march 20/RUN

3.85 miles
marshall loop
36 degrees

This year, the first day of spring feels like spring, which doesn’t always happen. What a wonderful morning. Felt much warmer than 36 degrees. I was overdressed. Sunny, low wind, calm. Clear paths — not crowded, and no snow (except for some slick spots on the sidewalk climbing up Marshall). I was able to run on all of the walking trails. I know I looked at the river, I remember doing it, but I can’t remember what it looked like. Was it brown or blue? No clue.

“staring at routine things”

Before my run, I read a short section from Dart. This one was in the voice of the dairy worker (page 29):

to the milk factory, staring at routine things

Dart / Alice Oswald

In the poem, these routine things include

bottles on belts going round bends.
Watching out for breakages, working nights. Building up
prestige. Me with my hands under the tap, with my brain
coated in a thin film of milk. In the fridge, in the warehouse,
wearing ear-protectors.

Dart / Alice Oswald

I decided to start my run with this prompt: focus on/stare at the routine things on my run. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • the route: Marshall Loop. Not as routine as other routes, but one I do often. North on 43rd ave; right on 31st st; left on 46th ave; right on lake street, then over the bridge until it turns into marshall; up the marshall hill; right on Cretin ave; right on east river road; down past shadow falls; up the lake street bridge steps and over the bridge; down the hill then over to west river road heading south
  • ran past the lutheran church on 32nd and 43rd. Heard the congregation singing inside for the sunday church service
  • encountered another pedestrian, stayed on the right side as we passed
  • wore my usual outfit for an early spring run: black running tights, black shorts, green long-sleeved shirt, orange sweatshirt, hat, headband, gloves
  • like it always does after a rain, or when the snow melts, shadow falls was gushing
  • reaching the top of the marshall hill, I watched the crosswalk timer countdown and the light turn from green to yellow to red

At some point in the run, I started thinking about all the different forms of work happening out by the gorge — like squirrels thumping nuts, birds calling to other birds, a woodpecker drumming on a hollow tree. Maybe I will try to notice forms of work on some run this week?

Then I wondered about how stare might mean more than looking closely (and for a long time) at something. Maybe it also is a general way of describing giving careful, focused attention to something. I think I’ve said it before on this log: I don’t like staring at things, especially people. It feels rude (which is maybe a problem I should try to get over?). Also, it doesn’t always help me, with my bad vision, see something any better. I have more luck with having an awareness of something and absorbing details instead of forcibly collecting them.

march 18/RUN

3.1 miles
marshall loop (short)
44 degrees

After picking up FWA from college for spring break, drove back to Minneapolis and ran the Marshall Loop with STA. It feels like spring. Most of the snow has melted. The river was open and rippling in the wind. As we crossed the lake street bridge, I looked for the eagle that used to perch on the dead tree many years ago. I’m not sure I’ve seen eagles anywhere for some time now. Are they gone, or am just not seeing them?

Read some more of Dart, including this great part voiced by “the swimmer”. I love so much about this, but right now, I’ll just point out the third line as a stand alone poem: “into the fish dimension. Everybody swims here”

from Dart / Alice Oswald

(the swimmer)

Menyahari — we scream in mid-air.
We jump from a tree into a pool, we change ourselves
into the fish dimension. Everybody swims here
under Still Pool Copse, on a saturday,
slapping the water with bare hands, it’s fine once you’re

Is it cold? Is it sharp?

I stood looking down through beech trees.
When I threw a stone I could count five before the

Then I jumped in a rush of gold to the head,
thought black and cold, red and cold, brown and warm,
giving water the weight and size of myself in order to
imagine it,
water with my bones, water with my mouth and my

when my body was in some way a wave to swim in,
one continuous fin from head to tail
I steered through rapids like a cone,
digging my hands in, keeping just ahead of the pace of
the river,
thinking God I’m going fast enough already, what am I,
spelling the shapes of the letters with legs and arms?


