may 30/RUN

4.5 miles
bottom franklin hill and back
65 degrees

Windy but sunny. Ran faster than I should have and it wiped me out. Made it to the bottom of the hill — I had to bargain with my shadow to keep going — then paused to notice the river. It was moving a little, some white foam, the water a mix of brown and purple and blue. No rowers or birds or paddle boats.

Listened to the wind shaking the leaves and some cheering somewhere running north. Put in “Billie Eilish Essentials” on the way back south. Picked up the pace for the third mile, especially when “Bad Guy” came on.

Greeted Dave the Daily Walker —

Good morning Dave!
Hi Sara, how are you?
I’m great! How are you?
I’m good, thanks for asking!

I don’t know how many times we have had this almost exact exchange over the years, but it’s a lot. As I’ve written before, these words aren’t empty but part of the ritual of being outside, moving, noticing, and connecting.

I was distracted today — worrying about why I feel so strange — not dizzy but light-headed?, with a tight left leg. I talk to the doctor tomorrow. I think it’s the latest intense version of anxiety triggered by hormones and unusual (for me) aches and pains. Thanks, perimenopause! In this distracted, uncomfortable state, can I remember 10 things I noticed?

10 Things

  1. a tall stack of stones on the ancient boulder
  2. greenish white fuzz on the edge of the trail
  3. clicking and clacking of a roller skier’s poles
  4. an e-bike zooming up the franklin hill
  5. a group of school kids speaking spanish in the tunnel of trees
  6. a minneapolis road crew tarring more craters on the path — the tar smelled sharp
  7. the solid, wide forms of the bridge columns at the bottom of the franklin hill
  8. graffiti: the outline of a shape I can’t recall in black
  9. a runner in orange shorts doing hill repeats on the franklin hill
  10. another runner powering up the hill. I watched their steady rhythm and beautiful broad shoulders run out of sight

I did it!

silhouette and concrete poetry

Nearing the end of my shadow month, I’m still thinking about silhouettes. Today, the silhouette of a poem and how poets make their words into a recognizable shape. The most obvious version of this shaping words into form is the concrete poem.

one

I suppose you could call my mood rings concrete poetry. Some of the words are the shape of my blind spot, some the shape of my total central vision, and some the shape of what’s missing:

two

Reading more of Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual, I came across a mention of concrete poetry. He doesn’t like it:

Each of us must make a thousand choices in every poem. Nobody is going to take away your poetic license for playing with typography or punctuation or spelling. It can be lots of fun to write a poem about a flying seagull in the shape of a flying seagull, but you need to understand that that bird shape will interfere to some degree with the ability of the reader to pass through the surface of the poem behind that clever silhouette.

A shaped poem with a serious message will never be taken as seriously as the same poem without the trick of shape. A lovely elegy to your dead mother is not likely to be quite as moving as it might have been if you’d not shape the typography to look like a coffin.

The Poetry Repair Manual/ Ted Kooser

A page earlier, referring to other distracting techniques, like of haphazard line breaks and ampersands, Kooser writes:

In business, executives make cost-benefit analyses. I used this term earlier. They never want the cost to exceed the benefit. Every choice you make in a poem, thinking to make it better, can also have a corresponding cost. If you want to make a line look shorter by using an ampersand or an abbreviation of a word, you face the cost of drawing the reader’s attention back to the surface while he or she wonders why you decided to use Sgn for surgeon.

The Poetry Repair Manual/ Ted Kooser

I’d prefer to steer clear of the economic metaphors, but I agree with the idea of giving care and attention to the choices you make and their consequences.

three

On this day in 2017, I wrote about Linda Pastan’s poem Vertical, which I love and have since memorized. Near the end of the entry, I mention how the shape of the poem fits with the title and topic:

Pastan’s poem is vertical in form. [the words are] Long and lean, stretching upwards.

log entry from 30 may 2017

four

This month, partly inspired by an ongoing discussion of silhouettes, I’ve been revisiting Diana Khoi Nguyen’s brilliant book Ghost of. The visual poetry in it is strange and stunning and not a gimmick. Her poem, “Triptych,” was an inspiration for my mood rings. Here’s a video of her reading it — WOW!

Triptych

Ghost of is not all visual poems, there are other forms too, but the ones in which she writes within and around the space of her brother’s silhouette are amazing. In the following poem, instead of a triptych, she uses gyotaku:

Gyotaku / Diana Khoi Nguyen

And here’s what Nguyen says about these gyotaku poems:

Several poems in Ghost Of are titled “Gyotaku.” You’re referencing this traditional method of printing from fish because you’re “printing” from the absent body of your brother?

Essentially, there’s the absent body which I fill in with text, so the absence is rendered into a visual text. Gyotaku is a practice using dead fish to create an impression of what had been captured, an old practice before photography existed. It still goes on today. I liked the idea that gyotaku creates just the impression. You can’t capture the whole of the fish, just wherever the ink or the paint was able to touch the body, the scales, and you get an idea of the thing. Thinking about the act of writing and printing—bookmaking is also inked fabric—it makes sense to also begin to claim, to manipulate, to capture this image-text in a visual way.  
source: Diana Kyoi Nguyen, To Cut Out

Open water swimming is having a moment

Okay, open water swimming. First the awesome, Nyad, and now this:

open water swimming rules

april 19/RUN

4.9 miles
veterans’ bridge and back
36 degrees / snow flurries
wind: 16 mph / gusts: 31 mph

Windy, some snow flurries. They started when I started. At first, they looked like glitter falling from the sky, later they felt like sharp pins pricking my face. Difficult conditions, but I didn’t mind — well, not that much.

