april 18/RUN

5.3 miles
franklin hill turn around
44 degrees

Great weather for a run! Sunny, low wind, crisp air. Felt strong, relaxed, steady. Kept track of the river as I ran north. Decided I’d run as far on the river road trail as I could before it was closed for flooding. I made it to the bottom of the hill. Wow! How long before the river crests? I looked it up; not until Sunday. Wow! The river is rising because of how fast the snow melted last week.

Before heading back up the hill, I checked out the water and took a picture:

a walking and biking trail half flooded with river water

A few other people — some walkers, 2 dogs, a runner with a jogging stroller — were down here checking it out too.

As I ran north, I listened to the birds, the traffic, the silence. Heading back up franklin hill and running south, I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989.

Shadows!

First it was the shadow of a bird flying over my head. Then my sharp shadow just in front of me. Then sprawling tree shadows stretched across the trail. I started seeing shadows everywhere and thinking about how they help me to navigate the world — how, when I can’t see something, I might be able to see its shadow cast on the sidewalk. I feel like there was another distinctive shadow, but I can’t seem to remember what it was.

Rust

At the very end of the run, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” came on and I heard these lines:

I was thinking that you could be trusted
Did you have to ruin
What was shiny? Now it’s all rusted

And I remembered, yes, I’m very interested in rust as a color too. I last mentioned in on March 13, 2023 with Schuyler and ED’s “elemental Rust.” I’m thinking of it less as a color-as-noun (like brownish reddish orange), more as color-as-verb and in relation to erosion, decomposing, crumbling — this is where it connects with texture. Does this make any sense, even to me? Not sure, but it seems helpful to think of rust in relation to shiny. Are they in contrast to each other? Only if you imagine shiny and sparkling as new, which isn’t always the case.

Currently, I’m in the weird, all-over-the-place space with my 8th Ishihara plate poem. Trying to consider different possibilities, not shut out ideas, letting my mind meander and take strange (wrong?) turns. This morning I had big ideas about creating a playlist of sparkling, shimmering, dazzling, glittering songs that could help me to find a way into the poem (this method worked with listening to frank ocean’s channel ORANGE as I wrote orange). Not sure it’s working, it’s harder to find “glitter” songs that aren’t by Mariah Carey. Plus, I do better when my inspirations are more slanted, less direct, less literal.

In the hopes of offering a little focus, here are some non-music inspirations and ideas I’m currently drawing from and that I’ve listed in my notes:

1

Eamon Grennan’s beautiful silver ribbon in “Lark-Luster”: when summer happens, you’d almost see the long silver ribbons of song the bird braids as if binding lit air to earth that is all shadows, to keep us (as we walk our grounded passages down here) alive to what is over our heads—song and silence—and the lot of us leaning up: mind-defeated again, just harking to it.

2

Tell me how do I steady my gaze when everything I want is motion? Saccadic Masking/ Paige Lewis

3

dazzle
razzle-dazzle
radiate
gleam (as in gleaming bronze)
glimmer
spangle
catch the light
twinkle
glint
reflect, echo, bounce

4

texture — unsteady rough, not smooth ridged, not flat, patterned — and its influence on light: bird feathers, wind on water/waves, crumbling pavement potholes asphalt pools (puddles), gray depressions — holes/pits in snow casting shadows that look gray

5

heat energy flame burn flicker flare: a. giving forth dazzling, unsteady light, b. sudden outburst, short-lived, intense, c. gradual widening, spreading out, display in expanded form

6

A. R. Ammons and another wordless language, not made up of reds and blues and yellows: mutual glistening in a breezy grove of spring aspen speech

There are more influences to come, but I’ve run out of time, so I’ll stop at 6.

7

april 14/RUN

3.1 miles
2 trails
67 degrees

The last summer-warm day for a while. I wore black shorts and a light green tank top and was too warm. Was able to run the winchell trail today! Got a closer look at the river. At first, heading down to the southern entrance of the trail, the river was blue with a streak of silver sparkles. Later, heading north, it gleamed bronze.

Lots of trees hanging ominously over the trail. Would one fall on me? When will the parks people come through and remove them. I think I counted at least five.

At least one of the trees on the edge of the trail in the tunnel of trees was sprouting green leaves.

Surfaces run on: grass, dirt, cracked asphalt, crumbling asphalt, smooth asphalt, dry leaves, road, sidewalk, roots.

