feb 15/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.5 miles
outside: 23 degrees / icy

Maybe it wasn’t as icy on the sidewalks or the trail as it was on my driveway and the alley, but I decided not to risk it and bike and run inside. During my bike, I watched Linda Pastan read “Elegy” and a few running races. During my run, I finished up the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us with Des and Kara. I’m really enjoying their discussions. Today they talked about being introverts (me too) and struggling to promote themselves and being motivated by something other than fame. As I listened, I also paid attention to my body, noticing how it felt different depending on how I did my arm swing. At one point, I locked into a rhythm between my arms and legs that felt effortless and machine-like. I remember writing about the body as a machine (and not a machine) on this log in the beginning. Maybe I should return to some of those discussions?

Maggie Smith has started doing a newsletter about craft. Yay! Today’s was about stanzas and the idea that a stanza is a room in the poem or its paragraph. She discusses couplets in particular:

I have a soft spot for unrhymed couplets. I like the padding of white space around them, so each stanza is like a piece of art hung on a gallery wall. White space is literal “breathing room” on the page, and it slows a poem down. Shorter stanzas in a poem = more white space between stanzas on the page = more time for the reader to savor each line.

To slow a poem down, build in more white space by shortening the stanza length. You can also shorten the line length to slow the reader down.

To pick up the pace in a poem, do the opposite: lengthen the stanzas by removing white space. You can also speed up the reader’s momentum by lengthening the lines.

As I draft a poem, I often decide on the line length and the grouping of lines I prefer for the opening stanza, and then I use that line and stanza length as a template for the rest of the poem. If I prefer the opening to be a quatrain, for example, I’ll naturally try quatrains for the whole poem and see if that might work. Sometimes it does, but not always. Other times I might find that irregular stanzas work best, or I might end up collapsing the whole poem into a single stanza to speed it along.

Craft Tip from Maggie Smith

Today’s Pastan Poem:

Elegy/ Linda Pastan (1986)*

Last night the moon lifted itself
on one wing
over the fields,

and struggling to rise
this morning
like a hooked fish

through watery
of sleep.

I know
with what difficulty

must pull themselves
all the way up
their stems.

How much easier
the free fall of snow
or leaves in their season.

All week, watching
the hospital gown

and falling
with your raggedy breath,
I dreamed

not of resurrections
but of the slow, sensual
slide each night

into sleep, of dust
of newly shoveled earth

*Pastan wrote more than one poem with the title “Elegy.”

I’m struggling with her use of “struggling” in the second stanza. The full sentence doesn’t make sense to me. It’s quite possible I’m just not reading it right, but shouldn’t it be “struggled”?

feb 14/RUN

4.15 miles
river road, south/ ford bridge/ river road, north/ 33rd, west/ edmund, south
40 degrees / rain
5% ice-covered

There’s another runner in the neighborhood who I’ve seen running past my house several times in the early morning this winter. Usually I notice them when the weather is bad and I’m wondering whether or not to go out in it. I see them and think, if she can go out in this cold/heavy snow/rain, I can too. Not as a competitive thing, but as a sign of encouragment. That’s what happened this morning, so I went out for a run in the rain.

I want to name her and add her to my list of regulars, but I can’t think of anything catchy or pithy or whimsical right now. Maybe it will come to me after I eat lunch? Okay, I’m back. Scott suggested “Canary” for canary in the coal mine, which didn’t seem quite right. I’ve decided tentatively to call her Miss Wake-up Call because I see her not long after waking up and because she reminds me to get out there (and after it). I’m still not satisfied, but I’ll leave it for now.

layers: 1 pair of black running tights, 1 pair of socks, 1 long-sleeved green shirt, 1 bright purple jacket that I inherited from my beloved mother-in-law who died this past September, 1 pink and purple nylon running cap (also inherited), black gloves

About a mile into the run, my left thumb was cold. Why? Suddenly I noticed a big hole in the seam. I said out loud, oh, that’s no good, just as I encountered a walker. Did they hear me?

Was able to greet Dave the Daily Walker. Of course he was out in this rain; he can walk in anything!

