dec 1/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool

Back to the pool. Hooray! Swam a lot of loops — 99 laps — while breathing every 3, then 4, 5, then 6. Worked on breathing on my weaker side (left) when breathing every 4. Decided not to count, just swam until Scott entered the pool area and stood at the top of my lane. Not very crowded today. A guy in swim trunks to my right, swimming a lot of side stroke. It was fun to watch the wide sweep of his hands as he moved through the water on his side. Empty to my left, then Miss Luna arrived. Almost positive it was Miss Luna — the regular swimmer who swims with fins and paddles and does butterfly, and wears a pale green suit, with pale blue too, that makes me think vaguely of a luna moth. She wasn’t in pale green with blue today, but a similar suit. Same strong stroke, same fins.

They must have added chlorine since my last swim. Much clearer, sharper too. The blue of the tiles on the bottom that make the lines dividing the sides of the lane were a vivid blue instead of almost looking navy or black. Speaking of color, kept seeing yellow and orange when I lifted my head.

Felt strong and happy and buoyant, riding the surface, smoothly powering through the water. At some point, I started thinking about my color poems. I’ve written one about yellow, another about color in general. Before swimming, I started one about gray. Almost everything is gray or seems gray or leads to gray. Other colors are only pops, flashes, suggestions. I thought about making the poem mostly variations on the phrase, a gray day, or singing a song of gray, or gray area, or grayed out. Then I thought about having the poem visually mimic how I often see color. It’s frequently a flat or hazy gray until suddenly, to the side, a slash or pop of color appears, like orange or red. So, most of the words are gray, gray day, gray dreams, sing a song of gray, then off to the side, “orange” appears. Could this work? I’ll give it a try!

december challenge

I’m not sure what my challenge for this month will be. I’m in the thick of working on these color poems and prepping for my finding wonder in the winter writing class in late January (so excited to teach this one!). Should it be about orange? Or the poet that just wrote a collection partly about her degenerative eye disease — Julia B. Levine — titled, Ordinary Psalms? Or joy, inspired by recently purchasing Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy and my desire to explore what gray joy could be? I’ll give it another day, but I’m leaning towards Gay and joy. In the meantime, here’s one of Levine’s psalms from Ordinary Psalms:

Psalm with Near Blindness/ Julia B. Levine

i. 
The world mostly gone, I make it what I want: 
from the balcony, the morning a silver robe of mist.

I make a reckless blessing of it—the flaming, 
flowering spurge of the world, the wind 

the birds stir up as they flock and sing. 
Edges yes, the green lift and fall of live oaks,

something metal wheeling past, 
and yet for every detail alive and embodied— 

the horses with their tails switching back and forth, 
daylilies parting their lobes to heat— 

I cannot stop asking, Sparrow or wren? Oak
or elm? Because it matters 

if the gray fox curled in sleep 
is a patch of dark along the fence line,

or if the bush hung with fish kites 
is actually a wisteria in flower. Though 

even before my retinas bled and scarred 
and bled again, I wanted everything 

different, better. And then this afternoon, 
out walking the meadow together,

my husband bent to pick a bleeding heart.
Held it close as I needed 

to see its delicate lanterns, 
the shaken light. 

ii. 
Deer, he says, our car stopped in traffic. 
And since I can’t see them, I ask, Where?

Between the oaks, he answers,
and since I can’t see the between,
                                                                I ask, In the dappling?                        
He takes my hand and points 
to the darkest stutter in the branches 
                                                                and I see a shadow 

in the sight line of his hand, his arm, 
his blue shirt with its clean scent of laundry, 

my hand shading my eyes from glare. 
There! he says, and I can see 
                                                              the dark flash of them 
                                                              leaping over a fence (or is it reeds?), 

                                                              one a buck with his bony crown, 
                                                         and one a doe, and one smaller, a fawn,

but by then it seems they’ve disappeared 
and so I ask, Gone?
and he nods. 

We’re moving again,

                                                               and so I let the inner become outer 

                                                               become pasture and Douglas firs 
                                                               with large herds of deer, elk, even bison, 

                                                               and just beyond view, a mountain lion 

auburn red, like the one we saw years before, 
hidden behind a grove of live oaks, 

                                                                                        listening.

