Back from Austin. Even though it was warm and mid-afternoon, I decided to do a quick run through the neighborhood. Listened to a playlist and ran to and around cooper school, then by Minneahaha Academy, up Edmund and back home. I can’t remember if I say any other runners. Saw lots of cars on the river road and some walkers and bikers.
Encountered this excerpt from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Story. I had no idea the collection was about water-as-river/river-as-water. Wow! Very cool. I must read the entire collection now.
The First Water Is the Body/ Natalie Diaz
The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States— also, it is a part of my body.
I carry a river. It is who I am: ‘Aha Makav. This is not metaphor.
When a Mojave says, Inyech ‘Aha Makavch ithuum, we are saying our name. We are telling a story of our existence. The river runs through the middle of my body.
So far, I have said the word river in every stanza. I don’t want to waste water. I must preserve the river in my body.
In future stanzas, I will try to be more conservative.
A quick run through the neighborhood. Past Cooper School and Minnehaha Academy. Listened to Taylor Swift’s album, Lover. Checked out all the cars in the parking lot. Just like old times — the summer of 2020. Not that warm, but humid. Now I’m sweating a lot.
Heard Taylor Swift sing, “I cut off my nose to spite my face” and thought about the strange expression. Some of Swift’s lyrics are cheesy or trite, but others catch me by surprise with their cleverness. I like this opening from “Paper Rings”:
the moon is high Like your friends were the night that we first met Went home and tried to stalk you on the internet Now I’ve read all of the books beside your bed
Thinking about/working through/getting stuck in poems about water–especially my love of it. Today’s challenge: turn a poem about breathing every 5 strokes that involves lines with 5 syllables (the strokes) then a break and 1 or 2 more syllables (a breath) into a contrapuntal. Three poems in one. One poem = all the words + Second poem = only the part of the line with 5 syllables + Third poem = only the part of the line representing the breath. Can I do it? Should I do it?
swim: 2 miles / 2 loops lake nokomis open swim 75 degrees
More wind, more chop, more rolling waves and swells. Today was a morning swim so the orange buoys were backlit. For me, and my lack of cone cells, this meant they weren’t orange but invisible and then, at fairly close range, dark hulking shapes. Do most people see their orange-ness? As always, I am amazed at how comfortable I’ve become swimming towards something that I can’t see but I trust to be there, based on past experience + deep knowledge of the lake’s layout + my strong, straight shoulders. But this year, there’s another layer to this swimming into nothingness that amazes me: I trust that I’m going the right way, but I also don’t worry if I’m not. So what if I get off course? Who cares if the lifeguards need to nudge me back a little closer to the buoys? I am much less bothered by not knowing, or–and this is a theme for the summer and will feature heavily in a writing project I can tell I’ll be starting in the fall–not quite knowing or roughly/approximately knowing. Not exactly but mostly, almost but never completely. Part of the picture, but never the whole thing. I’ve been writing a lot about bewilderment and unknowingness. This not quite knowing is not bewilderment but something else. Not wild, not lost, but not found either. Hmm….
For the past four times at lake nokomis (sunday, tuesday, thursday, friday), the water has been choppy/rolling in the same way: Smoothest (but not really smooth) from the big beach to the first orange buoy. Swells picking up between buoy 1 and 2, difficult to breath on right side with waves rolling quickly over my head from right to left. Not too bad between the 3rd orange buoy and the white buoy at the little beach. From the little beach back to the big beach, increasingly rough and choppy–waves crashing into me, water spraying up, sometimes difficult to breath on both sides. A wild ride rounding the final green buoy just off the big beach. Swells lifting me up and pushing me along swimming parallel to the shore and heading towards the orange buoy. I like the challenge of choppy water and the energy that it produces but I’m ready for some smoother water. With so many waves, I have to lift my head higher to sight (and breathe?) and my neck is getting sore.
run: 2.7 miles 2 trails 83 degrees
Decided when I got home from swimming that I’d go out for a run. Hot, but a cooler wind. Listened to a playlist for the first half, then the wind mixed with my breathing for the second half. I was able to run in shade most of the time. Very warm in the sun. Don’t remember much of anything. No irritating or memorable people–as I write this now I remember some bikers stopping and blocking the entire path on the way down to the Winchell Trail. Lots of acorns and walnuts on the ground. Don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any spazzy squirrels. No roaming dogs. Oh–ran past a garbage truck and the smell was terrible. It (the smell) followed me for a few blocks. And I thought again about how I’d like to work with older students (55+) and teach classes that somehow combine critical thinking, creative writing and experiments, deep awareness of place, and physical activity. Still now sure what that would look like or how to start…
loving like the lake
Yesterday I went through poems I gathered about water and made a list, based on these poems and some of my own ideas, about what water does and how it loves. I’m thinking I might use these various things as titles or first lines for poem. Here’s a line I’d like to turn into a poem:
I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling no matter the weather, when our lives are rather like lakes
run: 3.15 miles 2 trails 78 degrees / dew point 67 sunny
Started and ended with Queen (Another One Bites the Dust) and a running playlist, in the middle, sounds from the gorge — laughing kids at a playground, scurrying animals in the dry brush, crunching gravel, trickling sewer pipes.
Now, sitting at my desk, I’m hearing the electric buzz of the cicadas. …and now, one or two minutes later, they’ve stopped. Now I hear birds–pretty sure it’s cardinals–and a kid repeatedly saying, “Uh oh uh oh uh oh!” An adult in a cooing voice: “Do you need help?” and “You’re not a baby, you’re a BIG girl!”
When I was running on the Winchell Trail, at the steepest part without a railing, I tried looking quickly at the river. Blue. Decided it was better to absorb it through my peripheral. Safer. I thought about how I like these bodily experiments (tracking my thoughts, what I notice) I’m doing as I run and swim. How they enable me to apply theories I’ve been playing around with for decades about epistemology and ontology and ethics.
I’ve been listening to an interview with Kaveh Akbar on Between the Covers, and I was struck by his definition of work in terms of revolutionary poetics:
One thing that I think about a lot is that a revolution comes in two parts; there’s the overthrow and the rebuild. Without either of those parts, it’s not a revolution. There has to be something being turned over and then there has to be something being set up in its place. It’s very easy to inhabit the carapace of revolutionary rhetoric without advancing something new. That, in and of itself by definition, isn’t revolutionary because there’s no rebuild. There’s no gesture towards a rebuild. I’ve talked to my students and my friends and the people with whom I’ve had this conversation in these discussions. I think a lot about the physics definition of work which is the force applied to an object in order to move it. If there’s force applied to an object and nothing moves, that’s not work. Similarly, if an object moves but you haven’t applied force to it, then you haven’t done work. If I say to a room full of people who agree with me, “F*ck Trump,” and I say that in a room full of poetry people, probably the majority of them will be like, “Yeah, f*ck Trump.” I haven’t really caused anything to move. I’ve inhabited the form of revolutionary rhetoric but I haven’t actually moved anything. By the physics definition of work, probably that’s not doing much or any work.
I think I’ll add this definition to my work page on undisciplined.
swim: 2 miles / 2 loops cedar lake open swim 88 degrees / windy
Another windy day, another wave-filled lake. I’d like to be able to compare this to the sea or ocean. I know cedar lake waves are gentle swells, but how much more gentle, how much less choppy than a normal swim in the sea? Tonight, I did a better job of staying on my side of the lake as I swam towards the far beach. For the first few minutes of the swim, I felt weightless, light, but it didn’t take long for the water to drag my body down into the water. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I was having a fight with the water. Every stroke felt slightly off, not smooth, not easy.
Even struggling, it was a great swim. What a wonderful thing to be able to swim so much this summer! Already this week, 4 days in a row. I enjoyed glancing up at the sky sometimes when I breathed. It was mostly sunny, with some hulking clouds. One big cloud hovered behind me as I swam across. It loomed, almost menacingly, but I didn’t mind. I noticed the soft forms of the tree tops to my left and imagined fall coming (too?) soon. To my right, as I headed back, I could see something, not quite shining–I determined it was a small gap in the trees with the sun barely peeking through. Because of the bright sun and my vision, the orange buoy was completely invisible–was it to everyone else? Probably a little, but not as much as it was to me. I knew it was there, so I kept swimming, but I couldn’t see it until I was almost to it. This not-seeing is happening more this summer. It barely bothers me. It’s tiring, but I know I’m swimming the right way–using other landmarks and my established map of the route–so I don’t worry.
I do not like breaststroke. I recognize it’s value, especially in choppy water, and how it makes some swimmers feel more comfortable in the water, but I dislike being around breaststrokers. The irritating bobbing, which is hardly ever smooth, but jerky. The wide, strong kick. And the way that as I approach someone swimming breaststroke, it always seems very hard to pass them. They seem to be racing me for a bit, then they disappear. I know this is just how I see them–and perhaps it’s distorted by bad vision–and I know that it is ridiculous to dislike breaststroke for these reasons, but I do.
how could I forget this moment?
Had to revisit this log entry to add something that I almost forgot: after I finished swimming, as I was drying off, there was a young kid–less than 5, I think?–who kept repeating, “nanana boo boo.” At least 50 times. In the best (as in most effectively embodying) version of a bratty voice I’ve ever heard. Wow. STA walked by the kid and said he looked and sounded like a cartoon character of a bratty kid. He was not saying this to us, but to another kid, or to himself. Over and over and over again. It was both annoying and delightful. I’m glad I witnessed it and I’m glad it’s over.
All winter the water has crashed over the cold the cold sand. Now it breaks over the thin
branch of your body. You plunge down, you swim two or three strokes, you dream of lingering
in the luminous undertow but can’t; you splash through the bursting white blossoms,
the silk sheets—gasping, you rise and struggle lightward, finding your way through the blue ribs back
to the sun, and emerge as though for the first time. Poor fish, poor flesh
you can never forget. Once every wall was water, the soft strings filled with a perfect nourishment,
pumping your body full of appetite, elaborating your stubby bones, tucking in, like stars,
the seeds of restlessness that made you, finally, swim toward the world, kicking and shouting
but trailing a mossy darkness— a dream that would never breathe air and was hinged to your wildest joy like a shadow.
Not sure how I feel about this water-as-womb idea. I like the idea of imaging a time before I/we were so separated from everything else, but not sure about the womb imagery. I like the line, “Poor fish,/ poor flesh./ You can never forget.”
run: 4.35 miles minnehaha falls and back 70 degrees humidity: 93% / dew point: 68
Ran south to the falls. More rain last night. The dirt, muddy. The tree branches, dripping. Stopped to check out the falls. More water falling. Also noticed how much I was sweating. Hard for my sweat to evaporate when the dew point is so high. Heading north, I turned down on the Winchell Trail. The mud was slippery and the path was crowded–more people on it than I’ve seen in weeks. No noise from the sewer pipe at 44th, but the one at 42nd was gushing. Los of cars and bikes rushing by on the path. A good run.
moment of curiosity
Just south of the double bridge at 44th, the walking trail splits from the bike trail and briefly descends down before climbing back up to meet with the bike trail beside the road again. This path is bumpy and narrow and steep–a perfect place to trip. And it adds an additional mini hill to climb. If you stay up above, the trail is all downhill. I never used to take it because it was easier (and safer) to stay up above, but lately I’ve been enjoying it. Today, as I was climbing out of it, I noticed a suitcase and a lampshade tucked away, under the low branches of a tree, hidden from the road. Who put it there, I wondered, and why? Had they left, and were they coming back for it later? Did they live down below, by the river? Had they hidden it a few days ago, or much longer? What did this suitcase contain? Clothes? Money?
swim: 2.25 miles / 6 loops cedar lake open swim 84 degrees
A great Cedar Lake swim! Smooth and not too crowded. Near the shore, the water was very cold, but as I swam out deeper, it warmed up. I did a better job of sighting the orange buoy at the far beach and staying away from other swimmers. The thing I remember most: so much milfoil! Scratchy, persistent. It felt like some of it got in my suit–rough and irritating. It wrapped around my shoulder, my arm. Moved slowly down my back. No fish, some paddle boarders, a few planes.
