 10/RUN

3.1 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/33rd st, east/river road trail, south/42nd st, west/edmund, north
67 degrees
humidity: 80%

Non-stop thunder and lightening for most of the night. Wild. Unsettling to the dog, but no damage or power outages. This morning everything was wet and a darker (but not an ominous dark) green.

Ran north on 43rd until 32nd then turned right. I think this is my new usual route. Ran on 32nd to edmund, right before the river, and ran a block until crossing at 33rd to enter the trail. I decided today I would try to run the tunnel of trees and hope there weren’t too many people when I reached the narrowest parts. Success! Didn’t encounter anyone.

Ran past the old stone steps, past the concrete wall/ overlook/ bench that Delia likes to jump on, past the four barriers (2 walls, 2 fences), past the amphitheater of green air (the spot where the trees open up slightly to create wide space surrounded by trees, blocking out the sky but still feeling uncrowded), past the spot on the trail where you can just see the top of the hill. Beautiful! I had forgotten how much I love this stretch of the trail. Above the forest, on the edge of a ridge, looking out at endless layers of green with no floor and no sky. Tucked below the road, hidden behind a wall and a fence. Dark and mysterious. Quiet. Enough time alone to gain some peace, not enough to feel afraid (of critters* or lurking humans).

*Speaking of critters, I have seen, earlier this year in March, a coyote run down into the tunnel of trees. I was not running, but walking and was across the road. And yesterday, a jogger reported seeing a black bear near the Summit Monument overlooking the river on the east side close to the trail that’s part of one of my frequent (in non-COVID times) routes: the Ford loop! One more, less scary one: at least twice, while walking around the neighborhood, Scott and I saw an albino squirrel.

After the tunnel of trees, I ran through the welcoming oaks and above the ravine. I was surprised to not hear any water rushing out of the sewer pipe. Ran past the oak savanna–too many leaves to see anything, past the steps at 38th street, past the bench on the dirt path that links two steep hills each winding back down to the Winchell trail. Encountered some bikers who didn’t even try to move over for me and when I moved off the edge of the path to give them room, they biked even closer. Did this happen, or did it seem like it did because of my bad vision and lack of depth perception? People always seem too close to me with my messed up macular.

As I ran, I tried to recite “Push the button, hear the sound” again. I made it through several lines, but became distracted as I tried to avoid other people. It’s hard to recite poems and get lost in the words when you’re having to look out for other runners. Thinking about the poem and it’s refrain, Listen and can you hear?, I thought about what I’d like others to listen to by the river and what I wonder if they can hear:

Listen to the gravel crunching on the trail.
Can you hear the electric buzz of the cicadas, relentless and rumbling under everything?
Can you hear the rowers on the river?
Listen to the roller skier’s ski poles striking the ground.
Can you hear the poles clickity-clack or do they just clack, or only click?
Listen to the doppler effect on the bike’s speakers.
Can you hear the talk radio host yelling through someone’s phone?
Listen to the pileated woodpecker laughing at us.
Can you hear that circle of light on the surface of river inviting you in?
Can you hear your shadow running beside you?
Listen to the oaks exhaling.
Can you hear your lost innocence?
Can you still hear your mom’s voice? Her laugh? The way she said your name?
Can you hear the asphalt buckling?
Listen to “Black Wizard Wave” by Nur-d.

Earlier this morning, before heading out for my run, I came across–and not for the first time–Walt Whitman’s wonderful “Song of the Open Road”:

from Song of the Open Road/ Walt Whitman

3
You air that serves me with breath to speak! 
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape! 
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers! 
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides! 
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me. 

You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges! 
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships! 

You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs! 
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards! 
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much! 
You doors and ascending steps! you arches! 
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings! 
From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me, 
From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me. 

5
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines, 
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute, 
Listening to others, considering well what they say, 
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, 
Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me. 
I inhale great draughts of space, 
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine. 

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


august 9/RUN

3.1 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/42nd st, west/edmund, north
77 degrees
humidity: 80%
dew point: 70

Much warmer this morning. Still managed a 5k without stopping. As I ran down 32nd toward the river I thought about how glad I was that they had closed the road for the sewer work at 32nd instead of 33rd–that way I can run on a long block of the river road without worrying about cars. Then, when I reached the river, I saw that they had moved the road closure ahead to 33rd. No more running on the river road. Bummer.

Was able to run on the trail above the river from 36th to 42nd! Heard some rowers, saw some shining water. Glanced at the empty benches. Don’t remember hearing any birds or crunching on any acorns–they’re covering many of the sidewalks in the neighborhood. No roller skiers or music blasting from bike speakers. No big groups of runners or bikers.

Recited “Push the Button” one time and thought about the constant refrain throughout the poem, “Listen to the…” “Can you hear the…?” I’m curious about how Mort decided which things she wanted us to listen to and which things she wondered if we could hear:

Listen to…

  • the lorikeet’s whistling song
  • the ground giddy with thirst
  • the dog shit on the lawns, murderous water boatmen skimming the green pond
  • the casual racists in the family pub
  • the house Shiraz I drink as if it’s something’s blood
  • my fear, blooming in my chest, and how I water it
  • the noisy penguins on the ice
  • my late night online purchases
  • your half-sister hissing to her friends at 2 am
  • the panic in their emojis
  • the utter indifference of the stars
  • “The Trout” by Schubert
  • the blackbird’s chirpy song
  • that waltz by Paganini
  • the stage as we walk clear off the front of it

Can you hear…?

  • the call of the mynah bird
  • flamingos in the water
  • your small heart next to mine and the house breathing as it holds us
  • the chainsaw start
  • the roses rioting on the trellis
  • the sleepless girls in Attercliffe
  • the aspirin of the sun dissolving
  • your grandfather’s lost childhood
  • the suburban library shutting, the door closing, the books still breathing
  • your father lighting his first cigarette
  • the foxes mating all the way to oblivion
  • me holding you, closer than my life

And two variations on “Can you hear…?”:

O, can you hear the budget tightening?
Can you hear that, Alfie?

I’ll have to study this list some more, I guess, to find a pattern, if there is one. What’s the difference between the command, “listen” and the question, “can you hear?”

Here’s a quick draft of my homage to Mort’s original poem:

Listen to the black capped chickadee’s 2 note song.
Can you hear him posing a question to the gorge?
Can you hear the honking geese overhead?
Can you hear your lungs grasping for air
and the green leaves thickening as they hold us?
Can you hear the chainsaw start, the tight weave
of the savanna’s oak unraveling?
It’s August, thick, crowded. Listen
to the path, cluttered with acorns. Listen
to the sewer stink near the ravine, the sex-crazed
gnats swarming the hill. Can you hear
the virus spreading through the neighborhood?
Can you make a noise like a panicked rabbit? There are
sounds your tweet lacks names for.

august 7/RUN

3 miles
trestle turn around
68 degrees
humidity: 83%/ dew point: 66

Decided to run to the trestle and back for the first time with the road open to traffic. Definitely not as relaxing. I had to get closer than 6 feet to 2 or 3 runners as I passed them. I don’t think I’ll be running above the river that much this late summer and fall. Oh well.

I got to see the river for awhile. Didn’t hear any rowers or see any roller skiers. I did smell the sewer above the rowing club and ran through a dark green stretch of the trail.

Tried reciting “Push the button” while I ran. Very difficult as I focused more on avoiding people and staying cool.

