june 23/SWIM

3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
67 degrees

Yes! A wonderful morning swim. As usual, always a mix of excited and nervous before the swim, but once I entered the water, all of it went away. Not always easy — sometimes my back hurts or a shoulder or a foot — but almost always wonderful. I love the dream I enter below the surface and the confidence I feel slicing through the water and the warmth of muscles worked after. Nothing feels as natural as swimming across this lake.

10 Things

  1. the crooked line of orange buoys — the one closest to the big beach much further north
  2. the faint outline of vegetation reaching up from the bottom of the lake, just below me
  3. swimming through a net of green milfoil near the white buoy
  4. only the occasional flash of other swimmers — a bent, bare elbow, a black wetsuit, a yellow safety buoy
  5. the brief flash of “buoy” or “orange” or “triangle” in my head, then nothing — I listened and believed and swam towards it
  6. one menacing sailboat — an orange and red sail
  7. open, empty water with vague trees in the distance
  8. above the surface, vivid blue, below the surface, green with hints of blue and the faintest idea of yellow
  9. my hands stretched out in front of me in the water — pale, glowing, a sharp contrast with the dark water
  10. shafts of light illuminating the particles in the water, everything constantly moving

the best moment: Rounding the final orange buoy for the third and final time, heading back to the big beach, the sun came out from behind the clouds. Suddenly the water was a vivid blue when I looked up to sight or turned my head to breathe. When I went back under, everything a beautiful, rich green: blue, green green green green green, blue, green green green green. At some point a cloud came and the blue grew darker, not quite purple. I thought about Alice Oswald and Odysseus and purple robes and being purpled.

Alice Oswald and Nobody

Was thinking about this before my swim:

Well, as you know, I’m quite fascinated, even obsessed, you might say with Homer. And one of the things that really tantalizes me in Homer is what is the Homeric mind? Because I think it’s very different from a literary mind. And it seems not to be inside the skull, but to be out in the world. So, there is a particular simile in the Iliad, which actually that first bit of the poem is based on, where it talks about two goddesses coming from heaven to the earth. And they’re very physically described. They kind of fall down from heaven to the earth. And then when they land, they take little pigeon steps, steps like doves or pigeons. So you can really picture them. But the way their flight moves from heaven to earth is as a man, you know, as the mind flutters in a man who has traveled widely, so you can turn it the other way around and say the way a man thinks is like this incredibly physical flight of two goddesses coming down to earth a bit like pigeons. And that’s always really interested me, that for Homer, the mind has the limitations of a pigeon, if you like. It is this kind of … this physical thing that moves. So, if you imagine a place over the sea, your mind actually has to get there. So, even though it may be as fast as the light, it is physical movement.

A Conversation with Kit Fan and Alice Oswald

I’m still looking for where in the Iliad these goddesses/pigeons are. And I’m still figuring out what AO might mean here. But it is helpful to read it beside these two parts of Nobody:

1/ page 1

As the mind flutters in a man who has travelled widely
and his quick-winged eyes land everywhere
I wish I was there or there he thinks and his mind


as if passing its beam through cables

flashes through all that water and lands
less than a second later on the horizon
and someone with a telescope can see his tiny thought-form
floating on the sea-surface wondering what next

2 / page 30

When trees take over an island and say so all at once
some in pigeon some in pollen with a coniferous hiss
and run to the shore shouting for more light
and the sun drops its soft coverlet over their heads
and owls and hawks and long-beaked sea-crows
flash to and fro
like spirits of sight whose work is on the water
shading it blue and thinking

I wish I was there

or there

Is the Homeric mind restless? I wish AO would say more about what she means by the literary mind and its lack of movement. I agree, but I’d like it spelled out. Does my mind work this way when I’m out moving by the gorge, or swimming across the lake? Does it move through or above the water? Maybe it became a fish.

Here’s one more line from the interview that I want to respond to:

. . . feeling of characters who have been eroded by the weather and by the sea is really what I’m feeling in this poem. It’s a poem that just opens itself to the elements and gets kind of washed, it gets its features washed off. . . . I think that’s all part of the erosion, really, it’s like even the forms of visible things have been almost worn down to their abstract shapes.

A Conversation with Kit Fan and Alice Oswald

Visible forms almost worn down to their abstract shapes — that’s how much of the gorge looks to me. Soft forms: trees, trash cans, big boulders.