At point beach, there’s a sandbar near the shore, but very soon, it drops away. How deep is the water here? I’m not sure. In other spots, where you can touch bottom, there’s lots of vegetation. The floor feels slimy and soft and gross. At east/hidden beach, the bottom is mostly small rocks.
Rounding the buoy, starting a new loop, a swimmer coming from shore cut me off and I had to stop for a second. I wasn’t upset because I’m never sure who has the right of way here. The swimmer seemed like they were going pretty fast. I followed behind, steadily. I think they almost ran into a few other swimmers. Just before we reached the far buoy, I passed them. Is it bad that this made me feel good? I’m not really competitive in the water, but I do enjoy passing people, not because I’m beating them (well, not too much because of this), but because swimming past someone slower than you makes you feel like you’re swimming fast. It’s fun to feel fast–powerfully gliding on top of the water.
5.75 miles franklin hill turn around 69 degrees / soft rain
Finally, rain! Not enough, but still helpful. When it stopped for a few minutes, I decided to go out for a run. Ran north on the river road trail all the way to the bottom of the Franklin hill. Turned around, ran all the way back up to the bridge, then walked a few minutes before running again. Everything wet and green. Heard lots of singing birds and imagined their song was a celebration for the rain. So much dripping. I couldn’t tell what was rain and what was water falling from the trees. I didn’t care. It all felt refreshing. Encountered some runners but it wasn’t too crowded for a late Saturday morning. Felt strong and happy and relaxed. I’m running slower these days, but it doesn’t feel too slow, which is nice.
Ran north listening to the gorge, ran south listening to a playlist–Todd Rundgren, The Black Keys, Billy Joel
moment of the run
Heading down into the tunnel of the trees, fog had settled in the mid-story canopy. Everything hazy, a soft white, then a dark green. As I ran deeper into the trees, the air cleared. Then, heading up and out of it on the other side, the fog returned. Such a cool experiences. Mysterious, other-worldly, bewildering.
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
I love the idea of small, brief moments of exchange carving out a sacred space together. Some might call these “good manners,” but I don’t like how that phrase suggests that displaying/practicing them is about ME and how good and moral I am. Small gestures like thanking someone or moving your legs to let them pass is more about another–about seeing and acknowledging them (beholding their existence and their worthiness). To me, these small, repeated rituals are essential for love and for living in the midst of/ with others.
No open swim again today due to the smoke from Canadian forest fires. No swim tomorrow either. What a bummer. Took a long walk down by the river with STA and Delia this morning, and then a run this afternoon. The air quality is already much better. Hopefully the smoke will stay gone. Could there be any chance that they reconsider open swim tomorrow? Maybe but probably not.
Running on the dirt between Edmund and the river road, I twisted my foot/ankle on a root. I’m pretty sure it’s fine. I hope it’s fine. Yes, it will be fine. Writing this a few hours later: it seems fine. Whew.
Today is the first day of August and have I decided that this month’s theme is love. Not so much romantic love, but a wide range of definitions of what it could mean to love in this time of seemingly intractable divisions and impending, ever nearing collapse. I have decided that this topic is much needed. I am tired of letting hate or fear or dismissal or disgust at how terrible some people seem to be dictate how I see and experience the world. I want to give as little energy to those negative, draining feelings as possible. I want to let love win and I’m interested in exploring the wide range of ways poets express it. This topic is partly inspired by Ed Bok Lee’s poem “Water in Love” and a possible title I have for a poem or a collection: How to Love Like the Lake Loves
the lesson of the falling leaves/ lucille clifton
the leaves believe such letting go is love such love is faith such faith is grace such grace is god i agree with the leaves
Keeping up the Saturday tradition of running the marshall loop. Got a later start so it was sunnier, with less shade. Listened to a iTunes playlist that I created a few years back–The Black Keys, Fall Out Boy, Billy Joel, ACDC, Pat Benatar, Jamirquai, and perfect timing for John Williams’ Theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark: running up the last stretch of the marshall hill, almost at the top.
Running over the lake street bridge to St. Paul, I watched a big bird–I think it was a turkey vulture–soaring high above the river. Running back over the lake street bridge to Minneapolis, I looked down at several shells. Rowers! Right below me, just crossing under the bridge heading south, was a single scull. The rower was wearing a bright orange shirt. Since they were facing me, I thought about waving, but then decided I was too high up and moving too fast.
Reaching the top of marshall, running by Black Coffee and Waffles, I could smell the waffles and their sweet bakery smell. I used to love waffles, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate. Now that much sugar gives me a headache. What a drag it is getting old.
There is still a lot of smoke in the air. It didn’t bother my breathing too much. Crossing the bridge, the smoke made everything hazy and the sky was almost white.
4.5 miles minnehaha falls and back (on the winchell trail) 72 degrees
They canceled open swim today; the air quality is dangerous (176, which is unhealthy). The smoke from the fires up north is still here. I’m disappointed but also relieved. I can still feel the effects from the smoke of last night’s swim. I went out for a run instead, which made me feel better. I didn’t have any trouble breathing. Ran to the falls and back. The falls were low; no roaring, rushing water. I saw a large bird–a turkey vulture? hawk?–high up in the sky. I don’t remember hearing any black capped chickadees or cardinals or woodpeckers. Running at the start of the Winchell Trail, I (too?) quietly warned the walker ahead of me that I was coming. He had headphones on and didn’t hear me. Then he turned, saw me, and uttered, in surprise, “Oh God!” I wasn’t running fast, so it was no big deal. Just funny. Heard some water trickling out of the sewer pipe at 42nd. Don’t remember what I thought about, but I do remember trying to forget the increased anxiety I have over wildfires and Delta variants. Some days it’s a struggle hanging onto joy and delight in the midst of so much evidence that everything is falling apart.
Water: a smoky river, not glittering in the hazy sun; a subdued waterfall; a receding creek; dripping ponytail, forehead, back; trickling pipes; thirst and the desire for some sips from a water fountain; an empty, swimmer-less lake
3 miles/ 3 loops lake nokomis open swim 84 degrees
Very sunny and difficult to see this morning. Even though I’m treating my goggles with baby shampoo before each swim, they seem to be foggin up. Do I need to tighten them, or have they just lost all of their anti-fog coating? The fogginess with the bright sun made it harder to see, but it didn’t matter. Stayed on course. As usual, the buoys were in a different place–especially the green ones. I don’t mind, and I don’t blame the lifeguards. I’m sure it’s difficult to set the course. I like the challenge of figuring out how to navigate a new course every time. My priority: avoiding other people + getting as much extra distance as I can. This strategy is the opposite of what you’d want to do in a race, but I’m not in a race, and I don’t want the loop to be as short as possible. For each of my three loops, I tried to adjust and correct for the mistakes I had made in the last loop. Mostly, I did. I fear I might have routed a few swimmers as I passed them.
I’m pretty sure my central vision is a bit worse. I am definitely finding it harder to see the buoys straight on, even when they’re not backlit or I’m not blinded by the sun. By seeing the buoys, I mean seeing anything, any flash of color, any evidence that there’s something out there other than boats and trees and water.
When I do see the buoys, they often look like something else, usually a boat. On my first loop, nearing the little beach, I wondered why there was a boat hovering off the shore, directly in line with where I wanted to swim. When I got closer, I realized it was the first green buoy. I partly mistook the buoy for a boat because it was much closer to the beach and shore than it ever has been before, but I also mistook it because my brain guessed wrong. It had to decide, with the limited visual data it was getting, boat, lifeguard, or buoy. Sara-brain went with boat.
Reading the book, Leap In, the author discusses how the biggest challenge for her in learning to swim freestyle was exhaling. She had no problem taking in air, but she struggled to let it out. For a few minutes, I thought about my exhales under the water. I also tried to work on being flatter and higher up in the water. Reaching, stretching, bending my elbows, sweeping them under my torso.
For a few moments–probably seconds–I wasn’t think about where I was going, or if I was too close to someone else. I was just swimming. Nice. I’d like to have more of these moments in the water. It’s hard to stop thinking when I feel like I need to be constantly sighting. What would happen if I tried sighting less? That sounds like an interesting experiment for this week.
water thoughts for today
On Friday at open swim, I noticed an older woman exiting the water with a limp. She looked very fit and strong but also like something was wrong with her leg. I could tell she was a great swimmer. I thought about Lord Byron and how I recently read that he was born with a clubfoot and walked awkwardly on land. In the water, this didn’t matter; no one could see his foot. Some of us are better in the water.
Last week, when the water was extremely rough, I overheard someone lament to a fellow swimmer, “I’m going to be drinking a lot of dirty water on the way back.” There is a myth, among some, that city lakes are dirty and polluted. This incorrect assumption angers me. Lake Nokomis, almost always, is a wonderful place to swim. Talking with STA about what I was posting here and he mentioned how the lake does have sediment that gets stirred up by the waves, which is true. The lake isn’t pristine.
he said breathe like you read your poems what the hell does that mean then suddenly I’m breathing it look at our hands baked into being by a fleeting magic bark with dogs to let the neighborhood know you can go to the address knock all you want no one is there now where the exit signs are burned out the preexisting condition is not cancer but the glass of polluted drinking water
Due to a worsening drought across the state, Minneapolis and St. Paul residents are being asked to water their lawns on an even-odd water schedule and to limit watering to mornings and evenings.
run: 2 miles tunnel of trees + river road trail + extra 90! degrees
Earlier in the day, STA mentioned that the even though it was hot today, the dew point was relatively low, so 90 might not feel so bad. Somehow I got this stuck in my head and decided to go out for a quick run around 3:30. STA did too, but not at the same time as me. I listened to my song of the spring–Leave the Door Open–and summer–Solar Power. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too bad, especially in the shade. I didn’t really start sweating until about one and half miles in. I think I saw at least one other runner and a few walkers. Lots of people sitting in the shade on benches. As I ran by them I wondered what they thought of me running in this heat.
This morning, water meant: cool, refreshing, gentle rocking in 81 degree lake water, abundance, enveloped. This afternoon, water meant: lack, absent, thirst, delayed arrival, dripping, damp, soaked.
3.25 miles trestle turn around 73 degrees humidity: 80%/ dew point: 67
It is supposed to rain for most of the day, starting in the late morning. Decided to run before it started. Hot and thick. Sweaty. Listened to my playlist, starting with my song of the summer: Lorde’s Solar Power. Felt strong. I think all the swimming is strengthening my hips and legs and back. Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice. Heard the rowers when I stopped briefly at the trestle. Avoided a group of runners near the spot above the Minneapolis Rowing Club. I can’t remember any of my thoughts. Got lost for 30 minutes.
Here’s a great poem that fits better with June’s theme of water and stone, but I’m posting it anyway. It’s from her new collection, out at the end of this month, Goldenrod!
