april 1/RUN

5.7 miles
franklin loop
36 degrees

With the sun and hardly any wind, 36 degrees felt warm and like spring. Ran north on the river road trail, noticing how the floor of the floodplain forest was covered with snow. The river was calm, brown in the middle, pale then darker blue as it reached the shore.

Tracked a plane in the sky in my peripheral vision. When I tried to spot in my central vision it disappeared. Visible from my peripheral, then hidden in my central. It took 3 times of switching between the two before it showed up in my central. Was that because my brain adjusted, or because it had reached a part of my central vision that still has cones cells?

4 distinct smells:

  1. cigarette smoke from a passing car
  2. pot down in the gorge
  3. breakfast — sausage, I think, from Longfellow Grill
  4. fresh paint from the railing on the steps leading up to the lake street bridge, being painted as I ran by

Noticed how the snow and ice emerging from cracks and caves in the bluff made them easy to spot from across the river.

Before the Run

I wrote the following shortly before heading outside for my run:

A new month, time for a new challenge. As is often the case, I have too many ideas at the beginning of the month. It takes a few days (at least) to settle into something. I could read The Odyssey, then Oswald’s Nobody, but I think I’d like to wait until it’s warmer and I’m in the water for open swims. I’ve also thought about doing more on walking, starting with Cole Swenson’s chapbook, Walking, or reading the book on green that I bought last month. I’m unsure. Just now, I came up with another idea, after looking up a quotation from Emily Dickinson that I found on twitter the other day: Reading through some of ED’s correspondence with Higginson. Will this stick? Who knows.

Here’s the ED quotation that inspired my search, as it appeared at the end of a twitter thread by the wonderful poet Chen Chen:

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations

@chenchenwrites

And here’s the original in ED’s letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson from late 1872 (14 years before her death in 1886(:

To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations though Friends are if possible an event more fair.

letter

I’m thinking about what, if any, difference it makes to add that last bit about Friends. My first reactions: adding it depicts ED as a social being, not the recluse she is popularly known as, and it tempers the pursuit of astonishment as the only one we do/should have time for. Second reaction: is it mostly (or simply) a polite (and/or affectionate) acknowledgement of Higginson and his friendship? Third, and related to my first reaction: being startled/astonished/in wonder needs to be tempered. To be in that state all the time is too much, at least for me.

Reading Chen Chen’s thread, I found this great idea: “deep delight as a compass, a map.” I really like this, and I’m thinking about how I might switch out the word delight for wonder. Now I need to revisit the terms “delight,” “wonder,” “astonishment,” “joy,” and “surprise.” That might be a great challenge for the month too: thinking/reading/working through these different terms?

Getting back to ED’s letter, I found a description of the change is season from summer to winter in it that I’d like to remember:

When I saw you last, it was Mighty Summer‹Now the Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco, and “Still Waters” in the Pool where the Frog drinks.

letter

Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco? Love it!

I just looked up “startle” in Ed’s lexicon. Here are the two definitions offered:

  1. Shake or twitch due to terror or unexpected surprise.
  2. Be filled with fright; become shocked.

It also directed me to see “start.” Here are those definitions:

start (-ed), v. [OE ‘to overthrow, overturn, empty, to pour out, to rush, to gush out’.] (webplay: quick, quickened).

  1. Spring to attention.
  2. Become active; to come into motion.
  3. Begin; to come into being.
  4. Incite; startle; suddenly bother; abruptly rouse with alarm; movement of body involuntarily due to surprise, fright, etc.
  5. Begin a trip or journey to a certain destination.

And, here’s a poem from ED with startled grass:

PRESENTIMENT is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.

note: presentiment = foreboding

Returning to the letter and connecting to something else I found in an article titled, “The Sound of Startled Grass” about how composers are inspire by ED:

But I think composers are attracted to more than just her [ED] poems’ musicality. She repeatedly presents herself as a music-maker, surrounded by music. Her experience is constantly musical.

The Sound of Startled Grass

Connected to this quotation, here’s something ED writes in the letter:

These Behaviors of the Year hurt almost like Music – shifting when it ease us most. Thank you for the “Lesson.”

letter

During the Run

I think I only thought about some of these themes very briefly as I ran. I recall running, listening to birds singing, feeling the sun shining, and then wondering about how it would feel, at this moment, to be startled by a darting squirrel or a lunging dog or a reckless bike. I wasn’t, and I soon forgot about being startled. I also remember thinking about the sound of startled grass — how would that sound? And then I thought about what startled grass might look like, how it might startle us. Then I thought about the grass on graves and Whitman’s uncut hair and ED’s “The Color of the Grave is Green”:

The Color of the Grave is Green –
The Outer Grave –  I mean – 
You would not know it from the Field –
Except it own a Stone –

To help the fond –  to find it – 
Too infinite asleep
To stop and tell them where it is – 
But just a Daisy –  deep – 

After the Run

After bookmarking it at least a week ago, I finally read Diane Seuss’s fabulous Commencement Address to the Bennington Writing Seminars posted on LitHub. I didn’t anticipate how it might fit with my before and during run thoughts, but it does, particularly the bit about grass and graves and the dead speaking to us, and us giving our attention.