Everything was wet and dripping, even the bill of my cap. Drip drip drip every few seconds. I didn’t feel it, just saw movement. Lots of splooshing from car wheels. I don’t remember hearing the water gushing through the sewer pipes. Why not? Big puddles near 42nd and on the path leading to under the Ford Bridge. No lakes.

Heard some strange clanking or clunking then honking over on the other side of the river. Heard the kids playing on the playground, then a teacher’s whistle as I ran south. Later, running back north, heard more kids. It was raining harder. How wet will they be for the rest of the day? I imagined them in snow suits, or because the playground was at posh Minnehaha Academy, under some fancy, magical dome.

Heading north, I noticed that the view near Winchell (Winchell to the left, the memorial bench to the right), was especially open and revealing. Earlier, heading south, I had noticed that my former favorite winter view spot just past the oak savanna was unsatifying. Too many small trees blocking my view. Are those trees new?

Encountered several walkers, some alone, others in pairs; a runner or two; at least two bikers.

As I write this entry, I am listening to the gentle ringing of the rain through the gutters. A steady ping ping ping vibration.

added later today: Returning to my desk hours later, I heard and then saw 3 or 4 geese honking and speeding through sky. This reminded me of something else I remember from my run. Twice I heard some honking geese, once on the east and once on the west. Both times I stopped running, leaned my head back, and stared into the sky to watch them. One wedge of geese was flying low, the other much higher. It’s always a good day when you can stop and admire the geese!

I found a rain poem from Linda Pastan for today:

November Rain/ Linda Pastan

How separate we are
under our black umbrellas—dark
planets in our own small orbits,

hiding from this wet assault
of weather as if water
would violate the skin,

as if these raised silk canopies
could protect us
from whatever is coming next—

December with its white
enamel surfaces; the numbing
silences of winter.

From above we must look
like a family of bats—
ribbed wings spread

against the rain,
swooping towards any
makeshift shelter.

Love the image of the bats. Over the years, I’ve found several wonderful bat poems. In theory, bats are beautiful, fun-to-imagine creatures who eat mosquitoes and see with sound in ways I’d like to learn. But my one close encounter with bats, when they were flying through my house one year and established a colony in the attic, freaked me out. I like thinking I see or hear them at twilight, flying high above. I don’t like seeing the evidence of them in my closet.

feb 13/RUN

5.8 miles
franklin loop
39 degrees
25% puddles

More spring-like weather. Above freezing. Sun. The sound of snow melting everywhere, especially under the lake street bridge. I checked and the last time I ran the franklin loop was on December 13th. It’s nice to get this view of the river again.

Felt relaxed. My knees ached a little — not an injury, just grumbling over the month of uneven, icy paths. Speaking of paths, the trail on the east side of the river was rough — ice, deep puddles — between Franklin and the trestle. I had to stop and walk a few times.

10+ Things I Noticed

  1. a V of geese above me. When I first noticed them through my peripheral vision, I thought they were a plane
  2. a white form up in the air. A cloud? No, a plane. It took me a minute to finally see it in my central vision
  3. crossing the Franklin bridge, the river was covered in a steel blue ice
  4. the bridge trail was mostly clear. The part shaded by the railing was not
  5. everywhere the moisture on the path shone so bright that I couldn’t tell if it was only water or slippery ice. (it was mostly water)
  6. crossing under the railroad trestle on the west side, I heard the beep beep beep of the alarm. I wondered if a train was coming. (I never saw or heard one)
  7. heard some bike wheels behind me, then voices calling out Ice! I moved over and stopped to let them pass, then watched as they slowly navigated the ice on their thin wheels
  8. lots of whooshing wheels and noises that sounded like sploosh! as cars drove through the puddles collecting on the edge of the road
  9. a favorite late fall spot: right before the meeker dam, there’s an opening in the trees and a clear, broad view of the river and the other side
  10. the river down below the trestle on the east side looked like an otherwordly wasteland. Brown, riddled with broken up ice
  11. crossing back over the lake street bridge from east to west, the river looked like an ice rink that had been skated on for too long and needed a Zamboni
  12. running down the hill from the bridge to the path, a woman crossing the river road called out, Oh! As I neared her, I stopped and she said, It’s slippery!