Heard some rustling below me as I ran above the river. Was it rushing water or wind through the trees? Decided on wind.

Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or changing leaves or acorns on the path. No Daily Walker. No black-capped chickadees or cardinals or pileated woodpeckers.

Heard at least 3 different people talking above me on the lake street bridge as I ran under it. Saw a mini peloton zooming by on the road.

Right after finishing, as I walked home, I recited the entire poem I’ve been working oA. I didn’t even care that there were a lot of people around who could see me talking into my phone.

Push the buttons, hear the sound/Helen Mort
August 7

august 6/RUN

2.3 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/edmund, south/river road, north/river road, south
68 degrees

Took a walk with Scott and Delia the dog before heading out for a shorter run. During the walk, we could feel fall slowly coming. Cooler air, a red leaf peeking through the green on a neighbor’s fence:

As I ran north on 43rd, I started reciting “Push the button, hear the sound.” Ran past the abandoned house, growing a forest of new maples, past the house with the easter island head by the front door, past the house that used to have my favorite halloween decorations until it was sold:

Past Cooper School, past the aspen eyes, past the red leaf that Scott, Delia and I had walked by an hour before. Ran for a block on the river road and then turned back onto Edmund. It took me almost a mile and a half to finish reciting the poem.

Ran down and up the hill by the Welcoming Oaks twice. The second time, on my way up, I encountered a biker biking with no hands on the handlebars singing at the top of his lungs–not sure what song. About a month ago I encountered another biker doing this as he approached the hill. I had marveled at his effortlessness and how little he cared that he looked ridiculous. The biker today just looked ridiculous and out of control. I hope he didn’t crash into anyone as he biked down the hill.

A few minutes after I returned home, I recited the poem into my phone. I remembered most of it but forget 2 lines. I guess I need to spend another day with this poem.

Push the Button, August 6

august 5/RUN

3 miles
turkey hollow loop
60 degrees

O, this morning! Cool and sunny and calm. Quiet and not too crowded. When I reached the river, I ran on the trail for a few minutes, past the oak savanna and the thick layer of trees. Before I had to cross over to the grassy boulevard because there were too many runners, I saw the beautiful river, glowing white. Also heard a very enthusiastic coxswain yelling out instructions to his crew. Ran past turkey hollow and forgot to check for turkeys–did I even glance over at the huge grassy stretch? I don’t think so. Heard some music coming out of a bike speaker–something pop-y–and obnoxious talk radio out of a runner’s smartphone. Noticed my shadow running beside me.

Memorized another chunk of my first “listen” poem and recited it while I ran. Had trouble with it during the first half of run; I was too busy trying not to twist my ankle on the uneven, rutted dirt path on the boulevard. Had better luck in the second half because I was running on the road. Thought about word choices and what she might be referencing (anything?) with “can you hear the sleepless girls of Attercliff?”

Here’s a recording of myself reciting it after I got home:

Push the button, hear the sound/ august 5

august 4/RUN

3.5 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st east/river road, south/edmund, south and turn around at 42nd st
60 degrees

Today they opened up the river road to cars again. Well, it was nice while it lasted–and it lasted much longer than I would have expected. I’m glad I ran the 2 loops yesterday. Today I ran north on 43rd to 32nd. Ran past the field at Cooper School, past the field at Minnehaha Upper Campus, past the aspen eyes, all the way to the river road. It’s still closed for the sewer work they’re doing above the tunnel of trees so I was able to run on one long block of it car-free. Turned back onto Edmund at 33rd then ran up the hill to the spot high above the river road where the river sometimes sparkles through the thick trees. Not today. Ran to 36th and turned left for a small loop past the Welcoming Oaks, down the hill beside the path above the tunnel of trees and then back up it again. At the top of the hill, kept going south on Edmund until I reached 42nd st, past Dowling Elementary School, past the house that has been posting poetry on their huge front windows, and past the huge 1980s house with the indoor pool and the extra lot that was for sale for over a year until someone finally bought the extra lot and built a super modern house on it. A strange juxtaposition. Encountered some strollers, bikers, walkers, runners, cars. Heard some Northern Cardinals and some gravel crunch crunch crunching on the side of the road. Saw my shadow.

Tried to stop thinking about how difficult this pandemic is and how to solve the problem of a daughter desperate to hang out with her friends while there’s a steep rise in cases here in Minnesota.

Began memorizing a new poem yesterday afternoon in my series on listening: Push the button, hear the sound/ Helen Mort. Recited the first third as I ran.

Listen to the lorikeet’s whistling song.
Can you hear the call of the mynah bird?
Can you hear the flamingos in the water?
Can you hear your small heart next to mine
and the house breathing as it holds us?
Can you hear the chainsaw start, the bones
of out neighbor’s Eucalyptus breaking?
It’s summer, high, emptied. Listen to the ground,
giddy with thirst. Listen to the dog shit
on the lawns, the murderous water boatman
skimming the green pond. Can you hear
the roses rioting on the trellis? Can you
make a noise like a cheeky monkey? There are
sounds your book lacks names for.

Confused by the line about the water boatmen so I looked it up. Water boatman is a type of insect that feeds off of scum on ponds. I made the mistake of reading more about them and the male’s “singing penis.” To attract a female, a male boatman makes a very loud (99.2 decibels) sound by rubbing his penis against his abdomen. Wow.

Recorded myself reciting the poem as I walked home after my run:

Push the Button, Hear the Sound/August 4

Geese!

Almost forgot to mention the vee of geese, high in the sky! On my post-run walk with Delia the dog, I heard them. A dozen geese flying high in the sky, an uproar of honks. Two nights ago, I heard them too. Fall is coming. Not for a while, but the signs are starting. Usually, I’m excited for these signs, but this year that excitement also carries a dread: how much longer will this pandemic last and what will it feel like in the cold and snow? How much harder will it be for others to endure when the weather isn’t nice? I’m not worried for myself, I love the winter cold, but for other members of my family who are already starting to lose it.

august 3/RUN

3.5 miles
2 loops (36th to 42nd)
62 degrees

Since they’re opening the road back up to cars any day now, I thought I would do 2 loops. Back when they closed the road in early May, I had visions of running loops all summer. I even created a loops page. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t like running loops, or at least multiple loops at once. Halfway through the first loop, I start thinking about how I’m going to have to run another loop and then I think, “How am I going to do another loop?” and I usually stop early. I am often willing to stop something early when I don’t think it’s working. Sometimes this is a good thing–why torture yourself doing something you hate just because you said you’d do it? Sometimes it’s a bad thing–why is it so easy for me to stop when I don’t like it? Mostly I’m fine with my tendency to stop–probably because I usually find something to like about what I have to do so I get the things done I need to and because my willingness to stop early doesn’t reflect a lack of passion or commitment. I’m very committed to my writing and running and family and thinking/living/acting with critical awareness and care.