Oh, I am so excited to find this poem and the brilliant work of this poet! I can relate to so many of her words! The silver mist of the morning, the edges mostly gone, the emphasis on movement, her husband helping her to see, the inner becoming outer. Some differences too (probably partly because I imagine my vision isn’t quite as bad as hers): I don’t think the world is gone, more shifted, italicized, transformed. And I don’t need to know exactly what type of tree I’m seeing. I’d like to be able to tell the difference between a deer or a bush — sometimes I can’t — but the fine details matter less.

My thoughts on this last bit, about seeing exactly what’s there, are partly inspired by Levine’s response in an interview about the psalm. She says:

As I worked on it, this poem felt to me like a meditation on one particular dilemma of near blindness: that is, in the absence of a clear visual image, how the mind fills in, and what relationship this kind of seeing” has to spiritual notions of “vision” as opposed to a medical/anatomical definition of “sight.”

To explain further, there are some absences of visual perception that I actually like: I don’t see how dirty my house is, or whether or not my clothes are covered in blonde dog hair, and my friends and family all look very beautiful to me since I cannot see their wrinkles or whatever else might be considered “flaws.”

But I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me. So, in the poem, I am interested in both how tounderstand what I do “see” as a amalgam of my own mind and memory, plus the relational construction that primarily my husband lends to me, and finally, what I can actually perceive. The result of this perceptual construction can sometimes feel like an important “truth” as opposed to visual fact.

I have loved the natural world since I was a small child and it is my inability to see it accurately that pains me.

Interview with Julia B. Levine

I love the natural world, but I’ve never needed to see it accurately in the ways that Levine seems to be invoking. I’m not interested in critiquing her perspective, but in positioning mine in relation to it. Also, I’d like to understand more of what she means by accurate. The more I (attempt to) study how vision and sight work, the more I’m fascinated by how much guesswork it involves for everyone, even “normally” sighted people. The brain filters, guesses, fills in. What does it mean to see nature accurately? Also, what about other senses? Can they enable us to access parts of nature that our limited/biased vision can’t? Losing some sight and the ability to easily, and more quickly, with much more detail, sucks, and I struggle with it. But I’m also interested in ways of knowing/understanding/recognizing/becoming familiar with beyond central vision and fine detail. I ave a different project than Levine, but I deeply appreciate her words.

nov 21/SWIM

1.5 miles (2700 yards / 108 laps)
ywca pool

Very glad to be able to swim this morning. My foot, which has been sore the past few days, feels much better today. Swimming instead of running will help even more. I swam my usual continuous 200s. Decided not to count the laps and just keep swimming until Scott came to the pool and stopped at the end of my lane. A few workouts ago, I asked him to stop at the end of my lane instead of going straight over to the hot tub to wait for me to be finished. I explained that it’s hard for me to recognize him — I might not be able to do it. Now I don’t have to worry. It’s not hard for me to see a person with bright orange shorts at the end of my lane. Just another strategy for dealing with not being able to see that well.

10 Things I Noticed While Swimming

  1. a few more things on the ground, at least one stringy thing floating in the matter — I was in a different lane, so that might it explain why there were more things. It could also be that it’s time for them to clean the pool again
  2. no chlorine stings
  3. crowded — most lanes had 2 people
  4. the woman sharing the lane with me was a great swimmer. I liked watching her freestyle as I approached her, and the way she shot off the wall
  5. 2 Regulars — Mr. Speedo, the older white man who is lanky and probably has been swimming for 1/2 a century, and who wears a dark speedo and the oldish white woman in the pale blue and green suit who sometimes wears fins or booties on her feet, mitts on her hands. Today, after about 30 minutes in the water, she started swimming butterfly. It might be a stretch, but I think I’ll call her Miss Luna after the luna moth which is pale green — this luna moth is not a butterfly, but people often mistake it for one
  6. predominant color I noticed again: orange. I think a lot of the orange I see are the small sandwich board signs that are orange and read, caution wet floor, or someting like that
  7. looking straight ahead through the cloudy water, I could just barely see my lane partner approaching. She was in a solid dark suit and was streamlined, making me think of a small shark — surprisingly, this didn’t make me nervous
  8. at one point, Miss Luna and the shark were swimming at the same speed, on either side of me. It was fun speeding through the two of them — like what, a rocket?
  9. one distinctive noise — the squeak of my nose because my nose plug was not on properly
  10. 2 older women in the locker room discussing the big snow storm in upstate New York. 2 things in particular I remember: first, that the football had to be moved somewhere else and two, about how after a big storm there are always tons of pictures on social media of people who are stuck and can’t open their front doors