Heard: a conversation between 2 women I can’t remember now, kids yelling at the playground, a man on a bench talking on his phone, the sizzle of my feet striking grit, a bike shifting gears, the trickle of water out of the sewer pipe at 44th, the gush of water out of sewer pipe at 42nd

A. R. Ammons’ garbage

section 12, the beginning:

a waste of words, a flattened-down, smoothed-
over mesa of styrofoam verbiage; since words were

introduced here things have gone poorly for the
planet: it’s been between words and rivers,

section 12, the middle:

we must have the biggest machine,

fifty miles round, find the smallest particles,
and the ditchwork of the deepest degradation

reflects waters brighter than common ground:
poetry to no purpose! all this garbage! all

these words:

section 12, the end:

imagine, though we think

ourselves purposeless, we may be the thinnest
cross-section of an upcoming announcement, and

though we cannot imagine what the purpose might
be, even now it may be extruding itself, tiny

threads of weak energy fields, right through
us: first an earth in peace; then, hundreds of

years looking for other wars: strife and peace,
love and grief, departure and return: gliding

we’ll kick the l out of world and cuddle
up with the avenues and byways of the word:

Again, this reminds me of Mary Oliver’s conflicted feelings about words and being a poet in The Leaf and the Cloud, minus all the garbage. I like the effect of Ammons’ excessive words — his garbage, even as I find it a lot to read.

Discovered a new poet this morning: Fay Dillof. Here’s one of her wonderful poems:

Little Infinities/ Fay Dillof

1.
Remember The Twilight Zone episode
in which a couple tries to escape town on a train
that loops them back to the same station?

Like that, there are tracks in my brain.

2.
Halted on the highway,
my friend Amy says We’re not in traffic,
we are traffic.

3.
I try not to look at the man in the park, doing pull-ups
on the limb of a tree. Sweaty,
bare-chested—he’s always there.

Not that it’s always the same guy.
Or the same poor tree.

4.
My father’s cousin, when he still could speak,
asked How big is your now?
but I was already looking back on the moment

from some sad future.

5.
The gratitude journal I keep by my bed is empty
because every night its the same:
trees.

6.
In the final reveal, the couple is trapped
in an endless game
being played by a giant child.

7.
Well, at least she never stopped
trying, my gravestone might read.

8.
When I say soul,
I mean like a photobooth photo—
quick this, this, this, oh, this.

a breakthrough!?

Before my run, I was thinking about my colorblind plates and the hidden message I might put behind the dots. What about having each plate hide 1-2 words that, when put together, create a sentence/another poem? Here’s the poem:

Can you see me? I cannot see you.

I’d break it up this way. 7 plate poems, words hidden in each plate:

  1. Can
  2. you see
  3. me?
  4. I
  5. can
  6. not see
  7. you.

Or, should it be:

I cannot see you. Can you not see me?

  1. I
  2. can
  3. not see
  4. you.
  5. Can you
  6. not see
  7. me?

Not sure, but I think I like the second version better. I’ll keep playing with it, but I really like this idea! I think it finally does something with this form that is more than just a gimmick. I imagine the you here as ambiguous. It could mean the hidden numbers or the reader of the poem/taker of the test. I also like the idea of breaking up cannot see into can not see, where “not seeing” is something I can do, I was relieved to do, because it enabled me to finally understand that something was strange about my vision/eyes. It’s so exciting to have figured this out! I’ve been working on it, letting it simmer, since September.

addendum, 26 april 2023: After thinking about it more, I wasn’t satisfied with this hidden poem. I came up with a much better one (no spoilers)!

april 13/RUN

2.5 miles
lake nokomis
62 degrees

After walking around Lake Nokomis yesterday afternoon and hearing the ice shattering and melting, then seeing some loons bobbing in the water, Scott and I decided to return this morning for a run. We started running before 8 am, which is early for me these days. It was windy and sunny and beautiful. The water was an intense blue and getting close to being iced out. Someone already had their canoe out. I wonder what the water temperature is? Open swim begins in 2 months!

When we finished the run, we walked up the hill to Nokomis Beach coffee. I used to get coffee here a lot when we lived closer to the lake, but it’s been years. When was the last time I was in here? Everything looked almost exactly the same. A strange feeling of time not passing.

On the way, we encountered a wonderful display of yard weirdness. Scott took a picture:

dozens of figurines displayed at the edge of a yard, including an owl, a gnome, several mushrooms, and the helm of a ship hanging from a tree.

A. R. Ammons’ garbage

1

at the end of section 10 (68):

oh, well: argument is like dining:
mess with a nice dinner long enough, it’s garbage.