So–back to the point of this digression–I accept that I don’t like running loops and I don’t run them. But today, I thought I’d try something different. I ran one loop with no headphones, then one loop with a playlist.

loop one

The first loop was about a minute slower. I focused on birds (heard a black capped chickadee) and trees (especially the trees on the boulevard that lean in towards the river road offering more shade, listening in to check how heavily I was breathing) and the big boulders in the grass. I tried to stay relaxed and avoid thinking about how I was still just on the first loop and that I was planning to do another one. I checked out my shadow a few times. She was on my right side, slightly behind me. I decided the best shade was between 38th and 36th.

loop two

Before starting the second loop, I stopped to find a playlist–an older one titled, “august run.” First song: “Misery Business” by Paramore. I remember listening to this my first year of running, nine years ago. To match my foot strikes to the beat, I picked up my cadence. Didn’t think about anything or notice where I was as I ran. What a wonderful thing to get lost in the effort of moving! Lifting my knees, focusing more on driving my left leg. Swinging my arms evenly. Also listened to “Hurt Feelings” by Flight of the Concords and laughed at the lyrics, “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John and thought about how much I loved this song when I was kid.

I like this idea of running one loop listening to the gorge and one loop listening to music. It might be fun to try doing one loop reciting one poem and then another loop reciting a different poem. I think I’ve tried something like this already–have I (no, but after looking through old entries, I discovered I had proposed this very idea of may 22nd). I’m glad I found this entry because in it I posted a poem I’d like to memorize: Push the button, hear the sound I think I’d like to do a series of 4 or 5 poems on listening.

Listen, the long list

I’ll have to narrow this list down to 4.

july 31/RUN

5 miles
franklin hill and back again
69 degrees

Since they’re opening up the road next week, I decided I better run on it all the way down the franklin hill before it’s too late. Another beautiful day, with less humidity! I ran for 3 miles then walked for 1/2 mile up the steep hill before running again.

At Annie Young Meadows, at the bottom of the hill, noticed a dozen tents set up–another encampment for people without homes. So awful. I hope Minneapolis figures out better housing for them before winter hits. Everyone should have a home and enough food–what a fucked up country this is.

Down at the bottom of the hill, in the bright sun, the river looked flat and hot and a dull brown.

To end the month and my series of memorized poems about vision, I decided to recite each of the 4 poems for a mile and then spend the last mile reflecting on common themes. What a nerd I am. Mile One: Before I got my eye put out; Mile Two: Natural Forces; Mile Three: I Look Up From My Book at the World Through Reading Glasses; and Mile Four: Halos. At the start of mile four, as I walked up the hill, I recited Halos into my phone and then, after I finished, I recited I Look Up.

Halos, July 31
I Look Up, July 31

During mile five, I thought about the soul and how it’s mentioned in both Dickinson (safer — guess — for just my soul/opon the window pane) and Lee (to believe the soul is/ ubiquitous like water/in our voices, our cells). Could the soul be the water within us? Not some ethereal spirit distinctive from the body but water, the very substance that makes up more than half of us (kids: 78%, men: 60%, women: 55%)? I like thinking about the soul as the most physical, substantial part of us. Of course, now as I write this, I’m thinking about Walt Whitman and “The Body Electric“:

O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, 
O I say now these are the soul!

july 30/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/north
68 degrees

Walking down to the end of the block before starting my run, I marveled at the slightly cool breeze and the soft sun. What a morning to be outside! Perfect for walking, slightly too warm for running. Ran south on the river road. Heard the birds–which birds? Not sure. Glanced at the river for the brief moment I was able to run on the trail. Saw my shadow. Tried to stay calm and block out the relentless worry, simmering under the surface, about pandemics and tyrants and upcoming elections. Was mostly successful.

Running past the steps at 38th street that lead to the lower trail, closer to the river, I longed for last summer when I regularly ran the 2 trails route. O, to be closer to the river, below the road on the undulating trail!

Recited the rest of Halos this morning. The rhythm of this poem doesn’t work well with running and I found it hard to keep reciting the lines in a steady flow. Lots of stopping and starting. Was this also because of the heat or the effort or my still shaky grasp of the words?

I like, whenever I wish, strolling past
the myopic me
in a window or a mirror or whatever

reflects back to believe the soul is
ubiquitous like water
in our voices, our cells.

How else, when blinded by life,
would I remember:
to the dead, we’re the ghosts?

I am not sure what he means here or what to do with souls as ubiquitous as water or the idea that we’re the ghosts to the dead. What does it mean to be a ghost?

Ghost (noun), definition (OED)

  1. The soul or spirit, as the principle of life (to give up the ghost)
  2. Philosophy.  the ghost in the machine: (Gilbert Ryle’s name for) the mind viewed as separate from the body 
  3. The soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form, or otherwise manifesting its presence, to the living. (Now the prevailing sense.)
  4. A shadowy outline or semblance, an unsubstantial image (of something); hence, a slight trace or vestige, esp. in phrase  (not) the ghost of a chance.

Ghost (verb), definition (OED)

  1. to expire
  2. to haunt
  3. to scare with pretended apparitions
  4. To flit about, prowl as a ghost. Also  to ghost it.  to ghost away: to steal away like a ghost.

Ghost (Colloquial), definition (Wikipedia)

Ghosting is a colloquial term used to describe the practice of ceasing all communication and contact with a partner, friend, or similar individual without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communicate made by said partner, friend, or individual.

I would like to use the phrase, “to ghost it” somewhere. Also, having stared at the word “ghost” for too long, the letters seem strange, especially the g and h right beside each other.

Thinking about being “ubiquitous like water” I was reminded of Bruce Lee and his great poem? speech? about being like water. Then I was reminded of the poem by Ed Bok Lee that I discovered yesterday and just listened to right now, “Ode to Bruce Lee” from his collection Whorled. In the poem, he says:

Boxer and cha cha champion
style of no style
teacher, waiter, philosopher, dragon

Style of no style is also in Halos. I want to think some more about what this phrase means–to him, what it might mean to me. Fluid, not trapped any identity or label or “box”, flowing like water?

Here’s a recording of me reciting Lee’s “Halos” after I returned from my run. I still have a few extra/wrong words to fix:

Halos, July 30

july 29/RUN

3 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/edmund, south
68 degrees
humidity: 79%/ dew point: 63

Another sunny, beautiful day. I’d like it about 15-20 degrees cooler but I’ll still take today. Ran up 43rd avenue until reaching 32nd street, then ran by the field at Cooper Elementary School (named after James Fenimore Cooper) that’s been closed for as long as I’ve lived nearby (almost 6 years). Noticed a man that I’ve seen there 4 or 5 times before exercising by flipping a heavy sand bag* across the field–at least I think that’s what he does. I can’t really see in a quick glance and I don’t want to stare–both because I don’t want to be rude and don’t want to invite a conversation.

*In trying to determine what he was doing, I looked up sand bag exercises. Wow, it’s a thing. You really have to be a badass to do some of the exercises.

Ran past the aspen eyes on my way to the river road, turned left towards lake street and ran north until I reached the barricade at 29th (I think). Encountered runners, walkers, bikers. No roller skiers. Saw my shadow. Don’t remember hearing any birds–when will I start hearing the geese? I do remember hearing traffic above me on lake street and a lawn mower on the boulevard, the gravel crunching underfoot, a kid calling out to his friend. No music blasting from bike speakers or talk radio from smartphones.

Recited more from Ed Bok Lee’s “Halos” as I ran. Difficult to keep going without interruptions or to think much about the words. I definitely want to spend more time with this poem and his description of seeing strangely. Here’s the part I added this morning:

That visual impairment improves hearing,
taste, smell, touch, is mostly myth.
With it, however, I can detect

fuzzy spirits exiting buildings;
halos around bikers’ helmets;
each street lamp another pink-orange dawn.

You should see the full moon
spanning half the skyline.
I don’t mind opening a book

like a pewter Rorcshach test,
or waking up each morning
inside a fish tank of dream.