Wife for Scale/ Maggie Smith
This is a tender age––and in geologic time, hardly an age at all. But a golden band
of rock, pressed paper-thin, will stand for these years, a kind of scientific
shorthand. Once I had a professor whose wife was in every photo he took
of rock formations. He’d click through slide after slide, saying: My wife for scale.
Isn’t there always a woman in the picture and isn’t she always small in comparison?
Forgive me: that was my grief talking. Tell me: how do I teach myself to be alone?
The strata for this age will not be the first to reveal what salt does to stone, as if
a sea had been here and not sadness only. Tell me: with God a question, where
is solace but in the earth? The soul I’m standing on in this moment–––
even as it shifts beneath my feet, as it gives and cannot hold me—will be rock.
4.3 miles minneahaha falls and back 66 degrees/ dew point: 62 light rain
Ran south on the river road trail past the falls and stopped at the big statue just past the pergola garden. When I would walk or bike the kids over here, about 10 years ago, we (or was it mostly me?) called this statue “big feet” because all the kids could see was his big feet. There was also a little feet (John Stevens)–a much smaller statue not too far way. Today I wanted to find out who Big Feet actually was. I assumed he might be someone connected to Fort Snelling–Zebulon Pike or Snelling or Franklin. Nope. Gunner Wennenberg, a Swedish composer, poet, and politician. This statue was erected on June 24th, 1914. Looking him up online, I am amused by this last paragraph in the wikipedia entry (originally found in an old Encyclopedia Britannica):
Wennerberg was a most remarkable type of the lyrical, ardent Swedish aristocrat, full of the joy of life and the beauty of it. In the long roll of his eighty-four years there was scarcely a crumpled rose-leaf. His poems, to which their musical accompaniment is almost essential, have not ceased, in half a century, to be universally pleasing to Swedish ears; outside Sweden it would be difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible.
Difficult to make their peculiarly local charm intelligible? Ouch. I’m not sure if any part of my ears are Swedish–Finnish and Czech and Norwegian–but I listened to one of his hymns, and I thought it was nice (I don’t like the word nice here but I’m not sure I could go so far as to say it was beautiful).
During this run, I felt strong and relaxed and sweaty. So much sweat. The temp was 66, the dew point 62. Difficult for sweat to evaporate and cool me off. I listened to a playlist so I didn’t hear any trickling or gushing water. No rowers or birds or small bits of conversation. I did feel the light rain cooling me off sometimes.
For today’s water and stone poem, I decided to search for a Swedish poet. I found Tomas Tranströmer, the 2011 Nobel Prize Winner for Poetry.
The blue sky’s engine-drone is deafening. We’re living here on a shuddering work-site where the ocean depths can suddenly open up – shells and telephones hiss.
You can see beauty only from the side, hastily, The dense grain on the field, many colours in a yellow stream. The restless shadows in my head are drawn there. They want to creep into the grain and turn to gold.
Darkness falls. At midnight I go to bed. The smaller boat puts out from the larger boat. You are alone on the water. Society’s dark hull drifts further and further away.
Too warm this morning. Decided I needed the distraction of headphones and my old spotify playlist. Ran on the trail for the first half, then walked across turkey hollow (no turkeys today) and ran up 47th. I don’t remember glancing down at the river. I was too busy looking out for other runners. Do I remember much of this part of the run? Only the 4 or 5 times I had to cross over the bike path to give approaching runners room, and that it was uncomfortably warm outside. After running up 47th I headed over to the guantlet (the narrow strip of grass between Becketwood and 42nd, with the river road on one side, a small wood on the other) and then to Edmund. I decided to stop at the house on Edmund that posts poems on their front windows to see if they had posted a new one–the last one I saw was M Oliver’s “Work.” Yes, they did. The sun was too bright on the window to see the top of the poem, but the rest of June Jordan’s “These Poems” was wonderful. I love that my neighbors post these poems.
These poems they are things that I do in the dark reaching for you whoever you are and are you ready?
These words they are stones in the water running away
These skeletal lines they are desperate arms for my longing and love.
I am a stranger learning to worship the strangers around me
whoever you are whoever I may become.
Ah, love this poem. And it fits with my theme of water and stone with the line, “These words/they are stones in the water/running away” Not sure about the image of stones in the water running away? Do stones run away? I’ve seen them skip or tumble or be a throw away or roll, but never run. I’m probably missing something…
An overcast, cooler day. Not quite gray but not blue either. Wore my new raspberry red shoes. I have wanted red shoes for a few years now. Felt faster, stronger. Tried to listen for more birds. Heard the usual (or uje as FWA and RJP like to say) singers: black-capped chickadees, cardinals, crows, pileated woodpeckers not drumming but calling out, sounding like a loon to me. Ran the final 1/2 mile with my spotify running playlist.
I heard a bird that I thought was a crow calling out and tried to figure out what word their call sounded like but I couldn’t. It was one syllable and shrill. I looked on the birdsong charts that I posted a few days ago for one syllable calls and found the red-breasted nuthatch. Listened to its call and it sounded like what I remember. Then, I looked it up on a birds of the mississippi river gorge guide that I found a few years ago. Yes! Red-breasted nuthatches are permanent residiences here. Nice! On the birdsong chart, the word used to describe the call is “ink” but I can’t hear that when I listen to it. Googling it, I found “ank ank” which sounds more like it to me. Here’s how all about birds describes them:
An intense bundle of energy at your feeder, Red-breasted Nuthatches are tiny, active birds of north woods and western mountains. These long-billed, short-tailed songbirds travel through tree canopies with chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers but stick to tree trunks and branches, where they search bark furrows for hidden insects. Their excitable yank-yank calls sound like tiny tin horns being honked in the treetops.
They like to hang out with chickadees and woodpeckers? That sounds right. I remember hearing “chick a dee dee dee” a lot too. I need to look up how to record/make not of a bird sound–what information do people usually include? Here’s a page with some helpful information that I’ll check out later. For now, I’ll write:
May 5, 10:25 At the corner of 44th and West River Parkway near Becketwood Red-breasted nuthatch call—“ank ank ank”
In the description, kinglets are mentioned too. Looked it up and we have those in the gorge as well. I’m thinking it might be helpful to look up the birds I know and then find out what other birds they hang out with. Also, when hearing bird sounds, try to listen for where they’re coming from–high up in the trees? the grass? lower branches?–then look up habitats. I feel this birding my ear will be slow work; I’ll consider it a big accomplishment if I can identify 2 or 3 more birds this month.
One last thing: I never would have guessed that the irritating, loud call I was hearing came from such a small bird. And I never would have guessed that it wasn’t a crow or a raven or a rook.
Looking through my safari reading list, I found this letter from Emily Dickinson to her cousins. I saved it a few years ago, I think. Why? Oh, past Sara what was in here that you wanted to keep? I’m not sure, but I think it’s fitting for the month of birds and birdsong. I’ll need to read her lines many more times before I feel close to understanding them, but I’m glad to have them.
TO: Louise and Frances Norcross FROM: ED
I hear robins a great way off, and wagons a great way off, and rivers a great way off, and all appear to be hurrying somewhere undisclosed to me. Remoteness is the founder of sweetness; could we see all we hope, or hear the whole we fear told tranquil, like another tale, there would be madness near. Each of us gives or takes heaven in corporeal person, for each of us has the skill of life. I am pleased by your sweet acquaintance. It is not recorded of any rose that it failed of its bee, though obtained in specific instances through scarlet experience. The career of flowers differs from ours only in inaudibleness. I feel more reverence as I grow for these mute creatures whose suspense or transport may surpass my own. Pussy remembered the judgment, and remained with Vinnie. Maggie preferred her home to “Miggles” and “Oakhurst,” so with a few spring touches, nature remains unchanged.
The most triumphant bird I ever knew or met, Embarked upon a twig to-day, – And till dominion set I perish to behold So competent a sight – And sang for nothing scrutable But impudent delight. Retired and resumed His transitive estate; To what delicious accident Does finest glory fit!
What to do with the contrast between the mute rose and the bird who sings for “nothing scrutable/But impudent delight”?
Another colder day. I’m tired of wearing running tights, a winter vest, gloves. Time for spring and shorts and short-sleeves. Ran on the trail heading south. I don’t remember looking at the river once. I was too busy avoiding people. Listened to a playlist as I ran so I didn’t hear anything but Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Harry Styles. Anything else? No roller skiers. No bright, glowing shirts. No peletons. No turkeys or eagles or geese. No rowers on the river. No daily walker. Just an ordinary run.
From The Book of Time
2. For how many years have you gone through the house shutting the windows, while the rain was still five miles away
and veering, o plum-colored clouds, to the north, away from you
and you did not even know enough to be sorry,
you were glad those silver sheets, with the occasional golden staple,
were sweeping on, elsewhere, violent and electric and uncontrollable—
and will you find yourself finally wanting to forget all enclosures, including
the enclosure of yourself, o lonely leaf, and will you dash fnally, frantically,
to the windows and haul them open and lean out to the dark, silvered sky, to everything
that is beyond capture, shouting I’m here, I’m here! Now, now, now, now, now.
This part of the poem reminds me of part of Mary Oliver’s “Sometimes” from Red Bird—this is the poem that includes her famous instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
In the west, clouds gathered. Thunderheads. In an hour the sky was filled with them.
In an hour the sky was filled with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning. Followed by the deep bells of thunder.
Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source! Both of them mad to create something!
The lightning brighter than any flower. The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.
And here’s one more poem that I’d like to put beside these two and beside the idea of a thunder storm:
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force, Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation, Into the school where the scholar is studying; Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride, Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain, So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets; Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds, No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—would hey continue? Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing? Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge? Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow! Make no parley—stop for no expostulation, Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer, Mind not the old man beseeching the young man, Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties, Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses, So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.
Another young black man killed by the police today in a twin cities suburb. Apparently, the cop meant to reach for their taser, but pulled their gun instead and then shot Daunte Wright. Fucked up. This is not simply an unfortunate, “heart breaking” accident. This is not a matter of bad apples or a few incompetent or overly anxious cops. This is a fucked up system that doesn’t value human life, that almost always prioritizes certain (white) lives over others, and that is murdering black people. Abolish the police.
bike: 35 minutes run: 1.5 miles basement outside: rain, wind
Biked in the basement because of the wind and rain. Watched another episode of Emily Dickinson. This one focused on ED’s conflicted feelings about having her poem published and whether or not she wants fame and to be known and seen by others. It features the poem, Split the Lark:
Split the Lark – and You’ll find the Music – Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled – Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning Saved for your Ear, when Lutes be old –
Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent – Gush after Gush, reserved for you – Scarlet Experiment! Skeptic Thomas! Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
It was helpful to read the words after watching the show; I didn’t get the meaning of them when I heard them sung by Sue:
Wow. That is some intense, violent imagery. “Gush after gush” and “Scarlet experiment.” It makes me think of the article I read about ED and “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” earlier this month, when the author writes about doing Emily Dickinson Madlibs and asking students to fill in the blank for “Grief is a ___”.
Students go ahead and put in the blanks what is expected: Grief is a pain, Grief is a bitch. The ones who want to take imaginative leaps deliver up: Grief is a thunderstorm, Grief is a tidal wave. But I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how many budding poets you have in a class, nobody who hasn’t already read Dickinson’s poem would ever write the phrase the way she wrote it.