2

in section 11 (70-71):

this is

we at our best, not killing, scheming, abusing,
running over, tearing down, burning up: why

did invention ever bother with all this, why
does the huge beech by the water come back every

year: oh, the sweet pleasures, the kiss, the letter from

someone, the word of sympathy or praise, or just
the shared settled look between us, that here

we are together, such as it is, cautious and
courageous, wily with genuine desire, policed

by how we behave, all out of eternity, into
eternity, but here now, where we make the most

of it:

3

at the end of section 11 (73):

I don’t
care whether anybody believes me or not: I

don’t know anything I want anybody to believe or
in: but if you will sit with me in the light

of speech, I will sit with you: I would rather
do this than eat your ice cream

colorblind plates

I continue to work on my colorblind poems. Inspired by some words in a section of garbage, I finished a solid draft of another one yesterday. Here’s a bit of it:

I look at the plate
and see nothing but a mass of
different size dots. No hidden numbers
or hand-painted hiragana. I stare harder and
the dots turn into loops able to map new routes
for making meaning out of electrical impulses.

april 9/RUN

2 miles
dogwood run
50 degrees

Spring! Ran with Scott this morning. Heard lots of different birds — woodpeckers, crows, bluejays, cardinals. Forgot to look down at the river. Talked about being colorblind and an article he sent me the other day, Designing for Colorblindness. Ran on more of the walking path. Greeted Mr. Morning! Anything else? I’m writing this at the end of the day (after driving to St. Peter to bring FWA back to school), so I can’t remember.

A. R. Ammons’ garbage

Yesterday afternoon, I kept reading and got through a few more sections (4 – most of 7). With Schuyler’s Hymn to Life, I focused on each section at a time. For Ammons, I think I’ll be jumping around more. Here’s something from section 3 I’d like to think about on my run:

note: after writing this sentence above, I asked Scott if he wanted to run together. He said yes and I forgot about Ammons as we ran and talked.

scientific and materialistic notion of the
spindle of energy: when energy is gross,

rocklike, it resembles the gross, and when
fine it mists away into mystical refinements,

sometimes passes right out of material
recognizability and becomes, what?, motion,

spirit, all forms translate into energy, as at
the bottom of Dante’s hell all motion is

translated into form: so, in value systems,
physical systems, artistic systems, always this

same disposition from the heavy to the light,
and then the returns form the light downward

to the staid gross: stone to wind, wind to
stone, there is no need for “outside,” hegemonic

derivations of value: nothing need be invented
or imposed: the aesthetic, scentific, moral

are organized like a muff along this spindle,
might as well relax: thus, the job done, the

mind having found its way through and marked
out the course, the intellect can be put by:

one can turn to tongue, crotch, boob, navel,
armpit, rock, slit, roseate rearend

I’m thinking about the relationship between mind, body, and spirit here, and then where I see motion fitting in. The idea of motion as spirit is interesting to me. Because I rely on peripheral vision, I’ve been thinking a lot about motion (which is detected in your peripheral). In terms of motion, I’m also thinking about my restlessness and my inability to sit still for too long, especially at night. Waking up every few hours to move around before going back to sleep. And I’m thinking about motion is relation to color, especially with my study of the ancient greeks and their ideas about color and the idea of “the glitter effect” (See The Sea Was Never Blue).

april 3/WALKYARD WORK

walk: 40 minutes
neighborhood with Scott and Delia
40 degrees

Feeling springier every day. Scott and I discussed how this last snow on Friday moved the twin cities up to the 3rd snowiest winter in history. Too much snow. It’s melting fast. Will everything be green by the end of next week, when we’re supposed to have a stretch of 50s and 60s? As we walked through the neighborhood, we looked at the colors of all of the houses; we’re getting our house repainted next month and trying to decide on which dark gray and whether to have a raspberry red, parakeet green, or copper harbor orange door. Mostly, I can’t really see the color on the door, but I’m fine with any of these three. It would seem fitting, though, to paint the door orange since I’m so obsessed with the color. And, copper harbor orange — where I was born in the UP!

Speaking of orange, I’m still working on my orange poem. Such a struggle. Not quite able to find the way in yet. For inspiration, I decided to search for orange songs, settled on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. Will it help or distract?

Also trying to take a different approach to this poem. In my notes and on this log a few days ago, I wrote I orbit the orange. In terms of open water swimming, this is literally true. I loop around the orange buoys all summer — or 5-6 times a week, more than 100 loops. It is also true as a metaphor: in trying to write about the color orange, I circle around it again and again, wanting to make sense of what orange means to me, searching for ways to be able to see it or to sense it or to find a way around or through it when seeing it is not possible. This orbiting also provides one definition for poetry, which I also wrote about last week:

One thing poetry is about is orbiting things that you can’t quite find the words to describe or pin down with meaning. Becoming obsessed with them. Writing around them again and again. 

log entry from march 31, 2023

Later, I wrote in my notes a possible title for an orange poem, Orange, an ars poetica. Orange as more than a color, but a method, the void that my words are trying to encircle. Not white space or blank space on a page, but orange space, orange breaths, an orange too full to rhyme or offer back an echo. A source, a center, the place where I practice learning to be without seeing or to see in new ways.

I want to channel the orange, conjure it into existence, inhabit its invisible space, learn to see it new ways.