Is the idea of losing one sense enhances the others mostly a myth? For me, I’m not sure how much sharper my hearing is, but I’ve devoted a lot of time to building up my listening skills, paying attention aurally and not just visually. However, even though I’ve tried to work on my bird listening skills, I still can hardly identify any birdsongs.

I like how he moves away from good vision to interesting/ strange vision with his lines about fuzzy spirits and halos and street lamps as pink-orange dawns. I don’t see these things, but I do think I see bare branches more beautifully–their blurred edges softening the sky–than someone with “normal” sight. What else do I see strangely?

I recited the poem into my phone when I returned home:

Halos, July 29

july 28/RUN

2.4 miles
river road, south/north
70 degrees
humidity: 85%

Warmer this morning, humid, wet. When I started it was overcast but as I ran the clouds slowly parted and the sun emerged. I remember looking up at the sky, somewhere near 38th street, to see cracks in the clouds with the sun shining through–a glisk?

People on the road, but not too crowded. Two separate groups of walkers taking up most of the road, just two people each, spaced just right to make it difficult to pass on either side. I’m trying very hard to not let something like this bother me but I struggle to understand how some people are so clueless (or uncaring) about the space they take up in the world and it’s negative impact on others–bikers and other walkers, runners, needing to swing wide, veering into each other’s paths, to avoid the space hoggers.

Thankfully I didn’t spend too much time bothered by the clueless walkers. Saw the river and it was a sparkling blue, shining through the trees. Heard some people on the Winchell Trail below me. Ran down the hill that’s closed at the bottom for construction then ran up it again. Briefly glanced at the Welcoming Oaks. As I finished my run, I heard a black-capped chickadee calling.

Speaking of birds, yesterday afternoon and twice this morning, I was dive-bombed by a pair of birds. They flew right by my face, close enough that I called out, “geez!” Do they have a nest in my yard? I hope not. I would like to remain friends with the birds.

This morning, I started memorizing Ed Bok Lee’s wonderful poem about vision: Halos. Because it’s long, I only memorized 5 stanzas for this morning’s run. Also, I started a few stanzas in:

Halos/Ed Bok Lee

on my walk
home, I take off

my glasses to receive the breeze.
I like that any nearing face
is surely smiling, gorgeous;

each blurry body’s aura numinous:
style of no style, racially
ambiguous, a glob, pure

spectral incohesion. Aren’t we alll
just masses of energy and light
approaching or leaving

one another in the jumbled
future or past; sometimes stop-
ping to embrace

for a moment of decades,
before passing way
too far for sight?

I love the generous way Lee describes blurry vision here and how nearing faces are surely smiling–as opposed to seeming hostile or threatening (or clueless like the space hoggers on the river road). As I continue to lose my vision, I’m hoping to embrace–in more moments–the possible beauty and wonder of seeing faces differently, softly, without edges, as globs of energy and light.

I recorded myself reciting the poem about an hour after I returned home:

from Halos, July 29

july 23/RUN

3.1 miles
47th st loop
69 degrees

Ran almost two hours later because I wanted to work more in the morning and because the humidity was 100% at 8 am. Running at 10 was much better, I imagine. Sunny with lots of shade, calm. No turkeys but I did see my shadow briefly. Saw a biker and one graceful rollerblader moving so quickly and smoothly, swinging his arm like an Olympic speeed skater.

delight of the day

Nearing Edmund, past becketwood on the part near turkey hollow, I heard a truck approaching from behind with some squealing kids. As it passed me, driving very slowly, I noticed a few heads just poking out of the red truck’s bed. It turned up the next street. Nearing the end of my loop, almost back to becketwood, I encountered it again, parked in front of house, the kids yelling out delightedly, “We drove around the block in the back of the truck! We drove around the block in the back of the truck!” Such delight. Such cute, earnest, high-pitched voices! Oh, to be that free of cynicism and able to find joy in such a small but perfect moment!

Before heading out for the run, I memorized another poem, the third in my vision series:

I Look Up From My Book and Out on the World Through Reading Glasses/ Diane Seuss.

The world, italicized.

Douglas Fir blurs into archetype,
a black vertical with smeared green arms.
The load of pinecones at the top,
a brown smudge which could be anything: a wreath
of moths, a rabbit strung up
like a flag.

All trees are trees.
Death to modifiers.

A smear of blue, a smear of gold that could be a haystack,
a Cadillac, or a Medal of Honor without a neck to hang upon.

I know the dog killed something today, but it’s lost in fog.
A small red splotch in a band of monochromatic green.
And now, the mountain of bones, is only a mountain capped
with snow.

It’s a paradise of vagaries.
No heartache.
Just and eraser smudge,
smoke-gray.

All forms, the man wrote, tend toward blur.

I love this poem because it does a great job of capturing how I see the world sometimes–not through reading glasses, but through my diseased eyes. Sometimes the world looks italicized, slanted, not quite straight, off-kilter. And sometimes trees are nothing but the classic form of a tree — a brown trunk with leaves. Colors, when I can see them, are sometimes only smudges and smears and slashes. It’s all vague or just barely formed–the idea of the river instead of the actual view of an in-focus river. And it often feels like I’m in a haze or a daze or a fog. This is not upsetting to me; it’s more dreamy and calm and soft. Often the sharpness of the forms dependents on the quality of the light–gray days make everything look even fuzzier, bright sunny blue days make it all clearer, with more edges.

A few hours after returning home, I recorded myself reciting the poem. I just learned it this morning so I don’t know it by heart yet. Even as the pauses in this recording make me a little uncomfortable, I like how they demonstrate the moments of my forgetting and then remembering.

I Look Up From My Book, July 23

july 22/RUN

3.25 miles
under ford bridge turn around
61! degrees

Much cooler this morning! Was able to wear a short-sleeved shirt instead of a tank top and didn’t overheat. Ran south on the river road to under the ford bridge and then back. Managed a few quick glances at the river through the trees. Encountered some bikers, walkers, runners, a Minneapolis parks vehicle, a biker biking with a dog. Heard some “heavy metal” (but how heavy was it really?) music not quite blasting out of a bike’s radio. At first, I imagined that it was “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen, but it wasn’t. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t bother me. Much better than the patriotic country crap that some people blast. I am not opposed to all country music–the old school stuff, especially Dolly Parton or Loretta Lynn is great. What a delight it would be if I could hear someone blasting “Fist City” one day!

No roller skiers today or Daily Walker. No big groups of runners or walkers. No overheard fragments of conversation to be curious about. No black capped chickadees or geese or turkeys or annoying squirrels or swarming, sex-crazed gnats. No welcoming oaks or vining sumac or the smell of burnt toast near the lake street bridge. No rowers or coxswains or the 4 rollerbladers, swinging their arms as they speed by, perfectly in sync. No lower trails or mulching asphalt or steep short hills or dirt paths or unobstructed views of the river or the gorge.

Recited “Natural Forces” again. Still felt the lines were awkward for reciting as I ran. I noticed how I was unable to keep the flow going between each line. Instead, I had to stop for a few foot strikes, which might be the point–to give some space between each set of glances?

