dec 4/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
38 degrees

Feeling sore–not hurt, just sore–in my legs and lower back so I wasn’t sure I would run today but when Scott said it seemed like a great day to run outside, I had to do it. Sunny, mild, clear. A bit windy, but not too bad. A few more people since it is warmish and closer to noon, but I managed to keep distance from all of them. Listened to a playlist again so I didn’t hear any birds or leaves or far away traffic. I’m very close to my goal of 1000 miles for the year! I should take 3 or 4 days off from running once I reach that goal. My body needs it. 1000 miles has demanded a lot–I’ve run almost every day this year. Almost all of those runs have been short–4 or 5k–but frequent. Will I ever be able to run more than 1000 miles in a year? Would that be good for my body? I’m not sure.

Anything I remember from my run? My mind has gone blank. No views of the river, no remarkable trees, no roller skiers or fat tires or Daily Walker. I do remember running on the dirt trail between the river road and edmund. Uneven and windy (as in lots of meandering, not a stiff breeze). I remember wanting to stop at the top of the edmund hill to change my music but deciding to keep going. I remember seeing lots of cars on the river road and running in the grass at Howe field to avoid pedestrians. I remember stepping off the sidewalk and running in the street several times to avoid some more people, doing a loop around Cooper and Howe, smelling something overwhelmingly fruity coming from a van and guessing that someone inside of it was vaping. I remember feeling especially strong and smooth as I ran down the hill on 32nd and especially nostalgic as I ran by the main entrance at my kids’ old kindergarten. I don’t remember taking note of my breathing or making up any chants or noticing any connections between my striking feet and my inhales and exhales.

Richard Siken is the Best

I think it was last year that poets.org began including an “About this poem” author’s note with the poem-of-the-day. I find them helpful and interesting and always look at them after my initial reading of the poem. Richard Aiken’s “About this poem” note for today’s “Real Estate” is the best, most delightful one I’ve ever read. It offers an explanation that helped me to (start to) understand the poem, which is great, but it also offers itself up as another poem to place beside the first one. How cool to turn the note into a poem! I want to experiment with doing this, especially since I am so resistant to offering explanations for what I’m doing (even as I feel I should and/or long to).

Real Estate/ Richard Siken

My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorced her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.

About this poem

“I had a stroke and forgot almost everything. My handwriting was big and crooked and I couldn’t walk. I slept a lot. I made lists, a working glossary. Meat. Blood. Floor. Thunder. I tried to understand what these things were and how I was related to them. Thermostat. Agriculture. Cherries Jubilee. Metamodernism. I understand North, but I struggle with left. Describing the world is easier than finding a place in it. Doorknob. Flashlight. Landmark. Yardstick.”
Richard Siken

I want to experiment with adding these notes to my mood ring poems–and maybe my earlier Snellen chart ones too. Is that too much?

nov 15/RUN

3.2 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north
33 degrees/ feels like 20
wind: 17 mph (30 mph gusts)

Blustery this morning. Pale gray sky. Clear path. More people than I expected but not too many. Looking out for others, I forgot to check on the river. Was it blueish gray? Don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any geese. No dogs or fat tires. I can’t remember thinking about anything except the wind and the random patches of ice on neighborhood sidewalks. Sitting here, writing this at my desk in the front room, I can hear the wind howling. Did I hear it while I was running? I’m not sure.

Thinking about the wind, decided to google “Emily Dickinson wind”. Here’s what I found:

Wind/ Emily Dickinson

Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There’s not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody

The wind does, working like a hand
Whose fingers brush the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.

When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door,
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra,

I crave him grace, of summer boughs,
If such an outcast be,
He never heard that fleshless chant
Rise solemn in the tree,

As if some caravan of sound
On deserts, in the sky,
Had broken rank,
Then knit, and passed
In seamless company.

I love her descriptions of the sound of wind as “old measure in the boughs,” “phraseless melody,” “tuftless tune,” and “fleshless chant.” I think fleshless chant is my favorite. Oh, and I really like the verb thrum. I need to use that in something.

mood: relentless

Working on my mood ring poem about the mood relentless, trying to figure out the last line for the inner ring/scotoma poem. Here’s what I have:

Ten thousand years ago water from melting glaciers began to wear down limestone to form a gorge. Thirty years ago cone cells in my macula began to malfunction to form a scotoma. I am both limestone and water. As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new landscape.

Now I’m wondering if I should use “geography” instead of landscape? Landscape seems more visual than geography–and passive, with the land like a background. Yes, I think I like geography.

As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new geography.

nov 12/RUN

3.2 miles
river road path, north/river road, path, south/32nd st, west/43rd ave, south
29 degrees
5% snow-covered

Winter running! I love the cold air, the snowy gorge. Encountered a few irritating runners who refused to move over to the other side of the trail. Had to run in the snow to avoid them. Are they really comfortable running that close to someone else, especially as we enter another, even scarier phase of the pandemic? I don’t get it. But, these two runners were such a small part of the run. The rest was wonderful. The sky was grayish-white which made everything seem other-worldly or at least at a distance from this world. Quiet and calm and empty, uncluttered.

Things I Remember

  • The overpowering and mostly unwelcome smell of pork–bacon? sausage?–wafting down from the Longfellow Grill as I ran under the lake street bridge
  • Voices down in the gorge, near the rowing club. Were they rowing in the water? On the shore? I couldn’t tell
  • The crunch-cracking of feet striking hard shards of super packed and icy snow. The same sounds even louder as tires drove over the icy snow
  • A wedge of geese–4 or 5–flying high in the gray sky
  • Some yellowish-brown leaves still on a few of the branches in the tunnel of trees
  • So many cars on the river road

As I ran, I thought about my latest mood ring poem. Relentless. Some lines popped in my head: “I am not the river but the limestone…” and “I am not the limestone but the river” and “I am both the limestone and the river.” Thinking about how the relentlessness comes both from me as I try to make sense of my vision loss and write about it and from the erosion of cone cells as they continue to destroy my central vision.

Encountered a poem this morning that I liked a little with one reading, then liked a lot after reading the poet’s explanation of it.

A Rogue Dream/ Melanie Figg

after Olivia Gatwood

I get ready for my first day as the new girl in high school
already knowing what not to wear. I dress perfectly
to stand out and disappear. I know how to put on
makeup, and I do it exactly right. My hair
looks awesome, of course! I step onto the bus,
pause by the driver, raise my arms like a superstar,
and meet the eyes of my adoring audience.
Three different beautiful girls punch
each other in the face to have me sit next to them.
I decline and the school’s most lovely, artsy boy
slides over to make room. He knows his feelings
and only goes too far
when he honestly misunderstands. He’s one of the safer ones.

I walk down the halls and no one makes fun of me.
I pass the section of lockers where her locker is, and
she is there, taking a book out of her backpack.
She’ll go running this weekend, as usual, and won’t
be followed. The man who won’t be following
her has already followed half a dozen women
to rape and kill and leave in the woods. But she won’t be
followed. She’ll survive her fate this time, and come back

to school on Monday, avoid the mean girls in the bathroom.
She’ll pick on the new girl, call her a virgin of all things.
She’ll limp her way through math, cheat a bit in science,
do pretty good in history and English. She’ll graduate,
and go to the state school on a track scholarship. She’ll
have two girls and keep them safe. She’ll almost forget

about this other ending: her in the woods near her house,
staring at the ground beneath her, wondering why.

This line! “Three different beautiful girls punch/each other in the face to have me sit next to them.” And the ending with the reimagining of the girl as not being followed. Wow.

nov 11/RUN

2.2 miles
river road trail, south/42nd st, west/43rd ave, north
32 degrees
50% snow-covered

We got about 5 inches of snow last night. Beautiful. As it fell, I opened the door and breathed in the cold, fresh air and absorbed the quiet calm. This morning, the trail by the river was cleared and bare, but there were people on the path who I couldn’t avoid unless I jumped in the snow banks. How much will I run outside this winter? Probably not as much as last year, unless I start running earlier in the morning.

