Today is Christmas and the ground is covered with an icy snow. It is night time, and I will go to sleep soon.
Yesterday, I ran in the heavy rain at dawn and felt solemn. In the mid-morning, I drove to my folks’ house with the winter mountains grey and dour, foggy clouds caught in valleys as the rain kept falling. All the creeks were running high and muddy. All the animals – deer and squirrels, foxes down in dens – were surely all curled and huddled as close as they could be, trying to keep dry and warm, haunches trembling, eyes slow blinking as the water dripped constant and loud from the leaves.
My mother made little effort to hide her petulant mood, admitted that she was trying not to feel bitter.
We made gingerbread cookies and cheese wafers cut into the shapes of hearts. There was a comfort in the process of mixing and rolling and cutting, rotating hot pans in and out of the oven, the smell of molasses and cinnamon, butter baking. I would sleep the rest of the afternoon, and be able to feel good about resting, having gone out to say Merry Christmas to my mom.
The rain finally turned to snow in the early evening, swirls in strong wind lit by street lights, pooled water freezing in the gutters.
This morning, I ran in the snow before the sun rose and watched my tracks form a braided perfect path around the track. It was 18 degrees. I took pictures of the marks made by my footfalls, the tapering made by a slightly dragging heel, a bird-like pronation in the even-space prints made by my feet.
“This is what practice looks like,” I thought, pausing to take a picture of the path stitched in the smooth snow after I’d run a mile.
I do not listen to anything or watch anything when I run at the track or walk through downtown at sunrise. I only move and breathe and look around.
It is the best part of my day, even on days when it is exceptionally rainy and cold. Sometimes even especially on days when it is exceptionally rainy and cold.
I appreciate the direct sensory experience of extreme weather – the biting sweetness of cold and push of wind helps me to remember that I am a creature and reminds me to consider the people who live outside, and the animals in their nests and in their dens, huddled and waiting for storms to pass, accepting freezing rain for what it is.
There were fox tracks crossing the path from the break in the fence behind the utility shed at the edge of the field.
All of this feels very theoretical as I make this effort to describe my daily practice of running in the pre-dawn dark regardless of the weather. I have run in the still-spinning remnants of every hurricane that moved through these mountains this year. Yesterday and today, a timespan that held what was undoubtedly some of the worst winter weather we’ve had in several years, I met and exceeded my daily 10-mile practice benchmark.
There is something very much like poetry in the way I feel and the quality of my not-quite-thoughts when I am out alone moving as the day breaks.
This afternoon, an hour before sunrise, I packed my backpack with 9 cans of cat food grade tuna fish, three old biscuits, and an expired jar of sunflower seeds. I put on a second pair of socks and a second hat, a merino wool base layer, two scarves. Gloves and liners. I walked down to where the stray cats live by the small creek that feeds into the river and left tuna in the snow under the tree where I had seen them eat. I left a biscuit broke into pieces for the raccoons. I saw a swollen-bellied black cat hiding under a car by a bank of dead kudzu snarls encrusted with snow and ice, upended a can of tuna onto the frozen ground at the edge of the wild, tangled slope down to the railroad tracks. Walked up the gravel road to near under the bridge, left more tuna for the cats who are hiding. On the way back toward the house, we saw fox footprints cutting up through small paths. I left canned fish dumped in the snow near their tracks.
Limbic synapses fire
Under holy skies
Toothless mouth, toothless
words with no bite, no cutting
pablum dribbles out
Slow, vapid, lagging
pulse is missing around here
mind glutted with junk
Email inbox trash
landfill of commerce and work
Buy this – do this…now!
Constant Black Friday
Can I unsubscribe from all
Nagging me to spend
Don’t these places know
I hate capitalism
I don’t want any
Look, the mall is here
dying slowly, fast enough
Walkers plod along, numb
My poetry is dying
mind dull and lifeless today
lilting and lurching
[reckoning w/ scarcity]
If I were a character in a myth, I’d be a woman with long braids who made herself wake each morning before dawn to circumambulate on a track atop a hill, going around and around in the effort to make her mind clear and to somehow keep in motion some movement toward the future.