Think citrus fruit leaves in late fall turmeric
Think cheese puffs Planters cheese balls extra sharp cheddar cheese
Think candied slices from the Sears candy counter sherbet Betty Crocker au gratin potatoes
Think surprise pumpkins growing in the back yard candy corn pumpkins before a swim meet
Think construction cones road closed signs for races spray paint around cracks in the asphalt
Think almost red 1974 VW bugs
Think buoys butterflies missing mountains
Think orange orange orange orange orange

yard work: 30 minutes
backyard
43 degrees

After all the discussion about yard work (Schuyler) and everyday chores (Ammons), I decided to document my yard work today. While Scott tried to figure out a way to straighten are tall trees (arborvitae) which are leaning too far to stage left (if you’re looking from inside the house and out the window), I was on poop patrol. In past winters, I’ve tried to stay on top of this relentless task, watching where Delia pooped and digging it out of the snow. Not this year. Did I ever pick it up? I don’t think so. As a result, the yard is filled with poop, and because everything is thawing now, it’s soggy, gooey poop. Gross, I guess. It doesn’t really bother me. I filled up entire Target plastic bag with poop, then decided I might wait until it all dries out a bit more. At one point, in awe of the amount of poop on the ground, I called out to Scott without thinking, Holy shit! Literally.

I looked through a few more A. R. Ammons poems this morning, but they were all so long. Garbage should be arriving in the mail today, so I’ll wait for that to study him more. Instead, here’s a great poem by Gary Snyder from is collection Riprap, which I’ve been thinking of buying for a few years now.

Thin Ice/ Gary Synder

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in

march 31/WALKRUN

walk: 20 minutes
around the block with Delia
36 degrees
light rain with snow coming later

A chance for 6-10 inches of snow later tonight. Before that, rain and thunderstorms. Maybe the snow won’t come? Decided to take Delia out for a quick walk before the rain began falling more heavily. The boulevards are still buried in walls of gray, cratered snow, but the alley is finally clear and our backyard is as much mud as it is snow.

run: 3.15 miles
north/lake street bridge/south
37 degrees

A few hours after my walk. Wasn’t planning to run, but when it stopped raining, I decided this was my chance before the paths are covered in snow and ice again. As always, I’m glad I decided to go. Everything was wet and windy. Big puddles, little puddles, deep puddles. The river seemed to be preparing itself for more weather. Noticed a few runners and walkers, but not too many.

Saw orange everywhere. Orange signs, orange construction cones, dead orange leaves.

Heard the wind, my headphones case banging around in my zipped purple pocket, cars. Smelled smoke from a fireplace. Noticed another new house going up. Soon, the neighborhood will be overrun with the same stupid over-sized houses on every block. Boo.

Near the end of the run, I thought about orange and a phrase popped into my head: keep orbiting around the orange, which means: when you can’t, like me, see the orange, look for what’s happening around where it should be. Is there movement, people acting oddly, anything unusual near a spot where you think orange is? This orbiting works on a literal level, but it’s also more. One thing poetry is about is orbiting things that you can’t quite find the words to describe or pin down with meaning. Becoming obsessed with them. Writing around them again and again. This reminded me of the Frank O’Hara poem about orange, “Why I Am Not a Painter,” and the lines:

One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES.

A possible title for my poem: Orange, an ars poetica Excellent!

A. R. Ammons

Yesterday, i found, read, and posted a wonderful poem by Elizabeth Bishop, “The End of March,” which reminded me of some lines from an A. R. Ammons poem, “Corsons Inlet,” that I’ve admired for some time. So today I’ve started spending some more time with Ammons. I just ordered his 1993 long poem, Garbage, and re-read a New Yorker article that I first read when it came out in 2017. The title of the article, “The Great American Poet of Daily Chores,” makes me think of James Schuyler and all his talk of laundry and yard work and washing dishes in “Hymn to Life.”

A book of Ammons that I haven’t ordered yet, but I might, is The Really Short Poems of A. R. Ammons. Here’s a few poems from it that I especially like:

Weathering/ A. R. Ammons

A day without rain is like
a day without sunshine.

Mirrorment/ A. R. Ammons

Birds are flowers flying
and flowers perched birds.

Equilibrium/ A. R. Ammons

If you walk back
and forth

through a puddle pretty
soon

you wet the whole
driveway but of

course dry
the puddle up.

And here are two Ammons’ poems I found in the New Yorker article:

Project/ A. R. Ammons

My subject’s
still the wind still
difficult to
present
being invisible:
nevertheless should I
presume it not
I’d be compelled
to say
how the honeysuckle bushlimbs
wave themselves:
difficult
beyond presumption.