I really like the lines: “Five glances/to relight the stars/blown out by the hurricane,” “Eight glances/to turn the sea/into sky,” and “Nine glances/to make the trees in the wood/dance.” When I’m running through the tunnel of trees, and everything is green in late spring through early fall, sometimes the green sky becomes water to me–a sea–of green air with no surface. And when I’m running above the trees of the floodplain forest, they sway and dance, never just standing there. Some of this is due to the motion of my running, some of it is because of my bad vision. It can be a bit disorienting but it looks really cool, like I’m running in a dream. My vision makes me feel like I’m in a dream a lot of the time.

Thinking about “Natural Forces” and vision some more: what’s the difference between a glance and a glimpse? I looked it up: a glance is a brief and hurried look, a (bright) flash, a glimpse is a faint, intermittent view/ing. So a glance is a quick, sharp flash, a glimpse is a faint, glittering glimmer. And, then, the opposite of to glance is to gaze or stare, to study, scrutinize. I have almost completely lost my ability to do a quick glance and recognize what I’m seeing. If I want it to make sense, I have to stop and stare. It’s very frustrating and (I think) often socially unacceptable to stop and stare at things. So I don’t stop and stare, which also means I end up never seeing it (whatever it is/was).

Recited the poem into my phone a few minutes after I came home:

Natural Forces, July 22

july 21/RUN

3.1 miles
47th st loop
70 degrees
humidity: 85%/ dew point: 66

Ran a little later in the morning because of the rain. A steady, soft rain. Everything green and gray. Nice to sit in the front room at my desk in between two windows and think about poetry and running while memorizing Vincente Huidobro’s “Natural Forces.”

Finally made it outside right before 11 am. A few people out by the gorge, but not too crowded. Ran down to turkey hollow and saw 6! turkeys–I counted carefully. Briefly delighted in how one of the turkey’s small head bobbed in quick, awkward jerks. Ran through some puddles and on some muddy grass. Ended by running on loose gravel on Edmund Boulevard; they’re re-sealing the streets in my neighborhood this week. I can’t remember if they ever clear off this gravel or just wait for it to be worn down by car wheels. Didn’t mind running on the gravel but I’m not interested in doing it for the next couple of weeks. I liked how noisy it was, announcing my foot strikes to anyone/anything nearby. Crush! Crush! Crush!

As I ran, I recited “Natural Forces” over and over again. Not hard to remember but not easy to match with my foot strikes. I found myself rushing through it and then, when I tried to pronounce–in my head– every word, the lines sounded so slow and clumsy. I should try recording myself reciting this as I’m running. What would it sound like?

I originally found and posted this poem at the end of January. Here’s what I wrote:

Such power with these glances! I read a little something about Huidobro and his belief in creacionismo and man as god/godlike and “a space where the poet could assume a role as the divine”. Wow, oftentimes because of my vision I feel the opposite with my glances: I’m unmaking the world. Oh–I want to think about this some more! Here’s some info about this poet from a google doodle on his 127th birthday

Copied the poem into my notebook and wrote: The power of the poet! The power of one who notices, who pays attention! Love this idea of paying attention as a way to imagine/create a world. Is it possible to disentangle this making of a world from hubris and pride and power over?

Natural Forces/ Vincente Huidobro

One glance
to shoot down the albatross

Two glances
to hold back the landscape
at the river’s edge

Three glances
to turn the girl
into a kite

Four glances
to hold down the train
that falls into the abyss

Five glances
to relight the stars
blown out by the hurricane

Six glances
to prevent the birth
of the aquatic child

Seven glances
to prolong
the life of the bride

Eight glances
to turn the sea
into sky

Nine glances
to make the trees of the wood
dance

Ten glances
to see the beauty that shows up
between a dream and a catastrophe

Not too bad. I forgot the poet’s name and messed up a few lines, but got most of it right. I do think I want to spend another day on it, paying attention to the rhythm of it while I run. I’m not sure I get the line about the aquatic child. Favorite lines: turn the sea into sky; to make the trees of the wood dance; to see the beauty that shows up between a dream and a catastrophe.

Natural Forces, July 21

Can my glances make worlds? I don’t like the arrogance of that claim but I like the idea of my vision creating new ways to see/observe things.

july 20/RUN

3.1 miles
big loop*
68 degrees

*44th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/42nd st, west/edmund, south

Another good run. Cooler and very calm, still, quiet. Don’t remember hearing (m)any birds, no conversations, no rowers. At least 3 separate times, I thought I was hearing the clickity-clack of roller skiers, but was actually hearing a bike with noisy wheels or messed up gears or something. Strange that it happened 3 times when I don’t remember ever making that mistake before. Was it the quality of air? Hardly any wind this morning. Sunny, but not bright. Did I see my shadow? Can’t remember.

Recited “The Gate” one more day and thought about gates and openings and doorways and thresholds and windows and spaces where movement and breathing and new stories/ways of being are possible. I think this is my new theme for the month and/or for a series of poems/essays.

Recorded myself reciting it just after finishing my run–my heart rate was probably around 140 or so as I spoke. I got it mostly right but messed up the second to last “this.” The order she writes the three thises–“This is what you’ve been waiting for, ” “And he’d say, This,” and “This, he’d say” is important. It doesn’t have as much impact the way I recited it.

The Gate, July 20

Yesterday, reading Ted Looser’s Delights and Shadows, I found these two poems that I really liked:

Grasshopper/ Ted Kooser

This year they are exactly the size
of the the pencil stub my grandfather kept
to mark off the days since rain,

and precisely the color of dust, of the roads
leading back accross the dying fields
into the ’30s. Walking the cracked lane

past the empty barn, the empty silo,
you hear them tinkering with irony,
slapping the grass like drops of rain.

The Early Bird/ Ted Kooser

Still dark, and raining hard
on a cold May morning

and yet the early bird
is out there chirping

chirping its sweet-sour
wooden-bully notes,

pleased, it would seem,
to be given work,

hauling the heavy
bucket of dawn

up from the darkness,
note over note,

and letting us drink.

july 19/RUN

3 miles
river road, south/north
71 degrees

Ahhh!! A beautiful morning. Even though it was 71, it didn’t feel too hot. Just after reaching the river road — about .3 miles in — I encountered a woman listening to music without headphones as she ran. I’m pretty sure the song playing was “I Wanna Sex You Up” by the 90s boy band, Color Me Badd — the part at the beginning where they sing “ooo ooo ooo ooo” and just before “tick tock you don’t stop.” Wow. I will choose to believe that that was the song she was listening to and remain impressed that she was willing to listen to such a cringe-worthy song without headphones in a public place. Nice.

For the rest of my run, I recited “The Gate” by Marie Howe in my head. There were a few lines that I couldn’t remember exactly–was it “the gate I would step through” or “walk through”, “the world” or “this world”, “holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich” or just “holding my cheese and mustard sandwich”? I thought about the differences in meaning and rhythm that these word choices might make. Then I started thinking about the line, “having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would ever rinse.” At first, I couldn’t remember what he had folded–was it a towel, a shirt, a sheet? Then, when I remembered sheet and I thought about the subtle differences in meaning between folding a sheet — evoking the intimate space of a bedroom — versus a shirt or a towel. Did Howe immediately think of sheet, or did she deliberate over different choices before settling on it? It was fun to spend some time reflecting on word choice as I ran. I love how packed and precise poetry is, and often in ways that aren’t readily visible but that you can feel as you read it–even when you don’t realize you’re feeling it.

