july 28/SWIM

4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
71 degrees

Yesterday, it was very windy and HOT — upper 90s with feels like temp of over 100 — so I decided to skip open swim last night. I’m glad I did. I think I would have been sore and tired, having battled the wind and the waves. Instead today was a great swim. Calm water and not too crowded. I felt strong and fast and confident.

Again, I couldn’t see the orange buoys, but it didn’t matter. I was fine. I’ve been writing for years about how I can’t see those buoys. Slowly, what it means to “not see the buoys” has changed. It used to be, I only see the buoys every few minutes, not all the time, or, I only see the flash of orange or a small orange dot. But today, on the way to the little beach, swimming into the sun, I only saw the buoys out of my peripheral as I swam by them, never when I was trying to sight with them. Looking straight ahead, using my central vision, I only saw glare and water, trees, and sky. This did not worry me at all. The only time I could see an orange buoy with my central vision, and again, just barely, was after I rounded the second green buoy as I swam back to the start of the loop. Mostly I could see the green buoys as the idea of green or a small green dot. One time, as I got closer (but I was still 50+ yards away), I knew I was heading toward the second green buoy but I couldn’t actually see it. I paused, lifted my head high out of the water, then turned to look out of my peripheral. There it was. When I looked through my central vision again, I could see it because now my brain knew where it was. That’s one way my brain compensates for bad cones.

On the back half of loops 3 and 4, I recited A Oswald’s “Evaporations,” A Sexton’s “A Nude Swim,” and T Hoagland’s “The Social Life of Water.” Fun! I like reciting these poems. I thought about Sexton’s line, we let our bodies lose all their loneliness and Hoaglund’s lines, all water is a part of other water and no water is lonely water. Also thought about Ed Bok Lee and his idea of water as wise, ebullient, and generous in “Water in Love.” I tried to love like the lake loves, open and generous to everything and everyone. I gave attention to feeling not lonely — connected, entangled, beholding and beholden by the fish or the lifeguards, the other swimmers, the buoys.

10+ Lake Companions

  1. the woman who, as she neared the safety boat by the lifeguard stand on the beach to drop off her stuff, called out, I forgot my cap in the car! Then later, when I asked, pointed out the far orange buoy to me
  2. the lifeguard on the shore, speaking into her walkie talkie, instructing the lifeguards where to place the buoys
  3. the swan boat, far off to my left
  4. the plane sharply ascending above me
  5. the small piece of debris that I accidentally swallowed then felt as it briefly got stuck in my throat
  6. the small piece of debris that somehow got trapped in my googles, then in my eye until I blinked it out
  7. the swimmers with bright pink buoys tethered to their torsos
  8. one of the few swimmers wearing a wet suit on this warm morning
  9. the breaststrokers
  10. the women giggling and calling out to each other as they approached the first orange buoy
  11. the woman discussing her swim with another swimmer after she was done, I’m slow, very very slow

All of us, together, loving the lake and each other.

Before my swim, I read a great interview between two writers discussing illness and the writing life, Sick and Writing: Two Poets Converse. Here are some passages from it that I’d like to remember and reflect on:

detection, diagnosis, disease

poetry is not so much a means of healing as it is a method of detection, occasionally therapeutic but essentially diagnostic. Which of course implies that poetry is rooted not only in dis-ease but in causes hidden.

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

to articulate what this singular life is like, in the thick of it

Not that we’re writing to solve the mystery of being; it’s more the need to see clearly. To look at the undersides of leaves, to watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. To be amazed. To look at the adventure of our infirmities, even. As Marianne Boruch said, it’s about detection.

*

I’ve wondered if I write them [emotions] to feel in control, to feel in connection with others who suffer, or simply to articulate what this singular life is like, in the thick of it.

Fleda Brown

on erasures

I like the idea of receptivity with regard to erasure. I have often used the metaphor of excavation to speak of that work, though I too balk at the idea that I am digging up something that already exists, something latent in the text. Rather, it is as if I am excavating the dead from a text that buried them—a kind of channeling.