When I stopped running to walk up the lake street bridge steps, I could hear and see the water gushing down through the pipe under the bridge. I had to stop and record it.

feb 13, 2023 / gushing water

Here’s my Pastan poem for the day. I found it before I went out for my run. My goal was to try and listen for voices out there by the gorge, and I did, somewhat. The woman who cried out when she almost slipped. 2 women walking on the bridge above, when I was below. The biker calling out Ice! A tree, its dead leaves rustling in the breeze. The soft not quite gushing of the limestone seeping melting snow. The drip drip drip of water off the bridge.

For Miriam, Who Hears Voices/ Linda Pastan

If the voices are there
you can’t ignore them,
whether they come up through the floorboard
on a conduit of music
or in a rattle of words that make sounds
but no sense.

They can be messages from the sky
in the form of rain at the window, or in the cold
silent statements of snow.
Sometimes it’s the dead talking,
and there is comfort in that

like listening to your parents in the next room,
and perhaps it’s the same parents still talking
years after they’ve gone.

If you’re lucky, the vowels
you hear are shaped like sleep–
simple cries from the thicket
of your dreams. You lie in bed.
If the voices are there, you listen.

I am always looking for poems about love (not necessarily “love” poems). This one popped up on my twitter feed this morning. As a bonus, it’s about winter and fits with my theme of layers for next week AND it has wild turkeys in it!

How to Love/ January Gil O’Neil

After stepping into the world again,
there is that question of how to love, 
how to bundle yourself against the frosted morning—
the crunch of icy grass underfoot, the scrape 
of cold wipers along the windshield—
and convert time into distance. 

What song to sing down an empty road
as you begin your morning commute?
And is there enough in you to see, really see, 
the three wild turkeys crossing the street 
with their featherless heads and stilt-like legs
in search of a morning meal? Nothing to do 
but hunker down, wait for them to safely cross. 

As they amble away, you wonder if they want 
to be startled back into this world. Maybe you do, too, 
waiting for all this to give way to love itself, 
to look into the eyes of another and feel something— 
the pleasure of a new lover in the unbroken night, 
your wings folded around him, on the other side 
of this ragged January, as if a long sleep has ended.

As a bonus, this poem also has another thing I’m always trying to find: a reference to the idea of looking into someone’s eyes and really seeing them as (one of) the key metaphors for being fully human. I’m collecting these examples because they bother me. With my failing central vision, I can’t really look into a person’s eyes and see them. Does this mean I can’t be fully human?

feb 11/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin hill turn around
35 degrees
5% snow-covered / 40% puddles

Above freezing with a mostly clear path. Lots of puddles. Lots of sun. Several shadows. Right before I started my run the shadow of a big bird passed over me. Later, running on the trail, I saw my shadow running in front of me. The view of the river and the gorge was bright and open and brown. Smelled breakfast at the Longfellow Grill, some pot from one passing car, cigar smoke from another. Felt the grit under my feet. Noticed the curve of a pine tree, with branches only on one side. I thought: a curved spine, the branches vertebrae.

Here’s my Pastan poem for today:

Squint/ Linda Pastan

and that low line
of blue cloud
over the treetops

could be an ocean–the roar
of the highway
the clamorous waves

And that dark shape menacing
your every footstep
could be no more
than your own obedient shadow.

See whatever you want
to see. Even
at the moment of death
forget the door

opening on darkness.
See instead the familiar faces
you thought were lost.

See whatever you want/to see. This makes me think of the video interview I watched with Kelli Russell Agodon yesterday, when she discusses being oriented towards beauty, only seeing the beauty, ignoring the ugliness. The title Squint makes me think of a lecture I saw online about how painters often squint to see how to paint the depth and texture of objects.

It’s interesting to juxtapose this poem and its turn away from the darkness of death with some of the passages below from Pastan’s interviews in which she talks about how she’s always looking for the danger beneath the surface.

some words from Linda Pastan

You open “The Poets” with the line “They are farmers, really.”