A few things I remember

  • The river was not white but blue
  • The path was clear and so were many of the sidewalks. A few stretches were covered in powdery, soft, weightless white flakes, and a few others were studded with clumps of pressed down snow
  • Don’t remember hearing any crunching or compacting of snow
  • Ran under at least two snow-laden evergreen branches. Briefly wondered if they might decide to give me a shower (they didn’t)
  • Don’t remember hearing any birds. No geese or bluejays or cardinals or crows
  • Saw a fat tire biking in the snow-covered street
  • The streets were striped from where tires had pressed down the snow. No city plows yet. Not too bad to run on and it made a cool visual effect–strips of black pavement mixed with strips of white snow

mood ring: relentness

Working on another mood ring poem and thinking about repeated habits, the slow and gradual erosion of my central vision, the dissolving and/or reforming of the self in new ways, my persistence in finding better ways to make sense of and communicate my experiences, my unflagging desire to craft poetry out of how I try to be when I cannot see or when I see in new ways. I’ve decided the best word to describe this is relentless. I’m also thinking a compelling metaphor for it is the gorge and the slow (but not that slow, really) erosion of the limestone that created (and continues to create) it. Here’s some facts to remember and use:

carving of the gorge

12,000 years ago the falls were formed when glaciers melted. They were originally in St. Paul, but traveled upstream to downtown Minneapolis–traveling about 10 miles at a rate of 4 feet per year. 3,828 years ago the falls were near the railroad trestle. The falls stabilized/stopped moving in 1870.

Sources: NPS and FMR

I’d like to review my information on the current eroding of the gorge and think about that in relation to this mood too.

nov 10/RUN

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
31 degrees

Yes! Love this weather for running. Just around freezing, overcast, not too windy. Ran above the river on the trail. Why can’t I remember what the river looked like? Did I forgot to check? Not sure. I remember glancing at the oak savanna and the Winchell trail as it climbs just slightly up to 38th, changing from dirt to asphalt. I remember looking at the sky above the gorge and the other side as I ran by the inviting bench between Folwell and 42nd. I remember noticing how the steps down from 38th were already closed off and that the paved trail below was bare. But I don’t remember the river. It must have been grayish blue. Today we might get half a foot of snow. Will the river be covered in white tomorrow?

The turkeys were in the same yard that they had been in the last time I saw them, doing the same things: munching on something and performing a part run, part trot, part bob to get away from me as I neared. Nice. I love their awkward grace.

I don’t remember thinking about much, which is nice. The joy from last week’s election results has worn off as the refusal to concede continues. Social media doom scrolling returns and so does the need to be much more deliberate about managing anxiety and avoiding media. This week is all about distraction, I think. And shoveling and continuing to work on my mood ring poems and memorizing a few poems?

Speaking of my mood ring poems, I’ve noticed that I used certainty/uncertainty (too?) often. What are some other words I could use?

  • stable/destabilized
  • faith/doubt
  • convinced/unconvinced
  • known/unknown
  • indisputable/in doubt, questionable
  • assuredly/without assurance
  • clear/unclear
  • definite/indeterminate
  • sure/unsure

As I write this at my front desk, the snow has started. This snow seems like it might stick around. Will the grass stay gone? Here’s one of my favorite poems about eagerly anticipating winter. I’ve posted it several times on this log but I always like remembering it:

Fall, leaves, fall/ EMILY BRONTË

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like misery and dreary days. Just leafless trees, bare branches, crunching snow, and cold clear air.

nov 9/RUN

3.2 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north/32nd st, west
64 degrees

Very gray this morning, which didn’t bother me. Everything looked solemn, calm, expectant. Rain coming in a few hours then a big drop in the temperature. Maybe a few inches of snow tomorrow. Goodbye unusually mild fall weather, hello winter. Yes! Wore shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and was still warm. I could feel that my face was bright red. Heading south straight into the wind at the beginning of my run, I admired the river. Such a nice blueish gray. Saw something flying in the air–was it a small bird or a leaf? I couldn’t tell. Too many cars on the river road but not too many people.

[added in several hours later] I almost forgot. I saw a dead animal on the road, right on the edge. No blood, no mangled body. It looked like it was sleeping. Running, I noticed something unusual in the road. I turned to look back at it, almost veering into the fence on the edge of the gorge. I think it was raccoon.

[added in even later] Forgot this too: Scott and I watching all the seasons of Community (again). This morning I had this song in my head:

“Come on I’m Dean/and my hands are so clean/at this moment/I am stapling”

I chanted it several times as I ran until I forgot about it.

Thinking about bewilderment as I work on a mood ring poem. Really appreciate this passage from Fanny Howe:

There is a muslim prayer that says, “Lord, increase my bewilderment,” and this prayer is also mine and the strange Whoever who goes under the name of “I” in my poems–and under multiple names in my fiction–where error, errancy and bewilderment are the main forces that signal a story. 

error, errancy, and bewilderment

I also like this passage:

In the Dictionary, to bewilder is “to cause to lose one’s sense of where one is.”
The wilderness as metaphor is in this case not evocative enough because causing a complete failure in the magnet, the compass, the scale, the stars and the movement of the rivers is more than getting lost in the woods.  
Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability.  
It cracks open the dialectic and sees myriads all at once.

nov 5/RUN

2 miles
cooper school loop
60 degrees

Still waiting for the results of the election. Stressful. Feeling the panic simmering just beneath the surface. Slight tightness in chest, deeper breaths needed. Feeling hopeful and scared and impatient.

A beautiful day for a run. Maybe a little warmer than I’d like but sunny and calm. I wore shorts. I don’t remember looking at my shadow as I ran–was she there?–north on Edmund up to 32nd. Lots of people out walking and running. Did a loop around Cooper School. Heard some kids playing on the playground.

geese!

I don’t remember any geese on my run today but I do remember first hearing then seeing 2 different groups of geese flying fast through the sky. So fast! And pretty low in the sky too. I wonder if they were offering a warning about next week’s colder weather?

look at that bird high in the sky!

Walking home after finishing my run I noticed a speck out of the corner of my eye. Something moving high in the sky. At first I couldn’t see it because it was in my central blind spot. I kept trying to spot it my periphery. Suddenly it appeared. I could even see the wings moving. How was I able to see it? Did my brain finally guess correctly or did the bird move into an undamaged part of my central vision? Vision is so strange and fascinating.

Mood Ring: Bewilderment

I’m working on another mood ring poem. After trying to find the best word to describe it I have decided on bewilderment. Here’s a line that I want to use somehow from Mary Ruefle:

The difference between myself and my student is that I am better at not knowing what I am doing.

Not knowing what I’m doing or seeing is a constant experience for me. Learning how to deal with that disorientation, discomfort, uncertainty is a big goal. It used to be central to my pedagogy in the classroom, now it’s central to my daily life.

nov 4/RUN

2 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, north/37th st, west
60 degrees

Added a little more distance to my run this late morning. Legs are feeling okay, although everything seems slightly harder. Is it sore legs or anxiety over the still undecided election? I have not checked any news or social media this morning; I’m relying on Scott to tell me good news or when it’s all over. Trying to stay hopeful and prepare for the worst. In situations like this, I retreat.

When I took Delia on a walk, it was very still. I remember hearing only a few intermittent bird calls. Later when I ran, especially on Edmund, I heard all sorts of birds calling and singing. Also heard several rakes scraping against the sidewalk, a few violins and cellos or violas practicing outside, some leaf blowers whining, joyful kids at the playground near Cooper Field laughing and yelling, a dog’s collar clanging.

As I noticed my shadow running in front of me, I thought about the first lines from Black Cat by Rilke that I memorized this morning:

A ghost, although invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing;

Thought about another mood ring poem. This one, about feeling like a ghost, a shadow. Fading, faded. Unmoored, floating in the world. Ephemeral. Unable to see concretely, or feel like anything around me is solid. It all shifts–or does it echo endlessly–the trace of something that once was there, but isn’t any longer? I feel this way a lot when I’m running but also when I’m walking. This floating, dreamy feeling can be cool to experience but it can also be disorienting, unsettling. Too difficult to find solid ground.

oct 29/RUN

3.2 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river road trail, south/edmund, north
33 degrees

A nice run on a windy, gray morning. Still a few patches of snow on the grass. Most of the leaves off the trees. Everything brown and golden and rusty red and burnt orange. I love this time of year. Late fall. Everything almost bare but not yet covered in snow. Clear views of the river. Noticed my favorite late fall view, just past the oak savanna. Beautiful. I don’t remember seeing any bikers, just walkers and runners and one roller skier getting ready to start skiing up the hill on Edmund. No dogs or squirrels or coyotes.

Running past a modern house on Edmund–the house that was built last year on the extra lot next to a huge traditional 1980s-style house that was on the market for over a year but didn’t sell because it was too big and outdated and expensive (asking over a million)–I noticed some loud noises and white powder or smoke or something coming from the garage. Then I ran by a truck with the words “concrete specialists” on it and I guessed they were doing something with concrete. Maybe a poured concrete countertop? I hope so. I’d like one of those.