JSS

trying to find the awe in awful

The word awful has awe in it, but when I feel awful it doesn’t feel like awe—maybe it should. Pain alienates us from one another, from ourselves, and from language. It disrupts connectivity. But through writing or other forms of making, we struggle against that disconnect.

jss

on taking walks in order to face the lion

 I sometimes need multiple walks a day; movement outside in the ordinary splendor of the world allows me to enter the tragic spaces of the past and the ongoing darkness in the world and in myself, without being swallowed by it. Jane Hirshfield talks about this in her wonderful essay “Facing the Lion,” inspired in part by Allen Ginsberg’s poem “The Lion for Real,” “The trick then is to let the lion into the house without abandoning one’s allegiance to the world of the living: to live amid the overpowering scent of its knowledge, yet not be dragged entirely into its realm.” Moving my body out in the world—outside the intimate spaces where I write—being in conversation with others—all of these help me hold the dark and light together. That this work demands so much discipline—even when I feel otherwise stable—speaks to the toll our work can take.

jss

the relief of a diagnosis

 Sometimes when I tell people my diagnoses they tell me they are sorry, and I understand they think the diagnoses are awful, and I get that, but I am so thankful for the diagnoses. It’s such a relief to know what’s wrong—even when nothing can be done to fix it.

Maybe knowing what’s wrong—the diagnosis—helps us—if not to fix what’s wrong, then to adjust our mind to new uncertainties—to let something go?

jss

Discovered that Fleda Brown has a wonderful blog, The Wobbly Bicycle. I’ll have to keep checking it out!

Here’s the poem-of-the-day from yesterday. If I had swam last night, I would have posted it then. It’s fitting for my swim this morning, thinking about my love for/of others in the water. Also, it’s a nice nod to the swimmer I heard after I exited the lake who said she was slow, very very slow.

Romance/ Susan Browne

I swim my laps today, slowly, slowly,
reaching my arms out & over, my fleshly oars,
the water silken on my skin, my body still able
to be a body & resting at the pool’s lip,
I watch other bodies slip through the blue,
how fast the young are
& how old they become, floating, floating,
forgetting the weight of years
while palm trees sway above us,
a little wind in the fronds, children playing
in the fountains, one is crying, one is eating
a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, I’m hungry
& wonder, has everything important happened
& what is more important than this,
like a secret adventure, like an affair I’m having
with everyone I see, their soft or washboard bellies,
their flat or rounded butts, their rippling hair
or shiny domes, their fragile ankles,
their beautiful bones, all our atoms swimming, swimming
& making us visible & I shove off the wall,
reaching my arms out, embracing the whole
magic show, with ten more laps to go.

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?

sept 27/RUN

5.5 miles
ford loop
48 degrees

Today, it feels like fall. Wore my running tights under my shorts.

My right knee is a bit sore. It didn’t hurt while I was running, just after, when I was walking. Now, as I write this, I’m icing it.

Windy. Hissing trees. Running across the ford bridge, the wind was blowing off of the river, making my ponytail and pink jacket flap furiously. The water had strange streaks on it — how was the wind making that happen?

Noticed some crows and lots of construction everywhere. They’re redoing all the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Heard some woodpeckers, drumming on trees. Heard a jackhammer across the river and thought about how it sounded like the woodpeckers. Greeted Mr. Walker and Mr. Morning! Overheard some women say something about listening to a podcast.

leaf watch, 2022

A few bright red trees, some yellow. Still well below peak.

Anything else? Heard the St. Thomas bells chime 10 times. Noticed my shadow above shadow falls. Enjoyed the sensation of running over the dirt — the shshsh sound and the soft slide of my feet as the lifted off the gritty ground.

Here are two poems I recently found on twitter, one about love, the other beauty:

I’ve Been Thinking about Love Again/ Vievee Francis

Those who live to have it and
those who live to give it.

Of course there are those for whom both are true,
but never in the same measure.