That was partly tongue in cheek, partly serious. For me, there are two distinct phases in the writing of a poem—first the inspiration phase, when language and metaphor come mysteriously into my head, then the planting, sowing, farming phase, otherwise known as revision. The first is a kind of gift, as in “gifted”—it can’t be taught. The second is a matter of learning and practicing one’s craft. But it’s also true that I couldn’t resist having poems planted in manure-filled rows and having poets eyeing each other over bushel baskets in the marketplace.

The last two lines of my poem “Vermilion” are “As if revision were / the purest form of love.” And I believe that for a poet it is. Many of my poems go through at least a hundred revisions—I can spend a whole morning putting in a comma and then taking it out and putting it back in. And I think that perhaps I am at my happiest sitting at my desk polishing a poem, trying to make every word the perfect word.

I am indeed interested, you might say obsessed, not with ordinary life per se but with the dangers lurking just beneath its seemingly placid surface, one of those dangers being loss itself. Death, of course, is the ultimate danger, the ultimate loss, and as I move closer to it, I write about it more frequently and perhaps more feelingly. Though I recently came upon some poems I wrote when I was twelve, and they, too, are about death.

The Looming Dark: An Interview with Linda Pastan

a popular story about her:

There’s a popular story about Linda Pastan: she won her first poetry prize as a senior at Radcliffe in the fifties, and the runner-up was one Sylvia Plath. It was an auspicious start for Pastan, even if she had never heard of Plath at the time

a blogger’s explanation of why she likes Pastan:

What do I like about Pastan’s work? Her clarity in brevity, the conciseness of her description that makes each word she uses necessary, her way of writing about what surrounds her with the understanding that surfaces mask tensions and the darker things below; her down-to-earth voice that makes her writing so accessible; the images that stick with you; the intimacy she has with her subjects: relationships, domestic tableau, aging, dying—the things we all struggle with, for, and against.

Poet: Linda Pastan

and Pastan’s description of the dangers always lurking below the surface:

JEFFREY BROWN:We’re sitting here on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, but you feel dangers lurking?

LINDA PASTAN:Always, yes, yes. I feel the cells starting to multiply someplace inside me. I feel when the phone rings, is somebody calling to say something terrible has happened. I’ve just always been very conscious of the fragility of life and relationships.

Linda Pastan: PBS Newshour

feb 9/RUN

4.45 miles
minnehaha falls and back
34 degrees
50% jagged ice / 25% slick ice / 25% clear path

I probably should have waited a few more hours to run. Now that the sun has finally come out and it’s another degree warmer, all the ice everywhere might melt. Oh well. This was a tough run. I still enjoyed most of it, but I had to stop and walk several times in order to avoid falling on ice. Now my upper back and knees are sore from the effort of staying upright.

Kids, 3 versions

  1. Running on Edmund, nearing Dowling Elementary, I wondered why it was so quiet. Where were all the kids on the playground? Then, suddenly, I heard them. Laughing and yelling. I decided the moisture in the air must be absorbing the sound, not allowing it to travel too far
  2. At the falls, I heard a few more kids. Standing above, at my favorite spot, I could hear voices below. Were they climbing on the trail that leads to below the falls? I imagined that path was as icy as mine, and I hoped not.
  3. Returning on Edmund, running past Dowling, more kids. This time in the big field by the community garden — at least I think that’s where they were; I only heard them, didn’t see them. So loud and raucous! Frantic, worked-up (or wound up?) screams. Excitement? Too much sugar? Something else? I encountered another runner — a man pushing a jogging stroller — and imagined after I passed him that I had asked, What’s going on over there?!

Here’s the Linda Pastan poem of the day. I’m pairing it with a wonderful Tony Hoaglund poem I found tat involves swimming laps and screaming underwater.

Almost An Elegy: For Tony Hoagland

Your poems make me want
to write my poems,

which is a kind of plagiarism
of the spirit.

But when your death reminds me
that mine is on its way,

I close the book. clinging
to this tenuous world the way the leaves

outside cling to their tree
just before they turn color and fall.