The answer: “Grief is a mouse” This poem about splitting the lark also seems very original and imaginative and very ED.
A turkey interruption!
Just as I was writing the above paragraph, I looked out the window and saw…a big turkey walking in my front yard. Nice. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. That’s definitely the delight of the day. When I first saw it, I yelled out to STA, “Come here, quick. There’s a turkey in the front yard” and he posted about it on instagram.
After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 14 minutes. Our treadmill works, but strangely, these days. The speed is off, always too fast. Listened to my playlist.
Right after I got up this morning, I wrote about Mary Oliver and her collection, Evidence:
Yellow from Evidence/ Mary Oliver
There is the heaven we enter through institutional grace and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing in the lowly puddle.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church — I keep it, staying at Home — With a Bobolink for a Chorister — And an Orchard for a Dome —
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
In my March 26th log entry, I wrote a bit about yellow and how I’ve grown to like the color. It’s funny that I like yellow now because I can’t see it very well, especially on the page and especially when it’s used to highlight text. Sometimes I use my yellow colored pencil in my Plague Notebook, like today, for the title to MO’s poem.
When viewed straight on, through my central vision, the yellow disappears. When seen from the side or with my eyes lowered, looking down, the yellow is bright–of course, viewed this way, through my peripheral vision, the words are a blur. Isn’t it strange how that works? Other colors aren’t as bad, like green or blue (although in other situations, those colors disappear too). But, how does this work? I know the retina has 3 types of cone cells: blue/short (B/S), green/medium (G/M), red/long (R/L) and that we have a lot more red (64%) than green (32%) or blue (2%). And that “the color yellow is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones (cone cells/wikipedia). But what does that mean about my vision and cone cell loss? How many red versus green versus blue do I have left? Is there a way to test that? And, is it worth testing? I might ask my eye doctor when I’m fully vaccinated and finally have a check-up in the next few months.
I’m looking through MO’s collection, Evidence today, which I was able to immediately check-out from my libby app (very awesome). Something I’ve noticed: the structure/form (I’ve forgotten the difference between these two) is often, first a very detailed and lush description of something or someone (an animal, stone, tree, flower, etc), then a question or a moment of wonder about it/them, then a revelation.
Like, in Swans from Evidence: A long and beautiful description of swans flying overhead and hurrying on to “wherever it is/that swans go.” A moments of curiosity/praise/wonder and a question: “How could I help but wish/that one of them might drop/a white feather/that I should have/soemthing in my hand/to tell me/that they were real?” Finally, a revelation (or a reminder of something always already known but forgotten): “What we love, shapely and pure,/is not to be held,/but to be believed in.” Love that last line. It’s a nice little prayer and seems to work without the details and the moment of praise, but I wonder what happens to its power when it loses those details? Does it become just a easily spreadable soundbite? I’m not sure, and I guess my doubt about this practice of picking out favorite lines, won’t stop me from doing it now:
from Thinking of Swirler
In a week he would be dead, arrowed down by a young man I like, though with some difficulty.
I was planning to pick one part of this poem, but I love the whole thing and I think I might need to memorize some or all of it:
Then Bluebird Sang
Bluebird slipped a little tremble out of the triangle of his mouth and it hung in the air until it reached my ear like a froth or a frill that Schumann might have written in a dream. Dear morning you come with so many angels of mercy so wondrously disguised in feathers, in leaves, in the tongues of stones, in the restless waters, in the creep and the click and the rustle that greet me wherever I go with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!
I could also see part of this poem serving as a writing prompt, or an opportunity to create your own moment of wonder/prayer: “Dear morning/you come/with so many angels of mercy/that greet me wherever I go/with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!” Prompt: what greets you in the morning? Make a list, then pick one and describe it as much detail as you can. Moment of Wonder: When you’re outside, running beside the gorge, create a chant or greeting to offer back to the welcoming oaks or the floodplain forest or the old stone steps or whatever else you want, letting them know you’re still here too, alive.
Okay, just one more for today:
The Poet Always Carries a Notebook
What is he scribbling on the page? Is there snow in it, or fire? Is it the beginning of a poem? Is it a love note?
This poem makes me think about MO’s discussions of carrying a notebook around with her while she’s walking in the woods, which also makes me think about the different methods writers/thinkers use to remember words when they’re outside, away from their desk: Jonathan Edwards would pin notes to his clothes we traveled on horseback, the writer Jaime Quatro would scratch them into her arm with a stick when, out on a run, she had nothing else to use, I speak a note in my voice memo app or, turn the thought/idea into a chant and repeat it until I return from my run.
2.65 miles 2 schools loop (cooper and howe) 46 degrees
Windy this afternoon! Everything green, budding. Spring-like. Ran around Cooper School then down to Edmund. Up to 47th and over to Howe. A soccer team was practicing on the field. Didn’t stare to see if they were wearing masks. I wonder how youth sports is doing these days in Minnesota; the uptick in cases with the UK variant started in some suburban youth sports games. Anything else I remember from the run? Encountered some walkers. Did I see any other runners? I can’t remember. Ran by a neighbor’s fruit trees or vines on 32nd–I can’t remember what they are, I just remember that last year they had a sign encouraging you to take all the fruit you’d like. Apples? Anyway, the trees/vines right by their fence were blooming pale pink flowers. Beautiful.
I didn’t run yesterday because we drove up to Duluth and got our first doses of the Pfizer vaccine–well, me, FWA, and STA got our first doses, RJP is a year too young. Such a bummer for her. Anyway, I still haven’t processed it all, how remarkable and amazing and relieving it is to be getting this vaccine and to be fully vaccinated before Mother’s Day! Wow.
Even though I didn’t run, I still read some Mary Oliver. I’m finding it difficult to stick with just one poem. I like reading several and letting the repetition of her words about attention wash over me and soak in slowly. Yesterday and today, I read through her collection, Swan, and noticed, among other things, that she did a lot of: 1. inviting the reader (you) to be curious, to enter the field, to notice things, 2. admonishing the reader for not noticing and calling it a life, and 3. commanding the reader to notice things, to leave the desk and enter the world. I have started making a list and adding lines from her poems to each of these categories. So far, my list includes the poems in Swan and a few others that I found in her compilation, Devotions.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story/and you are somewhere in it/and it will never end until all ends (What Can I Say/Swan)
How many kinds of love/might there be in the world,/and how many formations might they make/and who am I ever/to imagine I could know/such a marvelous business? (On the Beaach/Swan)
Did you see it, drifting, all night in the black river?/Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air?/And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?/And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?/And have you changed your life? (Swan/Swan)
With what words can I convince you of the/casualness with which the white swans fly? Do you give a thought now and again to the/essential sparrow, the necessary toad? Have you ever seen a squirrel swim? Is it not incredible, than in the acorn something/has hidden an entire tree? (More Evidence/Swan)
Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/of other lives? (Have you ever tried to enter/ West Wind)
It is a negligence of the mind/not to notice how at dusk/heron comes to the pond (How Heron Comes/Swan)
We are all good people/except for when we are not (Four Sonnets/Swan)
Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,/caution and prudence?/Fall in! Fall in! (Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/West Wind)
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,/don’t hesitate. Give in to it. (Don’t Hesitate/Swan)
Sing, if you can sing, and if not still be/musical inside yourself (More Evidence/Swan)
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then/keep going (At the River Clarion/Evidence)
Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk! (Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches/ West Wind)
In addition to categorizing her lines, here are a few other things I noticed/liked/want to remember:
She likes the word “meanwhile,” which I first encountered and enjoyed in her wonderful poem, “Wild Geese”: “Meanwhile, the world goes on./ Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain…/Meanwhile, the wild geese…” I like this idea of meanwhile as another word for beside/s, and to mean: there are other things beside you happening in the world AND you are not alone in your suffering/sorrow/joy AND life/the world contains more than we can imagine or reconcile, all happening at the same time. I like thinking about meanwhile as a way to connect different stories/lives/creatures without collapsing them into each other as one story or way of living/being–if that makes sense?
Okay, I confess to wanting to make a literature of praise.
4 Sonnets/ Swan
I like this idea of a literature of praise. In Long Life she talks about her words as little alleluias on the page. Can we think of this as spiritual, as about admiring and finding joy in things, without linking it to God or organized religion? Yes, I think.
I want to step out into some/fresh morning and look around and hear myself/crying out: “The house of money is falling! The house of money is falling! The weeds are rising! The weeds are rising!”
That sounds like fun and something I can’t imagine myself ever having the nerve to do. But I think it quite a lot when I’m out near the gorge and witness the sumac vines wrapping themselves around the fenceposts.
One more thing: Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that I’ve been rereading a lot over the past few days:
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO ENTER THE LONG BLACK BRANCHES/ Mary Oliver
Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives — tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?
Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides with perfect courtesy, to let you in! Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass! Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!
No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!
Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually? Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?
Well, there is time left — fields everywhere invite you into them.
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!
To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is the mystery, which is death as well as life, and not be afraid!
To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome with amazement!
To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw, nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened
in the night
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window, and the opening of the window no more difficult than the wakening from a little sleep.
Only last week I went out among the thorns and said to the wild roses: deny me not, but suffer my devotion. Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe
I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red, hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.
For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters, caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!
A woman standing in the weeds. A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next is coming with its own heave and grace.
Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things, upon the immutable. What more could one ask?
And I would touch the faces of the daisies, and I would bow down to think about it.
That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.
Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light, I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.
I climb, I backtrack. I float. I ramble my way home.
2.15 miles 2 school loop: Cooper and Howe 60! degrees
Spring! 60 degrees and sunny just before noon. No snow or ice, all melted. Shorts and one long-sleeved shirt (bright yellow). Nice. Did a short run today because it’s Saturday and I’ve already run 3 days in a row. Listened to my playlist–“Leave the Door Open,” “I Feel for You,” “Levitate,” and “I Forgot that You Existed.” As I listened to the last one, I imagine that the You in the song was all of my worries–about pandemics and sinus infections and headaches and kids getting together with their friends and white supremacy and racial injustice and climate crisis and and and…. It worked (I guess until I listed them here). Ran on the sidewalk through the neighborhood, nowhere near the river. I figured it was too crowded.
I have “officially” decided that April is a month for Mary (Mary Oliver). I will read her poems, some interviews, her memoir Upstream, and whatever else I might find and be moved to read/hear/watch. Today’s poem: April
Understand from the first this certainty. Butterflies don’t write books, neither do lilies or violets. Which doesn’t mean they don’t know, in their own way, what they are. That they don’t know they are alive–that they don’t feel, that action upon which all consciousness sits, lightly or heavily. Humility is the prize of the leaf-world. Vainglory is the bane of us, the humans.
Upstream/ Mary Oliver
Wanting to express joy and delight in words is not always motivated by hubris, and not using words doesn’t always signal its lack. Often I search for better words to connect (with others, with ideas) and I appreciate suspending words because too many words hurts the weakening cone cells in my eyes. But, I do find that often the people who won’t shut up (with their voices or their long-winded writing) could use some humility; they should listen to the frogs more.
Speaking of frogs, I’m reminded of ED’s strange poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” In it, there’s a frog: “How public — like a Frog!/To tell one’s name — the livelong June — /To an admiring Bog!” ED’s frog seems very different, very public, very Somebody. But, is that right? I looked up “Emily Dickinson frog” and found an amazing article: The Poems (We Think) We Know: Emily Dickinson. I am so delighted to have uncovered this essay–to learn more about this poem, about frogs, about ED, about poetry and its purposes. This article makes me want to read Mary Oliver beside Emily Dickinson–and I think I will all this month. What interesting conversations they might have had!