Those who have it to give are
like cardinals in the snow. So easy
and beautifully lit. Some
are rabbits. Hard to see
except for those who would prey upon them:
all that softness and quaking and blood.

Those who want it
cannot be satisfied. Eagle-eyed and such talons,
any furred thing will do. So easy
to rip out a heart when it is throbbing so hard.

I wander out into the winter.
I know what I am.

A page from Frank: Sonnets/ Diane Seuss

Sometimes I can’t feel it, what some call

beauty. I can see it, I swear, the conifers

and fat bees, ferns like church fans and then

the sea, its flatness as if pressed by stones

like witches were, the dark sand ridged

by tides, strewn with body parts, claws,

the stranded mesoglea of the moon jellyfish,

transparent blob, brainless, enlightened in its clarity.

I stand there, I walk the shore at low tide, the sky

fearless, not open to me, just open, there it is,

the wind, cold, surf’s boom drowning out

thought, I can photograph it, I can name it

beautiful, but feel it, I don’t know that I am

feeling it, when I drown in it, maybe then.

note: more info on mesoglea and the moon jellyfish

march 27/RUN

4 miles
marshall loop
16 degrees / feels like 6

Brrr. I wore almost all the layers today: 2 pairs of running tights, long-sleeved shirt, black 3/4s pullover, pink jacket, black vest, 2 pairs of gloves, winter cap, buff, 1 pair of socks. The only thing missing: hand warmers, mittens, and an extra pair of socks. Like most cold days, it looked (and sounded) warm. Bright sun and singing birds. Because of the cold, it wasn’t that crowded on the trails. I think I only saw 1 bike, some walkers. Was “morning-ed!” by Mr. Morning! and Santa Claus. Nice. Noticed several planes in the sky. With the clear blue and bright sun, they were white smudges, looking almost like the faint trace of the moon during the day. I saw them out of the corner of my eye, but they kept disappearing in my central vision.

the river!

The best thing I noticed today was the river. It was mostly open, but the banks were crusty again, and there were small chunks of ice everywhere. Slushy. Yesterday the wind was moving with the river, pulling it faster south. Today, the wind and water were at odds. The river was moving, but just barely, and away from the wind. Most of its movement was in the sparkling sun bouncing off the gentle ripples. Beautiful.

Saw my shadow off to the side, then in front. Heard my zipper pull clanging against my vest. I don’t remember smelling anything — no, that’s wrong. As I ran by Black Coffee, I smelled the fresh waffles.

a word to remember in the summer

petrichor (pe TRI cor): a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. Found on a twitter thread about favorite words rarely heard.

Love this poem, and the idea of creating a list or lists with “More Of This, Please” as the title!

MORE OF THIS, PLEASE / EMILY SERNAKER

In grad school I had a writing teacher who’d completely cream my essays.
Cross-outs and tracked changes. He took me at my word
when I said I wanted to get better. But when he liked something,
he’d point to what was working: More of this please.
Did I mention he was British? This is important because lately,
whenever something is really working, I tend to think to myself,
in a British accent: More of this, please. A lunch date turned dinner date
with a dreamboat who is slightly embarrassed his eyes water in cold weather.
Him looking like he’s tearing up at Shake Shack. More of this, please.
A toddler turning got me at the park holding her hair tie, asking me
to fix her ponytail. Her grandmother nodding to go right ahead, my hands
collecting wisps of yellow. More of this, please. Any time my family is honest
about mental health, what my grandparents were up against. This.
Cough-drop wrappers that say, Bet on Yourself. Pop-up concerts in the city.
Stevie Wonder playing Songs in the Key of Life at 10 AM on a Monday,
hundreds of people stopping mid commute in button-ups and blazers
belting out every word to “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” saying, “My boss
is just going to have to understand!” The subway tiles under Carnegie Hall
with names of performers who played there: Lena Horne, September 29,
1947. The Beatles, February 12, 1964. Dance classes with live drummers.
An editor saying, I’ll pass this on,” instead of, “I’ll pass on this.”
A stranger falling asleep on my shoulder for several stops. Staring at dates
in authors’ bios: Ruth Stone, 1915-2011. Larry Levis, 1946-1996.
Recommitting to living as much as I can. Realizing the dash between the year
you’re born and the year you die is smaller than your smaller fingernail.
It’s smaller than a strand of saffron in a bottle the size of a thimble
in the spice shop across the street.