Listened to an audio book–The Alchemist’s Daughter–so I didn’t think about much or hear hardly anything except the narrator. Briefly I thought about how dreamy everything looks, all fuzzy and out of focus as I run. Partly because of the light, partly the motion, but mostly my vision. I want to write about this as a mood–dreamy? fuzzy? blurry? I was thinking I’d like to incorporate the line from a Diane Seuss poem, “the world italicized.”

Only a few days until Halloween and then election. Can it please be over? Can we please start trusting science and doctors and thinking again? f

oct 27/RUN

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
17 degrees/ feels like 10

Coldest day of the season. Double tights + green shirt + orange sweatshirt + vest + buff + stocking cap. Sunny. I must have glanced at the river but I don’t remember what it looked like. Too busy trying to avoid other runners and walkers. A wonderful morning. I like (love?) this cold. Clears out the sinuses and keeps me from getting overheated. Running on Edmund, heading back home, I saw my shadow. It was nice to run with her. Thought about another mood ring poem: doubt. Had some ideas as I moved–something about how the doubt is related to the awe and the brain’s remarkable ability to enable me to keep seeing. It’s a relief but when I can still see I question whether my vision is really that bad. I doubt myself. I want to think more about doubt and what it means today. Here’s a poem to get me started.

My Doubt/ Jane Hirshfield – 1953-

I wake, doubt, beside you,
like a curtain half-open.

I dress doubting,
like a cup
undecided if it has been dropped.

I eat doubting,
work doubting,
go out to a dubious cafe with skeptical friends.

I go to sleep doubting myself,
as a herd of goats
sleep in a suddenly gone-quiet truck.

I dream you, doubt,
nightly—
for what is the meaning of dreaming
if not that all we are while inside it
is transient, amorphous, in question?

Left hand and right hand,
doubt, you are in me,
throwing a basketball, guiding my knife and my fork.
Left knee and right knee,
we run for a bus,
for a meeting that surely will end before we arrive.

I would like
to grow content in you, doubt,
as a double-hung window
settles obedient into its hidden pulleys and ropes.

I doubt I can do so:
your own counterweight governs my nights and my days.

As the knob of hung lead holds steady
the open mouth of a window,
you hold me,
my kneeling before you resistant, stubborn,
offering these furious praises
I can’t help but doubt you will ever be able to hear.

oct 24/RUN

3.15 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north/32nd st, west/43rd ave, south
28 degrees/ feels like 24

This weather! My favorite. Not much wind. Clear sky, clear path. Just below freezing. So much easier to breathe. I felt tired this morning and wasn’t sure if I should run or not. So glad I did. Noticed the river today; clear but no sheets of ice yet. Smelled smoke from a fireplace and some hot chocolate. Saw a fat tire heading down to the Winchell Trail, a roller skier who didn’t move over far enough (or at all) on the upper trail. Most of the leaves are off of the trees in the boulevard. Heard some kids playing at the playground by Cooper School. Admired some bright yellow leaves as I ran over them in the street. Anything else? Didn’t hear any geese or crows. No near collisions with spazzy squirrels. No dogs or large groups of runners or loud talkers.

Thinking more about my latest mood ring poem and what name to give it. Initially it was acceptance, then persistence. I mentioned resilience to Scott and he liked it. I’m thinking about the last line of the inner poem: ” Hear the water slowly seep through the limestone down to the river.” I see myself as the water, not the limestone. Not slowly being worn away until I no longer exist but continuing to find a way to the river, no matter what obstacle is in my way. This seems more like persistence than resilience but I’m not sure. I looked it up in the online OED and found this helpful definition:

5. The quality or fact of being able to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, a misfortune, shock, illness, etc.; robustness; adaptability.

The image of the water eroding the limestone doesn’t seem to fit here. I think it would be better if I used another gorge image: the vegetation that perpetually finds a way to poke through fence slats or bust through asphalt. Yes, I like this better.

Returning to my discussion of limestone, I claimed that I see myself more like water than the limestone. Not always, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I’d like to be the limestone. The eroding of limestone could be like the losing of the self (hubris, worries, being overly attached to status and material things, fear of death, false beliefs in control and invincibility). Not sure if that makes sense, but I think it’s the start for a different poem.

oct 23/RUN

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
33 degrees
wet snow

It was snowing, I think. Or was it raining? So wet it was hard to tell. Just on the edge. I didn’t mind. Another day with hardly anyone out on the trail. Wore a baseball cap today to shield my eyes. No sharp shards only soft, wet drops. I remember hearing at least one crow cawing but forgot to look down at the river. I wonder if there were any chunks of ice on it?

Ran past turkey hollow and searched for turkeys. Where do they go when it snows? Do they live under the branches of an evergreen tree? Under the bridge? I just looked it up and discovered that wild turkeys roost in trees at night. Which trees? Where? Now I’m imagining taking a walk at night and passing under a tree loaded with turkeys. What a strange sight that would be!

The sidewalk was wet but not slick or snow-covered. I thought about the inner part of a mood ring poem I’m doing about acceptance. Trying to build on my line: Sink deep into sensations other than sight. I though about feeling the river or smelling it? Tasting the air seasoned with mulching leaves? Striking the soft ground?

(a few hours later) Here’s a completed draft of my acceptance mood ring. I can’t decide if acceptance is the right word for describing this mood.

oct 19/RUN

4.1 miles
river road path, north/seabury and edmund, south
33 degrees

Saw a few flurries as I ran. More coming tomorrow. Up to 6 inches. What? A nice run above the gorge. I had a clear view of the river, but I don’t remember what it looked like. Too busy admiring the bare trees and thinking about how my chest hurt slightly. Not much, just a small, dull ache. Off and on for the past five days. Smelled the toast, always slightly over-toasted, at Longfellow Grill. Heard one dark barking below me on the Winchell Trail. Imagined it running gleefully through the leaves. Was it barking at a squirrel? A tree? A swirling leaf?

Right now I’m tracking this hardcore ultra marathon taking place in Bell Buckle, Tennessee called Big’s Backyard Ultra. The runners–they started with 14–run a loop of 4. 16 miles every hour for as long as they can. Once they can’t finish the loop in an hour, they’re out. Right now, there are 2 runners left and they have just completed 216.66 miles and 52 laps. I don’t usually pay attention to ultra marathons but last year I discovered Courtney Dauwalter and I started following her on Instagram. It’s fascinating to check every hour and see how she’s doing. I can’t imagine running for that long, but I can appreciate the strange other-worldly space it would put you in for the 48+ hours you’re moving or eating or trying to quickly rest before starting again. At what point do you start hallucinating? I think she’s talked about having strange visions before. I wonder how long they will be able to go? And when the second to last person drops out, will the last person standing stop or try to make it to 300 miles? Very hard core. At some point in the past, I might have judged something like this, but now I’m just fascinated–but not nearly enough to try something like this.

Just now I was scrolling through my various feeds, trying to find a poem to post. But then I remembered I already have so many poems posted on here that I love and haven’t spent enough time with. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite October poems:

October/ May Swenson

7

Now and then, a red leaf riding
the slow flow of gray water.
From the bridge, see far into
the woods, now that limbs are bare,
ground thick-littered. See,
along the scarcely gliding stream,
the blanched, diminished, ragged
swamp and woods the sun still
spills into. Stand still, stare
hard into bramble and tangle,
past leaning broken trunks,
sprawled roots exposed. Will
something move?—some vision
come to outline? Yes, there—
deep in—a dark bird hangs
in the thicket, stretches a wing.
Reversing his perch, he says one
“Chuck.” His shoulder-patch
that should be red looks gray.
This old redwing has decided to
stay, this year, not join the
strenuous migration. Better here,
in the familiar, to fade.

I want to memorize this excerpt today. Is there any way that I could use this bit as inspiration for my mood poem about acceptance, accommodation? I will try!

oct 17/RUN

3 miles
2 school loop
40 degrees

A little warmer. Sunnier. Too bright for me to see much. Had a few close encounters with people and while trying to avoid them ran out in front of a car. I didn’t hear any brakes squealing or drivers yelling so it must not have been too close. Need to be more careful next time. I don’t like running on the weekends as much anymore. Too crowded. Still, had some nice moments being outside, glancing over at the bare trees above the gorge. Running over leaves, feeling (but not hearing because I was listening to a playlist) them crunch.

This past summer I bought Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes which has one of my favorite poems in it, “Lovesong of the Square Root of Negative One.” Here’s another wonderful poem from that collection. Like Lovesong, it has the line about “the hammer as a hammer.” And, like Lovesong, there is much about it I don’t understand.