Today’s gray theme: gray variations

The Nomenclature of Color/ Richard Jones

Absinthe green: Laura’s eyes.
Bishop’s purple: Evening skies.
Cornflower blue: Dreams of the wise.
Dragon’s-blood red: My mother’s dark sighs.
Elephant’s breath: Imagination.
Forget-me-not blue: The dust of cremation.
Guinea green: Ruination.
Hessian brown: The dust of creation.
Iron gray: The paradox of clouds.
Jade green: The bride’s necklace.
Kingfisher blue: Justice and grace.
Lavender gray: A widow’s shroud.
Medici blue: The heart that is jealous.
Nile blue: The color of water.
Onionskin pink: A poem for my daughter.
Pearl gray: The wedding gift.
Quaker drab: The virtue of thrift.
Raw sienna: Dirt we sift.
Seafoam green: The rowboat adrift.
Tyrian rose: Love’s ardor.
Ultramarine blue: Heaven’s color.
Venetian pink: Hell below.
Wedgewood blue: The little we know.
Xanthine orange: The taste of life.
Yvette violet: The lips of my wife.
Zinc orange, zinc blue, zinc white: The colors of houses in paradise.

Iron gray
Lavender gray
Pearl gray

Doing a google search about gray, I found this article with 6 Popular Gray Paint Colors: Agreeable Gray, West Coast Ghost, Seize the Gray, Balboa Mist, Comfort White, and White Metal.

from “ode to gray”

Gray in the wild opens and spills. Put two grays together and you’ll see the color each one hides within, the “endless variations” noted by Van Gogh. I think of the handful of river pebbles I once snuck into my pockets on a day trip to a waterfall: they were dusty gray when I got home, but underwater, each concealed a secret separate life as green or red or blue. So many things that seem gray on the surface have a treasure to unlock—myself, I hope, included.

from To Theo van Gogh (a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his son)

As regards black in nature, we are of course in complete agreement, as I understand it. Absolute black doesn’t in fact occur.2 Like white, however, it’s present in almost every colour and forms the endless variety of greys — distinct in tone and strength.3 So that in nature one in fact sees nothing but these tones or strengths. 

The 3 fundamental colours are red, yellow, blue. Composite: orange, green, purple.

From these are obtained the endless variations of grey by adding black and some white — red-grey, yellow-grey, blue-grey, green-grey, orange-grey, violet-grey. 

It’s impossible to say how many different green-greys there are for example — the variation is infinite.

But the whole chemistry of colours is no more complicated than those simple few fundamentals. And a good understanding of them is worth more than 70 different shades of paint — given that more than 70 tones and strengths can be made with the 3 primary colours and white and black.4 The colourist is he who on seeing a colour in nature is able to analyze it coolly and say, for example, that green-grey is yellow with black and almost no blue, &c. In short, knowing how to make up the greys of nature on the palette.  

nov 16/SWIM

1.5 miles
ywca pool

Another swim this week! Hooray for strong, sore shoulders and buoyancy. Googles and nose plugs and flip flops with a cartoon image of bloody, frankenstein-y toes (an awesome gift from my sister Marji from a few years ago). I’m not sure how far I swam. I stopped counting laps at a mile, wanting to be surprised by my watch when Scott would appear at the end of my lane and I’d end my workout. Looked at my watch. Oops. No workout on. I forgot to push the extra green button for lap distance. Oh well. Judging by my calories and time, I must have swum a little farther than Monday, but I’ll keep it at 1.5 miles.