There is something in her like a black hole, a sucking whirlpool –
(a vortex of bad metaphors! )
– that she feels right at the edge of her life some days, a field of inspecific orbiting dread.
It is inside of her and outside of her.
[She is probably just hungry.]
I won’t name the era
small sliver of June
knotweed in bloom
by the river that swirled brown
sometimes a blue mirror,
showing shades of grey
that have nothing to do with black and white
simple haze of water gathered
small spheres we cannot see
Holding us in convex arc
Two days past the day
back in May
when they killed George Floyd in the street
for the whole world to see
the feet of millions stomping back
current of outrage rising to flood
again, and again, and again
into the sequence of news
(How many have died since then? How many names have we already forgotten?)
(Why can I not forgive myself for not doing enough?)
(Am I a fool for even trying?)
This era of my walking
for three laps, less than an hour –
fog gathered, Day of Mourning,
two seasons held
bright white, black text
the names of my mother’s pathology
jumbled with the grief of the world
a causeway of flesh and blood and bone
sweat of stories held back by masks
the details of us merging in singular voice
How long has it been,
since I said anything here?
At least a few minutes…
Three years ago, I ran in the dark of the early morning on the streets that were paved over that woods I grew up and I tried (very hard) to focus (not quite my mind) on raising the spirits of the land, which are the spirits of the people (Utina) and the spirit of the animals (panther and possum and boar and Luna moth and ringneck) and the spirit of the trees (oak and hickory, bay and gall, and pine – my God, planted in rows by the remnants of the barbed wire fence, planted to rise to the sky and be felled for paper, lumber, whatever…)
I feel in my lungs, not quite my lungs, my heart not quite my heart, some interstitial passageway between my cells, the water of me in small vibrations, tremors that make my small hairs stand, small wind that finds the pine, the oak, as I walk around the track (orbiting body, moving clockwise) and look at the branches all beloved all beloved and feel a sense of weeping rise, a need to fall to my knees for the beauty of these simple trees in the early morning…
She moves in and out of feeling safe. This is something she has known about herself for a long time. It makes sense to her that she would easily shift into a flat guarded numbness. Her earliest immersive experiences of humans outside of her family – the preschool play yard, the elementary classroom – had taught her that people were confusing and unpredictable and that, furthermore, they would laugh at her if she opened her mouth to say anything much more than hello, looking at her strangely as the r sounds slurred and tumbled, soft and without growling. She was a peculiar child that did not know that she was peculiar, and this led to her being the subject of many baffling cruelties over matters ranging from the voracious chomping of her celery sticks at the school cafeteria lunch table, to her insistence that she carry her bear to school well into the third grade, to her polite excusing herself when she passed gas.
“Excuse me. I passed gas.”
This is what her great-grandmother had told her to say if she passed gas, and yet when she said it, the kids in the desks around her just about rolled into the aisle laughing. She had no idea why. It was confusing to her. Hadn’t she said the right thing, the polite thing?
She learned not to talk about things she liked, and especially not to talk about things that she loved.
Cradling the translucent husk of a cicada’s exoskeleton as if it were a fragile treasure at the edge of the recess yard there was a sudden crowding around her, the sour musk smell of children after lunch on a warm day, a damp forearm crowding against her in the jostle of inquiring voices, “what you got? What is it?” And then a grabbing of her hand, small perfect shell of insect falling weightless to the ground like nothing.
In the morning, she considers the way that the sky always looks like a bowl above the ledge of flat land that the track is set on.
There is a curvature to the dark; The stars seem to hang at angles from one another and the night itself seems convex.
Through the winter trees, she is able to see the bridges lit and largely empty spanning the river. Cars are only occasional. She wonders where people are going with Orion still so visible. It is always quiet at the track even if she can hear the sirens drifting through the spaces between the streets moving toward the hospital.