Anyway, back to frogs. According to the author of the ED article, Alexandria Socarides, frogs were a favorite for 19th century writers, including Poe, Twain, and Thoreau. Here’s how Socarides links Thoreau and Dickinson:
If Dickinson was listening to frog-sound with the same attention as Thoreau, which I think she was, then what is it that she learned from them? What do these old, lazy creatures have to say? Part of the point of the second stanza of “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” is, as with Thoreau’s passage above, that frogs say the same thing over and over again, that there is no sense to be made of their guttural noises, that there is no meaning in the same name said on a loop. But what lurks in both acts of listening is the awareness that there is a kind of beauty to nonsense sounds, a beauty that only the bog itself (and maybe the poet in the bog) can recognize.
Returning to Oliver, I’m thinking about one purpose of the frog in her poem. When I searched “Mary Oliver frog” I found a helpful essay, Mary Oliver’s Nature and this poem by MO: What We Want
In a poem people want something fancy
but even more
they want something inexplicable made plain, easy to swallow
The frog’s singing as plain but inexplicable, and easy to listen to? I like the idea of something inexplicable made plain, but I’m not sure about the “easy to swallow” part. My inclination is to not like it because I don’t like things to be easy to swallow, and I don’t think poetry is about giving us “easy to swallow” things. But, there’s something deeper about faith, belief, a refusal to be skeptical, and a turn to a different understanding of mystery/ineffability that doesn’t demand confusion and discomfort and utter disorientation that I appreciate about MO’s poem. I want to think about this idea more, and push myself to take it seriously. Is this understanding of what to do with the inexplicable–MO seems to want to make it plain and accessible, while ED seems to want it to unravel you (she writes about poetry as that which makes the top of your head come off–a fundamental difference between the two poets? I’d like to explore it more.
note: just after posting this entry, I looked up MO’s poem “What We Want” and found the rest of it, which I think is helpful for pushing at the ideas more:
not unlike a suddenly harmonic passage
in an otherwise difficult and sometimes dissonant symphony—
even if it is only for the moment of hearing it.
MO is interested in that moment, albeit fleeting, of clarity that open you up, or opens to you, inviting you in. Much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ll leave it that for now. I have a whole month to explore it!
One more frog mention: I’m not sure it’s possible to post about poetry and frogs without including Basho’s most famous haiku:
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water. Translated by Lafcadio Hearn
3.2 miles neighborhood + Howe loop 42 degrees wind: 15 mph with gusts 33 mph
The wind has returned, trying to slow me down for half of the run, speed me up for the other half. It didn’t bother me too much and, because of it, I got to hear lots of cool wind chimes. Ran on the sidewalk, the street, the trail, the grass. Past 2 elementary schools, one high school, a daycare at a church. Above the river, beside the boulevard, through the tunnel of trees. Saw the Daily Walker just leaving the trail, heading home. Thought about calling out, but decided that might be a little strange since I was behind him and not that close. I remember starting to think about my Emily Dickinson exercise for March. Did I come up with any ideas? I don’t think so. If I did, only the wind knows, I guess. Noticed the shadow of a bird moving very fast. Heard the “feebee” call of the black-capped chickadee. Don’t remember hearing any geese or pileated woodpeckers or cardinals or warblers or mourning doves. When I reached Howe school, I turned on a playlist for the last few minutes.
Gross runner moment: Watched as a drop of sweat below my nose suddenly flew off my face and far off into the air when the wind picked up. Even though I don’t have covid, I’m very glad no one was around. Gross and scary, witnessing how far sweat can fly.
It’s April 2nd, and I’m thinking about how to build off of my March with Emily Dickinson. Maybe focus on circumference? Not sure. After encountering this discussion of ED’s use of bees, and then randomly finding a bee poem by Mary Oliver, I’m thinking about bees. Yes, I like the idea of focusing on bees, flies, and beetles. I can think of many poems from ED, this one from Mary Oliver, at least one from Maggie Smith, and one about flies, When I come home they rush to me, the flies by Aracelis Girmay.
Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of Isaac Watts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).
Here’s the Mary Oliver bee poem I found:
hum/ mary oliver
What is this dark hum among the roses? The bees have gone simple, sipping, that’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication? They’re small creatures and they are filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not moan in happiness? The little worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks. Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand that life is a blessing. I have found them-haven’t you?— stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings a little tattered-so much flying about, to the hive, then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing, should the task be to be a scout-sweet, dancing bee. I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small, and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and read books, I have to take them off and bend close to study and understand what is happening. It’s not hard, it’s in fact as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too, it’s love almost too fierce to endure, the bee nuzzling like that into the blouse of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over all of us.
I love the line: “the bees have gone simple, sipping.”
Mary Oliver has been criticized for being too simple or R/romantic, not poetic enough, too accessible. And, in the years before her death, she was often not taken seriously. I love Mary Oliver and when I read this poem I don’t think of it as an “easy” romantic poem just about how great bees are. This poem is the declaration of someone who has done and is still doing the very difficult work of learning how to notice and love the world–every bit of it, no matter how small or how broken (here I’m thinking of her line in “Invitation”–“believe us, they say,/ it is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in this broken world”). She writes:
I think there isn’t anything in this world I don’t admire. If there is, I don’t know what it is. I haven’t met it yet. Nor expect to.
That’s impressive and something I aspire to. For several years now, I’ve been working to find delight in these small moments, to recognize them as enough, more than enough, to make life fulfilling, to ensure flourishing. I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. There are things I don’t admire and, too often lately, I’ve thought about them more than the things I do admire. Maybe I should spend a month with Mary Oliver instead of with insects? Or maybe I should save the insects for a month that’s filled with them–May or June? Yes, I have decided. April is for Mary (Oliver)! I think yesterday’s poetry sighting was the nudge I needed:
Both of my knees were feeling strange yesterday, not quite like the kneecap was slipping out but unstable and sore, so I didn’t run. I biked and watched another episode of Dickinson instead. Today, even though it was drizzling when I started, I ran. I started in the neighborhood but when I reached Edmund, about a mile in, I decided to cross over to the river. I was able to run on my favorite part, through the tunnel of trees, just above the floodplain forest. Wow! It was all a rich brown: bare branches and bare earth, hardly any sky, no river. In a few months, this same spot will be nothing but green. Both ways, it’s disorienting: now, with the brown, it almost feels like you’re buried in the earth; later, in the green, like you’re underwater in a green sea. I think I heard some birds, mostly cardinals. What I remember hearing most was the light rain hitting the brim of my baseball cap. For the last mile, I listened to my playlist.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home – With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
I appreciate ED’s connection between the sacred and nature here. My first chapbook was all about the sacred rituals of being upright and outside by the Mississippi River Gorge. (I’m not alone; many runners refer to their long runs on Sundays as the “church of the long run”). My exploration of this theme was as a non-church going ex-religion major with a master’s in theological ethics who finds tremendous value in the sacred, but not in organized religion and church services.
Right now, I just finished listening to a section in the ED biography, Lives as Loaded Guns, about the religious revival in Amherst in the mid 1800s and the pressure ED experienced to publicly declare her faith in Christ and become a full member of her church. She refused, even as all of her family and friends professed their faith. According to the author, Lyndall Gordon, ED’s friends, including Jane Humphrey (who plays a prominent, if slightly different, role inthe show Dickinson), are enlisted as spies to “report back” on what ED was thinking and doing and to try to persuade her to change her mind. I thought of this religious revival in the town and what an impact it had on Amherst as I watched an episode of Dickinson today and noticed that there were a surprisingly large number of ministers at the party/salon everyone (or, anyone who is anyone) was attending at Sue and Austin’s house. Several of these clergy were the dates/suitors of the popular girls. I’m fascinated and delighted by how the show brings in details like this without explicitly addressing them.
ED’s faith and her expressions/practices of and struggles with it are more complicated than this charming poem might suggest. I think I should read one of the classic biographies on ED, Roger Lundin’s Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief.
Speaking of ED’s complicated relationship to religion and God and the church, I’ve been thinking about her poetic form and how she often used hymn form. Here’s some information from Common Questions on Emily Dickinson:
What kind of meter did Dickinson write in, and why did she use it?
Common Meter or Hymn Meter
Definition: A closed poetic quatrain, rhyming A B A B, in which iambic tetrameter alternate with iambic trimeter. Common meter is distinguished from ballad meter by its rhyme scheme: the rhyme scheme of ballad meter is X A X A.
Derivation: This meter derives from English hymnology and uses predominantly iambic or trochaic feet (sometimes dactylic).
Common meter: alternately 8 and 6 syllables to the line: 8/6/8/6
Long meter: 8 syllables to the line 8/8/8/8 (this tends to get monotonous)
Short meter: two lines of 6 syllables, followed by one of 8, then one of 6: 6/6/8/6
Sevens and sixes: 7/6/7/6
Common particular meter: 8/8/6/8/8/6
Short particular meter: 6/6/8/6/6/8
Source: Isaac Watts’s Christian Psalmody, or, The Psalms. Watts always names the meter, and introductions set forth what effects may be achieved by each type.
Dickinson’s Use of Hymns
According to Martha England, her hymns differed from Watts’s in these ways:
greater use of enjambment
greater metrical freedom
use of more images with no scriptural source
Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of Watts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).
Every poem composed before 1861 is fashioned in one of the hymn meters above.
Largest proportion in common meter.
Second largest proportion in common particular meter.
Note: If I’m counting and reciting correctly, this poem doesn’t fit the hymn form. Is that because it’s from 1861 and not before? I always need help hearing the meter in poetry. Here’s another source I might want to check out: Listening to Dickinson
bobolinks and surplices
Bobolinks are small songbirds with large, somewhat flat heads, short necks, and short tails. They are related to blackbirds and orioles, and they have a similar shaped, sharply pointed bill.
All About Birds
They are present in Minnesota but have been in serious decline for some time now. Why? Loss of habitat, pesticides on food supply suppressing appetite and causing them to not eat enough, and too many people and buildings to run into. After listening to the call and the song, I’m not sure if I heard one before. I’d probably remember because they kind of sound like R2D2. They like hanging out in grasslands, meadows, and prairies, and traveling in big flocks.
A surplice is “a loose white linen vestment varying from hip-length to calf-length, worn over a cassock by clergy, acolytes, and choristers at Christian church services.” As a Lutheran pastor, did my dad wear this? Not quite, I think. Maybe I’m just confused by how he would always wear a stole too? I’ve seen lots of these surplices on the British murder mystery shows I watch.
Here’s another, non-ED poem that I discovered yesterday. I love Maggie Smith and I love this poem, especially how she plays with and challenges the importance of naming and classifying things.
Goldenrod/ Maggie Smith
I’m no botanist. If you’re the color of sulfur and growing at the roadside, you’re goldenrod.
You don’t care what I call you, whatever you were born as. You don’t know your own name.
But driving near Peoria, the sky pink-orange, the sun bobbing at the horizon, I see everything
is what it is, exactly, in spite of the words I use: black cows, barns falling in on themselves, you.
Dear flowers born with a highway view, forgive me if I’ve mistaken you. Goldenrod,
whatever your name is, you are with your own kind. Look–the meadow is a mirror, full of you,
your reflection repeating. Whatever you are, I see you, wild yellow, and I would let you name me.