Love how the line breaks — still the wind still. Also, the strange idea of proving the invisible wind’s existence, which made me think of a poem I’m writing about orange and my faith in it, even though I rarely see it. This faith — an orange faith — is different than a belief in the wind. The wind is invisible to everyone, but most people can see orange, don’t need to believe in it the way I do. And the evidence I have for orange’s existence is less straightforward than evidence of the wind. These lines perhaps only make sense to me right now, but they’re a start of something interesting.

Poetics/ A. R. Ammons

I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
wind-glittering
totally its apparent self:

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will
unfold:

not the shape on paper — though
that, too — but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

Wind-glittering, possibility, being available to any shape summoning itself. Love these ideas!

march 30/WALKRUN

walk: 45 minues
neighborhood, with Delia the dog
30 degrees

Took Delia out for a walk around the neighborhood. North, then east past Cooper School and the giant mounds of snow plowed somewhere else then deposited on this field. Past the house that had been half-finished then abandoned a few years ago and is now finished and on the market for almost $900,000. Past the new Minnehaha Academy, which replaced the old one that blew up a few summers ago because of a gas leak — I heard it happen when I was out in my backyard mowing the lawn. Such a strange, loud BOOM!

Then south near the spot where some of the best fall color trees used to reside until they were marked for death with orange spray paint then chopped down — the brightest, most wonderful yellow every year. Under the huge, towering trio of cottonwood trees — the Cottonwood 3. Past the house with the oddly terraced lawn and the big windows, rarely covered with curtains or blinds in the evening so we were able to see, when returning by car in the evening from a baseball game or a clarinet recital, all the way to the back wall where letters hung on a shelf spelling out a word that none of us — not me or Scott, RJP or FWA — could ever decipher.

West, past the house with the wonderful butterfly garden on the boulevard, and the house that used to string bright lights around their giant — higher than the house — fir tree every winter. Was 2022/23 the first year they didn’t? Past the house with the bushes that, the first Christmas we lived in this neighborhood suddenly stopped their exuberant chatter when we walked by and Scott started talking. I noticed that those same bushes, birdless today, were a strange orangey, yellowy green. My guess is that they are dying, but maybe it’s just new growth that is confused by the return of the cold winter weather. Past the house that has one of the best gardens in the neighborhood and where I saw/heard someone giving a backyard cello lesson during the first year of the pandemic.

When we started the walk, the sky was blue and it was bright enough for sunglasses. Within a few blocks the sky was a grayish white. Still, quiet, no one around. Thought some more about color and how I still (mostly) see it, but that it doesn’t mean much anymore. It doesn’t mean nothing, just not much (this line is inspired by a line from the Bishop poem below that I read before my walk and run). Color doesn’t brighten or enhance what I see. Everything is soft and subdued. About halfway through the walk, I stopped to record some of my thoughts, including:

  • orange, which has been the most important color for me practically, doesn’t matter as much anymore
  • orange sounds (inspired by hearing some dead orange leaves rustling in the wind): sizzle, crackle
  • The only color that matters to me now is the silver flash of the bottom of the lifeguard’s boat on the other side of the lake; I use the silver flash for navigating during open swim

run: 3.1 miles
turkey hollow
33 degrees

While walking, I noticed at least 3 people running, which inspired me to go out there myself after I dropped Delia off at home. I felt a little stiff as I ran. My hip again? Otherwise, the run was fine. Ran turkey hollow but didn’t see any turkeys. Ran most of it without headphones. Put in a Taylor Swift playlist for the last mile. Was able to run on the walking path a lot of the time. Noticed more people heading below to the Winchell Trail. Sped up to pass a walker and a dog moving fast. Heard some sharp dog barks, saw some car headlights, their reflections flashing on a window.

(before the run)

This poem popped up on my twitter feed this morning. I was drawn to it because of its description of a walk — it’s a walk poem! Also: her use of color and of the phrase, “nothing much,” and how marvelously sets up the scene in the first stanza.

The End Of March/ Elizabeth Bishop (June 1974)

For John Malcolm Brinnin and Bill Read: Duxbury

It was cold and windy, scarcely the day
to take a walk on that long beach
Everything was withdrawn as far as possible,
indrawn: the tide far out, the ocean shrunken,
seabirds in ones or twos.
The rackety, icy, offshore wind
numbed our faces on one side;
disrupted the formation
of a lone flight of Canada geese;
and blew back the low, inaudible rollers
in upright, steely mist.

The sky was darker than the water
–it was the color of mutton-fat jade.
Along the wet sand, in rubber boots, we followed
a track of big dog-prints (so big
they were more like lion-prints). Then we came on
lengths and lengths, endless, of wet white string,
looping up to the tide-line, down to the water,
over and over. Finally, they did end:
a thick white snarl, man-size, awash,
rising on every wave, a sodden ghost,
falling back, sodden, giving up the ghost…
A kite string?–But no kite.