After 30 seconds after I stopped running, I recorded myself reciting the poem: several errors with word choice. I better practice it some more! The most egregious error (at least to me), instead of saying, “This, he’d say, sort of looking around” for the last line, I said, “And he’d say, This.” Starting with “this” is so much stronger.

The Meadow, July 19

july 17/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/north
75 degrees
humidity: 77%

Warmer this morning. Sunny. Decided to listen to a playlist this morning–Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Sia’s “Cheap Thrills”. A relaxed first mile, a much faster second mile mostly because I was behind a roller skier at the start of the second mile that was going about the same pace that I was. I imagined staying in her COVID slipstream for the rest of the run–no thanks! So I sped up a lot to pass her and then kept the pace so she wouldn’t pass me again. First mile: 9:26; Second mile: 8:11.

Because I was listening to music, I didn’t recite the poem I memorized yesterday afternoon, Marie Howe’s “The Gate.” I’ve decided to memorize 5 different poems by her:

  • The Meadow from The Good Thief (1988)
  • The Gate from What the Living Do (1999)
  • What the Living Do from What the Living Do (1999)
  • Magdalene: Seven Devils from Magdalene: Poems (2017)
  • Singularity (2019)

The Gate/ Marie Howe

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man,

but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,

rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.

This is what you’ve been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?

And he’d say, This, holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?

This, he’d say, sort of looking around.

The first line of this poem, about the space her brother’s body made as the gate she would step through to finally enter this world, was confusing to me at first but it has something to do with grief and how his death helped her to remember and value living — but I think there’s more to it than that. I love the way she describes that he’s dead, “done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet, rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold and running water.” And I love the use of “This” here — the this, encompassing everything and not one thing in particular.

Spending a little more time googling Howe and thinking about her work, I found a very helpful essay from 2008 on oprah.com: Not to Look Away. In it, she talks about her friend Jason who’s funeral she was attending and the gate:

I’m looking for the gate, Jason used to say when he was in pain. I can’t find the gate, but I’m looking. What was this gate my friend Jason was looking for? Maybe he wanted to find the door in the room of suffering, so that he might walk through it into another story. 

and here’s how she describes what story can do:

Is this what a story can do? Emerge from the most painful event and transform it into something else, too? So sad. So funny. Both. And life is there, for a moment, almost adequately represented. 

the story as window?

The days and nights of my life walk by, arm in arm with time, and the gate to the new story stands just outside the circle of my attention. Sometimes I lie here, Jason said, and walk through the old house of my childhood, through all the rooms, and look out all the windows. 

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.

To be present, not to look away, and to transform suffering into something else also–still suffering but more too. Wow, this makes me think so much about Ross Gay and his idea of joy and suffering in the Book of Delights (I checked it out of the library a year ago, and just ordered my own copy arriving today)!

july 16/RUN

3 miles
1 big loop + 2 smaller loops*
64 degrees
humidity: 79%

*big loop = 36th st to 42nd ave / little loop 1 = 36th st, down hill to 34th st, up hill to 36th st / little loop 2 = 36th st to 38th st to 36th st

Another beautiful morning. Checked out my form in my shadow as she ran beside me. Listened to the cardinals. They were loud enough that I couldn’t hear any other birds–was it all just cardinals? Tried to recite “Love Song For The Square Root of Negative One” but had trouble getting past, “I am the hand that lifts the rock, I am the mind that strings the worm.” Overheard a woman, pushing a stroller, talking loudly on the phone, “I mean…I have a job and some savings…”–not sounding upset but judgmental. What was she talking about and why SO LOUDLY for everyone to hear? Encountered a few roller skiers, bikers, walkers, runners, dogs, cars (when I turned off the river road and went on Edmund). No squirrels or crows or woodpeckers. No rowers or Daily Walker or little old ladies with straw hats or the tall man in black or anyone I remembered ever seeing before. No intense colors or strange running gaits. No views of the river or the ravines. Only an abundance of calming green.

During the last 1/2 mile or so I recited “The Meadow” again which helped the last bit go faster. Then, a minute after I stopped, as I walked home, I recited it into my phone. I have a few pauses because I got distracted by someone walking nearby or when a woman stopped to tell a neighbor how much she loved their garden–I love that garden too. (If you listen closely, you can almost hear it on the recording).

The Meadow, July 16

july 15/RUN

4 miles
river road, north/south
66 degrees
humidity: 83%

Ah! Such nice weather this morning. Still humid, but cooler. Almost sunny. A thin layer of clouds covered most of the sky. So thin that the sun was still casting shadows on the road. A strange sight. Is there a word for that? I tried looking it up just now and I couldn’t find anything.

I was able to run above the river for a few minutes and saw some blue through the green. Heard several roller skiers, a few bikers, runners, walkers. No music coming out of bike radios or snippets of conversation that made me curious. No rushing water, hardly any birds. I’m sure I heard traffic but I don’t remember that either—actually, thinking about it for a few minutes, I do remember some traffic. As I ran down the hill and under the lake street bridge, I heard cars and trucks on the bridge and kept thinking they were on the river road, just behind me. Noticed many cars in the parking lot at Minnehaha Academy–are they planning to open the campus this fall? I hope not. Also saw soccer practice on the field. Ran past the railroad trestle almost to Franklin. Felt relaxed and strong.

As I ran, I tried thinking about the idea of the dream-like state and Howe’s line, “this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget what you are.” What is this small time? Is forgetting what we are a type of getting lost in a (day) dream (Emily Dickinson’s revery*?) or practicing pure attention (another line from Howe: “speaking for the sound alone”?). And, what is it that we are, that we must forget? Yesterday I suggested that we are creatures who struggle against their solitude, suffering, and the inevitability of death. Here’s another answer from Marilyn Nelson in “Crows”:

What if to taste and see, to notice things,
to stand each is up against the emptiness
for a moment of an eternity—
images collected in consciousness,
like a tree alone on the horizon—
is the main reason we’re on the planet.

*To make a prairie/Emily Dickinson

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

july 14/RUN

3 miles
river road, south/north
73 degrees/ light rain
humidity: 89%/ dew point: 70

Woke up to darkness. Rain coming and staying all day. Decided to take Delia the dog out for a quick walk before it started. Not soon enough; by 1 block it was drizzling and by 2 blocks raining. We ran back. Delia did a great job–except for the time when she ran right in front of me and almost tripped me. Maybe I should try training her to run?

Running felt good so I decided if there was a break in the rain, I would go out for a run. There was and I did. Hardly anyone out by the gorge. I was able to run on the trail right above the river for most of the time. Hooray! I saw the river, heard some birds, ran by my favorite benches, heard the roar of the water gushing out of the sewer pipes down to the river near both ravines — at 36th and 42nd. And then, at the end, I ran through the Welcoming Oaks and greeted each one, “good morning!” “good morning!” “good morning!” Haven’t been able to do that in awhile.

color

There’s something about cloudy, gray light that makes my vision even stranger than usual, especially when it comes to seeing colors. I am amazed that I can still see any color with almost all of my cones damaged. Here are some colors I saw this morning, some stranger than others:

  • From about 2 blocks away from the river road, I could see an orange sign for a pedestrian detour. So bright and so prominent, a glowing smudge in the midst of fuzzy dark green and gray.
  • Twice I encountered, from a distance of about 15-20 feet, a woman in blue running tights. As I approached her, seeing her through my central vision, the tights looked dark, almost navy blue. But when I saw her from the side, through my peripheral vision, the rights were a bright, electric blue. Blue is a strange color with my vision. Last winter, I used to walk by a house with lights in the shape of a peace sign. The circle was red, the inner sign blue. Looking at the sign straight on all I could see was a red circle. It wasn’t until I looked at it from the side that I could just barely see the blue lines.
  • A walker in a pink–or was it coral?–jacket.
  • The river was a pale blue, almost white in the gray light.

on the dream, forgiveness, and forgetting

Still thinking about Marie Howe and “The Meadow,” especially these lines, “My love, this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you can forget who you are” and “Bedeviled, human, your plight, in waking, is to chose from the words even now asleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.” In yesterday’s entry in my plague notebook, I wrote: “We forget what we are because what we are are creatures attempting to find the right words to feel better — less alone, less suffering, less closer to death.”