Saw a BIG turkey heading for the edge of the park. Also saw a bird — a robin, I think — running fast across the grass. It’s fun to watch birds run. Had a sudden thought: Where on the Beaufort Scale would you fit the description, birds opt for running instead of flying or flying is inconvenient for birds? In my head, I began composing lines for a poem that features this bird. Another description to add to the scale: a fallen leaf will outrun you — that’s not quite right, but something about how I noticed a leaf in front of me being pushed by the wind so fast that I couldn’t catch up to it.

Was too busy battling the wind to notice the river. I wonder, were there any foam or white horses on it?

Running south, I listened to the howling wind. Heading back north, I put in Taylor Swift’s new album: The Tortured Poet’s Department

Another 5 on the Beaufort Scale. As I ran I wondered about factors other than wind speed, like wind direction — head winds, tail winds, crosswinds. I never really thought about crosswinds before I started watching cycling races. Now, like many others, I look forward to windy days of a tour when there’s a chance that some bikers will get “caught out by the crosswinds” and the peloton will splinter.

Eula Biss, Pain Scale

Before moving onto level 2 on Biss’ pain scale, I’m trying to think more about 1 and what lines of poetry might fit it. Can’t find anything yet, but I’m imagining level 1 to be the type of pain so minor, so barely there, that we doubt its existence. If 0 is faith, then 1 is doubt.

2

The sensations of my own body may be the only subject on which I am qualified to claim expertise. Sad and terrible, then, how little I know. “How do you feel?” the doctor asks, and I cannot answer. Not accurately. “Does this hurt?” he asks. Again, I’m not sure. “Do you have more or less pain than the last time I saw you?” Hard to say. I begin to lie to protect my reputation. I try to act certain. Okay, so 2 is also doubt. That gray area when we’re not certain. I don’t mind not knowing, when knowing is not possible — embracing the mystery — but not being certain, not knowing when you feel like you should know, are supposed to know, is very difficult.

And here Biss introduces the Beaufort Scale!

Wind, like pain, is difficult to capture. The poor windsock is always striving, and always falling short. There’s the difficulty of describing, and there’s the difficulty of feeling, knowing, experiencing accurately . . .

It took sailors more than two hundred years to develop a standardized numerical scale for the measure of wind. The result, the Beaufort scale, provides twelve categories for everything from “Calm” to “Hurricane.” The scale offers not just a number, but a term for the wind, a range of speed, and a brief description. Creating a standard — a common language from which to communicate and connect with others, a scale that is practical

A force 2 wind on the Beaufort scale, for example, is a “Light Breeze” moving between four and seven miles per hour. On land, it is specified as “wind felt on face; leaves rustle; ordinary vanes moved by wind.”

3

Left alone in the exam room I stare at the pain scale, a simple number line complicated by only two phrases. Under zero: “no pain.” Under ten: “the worst pain imaginable.” Too much is contained between these numbers. . . . This idea of “the worst pain imaginable” produces anxiety. I don’t want to even imagine what the worst pain imaginable might be.

“Three is nothing,” my father tells me now. “Three is go home and take two aspirin.”

“You are not meant to be rating world suffering,” my friend in Honduras advises. “This scale applies only to you and your experience.” At first, this thought is tremendously relieving. It unburdens me of factoring the continent of Africa into my calculations. But the reality that my nerves alone feel my pain is terrifying. I hate the knowledge that I am isolated in this skin—alone with my pain and my own fallibility.

The more I read of Biss’ essay, the more I’m thinking about the purpose of these scales and what other purposes descriptions/words/language can offer. The wind scale is for utility: to help sailors estimate the wind speed using visual observations. The pain scale’s purpose: to better understand and care for patients.

4

conflating physical and emotion pain — is there actually a distinction? hurting vs. feeling?

pain as seen in a face — Biss wonders, no face, no pain? Then she describes how there are no visible markers of her pain — there was nothing to illustrate my pain except a number, which I was told to choose from between zero and ten. My proof. I’m thinking about how invisible my vision problem often is to others and also, how the doctors could tell immediately that something wasn’t right: I got a diagnosis. What relief! I’m also thinking of a New Yorker article I read recently about gaslighting that mentions how the gaslit crave a diagnosis because it offers irrefutable evidence of something being wrong.

Okay, more of the pain scale in the next entry. I’m thinking about a key distinction between the Beaufort and Pain scales: the Beaufort offers brief descriptions to accompany the numbers, not just the numbers.

And, returning to point of these scales: they’re practical, which would seem to make them, at least to some, not poetry. Poetry is impractical and about making strange what we thought was familiar. It removes the utility of language, making it delightfully useless. Of course many poets disagree with this simplistic assessment, myself included. One reason I’ve turned to poetry is because it is useful; it gives me language and a method for describing my strange ways of seeing to others.

I found the following poem in an entry from aug 1, 2019. I think the descriptions might offer a more compelling and practical way than numbers on a scale to understand what pain feels like.

Let us for a moment call this pain by other words/Dominik Parisien

Ask, How many roses does the hammer weigh

when it bears down on your skull? 