I wanted to get as far as my proto-dream-house,
my crypto-dream-house, that crooked box
set up on pilings, shingled green,
a sort of artichoke of a house, but greener
(boiled with bicarbonate of soda?),
protected from spring tides by a palisade
of–are they railroad ties?
(Many things about this place are dubious.)
I’d like to retire there and do nothing,
or nothing much, forever, in two bare rooms:
look through binoculars, read boring books,
old, long, long books, and write down useless notes,
talk to myself, and, foggy days,
watch the droplets slipping, heavy with light.
At night, a grog a l’américaine.
I’d blaze it with a kitchen match
and lovely diaphanous blue flame
would waver, doubled in the window.
There must be a stove; there is a chimney,
askew, but braced with wires,
and electricity, possibly
–at least, at the back another wire
limply leashes the whole affair
to something off behind the dunes.
A light to read by–perfect! But–impossible.
And that day the wind was much too cold
even to get that far,
and of course the house was boarded up.

On the way back our faces froze on the other side.
The sun came out for just a minute.
For just a minute, set in their bezels of sand,
the drab, damp, scattered stones
were multi-colored,
and all those high enough threw out long shadows,
individual shadows, then pulled them in again.
They could have been teasing the lion sun,
except that now he was behind them
–a sun who’d walked the beach the last low tide,
making those big, majestic paw-prints,
who perhaps had batted a kite out of the sky to play with.

colors

  • The sky was darker than the water
    –it was the color of mutton-fat jade.
    Mutton-fat jade = white to pale yellow, so it must refer to the color of the water, not the sky.
  • wet, white string
  • my crypto-dream-house, that crooked box
    set up on pilings, shingled green,
    a sort of artichoke of a house, but greener
    (boiled with bicarbonate of soda?)
  • diaphanous blue flame
    would waver, doubled in the window
  • the drab, damp, scattered stones
    were multi-colored

a line I like

I’d like to retire there and do nothing,
or nothing much,

Thinking about the difference between nothing and nothing much. Nothing seems bigger and grander, more dramatic — too dramatic. Is it even possible to do nothing and still be alive? I like nothing much. There’s nothing grand or dramatic about it, yet it still undercuts the idea that we should be Doing Something! all the time. Nothing much is mundane, routine. You’ve done some things but nothing special or worth making a big deal out of.

I like this poem. Even so, the more I read it the darker and heavier it seems. The gross colors (mutton fat jade? boiled artichoke?), the icy wind, everything gone or almost beyond repair. And here’s something else I just realized: according to an essay I read about this poem, it was written after a visit in June. June! (And no random June, but June of 1974, the month and year I was born.)

In June of 1974 Elizabeth Bishop and her partner Alice Methfessel stayed at the Duxbury, Massachusetts beach house belonging to Bishop’s friends John Malcolm  Brinnin and Bill Read. Bishop reported that she initially wrote “The End of March” as a kind of thank-you note to her friends (Biele 55).

“The End of March”: Bishop and Stevens on the Sublime—Union or Relation?

If Duxbury, Massachusetts is anything like the UP (where I was born and visited a lot in the summer until the early 2000s), Bishop could be describing a summer’s day. Icy wind, too cold to walk for long, sunless? Yuck.

In the article I read skimmed, the author puts Bishops’ poem into conversation with Wallace Stevens, specifically his poem, “The Sun this March” but also other poems of his. I kept thinking about it in relation to A. R. Ammons’ “Corsons Inlet”, another walk poem by the sea. It’s long, so here’s just the opening:

I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning
to the sea,
then turned right along
the surf
rounded a naked headland
and returned

along the inlet shore:

it was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high,
crisp in the running sand,
some breakthroughs of sun
but after a bit

continuous overcast:

the walk liberating, I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
of sight:

Both poems have wind and only a little bit of sun. Ammons seems warmer, at least at the beginning with its muggy sun and crisp wind. And both involve not doing much. Here’s how Ammons concludes the poem:

I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will
not run to that easy victory:
still around the looser, wider forces work:
I will try
to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.

Their different perspectives on how a walk, and the world by the sea that they move through, inspire them and their writing is fascinating to me. Bishops is narrow and restraining and finished?, while Ammons is all over the place and almost too free, too formless. And, it’s alive, new, continuously renewed day after day.

I’ve wanted to study A.R. Ammons poetry for a few years now. I think finding the Bishop poem, then being reminded of Ammons, is the nudge I need to make this a mini-project! I’ll end March/begin April with Ammons!

march 29/RUN

5.3 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
18 degrees

Yes, 18 degrees. Brr. Yesterday the weather app predicted 20 inches of snow for next week. Thankfully today it’s predicting 2 inches of rain instead. Who knows what will actually fall (please, please, no snow!).