    Slooshing the Water open and


for it Meeting shut behind me

He dives, he shuts himself in a deep soft-bottomed
which underwater is all nectarine, nacreous. He lifts
the lid and shuts and lifts the lid and shuts and the sky
jumps in and out of the world he loafs in.
Far off and orange in the glow of it he drifts
all down the Deer Park, into the dished and dangerous
stones of old walls
before the weirs were built, when the sea
came wallowing wide right over these flooded

march 17/RUN

4.1 miles
minnehaha falls and back
38 degrees

Surprised to see that the temperature was only 38. It seemed warmer than that. Wore less layers: black tights + black shorts + one bright yellow shirt + one bright orange sweatshirt + buff around neck + very faded black baseball cap. No gloves or hood.

Everything dripping or gushing. Heard lots of woodpeckers (not drumming, but calling), black capped chickadees, cardinals. I need to work on recognizing the sounds of other birds. Stopped at the falls after I heard them roaring and saw them spraying a fine mist into the air.

Also heard: water gushing from the 42nd st sewer pipe that I thought was wind rushing through some brittle leaves; kids playing on the playground, one of them — or was it the teacher? — calling out, “Stop! Come back! Don’t go there!” (I think “there” had two syllables).

Tried running on the walking path near the falls, but had to stop and walk: too much snow and ice. Maybe next week it will be all clear?

As I ran, I thought about the Mississippi River and how I’m always running above it, around it, beside it, but never swimming or rowing in it. On my wish list: taking a class at the rowing club and rowing down the river. I also thought about how the river is there, but I hardly ever hear it. And, in the summer, with the thick leaves, I don’t often see it. Yet, I know it’s there. Its absence has a strong presence; I feel it. I wondered as I left Minnehaha Regional Park, am I partly feeling its ghost? The ghost of the roaring, gushing, rushing, powerful river that carved out the gorge, 4 feet a year, before it was temporarily tamed starting in the mid to late 1800s?

Continuing to read Dart and about Dart. Trying to keep a delicate balance: getting some insight and understanding from secondary sources without getting too lost in them or the jargon-filled knots they create. I want some help in understanding Oswald and her methods in Dart, but I don’t want to get stuck there, unable to hold onto how her words feel sound create meaning for me. Difficult.

I love Oswald’s words about the canoeists/rowers/kayakers on page 14:

On Tuesdays we come out of the river at twilight, wet, shouting,
with canoes on our heads.

the river at ease, the river at night.

We can’t hear except the booming of our thinking in the cockpit
hollow and the river’s been so beautiful we can’t concentrate.

they walk strong in wetsuits,
their faces shine,
their well-being wants to burst out

In the water it’s another matter, we’re just shells and arms,
keeping ourselves in a fluid relation with the danger.

pond-skaters, water-beetles,
neoprene spray-decks,
many-colored helmets,

And, all of this discussion of how the river sounds:

will you swim down and attend to this foundry for

this jabber of pidgin-river
drilling these rhythmic cells and trails of scales,
will you translate for me blunt blink glint.

the way I talk in my many-headed turbulence
among these modulations, this nimbus of words kept in
sing-calling something definitely human,

will somebody sing this riffle perfectly as the invisible
sings it

can you hear them at all,
muted and plucked,
muttering something that can only be expressed as
hitting a series of small bells just under the level of your


I found this great quote from Oswald in her introduction to the poetry anthology, The Thunder Mutters: 101 Poems for the Planet:

Raking, like any outdoor work, is a more mobile, more many-sided way of knowing a place than looking. When you rake leaves for a couple of hours, you can hear right into the non-human world, it’s as if you and the trees had found a meeting point in the sound of the rake. (ix)

And this:

I think about those years of gardening every single day. It was the foundation of a different way of perceiving things. Instead of looking at landscape in a baffled, longing way, it was a release when I worked outside to feel that I was using it, part of it. I became critical of any account that was not a working account. 


Last April, when I was reading Mary Oliver, I spent some time thinking about work and labor. I’d like to think about it again, now with Oswald. For Oliver, the desire with work is to be useful to the world. For Oswald, it is to be part of it, in the midst of it, not looking at it, but using it. This work, for Oswald, is labor: gardening, fishing, trimming trees, panning for tin, etc.