I need time to read all the poems
you left behind, which pierce

the darkness here at my window
but did nothing to save you.

Don’t Tell Anyone/ Tony Hoaglund

We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims—

that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.

Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
concealing anything,
not as if I should consider myself

personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,

—casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,

then down again into the cold wet mask of the unconscious.
For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming
as they go through life, silently,

politely keeping the big secret
that it is not all fun
to be ripped by the crooked beak

of something called psychology,
to be dipped down
again and again into time;

that the truest, most intimate
pleasure you can sometimes find
is the wet kiss

of your own pain.
There goes Kath, at one pm, to swim her twenty-two laps
back and forth in the community pool;

—what discipline she has!
Twenty-two laps like twenty-two pages,
that will never be read by anyone.

Reading these poems again, I’m struck by their last lines, both about Hoaglund’s poems: 1. the ones Pastan read that could pierce the darkness but not save Hoaglund and 2. the unread ones that aren’t for anyone else, but offer some sort of private pleasure in the face of suffering.

Poetry is not meant to save us from dying, but that doesn’t mean it can’t save our lives.

feb 8/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
40 degrees
75% bare, wet, puddled pavement

A late afternoon run on a sunny, warm (warm for February in Minnesota) day! The path was wet, with lots of puddles, some slick spots, and lots of sloppy snow. Twice I had big slips. My one leg flew off to the side and I waved my arms involuntarily, but I didn’t seem to lose momentum and my body never felt the fear of falling — that fear deep in the pit of my stomach that quickly spreads to the top of my head and makes my whole body tense up.

10 Things

  1. the warm sun on my face — it felt like spring
  2. the late afternoon shadows — I can’t remember a specific shadow, maybe shadows of trees over the gorge?
  3. a siren behind me as I ran up from under the lake street bridge. It sounded close and like it was stopping. I think I heard the siren double beep and then stop
  4. some little yippy dogs freaking out down below at the minneapolis rowing club. So frantic! What’s going on down there? I worried for a minute, wondering if I was actually hearing someone screaming, but decided it was definitely some exuberant dogs
  5. Also heard a strange moan or whine coming from the rowing club — not a human moan, but one coming from a machine
  6. so much whooshing of car wheels through deep puddles on the edges of the road
  7. lots of bikes deciding to bike on the mostly dry road instead of the be-puddled path
  8. my shoes and socks were soaked before I reached the first mile. After the run, the white socks were now speckled in brown grit
  9. smelled pot as I ran past a parking lot
  10. heard a few random geese honks closer to the river

I didn’t look at the river or notice the ancient boulders or greet the welcoming oaks. Didn’t hear any birds — wait, I think I heard a crow at the beginning —or music coming from a car radio or a bike or someone’s phone.

This was a great afternoon run. I like running at this time, when the sun is slowly sinking. My only problem: the paths are usually much more crowded. Still, I’d like to try and add in some more of these runs so I can study the sun and the shadows.

Here’s my Linda Pastan poem for today. I don’t think there were any clouds to admire, but I’m posting it anyway!

The Clouds/ Linda Pastan

From a high window
I watch the clouds—

of white sails

blown by the wind
from west to east, as if

auditioning for me,
as if they needed

nothing more
than to be in a poem.

What a delightful little poem! I think this counts as one of Mary Oliver’s little alleluias on the page.

feb 7/RUN

4.45 miles
minnehaha falls and back
31 degrees
100% slick, sloppy mess

Yuck! With warmer temperatures comes puddles, slicker ice, and soaked socks. Most of the trail was covered in little brown lakes. Oh well. The sun was warm on my face, and I felt almost too warm in my layers, so I was happy to get out there and run. Because I was trying out my new bluetooth headphones, and because the path was so challenging, I was distracted. Did I notice at least 10 things? I’ll try:

10 Things I Noticed

  1. running south into the sun, the slick path sparkled
  2. kids yellling at the playground. I think I heard one deep voice — was it a teacher?
  3. there was a very big puddle in the street at 42nd, right by the path. As cars drove through it, I could hear all the water splashing up onto the curb — glad I wasn’t running there!
  4. passed the same group of 3 walkers + 2 dogs in both directions on the narrow bridge
  5. the river was mostly open, with streaks of white ice
  6. a few people at the falls, near the bridge
  7. a man and a dog playing in the snow near the longfellow poem at the falls
  8. unable to avoid it, I ran straight through a deep puddle on my tiptoes
  9. glanced over at the house with the poetry in the window to check if there was a new poem. Too much snow to see the sign with the poem title
  10. the long dark tree branch of the mostly dead tree on the corner stretched across the path and the road. I wondered, as I ran under it, if it would fall on me

As part of my February challenge, I’m reading poems from Linda Pastan. Here’s the one for today:

Practicing/ Linda Pastan

My son is practicing the piano.
He is a man now, not the boy
whose lessons I once sat through,
whose reluctant practicing
I demanded–part of the obligation
I felt to the growth
and composition of a child.

Upstairs my grandchildren are sleeping,
though they complained earlier of the music
which rises like smoke up through the floorboards,
coloring the fabric of their dreams.
On the porch my husband watches the garden fade
into summer twilight, flower by flower;
it must be a little like listening to the fading

diminuendo notes of Mozart.
But here where the dining room table
has been pushed aside to make room
for this second- or third-hand upright,
my son is playing the kind of music
it took him all these years,
and sons of his own, to want to make.

I love the gentle way this poem unfolds, how it reminds me of my son and demanding he practice his clarinet, and its idea that practice accumulates and can take decades to lead to the things we want to do.

The practicing son in this poem reminds me of another poem I posted in the fall, Transubstantiation:

my six-year-old grandson, in the early
August rainy morning, piano-practices
“The Merry Widow Waltz.” Before
I was a widow, that song was
only a practice piece, a funny

feb 6/SWIM

2 miles
ywca pool

Met RJP at the pool again after she was done with her classes. Added in about 1000 yards of swimming with the pull buoy. I tried reciting the poem I memorized yesterday — Linda Pastan’s “Vertical” — while I swam, but it was difficult. I couldn’t sync up the lines with my breathing rhythms. I don’t think I was ever able to recite the whole thing, only the first bit: “Perhaps the purpose of leaves is to conceal the verticality of trees which we notice in December as if for the first time: row after row of dark forms yearning upwards.”

10 Things

  1. cloudy water, at least as much, maybe more?, crud than the last time I swam: floating hairballs, some strange stain on the wall tiles in my lane
  2. when I got in the pool, there was only one other swimmer. More people came, then left. At one point, most of the lanes were filled, but it was never too crowded
  3. I could see that a storm was moving in by how the pool floor kept getting darker then lighter as the thickening clouds moved past the sun
  4. heard a click underwater several times. Decided it was caused by the swimmer next to me — her knee of elbow clicking as she did the breaststroke
  5. watching my daughter swimming freestyle underwater — looking strong and serious. Once as I passed her, I kept my head below looking over at her until she looked back
  6. doing my starting ritual of pushing off and them swimming underwater until I reached the blue line and the end of the shallow water, I held my arms out straight in front of me, almost squeezing my ears. I felt like I could have stayed underwater until I reached the wall
  7. the muscle I felt most while I was swimming today was my calf, and especially as I kicked harder during my first lap. It wasn’t sore, and it didn’t hurt, I just felt it more
  8. following behind my daughter, trying to stay slow and never pass her, I started my flip turn then stayed at the wall, suspended underwater
  9. worked on my flip turn, trying to flip with my core, and not my arms
  10. every so often, when the sun came out from behind the clouds, I saw a circle of light on the pool floor

Yesterday I posted a poem from Linda Pastan that describes a sparrow as “brief as a haiku.” That made me think of the first poem in her final collection, Almost an Elegy:

Memory of a Bird/ Linda Pastan

Paul Klee, watercolor and pencil on paper

What is left is a beak,
a wing,
a sense of feathers,

the rest lost
in a pointillist blur of tiny

The bird has flown,
leaving behind
an absence.