A nice run. Mostly relaxed, although my left hip/knee was a little tight. No headphones for the first 3 miles, then a playlist for the last 2.

Noticed the river — open and brown just off to the side as I ran down Franklin hill, a bright blue far off in front of me. Also noticed an orange sign announcing a road closure for a race this weekend at the bottom of the hill and to the left. I kept moving my eyes — straight ahead, then off to the right, off to the left — to see how that would change what I saw. Not much, although the orange did seem to disappear in my peripheral a few times. Strange.

Heard the knocking of a woodpecker on some dead wood in the gorge. Ran on more of the walking path. Shuffled on some grit. Felt a cold wind on my face.

Look!

Just restarting my run near the top of the hill, a woman stopped me and asked if I wanted to see a baby screech owl. It was 10 or 12 feet up in a small hollow in a tree. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see it, but I did! It looked like a little bat to me. I thanked the woman for stopping to show it to me, wished her a great morning, then began running again with a big smile on my face. I have wanted to stop and answer someone’s kind look! for some time now, but I’ve never managed to do it; I’ve just kept running, too intent on keeping moving. Today I stopped and it felt good.

Happy Birthday to my 2 wonderful kids, FWA (20) and RJP (17), born on the same day 3 years apart. I rarely mention their birthdays on my blogs — I just spent the last 5 minutes looking through Trouble, Story, and RUN! and found only 2 instances of it. It’s hard to believe that I started this log, and found poetry again, when FWA was 14 and RJP 11.

before the run

I’m still trying to work on a series of color poems. Right now: orange, later in May: green. It’s a lot of showing up, sitting in front of the page, trying to find a way into ideas about orange as the color that takes up the most space in my practical life. Orange, everywhere. Rarely bright orange — no pops of vermillion or citrus — but orange as usually (not always) the only color that registers as color, something other than gray or dark. In the midst of trying to figure this out, I returned to an essay I remembered reading last year (see: april 16, 2022) about poetry and the void. I thought of it because so much of seeing orange, especially when swimming across the lake in the summer, is about feeling its absence.

sometimes when I’m swimming across the lake I feel a presence that I can’t see — the idea of orange, a hulking shape…I look but nothing is there…yet, I feel its absence…something is there — the trees don’t look quite right

june 26, 2022: hardly ever saw the orange of the orange buoy, mostly just a hulking shape or a void surrounded by a “normal” view — there was no buoy, just an empty space that disrupted the expanse of sky and trees. 

from my notes for Orange

Elisa Gabbert offers this interesting line about poetry:

I think poetry leaves something out. All texts leave something out, of course — otherwise they’d be infinite — but most of the time, more is left out of a poem.

The Shape of the Void: Toward a Definition of Poetry/Elisa Gabbert

At this point, I was planning to write more, but it was already 10:45 and I wanted to go out for a run before it got much later, so I stopped. If I had kept writing, I would have included more from Gabbert, like this:

Verse, by forcing more white space on the page, is constantly reminding you of what’s not there. This absence of something, this hyper-present absence, is why prose poems take up less space than other prose forms; the longer they get, the less they feel like poems. It’s why fragments are automatically poetic: Erasure turns prose into poems. It’s why any text that’s alluringly cryptic or elusive — a road sign, assembly instructions — is described as poetic. The poetic is not merely beauty in language, but beauty in incoherence, in resistance to common sense. The missingness of poetry slows readers down, making them search for what can’t be found. 

The hyper-present absence of something (orange orange everywhere) as poetry. Its inability to reveal itself in “normal” and straightforward ways to me (as in: look with my eyes and see orange). Its missingness makes me notice/attend to it even more.

In the next line, Gabbert suggests that the frustration of incoherence, mystery, not being able to make sense of something is alluring, erotic. It’s why many of us are drawn to poetry — to slow down, notice, get the chance to dwell in the unknown. Before I left for my run, I was thinking about how my perspective is slightly different. I don’t need to be encouraged to slow down or given the chance to embrace incoherence, resist common sense. Because of failing vision and my overworked brain, I am already slow. Much of what I see is incoherent — or never quite coherent. Common sense ideas of how we see or how to be in the world have already been upended for me. I see poetry, and its way of navigating or negotiating or communicating/finding meaning not as desirable, but as necessary, practical, useful, a way to be that speaks to where I already am.

during the run

I started out thinking about the hyper-presence of an absence as I ran in terms of the open space of the gorge, but these thoughts didn’t last long. I became distracted by my effort. Did I ever return to them? If I did, I can’t remember.

after the run

After highlighting two delightful letters by poets Emily Dickinson and Rainer Marie Rilke, Gabbert writes:

In these letter-poems, poetry reveals itself as more a mode of writing, a mode of thinking, even a mode of being, than a genre. The poem is not the only unit of poetry; poetic lines in isolation are still poetry. The poem is a vessel; poetry is liquid.