Yesterday, I was talking with Scott about reading Oswald and getting inspired for my own project of documenting the Mississippi River Gorge. I said: I’m not sure what this will turn into, but I’m just happy to have become the sort of person who finds delight in Oswald’s words and in reading poetry about the river that combines myth and history and thinking critically and reverently about land and water and how and where humans and industry fit in. How wonderful it is to discover these new forms of care and curiosity!

march 16/RUN

3.1 miles
austin, mn
57! degrees

57 degrees? Wow, was I over-dressed. Shorts + tights + shirt + jacket. Ran with Scott through Austin, ending at the coffee place downtown (as usual). No snow on the ground, hardly any puddles on the sidewalk. Returned to Minneapolis in the afternoon: a mucky mess! Lots of snow and puddles. Still, spring is coming.

What a morning. After talking with one parent about anxiety, and another about the gamma ray that obliterated their small brain tumor, I only read a few pages today of Dart. Here’s some of my favorite lines:

woodman working on your own
knocking the long shadows down
and all day the river’s eyes
peep and pry among the trees

when the lithe water turns
and its tongue flatters the ferns
do you speak this kind of sound:
whirlpool whisking round?

woodman working on the crags
alone among increasing twigs
notice this, next time you pause
to drink a flask and file the saws

march 15/RUN

5.75 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
35 degrees
almost invisible streaks of ice

Almost spring! Birds, sun, the smell of fresh earth! The beginning of the run was not as fun; too many invisible slick spots from the barely melted puddles. By the end of the run, the ice was gone. Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice. Ran down the Franklin hill then back up it, stopping for a few minutes when I encountered some ice. Settled into an easy pace that felt almost effortless. It didn’t feel a little harder until I had to climb up the Franklin hill.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the drumming of woodpeckers on different types of wood — trees, a utility pole
  2. geese, part 1: one goose, with a painful (extra mournful?) honk, flying with at least one other goose, pretty low in the sky
  3. geese, part 2: 3 geese on the path in the flats. Even though I was looking carefully, and noticed the orange cones that they were standing beside, I didn’t see the geese until I was almost next to them
  4. geese, part 3: running past these 3 geese again, I kept my distance, crossing to other end of the trail. Two of the geese were too busy rooting through the snow to notice, but the third one faced me, as if to say, “back off!”
  5. geese, part 4: as I neared lake street, there was a cacophony of honks trapped below the bridge
  6. in the flats: the fee bee call of a black-capped chickadee, both parts: the call, and the response!
  7. Daddy Long Legs sitting on his favorite bench, above the Winchell Trail, on the stretch after the White Sands Beach and before the Franklin Bridge
  8. the wind of many car wheels, then a whoosh when one passed over a puddle
  9. open water
  10. watching the traffic moving fast over the 1-35 bridge near Franklin as I ran under

Before my run, I spent the morning with Alice Oswald, gathering materials, skimming interviews, reading a few more pages of Dart. So cool to make the time to learn more about Oswald’s work and to read and think about poetry and how it might speak as/with the river. I found a wonderful article in a special issue on Alice Oswald in Interim, When Poetry “Rivers”: Reflections on Cole Swensen’s Gave and Alice Oswald’s Dart / Mary Newell. Newell says this about Oswald’s Dart:

Marginal glosses introduce workers for whom the river is a resource, interspersed with local tales, as of Jan Coo, a swimmer who drowned and “haunts the Dart,” local sayings (“Dart Dart / Every year thou / Claimest a heart”), and ancient legends from times when the local oaks participated in sacred rituals. While each voice is distinct, Oswald writes that the marginal glosses “do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s mutterings.”

I had never heard of Cole Swenson before this article. In the bibliography at the end of the essay, I discovered that she’s written a chapbook about walking and poetry! Very exciting. Here’s something she says in the introduction about walking and place:

Then sitting still, we occupy a place; when moving through it, we displace place, putting it into motion and creating a symbiotic kinetic event in which place moves through us as well.