10 Things I Noticed While Swimming in the Pool

  1. the slight burn of chlorine in my nose
  2. a few more bits of something on the bottom of the pool — was it more, or was it just because I was swimming in a different lane? were these bits moving, or was that a trick of the light or my eyes?
  3. the older woman to my right, swimming breaststroke — slow, steady, graceful frog kicks
  4. the older woman to my left, swimming sidestroke — more grace and the calm, slow sweep of arms through the water
  5. this sidestroking woman was wearing a wonderful bathing suit — all black in the back, in the front: black at the bottom with red or pink or orange horizontal panels up above
  6. “racing” a guy 2 lanes over, swimming freestyle at about the same speed as me, until he stopped and I kept going
  7. a regular — the older, trim woman in the pale blue and green suit whose stroke is strong and fast, and who sometimes wears fins or booties
  8. the feeling of orange everywhere up above, blue below
  9. my foot (the right one?) feeling a little strange near the end, not quite numb but like it might cramp up (it didn’t)
  10. arriving, a crowded pool, everyone sharing lanes. A few minutes later, it began to empty. By the time I was done, only 2 people left

Thought about Ishihara’s colorblind plates as form. I feel drawn to this form because taking this test, and failing it, was my first evidence that something was wrong with my vision. But, this form is difficult to recreate or embody. I decided, as I looped, that I should do a little more research on how the form was created and how it works. Maybe that will help me to figure out what I want to do with it, or whether I want to use it all.

Here’s a place to start: Eye Magazine / Feature / Ishihara

And this video: The Science Behind the Ishihara Test

I can’t remember which poetry craft book I read this poem in, but I like how Soto uses color here — as flashes, sparks, flares against the “gray of December”:

Oranges/ Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all
About.
Outside,
A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl’s hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

nov 14/SWIM

about 1.5 miles (2550 yards)
ywca pool

Woke up to flurries, then a steady snow. 2-4 inches possible. I would have run in it, but I had already run 5.6 mile yesterday and planned to go to the y to swim this morning. How wonderful it was to be in the water! Made me feel good, so much better than before! After my swim, Scott and I soaked in the hot tub. We both agreed, it’s nice returning to routines that we used to do 4 or 5 years ago. I also like being around happy, older woman in the locker room. I’m not usually talking to them, but I like hearing their chatter post-workout. Joyful, relaxed, pleased to have moved their bodies. I want to be one of those old women one day. I want it even more knowing that it’s not guaranteed. My mom didn’t make it. Scott’s mom didn’t make it, either.

Did my usual swim, broken up by 200s — breathe ever 3/4/5/6. Didn’t have my nose plug on quite right and with the first few flip turns, my nose and then my head burned. Ouch. The water was cloudier today than it had been last week. Saw at least one thing floating in the water, a few marks or spots or bits of something on the bottom. Shared a lane with an older woman for the first few minutes. She did sidestroke and breaststroke and backstroke. A guy in the next lane (was it the same guy as last week?) was running to the edge of the deeper end, then swimming freestyle or breaststroke. At one point, he sped along underwater, parallel to the bottom, kicking furiously.

Colors I Noticed:

  1. the red swim trunks of the guy swimming in the next lane
  2. lots of orange — an orange sign on the pool deck, my orange bay, some other orange things
  3. a swimmer in a pale blue and green suit
  4. deep blue tiles on the bottom of the pool
  5. someone in a black suit, walking along the pool deck

I tried to think about a form for my vision poems that I’d like to use, but I’m not sure how: the Ishihara colorblind plates. The ones that are a circle with colored dots and a number embedded in the center in a different color. Maybe a year before I was diagnosed, I looked at one of these and couldn’t see the number. It was my first clearcut indication that something was strange about my vision. I remember crying — not from sadness, but relief. I wasn’t making it up. There was something wrong with me! Of course, at that moment, I had no idea that what was wrong with me was that all my cone cells were dying. Anyway, I tried to think about the plate as form as I swam, but I keep getting distracted. I want to use this form, but I don’t know how or even if I could do it with my limited design skills. I’ll keep thinking about it and maybe I’ll figure it out.

Before I swam, early this morning, I thought about color and not being able to see it, or being able to see it sometimes, and usually strangely. I found a documentary by Oliver Sacks: Island of the Colorblind

Do I mind that my colors are strange or wrong or not always there? Not too much. Often, I don’t realize I’m not seeing color.

Here’s part of a gray poem I found last week. The entire thing is amazing, and better read on Poetry Foundation site with all the proper spacing. I’m posting a excerpt from it because I like the way color appears in it. Is it almost like slashes and flashes?

from Grayed In/ Martha Collins

2

Cloud on cloud, gray
on gray, snow fallen

on snow, tree on tree
on unleafed tree—

only a river silvered
with thin ice and a slash
of gold in the late gray sky.

