april 12/RUN

2 miles
basement, treadmill

Snowing again today. Wet, sloppy paths. But soon the snow will melt and it will turn green. Too green. Time to take up my project of collecting poetry about green and thinking about the Mississippi River Gorge in the spring.

Just found a wonderfully named essay, Green I Love You Green and this fabulous poem:

Inside Out/Bill Yake

trees are our lungs turned inside out
& inhale our visible chilled breath.

our lungs are trees turned inside out
& inhale their clear exhalations.

Love these ideas of trees and breathing and inside/outside!

april 11/RUN

2.8 miles
basement, treadmill

Winter storm warning outside. High winds, heavy snow, falling branches, covered path. School cancelled. So glad we have a treadmill. Although, if it weren’t so windy, I might have enjoyed running outside and hearing the satisfying squeaks and crunches of the heavy, water-logged snow. I’m not happy about this snow, but I also don’t really care. It will melt within a few days.

Ballad in A
BY CATHY PARK HONG

A Kansan plays cards, calls Marshall
a crawdad, that barb lands that rascal a slap;  
that Kansan jackass scats,
camps back at caballada ranch.

Hangs kack, ax, and camp hat.
Kansan’s nag mad and rants can’t bask,
can’t bacchanal and garland a lass,
can’t at last brag can crack Law’s balls,

Kansan’s cantata rang at that ramada ranch,
Mañana, Kansan snarls, I’ll have an armada
and thwart Law’s brawn,
slam Law a damn mass war path.

Marshall’s a marksman, maps Kansan’s track,
calm as a shaman, sharp as a hawk,
Says: That dastard Kansan’s had
and gnaws lamb fatback.

At dawn, Marshall stalks that ranch,
packs a gat and blasts Kansan’s ass
and Kansan gasps, blasts back.
A flag flaps at half-mast.

What a poem! I love writing under constraint, although limiting all vowels to A seems extra hard. (here’s a guide to the poem.) This technique of eliminating all vowels but A is a OuLiPo technique. Here are some others I found on Wikipedia–I’ll have to try them out.

S+7, sometimes called N+7
Replace every noun in a text with the seventh noun after it in a dictionary. For example, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago…” becomes “Call me islander. Some yeggs ago…”. Results will vary depending upon the dictionary used. This technique can also be performed on other lexical classes, such as verbs.

Snowball
A poem in which each line is a single word, and each successive word is one letter longer.

Lipogram
Writing that excludes one or more letters. The previous sentence is a lipogram in B, F, J, K, Q, V, Y, and Z (it does not contain any of those letters).

april 6/RUNBIKE

1.75 miles
basement, treadmill

30 minutes
basement, bike stand

Wanted to run outside this morning but it kept raining. Of course, now that I’m done, it has stopped. Still gloomy and wet. But my back doesn’t hurt and I feel good and I found a new show that I love watching–Father Brown–and I’m in the midst of an exciting writing project and open water swimming is only 2 months away, so I’m fine.

I love my poetry class. Amazingly, I feel totally fine about not being very good at analyzing poems or giving other people feedback about their poems. There is so much I don’t know or I can’t quite get (yet) about line breaks and rhythm and ending lines on strong words or soft words. The trick for me is to study these techniques without having them take over my writing.

Introduction to Poetry
BY BILLY COLLINS

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

march 15/RUN

2.75 miles
basement, treadmill
100% icy sidewalks outside

Back to the treadmill today. After the Great Melt of 2019–9 inches of snow gone in just 2 days!–it got cold again. Too icy on the sidewalks for me. Maybe someday the treadmill will inspire great thoughts or provide awesome runner’s highs, but not today. That’s okay. I’m just happy to be moving.

Last night I had my first advanced poetry class. The best! I am so excited to be taking it and to get to be with other writers. In our first session, we read and discussed Naomi Shihab Nye’s prose poem Yellow Glove about a girl who loses one of her yellow gloves. I was reminded of a little poem I wrote about a black glove that I used to see running south on the river road:

black glove

for the past month
every time I run south
on the river road I greet
one black glove
fitted over a branch
upright and open
waving hello.
where did the runner go
who left this here?
don’t they miss it? and
why not leave the pair
together to keep each other company?
maybe the glove isn’t saying hello
but pleading with me to stop
to listen to its lament
to look for its partner.
someday I’d like to find the trail
with the right one—
the one that isn’t left
on the path I run regularly—
and rescue it
reuniting it with its twin.

I’d like to do more with this idea of abandoned gloves and other items of clothing on the trail. What might they be doing when we’re not looking?

Here’s a poem I encountered this morning. What a poem. I love her use of the abecedarian form. So many wonderful lines: “wherever he stops, kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies””some white god came floating across the ocean” and “You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.”

Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
BY NATALIE DIAZ

Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.
Coyotes, too. They all mean the same thing—
death. And death
eats angels, I guess, because I haven’t seen an angel
fly through this valley ever.
Gabriel? Never heard of him. Know a guy named Gabe though—
he came through here one powwow and stayed, typical
Indian. Sure he had wings,
jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. Wherever he stops,
kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies.
Like I said, no Indian I’ve ever heard of has ever been or seen an angel.
Maybe in a Christmas pageant or something—
Nazarene church holds one every December,
organized by Pastor John’s wife. It’s no wonder
Pastor John’s son is the angel—everyone knows angels are white.
Quit bothering with angels, I say. They’re no good for Indians.
Remember what happened last time
some white god came floating across the ocean?
Truth is, there may be angels, but if there are angels
up there, living on clouds or sitting on thrones across the sea wearing
velvet robes and golden rings, drinking whiskey from silver cups,
we’re better off if they stay rich and fat and ugly and
’xactly where they are—in their own distant heavens.
You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, they’ll be marching you off to
Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out for us.

march 13/RUN

2.5 miles
basement, treadmill
100% huge puddles hiding invisible slick spots outside

Happy to have the treadmill again today but disappointed in the weather. As Scott pointed out when I complained, it could be worse. Farther west today in the Plains and Denver winter storm Ulmer–yes, that’s what they’ve named it–is hitting. A nasty blizzard. Even so, the conditions here suck. We have flood warnings. Rain + melting snow + clogged sewer drains = yuck. So dreary to look out of my upstairs window and see a grayish brownish sludgy soup on the street. Managed to walk the dog for one block and almost fell at least 3 times. Deep puddles hiding sneaky slick spots. Didn’t think about much on the treadmill. Just stared at the letters on a box on a ledge in front of me and listened to my running playlist. Well, I did think about how much faster I thought I was running than the treadmill or my watch say. Also wondered how the gorge was doing today.

My poem for today comes from Didi Jackson. I heard it on Tracy K. Smith’s wonderful podcast, The Slowdown. It’s called Listen, which is something I’ve been working on doing ever since I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease in 2016. It’s even more important now since I found out from my eye doctor on Monday that my central vision has gotten worse. In my left eye, my central vision is 98% gone. The 2% remaining is in the very center and is almost gone too. I saw it on a scan of my retina–a pale yellow dot in a sea of darkish grayish black. My right eye is a little better. Only 70% totally gone. My doctor’s prediction: My central vision will be totally destroyed within the next 5 years. His suggestion: “Get your hearing checked. You’re going to need it.” So, I will listen. I read a tip on a low vision site for how not to spill when you’re filling up a cup: Listen. You can hear when the cup is full. I’ll have to practice that.

Listen
by Didi Jackson

Like a hundred gray ears
the river stones are layered

in a pile near the shed where mourning
doves slow their peck and bobble to listen

to a chorus of listening.
Small buds on the lilac perk up.

A cardinal’s torpedoed call comes
in slow waves of four,

round after round. It’s a love call;
a call to make him known to himself.

The stones listen harder,
decipher the song; attempt

to offer back its echo.
But fail.

This is not a poem of coming Spring.
This is a poem well aware

that gray flesh is dead flesh.
All of the ripe listening

comes at a cost. The first
sky is in all skies.

The first song
is in all songs.

march 12/RUN

2.5 miles
basement, treadmill
100% cold, gloomy, icy rain outside

Scott finally decided he was over this winter. So he bought a treadmill. I hope I don’t have to use it very often, but it was nice today. Give me 15 below and blowing snow. I’ll go running. But freezing drizzle, blustery wind, jagged ice rutted paths, and slippery sidewalks? Nope. Too dangerous. And miserable. What a mess outside! And so dreary.

Cell
BY NAOMI COHN

The blood of language moves through the word cell from monk’s cell to prison cell to biological cell. I don’t know why a Braille cell is called a cell. I don’t know how many blood cells Louis Braille lost when the awl he was playing with as a small child slipped and injured his eye.

Red blood cells live some hundred days before they are worn out by their silent hustle—looping and looping, pounded through the heart’s chambered cathedral, rushing out to the farthest reaches of the body with the good news of oxygen, squeezing single file along capillaries, like anxious deer probing their tracks through the woods. Rushing, silent, looping the circuits of the body. Again, again, again. Load iron. Dump iron. Load dump squeeze hustle.

Red blood cells pushed through the capillaries that pushed through my 
retinas. They broke loose to run a green swarm in the corral of my eye. But that is history. Today cells still push through the capillaries fenced off by my calloused fingerprint. This one that I run over the Braille cell, the pattern of bumps.

A red blood cell is measured in microns. A solitary prison cell is measured in feet. Six feet by nine feet or less. I don’t know what the unit of measure is for how living in solitary changes a person. We know that living in a confined space, without access to the long view or landscape, changes the eye. The eye, for lack of practice, loses its ability to make out what lies in the distance. I don’t have a unit of measure for what this does to the heart.

A Braille cell is measured in spaces in a grid—two across by three down—that can be filled with a raised dot or bump. Different combinations of dots represent different letters, punctuation, symbols, shorthand.

The oldest cell I find in the dictionary is the monastic cell, a place for contemplation. From the concealed place where wine was stored. As in cellar. I find Braille contemplative. I touch my index finger to a bumpy piece of paper. My hand advances slowly left to right, the touch receptors in my finger triggered by the uneven contact of paper and skin. Messages run along nerves, finger-to-brain, brain-to-finger. Cognition sizzles. Mind notices this feels different than the pathway of sound in ear to auditory processing. Listening pulls me out into the world in an infinity of directions. Touching my reading educates me on my exact location in the world, feet in shoes, weight of foot on ground, weight of bones and flesh in chair.