This poem is in The Sun Magazine. I found all these wonderful quotations about water there: Sunbeams

jan 3/RUN

5 miles
franklin bridge turn around
16 degrees / feels like 9
100% snow-covered

Cold, but much warmer than the last time I ran. 21 degrees warmer. Was planning to wear my Yak trax, which make the soft, slippery snow much easier to run on, but one of them was broken — some of the rubber had ripped. Bummer. Technically, my Yak trax are only for walking, so maybe running is too much for them. Should I find some intended for running? Is it worth the investment? Probably.

Greeted Dave the Daily Walker. He wished me a happy new year. My dorky, overly formal, response: “happy new year to you too.”

It was a little more difficult than usual, running in soft snow. Less traction, more effort from the leg muscles. I was so focused on watching the path, and making sure I didn’t run over a mound of snow, or on ice, that I forgot to look at the river. Well, maybe I glanced at it, but I have no memory of what it looked like. Was it all covered with snow (probably)? Were there any splits in the ice (probably not)? It always amazes me when I forget to look at the river. It’s so big, it’s so there, just below me, how can I forget to look at it?

10 Things I Noticed

  1. 4 or 5 geese, flying in a loose formation, honking. Just above the lake street bridge
  2. Daddy Long Legs, walking, in a bright orange vest, with black pants
  3. Graffiti on a piling under the franklin bridge — just the outline of letters, no color. I wasn’t able to read the letters or the word they might have been spelling
  4. The closed gate with an orange sign attached to it, blocking off the entrance to the minneapolis rowing club
  5. voices below the lake street bridge
  6. a man standing in the middle of the walking path, talking to someone sitting on a bench overlooking the white sands beach
  7. the trail covered in loosely packed snow, except for a few narrow trails where feet or bike wheels or both had worn it down almost, but not quite, to bare asphalt
  8. passing a runner, both of us raising our hands in greeting
  9. no stones stacked on the ancient boulder
  10. breakfast smells from longfellow grill — no burnt toast this time, just a subtle, gentle, general/generic smell of savory breakfast

Love Letter/ Diane Seuss

But what can it be if love is a past
tense event? And what
was love then
according to my brain
and what
is love now and how do I direct it
like a beam with the power
to excise all that is not love? For a time
I believed getting and keeping
love required lace. Procuring lace
and arranging it
on my body in a certain way.
Isn’t that funny and/or strange?
I modulated my voice to the northern
region of its register. Reddened
my lips. This was love’s drapery
and music and face.
If you’ve read Madame Bovary, if you’ve read
gothic romance, you know
the denouement of that arc.
When I first read the word denouement
out loud my ex-husband laughed
at my mispronunciation.
I include it here as an illustration
of the fact that love does not conquer
all. Now when I think
of love it’s like focusing too hard
on the mechanisms of blinking or breathing.
You can be blinded or suffocated
by that degree of self-consciousness.
Like a love letter, love seems to me to exist
on a thin plane, a disintegrating page
covered in words scratched
onto the surface with purple disappearing ink
cooked up in a chemistry lab.
I’m sure I’ve written a love letter here
and there. Something gauche,
a performance designed toward
the specific outcome of eternity.
I read of a feral dog who could only be captured
by putting the soiled blankets of her puppies
in a live trap. This is my metaphor for a love letter.
I own a letter my father wrote my mother
when they were newly in love.
The stationery is smallish and decorated
with a garish deep red rose in aching
bloom. He spends most
of his language’s currency bemoaning
his bad spelling. No wonder
she found him charming. For my people
it is the flaw that counts, but not for all
people. Our narrative is an object
lesson in the fact that flawed people
deserve to be loved, at least for a while.
That’s the ephemeral part.
I’m much too sturdy now to invest
in the ephemeral. No, I do not own lace
curtains. It’s clear we die a hundred times
before we die. The selves
that were gauzy, soft, sweet, capable
of throwing themselves away
on love, died young. They sacrificed
themselves to the long haul.
Picture girls in white nighties jumping
off a cliff into the sea. I want to say
don’t mistake this for cynicism
but of course, it is cynicism.
Cynicism is a go-to I no longer have
the energy to resist. It’s like living
with a vampire. Finally, just get it
over with, bite me. I find it almost
offensive to use the word love
in relation to people I actually love.
The word has jumped off
so many cliffs into so many seas.
What can it now signify?
Shall I use the word affinity
like J.D. Salinger, not a good
man, put into the mouths
of his child genius characters? I have
an affinity for my parents. An affinity
for you. I will make sure you are fed
and clothed. I will listen to you
endlessly. I will protect your privacy
even if it means removing myself
from the equation. Do those sound
like wedding vows? Are they indiscriminate?
Well then, I am indiscriminate.
I am married to the world.
I have worked it all out in front of you.
Isn’t that a kind of nakedness?
You have called for a love letter.
This is a love letter.