I’m excited to read the rest of this chapbook. As I was reflecting on the value of walking, my mind wandered, and I started to think about why I prefer running to walking in my practicing of attention. Walking opens me up, enabling me to notice new connections, access new doors, but because it involves wandering, and is fairly slow, it doesn’t offer any limits to that wondering. I get too many ideas, wander too much. With running, the effort it requires forces me to rein in some of my wanderings. I can’t think in long, meandering sentences; I need pithy statements, condensed into a few words I can remember. These limits help keep me from becoming overwhelmed with ideas. Does this make sense? I’ll think about it more when I have a chance to read Swenson’s chapbook and some of her other work.

Back to Oswald. I’m planning to read Dart several times through. This first time I don’t want to stop and think through every word or rhythm or image. Instead, I’m reading through it and noting any passage that I want to remember — that I like or surprise me or make me wonder, etc.

if you can keep your foothold, snooping down
then suddenly two eels let go get thrown
tumbling away downstream looping and linking
another time we scooped a net through sinking
silt and gold and caught one strong as bike-chain

I never pass that place and not make time
to see if there’s an eel come up the stream
I let time go as slow as moss, I stand
and try to get the dragonflies to land
their gypsy-coloured engines on my hand)

Dartmeet — a mob of waters
where East Dart smashes into West Dart

two wills gnarling and recoiling
and finally knuckling into balance

in that brawl of mudwaves
the East Dart speaks Whiteslade and Babeny

the West Dart speaks a wonderful dark fall
from Cut Hill through Whystman’s Wood

put your ear to it, you can hear water

march 14/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.2 miles
outside: 30 degrees / light snow

Partly because I wanted to watch more Dickinson, and mostly because of the thick, wet snow that has covered the huge puddles on the sidewalk making everything a mess, I decided to bike and run inside this late morning. Before I started biking — on my bike, on a stand — I pumped up my back tire. There’s a small leak, so I’ve been pumping up the tire all winter. Finally, I have gotten the hang of my complicated pump and the strange (to me) tire nozzle!

While I biked, I watched another Dickinson episode. I stayed on the bike longer to finish it. In this one, Emily realizes (again) her Dad is a sexist jerk and that her brother Austin was right. Then she meets up with Nobody and falls through an open grave to travel to the other side of false hope. This part of the episode was difficult for me to see, it was too dark, but it looked like she was in a bizarro version of her house (with weird lighting). She ends up on a Civil War battlefield, dressed in uniform, watching as Henry calls out something like, “victory is ours!” Then, Emily sees true hope: a bird in the tree. I checked and I have 2 episodes left.

While I ran, I listened to the first three songs on Taylor Swift’s Reputation. I didn’t think about much, just moved, which I always like to do.

Yesterday, I came up with a project (or experiment?) for the rest of March. I will closely read Alice Oswald’s 48 page poem about the River Dart. It’s called Dart, and I got it for Christmas this year — after years of having it on my wishlist. I’ve wanted to read it for some time (I first mentioned it here on June, 2019) because I love rivers and Oswald and I’m very curious about how she writes about a river. Plus, after working for some time on a series of poems, then a proposal for a class, I’d like to dive deep into someone else’s words for a while.

Today, some background and a few pages. First, here’s how Oswald describes her project at the beginning of the book:

This poem is made from the language or people who live and work on the Dart. Over the past two year I’ve been recording conversations with people who know the river. I’ve used these records as life-models from which to sketch out a series of characters — linking their voices into a sound-map of the river, a singing from the source to the sea. There are indications in the margin where one voice changes into another. These do not refer to real people or even fixed fictions. All voices should be read as the river’s muttering.

Dart / Alice Oswald

In an earlier description of her project for The Poetry Society, Oswald offers more details about this project, both before and during her work on it. All of it is interesting, but I was especially intrigued by her method for combining the recordings of others talking about the river and her imagination.

I decided to take along a tape-recorder. At the moment, my method is to tape a conversation with someone who works on the Dart, then go home and write it down from memory. I then work with these two kinds of record – one precise, one distorted by the mind – to generate the poem’s language. It’s experimental and very against my grain, this mixture of journalism and imagination, but the results are exciting. Above all, it preserves the idea of the poem’s voice being everyone’s, not just the poet’s.