It’s the last day of fall and the sun has gone down. I ended the day by sweeping the floor and putting on a Dirty Three record from the late 1990s, trying to move the air in the house around. I haven’t written in days, other than proposals for work. Emergency Solutions Grant, Phase 2. Street Outreach.
I drafted a conflict resolution process for a fledgling nonprofit that nobody will read and posted replies to a couple threads on a forum that I joined. The forum is hosted by a musician that I used to listen to, but that I don’t listen to much anymore.
Tomorrow is the winter solstice, and the shortest day of the year, which means that the days will already be getting longer again.
winter solstice dusk
slow pulse of lengthening days
She opens a new email, no addressee and no subject. Walking around the track, she tries to hold the phone at chest level because the back of her neck hurts from looking down so much these days. When she remembers to, she told s her chin toward the sky and tries to type without looking, <~ it amaZes her, when she looks down, that there are as few errors as there are. She would expect more.
Even cold, her fingers know where to go, where to land their littletapping pulses to make letters. She can see the QWERTY keys on the screen in her mind. This is something she has learned.
The sun will rise in 28 minutes; when it does, she will be at the house, passing by the hot air exhalation of the pellet stove in the entryway room, glass black with smoke, the burnpot meek and hunkering, stubbornly combusting the pelletized pine that falls into the fire.
It is an old stove.
Now, however, she is walking around the track as the sky slow lightens and fog settles on the river down the hillside, frost feathering on fallen leaves and cold-dried grasses.
It is the first day of winter. The shortest day of the year.
There is a quiet as she looks around, still moving.
She doesn’t have to watch where she is going here on the track.
For the past several days, she has been reflecting on the events of the year – as many people do during the in-between days of one calendar drawing to a close and the new year not yet starting its slow movement toward spring. The year has gone by fast, but she has a poor sense of temporal orientation. Small amounts of time can seem very long to her and months can pass by quickly.
The family of crows that lives in the neighborhood are fussing about something. Yesterday, a hawk was sitting in the tall oaks in the yard two doors down. It wasn’t quite full light, but she could see that it was a hawk by the shape of it on an uppermost branch, and by the way the crows flew toward the tree sounding their single caw alarm cries, bring more crows to hassle the hawk.
She writes as she runs. Rarely do words make it to the page, but the telling of experience rises and circulates as she moves around the track in the dark. Circumambulating. This going around in circles? It is a theme. She laughs a little internally, silently pleased at how she is able to make fun of herself, the ways she has become humble.
The sun rise is making fleshy raw pink in the eastern sky. Not delicate at all. Light like torn flesh or blood in water.
She reminds herself that only the things that get to the page exist outside of her. Nobody knows what she is thinking, save for maybe the theoretical wisdom of wind and small birds. When she realizes this, that she has said so little of what she would like to say, she is overwhelmed, a feeling of wanting to fall down like the man she talked to on the phone last week. “I just started thinking all of these negative thoughts and I got so miserable I just laid down o
“You vocalize everything,” my 16 year old daughter says, annoyed in the passenger seat beside me after I sighed and declared that I was tired. “You don’t have to say everything you think.”
She continues, “Nobody cares if you’re tired. Stop complaining.”
My daughter is a wonderful young person.
This is the way of writing for her. She begins somewhere and wanders, sometimes going in circles.
Three years ago, she was on the verge of finally putting together a writing project that would help her to find mentors or at the very least someone who would tell her – honestly – that she needs to give up. She traveled back to her first home by the river and slept in the abandoned house that she grew up in, watching the lizards crawl in and out of the walls and listening to the raccoons thump and shuffle across the roof. The house would be torn down within six months, after the final sale of the land that raised her.
There was something different about that time of declaring that – finally – she would put together her book.
Perhaps it was the sprig of cedar that he had walked over at the edge of the dock, tied carefully to the outside of the parcel that she buried in the sandy soil on the spit of land where the river split into three branches. Maybe that was what brought him so devotedly and consumingly into her life.