Logic/Richard Siken

A clock is a machine. A gear is a tool. There is rarely
any joy in a frictionless place, so find your inner viscosity.
The mind says viscosity is resistance to flow. The body
puts glue on a twig and catches a bird. Glue is a tool,
unless you are a bird. If you are a bird, then glue is
an inconvenience. A tool does work. A bird flies away
from danger and lands where it can. All thinking is
comparison. A bear is a weapon, a bear claw is a pastry.
A bear trap, if you are a bear, is an inconvenience.
Logic is boring because it works. Being unreasonable is
exciting. Machines have knobs you can turn if you
want to. A hammer is a hammer when it hits the nail.
A hammer is not a hammer when it is sleeping. I woke
up tired of being the hammer. There’s a dream in the
space between the hammer and the nail: the dream of
about-to-be-hit, which is a bad dream, but the nail will
take the hit if it gets to sleep inside the wood forever.
I taped a sword to my hand when I was younger. This
is an argument about goals.

Started work on a new mood ring poem. This one is about the mood of acceptance. Here’s what I have so far:

Instead of getting angry or searching for experimental cures or finding second opinions I’m listening harder. Memorizing the path. Mentally mapping the potholes the dips the cracks where it twists to the right too close to the road where it narrows on the left. I’m searching for better words to describe what is happening. I’m switching to the pithiness of poetry with sparser pages. More room to ruminate. Less effort on the eyes. Slowing down.  Breathing and accepting not knowing instantly. Letting go of what I won’t ever see on my favorite tv show. Avoiding commericals and memes. I’m finding more light brighter lightbulbs. Asking for help. Not pretending to see things that I don’t. Relying on imagination. Learning to love softer, fuzzier forms. Learning to accept constant uncertanty. Learning how to be when I cannot see. 

I’m thinking that the seemingly positive aspects of acceptance will be in the main poem and then in the scotoma/blind spot part of the poem, I’ll focus on my doubts about accepting as giving up or giving in.

oct 15/RUN

5 miles
franklin loop
50 degrees

Felt colder than 50 degrees with the wind and the occasional brief downpour. A beautiful fall morning. Because of the wind and rain, there weren’t too many people out on the trail. Running above the river was wonderful–so much more of a view as the leaves leave. I love late fall. More of a view, winter and winter running are coming, less people will be on the trail which means less fear and distraction over keeping a safe distance.

Things I Remember

  • The sun just barely glowing through the clouds behind me, enough to enable my shadow to make a faint appearance in front of me. Hello friend!
  • So much wind on the Lake Street bridge that I was blown across the sidewalk and had to hold onto my hat for several minutes
  • The river! Every year I forgot how wonderful the view is, having not seen it since May. Open, airy, a chance to breathe, to stare at the water as it winds down the gorge!
  • Glancing down at the floodplain forest from the tunnel of trees and admiring the soft glow of yellow leaves
  • Noticing the dog park at Meeker Island is open
  • The curve of the black wrought iron fence at an overlook on the Winchell Trail not too far from Franklin
  • Being able to see the entire trestle, stretching to the other side, wondering when/if a train would cross it
  • Running at least 10-12 feet from some walkers and smelling the perfume of one of them, being reminded of how far someone’s presence/scent/air can travel, wondering if I should be wearing a mask when I run

Today’s October Surprise

Last night, walking through the neighborhood, Scott and I heard a dog barking–I think it was a french bulldog or a boxer?–whose bark sounded like they were yelling out the word bark. “Bark! Bark! Bark!” It made me giggle. Some day I would like to have a dog that I named Bob Barker.

Working on my fourth mood ring poem today. As I ran, I reflected on a line about what, in a face, indicates life–a glimmer in the eye? the raising of an eyebrow? a slight head nod? the curve of a mouth?

Speaking of head nods, I have been intending to post this poem for several months. It seems fitting today as I think about how people connect through gestures:

Ode to the Head Nod/ Elizabeth Acevedo

the slight angling up of the forehead
neck extension quick jut of chin

meeting the strangers’ eyes
a gilded curtsy to the sunfill in another

in yourself tithe of respect
in an early version the copy editor deleted

the word “head” from the title
the copy editor says it’s implied

the copy editor means well
the copy editor means

she is only fluent in one language of gestures
i do not explain i feel sad for her

limited understanding of greetings & maybe
this is why my acknowledgements are so long;

didn’t we learn this early?
to look at white spaces

thank god o thank god for

you

are here

oct 14/RUN

3.45 miles
extended hill, 3 times
54 degrees

Yesterday while walking Delia up above on Edmund, I noticed that all of the trucks at the construction site just above the tunnel of trees were gone. Oh no! They’re going to open up this stretch of the river road again–the last stretch still closed, the stretch where I had just started doing hill workouts. Bummer. Oh well, I’ll find somewhere else to run. As of this morning, it’s still closed but now, because the trucks are gone, I can run the entire stretch of it, from the top of the hill at 36th to another (slight) rise at 32nd. Nice. I almost had the road to myself; only a runner or two and the street sweeping truck. Very windy this morning. 28 mph gusts. Lots of leaves on the ground and in the air. The dominant leaf color: yellow. Such a gorgeous fall color season. I noticed the river glowing below me. As I ran on the river road–and when I walked on it yesterday afternoon–I couldn’t see the river or into the gorge because I was too far away from it, but I could tell it was there. I could feel the openness, the gap, the abundance of air.

Today’s October Surprise

Wild grass of some sort, with a dark purple stalk and cream colored feathers–maybe Purple Fountain Grass?–in a neighbor’s yard. I love ornamental grasses, especially the ones with fluffy tops. Whenever I walk by them, I always want to run my fingers through the top. When is the best time to plant these grasses? I would love some for next year. I will try to remember to get a picture of this grass on our walk this afternoon.

Here’s the picture:

Still working on my mood ring poems. I have the first two done and I’m pleased with the results. Yesterday’s mood was curiosity. I started with a table in a pages document and laboriously filled in the letters for the main poem, making many mistakes and having to delete a lot of letters in individual boxes.

Main Poem

Then, I inserted the shorter, ring poem into the empty spaces. Lots of counting boxes and characters and rethinking words.

Inner, ring poem

And here’s the completed poem, in 2 parts. The left highlights the main poem, the right the secondary, ring poem.

oct 11/RUN

2.5 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north
49 degrees

Ran south on the river road trail to the 44th st parking lot, then down to the grassy overlook. Such a wonderful view of the river, shining in the morning sun! Windy today. How many leaves will be off of the trees by tomorrow? Tried to pay attention to my breath, to be grateful to be out on the trail this morning, and to think in triples (mostly dactyls):

  • full of grief
  • filled with joy
  • suffering
  • bountiful
  • troublesome
  • lacking life
  • falling leaves
  • swirling wind
  • river view
  • running path
  • moving feet
  • dripping nose
  • breathe in deep

Still working on my mood ring poems. I think I’ve finally figured out the form–so tedious! I had to create a table with separate boxes for each letter. I think it was worth the extra time and I’m pleased that I could do the entire thing on my own, without any help from Scott.

oct 4/RUN

5.25 miles
franklin hill
35 degrees

What a wonderful morning for a run! Sunny, no wind, cool. Saw my shadow a few times. Admired the river, the glowing thinning trees. Felt nice and strong and happy to be breathing deeply outside, especially since I am having another sinus/allergy thing–I haven’t had one since June. Such a drag being stuffed up and tired–and devoting considerable energy to convincing myself I’m fine and it’s not the virus and it will only last a few days or a week. So glad running (and the nasal washes I’ve started doing) help. Ran down the franklin hill and then by some geese, taking over the path closest to the water. The water was still and thick–that wasn’t little bits of ice I was seeing? Not cold enough yet, right? Ran up the hill until I reached the Franklin bridge. Walked for a minute or 2, then ran back on seabury.

some random things to remember from this weekend

This morning I watched the London Marathon and saw Sara (without an h!) Hall run an amazing race, sprinting the last 400, after running for 2 hours and 21 minutes, to catch the person ahead of her and take second place. So exciting and inspiring to watch someone run so well and try as hard as she absolutely could.

Yesterday we drove to Duluth to see Lake Superior. On the way up, we stopped at a rest area. This was my first time inside a building with other people since March 8. Wow. Everyone was wearing a mask. It wasn’t too bad. I was reminded of my bad vision as I struggled to figure out which bathroom was which and whether or not there was someone in a stall when I tried checking for feet. It takes a much longer time for my eyes to focus and see, so I can’t just quickly walk into a bathroom and know I’m in the right one. I hate being slow or having to slow down to figure something out.