I’d like to try doing this with the documenting of my runs: experimenting with combining recordings with my memory/imagination of what happened.

This poem begins at the start of the east River Dart at Cranmore Pool with an old man (Old Man River? or is that an American expression?) who walks the river. Here are a few lines I especially like:

listen to the horrible keep-time of a man walking,
rustling and jingling his keys
at the centre of his own noise,
clomping the silence in pieces and I

I don’t know, all I know is walking.

What I love is one foot in front of another. South-south-west and
down the contours. I go slipping between Black Ridge and White
Horse Hill into a bowl of the moor where echoes can’t get out

Speaking of the bowl of the moor where echoes can’t get out, I found a BBC tour of the Dart. The opening lines seem to speak about that echo-trapping moor. Also, the line, “What I love is one foot in front of another,” is wonderful. I could imagine that as a poem title.

Here’s another bit that I especially like:

one step-width water
of linked stones
trills in the stones
glides in the trills
eels in the glides
in each eel a fingerwidth of sea

Here are some links to more information:

march 13/RUN

4.45 miles
Veterans’ Home Loop
32 degrees

Ran with Scott this morning. Sunny, spring-like. Lots of black-capped chickadees. I mentioned to Scott that lately I’ve only heard the fee bee call, but not the response. Notes that ascend, but never descend. Today, we also heard woodpeckers and cardinals. Yesterday, the river was covered with a thin sheet of ice; today it’s open again. We stopped at the falls and leaned over the stone wall. I could hear the creek water moving. Scott said he could see it; I hardly ever rely on my vision for things like that anymore.

As we were heading over the tall bridge, above the creek, that leads to the Veterans’ Home, Scott told me about a Sesame Street video with Luis he watched the other day. Scott watched a lot of Sesame Street as a kid; me, not so much. Was it because I had HBO and sisters older than me? Not sure. Anyway, in this Sesame Street clip Luis is helping Telly deal with his worries about forgetting a friend’s name. In giving advice, Luis is super chill and talks to Telly like he’s an equal person, not a freaked out little kid. Wow, I would love to be that chill.

The friend’s name is Alexander Cheesefloss Hollingsworth Cantaloupe the IV. Wow.

Our run was a combination of running and walking. I like running and walking, sometimes stopping to study things more closely. I should try to do more of these in the spring and summer. It’s especially fun doing them with Scott.

So, a few days ago I was reviewing a thread I had saved about meter and how you learn it. In addition to advice (memorize and speak it, move with it, think of it as swing notes in jazz, spend a lot of time breaking it down, focus on poems with very strong meter), many people discussed their struggle with hearing meter because of dialects and english not being their first language. One person mentioned a great essay by Nate Marshall about this, and I found it: A Code Switch Memoir. Nate Marshall describes how, as a young elementary school student, he would struggle with the set of questions on his vocabulary test that asked for the stressed syllable:

This absolutely stumped me. My grandmother, the librarian, was from Montgomery, Alabama and I often heard her pronounce words in ways unlike many of my white friends at school. Her friend, the Arab dude who ran Fame Food & Liquor a few streets from our house, had his own wild pronunciation. Even my mother, her daughter, would shift her vocal patterning on words and phrases depending on if she was talking to us kids after a long day at work or calling the police to report men drinking and shooting dice in the park across the street. The idea that words had specific patterns to be followed did not make sense to me, though I did not know how to articulate why.

A Code Switch Memoir

I struggle with meter. Before reading this essay or the tweets on the meter thread, I hadn’t thought about my own experience with accents and dialects. I was born in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with its thick Yooper accent until I was almost 5. Then I moved to Hickory, North Carolina, a small southern town with thick southern accents until I was 9. Then southern Virginia (more of the south), and norther Virginia (more East Coast), and Des Moines, Iowa for high school (midwest twang). I went to college in southern Minnesota (lots of Canadian long os), and grad school in the LA area and Atlanta, Georgia. My dad grew up in the UP, my mom in St. Paul. Both of them spent a lot of their early adult life in Illinois (Rock Island, then Chicago). All of these locations and their distinctive dialects have crept into how I speak and how I hear words. Could this be one of the reasons meter is difficult for me? Maybe.