Does the sword seem toothed like a toddler’s smile

or sharp as your first ice skates?

On a scale of anglerfish to northern lights

how bright are the flashes in your head? 

When I touch this, here, which constellations

light the sky behind your eyes?

Would you say that pulsing is the flicker of a satellite 

or the stubborn heartbeat of a newborn chick?

Ask, Can we for a moment make of beauty

the measure of our pain? and I will answer.

march 5/RUN

2.6 miles
2 trails
39 degrees

Sun! Blue skies! Hardly any wind! Wore compression socks while I ran for the first time. I felt fine while I was running and after I stopped, so they must be working (or, at least not not working).

Heard birds. No particular bird, just birds. Earlier, while walking with Scott to our polling station to vote in the primary, I heard a downy woodpecker and blue jays and cardinals. But, just now, running, only Bird.

I know I saw the river, but I can’t remember what it looked like. The leaves on the winchell trail were slippery, the mud up above was not. I thought about my mom a few times — mostly about her prolonged death and how I recently started understanding it as an expression of resistance and rage against cancer and dying too young and “redemption” and the expectation that she should/would be a good girl who died a nice and neat death.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I’ve written before about how I dislike the idea of this Dylan Thomas poem. I’ve changed my mind.

earlier today

A morning of wandering (and some worrying too — not quite panic, but unease, discomfort for no real reason — peri-menopause anxiety?). Began with some thoughts about my mom, who would be 82 today if she were still alive, and a beautiful poem-of-the-day about a daughter’s grief and guilt. Then a skim of an article about W. H. Auden, which led me to his poem, “Musée des Beaux Arts” — an ekphrasis! — and the memory of an amazing, interactive essay about the poem by Elisa Gabbert, which I found and then read. I recall encountering this essay when it first came out, thinking it was great, but not having any interest in studying it. Now, on my dead mom’s birthday and with a new interest in ekphrastic poetry, I was ready for it.

encounters:

Musée des Beaux Arts/ W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

In her wonderful essay about this poem, Gabbert writes:

No matter how familiar a poem is, rereading it always gives me a sense of first encounter, as though I’ve gone back to sleep and re-entered the dream through a different door.

Each time I return to this one, I’ve read a lot of other poems in the interim, which change and expand my reading. But I’ve also done more living, so I understand more about suffering myself. Pain is a kind of wisdom, maybe. As I age, I’m making the poem better.

A Poem (and a Painting) About the Suffering That Hides in Plain Sight/ Elisa Gabbert

Today, reading the first lines — the first stanza-long sentence — almost took my breath away. There it was, what I felt when my mom was dying and dying then dead, that suffering happens in the midst of others’ living their daily, mundane lives. This can lead to indifference, as Gabbert describes Auden as suggesting (he wrote this on the brink of WWII), but it can also lead to relief or acceptance or an expanded understanding of how we are all living and grieving and suffering and eating and walking at any given time. Life is defined by all of those things together, not just one of them. I suddenly thought of some lines from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”: Tell me about despair, yours, and I will you mine/Meanwhile, the world goes on.

I could spend the rest of the afternoon trying to find better, more precise and coherent, words to describe what I mean here, but I don’t want to. Maybe future Sara can take it up?

even more fun with medical terms!

I mentioned that I bought compression socks, or compression sleeves: they stop at the ankles, so nothing for the foot. Anyway, I decided to take out my scrabble tiles and try to do something with the letters for compression then compression sleeve.

compression

  • Ms. Ion Corpse
  • Price on moss?
  • O Prim Scones!
  • Poem is scorn
  • Poems r icons

compression sleeve

  • Impress Console Eve
  • Crisp moon sleeves (leftover e)
  • O seem clovers spines
  • Poems never close [is]
  • moon splice verses (leftover e)

march 3/RUN

5 miles
lake nokomis, then falls coffee
60 degrees

Ran through the neighborhood, past the falls, over the mustache bridge, on the creek path, up the hill from lake hiawatha to lake nokomis, then turned around and took the sidewalk on the parkway until we reached Falls Coffee. A good run — warm and very windy. Lots of shadows on the path — people too. Crowded. Tried to stay loose and relaxed as I ran; I called it being “Shaggy loose.” It worked and my right calf didn’t hurt when I was running. It felt strange again when I stopped — a few flashes of discomfort, then anxiousness. But we ran 5 miles and walked 2 and I was fine.

We talked about Scott’s music project: an arrangement of “Helter Skelter” without using any past versions for reference. I asked about the difference between parallel and series circuits. Mostly, we were quiet today, partly because we were enjoying just running outside in the warmth, and partly because Scott was arranging music in his head and I was monitoring my calf mid-run.

My calf occasionally reminded me it was there during the run, but it was fine and I was loose. When we stopped, my ankle was a little tender, but nothing hurt. Still, I was anxious and concerned about what might happen. Spent the walk home talking through it with Scott. I felt a little sore and stiff during the walk home, but no shooting pain or pops or anything too alarming. I said to Scott that I feel like my body was trying to tell me something with all this anxiety and he answered, Maybe it’s not. And I thought, yes, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m just dealing with the random aches, the occasional nighttime muscle cramp, that older runners get? Why does the story have to be any more complicated than that?