3

Grayed snow slush trudge but

snow falling coating filling

in for absence Present!

child with stringed mittens

here to take her place

to take over on

snow showing up air

4

White sky, whiter sun brushing
trees with tints of red, then

in the distance streaking
mauve gold, filling in
between the now filagreed

trees, silhouettes against
the now red burning sky.

nov 8/SWIM

1+ mile (1950 yards)
ywca pool

Another swim! So happy to be able to swim this late fall and winter. I did my usual: continuous 200s freestyle, broken up by 50s, breathe every 3/4/5/6 strokes. On a few flip turns, my right knee cap felt strange, but otherwise it was okay. I felt strong and buoyant, stretched flat at the surface.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A woman in a blue and green suit with booties, then flippers, on, swimming breaststroke, backstroke, and freestyle. Older, I think, and a good, strong swimmer
  2. An older man in a speedo on the other side of me, swimming freestyle and breaststroke
  3. A man in black board shorts swimming along the bottom, then running — was he injured?
  4. the colored tiles on the bottom of the pool looked extra blue
  5. a few white tiles had some stuff on them — chipped? mildew?
  6. at the end of the lane, the wall is marked with a giant plus sign — I think of it as black, but it is probably blue to match the tiles. I had no problem seeing it
  7. I struggled to see if there were any swimmers in the water when I was picking my lane — is that an elbow, or just a trick of the light?
  8. everything I lifted my head (still practicing sighting every so often), I saw orange. Where was the orange coming from?
  9. as my arms entered the water and my body rotated slightly, I felt like a boat with my feet as rudders
  10. glanced down at the big drains on the bottom of the pool and thought about Jaws and the great opening chapter I just read a few months ago (The Swimmers)

Continuing November’s theme of gray. Today: smudge. Thinking about one of my favorite vision poems, I Look Up from My Book and Out at the World through Reading Glasses by Diane Seuss. It begins, “The world, italicized.” and ends,

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

All forms, the man wrote, tend toward blur.

Today looking at the lines, posted on poets.org, I puzzled over one: Just and eraser smudge. I’ve thought about this line before and wondered what it means. Just and? What is the just here? Suddenly I wondered if it was a typo. I checked out the ebook from the library and looked. Yes! Here’s the actual line:

Just an eraser smudge,

That makes so much more sense! I thought I just wasn’t getting it, which can happen with poetry.

I like the smoke-gray and smudge gray. It makes me think of a vision poem I started, but has stalled, about not being able to see my daughter’s face when she tells me a story:

the motions of the dipping birds/ sara lynne puotinen

My daughter sits on a couch near the window and tells me a story.
I listen to her words, watch her small hands rise and fall,
dart and flick, sweep the air. Each shift in movement
the difference between excitement anger exasperation disdain.

When I look up, the space where a face should be is not
a face but a smudge, as if someone took a dried out eraser
from the end of an old pencil and tried to remove the lines
but failed. Each attempt has darkened the page until

what remains is a mess of almosts — a space almost filled,
lines almost legible, a face almost there. My eyes move
to her shoulder to find her features in my periphery.
I look again at her center and almost see an eye, a nose, her mouth.

My gaze returns to her hands. I listen to her words
and marvel at the soft feathers of her fingers.

october 28/SWIM!

1+ mile
ywca pool

The first swim back at the y pool in 4 years. I’m so happy to be swimming again this winter. I really wanted to make it happen, and I did. Hooray! It’s a very different experience swimming in the pool versus the lake. I still like the lake better, but it’s wonderful to be able to get back in the water. At the start of my swim, I was worried about my kneecap — would it slip out of the groove? It was fine. The rest of the time I counted strokes and noticed the people swimming in other lanes. On one side, an older woman with a strong stroke, alternating between breaststroke and freestyle. On the other side, a younger guy swimming backstroke, freestyle, and breaststroke. A few times he started just as I pushed off the wall and we might have raced. Not sure; I stayed my steady pace, but I was happy to be faster than him. In lanes 5 and 6 — I was in 3 — 2 guys were hanging out in the deep end, one at the surface, the other bobbing up from the bottom.