I want to think more about the value of forgetting. Here’s a poem I’d like memorize to get me started:

Let It Be Forgotten/ SARA TEASDALE

Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.

If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long forgotten snow.

july 13/RUN

3 miles
44th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/38th st, west/river road, north
70 degrees
humidity: 77%/ dew point: 63

Another beautiful morning! Not much wind, not too hot, some shade. Ran past the aspen eyes and towards downtown, up the hill from under the lake street bridge, then turned around. I think I saw the river, or the idea of the river hiding behind the green. Recited “The Meadow” a few times during the first two miles of my run, then stopped to put on some music and sprinted up a hill while blasting Demi Levato’s “Sorry, not Sorry” — a great song to run to. I got it in my head yesterday after I responded to Scott about something jokingly rude I had just said with, “sorry, not sorry.”

At some point, as I was reciting it, I thought about the line, “The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence everyday.” I wondered, isn’t small, as in “small white pony” redundant? Aren’t ponies always small? Would it flow as well without the extra syllable of small? Now, sitting here at my desk in the front room, listening to a young child right outside vacillate between cute, calling out “I Love You!” to his mom, and annoying, babbling in a high-pitched voice, I am also struck by Howe’s use of white. Nothing else in the poem has a color–no green meadow or dappled gray horses or golden hay or anything. Why is the pony singled out–given a color and a redundant size? With its mysterious escape, is it a ghost? Still thinking about this line: I like how she uses “design” in this sentence. And I love the self important, clueless horses and the next line’s follow-up: “This is a miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp.”

I’m trying to make sense of the meaning of this whole poem (admittedly, I feel like I’m often dense when it comes to understanding poetry) and I’m wondering if these three lines are the most important:

  1. As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them…
  2. My love, this might be all we know of forgiveness, this small time when you forget what you are.
  3. Bedeviled, human, your plight, when waking is to chose from the words that even now sleep on your tongue and to know that among them, tangled and terribly new, is the sentence that could change your life.

In our dreams, we can forget what we are (the meadow forgets how to make wildflowers, the horses are weary of hay, the wasps are tiny prop planes, the knock of a woodpecker becomes a phone ringing). But, we always wake up (the meadow thinks suddenly, “water, root, blossom,” the horses lie down in daisies and clover, we/humans suffer–moaning, and know we will die). The task as human is to find the right (?) words to give meaning to/transform what we are? Does that work? And how does this line fit in: “I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone”?

Discovered another delightful abecedarian!

Abecedarian For the Future/ Ada Limón

All the old gray gods have fallen
back to their static realms of myth
cleared from the benches, thrones,
dragged kicking to their strongest tombs,
each one grizzled by their swift exile
frayed, bedraggled, forced to kneel,
give up their guns, armor, swords,
hand over their passports, global security
identification, and be stripped bare.
Justice has relegated them to history,
kept nothing but the long rancorous
list of crimes (slaughterers all)
molded them into dull cement statues
not to worship. but as a warning most
ominous. Here stood Greed and his brother
Pride, note their glazed inhuman eyes,
question their puny stature now, how
rodent-like, how utterly overthrow-able.
Still, remember how long they ruled?
Tyrannical and blustering, claiming
universal power, until the kinder masses
voted the callous thin-lipped lizards out?
What a day that was! The end of hatred,
xenophobia, patriarchal authority–but
yes, we waited too long, first we had to
zero out, give up on becoming gods at all.

july 12/RUN

3.5 miles
47th street loop
67 degrees

Cooler this morning with a lower dew point–in the upper 50s or low 60s, I think. As I write this at my upstairs desk, a few hours after my run, I can hear chickadees and it reminds me of the birds I heard as I ran: lots of black capped chickadees doing their feebee call, several cardinals pew pew pewing. Very crowded on the road this morning. Even so, I made sure to keep my 6 feet of distance. Saw many runners, bikers, walkers both be-dogged and dog-less. I think I saw a blue sliver of the river at some point. Ran down past turkey hollow but forgot to check for turkeys–are they here in the middle of the summer? do they hide during the heat of the day and emerge at night?

Recited the entire “The Meadow” a few times through. Such a beautiful poem with wonderful last lines: “Bedeviled,/human, your plight, in waking, is to chose from the words/that even now sleep on your tongue, and to know that tangled/among them and terribly new is the sentence that could change your life.” 3 years ago I encountered that line not too long after reading Mary Oliver’s “Invitation” and her final lines, “It could be what Rilke meant when he wrote/You must change your life.” I started thinking about this idea of you could/must change your life and how it works, what it might look like. And then, all of this wondering became the inspiration for my chapbook, You Must Change Your Life.

I’m interested in revisiting those ideas now for many reasons: I’m not entirely happy with my poems and how I worked through the ideas; having dedicated 3 more years to studying poetry and thinking about these ideas, I have new insights to add; it’s fascinating to see how my perspective has/hasn’t changed in these 3 years (for example, in one of the poems I wrote, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” This year, I do, quite a bit); and I’d like to explore this in relation to the radical change that has happened in 2020 due to the pandemic–but, is it a change/transformation or merely a disruption? I hope it’s a transformation.

Here’s a recording of me reciting the poem after I returned home:

The Meadow, July 12

july 11/RUN

3.15 miles
trestle turn around
72 degrees
humidity: 81%/ dew point: 65

Thunderstorm early this morning then sun and humidity. I’m pretty sure the Olympian Carrie Tollefeson passed me right before the lake street bridge. Very cool. Heard some black capped chickadees. Ran up 43rd ave then down 32nd st to the river so I was able to run right by the aspen eyes. Didn’t hear any rowers or see the river or any “regulars,” like the Daily Walker or last year’s man in black or the tall, slim, older man in the running shorts. I don’t see any regulars this year. Strange and sad.

Recited the first half of Maria Howe’s “The Meadow” — a poem I memorized 3 years ago when I was injured but have mostly forgotten. I had been planning to memorize Wordsworth’s “I wander lonely as a cloud” but it seemed too cheesy or sing song-y or poem-y (whatever that means). I think I’ll wait to memorize his snowflake this next winter instead.

The Meadow/ Marie Howe (first half)

As we walk into words that have waited for us to enter them, so
the meadow, muddy with dreams, is gathering itself together

and trying, with difficulty, to remember how to make wildflowers.
Imperceptibly heaving with the old impatience, it knows

for certain that two horses walk upon it, weary of hay.
The horses, sway-backed and self important, cannot design

how the small white pony mysteriously escapes the fence everyday.
This is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp,

and they turn from his nuzzling with irritation. Everything
is crying out. Two crows, rising from the hill, fight

and caw-cry in mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass
bewildered by their weight. A dozen wasps drone, tiny prop planes

sputtering into a field a farmer has not yet plowed,
and what I thought was a phone, turned down and ringing,

is the knock of a woodpecker for food or warning, I can’t say.
I want to add my cry to those who would speak for the sound alone.