As we approached the playground at Hiawatha School — the one our kids played on for almost a decade — I said, I think my calf pain is minor, like the sinus pain I used to get in my face. Once I started using breathe-right strips, it stopped happening — no more pressure or sinus head-aches. Scott replied: You need to find the breath right strip for your calf. Now, hours later, it suddenly came to me: compression socks. Could that be the magic antidote to my calf pain (and my fears about calf pain)? Have I cracked the code? I’ll try it and see.

note for past Sara (or future RJP/FWA) and for anyone else interested: Writing some of this stuff about my anxieties over calf pain feels a little ridiculous, but it seems important to document the in-the-midst-of-it process of figuring out how to navigate the uncertainty of new (albeit minor) pain. There are lots of reason why, here’s one that I return to again and again: remembering how you felt and handled moments of vulnerability and uncertainty, when you’re overwhelmed and anxious, can give you more empathy for others in their own, often different, experiences of uncertainty.

notes from a pages document titled: “To Do: 2022/2023/2024”

brain mind self soul spirit Sara body
I You us we
pain fear uncertainty loss death grief
breath muscle machine
break rupture relent embrace reject reframe resist rewire

Back to the magic of the body and our efforts to understand and describe what’s happening / the power of language, of stories, to affect how and if we survive and endure — what stories do we tell?

Where does my body end, yours begin?

What if the soul was populated by selves? what if Sara was a city, not one Self? or a lake — Lake Sara? or a gorge? or a river — the river Sara?

What is the relationship between anxiety, the body, and the mind? Is anxiety the body asserting itself?

Running as a new relationship with my body, poetry as a rewiring of my brain/mind — not as rational scientist (even though I still do this), but as poet. Not fully rejecting the rational/scientific approach, but de-centering it.

wiring circuits: series and parallel
body circuits: pulmonary and systemic
ED: success in circuits lie

Yesterday I mentioned Natasha Badmann and her experiences running through the Energy Lab during the Kona Ironman. I found the spot in the race commentary, where she is interviewed:

The Energy Lab wasn’t taking energy, but giving energy. . . . I left my soul out there on part of the course . . . Exchange yourself with the island, see the beauty. . . . Running into the Energy Lab, I saw the strength of the ocean, the waves splashing up, and I said, This ocean, it’s endless. My energy is endless.

start at 8 hours and 52 minutes in / Women’s Ironman 2023

added this in a few minutes later: After the run, I got a pistachio scone at Falls Coffee. When I told RJP about it, she said, Feed 2 birds with one scone, which is PETA’s non-violent version of the classic expression. I like it! How else can I play with it?

Text 2 teens on one phone.
Diss 2 jerks with one own.
Scare 2 kids with one crone.
Film 2 scenes with one drone.
Seat 2 kings on one throne.
Put 2 scoops in one cone.
Whet 2 blades with one hone.
Buy 2 cars with one loan.
Seduce 2 Ferris’ with one Sloane. (too many syllables, but I couldn’t resist)

one more note, the next day: When I mentioned the scones/birds phrase to FWA on our weekly Facetime, he mentioned another one: Feed a fed horse. Oh, that’s good.



march 2/WALK

2+ mile walk
neighborhood/river/Winchell Trail
50 degrees

Tomorrow Scott and I will do our weekly “long” run, so today we walked. A beautiful morning. Earlier, after sitting at the dining room table for too long, I stood up and my calf felt weird. So difficult to describe it — no pain, just a strange, slight tightness — oh, I also remember that it ached a little on the posterior side. It made me anxious. Would it cramp? Why was it tight? During the walk it felt strange occasionally, but never hurt. I tried to be aware of my walking and to stay loose, relaxed, like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, I decided. Yes, loose ankles, almost floppy feet.

Down on the Winchell trail, Scott pointed out how clear and ice-free the river. I’d add: blue and calm and, at one spot, burning the white heat of light hitting the water. Such a wonderful day for a walk.

As we walked and tried to stay relaxed, I kept thinking about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. Last week, when I was watching some interviews with Courtney Dauwalter (CD), she kept talking about how we can change the stories we tell ourselves when we’re in pain and that stories matter. I need a new story — new stories? — about my aging, anxious body.

I mentioned to Scott that when CD is having difficult in a 100 mile race, she visualizes opening a filing cabinet and looking through folders of past experiences, trying to find something that could help her figure out how to handle her problem. CD loves facing and solving problems. Before she ran professionally, she was a high school science teacher.

Lately, I’ve started describing my approach to handling aches and pains and anxiety: cracking the code. What code? I think I mean the code of why I react to all these minor aches and pains with mild panic. And I also mean: the code of why the anxiety travels around my body, not staying too long in one spot: a strange-feeling calf, a tight throat, an upset stomach. During the pandemic, it was sinus headaches, a heavy face weighed down by an imaginary iron plate. This code story is useful and makes me feel empowered, like I’m doing something or gives me the illusion of control. Sometimes I need that illusion.

Walking on the Winchell Trail, looking out at the river, I told Scott about the 5 (or 4?) time Ironman winner Natasha Badmann and her approach to dealing with difficulties in a race. In particular, she talked about the Energy lab, which is one of the most brutal stretches of the Kona Ironman. While most racers think about this stretch as taking your energy, she understood it as giving it to her — while running through it, she could look off in the distance and marvel at the dolphins swimming in the ocean. I need to find this interview again. I told Scott that I’d like to change my story to think about what pain/anxiety is giving me, instead of what it is taking away/depriving me of. When I started this blog, I wrote about how the new aches and pain I was feeling while running were an opportunity for me to pay attention to a body that had been neglected for decades.

