june 16/SWIM

swim: 2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
75 degrees / choppy

A choppy swim. Fun, but not easy with my out-of-swimming-shape body. I didn’t swim at all this winter: sore back, neck, shoulders. Wow, do I love open swim! I was nervous before the swim, wondering again if I’d be too disoriented. Nope. I just kept swimming and made it to all of the buoys. I love how approximate open swim is; you don’t have to take the straightest, most direct line, you just need to stay on the right side of the 5 buoys and on the left side of the 4 or so lifeguards on kayaks.

10 Things

  1. the water felt COLD when I first entered, but wonderful as I swam
  2. a strange pale vine just below the surface
  3. small waves to my right, making it harder to breathe
  4. swells from behind making it hard to stroke on the stretch parallel to the big beach
  5. my eyes couldn’t see the far orange buoy, but my brain did: sighting, a voice in my head said, it’s straight ahead — this happens a lot, these days. The trick, to trust
  6. on the other loop: that same orange buoy in sight but so far away, seeming to get farther away with every stroke
  7. breathed: a mix of every 5 or 4 or 3, a few 2s when it was extra choppy
  8. more vegetation, pale, ghostly, reaching up from the bottom
  9. exiting the water, a woman speaking to some friends: I was nervous, so I didn’t wait. I already swam./ another woman: Did you like it?/I loved it!
  10. no birds or planes or strange noises underwater

An essay to return to: Friday essay: ‘an engineering and biological miracle’ – how I fell for the science, and the poetry, of the eye

Okay, I’m returning to it now (added a few hours later). I wasn’t planning to, but I read something in a recent New Yorker story that decided for me that I should. Two moments, one from the article and one from the story:


Iris presents to me with failing vision. Examining her eyes, I see “geographic atrophy”, little islands of missing retinal tissue worn away over time. This is a form of incurable, age-related, macular degeneration. It results in permanent loss of central vision, with peripheral vision remaining intact.

It’s not good news; my stomach tightens as I prepare to deliver it.

Iris replies, tearily, that she just lost her husband of 60 years. She’s now alone and becoming blind. I’m taken aback – what can one honestly say to this?

Sure, there are visual magnifiers, home modifications, other practical aids that may guardrail her physical safety. But her anguish goes beyond this; she’s on the edge of a personal precipice, and teetering. There’s electricity in the consult room, a lightning-rod moment for sure.

How might a poet view this scene?

Then, a few sentences later:

Good poetry must go further, seeking the patterns beneath the surface. What precisely is it about Iris that moves me so? She is losing things, important things. Witnessing this touches my deepest fears, knowing that, like an unwelcome house guest, loss visits us all, sometimes staying for good. 

As my Persian countryman Rumi wrote, “this human being is a guest house”. Losing our own physical abilities or our loved ones, what would become of us?

Distilling this further, what exactly is loss, its weight and texture?

your cherished glass of shiraz shatters
on the tiles, your laden table
upended. Warmth whistles
out through the cracks, cold rises up.
your reasons for living dwindle,
walking out the door
one by one.

Friday essay


Farah put up her hand. She said, “I don’t find it difficult to think about . . . ,” then paused in surprise at not being able to say “dying,” “about choosing not to live if I’m going blind.”

Beyond Imagining (fiction) / Lore Segal

Wow. I am not as old as Iris, and I didn’t just lose my husband, but the description of her vision loss (albeit a different condition) is the same as mine: all central vision gone, peripheral sight stays. I don’t doubt that many “Irises” feel this despair when confronted with this diagnosis, but it’s not the only way that people respond. It is not how I responded. It is, however, the way that most haunts our imaginations — the blind specter. I’d rather be dead than blind!

I’ve read the whole article, but I stopped reading the short story. I should return to it and see what happens. Maybe I’ll be surprised, maybe it will go deeper than the tired trope of the blind specter.