On the ride home in the evening, we heard “Maniac” on the radio from Flashdance. Those lyrics! (mostly cheesy, but I liked a few lines.) Scott and I both struggled to understand the line, “on the wire between will and what will be.” We wondered, was he actually saying “will and what won’t be”? but then Scott realized the first will meant your own agency while the second one referred to fate–on the wire between what you can control and what has already been decided. Wow, deep.

Speaking of lyrics, the other day, during online school, FWA asked me to suggest two songs with similar themes that he could use for analyzing lyrics in his AP Comp and Lit class. After struggling for a minute, I suggested, Beck’s “Loser” and Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardner.” How did I come up with those? Not sure, but they worked well for him. Nice.

What a beautiful October poem:

October/ ROBERT FROST

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

oct 1/RUN

3.35 miles
the hill, 4 times
48 degrees

Getting colder. Woke up this morning and turned on the heat, wore running tights under my shorts when I left the house. Did a slower first mile as a warm-up then decided to do the hill, the one where the road is closed and that is above the tunnel of trees, beside the Welcoming Oaks, four times. When I tried this last week, I attempted to sprint up the hill. This time, I just ran continuously, hoping to go a little faster with each hill. I didn’t closely check my watch, so I’m not sure if I did, but I enjoyed the run a lot more, and I didn’t have to stop. I think I’ll try this again next week, but do 5 loops instead of 4. During my warm-up mile, I listened to traffic rushing by a few blocks farther north on Lake Street. As I ran the hills, I listened to a playlist titled, “Sara 2020.” I saw the river, shining blueish-white, through the trees a few times. Beautiful. The second time I ran down the hill, I noticed a runner on the sidewalk over on Edmund. We seemed to be going the same pace. I tried to avoid looking at them instead of speeding up or slowing down. It worked. Saw a women ahead of me walking 2 dogs, talking on her phone or talking to her dogs? Not sure. A few people were wearing bright yellow shirts which glowed in the not quite overcast, not quite sunny light. Did I think about anything? I can’t remember.

MOOD: MISANTHROPIC

Continuing to work on my mood rings. Today I’m thinking about how irritating/frustrating some walkers or bikers or runners are on the trail–refusing to move over, getting in the way, speeding by too quickly. While this has always upset me, it is more dangerous now with my deteriorating vision. People’s carelessness can make it much scarier for me to run or bike. This behavior saddens me, then pisses me off, then causes me to see others as the enemy. I think I’m justified in my frustration, but I’m also bothered by own reactions. For this poem, I want to start by finding as many accounts of my irritation as I can in my running log entries. I’ll either use those as starting off point, to edit and shape, or I’ll combine them somehow into a poem–a cento? an erasure?

Here’s an account (from April 20, 2020) that doesn’t quite fit, because it’s not about me and my encounter with annoying bikers, but that I’d like to work in somehow:

read the FUCKING signs!

Yesterday, Scott, Delia the dog, our daughter, and I took a 4 mile walk around the neighborhood. Walking in the grass between the boulevard and the parkway, we witnessed a runner running in the road (on the part designated for pedestrians), getting increasingly upset as bikers (who are not supposed to bike on this part of the road) whizzed by her. When the first one passed her, she yelled “this is not the bike lane!” and then muttered to herself in anger. When the next one passed, she shrieked frantically “read the FUCKING signs!” (the city has signs posted all over the road/path identifying who should be in what lane). I could understand her anger–in other situations, I’ve been her, maybe not screaming “fuck!” but feeling that upset–but I could also see how difficult it was for the bikers, trying to find room to move when it was so crowded and when walkers were also ignoring the signs and taking over the bike paths. I’m not sure how to make this situation with crowded paths any easier, so I try to avoid it by running early, before it gets crowded.

In honor of the first day of October, I want to post part of one of my favorite October poems by May Swenson:

from October/ May Swenson

Now and then, a red leaf riding
the slow flow of gray water.
From the bridge, see far into
the woods, now that limbs are bare,
ground thick-littered. See,
along the scarcely gliding stream,
the blanched, diminished, ragged
swamp and woods the sun still
spills into. Stand still, stare
hard into bramble and tangle,
past leaning broken trunks,
sprawled roots exposed. Will
something move?—some vision
come to outline? Yes, there—
deep in—a dark bird hangs
in the thicket, stretches a wing.
Reversing his perch, he says one
“Chuck.” His shoulder-patch
that should be red looks gray.
This old redwing has decided to
stay, this year, not join the
strenuous migration. Better here,
in the familiar, to fade.

sept 30/RUN

2.5 miles
two trails
59 degrees

For some dumb reason, I thought that running a bit later (almost noon) when it was very windy (20+ mph) would result in less crowded paths. I even thought the lower trail would be empty. I was very wrong. I probably encountered the most people I ever have today. I got much closer than 6 feet several times and had to call out “excuse me.” Oh well. If I ever consider running on the Winchell trail again, I will have to make sure and wear a mask the entire time. The river road trail was crowded too. I did a lot of weaving. I’m pretty sure I had a few ridiculous performances, weaving out into the road to avoid people, then quickly stopping to tie my shoe, then starting up again, trying to avoid having to pass the walker I had just passed again.

It was beautiful down there on the Winchell Trail, below the road, with so many leaves swirling around and glowing and painting the trees in reds, yellows, oranges. And, o the river! Such a bright blue in the sun. And no thick leaves to block my view!

a moment to remember

Turning down at the 44th street parking lot to run on the Winchell Trail, two bikers were walking their bikes up the hill, framed by a few bright yellow trees and the wide, blue river. Suddenly a gust of wind caught them by surprise and one of the women yelled out, “Whoop!” –or “whoa” or something like that. I think I like “whoop” the best. One day, maybe I’ll manage to fit this moment into a poem.

Speaking of poems, I finished my fourth mood ring poem: Loneliness. It’s the first of my poems about my darker moods. These are harder for me to write because my inclination is not to dwell in the bad feelings. I am wondering if it is too dramatic in its darkness? The poem is inspired by Ada Limón’s “Instructions on Not Giving Up” and uses her first two sentences as a guide. (“More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry blossoms shoving their cotton-candy colored limbs to the slate sky of Spring rains, it is the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leaves the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come.”

MOOD: LONELINESS

More than the distorted letters that shift on the page, more than the bikes that appear without warning, it is the faded faces that really get to me. When the light is too bright, or not quite the right kind of light, or not bright enough, the features leave. Sometimes the outline of a nose, a mouth, ears, freckles remain, but the eyes, almost always, are dead. Lifeless. Lacking a spark. The pupils looking like black ballbearings. Othertimes, all that’s there is a dark blob, perched on the shoulders of my son, my daughter, my husband, a friend I have known for years. Aiming my eyes at a shoulder, I might catch a quick flash of an iris through my periphery. Mostly I rely on memory and recall the face I used to see. Imagine the flare of a nostril, the raising of an eyebrow. Wish for the reassurance that I am not alone, that someone else is here. Alien and alienating, an uncanny valley begins to form between me and and the rest of the world.

I’m still trying to figure out how to incorporate the rings–my ring scotoma–into or onto the poem. In theory, I’d love to do some poems within poems, but I’m not sure if it works. I’ll keep playing around with it. Now it’s time to work on some other dark moods: frustration, fatigue, feeling useless and old. I can’t remember if I wrote about this the other day, but I am struck by a mood I don’t have: anger (or rage). I am not angry about my failing vision. Is this because I had been living with it for so long, not knowing what it was, or even that anything was actually wrong with me–I blamed a weak will for any problems I seemed to have–and I was overwhelmingly relieved to finally know what it was?

Almost forgot to mention, but how could I?

Judith C. Puotinen: March 5th, 1942- September 30th, 2009

11 years ago today my mom died.

sept 27/RUN

5.25 miles
franklin loop
55 degrees

Decided to run the Franklin loop today. I’ve avoided it until now because I’ve been doing shorter runs more frequently and because of the pandemic and trying to avoid other people. The first half of it was fine, but by mile 3 I was doing a lot of weaving around to try and keep my 6ft of distance. There were only a few times when I got closer than that. What a beautiful morning for a run! Overcast and coolish, not too much wind. So many bright, intense colors.