CD’s story about pain and facing challenges and bodies that are trying to convince you to quit is the pain cave. She visualizes putting on a hard hat, grabbing a chisel, going to the very back of a cave, and then trying to make it bigger. Carving out more space for what could be possible.

One more story that I mentioned while we walked (and that I mentioned on here last week). Emma Bates talks about greeting the pain like an old friend.

Old Friends from Merrily We Roll Along

Hey, old friend,
Are you okay, old friend?
What do you say, old friend,
Are we or are we unique?
Time goes by,
Everything else keeps changing.
You and I,
We get continued next week.

Most friends fade
Or they don’t make the grade.
New one’s are quickly made
And in a pinch, sure, they’ll do.
But us, old friend,
What’s to discuss, old friend?
Here’s to us who’s like us
Damn few!

Maybe I should create a friend playlist and try to be better friends with my body?

march 1/RUN

3.45 miles
2 trails + extra
45 degrees
wind: 15 mph / 31 mph gusts

Everyone knows it’s windy — All week I’ve had that song in my head. Partly because it’s catchy, but mostly because it’s windy. The wind didn’t bother me too much. Ran south to the overlook and was startled by a white truck honking as it drove past — was it honking at me, someone else, the wind? Reached the entrance to the Winchell Trail and entered. The path was thick with dead leaves and some mud. I don’t remember much about the river other than that it was blue and open and there, taking up a glorious amount of space. I heard some kids above playing, also some guy on a bike say, in exasperation, fuuucckk. Felt, more than saw, some shadows. Took off my pink jacket before climbing the 38th street steps — overdressed!

I recited ED’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” as I ran. Stumbled over this line a little:

With those same Boots of Lead, again

Not sure why the line was difficult to get right. I thought about sense breaking through, my mind going numb, space beginning to toll. Also: iron boots creaking across my soul. Last night, I asked Scott, after passing a store with the sign “guidance for the soul,” what he thought the difference between a soul and a spirit was — not what he believed — I know he doesn’t believe in either (at least I think he doesn’t) — but how they function theologically. Wait — what I actually asked was, on the scale of most rational to least, where do mind brain soul and spirit fall? I was thinking of ED’s use of mind in the poem as opposed to brain, and her reference to soul. Now I want to look at the Emily Dickinson lexicon and read how she used “brain,” “mind,” “spirit,” and “soul.”

I also want to find another brain poem to memorize — so far I’ve memorized, “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” and . . . wait — I was just about to write, “I felt a Cleaving in my Brain,” which I’ve also memorized, but the title is actually “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind.” I think that she uses the terms, like many people do, interchangeably, but I’m fascinated by the small gap between them — the mind and brain are not the same, I think, not exactly. The difference between them gets us to the soul and the self and my thinking about the ultra marathoner Courtney Dauwalter last week — how the mind’s desire to keep going can override the body’s desire to stop. Wow — right now, I seem to be obsessing over and orbiting around ideas of the relationship between the mind and the body, the self and the brain, and surrender and the death of self. Okay, that barely makes sense to me —

I wrote in my plague notebook: brain soul mind self sense will death transformation pain

As I’ve been memorizing/reciting ED’s funeral poem, I’ve been thinking about this funeral in her brain not as a migraine or a mental breakdown or an epileptic seizure, which seem to be the dominant readings, but as the process of transcending the self involving feet treading and the repetitions of a beating drum and a religious ceremony (a service) and bells tolling/ringing and moving beyond reason and Knowing. I first encountered this reading in a comment on The Prowling Bee:

from the line “Then Space — began to toll” through the end of the poem, something else entirely is happening. ED breaks through to an experience that is impersonal and liberating — a direct experience that is unfiltered, not obscured by the depression and stress of the prior stanzas. The experience is vast and lonely — if the self is transcended, what would be the experience? 

The last stanza of the poem describes something far from a mental breakdown. Reason, the logical mind, does not operate without reference points. If the poet is operating from the reference point of self, then everything is measurable and comprehensible — graspable — based on that. With reason and logic, we are in the realm of EDs poems that use metaphors of measurement and mathematics and limits. But in the last stanza of this poem, all that is transcended. What is experienced is beyond reason — but entirely sane. It is the ineffable experience of truth — the poet finishes — knowing — then. If you ask what is known, you have not shared the transcendent experience of the poem.

The Prowling Bee

Reciting this poem while running, I kept thinking about how the treading and the beating, foot strike after foot strike, can lead to a dream-like state where you stop thinking and begin to feel the world (sense breaking through) instead of just observing or knowing it. There’s a lot I could say about the bell, but I’ll save that for later.

note: I worry that I getting lost in theorizing about this, but I also think I’m trying to push at deeper understandings of self and consciousness and how bodies and brains and minds and souls are entangled — especially in my aging, almost-50, often anxious, Sara-self.

feb 29/RUN

5.15 miles
bottom of franklin and back
33 degrees

Some wind, lots of sun and shadows and spring feelings. Heard some black-capped chickadees, was dazzled by the sun shining off a parked car, saw some new graffiti on a sign at the bottom of the hill.

Often my legs felt heavy. But my calves were quiet.

Heard a woodpecker knocking on wood somewhere near the rowing club and thought: a door!