I swam a 200 yard warm-up, then 1600 yards without stopping, then a 50 yard warm down. 8 sets of continuous 200s, breathing every 3 strokes for 50 yards, 4 strokes for 50, 5 strokes, and 6 strokes (3/4/5/6 x 8). Breaking up 50s with different breathing helps the time to pass more quickly, and also helps me to keep track of my laps. If I breathed every 5 strokes the entire time, I would quickly forget how many 200s I had already done. I’m terrible at keeping track of them. Why is it so hard? Not sure.

I thought about how the kids used to swim here for swim lessons, then on the Otters swim team. I counted how many blue tiles were on the bottom: 6, I think. And I did my start of the swim ritual: pushing off the wall and staying underwater until I reached the end of the blue tiles, which is about 2/3 of the way across.

Scott and I soaked in the hot tub after I was done. Excellent! I’m looking forward to working out here this winter, for the exercise and all the rituals on the track, in the pool, in the locker room.

Found this poem — I think on twitter? — and it made me think of many things, including my question up above about why I always have trouble keeping track of what lap I am on while swimming in a pool — I have this problem with loops in the lake too:

Lost in Plain Sight/ Peter Schneider

Somewhere recently
I lost my short-term memory.
It was there and then it moved
like the flash of a red fox
along a line fence.

My short-term memory
has no address but here
no time but now.
It is a straight-man, waiting to speak
to fill in empty space
with name, date, trivia, punch line.
And then it fails to show.

It is lost, hiding somewhere out back
a dried ragweed stalk on the Kansas Prairie
holding the shadow of its life
against a January wind.

How am I to go on?
I wake up a hundred times a day.
Who am I waiting for
what am I looking for
why do I have this empty cup
on the porch or in the yard?
I greet my neighbor, who smiles.
I turn a slow, lazy Susan
in my mind, looking for
some clue, anything to break the spell
of being lost in plain sight.


sept 20/RUNswim*

*Yesterday afternoon, RJP, Scott and I drove by Lake Nokomis and noticed the buoys were still up. Since it was going to be warm today, I decided I’d swim one last time this morning. Arrived at the beach at 9:30 am. No buoys. This is not the first time this has happened. Oh well. I ran instead and then waded into the water at the end to cool down. I don’t like big goodbyes with grand gestures, so I was fine with not being able to make this the final swim. I like ending things when there’s still the possibility that it could keep going. When open swim ended, I could think, I can bike over to the lake and do a few loops until they take down the buoys. By the time it’s actually over, I’ve already been acting as if it’s over for a while.

2.5 miles
around lake nokomis
75 degrees

I haven’t run around the lake for many months. I can’t even remember the last time I did it. It was very hot, but nice. I like how they’ve been working on restoring the wetlands and the shoreline. More wildflowers. Running over the cedar bridge, I looked across the beautiful water. Ah, Lake Nokomis, I’ll miss you this winter!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. some very noisy crows
  2. a honking/moaning goose on the other shore — I think it was in the water and not up in the air
  3. a plane roaring over my head as I ran across the cedar bridge
  4. no buoys at the little beach, workers re-tarring spots on the bike trail
  5. 2 older men sitting and chatting at a picnic table near the bike racks just before the little beach
  6. an empty dock
  7. lots of people walking with dogs
  8. more walkers than runners
  9. after my run, wading in the water, just past my knees — brr! the water was cold
  10. seagulls strutting around on the sand

Glaucoma/ Charlene Fix

What my eyes see reminds me of under-exposed
negatives from my bygone wet photography days,
days replete with eyes—the camera’s, the enlarger’s, mine—
when I failed to admit sufficient light to the film,
resulting in negatives so thin that, held aslant,
they looked like printed pictures. Thin, yet yielding
tender images, the sweet round faces of children
rising and blooming in the developer tray as if

pulled from the photo paper’s fertile heart as it sloshed and sang
for an allotted time in nether clouds of liquid vapor,
images startling with the beauty of their truths.
Then into the final tray, a bath transforming love
and sight to artifact, though faint the accretion,
fragile memory made lasting with the help of chemical tears.

This is not what my eyes see but I appreciate the description. I’d like to return to this poem and think about how my experience differs.

After the run, while doing the dishes, I listened to an Ali on the Run podcast episode with Deena Kastor. Here’s a bit of it that I’d like to remember:

Ali: How do you keep going when a race isn’t going your way?