This is the very
of flight—a bird

so swift
that only memory
can capture it.

All of this quick movement and the brevity of the bird in flight, also made me think of another poem by Pastan I discovered today:

The Birds/ Linda Pastan

are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them

as they swoop and gather—
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.

The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

Because of my interest in peripheral vision and what it means to see movement (as opposed to sharp, fixed details), I’m always trying to find poems that offer details and descriptions of movement. I love how much Pastan focuses on how the birds move — they swoop and gather, cast wing shadows, rustle like leaves. She doesn’t offer any descriptions of their color, size, or sound. She doesn’t even name them. I don’t miss those details. The description of their movement is enough.

I love all of this poem, but today, especially this:

They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

Their doubles, the mute weathervanes? Tailfeathers as teachers? So good!

feb 5/RUN

3.9 miles
river road, north/south
22 degrees / feels like 12
75% snow and ice-covered

Another good run. Not too cold, sunny. Near the beginning, I ran with my shadow. The road was slick in spots — that invisible ice that you can’t see, only feel. Greeted Mr. Morning! and a few runners. Noticed the river at the trestle. It was open in a few places just below. The open water wasn’t dark, but gray. Heard the drumming of a woodpecker, the screech of a blue jay, 2 quick caws on repeat from a crow, and countless chirp chirp chirps from some other birds. The path was slightly better, but still mostly uneven ice and snow. Maybe this week, as it climbs to the 30s, the rest of it will melt?

After I finished running, when I was walking home, I remembered that I had memorized the first sentence of Linda Pastan’s “Vertical.” I had intended to recite it in my head as I ran. I was too distracted by the path and forgot. Walking home, I whispered it into the cold air:

Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.

Last night I went to Moon Palace books and bought Linda Pastan’s last collection, Almost an Elegy. The rest of February will be dedicated to her and her words — reading them, memorizing them, being with them.

After the Snow/ Linda Pastan (from Insomnia)

I’m inside
a Japanese woodcut,

snow defining
every surface:

of tree limbs

like pages
of inked calligraphy,

one sparrow,
high on a branch,

brief as
a haiku.

in the Maryland woods, far

from Kyoto
I enter Kyoto.


bike: 20 minutes
run: 3.1 miles
outdoor temp: 0 degrees / feels like -13

Inside today. Some Dickinson while I biked, a podcast (You are Good) while I ran — well, for most of my run. The last few minutes I listened to a playlist. Audio books and playlists make the time pass much faster when I’m on the treadmill.

I’m ready for the bitter cold to be done. Much less inspiration inside. Did I notice anything other than the single lightbulb reflecting in the dark window?

A poet that I like, Linda Pastan, died a few days ago. The first poem of hers that I read was “Vertical.” I found it just as I was starting to fall in love with poetry and the way it helped me to notice and be in wonder of a place. I spent a lot of time with that poem, even writing a response in which I used its first sentence to wander and wonder about trees. Since 2017, I’ve gathered and posted several of her poems, including:

And here’s one more I just found:

At My Desk/ Linda Pastan

To William Stafford

How many times
I have sat this way
with the poem’s intractable silence
between me and the world,
with the tree outside the window
refusing translation:
my leaves are more than syllables
it seems to say.

I think of you
miles west
floating on the tide of language
so easily, giving only
a scissor kick now and then,
coming to shore
some unexpected
but hospitable place.

Still we share between us
a certain stubbornness,
rising each morning
to the blank page,
climbing the ladder of light
at the window all day,
listening, both of us,
as hard as we can.

added Feb 14, 2023: Rereading this poem, I remembered something Pastan had said about Stafford in her Paris Review interview:

Often when I sit at my desk unable to write, “blocked” as they put it, I open a Stafford book and start to read. He makes it sound so easy, almost conversational, that I find I have to answer him, and so I start to write. My first four or five lines may have a Stafford ring to them, but then my own voice kicks in and I am on my way. I loved and admired William Stafford both as a man and as a poet. I hate to use adjectives like wise or humble but they seem to fit him as comfortably, as unpretentiously, as an old sweater.