Speaking of accents, as Scott and I were running back from the falls, we talked about cycling and the amazing and unstoppable Tadej Pogačar. In one sentence, Scott said Pogačar’s name in 2 different ways: 1. sounds like Po GA cha and 2. sounds like: PO ga char. The tv announcers often use both of these pronunciations interchangeably. When I pointed it out to Scott, we talked about which one might be right. I mentioned my own name, Puotinen and how there’s the “right” way to pronounce it (as in, how it’s supposed to sound in Finnish), and then there’s the way I pronounce it. My version has much more of a puWAtinen sound, as opposed to the “right” way, which is more PUwotinen. Anyway, I thought I’d find a video of Tadej Pogačar saying his own name:

What do you hear?

I’m fairly new to studying poetry (only seriously since 2017), but my sense is that poetry people have lots of different feelings about meter and whether or not it’s still important. Here’s what Nate Marshall writes about it:

I’ve grown to have a great fondness for formal poetry. I still don’t understand metrical prosody very well but I understand its importance in the tradition. I was asked the question recently whether or not meter was still a useful tool in poetry. I think meter, like anything else, is at play when building the small geniuses of a poem. I think form and verse are important ways to give artistic challenges that can lead to great results. With that said, I believe that every poet and generation of poets has to define and redefine their relationship to form and the role it will play. Whether it’s the fourteen-line sonnet, the sixteen-line rap verse, the six-line stanza of a sestina, or the tercet of a blues poem each poet has to figure how to find and employ the weapons that offer each poem its truest voice.

A Code Switch Memoir

march 12/RUN

5.25 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
7 degrees / feels like 0

It’s supposed to be getting warmer, starting today and into next week, but it was cold this morning. Sunny, not too much wind, but cold. No frozen fingers or toes, but I felt the burn of cold air, especially after I was done. A harder run. As I’ve heard some runners say, the wheels came off in the second half. I wondered why and then I remembered I didn’t have any water this morning, just coffee. That might have been a big part of the problem. I stopped to walk at least twice, on the walking path, closer to the river but also covered in uneven snow. I noticed the river had a thin sheet of ice on it again. That should melt this afternoon or tomorrow.

Heard some black capped chickadees and the fee bee song, some cardinals too. Encountered two large (10+ runners) groups on the trails — the first one, just as I entered the river road trail, the second, not too long after the lake street bridge. The first group was all men, the second all women with 2 dogs. Right before I reached them, the women stopped to walk. After I passed them, I could hear cackling and an occasional sharp ruff. For some time, they seemed close, then they disappeared. Near the end, I saw some sledders about to go down the Edmund hill. I wonder how crusty and hard that snow is?

Practiced reciting (almost always in my head) some lines from Emily Dickinson and Richard Siken. First, from Siken, the opening words of his great poem, “Love Song of the Square Root of Negative One”:

I am the wind
and the wind is

All the leaves trem
ble but I am

(in the actual poem, the line is broken like this: “I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves/tremble but I am invisible”)

I like reciting this when I’m running into the wind. Then, I returned to ED’s “Life is but life/and breath but breath/Bliss is but bliss/and breath, but breath.” Yesterday I had chanted it with slightly wrong words: “Life is but life/death is but death…” It was difficult to train my brain out of reciting it that way. I played around with different ways of saying it, including:

Life but life
Death but death
Bliss but bliss
Breath but breath

Death is but death
and Bliss but bliss
Breath is but breath
and Life but life

Just thought about this as I was writing this entry:

Life is but death
and breath but bliss
Death is but life
and bliss but breath

Here’s a recording I made after I finished my run and was walking back. You can really hear the wind!