Maybe it was her own psychology of barriers and sabotage that manifested a perfect lover to take all her time and energy in those fragile few months of beginning?
Maybe it was some trickster force that undermines a certain willing light to come into the world, tangles the feet of the determined?
Maybe it was just love, oxytocin and old attachments and a sense of storied romance?
Whatever the case, she did not write a book.
It is Christmas Eve and dull cold, drizzly. There is something pouting in her. “This should be snow.” She should be merry, and there ought to be an excited warmth here at the edge of dawn on Christmas Day. The rain is blown by a wind from indeterminate direction, sometimes seeming from the east and sometimes from the north. She pictures it swirling like hurricanes do, like an eddy in the river. It pushes at her back when she is on the south straightaway of the track and blows against her face as she completes the clockwise orbit, backwards here – against the directions of the lanes.
In her mind, she rehearses what she might say. Amicable. Respectful. Apologetic, but not tearful.
It’s the end of a day that began with the setting of the last full moon of the year, a big orange sphere low in the west like a setting sun.
Yesterday, I ran 10 miles without really trying, and this morning I considered stopping at 6.5 miles – which is my usual morning run distance.
I had more running in me, and so I sprinted to the bridge to try to see the full moon set, and only caught a half-globe on the horizon behind the shopping center across the river.
The morning has been an amazing time lately, full of gifts and wonders. It is easy to wake up early, because I don’t want to miss the dawn. I am excited to walk out into the dark and begin running, not knowing how the morning will end up feeling.
I used to wake up with horrible anxiety and perseverative thoughts about things I didn’t want to think about. I still do some mornings, but running for at least an hour every morning before the sun comes up has somewhat transformed my early-day chemistry.
Also, I’m sure that getting back on medication after ten years of not being on medication is a major factor in the phenomenon of me feeling better.
I have been doing an inventory of the year, as many people probably are. I have walked and run well over 3,000 miles this year and maintained a daily practice of at least 10 miles of movement the vast majority of days. I quit smoking, again and at last and for good.
I successfully wrote about 500,000.00 worth of grants to fund non-profit recovery organizations. I began to learn to listen to my gut about what I needed to spend time doing.
I showed up for my mom during her months of cancer treatment and took a nap with her in the little hospital bed after she had her surgery.
I ran circles around the track and pictured white-blue light suffusing my mom’s epithelial cells, light burrowing into the tumors.
I fell in love with my daughter again and helped her to get her first job. I made myself a room.
I talked with my son about college applications and stayed out of his way when he said he wanted to handle his own applications. So far, he has been accepted at every school he applied too.
I stopped eating animal products and realized that I am not able to digest some sugars.
Right now, I am walking around the track after running 6 miles. I can move faster than I have ever been able to move before without even trying much or thinking about it at all. After five years of practice, my body has begun to learn how to run again, how to pick my legs up and move from my hips, how to breathe and keep my chest open, how to forget that I am moving and simply move.
When I go out in the morning, sometimes as early as 5:00am, regardless of the weather, I realize that I am an eccentric person – running in the rain for the sake of feeling hurricane winds and tasting the water lifted from the ocean hundreds of miles away. The day after Christmas it was 10 degrees and felt like 1. I wasn’t cold at all, despite only wearing my usual layers. For the last mile of the walk, I took off my gloves and breathed deep to keep my fingers warm. When I got home, I found my friend sitting in front of the fire, just waking up. “See,” I extended my hand, “not cold at all.”
I don’t listen to music or podcasts or anything at all. I keep my phone in my pocket, carrying it only because I don’t have a running watch and I like to track my miles. At this point, I can tell how far I’ve gone by the feel of my legs. I know that at three miles, I will naturally increase my pace. At five miles, I will forget that I am running at all.
It’s the full moon and I didn’t sleep well last night. It wasn’t a fitful or frustrated lack of sleep. I was just wakeful. I still share a bed with my friend and he holds onto me through the night, pressing his warm body against mine, scooting closer until I have only the edge of the bed to lay on.