Anybody
home? The
woodpecker
knocks on
the tree like
it was
dinner’s door.

Recited ED’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” throughout the run and got most of the lines.

Had some great thoughts while I ran about ED’s funeral poem and how it fits with running and the feeling of moving past (beside) your Self to a space beyond thinking and seeing, where you’re feeling and hearing. Thought about the gradual process ED describes — her repeated use of and and then — for how we break through to a different world where Space — began to toll/As all the Heavens were a Bell/And being, but an Ear. I had many other thoughts, but I’d like to think through them and post tomorrow.

ED’s Daily Delight (feb 28)

the line: Superior — for doors — (from “I dwell in Possibility”)

In November and December, while I was working on the revision of my Haunts poem, I started writing a series of door poems, inspired by a Mary Oliver line from Upstream:

I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door–a thousand opening doors!–past myself.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver

Looking for
ways out,
hoping for 
ways in,
finding doors
open
everywhere

Then I wrote a series of brief 3/2 poems describing the “doors” I’ve found by the gorge. I’d like to keep adding to them, using my 10 Things lists for inspiration.

Before I do that, I found this reference to doors while rereading a Feb 28, 2022 entry:

The sound of boots tamping snow are the hinges 
of many doors being opened. 
(from Statement of Teaching Philosophy/ Keith Leonard

I like the idea of doors opening or being opened. Opening/being opened suggests that something — language or poetry or the sound of boots triggering memories — is doing that opening. But I also like the idea of doors already open that you have to notice.

from December 2023 “10 Things” Lists:

dec 1: most of the steps down to the Winchell Trail are closed off with a chain, but not the old stone steps — why not?

Just one set
of stairs

without a
chain stretched

across the
top step.

Just one door
calling

out to you,
Come in!

dec 1: there are certain stretches I don’t remember running through — like the part of the walking trail that separates from the bike path right before the trestle. Why can’t I picture it?

stretches of
the path

forgotten
moments

I enter
a space

outside of
myself.

dec 3: running by a house I walk by often, seeing the door looking different — a new color? orange? have they painted their house or is the light just weird for me today?

today the
color

of this door
has changed —

a new paint
job or

a trick of
the light?

dec 5: a path winding through the savanna revealed by settled snow

a path winds
through the

savanna
often

invisible
today

revealed by
new snow

dec 6: wet path, shimmering — is it just water, or is it super slick ice?

Here, two doors,
both

possible.
One’s safe

the other
more fun.

note: As I write these, I’m thinking that part of their point is to open up and to get into the habit of converting things noticed into my form. Many of them aren’t great, but they are good practice and could help to loosen me up. For the first time in a few years, ran to Lake Nokomis and back.

dec 15: kids laughing on a playground* (*as I listened to the kids, I thought about how this sound doesn’t really change. Over the years, it comes from different kids, but the sound is the same. Season after season, year after year.)

no matter
the year

recess sounds
the same

the difference
is you

and how you
hear it

dec 18: hot sun on my face, once or twice

hot sun on
my face

I pretend
spring’s door

has opened

dec 19: as I ran south, some white thing out of the corner of my eye kept calling out, notice me! So I did: it was an arch of the lake street bridge

Sometimes doors
don’t speak

and sometimes
they scream

Open me,
enter!

dec 22: halfway down the hill, I noticed some stairs on the other side of the road I’ve never noticed before. Were they leading to the franklin terrace dog park?

halfway down
the hill

surprise stairs
noticed

just today.
Where do

they lead? What
doors do

they open?

feb 27/RUN

4.5 miles
VA bridge and back
46 degrees
wind: 16 mph, 29 mph gusts

What a wonderful morning for a run! Okay, maybe the wind was a bit much, but the sun and the warm air and the clear paths made up for it. I felt good and strong and relaxed. A few times my right calf reminded me it was there — no pain, just a strange stretched feeling. I recited ED’s “I heard a Fly buzz — when I died –” several times, mostly in my head, but once, as I climbed out of minnehaha park, out loud! Should I be celebrating this? Do I want to be that person who doesn’t care if others hear her reciting poems as she runs? Yes, I do.

10 Things

  1. the hollow knocking of a woodpecker on dead wood, echoing across the gorge
  2. lots of black capped chickadees calling to each other
  3. oak tree shadows, sprawled everywhere
  4. the brown creek water lazily heading towards the limestone ledge
  5. rustling below me, on the winchell trail — someone walking over the leaves
  6. climbing up from the part of the path that dips below the road, seeing the shadow of trunk on the path that was so sharp and dark I thought it was a fallen tree
  7. sirens on Hiawatha, getting louder as they off the walls of the tunnel near 50th
  8. passing a runner — What a beautiful morning!Yes! Almost perfect!
  9. a biker in a bright yellow shirt, as bright as the one I was wearing
  10. the meandering curves of the sidewalks that wind through the part of minnehaha falls near John Stevens’ house

This morning, while drinking my coffee, I decided to write about the delightful noise of geese wings cutting through the air that I’d recalled hearing a few weeks ago on my back deck — I remembered it after reading a list of 10 things from a feb 27th from another year. I wrote a draft of a poem, then decided I’d like to start writing delight poems every morning. No pressure — just patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate — this isn’t a competition but a doorway into thanks and a silence in which another voice may speak (Praying/ Mary Oliver) — just the opportunity to sit with one of the delights I’ve encountered while running beside the gorge. A few minutes later, I had a further idea about including Emily Dickinson:

The practice, elements:

  • write a poem each day
  • the poem should be about some delight noticed on the run — either from that day or a past entry
  • any form running/breathing form: couplets of 3 syllables/2 syllables
  • uses, in some way, a favorite line from an Emily Dickinson poem

Here’s the poem I wrote this morning:

Too Silver for a Seam / Sara Lynne Puotinen

Even more than the sight of them
it is the sounds they make
that move me.