Feeling more and more like spring. All the snow is gone, the sun is warm, the birds are singing even louder and longer. What I remember most about my run are the black-capped chickadees and their “fee-bee” song. Running on Edmund, between 32nd and 34th, I heard at least 2 of them calling out, not in a call and response, with one singing 2 ascending notes, the other 2 descending ones, but with both of them ascending, calling out to some other bird that wasn’t responding. Sometimes they were in sync, but sometimes they weren’t–a strange cacophony of fees and bees. About a mile later, I heard another chickadee calling out. No response.
When I reached 42nd st, I turned on my spotify playlist–“Ain’t Nobody,” “I feel for you,” and “Leave the Door Open”–and ran on the grass. It was tricky avoiding holes and not sinking into the soft, mushy grass. I love Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s “Leave the Door Open”–how it sounds, their voices, the playful lyrics, the message of consent and hope, the invitation to be open. Wonderful.
Oh–I can’t believe I almost forgot–the river! Just past the top of the hill on Edmund between 33rd and 34th, you can glimpse the river through the trees. Today it was on fire, glowing with a bright white light. Wow. Definitely dazzling. Seeing this bright light, I thought about the Emily Dickinson poem I’m studying and that I memorized before running: “We grow accustomed to the Dark.” The poem is about how we adjust to the dark when “light is put away,” both literally and metaphorically. For many, I’m sure, this poem suggests that the loss of light and the coming of the darkness is always unwelcome and tragic. But not necessarily for ED, and not for me. I had to stop at the top of the hill and record a thought into my phone: “sometimes the problem with light is not its loss, but its abundance.” Too much light is too dazzling, making it too difficult to see or understand what you’re seeing. I have difficulty when there’s a lack of light, but often just as much when there’s too much light. So, sometimes a lack of light is welcome, wanted, offering some rest for tired and overwhelmed eyes.
We grow accustomed to the Dark
After spending so much time yesterday reading other people’s words about ED’s “We grow accustomed to the dark,” I decided I wanted to spend some time today with her words. I started by memorizing the poem. Memorizing a poem always helps me to listen better to the words. Now (I started this section before I ran and am continuing it after I’m done), I’m typing up each stanza (from memory) and typing up my thoughts, most of which don’t offer insight but a way for me to work through my efforts to understand her words. I’m noticing how this effort sometimes involves forcing myself to move past what I think the words should mean or how they should sound and listen to what she is actually writing and doing with her words.
We grow accustomed to the Dark – When light is put away – As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp – To witness her Goodbye.
I like the word accustomed. From the OED:
Verb: “To make (a person or thing) familiar with or used to something; to familiarize, habituate.” Adjective: “In the habit of doing something; used to something.”
Yes! This reminds me of one of my preferred understandings of knowing–to become acquainted with. Not to Know or even to fully understand, but to adjust to, get used to. I like the connecting of this with habit and habitual practice.
I also like how she describes this: “When Light is put away.” Who is putting the light away? I don’t think she means God here. I like thinking about something/someone putting it away–a much different feel than if she had written: “when light has gone away.”
added later: Could she mean that she, ED, puts the light away? The Prowling Bee thinks so. Analyzing the stanza about the larger Darkness, she writes:
That unknown mental and spiritual domain is a “larger – Darkness.” That is where our great poets and philosophical explorers venture while the rest of us pursue our hobbies or just relax. Dickinson spends time in this darkness and most of her most evocative, ambiguous, and challenging poetry comes from there.
I keep wanting to make the final line, “To witness our Goodbye” instead of her goodbye, but I finally get that the Lamp is witnessing her goodbye to us, as we leave.
I love the idea of the Lamp/Light witnessing the Goodbye. A great image. And interesting to think about how in the second line the light is leaving us, but in the 4th line, we are leaving the light. Is that intended as an echo of the final stanza of the poem–either the darkness alters or something in the sight adjusts itself to midnight? Who is acting and who is acted upon? Yes (returning to this analysis later, after publishing this post), the idea of both the light leaving us and us leaving the light fits with my mention of the prowling bee and the idea of ED choosing to leave light and enter the darkness in order to explore deeper, more troubling, difficult and unknown ideas and themes.
A Moment – We uncertain step For newness of the night – Then – fit our Vision to the Dark – And meet to Road – erect –
The idea of a moment is great–a moment of panic and uncertainty before we’re able to see. As my central vision declines, I have a lot more of these moments: when I enter an unfamiliar building (or sometimes even a familiar one) and not much makes sense. I can’t read the signs or tell where to go. Or when I’m looking at an object but I can’t tell what it is–is it a dead squirrel or a clump of leaves or furry mittens? Most of the time, my brain eventually adjusts and I can see what I’m trying to look at and continue on with more certainty. I’m trying to work on not fearing that uncertain step, letting the moment just be a moment that I will move past, knowing that I will adjust or figure it out (or ask someone for help). And it’s working. I am getting better.
I find “We uncertain step” to be awkward, but I like how its awkwardness seems to effectively create uncertainty and discomfort in the reader–at least this reader, me.
Love the alliteration of newness of night and her descriptions of adjusting as fitting our Vision to the Dark and becoming more certain as meeting the road erect.
As I work through this poem, I’m realizing something (or, being reminded of something I know, but keep forgetting or straying from): It is very interesting to learn about ED’s life and the historical context of her work, and it’s helpful to see patterns and themes across the poems. Yet, what matters most to me are the actual poems and how effectively her words describe vision loss and resonate with my own experiences of it. Her words are opening a door, offering a way into understanding (and expressing that understanding) how vision loss and living with less vision feels.
And so of larger – Darkness – Those Evenings of the Brain – When not a Moon disclose a sign – Or Star – come out – within –
I like how she shifts to a metaphorical understanding of Darkness and then describes it as “those Evenings of the Brain.” I’m imagining she could mean depression (possibly hers, some suggest there’s evidence she was mildly bipolar or her mother’s) or hopelessness or sadness or turmoil or illness or uncertain/lack of understanding. She might even mean those times when she could not write, which fits well with the next lines about no signs being disclosed or stars coming out. And returning to the comments I’m just adding, this also means those darker, deeper, uncomfortable, troubling ideas/thoughts/themes that writers are willing to explore.
one more thing to add: I’m thinking about how most of my academic work and a big part of my current ethical project involves bewilderment and trouble and uncertainty and the value of dwelling in these uncomfortable spaces for us and learning how to be/to flourish. Because I’ve spent so much time thinking about these things, maybe it’s helped me to navigate my vision loss more effectively?
When I was reciting this poem from memory, I kept forgetting disclose. All I could think of was “display.” I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t remember disclose. Is it because “not a Moon disclose a sign” sounds awkward–“not a Moon disclosed a sign” sounds better to my ear, even if that changes the tense. Anyway, disclose is a much stronger, more precise, verb than display, so I’m hoping I can remember it now.
The bravest – grope a little – And sometimes hit a Tree Directly in the Forehead – But as they learn to see –
I like grope even as I don’t. It fits well with the idea of struggling to find meaning in the dark, but it also conjures up creepy guys and their grabby hands.
Sometimes, when I’m running, I hit a tree. Not directly in my forehead, but with my elbow or hip. I like the funny image of people literally running into trees, especially hitting them directly in the Forehead, and I also like the metaphorical meaning of being stunned as they struggle to make sense of/adjust to (overcome?) the darkness.
I don’t like poems that try too hard to rhyme (which this doesn’t), and I like when lines rhyme or echo (which this does). Tree and see work well; it’s pleasing to the ear and helps keep the large idea/image of adjusting to darkness moving forward.
Either the Darkness alters – Or something in the sight Adjusts itself to Midnight – And Life steps almost straight.
It often feels, when you can finally make out shapes in a dark room, that the darkness has changed, become less dim, but it’s really your vision adjusting, with the help of your rod photoreceptor cells, your pupils widening to take in more light, and your brain, to that darkness.
Love this ending line about life stepping almost straight, especially the almost part.
Whew. I’m ready for a break now. What a joy to spend so much time with ED’s words! Yesterday, I felt frustrated, reading so much about the poem (when it was written, what it was in response to, how it fit into a larger understanding of ED as a poet) without actually reading the poem or thinking about the meaning of the poem.
a moment of sound
Sat on the deck with my daughter and Delia the dog, soaking in the warm sun. Very quiet. I can hear my daughter briefly sniffing like a dog and some kid at the end of the street calling out and a crow. Of course, after I turned off the recording, a cardinal started trilling–at least 10 times–repeatedly.
3.4 miles 43rd ave, north/31st st, east/edmund, south/42nd st, east/river road trail, north 34 degrees
Woke up to several inches of snow on Tuesday. Decided to skip the running and shovel and bike instead. Woke up again this morning to another dusting but noticed the sidewalks and roads were bare so I went for a run. What a run! Not too cold, but not too warm. Not much wind. Not too bright. No one else out. Did I see any other runners or walkers? Only one or two. I wasn’t planning to run on the river road trail but I remembered that a few days ago I had wondered what the river would look like after the snow, and when I saw that no one was on the trail, I decided to check it out. When I reached the river, I stopped to record my moment of sound. I stood closer to the river and admired the grayish-blue water with the white banks.
Listen to those birds! I also like the sound of the cars as they rush by–you can hear the water on the wheels, everything damp, slick.
Before heading north for the last mile, I put in a Spotify playlist and listened to 2 songs I recently added, both by Chaka Khan: “Ain’t Nobody” and “I Feel for You” Yes! So much fun to run right above the river with no one else there to avoid, just me and Chaka Khan and Melle Mel (he raps at the beginning and end of the song–I had to look that up.) Discovered that he was part of Grandmaster Flash and had rapped on “White Lines” the year before. Very cool.
Yesterday I spent a lot of time with Emily Dickinson. First, I finished an episode of Dickinson–in this one, Emily has writer’s block and is trying to decide whether or not publishing her poems is a good idea. Then, I read my ED poem for the day: My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun. After finding a podcast discussing it, and then reading a few articles about it, I decided this poem, considered to be the most complicated and richly layered of her poems, deserved 2 days. Well, it deserves much more than 2 days, but that’s what I’m giving it for this month with Emily Dickinson. Here are my thoughts from yesterday and today:
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun (764)/ EMILY DICKINSON
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun – In Corners – till a Day The Owner passed – identified – And carried Me away –
And now We roam in Sovreign Woods – And now We hunt the Doe – And every time I speak for Him The Mountains straight reply –
And do I smile, such cordial light Opon the Valley glow – It is as a Vesuvian face Had let it’s pleasure through –
And when at Night – Our good Day done – I guard My Master’s Head – ’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s Deep Pillow – to have shared –
To foe of His – I’m deadly foe – None stir the second time – On whom I lay a Yellow Eye – Or an emphatic Thumb –
Though I than He – may longer live He longer must – than I – For I have but the power to kill, Without – the power to die –
This poem has taken me down a rabbit hole of fascinating things about Emily Dickinson. The poem itself provides a lot to wonder about but I barely made it that far. I imagine I’ll want to reread this poem many times. My rabbit hole concerns ED’s process of gathering and preserving her poems and the importance of this poem for poet/scholar/historian Susan Howe. Here’s a few things I’ve discovered.
This poem is in a fascicle.