Dickinson chant after run / 12 march

Speaking of the wind, here’s a poem I found yesterday from Alice Oswald that I love (like all her poetry):

PLEA TO THE WIND/ Alice Oswald

Describe the Wind,
Say something marked by discomfort
That wanders many cities and harbours,
Not knowing the language.
Be much travelled.
Start with nothing but the hair blown sideways
And say:
                                With Rain.
Say: Downdraught.

Unglue the fog from the woods from the waist up
And speak disparagingly of leaves.
Be an old man blowing a shell.
Blow over the glumness of a girl
Looking up at the air in her red hood
And say:
Then come down glittering
With a pair of ducks to rooftop.

Go on. Be North-easterly.
Be enough chill to ripple a pool.
Be a rumour of  winter.
Whip the green cloth off the hills
And keep on quietly
Lifting the skirts of women not wanting to be startled
And pushing the clouds like towers of clean linen
Till you get to the
                      On seas.

Ignore it.

Say Snow.

Say Ditto.

Wait for five days
In which everything fades except aging.

Then try to describe being followed by heavy rain.
Describe voices and silverings,
From December to March.

Describe everything leaning.
Bring a tray of cool air to the back door.
Speak increasingly rustlingly.
Say something winged
On the branch of the heart.
Because you know these things.
You are both Breath
                And Breath
And your mouth mentions me
Just at the point where I end. 

So much in this poem to discuss, but what jumped out at me right away was: “Describe everything leaning”. For the past few days, but especially yesterday, I’ve been noticing the bare trees and how some of them lean in one direction, both their trunks and their branches. Usually leaning towards, sometimes away. These leanings can look menacing or graceful, threatening or like surrender. I love straight trees, but i think I love leaning ones more. It would be a fun exercise to go out for a run with the task, “describe everything leaning.” I think I’ll do that tomorrow!

march 10/RUN

5 miles
franklin bridge and back
17 degrees / feels like 7

What a gift this winter-almost-spring run is this morning! A reminder of why I love winter runner with its cold, crisp air and quiet calm. It was a little difficult to breathe, with my nose closing up on me (hooray for sinuses), and it didn’t always feel effortless. Still, I was happy to be outside with the world — the birds (pileated woodpeckers, geese, cardinals), the Regulars (Dave, the Daily Walker and Daddy Long Legs), and the river, sometimes brown, sometimes blue.

Before I went out for my run, I read a lot of different poems and essays about poetry and breath. Decided I would think about rhythmic breathing, running rhythms, and chants. I started by counting my foot strikes, them matching it up with my breathing of In 2 3/ Out 2 or Out 2/ In 2 3: 123/45, 123/45 then 54/321, 54/321. A few miles later, I thought about a verse from Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘Tis so much joy! Tis so much joy!” that I imagine to be a prayer or a spell or reminder-as-chant. I started repeating it in my head:

Life is but Life! And Death, but Death!
Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!

With this prayer/chant, I matched the words up to my foot strikes in several different ways, none of which were 123/45 or 54/321.

Equal stress on each syllable/word, and the altering of the poem slightly:

Life Is But Life
Death Is But Death
Bliss Is But Bliss
Breath Is But Breath

Then in ballad form (I think?), with alternating lines of: stressed un un stressed / 3 stressed but silent beats (or not silent, but voiced by my feet, striking the ground):

Life is but Life
x x x
Death is but Death
x x x
Bliss is but Bliss
x x x
Breath is but Breath
x x x

Then in 6, with 2 feet of stressed, unstressed, unstressed (a dactyl):

Life is but Life is but
Life is but Life is but
Death is but Death is but
Death is but Death is but
Bliss is but Bliss is but
Bliss is but Bliss is but
Breath is but Breath is but
Breath is but Breath is but

Then in 4 again, one spoken beat, three silent:

Life xxx
Life xxx
Life xxx
Life xxx

Or, like “The Safety Dance”:

Life life life life
Death death death death
Bliss bliss bliss bliss
Breath breath breath breath

These were so much fun to do, and helpful in keeping me going as I grew tired. When I chanted them, my pace was about 8:40 and my heart rate was in the upper 170s (pretty standard for me). At one point, I pulled out my phone and recorded myself mid-run. Later, when I stopped running and was walking back, I recorded myself again.