Usually it is the mournful calls
from within a tight formation
then the lone honk of the last in line,

but today the geese were low enough
to hear the sharp swish of their wings
cutting the air.

In their wake only the echo
of scissors and sharpening knives
and movement too silver for a seam.

The ED line is too silver for a seam and it comes from “A Bird came down the Walk”:

And he unrolled his feathers
And rowed him softer Home—

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam—

I like it! It needs a little work, but it makes me happy and captures my delight in hearing this sound. Scott wondered about the scissors and sharpening knives — such violent imagery — so I explained — the scissors make me think of Scott’s mom and the old scissors I inherited from her that make a wonderfully sharp scissor-y sound when you use them — it also makes me think of my mom who was always using scissors for her fiber art. The sharpening knives make me think of Scott’s dad and the enthusiastic and dilligent way he would sharpen their knives with their knife sharpener. I think I might need to add a line or two that signals my affection for these sounds without making it too obvious.

During the last mile of the fun, I started reciting other ED poems, including:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Note: This seems like an edited version from Mabel Todd, with all its punctuation and no capitalizing of clovers or bees.

As I recited this small poem, I suddenly thought about how I was a bee, wearing my bright yellow shirt with my black running shorts and tights. I kept running, feeling ready to stop, looking ahead and wondering how close I was to being done. Suddenly I saw it: the bright yellow crosswalk sign with black figures at 38th street! I’m almost done when I reach that sign! I watched it getting closer and thought, it takes one bee or, it takes a bee?

update, six hours later: I’m back. Decided that I might want to add one more rule to this ED delight daily practice: I want to use my running/breathing form of 3 syllable/2 syllable couplets. I tightened up the poem I wrote earlier using that form. Here’s the new version:

Today the
geese flew

low enough
to hear

the quick swish
of wings

slicing through
the air. (I could leave air for the unintentional rhyme or switch to sky)

In their wake —
echoes

of scissors
cutting

knives being
sharpened

their blades too
silver

for a seam.

feb 26/WALK

40 minutes
to the river and back
57 degrees

A warm, windy February afternoon. Took a walk with Delia the dog and Scott. Heard some kids on the playground that I mistook for a siren. Then later, heard some actual sirens. Also heard some ragtime music coming from a bike on the path. Marveled at the gnarled oaks and the jagged shadow one cast on another branchless tree. Noticed how high the bluff was above the forest floor. Encountered many happy, chatting walkers, one runner without a shirt.

It’s Windy

Is it the strange, too-early spring weather? The fact that I’m turning 50 in 4 months and that my kids are turning 21 and 18? Not sure, but my thoughts have been scattered lately, flitting from one idea to the next without landing anywhere for too long. Maybe it’s the wind. This morning I said to Scott, what a beautiful morning! Too bad it’s windy. Then Scott started singing “Windy” by the Association — I tried to join in, but I was in the wrong key (as usual). I should have a t-shirt that says, I’m always in the wrong key, I said (which, I think, isn’t always a bad thing to be in). Anyway, I decided to listen to the song and read the lyrics. It’s actually about wind! How delightful!

Who’s tripping down the streets of the city
Smilin’ at everybody she sees
Who’s reachin’ out to capture a moment
Everyone knows it’s Windy

And Windy has stormy eyes
That flash at the sound of lies
And Windy has wings to fly
Above the clouds (above the clouds)
Above the clouds (above the clouds)

I think I might create a page of wind poems/songs and add this, along with “They call the wind Mariah” from Paint Your Wagon and “I Take to the Wind” by King Crimson.

an idea (for the future? now?): Yesterday I posted a poem that uses an Emily Dickinson line in the title (I heard a fly buzz), then obliquely references her in the poem. A year or so ago, I had the idea that I’d like to write a series of poems that use some of my favorite Emily Dickinson lines as titles for my poems about vision loss, how I see, and how I’ve been carving out a new way of being with my moving practice. I’ve already written one that was published this past December in the print journal, Door is a Jar:

The Motions of the Dipping Birds/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

Because I can no longer see
her face, when my daughter talks I watch

her small hands rise and fall,
sweep the air, flutter.

I marvel at the soft feathers her fingers make
as they soar then circle then settle

on the perch of her hips waiting
to return to the sky for another story.

I think Victoria Chang’s collection, The Trees Witness Everything, in which she uses W.S. Merwin poem titles and then writes her own poem, might be a good inspiration. I’ve been wanting to do this project for several years, but I wasn’t quite ready. Am I now? I’ve already been moving towards it with my interest in memorizing 50 Emily Dickinson poems before my 50th birthday — did I mention that in here, or was it just in my “to do” list? Oh, I hope this idea sticks and helps me to write more poetry. Lately, I’ve had tons of ideas that I start, but that really don’t go anywhere.