On my walk home after I finished, I recorded myself reciting this first half. A few wrong words or forgotten phrases. I love the line, “this is the miracle just beyond their heavy-headed grasp” and the pleasing rhymes in “two crows fight and caw-cry mid-flight, then fall and light on the meadow grass”

The Meadow, first half, July 11

Discovered Antonio Machado, a Spanish poet who lived from 1875-1939, and his delightful “Proverbs and Canticles” yesterday. Here are a few:

canticle: a hymn or chant, typically with a bible verse

I

The mode of dialogue, my friends,
is first to question:
then . . . attend.

III

The poets does not pursue
the fundamental I
but the essential you.

IV

In writing verses, seek
to give them a double light: one
to read square by, one oblique.

july 10/RUN

4.15 miles
the falls and back
70 degrees
humidity: 73%/ dew point: 60

Slightly cooler this morning with a lower dew point. Still felt hot. Sweat a lot. Ran south on the river road and around the falls. Heard them roaring as I rounded the corner. Managed to catch a few glimpses of the blue of the river. Otherwise, lots of green. It feels like mid-summer. Encountered many bikers and runners and walkers. One biker was playing Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville,” which sounds distorted–thanks to the steel drums–even when you aren’t getting the doppler effect. Strange. I am sure I heard many birds, but I don’t remember. I do recall hearing one biker say to the other, “They should have told people that wearing a mask helps protect you not other people, then everyone would wear a mask. That’s sad.”

I have completely memorized Billy Collins’ poem about memorizing Donne’s The Sun Rising, but I’ve soured a bit on the poem after seeing a tweet about what a creep Collins is and reading his poem about undressing Emily Dickinson. So gross. Instead of reciting “Memorizing,” I tried to work my way through my list. I recited “Auto-lullaby,” then “It’s all I have to bring today” and “Swept All Visible Signs Away.” Couldn’t remember what was next on my list–I thought it was “Lovesong for the Square Root of Negative One,” which it was, but got side-tracked by the effort of running and avoiding others on the road.

What are Poems?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what poems are to me. Here’s a list of a few things:

  • spells
  • chants
  • charms
  • balms
  • prayers
  • doors/windows
  • ways in/ways out
  • trails
  • alleluias/thanks/praise
  • wonders
  • bewilderments
  • breaths
  • tracks across the snow
  • a ripple in the river, troubling the too-calm water
  • an opportunity to slow down, ruminate
  • an invitation to attend something

Last week, I planned to memorize a series of poems about eyes and vision. Somehow, I’ve been side-tracked. I’m thinking of memorizing Wordsworth’s classic about the daffodils. Other poems I’m considering instead of or after that one:

  • Dorothy Wordsworth/ Jennifer Chang
  • The Art/ Elizabeth Bishop
  • Question/ May Swenson
  • The Meadow/ Marie Howe
  • Hamlet’s soliloquy, “to be or not to be…”

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud / WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

july 8/RUN

2.75 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/edmund, south
77 degrees
humidity: 80%/ dew point: 70

If you would have told me last year that I’d be regularly running in dew points of 70 or so, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, the dew point has been 70 (highest was 75) for the past 2 weeks (well, one day it was 69), and I have run every day. Ran by the aspen eyes, under the lake street bridge, up the hill, then back down it. Encountered lots of runners, bikers, walkers. Crowded this morning. Remember hearing at least one black capped chickadee. At the start of my run I encountered several annoyingly spazzy squirrels, darting in front of me. There was a big cf on edmund–one person on the sidewalk, one person in the road, another person with a dog on the other side of the road. Had to run up someone’s grass to keep my distance. Didn’t see the river or hear any rowers.

As I ran, I recited “Memorizing ‘The Sun Rising'”/ Billy Collins. Yesterday, I recited the first half, today the whole thing. Didn’t think about the meaning of any of the lines, just tried to make sure I got the words right. Favorite stanza today?

So it’s not until leaving the house
and walking three times around this hidden lake
that the poem showed
any interest in walking by my side.

I like the idea of the poem deciding whether or not it wants to spend time with the person memorizing/reciting it. I also like how the line is walking three times around this hidden lake instead of walking around this hidden lake three times.

The line I probably struggled with the most was, “better than the courteous dominion.” I couldn’t remember courteous or dominion; my mind was blank. I remember this happening as I ran and fumbling around for many seconds trying to think of what the phrase was. All of sudden it came to me like a flash or an image that, even as I stare intently and it’s right in front of me, I can’t see it at all until suddenly I can. How strange and marvelous the brain is to magically retrieve words! A few hours after returning from my run, I sat down and recorded myself reciting the poem. A bit rough, as I struggled with a few lines. I managed to record myself struggling and then successfully remembering the courteous dominion line.

Memorizing “The Sun Rising” by John Donne, July 8

I’d like to figure out a metaphor or simile for that moment of remembering. In “Memorizing” Billy Collins describes the act of forgetting — “begin to fade like sky-written letters on a windy day”– and having forgotten — “a blown-out candle now, a wavering line of acrid smoke” — but he doesn’t have a equivalent one for remembering. I suppose he does have one for fully remembering and taking in the poem: “after hours of stepping up and down the poem,/testing the plank of every line,/it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.” But this doesn’t quite get at the revelatory moment of remembering. I’ll work on it some more. I wonder if I can find some other poems that express it?

july 7/RUN

2.5 miles
45th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/38th st, west/ river road, north
75 degrees
humidity: 86%/ dew point: 71

Very hot! Not much shade. Uncomfortable. Thought about running 3 miles but decided 2.5 was enough. Ran past the aspen eyes. Heard “Devil Went Down to Georgia” blasting out of a bike’s speakers. Sweet. Pretty cool doppler effect after they passed by me. Sounded like the music was melting. Tried to get a glimpse of the river through the gap in the trees, but the green was too thick. Don’t remember any bugs. Almost thought I saw the Daily Walker but it was someone jogging, not walking. Saw a roller skiing family–an adult and a few kids of different ages.

Recited the first four stanzas of the Billy Collins’ poem I’m memorizing (which is a quick break from my current theme on eyes):

Every reader loves how he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they were
likely not cloudy on that seventeenth century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

And after a few steps into the stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second one is likewise gone, a blown out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

I found it difficult to stay focused on the poem because I was hot and sweaty but I managed to recite it all at least once. I like the line about the syllables locking into rows. I also like how he incorporates lines from Dunne’s poem into his own. He describes his forgetting of lines as “sky- written letters on a windy day” and “a blown out candle, wavering line of acrid smoke.” Is that how it feels to me when I cannot remember a line? I’m not sure.

Holy shit this poem is amazing! Found it this morning on poem of the day on poets.org:

Nothing/ Krysten Hill

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 
inside the words more than my own black body. 
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 
like nothing can stop him, and his laugher unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

This entire poem is wonderful. Right now, thinking about why one writes/what poetry is, I’m struck by her final lines: “I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I/aimed/for a window” and “when he writes, it feels/like nothing can stop him and his laughter unlocks/a door. He invites/me/into his living.” Wow. Words as rocks, writing as a freedom and a liberated laugh that can unlock a door.