Wow. Things I love about this: affinity instead of love, sturdy instead of ephemeral, “its like living/with a vampire. Finally, just get it/over with, bite me.”, being married to the world, flawed people as charming, and the final line and how the poem leads you to it.

oct 4/RUN

2.1 miles
2 trails
60 degrees

Feeling a little cooler and a lot brighter out by the gorge this late morning. Yellows, reds, and oranges. Heard some kids at the school playground, some women talking. Earlier, when I was walking Delia, I heard a white-haired man on a bike loudly tell his friend, “At the end of next summer, I’m going to Maine, and I’m staying until the leaves have finished falling.” Am I remembering that right? Not totally sure. Saw and heard some people from the parks department chain-sawing some trees in the grassy boulevard. Encountered a few squirrels, heard a honk from a goose. Counted to 4, chanted in triples (strawberry blueberry raspberry). Ended my run at the bottom of the 38th st steps and walked on the Winchell Trail to the Oak Savanna. So many crickets and crunching leaves. One other walker who dramatically moved off to the side to give me room to pass.

Found this poem just now. It doesn’t fit with October or any theme I might have for this month, but it’s a wonderful love poem, to add to my month of love poems from August:

The Patience of Ordinary Things/ Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

The lovely repetition of stairs! The generosity of a window! I love it.

august 31/RUN

7 miles
franklin loop + marshall loop
69 degrees

Thought about biking over to the lake and swimming this morning, but decided to run instead. I need to build up my distance for my 10 mile race in October. Last week I ran 7 miles too, but I stopped for a 5 minute break after 4 miles. Today I ran the entire distance without stopping. Many hills, including one that will be in the race. I ran the franklin loop then, when I reached the lake street bridge, I kept running up the hill on the east river road just above Shadow Falls. At the top, I crossed over to Cretin, which is a reverse of the way I normally run the Marshall loop. Reversing it, I realized that Cretin is all slightly uphill. Ugh.

Things I Remember:

  • Running through the welcoming oaks
  • Noticing that there are no stacked stones on the ancient boulder
  • Smelling the stinky sewer above the ravine
  • Wondering why the trail is closed right by the railroad trestle
  • Greeting Dave, the Daily Walker
  • Smelling the stinky trash, ripening in the heat
  • Slowing down, almost to a stop, to let an approaching runner pass me before we reached a narrow part of the trail
  • Noticing there were no rowers on the river
  • Admiring the wonderful view of the river from one of my favorite spots–on the east side, just above the marshall/lake bridge, right before the crosswalk
  • Wondering why there were so many signs and balloons near the crosswalk–was someone else killed here? Such a dangerous spot. I try to avoid crossing over it; too hard for speeding drivers to see pedestrians, even with the big bright yellow crosswalk sign
  • Listening to the rowdy crows caw-caw-cawing near the ravine–so loud, so many!
  • Working on revisions to a poem I wrote a few years ago. A line contrasting the solid immovability of land with the fluid flow of water popped into my head. Not quite there, but a start

A good, hard run. I’m hoping I have lots of great fall and winter running this year and that I’m able to build up to more miles.