“Fascicle” is the name that Emily Dickinson’s early editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, gave to the homemade manuscript books into which Dickinson copied hundreds of poems, probably beginning in the late 1850s and continuing through the late 1860s. Dickinson constructed the fascicles by writing poems onto sheets of standard stationery already folded in two to create two leaves (four pages). She then stacked several such sheets on top of each other, stabbed two holes in the left margin through the stack, and threaded string through the holes and tied the sheets together. Occasionally she varied this basic pattern by binding half-sheets (cut along the fold) into the stack of folded sheets. “Set” is a term first used by editor R.W. Franklin to describe groups of unbound sheets of similar paper and size that were never bound by the poet. There are 40 fascicles, and 15 sets.
Dickinson herself did not number or label the fascicles. They were taken apart by the first editors of Dickinson’s poetry, and so have had to be reconstructed by various scholars. Within this site, we use the order established by R.W. Franklin, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1998). Not all Dickinson scholars agree with his reconstruction.
It’s in fascicle 34. According to Susan Howe (in this speech that I was just listening to on the upenn site), there’s some discussion/debate over how ED gathered her poems into the fascicles. Were they chronological? Grouped by theme? And, if by theme, how closely connected were they? Howe seems to think that the connection is a loose one.
Howe makes this poem a primary focus of her book, My Emily Dickinson
I checked this book out from the library 3 or 4 years ago and tried to read it but it was too difficult for me then. I hadn’t read much of Dickinson’s poetry and had not yet studied poetry. Would it make more sense now?Here’s an excerpt I found online.
a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation
Emily Dickinson took the scraps from the separate “higher” female education many bright women of her time were increasingly resenting, combined them with voracious and “unladylike” outside reading, and used the combination. She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on inteIlectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy. Pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a “sheltered” woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation. HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer. To hold back in doubt, have difficulty speaking. “He may pause but he must not hesitate”-Ruskin. Hesitation circled back and surrounded everyone in that confident age of aggressive industrial expansion and brutal Empire building. Hesitation and Separation. The Civil War had split American in two. He might pause, She hesitated. Sexual, racial, and geographical separation are at the heart of Definition.
I really like this idea of hesitation and humility and aboriginal anagogy as a sharp contrast to progress, aggression, confidence/hubris, and time as always moving forwards (teleology). I tried to find a source that could explain exactly what Howe means by aboriginal anagogy but I couldn’t. I discovered that anagogy means mystical or a deeper religious sense and so, when I connect it to aboriginal, I’m thinking that she means that ED imbues pre-Industrial times (pre Progress!, where progress means trains and machines and cities and Empires and factories and plantations and the enslavement of groups of people and the increased mechanization of time and bodies and meaning and, importantly, grammar) with the sacred. Is that right? Is it clear what I’m saying? I think I need to buy Howe’s book and attempt a close reading. Yes, it’s available as an ebook!
In On ED’s 754/764, Susan Stewart discusses how difficult this poem (known in the Thomas Johnson edition of Dickin- son’s work as number 754, and in the Ralph Franklin edition as number 764) is for critics/readers to understand. She suggests that none of the readings are ever complete or fully hang together. Then she adds her own unusual interpretation: the loaded gun is a dog, ED’s dog, Carlo.
What kind of being waits in corners to be carried away to a field where, released, his/her/its power is enacted? One answer is: a domesticated hunting dog.
Now Dickinson had a dog, Carlo, named after the pointer owned by the character St. John Rivers in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Dickinson’s Carlo was also a hunting dog—an enormous Newfoundland hound.
Of course, Stewart’s argument is more involved than simply, it’s about her dog. You can read the article for a deeper discussion. I’m fascinated with this suggestion–Carlo was her walking buddy, he was a hunter, he had a yellow eye, he slept at the foot of her bed and protected her. Rereading the poem, it’s hard not to imagine a dog now.
I’ll leave my exploration of the poem at that, for now. I enjoyed wading into some deeper waters with ED scholarship, and I learned a lot that I didn’t know. I am not interested in going too deep, though. I could (and used to regularly as an academic) get lost in tracking down more articles, more interpretations, analyzing every word and it’s symbolic, political, historical significance. That is too much of a distraction, a derailment. Too connected to my discipline days. I like learning a little and letting that enhance my wonder. Having said that, I am planning to buy My Emily Dickinson and dig into Howe’s dense analysis of ED’s new grammar. The goal: to not seek answers, but more connections and questions and evidence of how poetry moves and bewilders and astonishes me.
As an aside: For some time, I have been very interested in the US in the mid to late 1800s, pre and post Civil War. No serious study, mostly through fiction, some through my investigation of my great grandparent coming to the UP from Finland in the 1880s. I like having the chance to read/learn more about this time.
yesterday’s moment of sound
Walking with Delia yesterday afternoon was wonderful. Everything melting and dripping, so many birds singing. In the middle of this recording, the bird I was trying to identifying a week or so ago called out–the one that I thought sounded like the loon call they play at twins’ games. What is this bird? Maybe if I play it for Scott, he can identify it.
A quick run through the neighborhood on a windy afternoon. Ran around Cooper school and noticed the mounds of snow and wondered when they would melt away. Earlier in the week there was a chance we might get a few inches of snow tomorrow, but now it looks less likely. Good. I’m ready for spring this year and I’ve been enjoying the bare sidewalks and open grass. Listened to a playlist while I ran. First up was a song I’ve been randomly singing during this COVID year, not sure why: Freak-a-Zoid. Very nice. And long. It lasted for 3/4 of a mile at least. Anything else? Lots of people out, most of them walking dogs, a few kids biking.
a moment of sound
So windy! The neighbor’s scare rods are really spinning. I wonder how irritating they will be this summer?
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro Kept treading – treading – till it seemed That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated, A Service, like a Drum – Kept beating – beating – till I thought My mind was going numb –
And then I heard them lift a Box And creak across my Soul With those same Boots of Lead, again, Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race, Wrecked, solitary, here –
And then a Plank in Reason, broke, And I dropped down, and down – And hit a World, at every plunge, And Finished knowing – then –
This is another one of ED’s most known poems. Some people think it’s an accurate description of a migraine, others a mental breakdown. A few people in the comments over at the prowling bee, suggested it was a transcendent, religious experience, another wondered if it had anything to do with the epilepsy that she might have had. I’m not sure. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem pleasant but torturous. Rereading the comments, I’m fascinated by their discussion of the bell as a tool or practice within Buddhism to stop thinking and meditate on the sound of the bell. This focus enables one to pass through the planks/levels of reason and the rational Self. And, I love the lines about all the heavens as a Bell with being but an Ear. Very cool.
A wonderful morning. Sunny and mostly calm. Not too crowded. Started on the river road trail but as I encountered more people, I moved over to Edmund. I heard the black-capped chickadees singing their feebee song. Don’t remember much else. When I reached Hiawatha, I put in my headphones and listened to a spotify playlist. Experienced a slight runner’s high as I picked up the pace, the kind that makes me feel my smile all the way down to my toes. Sprinted the last block. I bet I looked strange.
Yesterday, I listened to a great podcast with the poet Paige Lewis. So much good stuff. I especially liked this:
And that’s what I kind of care about putting into poems. I want to learn things and I want to learn little snippets of facts and then I want to be able to share those facts with people. Or, if I see something, I want someone around so I can be like look at that thing that’s happening right now. It’s still happening, you have to look. Look what that fish is doing. Look what that flower is doing. I just want to be pointing. Like I just want to be, look at this thing. Look at this thing. Look at this thing. Which is why I’m really bad at writing essays because I’m just like look at what this guy is doing. And then look at this. And they’re like, why does it matter? I’m like, I don’t know, but look at it.
Just like look at these beautiful tiny things and what we can take from them is maybe sometimes just enjoyment and I don’t know that I have anything more intelligent to say about that thing and what it’s doing and what it reflects about anything about us as humans. But like just look at it.
I agree with Lewis that the enjoyment of noticing and sharing these beautiful tiny things is enough, but I also think that this practice, when repeated and turned into a habit, has an additional importance: it encourages us to care about and care for the world, to be invested in its continued flourishing and also our own. I was thinking about this earlier today as I worked on my “How to Be” project and gathered ideas for the knowledge section. What is knowing facts for? More than demonstrating how smart we are, knowing facts can connect us and astonish us and encourage us to care about more than ourselves and our individual survival.
random thought I remember: At some point during the run, I noticed the shadow of a bird on the sidewalk in front of me. I love seeing these shadows and knowing a bird is flying overhead without looking up to see it. This shadow is too vague and fuzzy to indicate what kind of bird it is; it’s just a bird. It reminded me of how sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, which has a glass top (a top I recycled from an old IKEA coffee table), I see the reflection of a bird flying outside the window. It’s a quick flash of motion that I could miss if I wasn’t paying attention and if my peripheral vision had become heightened because of my central vision loss. Such a cool thing to see.
Have you got a Brook in your little heart, Where bashful flowers blow, And blushing birds go down to drink, And shadows tremble so—
And nobody knows, so still it flows, That any brook is there, And yet your little draught of life Is daily drunken there—
Why – look out for the little brook in March, When the rivers overflow, And the snows come hurrying from the hills, And the bridges often go—
And later, in August it may be, When the meadows parching lie, Beware, lest this little brook of life, Some burning noon go dry!
The Prowling Bee doesn’t like this poem with it’s “lazy” rhymes (flipping the sentence order to create the rhyme, ex: “so still it flows”) and the idea of such a “little” brook, as opposed to some more robust form of water like a river. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think I like the quiet brook that doesn’t announce itself to the world, it’s just there doing it’s thing–helping the flowers and the birds and the shadows. What if it were a stream instead? Decided to google it. Favorite answer was by a naturalist, responding to the question, what’s the difference between a stream, a creek, and a river?:
So, we enter into the somewhat nebulus topic of stream classification.
Consulting a few sources, the common term for all downhill flowing ribbons of water is stream. They’re all streams. Streams are classified, not by width, depth or length, but by a system known as stream ordering. The common terms are quite subjective depending on region and local history.
First order streams: the smallest streams that have no tributaries. We could call these brooks or rivulets. Little streams that you can hop across and not get wet. (GPD example: Pebble Brook in The West Woods)
Second order streams: result from the merging of two first order streams. Often designated as creeks, these small streams require a bridge, stepping stones or wading to cross. (GPD examples: Big Creek, Swine Creek, Silver Creek)
Third order streams: larger streams formed from the merger of two second order streams or creeks if you will. Streams that would have to be bridged, waded or even swam across. Referred to as branches in the headwater regions of watersheds. (Geauga examples: East Branch and Aurora Branches of the Chagrin River, East and West Branches of the Cuyahoga River)
Fourth order: streams formed by the merging of two third order streams. These streams would qualify as rivers, requiring big bridges, boats or swimming to cross.
I find brooks interesting as a first order stream because they have no connection to other sources of water, no tributaries. They also don’t cause much of a fuss–you don’t need a bridge for them and you should be able to hop across them without getting wet. How do these first order streams come to be? Where does the water come from?
Another interesting thing about brooks: as a verb, the word means to use, tolerate, find agreeable. I don’t like the word tolerate or this understanding of a body of water disconnected from everything else, so I guess I don’t want to have a little brook in my heart. It doesn’t sound as a pretty, but I think I’d prefer a creek–but not a crick!
a moment of sound
After my run, I sat on the deck and enjoyed the sun and the quiet. Here’s how that sounded:
2.8 miles river road trail, south/Winchell trail, south/edmund, north 44 degrees drizzle
Decided to go out for a quick run before the rain started. I made it out the door when it was dry but by mile 2 it was raining. Starting in the rain can be miserable, but if you’re already running, it’s difficult to feel the rain. Because of the weather, I was able to run on the trail without encountering too many people. Oh, the river, looking beautifully pale blue in the gloom. When I reached 42nd st, I took the trail down to a spot right above the ravine and recorded the water rushing down the rocks as my moment of sound.