Things I Remember

  • Honking geese! A ton of them under the lake street bridge. I couldn’t see them through all the green, but I could hear their honks
  • One goose honk sounded so forlorn or was it angry? Now I can’t remember the call but it was strange enough that I spent a few minutes wondering if it was a goose or some other bird. Decided it was a goose
  • A lone rower on the river with the water as smooth as glass
  • One of the dirt trails that leads down into the gorge, framed by yellow leaves looking mysterious and inviting and dangerous

At the start of my run, thought about more of my moods as I lose my central vision, particularly how I need to spend some time on my darker feelings. I remember having some thoughts about it, but now, writing this log entry, all I can remember is this: some of what makes me feel awe and wonderment–that the brain can mostly hide the worst effects of my failing vision–is what causes doubt and uncertainty–if i can still read some things and see color and notice birds in the sky, is my vision really that bad? Am I exaggerating it? I know I’ve written about this here a few times already.

Here’s a draft of my awe poem”

MOOD: AWE

[epitaph] Legend has it that before an execution, King Charles II of England closed one eye and aimed his blind spot on the head of the condemned man. This allowed Charles’ brain to decapitate the prisoner before the axe took its turn.

Behold, the awesome power of sight! Not found in one destructive glance but in an accumulation of looks. Against the odds and in spite of damaged cones, misfiring signals, and incomplete data, these looks produce something resembling vision — an image, a feeling, a fuzzy form.  So much could go wrong, and often does. Yet, light, cells, the optic nerve, the visual cortex find a way. Through guesswork and improvisation, imagination and processes scientists still don’t understand, they ensure I see more than seems possible. O faithful cones! Dilligently delivering data despite dwindling numbers. Allowing me to see some color — greens and golds and pinks and blues. Enabling me to read slightly distorted letters. O clever, industrious brain! Tirelessly trying to make sense of scrambled signals. Conjuring images, filling in broken lines, concealing gaping holes and black rings. Making it possible for me to still exclaim, “oh my god look at that wedge of geese, high in the clean blue air!”

Listening to the Current as I write this and the new Janelle Monáe song came on, Turntables. I especially liked these lyrics:

There’s a boomerang boomin’ back, yeah
You laid the egg, now it’s ’bout to hatch, yeah
You gaslightin’, ’bout to meet your match, uh
You fuck up the kitchen, then you should do the dishes

One of my introductions to poetry was through song lyrics. I used to love listening to a song for the first time and reading the lyrics on the record sleeve, watching how the lyrics and rhythms worked together, often in surprising ways. Some day, I want to write song lyrics and collaborate with Scott on a song. So far, I haven’t been inspired.

sept 25/RUN

3 miles
turkey hollow
66 degrees

Before starting my run, I listened to a recording of my latest mood poem: awe. I was hoping to think about it as I ran but I quickly became distracted by the leaves and the effort and irritating bikers on the trail. I decided to run south on the trail. It wasn’t too crowded, but I did encounter several bikers, always biking too close to the dividing line between pedestrians and bikers. 2 bikers biking side by side were especially bad–one of them was way over the line, forcing me onto the makeshift dirt trail on the other side. I yelled, of course, Part of my anger over this is me being a crank, but a lot of it has to do with safety–with my vision, my reflexes are much slower and I wouldn’t be able to move out of the way fast enough if they were about to hit me–and how I see–my depth perception is off and it’s difficult to judge how close people are to me; I can’t alway see their edges and often it looks like they are deliberately trying to run into me.

Despite this annoyance, I enjoyed my run. I saw the river and many red, orange, and yellow trees. Heard some black-capped chickadees. Anything else? No turkeys in turkey hollow. Instead, I saw a kid running around in circles, enjoying the freedom and the breeze and maybe also making the leaves crunch as he ran. I did that last night while Scott, Delia, and I were on our walk. I love that sound!

This weather is a little too warm for running, but great for sitting in the backyard in my red chair under the crab apple tree. I think I’ll do that after I finish writing this entry.

Working on my third mood ring poem: awe

MOOD // AWE

Behold, the awesome power of sight! Not found in a single controlling, destructive glance but in the accumulation of looks made every moment that, against the odds and in spite of damaged cones, misfiring signals, and incomplete data produce something resembling sight—an image, a feeling, a fuzzy form.  So much could go wrong, and often does, yet the light and the cells and the optic nerve and the visual cortex find a way through guesswork and improvisation and imagination and processes that scientists still don’t understand to ensure that almost all of us see more than seems possible. O clever, industious brain! 

That’s all I have so far. I envision adding a few more sentences.

sept 24/RUN

1.2 miles
river road, north/south
62 degrees

3.1 miles
over lake street bridge and back
64 degrees

I was just about to leave for a run when my son asked if I could run with him for his online gym class. Of course! I wish he could learn to love running; I would worry much less about all the time he spends in front of his computer. We did a combination of running and walking. A beautiful fall morning. As we were walking I said to FWA, “It’s really fall now!” On cue, a swirl of leaves fell between us. (I looked up “collective noun for leaves” and got: pile and Autumn–really? An Autumn of leaves? Ugh. Decided on my own: swirl.)

After walking back home with him, I headed out again for my own run. Decided to run across the lake street bridge to check out the trees on the banks of the Mississippi. Big, bright slashes of red, orange, yellow! Not quite peak, but getting there. When I reached the east side of the river, I ran up the hill just past the steps and stopped at my favorite spot where the path is right on the edge of the bluff, above the tree-line, and you can see the blue water and the glowing trees on the other side. I stopped for a few minutes and admired an orange tree on the west side.

Yesterday I worked some more on my second mood ring poem. Happy to have figured out the story that I’m trying to tell: it wasn’t until my vision failed that I became very curious about how vision works and once I did, I learned all sorts of fascinating, delightful things. Here’s the text of the poem without the formatting:

MOOD // CURIOUS

All I remember from science class is the inscrutable image of an inverted tree, entering upright, then shrinking and flipping around. I don’t remember the retina or that it’s a thin layer of tissue lining the back of your eye or that at its center is the macula where some of the most important cells reside, waiting to convert light into signals that travel through the optic nerve to the visual cortex. I never thought about blind spots or tried to find mine or wondered about how much of what I saw was real or illusion. But when my brain could no longer hide the effects of diminishing cones I started paying attention. Now I’m learning about photoreceptors and the fovea and the number of cone cells in it and why they’re called cone cells and what the types of scotomas are and when the blind spot was first written about and how the brain guesses or makes up images when it lacks visual data and why some people, in the early stages of vision loss, hallucinate dragons and floating heads and little people dressed in costumes.

I have decided that each of these mood ring poems will be a block of text very similar in size and dimensions to the Amsler Grid, which is a grid you can use to check for macular degeneration. Each of the poems will have my blind ring on it in some way–lightly superimposed or darker, blocking the text, or maybe even creating an erasure poem. I’m still trying to figure it out. Here’s one possible version:

Originally, I made the “ring” text even lighter but I’ve been thinking I might want to make the ring become more difficult to see around as the poems continue–so the text would get lighter and lighter?

Here’s an amsler grid:

sept 22/RUN

3.25 miles
hill “sprints”*
67 degrees

* Warmed up by running north on 43rd ave, east on 32nd, south on Edmund. Jogged down the hill beside the Welcoming Oaks, then much faster, sometimes sprinting, up the hill 4 times.

Decided to try hill sprints for the first time today. I’ll call it a success because I set out to do 4, and I did 4. But it was difficult and I only ran hard all the way to the turn around on 2 out of the 4. I’m sure I’ll get better if I keep doing these. Listened to a playlist as I ran. Didn’t think about anything but getting to the top of the hill and then trying to slow my heart rate as I ran back down.

I ran through the neighborhood as a warm-up. So many beautiful leaves! Several bright red trees. One or two orange ones. A cluster of yellow. I could smell the dry mustiness of decay. Saw lots of acorns on the ground. Too many squirrels looked like they might dart out in front of me.

mood: curiosity

(I wrote this bit when I woke up this morning. It’s a very rough draft, but gives me some things to work with,\.) Before I was diagnosed with cone dystrophy, I never thought much about my vision. I never imagined that I would lose it. Even though I had been having problems for years seeing things—seeing the cursor on a computer or a ball being thrown at me or a bird in the sky—I never connected those problems with bad vision. I thought it was something else, maybe a weird quirk in my brain? Is this the wonder of the brain, its ability to work with limited resources, concealing how damaged our vision is?

I was never curious about my vision or how it worked. The only thing I remember from learning about how we see was the image of the inverted tree, entering the eye upright, then shrinking and flipping around at the back of the eye. I knew the terms retina (I think), pupil, iris, but I didn’t know the retina was a thin layer of cells lining the back of your eye or that at its center was the macula and in a pit at its center was the fovea where some of the most important photoreceptor cells reside, waiting to convert light into nerve signals that travel through the optic nerve to the visual cortex. I don’t ever remember hearing about rods or cones until my eye doctor explained that my cones were scrambling. I didn’t think about blind spots or try to find mine or wonder too often about how much of what I saw was real or illusion. If I ever thought about the limits of my perception, it was in the abstract, after studying the empiricists in my Modern Philosophy course in college. And a blind spot was something you had in relation to your biased and limited world view.  