As part of this Dickinson project, and inspired by yesterday’s poem, I decided to memorize ED’s “I heard a fly buzz — when I died”. After memorizing it, I listened to someone else’s reading of it and noticed a line change:

[original] The stillness in the Room
[alternate in video] The stillness round my form

Which is correct, I wondered. At first, I thought the alternate might be the correct one, but it didn’t seem quite right — form neatly rhymes with the last line of the verse: Between the Heaves of Storm. ED liked slant rhymes, not straight ones. I looked it up and discovered that ED’s first editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, had changed the line to form. She also took out ED’s dashes. I’ve read about the fraught relationship between ED and Todd (who was ED’s brother’s lover) and Todd’s heavy-handed editing, so I’m sticking with the original!

medical term fun!

I’m still working with g a s t r o c n e m i u s and s o l e u s scrabble tiles. Last night’s favorite:

Guess a minute’s colors

I told RJP and she said, 7:42 is yellowish-green. Do I see any particular minute’s colors? No. But I do like trying to describe what colors I see at any given minute.

What happens when I reverse 2 words: Guess a color’s minutes?
Or, Minutes colors a guess?
Or, As color, minutes guess
Or, minutes: a color’s guess (as in, meeting minutes)
Or, a guess colors minutes

Back to ED’s buzzing fly. Whenever I read this poem, I think about an article I discovered a few years ago that discusses how accurately and effectively ED describes the physiology of the dying eye — 15 march 2021

feb 25/RUN

5 miles
franklin loop
45 degrees

A regular run! It felt mostly fine, a few times strange. I told Scott that often when something is sore or stiff or hurts, it just feels strange to me. I need better words.

A few time my calf felt strange…but what does that mean? It felt like it was trying to talk to me, like it wasn’t used to moving, like it was complaining. During the run, once or twice, the smallest flare of something that wasn’t quite pain yet. After the run, tight, a little sore along the outside of my calf starting near the knee and moving down. Here’s some information that I might want to look at: Calf Muscle Tightness

While we ran, we talked about Scott’s latest work project involving wrangling a lot of data about water quality and temperature and more and turning it into a user-friendly widget. I talked about Courtney Dauwalter and listening to your body and pushing your limits and the memory palace. Near the end of the run, we encountered people protesting Israel’s invasion/war against Palestine on the bridge. I almost called out from the river to the sea! but didn’t — do I wish I had? yes, I think so. Saw some Palestinian flags and people with signs. A few minutes later, we heard a bullhorn from up on the bridge — were they marching to the capital?

earlier today

While reviewing the feb 25 entry from 2022, I came across a reference to the memory palace. I’d like to do something with this idea — an experiment, a poem, something else? Found a helpful discussion of it in a Paris Review article about Wordsworth:

The idea of the mind as a palace or church, whose individual rooms can be explored with training, is familiar from the memory treatises of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The “memory palace” as a mnemonic device was widely used before the advent of printing to organize and remember vast amounts of information. By memorizing the spatial layout of a building and assigning images or ideas to its various rooms, one could “walk” through the imaginary building and retrieve the ideas relegated to the separate parts.

The Celestial Memory Palace/ Aysegul Savas

I mentioned the memory palace in a feb 25, 2022 entry. In a feb 25, 2020 entry, I also wrote about place, the house:

I’d like to put this poem (A Skull) and the idea of the skull as a house beside the two other poems with houses that I posted on feb 22.

Two different, yet connected, versions of imagined place. Can I do something with these?

Here’s a delightful poem from a chapbook, Cheap Motels of my Youth, that I just got in the mail:

I Heard a Fly Buzz/ George Bilgere

I stumbled out in to the kitchen,
got the coffee maker started,
did the dishes from last night,
and then you came out in your robe,
wondering why I was up so early,
and I realized I’d misread the clock,
I’d actually gotten up at 7, not 8,
and suddenly I had a whole hour
bestowed upon me by the gods
who dole out our span to time.

And this was long ago, years ago, but
I still have that hour, I’ve guarded it
zealously, and when the time comes
and the darkness is closing in, and perhaps
I even hear a fly buzz—I’ll take out
that hour from the secret place
where I keep it, I’ll show it to all of you
gathered around my bedside
and I’ll cry out, Look! Another hour!

And that fly will pause in its
goddam buzzing, and all of you—
and that means you, Michael and Alex—
all of you will be forced to smile
and say, Really? That’s just awesome!

And I shall continue with my reminiscences.

I love this poem — the way it gently references Emily Dickinson, the delightful story it tells, his use of goddam in the second to last stanza, the calling out of his kids in the poem, how the first stanza is all one sentence, and that last bit about reminiscing as what he’d want to do with his bonus hour.

I like his use of goddam, and I wonder: how often do women poets use goddam? It seems like a swear word male poets would use. What are some good examples of women poets using goddam in their poems? I looked up “women poets goddam” and came across Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” Listened to it — wow — and found this article for later: The long story behind Nina Simone’s protest song, “Mississippi Goddam” Kept scrolling in my search and found a link to a Book Notes series in which authors create a playlist for their books. Cool! What does this have to do with goddam? Nothing, but I love that I found this site, especially after creating a playlist for my windows month.

Okay, time to stop wandering. I think I’ll go study and memorize Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz — when I died”

Almost forgot: still playing around with the tiles for the two main muscles in the calf: gastrocnemius and soleus

Glass moon curse suite