Dickinson chant during run
Dickinson chant after run

It’s interesting to check back with the poem now and see that I had added words to make the rhythm more steady and even. Seeing how Dickinson wrote it, I want to try these chants on another run with the right words. How will I fit “And Death, but Death!” with my feet? Is this part of Dickinson’s disruption of rhythm?

I like the repetition of these chants and how, if you repeat them enough, they lose their meaning, or change meaning, or change the space you’re running through, or change you. It reminds me of some lines from a poem I recently wrote about running by the gorge and rhythmic breathing. It’s in 3/2, In 2 3/Out 2:


settle in-
to a

rhythm: 3
then 2.

First counting
foot strikes,

then chanting
small prayers.

I beat out

until what’s
left are

then sounds,

then something
new, or

old, returned.

Wow, this is so much fun for me, thinking through how my running, and breath, and poetry, and body, and the words work (and sometimes don’t work) together. Very cool.

And, here’s a poem that doesn’t fit neatly with my running rhythm/chants, but fits with the idea of getting outside to move by the river:

How to Begin/ Catherine Abbey Hodges

Wipe the crumbs off the counter.
Find the foxtail in the ear of the old cat.
Work it free. Step into your ribcage.

Feel the draft of your heart’s doors
as they open and close. Hidden latches
cool in your hand.

Hear your marrow keep silence,
your blood sing. Finch-talk
in the bush outside the window.

You’re a small feather, winged seed, wisp
of cotton. Thread yourself
through a hole in the button on the sill.

You’re a strand of dark thread
stitching a word to a river. Then another.

march 9/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 1.55 miles
outdoor temp: 17 degrees / feels like 5

It wasn’t the cold that kept me inside today, but the water from yesterday that turned to ice overnight. So many slick spots on the sidewalk and the road! I read my entry from last year on this day, and it was 54 degrees outside. And I wore shorts. Shorts?! As much as I like winter running, I’m ready for spring. Less layers, open walking paths. I’m tried off dodging big ice chunks and running on the bike trail.

Biking and running inside wasn’t so bad. Finished watching the Dickinson episode I started on Feb 23. In this one, Emily and Lavinia take a wild ride on a gazebo and end up in the 1950s where they meet Sylvia Plath. Emily’s parents find some hemp growing in Emily’s conservatory and decide to smoke it. I’m not sure how many episodes I have left, but it’s not many.

While I ran, I listened to an old playlist: Lizzo, Justin Timberlake, Ke$ha. Felt good. I don’t remember thinking about anything, or noticing anything. No strange smells or shadows or hairballs that look like spiders wanting to jump on me. Running on the treadmill is helpful for enabling me to move when I can’t outside, but it’s not very exciting or inspiring — especially when the treadmill is in the cold, unfinished basement of a 100+ year-old house.

Found this poem by Aracelis Girmay on twitter yesterday. Wonderful!

Second Estrangement/ Aracelis Girmay

Please raise your hand,
whomever else of you
has been a child,
lost, in a market
or a mall, without
knowing it at first, following
a stranger, accidentally
thinking he is yours,
your family or parent, even
grabbing for his hands,
even calling the word
you said then for “Father,”
only to see the face
look strangely down, utterly
foreign, utterly not the one
who loves you, you
who are a bird suddenly
stunned by the glass partitions
of rooms.
How far
the world you knew, & tall,
& filled, finally, with strangers.

One of my favorite poetry people pointed out the line, “who loves you, you” and I’m so grateful. Maybe I would have noticed this hidden message/one line poem on my own, but not as soon. I love imagining this as the center/heart of this poem, as the poem within a poem. It makes me want to try to do this too, to put in a line that offers something extra.

I don’t remember accidentally taking a stranger’s hand in a crowded store when I was a kid, but I do still remember the absolute terror of realizing I was lost, and alone, in a store. I remember pacing around, trying to calm myself down as I looked for my mom. Such an awful feeling: flushed face, tingling scalp, queasy stomach.