The last day of August, the last day in a month of love poems. Very fitting to finish with the wonderful Katie Farris. A few years ago, my sister Anne asked me who my favorite poets are. I struggled to answer then, but now, having spent a lot more time reading and exploring poetry, I can offer some suggestions: Mary Oliver, Maggie Smith, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Alice Oswald, Lorine Niedecker, Emily Dickinson, Marie Howe, Richard Siken, Rita Dove, and Katie Farris.

Why Write Love Poetry in a Burning World/ Katie Farris

To train myself to find, in the midst of hell
what isn’t hell.

The body, bald, cancerous, but still
beautiful enough to
imagine living the body
washing the body
replacing a loose front
porch step the body chewing
what it takes to keep a body
going —

this scene has a tune
a language I can read
this scene has a door
I cannot close I stand
within its wedge
I stand within its shield

Why write love poetry in a burning world?
To train myself, in the midst of a buring world,
to offer poems of love in a burning world.

august 29/RUN

1.65 miles
neighborhood
80 degrees

Back from Austin. Even though it was warm and mid-afternoon, I decided to do a quick run through the neighborhood. Listened to a playlist and ran to and around cooper school, then by Minneahaha Academy, up Edmund and back home. I can’t remember if I say any other runners. Saw lots of cars on the river road and some walkers and bikers.

Encountered this excerpt from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Story. I had no idea the collection was about water-as-river/river-as-water. Wow! Very cool. I must read the entire collection now.

The First Water Is the Body/ Natalie Diaz

The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States— also, it is a part of my body.

I carry a river. It is who I am: ‘Aha Makav. This is not metaphor.

When a Mojave says, Inyech ‘Aha Makavch ithuum, we are saying our name. We are telling a story of our existence. The river runs through the middle of my body.

So far, I have said the word river in every stanza. I don’t want to waste water. I must preserve the river in my body.

In future stanzas, I will try to be more conservative.

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. 
The secret is in the relenting, 
the partnership. I let my body work
accepting the dangerous favor
from the king-size pool of waters. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 25/SWIM

.35 miles / 1 loop
cedar lake open swim
80 degrees

Most likely the final open swim of the season. One more is scheduled for Lake Nokomis tomorrow (Thursday) night, but it is supposed to thunderstorm in the late afternoon, so it will probably be canceled. Forced myself to only swim one loop, even though the water was calm and uncrowded and I would have loved to swim many more. My right side, my upper back and all down my forearm, is very sore and I don’t want to injure it. Even as I wish the season wasn’t ending, my body needs a break, I guess. What a great season. I exceeded my goal of 100 Sara miles and only missed a few open swims at either lake.

The beaches won’t be closed until (at least) after labor day–one year they kept the buoys up until October!–so I’m hoping to swim another week or two. Not sure if I’ll be able to swim indoors at all this winter. In a more perfect world, I would be able to walk a few blocks to an indoor pool. Oh well. More time for fall and winter running!

Unlike Lake Nokomis, which has a huge open parking lot that is directly off of the main beach, Cedar Lake has a small parking lot (that is always filled) and a gravel path with woods on one side, the lake on the other, that leads to a small beach. This difference makes cedar feel more like a lake up north, which I like. As we reached the edge of the gravel on our way out, I noticed a dead tree leaning up against a living one in the woods. I mentioned to STA that I had just read a beautiful poem about two trees like this. This is the poem:

Cello/ Dorianne Laux

When a dead tree falls in a forest
it often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, shearing away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down
as it moans and bends, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Grief, a burden but also a friend, a companion, is a form (expression?) of love.