I suppose I should have been curious about these things, I should have wanted a basic understanding of vision, but it wasn’t until my brain was unable to hide the effects of my diminishing cones and I learned I was losing my central vision that I payed attention. Part of this is because I take my body for granted when it’s working. Why question or scrutinize it when its doing its job? Part of this is because I don’t want to know how it works because once I know, I might think too much about how easily it might not work. And part of this is because I struggle to remember or understand anything with scientific jargon. 

But now, I’m curious. And I’m finding joy in learning about ganglion cells and the optic chiasm and the fovea and how many cone cells are in it and why they’re called cone cells and how the brain handles a lack of visual data (recalling past images, making stuff up) and how optical illusions work and the different types of scotomas and how to use eccentric vision (EV) to compensate for a loss of central vision and when the blind spot was first written about (1668) and two different Charles’s: King Charles II who loved to execute people with his blind spot and Charles Bonnet who first described the trippy visual hallucinations some people experience as they’re losing their vision.

sept 21/RUN

3 miles
the loop that kept getting larger
67 degrees

Warmer this morning. 80s later this afternoon. Windy. Heard several crows–an especially loud one right after I started running, another when I reached Edmund, near the spot they’ve identified as containing poison ivy and that they’ve marked with big warning signs. Didn’t glance at the river even though I ran on the river road as part of each loop but I did see Dave the Daily Walker! We greeted each other and remarked on how long it had been since we’ve seen each other. Was raced by a young kid as I ran up a hill beside his house. So much energy and exuberance. Encountered some workers filling a pothole in the road–they were wearing masks. Ran past some beautifully yellow trees on 47th ave. Can’t remember if I saw any red ones.

moment of the morning

Before my run, I walked Delia the dog. Right by one of my favorite houses–the one with the cat that has deemed themselves queen of the block, sometimes escorting you down the sidewalk, and with the bright orange and pink and yellow zinnias, and with the big water bucket for dogs with a Bob Dylan quote on it, and with the “Any Functioning Adult, 2020” yard sign–I heard the gentle singing of the wind chimes and the wind through a pine tree and crows softly (yes, it sounded soft, not harsh) cawing, and a trickling fountain all at once. What a wonderful symphony of sounds!

wonder mood: curiosity

Also before my run, I read through some of my notes and did some free-writing about wonder and my vision. I have three types of wonder:

  1. delight (finding my blind spot)
  2. curiosity (questions, facts, information, anecdotes about scotomas and seeing/not seeing)
  3. awe (the magic/power of my sight, and sight/brain in general)

As I ran, I thought about curiosity. At first, I had the idea (after running down the hill on 33rd and turning left on the river road) of doing a series of questions that I wonder about–a mix of questions about the physical process of seeing and other questions, like the classic childhood hypothetical–“Would you rather lose your hearing or your vision?”. Then later (I can’t remember where I was running when this happened), I thought about a block of texts combining some of the most interesting/strange/unsettling/important facts about blind spots into a cento.

Here’s a strange anecdote I discovered: King Charles II of England liked to aim his blind spot at a prisoner’s head before they were decapitated. Googling this, all mentions of this story lead to the neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran and his mention of it in his popular articles about blind spots. Is this story true? After some more digging, I discovered this line from an abstract on an article about Faraday and his eyesight:

in the second volume of the Philosophical Transactions it is recorded that Mariotte demonstrated the blind spot ‘to the Royal Society before King Charles II in 1668.

Then I found Mariotte’s article from 1668 here. Pretty cool. In my brief search, I couldn’t find much else–no instances of King Charles II actually doing this, but I did learn that he helped create the Royal Society from which this paper comes and also a bit more about him and his reign (which I’m sure I learned back in 11th grade when I took AP European History). He was called The Merry Monarch, partly for the hedonism of his court–apparently, he was obsessed with sex–and partly because of how relieved/happy people were to be done with Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans. I also learned that in the 1660s, there was a lot of anti-Catholic hysteria with many Catholics being executed. Are these the prisoners that Charles II decapitated in his mind?

sept 18/RUN

3.15 miles
neighborhood/lake street bridge/river road trail
46 degrees

Wonderful fall weather! Sun, crisp air, changing leaves, uncrowded sidewalks/roads/paths! I ran over the lake street bridge again. A bit windy; I could feel one chunk of my hair coming out of my pony tail and flopping around just above my visor. How funny did it look to the drivers passing me? The river was a beautiful blue. No rowers on the water. No canoes or motor boats either. I don’t remember seeing any leaves changing on the tree-line along the river’s edge. Still all green. Soon, red, orange, yellow. Then my view comes back. Coming off the lake street bridge and heading south on the trail, I overheard some bikers talking about today’s stage of the Tour de France. Nice! Heard some geese honking overhead–high in the clean blue air.

I love this idea of yielding to a poem or an idea…or the gorge. I think of it in relation to being open and generous and willing to listen (and to hear and to notice).

mood: wonder

Another day of working on my writing project on vision loss and mood. This morning, while watching the Tour de France, I noticed a sign with an exclamation mark on it quickly flash across the screen and pointed it out to Scott who hadn’t noticed it. I wondered, how is it that I could see this sign (and while Scott couldn’t) but miss so much else when I’m watching tv? How does my vision work and not work?

I bring this up in the current draft of my wonder poem in 2 ways.

To witness the spot of my unseeing usually concealed behind the smoke and mirrors of softened forms and filled-in gaps is astonishing. What impossible magic enables me to see anything with this ring obscuring my view? I like staring at it until my eyes ache, my head hurts. Observing how it moves slightly when I shift my gaze. How it grows bigger when I cover my left eye, smaller when I cover my right. How it begins to pulse, then fade, then flare, a fiery black hoop burning through my thinning retina. What a strange feeling to watch this show and suddenly know it is more real than the illusions my brain offers as sight.

1. impossible magic

How can I still see as well as I can with so many of my cone cells gone? How does my brain make sense of the limited information it’s receiving from the few remaining cells? Most of the time when I am curious about this, it is with awe and astonishment. What an amazing organ the brain is! It’s fascinating to learn about how the brain/mind compensates for lack of information, how it guesses, how it fills in the gaps.

Last week, I learned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome which is a phenomenon that can happen to around 15% of people with macular degeneration. It’s named after the man who first described it, having noticed it in his aging grandfather. When the brain doesn’t receive visual data from the eyes it provides its own images, either making them up or recalling stored ones. This causes visual hallucinations. People with CBS usually experience these hallucinations when they wake up and they don’t last long. The favorite hallucinations I read about in this article were

  • people dressed in costume from an earlier time
  • imaginary creatures, like dragons

What? Somewhere else I read about how the hallucinations are smaller, so you see tiny people dressed up in costumes. Nice! Thankfully, when you experience this, you know it’s a hallucination. I don’t have this syndrome. Instead, my brain likes to fill in the gap with a background that matches the area surrounding the missing image. So, while someone with CBS has hallucinations and sees something that isn’t there, I have a different problem: what is there is hidden behind a background (like a blank, blue sky or more green trees or endless waving water–all 3 of these have happened to me) with no indication of its presence or my inability to see it. Is there an antonym for hallucination? It is not that I see things that aren’t there; it is that I don’t see things that are there and I have no idea that I’m not seeing them–until suddenly, without warning, I do, like a bike that wasn’t there appearing beside me in my peripheral vision. I think this happened to me a lot more right after my vision declined in 2016. Has my brain figured out how to compensate for it?

2. optical illusions

Much of the time, even for me with my increasingly bad vision, the brain’s tricks for filling in gaps and working with incomplete visual data are hidden. I might see things a little fuzzier but I still see them. Unless I concentrate, I can’t see the ring scotoma in my central vision. There is no dark black ring on the page when I’m reading. But it’s there and when I found it by staring intently at a blank wall, I was astonished and fascinated. I was also relieved. Here, with this ring, was evidence that my vision is declining, that I’m not making this bad vision thing up. Because my brain is so good at compensating and performing magic tricks, it can be easy for me to think my eyes are better than they are, that I’m seeing more than I am.

sept 7/RUN

4 miles
river road trail, south/wabun park/through turkey hollow/edmund, north
52 degrees

Cooler this morning and not too crowded! I ran on the river road trail all the way to the edge of Minneahaha Falls, then up to Wabun park and down the steep hill right up above the river and the Locks and Dam #1. Ran through the uneven grass across turkey hollow and then up edmund. Lots of hills today. I got closer than 6 feet to 1 or 2 walkers, but only for a second. When was the last time I ran 4 miles? I checked my running data: I ran 5 miles on July 31st. I’ve been running a lot during this pandemic–almost every day–but only 2-3 miles at a time.