Very cool. Instead of heading back up to the road, I decided to keep running on the Winchell trail. At this point, close to the southern start of the trail, it’s steep and uneven and right on the edge. What an unanticipated delight to be this much closer to the river–nothing but air and the bluff between us. (Sitting here, writing this entry in the front room, I just heard a long, loud boom–thunder!)
Anything else I remember from the run? I noticed a lot of headlights, bright and cutting through the gray sky. Another runner also cutting through the gloom, wearing a bright yellow shirt. Saw some people walking their dogs–one guy called out a greeting to me. I think he said “Go Twins!” because I was wearing a Twins baseball cap, but I’m not sure. Heard a young kid and an adult below me in the oak savanna. Noticed all the snow collected on the trail at the foot of the mesa. Heard some kids on the playground at the lower campus of Minnehaha Academy. For the last mile of my run, I put in my headphones and listened to a playlist.
It was great to be out by the gorge in-between rain showers, hearing the rushing water and how it sometimes drips, sometimes gushes down the bluff to the river. I spent the morning working on my “How to Sink” poem and thinking about water and what it does as it travels through the soil and layers of sediment, powered by gravity. Writing this, I suddenly thought about gravity and weight and how it forces water through cracks and then I thought about the homonym for weight, wait, and patience, and how my preferred form of sinking is a slow, gradual sliding down that takes a long time. And also how the weight of gravity forces water down through the layers, but so does the persistence of time. Cool–I’d like to add that in somehow. Here’s a new draft of my poem. Still not there, but getting closer, I hope.
Try to recall when your son young and upset turns to jelly and oozes off the sofa in
surrender he’s not giving in but giving up control a puddle of parts pooled at your feet
learn to retreat like this let your bones dissolve legs liquefy gravity win seep deep be- neath
layers of loam sandstone limestone shale drop lower and lower and lower fall
between cracks fit through fissures carve out a door take it so far in that out is another idea.*
Begin with 20 seconds from a song that is not happy birthday sing while you scour the
surface of your dread scrub off each layer watch as they drip down the drain on their way to the gorge.
*idea is one extra syllable, which is irritating to me, but so far, I can’t figure out a way around it.
Maybe I could add the weight/wait bit in after the line about falling? Also, I like having the washing your hands at the end of the poem, as the start of this need to sink/retreat/shelter inside (because of the pandemic), but I think I might need a little more transition to it. Is it too jarring, coming right after the bit about out being another idea?
Crumbling is not an instant’s Act A fundamental pause Dilapidation’s processes Are organized Decays —
‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul A Cuticle of Dust A Borer in the Axis An Elemental Rust —
Ruin is formal — Devil’s work Consecutive and slow — Fail in an instant, no man did Slipping — is Crashe’s law —
I really like this poem–it fits well with all of my thinking today about erosion and water dripping down. Gradual decay, a slow repeated slipping. I love the rhyme of a cuticle of Dust with an elemental Rust. A Borer in the Axis is strange to me. A mechanical (metal?) axis combined with a worm that bores into wood? I like bore as a verb–it might fit in my poem.
3.15 miles edmund loop, hearing north 39 degrees/ 26 mph gusts
Started the morning off with a COVID test and several firsts: first time in a public building (other than a rest area) since early March of 2020; first time spitting into a cup to fill it up to a black line; first time having a COVID test. It is highly unlikely that any of us have it, but because RJP had a slight fever and it was worrying her a lot, we decided to drive out to the airport to the testing site. It wasn’t difficult (well, maybe not for normal sighted people; I panicked a little when I couldn’t see signs or read the questions on my phone fast enough) and it felt safe. We might be back there in a month, if FWA decides he wants to go to in-person school for the end of his senior year.
It’s warmer and I wanted to run outside anyway, but I didn’t have a choice. The treadmill isn’t working. Scott thinks it might be the motor. Bummer. Very windy out there today, which made it hard. I also ran much faster than I do on the treadmill. Most of my run was spent feeling tired and wondering when I would be running with the wind at my back–not sure that ever happened. Heard at least one woodpecker. Dodged a bunch of puddles. Encountered runners and walkers. Didn’t see the river or any fat tires. Didn’t hear any geese or kids playing on the school playground. Didn’t smell any smoke. Felt overheated. Even so, I was happy to be out there and happy to be done with the test and happy to have RJP feeling better.
For the first 2 miles, I listened to the neighborhood, for the last mile, a playlist.
March is a month for Emily Dickinson
As I started typing this entry, I had a sudden thought: why not spend time with a different Emily Dickinson poem every day this month? Technically it’s the second so I’m starting this a day late, but I did spend some time with a Dickinson poem yesterday:
Dear March – Come in – How glad I am – I hoped for you before – Put down your Hat – You must have walked – How out of Breath you are – Dear March, how are you, and the Rest – Did you leave Nature well – Oh March, Come right upstairs with me – I have so much to tell –
I got your Letter, and the Birds – The Maples never knew that you were coming – I declare – how Red their Faces grew – But March, forgive me – And all those Hills you left for me to Hue – There was no Purple suitable – You took it all with you –
Who knocks? That April – Lock the Door – I will not be pursued – He stayed away a Year to call When I am occupied – But trifles look so trivial As soon as you have come
That blame is just as dear as Praise And Praise as mere as Blame –
I posted this poem a few years ago. I like imagining March as a friend coming to call after having been gone a long time. I also like the second verse and the rhyming of knew, grew, hue, you and then the return of the rhyme in the next verse with pursued.
If recollecting were forgetting, Then I remember not. And if forgetting, recollecting, How near I had forgot. And if to miss, were merry, And to mourn, were gay, How very blithe the fingers That gathered this, Today!
I’m not sure I would have thought of this, but someone in the comments on the site where this was posted mentioned that the flowers that were gathered in the last line of the poem must be forget-me-nots. I picked this poem because I’ve been thinking about the slipperiness between forgetting and remembering and how, as you get older, you do a lot of both. I wonder: is this poem just a clever way of expressing that it’s opposite day?
a moment of sound
Hard to hear over the rushing wind and the low drone of the city, but birds are singing and, near the end, wind chimes chiming.
Woke up to another inch of snow and cold. Almost bundled up and ran outside but decided to stay inside again. More sinus draining and a daughter who has a slight fever–it’s almost impossible that she has COVID because she hasn’t been anywhere with anyone, but it still makes me (and her) worry. It’s a bad day, I guess. Also: it’s my mom’s birthday on Friday; she would have been 79 if she hadn’t died in 2009. I bet I’m feeling a wave of grief from that. And, near the end of my run, the treadmill stopped working. It was still on, beep beep beeping, but the belt wouldn’t move. What a day, and it’s only 1. Strangely, I feel better having typed all these complaints. I might also be feeling better because my son is re-playing a video game he has played since he was 4 (Metroid) and he’s at the part with my all-time favorite music: Magmoor Caverns. I can hear it through his door. He started re-reading his favorite book series from when he was a kid this weekend and today he’s playing his favorite video game. At the end of this month, he’s turning 18! He must be feeling nostalgic.
As I biked, I watched the next episode of Dickinson (season 2, ep 3). She decides to have a seance so she can ask the spirits what her true destiny is: as a famous author or an anonymous recluse. Of course, she invites all of her frenemies. I stopped it early, so I’ll have to wait until my next workout to learn if she got an answer. What a strange yet delightful show. As I ran, I listened to a spotify playlist: Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift. Spent at least half of the run trying to shift my attention away from worries about possibly sick daughters. Finally, it worked.
Here’s something good that happened today: I got 4 more field notes notebooks in the mail. More plague notebooks to fill! I’m almost done with my 6th one. I started it on Jan 1st. I’ve taken lots of notes this year so far. I’m hoping the plague will mostly be gone before I finish the 10th one.
bike: 12 minutes run: 1.5 miles basement outside: 31 degrees
It snowed about 1.5 inches this morning. Wet, sloppy, slightly slick snow. Pretty snow. Right after it stopped, I went outside and shoveled. So wet and heavy, but easy to shovel. And, after I was finished, the sun came out. Now, in the afternoon, much of the snow has melted. In past years, I might have run outside, but it’s harder to avoid people when much of the sidewalk and roads are covered in puddles. Unexpectedly, I haven’t minded running and biking inside. I don’t remember that much about my bike or my run. Oh, I remembered this: listening to the VS. podcast and their interview with Aracelis Girmay. One of the hosts, Danez Smith, asked Girmay about her focus on a fly in a poem she read:
Danez Smith: Can I ask what brings your attention to the fly? There is such a sense of like everywhere and everything having this safety and this love in your work. I love these poems because it feels like everything in the world gets its piece of love in these poems. I guess, how do you nurture that in yourself to see the fly in that way, right? And how … what is it, I guess, in your work that sort of stops your attention on something as small as a fly, I guess? How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?
I love this question and the idea of learning how to see small things like flies and how they (Smith) ask about it: “How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?” Yes, the idea of generous, loving looking. I also like the idea of stopping your attention, instead of paying attention or focusing attention. It makes me think about how we are all already in a constant state of attention. The key is to stop, to settle, to pick one, small thing to notice.
a moment of sound
I forgot to record my moment of sound while I was shoveling, so I did it later, in the early evening at 6:19, 20 minutes after the sun had set. Very quiet. I hear a dog in the distance and the quiet hum of the city. I think I just barely hear the scratch scratch scratch of my neighbor’s scare rods spinning in the slight breeze.
bike: 15 minutes run: 1.5 miles treadmill outside: 43 degrees
What a beautiful, feels-like-spring day! Scott and I took Delia the dog on a long walk by the river and around the neighborhood this morning in the bright sun. It felt much warmer than 40 degrees. Lots of runners and walkers and bikers on the river road trail, enjoying the warmth. Heard lots of birds, including the cardinal’s “pew pew pew” song. Some woodpeckers, crows, a few black-capped chickadees, and many others that I can’t identify by song. Maybe there were a charm of finches? (I found a great site for group names for birds) At some point during the walk, we heard some honking geese! Returning for the spring?
When we got back I decided to sit on the back deck, in the bright sun. I am looking forward to late spring and summer when I can do this every day. Sitting there quietly, listening to all of the birds, and not thinking about much of anything, a bright red cardinal flew just past me and landed in a tree at the edge of our deck. Usually I can’t see cardinals, but I noticed this one first as it moved across my peripheral, which helped my brain see it when it landed in my central vision. Very cool–and very strange how the brain helps me to see things.
Because it was getting late, and it was very wet and crowded outside today, I decided to bike and run in the basement. Watched a race while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran. Didn’t think about much–what did I think about? I can’t remember, which isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes I like forgetting. This morning I memorized a Sara Teasdale poem that I have been intending to memorize for many months: Let It Be Forgotten. I’m hoping to use it as a spell or a charm or a mantra to chant when I want to stop thinking about something:
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.
a moment of sound
Wow, the water rushing through the drain, and off the eaves, sounds very loud in this recording. You can barely hear the many birds, I recorded this moment while sitting on my deck is the glorious sun.