A thought: Could we be the startled grass, surprised, shocked, fearful, but astonished, in wonder, alive and willing to reach down to the dead to give attention and life to their stories and to tell our own? For this to make sense, I should probably spend a little more time with Seuss’s speech…

Wow, I’m no closer to figuring out what my theme will be for this month. Here are the possibilities that I discovered in the midst of writing this entry:

  1. Read, explore ED’s correspondence with Higginson
  2. Define delight, wonder, astonishment, joy, surprise. Find poems that offer definitions
  3. Grass (dirt is also mentioned in the speech)

addendum: 5:20 pm

So, I have figured out what I want to do for my challenge this month. In honor of National Poetry month, I’d like to return to where my recent love of poetry began: with Bernadette Mayer’s list of writing prompts that I discovered in an amazing class in the spring of 2017. I’m hoping to try a different experiment every day. I want to do this so I can push myself to be stranger or more whimsical or ridiculous (in the wonderful Mary Oliver way) in my writing. Lately, it seems like I’m too serious. A goal: to craft a poem that I feel is wonderfully strange enough to submit to Okay Donkey.

feb 27/RUN

5.85 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
21 degrees
5% snow and ice covered

Today, 21 degrees felt like spring. So many birds! Such warm sun! It’s not here yet, but you know it’s coming. I will miss winter running, but I’m ready for less layers, warmer temperatures. The sidewalks and trail had some slick spots, but I didn’t fall. Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker at the beginning of the run. Stopped halfway back up the franklin hill, under the bridge, to slow my heart rate down and to put in my headphones.

I thought about wonder and how it can be a creative and critical tool. When we wonder, we can experience awe and delight, we can also be curious about the world — how it works, the different ways we inhabit it, the varied histories of the land — and we can think critically and deeply about how power works in these spaces. We can wonder about who has access to these spaces, who feels safe in them, and who doesn’t. Wonder as curiosity as attention can enable us to become connected to and invested in the things we start to notice, like birds or trees. We begin to care about them; we want them to continue to exist, continue to inspire wonder, continue to flourish.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. at the start of my run: the drumming of a woodpecker! The clear, crisp staccato sound of knocking on hollow wood
  2. right before the drumming, I heard the call I often hear that sounds sort of like a loon, at least to me. It seemed to be calling out, “you think I am a woodpecker? You’re right!”
  3. the path was mostly clear, dry in sometime parts, wet in others. The chunks of snow that I noticed two days ago were almost all gone, melted or kicked out of the way
  4. blue sky, with the quick flash of a white airplane moving through it
  5. at least 2 or 3 groups of runners — small groups, 3-5 runners
  6. a lone goose honking. This time, I looked up and tried to locate it. Almost. I could sense them in the sky, way up high, felt the idea of them, but never actually saw them
  7. the ice of the river is beginning to crack open near the bridges, big streaks of dark water
  8. a few people were hiking through the tunnel of trees on the part of walking trail that never gets plowed. How deep is the snow there?
  9. after I finished my run, walking back home, a squirrel dangling in a branch high above my head
  10. on my block I stopped to listen to spring slowly approaching: so many trilling cardinals, a few black-capped chickadees, dripping eaves!

At the bottom of the hill, under the lake street bridge, it was crowded with approaching pedestrians and an icy path. I glanced over my shoulder quickly just before crossing over to other side of the trail: a bike, right next to me. Good thing I checked! I wondered how long they had been there and if I had obliviously cut in front of them a minute before as I crossed over to avoid the pedestrians. When I saw that they were there, my body didn’t panic — no heart in my stomach or rush of blood to my head. Was this because my body knew there wasn’t a real risk of being hit by the bike, or because I was too absorbed in my effort and music to recognize the danger? I guess I should avoid listening to music on the weekends when the trails are crowded.

This was the poem-of-the-day. So wonderful:

The Sun, Mad Envious, Just Want the Moon/ Patricia Smith

out of the way. It knows that I tend to cling
to potential in the dark, that I am myself only
as I am beguiled by the moon’s lunatic luster,
when the streets are so bare they grow voices.
The sun has lost patience with my craving
for the night’s mass-produced romance, that
dog-eared story where every angle is exquisite,
and ghostly suitors, their sleek smells exploding,
queue up to ravish my waning. Bursting with
bluster, the sun backslaps the moon to reveal
me, splintered, kissing the boulevard face first,
clutching change for a jukebox that long ago
lost its hunger for quarters. It wounds the sun
to know how utterly I have slipped its gilded
clutch to become its most mapless lost cause.
Her eye bulging, she besieges me with bright.
So I remind her that everything dies. All the
brilliant bitch can do for me then is spit light
on the path while I search for a place to sleep.