Fall is here. Lots of color. One of my favorite trees–the one right before the double bridge on 44th–is a lime-ish yellow. I just checked my log; last year it was orange and turned much later, in October (oct 10, 2019). The leaves are early this year, like the acorns which were dropping last month. A week ago I read about La Nina on the Updraft blog for MPR. Paul Huttner suggested that with a La Nina watch being issued, we might have a “rigorous winter ahead.” I’ll take the snow but not the arctic hellscape temperatures. A strange time. So much to fear about the future–a second wave of the pandemic, former presidents starting civil wars because they don’t want to leave office and go to jail, bitterly cold winters, kids finally losing it about having to stay home all the time and not see their friends. Maybe none of this will happen. This is what I choose to believe.

is my vision really that bad?

A few times during my run, I thought about my writing project and my different moods around my vision loss. Today’s idea: There are many things I can still do, I can still see. I can still read. I mostly see where I’m going when I run or walk. If I were to take a vision test with the Snellen Chart, I would probably still do reasonably well. But, even though I can read, I read much slower and mostly I don’t read by looking at the words on a page, but by listening to audio books. When I do look at words on the page, I get tired quickly. I sometimes skip lines or repeat lines. I can’t read book titles or big letters, especially when they’re spaced out.

How bad is my vision? Part of my struggle right now is that I see much worse than a “normally” sighted person but not as poorly as someone who is legally blind. I am not yet blind. Even as I want to express my feelings about this in-between stage, I sometimes feel like an imposter or someone who might be exaggerating their bad vision. Then I remember how I can’t see faces or follow anything that happens on commercials. How I can’t tell if a walker on the sidewalk is heading towards me or away. How I seem to be needing brighter and brighter light to see words or the lines on the page of a notebook.

I thought about all of this as I ran, but in brief flashes and fragments.

How we See: the Photoreceptor Cells (rods & cones)

I’m trying to understand more of the technical (medical/science jargon) stuff with my vision so I’ve been reading up on diagrams of the eye and rods and cones. Here’s a useful site and diagram:

The eye, close-up on macula

You need cone cells to see fine details, read, recognize faces, and see color. Many of my cones don’t work anymore. Currently, I still have some central vision left–the very center. The blind ring I’ve been writing about in my mood ring projects is officially called a ring scotoma. Here’s an image–which is pretty accurate to what I see when I see my blind ring:

ring scotoma

The above image is from a site about macular degeneration. For comparison, here is the ring that I saw when I stared at a white sheet of paper:

my blind ring

Pretty close. A few interesting things mentioned in the description. This ring will most likely close up and:

Smaller print size may help as the individual will be able to see more of a word within the functioning area. 

Yes! Large print is very difficult for me to read. I tried checking a large print book out of the library and it was impossible to read. I like small print much better, which seemed confusing to me, especially when all the advice (even from my eye doctor) was to magnify the print. Now, finally, it makes sense!

sept 13/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/42nd st, west/around Hiawatha Elementary/43rd ave, north
56 degrees

Another good morning for running. I don’t remember much. Too busy looking out for other people. Started on the trail but it was too crowded so I moved over to Edmund and then ran up 42nd. Didn’t see the river or hear any memorable birds. No dropping acorns or honking geese. No clickity-clacking roller skiers or bikes blasting Jimmy Buffet songs. Saw a runner I’ve seen at least once before on the trail who annoyingly takes over the entire path and doesn’t move over. He has a strange, bouncy stride. Heard some yipping, spazzy dogs at the Hiawatha playground. Smelled some cigarette smoke and wondered if it was coming from the walker ahead of me. Ran by the door that my kids used to come out when they were done with school. All the students would bunch around the teacher trying to point out their parents so they could leave. I remember waiting forever because my kids (like me) weren’t aggressive enough to get the teacher’s attention. I was very happy when they got older and I didn’t have to wait for them near that door anymore.

Blind (r) ing

I haven’t been memorizing poems for a few weeks now. I’ve moved into working on my mood ring project. Yesterday I did some more research and found out a few things I’d like to play around with:

A blind spot in the central vision is also called a scotoma. Here’s a longer definition from Enhanced Vision:

A central scotoma is a blind spot that occurs in the center of one’s vision.  It can appear in several different ways.  It may look like a black or gray spot for some and for others it may be a blurred smudge or a distorted view in one’s straight ahead vision.  Scotomas may start out as a small nuisance and then get larger or there may be several blind spots or scotomas that block one’s field of vision. 

Right now, I think my scotoma is somewhere between a blurred smudge and a distorted view. At the end of the brief article, they offer a few tips, including:

Find and use your preferred retinal locus.  A person looks slightly to the side so that the blind spot or scotoma is not in their central field of vision. One author describes it as “not looking at what you want to see.”

Not looking at what you want to see.

So much I want to do with this idea of not looking at what you want to see. Thinking about Dickinson and “tell all the truth but tell it slant” and the periphery and soft attention. I’m also thinking about how sometimes when I’m talking to Scott and I can’t see his face, I will look just a little to the side, over his shoulder. Then I can see his features. He says this looks strange. I bet.

Another useful term/idea is filling in: The manner in which the brain deals with inexplicable gaps in the retinal image. When an object enters your blind spot and disappears, instead of seeing a shadow or dark spot, the absence is filled in with the background color. So you can’t see that you’re not seeing. Because my blind spot is larger and in my central vision, I experience this a lot more than “normally” sighted people. Sometimes I wonder how often I’m not seeing without knowing.

At the end of an article about filling in and the various experiments you can do to see it, the authors conclude:

These experiments show how little information the brain actually takes in while you inspect the world and how much is supplied by your brain. The richness of our individual experience is largely illusory; we actually “see” very little and rely on educated guesswork to do the rest.

I love this idea of how limited everyone’s vision is and the incorrect assumptions many have when thinking about what it means to “see.” I’m not sure I would have spent much time thinking about any of this if I hadn’t lost my central vision. The last line about educated guesswork reminds me of Aldous Huxley’s book The Art of Seeing and his writing about Dr. W.H. Bates’ visual education method.

In the preface, Aldous writes:

Ever since ophthalmology became a science, its practitioners have been obsessively preoccupied with only one aspect of the total, complex process of seeing—the physiological. They have paid attention exclusively to eyes, not at all to the mind which makes use of the eyes to see with.

Bates’ method pays attention to the “mental side of seeing.”

And here’s another great definition of filling in from this helpful article:

What is filling-in? It is the phenomenon in which an empty region of visual space appears to be filled with the color, brightness or texture of its surround. The brain is capable of filling-in the blind spot, borders, surfaces and objects.

Okay, I’ll stop here for now.

sept 11/RUN

3.1 miles
neighborhood + river road + trails*
49 degrees

*43rd ave, north/31st st, east/44th ave, north/lake street/46th ave, south/32nd st, east/river road, south/river road trail, south/winchell trail, north/38th st, west/edmund, north/47th ave, north/35th st, west

Such great weather! Was able to wear shorts and a sweatshirt. Felt a little warm by the end, but mostly fine. Ran through the neighborhood, on lake street, by Minnehaha Academy and the aspen eyes, through the tunnel of trees, past the welcoming oaks. Smelled the stink above the ravine, glanced at the inviting, mysterious trail winding through the small wood near the oak savanna, admired the river, turned down near Folwell and ran back on the Winchell Trail. Encountered 3 runners and got closer than 6ft, but only for a second or two. Tried to start the run by thinking about my writing project, but quickly got distracted or lost in other thoughts or no thoughts. Noticed a few more trees starting to change color.

I am currently deep into my project about going blind, blind spots, mood rings. Thinking about faces and feeling isolated/disconnected today. I’m thinking I’d like to put two visual poems/diagrams about faces. One, a face blurred out. The other, a state fair mannequin with pupils as soulless black balls. I need to think about it some more. It’s hard to do any other poetry/writing when I am thinking so much about this project.

Here’s a wonderful quotation I found on twitter about what poetry does:

Also, discovered someone else’s Snellen Chart poem from 2006!

Sun Yu Pai, Optometrist