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:
- cigarette smoke from a passing car
- pot down in the gorge
- breakfast — sausage, I think, from Longfellow Grill
- 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:
- Shake or twitch due to terror or unexpected surprise.
- 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).
- Spring to attention.
- Become active; to come into motion.
- Begin; to come into being.
- Incite; startle; suddenly bother; abruptly rouse with alarm; movement of body involuntarily due to surprise, fright, etc.
- 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:
- Read, explore ED’s correspondence with Higginson
- Define delight, wonder, astonishment, joy, surprise. Find poems that offer definitions
- 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.