Deena: I think we always have the opportunity to talk ourselves out of something, or talk ourselves into something. And I feel, time and time again, how I am so suprised at how, when I talk myself into something, how it can get the job done. You can rely on excuses and feel okay with those excuses, but when you shove those excuses aside and you just convince yourself that one more step is the right thing to do, it’s amazing how we can accomplish something.

I am good at talking myself out of things and having excuses/rational and reasonable explations for why I’m not doing something. Sometimes this is okay, but…I’m finding myself saying no too often. I wouldn’t call it giving up, instead, I think of it as a narrowing of my world/options, a shutting of doors and foreclosing of possibilities. Lately, I’ve given myself a goal: keep the door open. Don’t do things/make choices that close the door. It reminds me of a line from Ron Padgett’s great poem “How to Be Perfect“:

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.

addendum, a few hours later: Reading through swimming entries from this summer, I came across this Ron Padgett line on August 5th. I was talking about the lyrics from the Mary Poppins’ song, “Anything Can Happen.”

sept 11/RUN

3 miles
marshall loop
53 degrees

Perfect running weather! Cooler, calmer, sunny. Ran through the neighborhood, over the lake street bridge, up marshall, across Cretin, then down the east river road. As I entered the river road, a never-ending line of bikes. 50? 100? They weren’t tightly packed, like in a peleton, just stretched out all the way down the hill.

As I ran, I thought about my latest poem. I’m still trying to find the right words to express why I sometimes like punching waves during open swim. At some point during the run, I came up with some lines — something about a wave crashing over my head, being emptied of air, my thoughts shattered then scattered. (emptied of air, the thoughts knocked out of me.) These lines about thoughts being shattered got me thinking about the pure physicality of swimming straight into the waves and how I’m always trying to find ways to stop thinking and theorizing and worrying. When I was done with my run, I recorded some thoughts:

running notes / 11 sept

When I got home, I thought more about the last bit of my recording, when I talked about swimming without thinking, knowing innately how best to stroke, and I wrote in by Plague Notebook: doing, not being. Pure verb or all verb or (just?) Verb. I want to bring in this idea of becoming verb somewhere in the poem.

I think my love of punching water has something to do with reconciling, or navigating, the split between mind and body, which is something I’ve thought about (and lived) throughout my life. How to be both a mind and a body, finding ways to rethink the relationship between them.

Here are 2 related passages from Alice Oswald in her Between the Covers interview that are inspiring me right now:

I sometimes wonder whether I’m a very keen swimmer, and whether for me, poetry is equivalent to swimming. I’ve often noticed when I swim, the strangeness of the way the body literally turns into a fish, but the head remains human and rather cold, and looking around at this strange flat reflective surface. I’m often very piercingly aware of the difference between my head and my body when I’m swimming because I’m not necessarily someone who goes underwater, I love swimming along the surface of rivers. Perhaps, my poems do feel a need to convey that continued separation of the head remaining human and the body becoming animal, or plant, or mineral, or whatever it can be. In some way, I suppose I’m trying to find rhythms that will heal that divide.

I think that’s exactly it, that we seem to exist as bodies and minds. That’s always slightly troubled me that I can’t quite make them be the same thing. I always have two narratives going on and it’s extraordinary the way the mind is floating around seemingly quite untethered and yet the body has all these laws like gravity, and limit, and size, and hunger, that it’s obeying. How those two interact and how they come to define what it is to be human is again—I’m wary of using the verb think because I don’t think poetry is necessarily about thinking—but it gets hold of questions, and reveals them as questions, and then reveals what’s underneath them, and then what’s underneath that. I suppose each book tries to peel away a layer of that problem and present it again.

Between the Covers interview with Alice Oswald

sept 9/RUN

5.25 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
64 degrees / drizzle

Rain today. On and off. When I started, it wasn’t raining, but in the middle of my run, drizzle. It was hard to tell because I was sweating and wearing a baseball cap. A good run. I was overdressed, with my pink jacket on. When I got to the bottom of the Franklin hill, I took it off and wrapped it around my waist.

Running down the hill I chanted,

Here I go
down the hill
Here I go
down the hill
Here I go
down the hill
Watch me fly!