Poetry as a mode of writing, thinking, being. Made of more than just poems. Yes! I do feel that often my way of navigating losing my vision, finding a way to be when I cannot see, is through the approach of poetry and embracing uncertainty and the unknown.

The architect Christopher Alexander thought big plate glass windows were a mistake, because “they alienate us from the view”: “The smaller the windows are, and the smaller the panes are, the more intensely windows help connect us with what is on the other side. This is an important paradox.” To state the Forsterian obvious again, adding breaks to a paragraph is not always going to make an interesting poem — but most poets don’t write that way. They write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

To write, to think, to be in the company of the void — the absence that leaves a residue or that can’t be seen but is always felt.

This idea of communicating nothing (with nothing not as no thing but as something in and of itself) reminds me of something else I read earlier this year about “making nothing happen” but couldn’t remember where I had read it. It took me almost an hour to track it down yesterday. The “make nothing happen” is in W. H. Auden poem for Yeats:

from In Memory of W. B. Yeats/ W. H. Auden

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

And the reading about it comes from Ross Gay and one of his incitements in Inciting Joy, which I first read as an essay for the October 2022 issue of Poetry:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard conversations about W. H. Auden’s famous line from his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”: “poetry makes nothing happen.”…At some point, probably I heard someone else say it,7 it occurred to me that all these poets, and all these conversations, were misreading Auden’s line, and that he was really talking about (inasmuch as a poem is him talking about something) what poetry makes, the sometimes product or effect or wake or artifact of poetry, of a poem. Granted the line feels emphatic, grand, provocative even—seriously, I can’t tell you how many tweed-jacketed refutations to Auden’s line I have endured; no one has ever explained to me the elbow patch—but what the line makes made is not nothing, but nothing happening. Or rather, nothing happening. The happening it makes is nothing. In other words, a poem, or poetry, can stop time, or so-called time at least. First of all, what a good reminder it is that a poem is an action, and as Auden has it, a powerful one, too. Secondly, and not for nothing, this is one of the suite of poems Auden wrote in the late thirties and early forties, a period when one might have wanted so-called time—the clock, the airplanes, the trains, the perfectly diabolical synchronous goosestep rhythm of time itself—to stop.

Out of Time (Time: The Fourth Incitement)/ Ross Gay

He adds:

you, too, might’ve been praying for a way to stop the march of so-called time, and poems, sometimes, might do that. Poems are made of lines, which are actually breaths, and so the poem’s rhythms, its time, is at the scale and pace and tempo of the body, the tempo of our bodies lit with our dying. And poems are communicated, ultimately, body to body, voice to ear, heart to heart.9 Even if those hearts are not next to one another, in space or time. It makes them so. All of which is to say a poem might bring time back to its bodily, its earthly proportions. Poetry might make nothing happen. Inside of which anything can happen, maybe most dangerously, our actual fealties, our actual devotions and obligations, which is to the most rambunctious, mongrel, inconceivable assemblage of each other we could imagine.

Perhaps I’m wandering too far away from the orange void here? Poetry as speaking the void, making Nothing happen, existing outside of the normal/rational/obvious/taken-for-granted. Gay’s explicit connection to time and against capitalism resonates deeply for me. Stop those clocks, those planes, that machinery we’re using to destroy the planet, the future.

The poem’s lines as breaths, as bodily rhythms. In a poem about the color gray I mentioned gray breaths. What are orange breaths? Orange time, orange rhythm?Orange devotions and obligations?

One last thing, and a return to Gabbert’s essay. Gabbert claims that the mystery of poetry is not simply metaphor or making things strange, but how we use or don’t use language to shape our relationship to the Void. And, she suggests it is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there. The no longer visible orange buoy is still there too.

added a few hours later: Trying to find a source for this cool butterfly fact, I discovered that it was written about in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

Monarchs are “tough and powerful, as butterflies go.” They fly over Lake Superior without resting; in fact, observers there have discovered a curious thing. Instead of flying directly south, the monarchs crossing high over the water take an inexplicable turn towards the east. Then when they reach an invisible point, they all veer south again. Each successive swarm repeats this mysterious dogleg movement, year after year. Entomologists actually think that the butterflies might be “remembering” the position of a long-gone, looming glacier. In another book I read that geologists think that Lake Superior marks the site of the highest mountain that ever existed on this continent. I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it, to feel when to turn.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, page 253-254 in the 1988 edition

Even as I’m disappointed that Dillard didn’t offer any sources for her facts here, I LOVE her last lines: I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it to feel when to turn. Not to see, but to be it, to feel it. Wow — this idea is going in my orange poem, for sure. Not to see orange, but to be it, or to feel when to turn around it. I do feel that, but can I ever put it into words?