Listened to all the sounds in the gorge running north, a Bruno Mars Apple Essential playlist on the return trip south.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. a stinky sewer smell — not near the ravine, but down in the tunnel of trees
  2. a tower of stacked stones on the ancient boulder
  3. the coxswain instructing the rowers
  4. a rushing sound — either the wind through the leaves or water sprinkling out of the seeps and springs and sewer pipes
  5. so much goldenrod this year! golden yellow flowers everywhere. I wonder if that’s what’s causing Delia the dog’s itchiness?
  6. the leaves are starting to turn, mostly yellow, a few streaks of red
  7. park workers in their orange vests, their truck parked on the path — trimming trees?
  8. such an intense smell of pot as I ran by the lake street bridge porta potty
  9. the smell of cigarette smoke below the franklin st bridge
  10. I think the river was more brown than blue and it was gently moving

In the fall of 2018 (thanks past Sara for writing the date in the front of the book!), I bought Tanis Rideout’s book of poems, Arguments with the Lake. Working on my latest poem, about fighting with the lake, I decided to revisit it. Here’s one of the poems:

Shirley, Midlake/ Tanis Rideout

Hearts are bred to beat one billion times in an elephant
or in a mouse — mathematically simple difference of beats
per minute. Unlucky us with two billion more, slowed
by the hibernetic slumber of escape or blessedly sped by panic,
pain, a six a.m. jog around the block turning, always turning,
clockwise. By love, by sex. By want. So simple to be a fish.

I’m always giving it away. With each stroke, flutter, catch, kick
and the surging need to inhale, inhale, inhale, like I’ve never
taken a breath before.

The lake tries to soothe and slow, creeps cold into core, slips
into the sheltered bays of lungs, the hidden rivers around the heart.
It’s a fair exchange — beats per pleasure. For pain. Each of us is allotted
the strikes of the heart. I’m using mine, arguing with the Lake.

sept 8/RUN

2.5 miles
2 trails
80 degrees / wind gusts, 26 mph
11:00 am

Too windy for a swim at the lake, so I ran instead. Who has seen the wind?/ Neither I nor you:/ But when the leaves hang trembling/the leaves are pasing through. Hot! Heard a few black capped chickadees singing the feebee song and was reminded of the creepy theme from The Shining. Listening to the theme later, I don’t quite hear the connection. What I remember most from the run was feeling warm. I also remember thinking about the latest poem I’m working on and trying to work through where to go next. I stopped at the dirt trail near Folwell, after the short, steep hill and before the paved trail returns below, to record some thoughts. And I remember that when I stopped, I noticed a very small, square plaque at the bottom of the bench.

a small plaque at the bottom of a bench. The inscription reads: "WWDD - contemplation station for the fearless and free"
close-up of plaque on bench near Folwell
a bench facing trees and the river with a small plaque on it, near the ground
Rachel Dow Memorial Bench

I have run by this bench hundreds of times, stopped and sat once or twice, even wrote about it, but I’ve never noticed this small plaque on it. How did I see it today? I love these little surprises, just waiting to be found! I had no idea what this plaque meant — WWDD? I looked it up and found a facebook page for the Rachel Dow Memorial. Wow. She was loved by so many. I read a little about her life — a passionate, social justice minded, free-spirit — and her death — she fell through the ice at the river and died of hypothermia. Maybe I’ll write a poem about her and the others I’ve found through their plaques. All of them share with me a deep love for this river. And maybe one day, I’ll have a plaque there too.

Here’s a draft of the poem I’m working on right now. The inspiration for it: a few entries in which I describe how I love choppy water and punching the waves; the idea that lake swimming differs from sea, river, and pool swimming; and the line about two story rollers in the poem, Wave After Wave.

Untitled Poem About Punching Waves/ Sara Puotinen

Listen pal, this isn’t
the sea. Hell, this isn’t
even a proper
lake. Just a dredged out
cranberry marsh with
an average depth of
fifteen feet. And those
aren’t waves. No big rollers.
No white horses
thundering to shore.
Nothing pulling you
under, dragging you
down. Still, people drown
here and when water
meets a strong wind, which
happens more often
these days, it’s ready
for a fight. Me too.
Neither of us hard
with anger but
restless overfilled
with energy and
the need to spend it
somewhere. I square my
shoulders and head straight
into a small swell

That’s what I have right now.