When my children were little, they would do the same thing.
It’s a very human thing to do, a very animal thing to do – to seek a warm body to hold onto in the night.
My friend and I are approaching our three year anniversary. It is, in fact, tomorrow. New Year’s Eve. Incidentally, that is also the three year anniversary of the last night that I ever spent in the house I grew up in. The house my father built. The house that no longer exists.
Before the relationship with my friend, I had been celibate for five years. I think a lot about how much I am drawn to a lifestyle in which I devote myself to spirit and work, how much celibacy and quiet contemplation feels congruent with my values. How right that feels to me.
I have spent the past 18 years raising my children and working in the nonprofit world with people who are suffering and struggling in ways that most everyday middle class white Americans probably can’t comprehend. I’ve never earned more than $19.00/hour.
At the end of the day, I mostly want to be alone.
The kid moved toward her across the parking lot, and she recognized his eyes and stature despite the mask covering the lower half of his face. He raised his hand and asked how she had been doing. She told him that she didn’t remember his name.
Her name, he showed her, had just been tattooed across the back of his left hand, with a blocky cross as a center piece and the letters curling like somebody’s girlfriend’s name.
She understood, as he continued to stand there, that he was going to ask her for something. That he wanted something from her. “I’m trying to get a ride to pick up my guitar.” She knew she couldn’t give him a ride. Positive tests were on the rise, doubling and then tripling. Thousands of people a day are dying.
She remembered him and his girlfriend riding around with a kitten they’d adopted. He came to groups at the center to fulfill program requirements, go to 1/2 a group, get the paper signed.
He was a nice enough kid, interesting. His own sort of style. Into parkour and art. Played guitar with an edge of charming narcissism that made the missed notes not seem matter.
She saw herself talking to him, woman in the parking lot. Car and groceries. Mask. Saw herself saying, “I don’t know…” and feeling the fawning as he pressed just a little. “It’s not far.”
“I can give you gas money.”
She was immediately aware of how small the interior of the car was, how his arm was close, his mask bunched and a little dirty, one of the reusables from the big grocery store out on Tunnel, lined up by the end caps of the aisles.
It is the first calendar day of a new year. I woke up and rain 6 miles in the rain, being sure to hold my hands palm up in front of me for small stretches to feel the washing of the rainfall and imagine that – somehow – it was cleansing me, blessing me. It is the first day of a new year, and I couldn’t see the waning moon because of the clouds, but stopped to take 10 seconds of video of the flashing fluorescents in the empty 6th grade classroom as I walked by the school, briefly appreciated the seeming pulse of the building, the patterns that show up in movement and light.
I intended to write yesterday. Probably a lot of people intended to write yesterday. It was one of those days, the end of a long, strange year. The last day is an obvious opportunity for reflection and commemoration.
She purchased a pork loin and 12 ounces of applewood smoked bacon. Smoked trout. Brussels sprouts. Almonds covered in dark chocolate. A small bag of pecans. That morning, she had cried by the fire as she looked at her friend. Real tears, a substance thicker than just salt and water. Dull clenching and unclenching in her actual, physical heart – somewhere around the crossing of the left and right ventricles. “It hurts,” she said, a small whining lift in the statement. “I don’t know what else to do.” Tears, hot and viscous, mixed with mucus from her sad running nose, and she realized that she would not be able to write in the morning. That she had spent her writing time talking with her friend and crying about the necessity of ending their relationship.
It’s the second day of the new year and she is certain that she made the right decision. Her intuition had been nagging her, strongly every morning and through the day, telling her that something was not right, something was not working. She noticed the way her jaw would set at the sound of her friend’s voice.
It’s not that she didn’t like her friend, love her friend. It was more a matter of simply wanting to be left alone, to be alone. To have long stretches of time during which she was not beholden to orient her attention to a person external to her, to listen to what they are saying, to smile and nod, to laugh. She is a person who needs enormous amounts of time alone, and she thought she’d been clear about that when she agreed to enter into partnership with her friend. She knows she told him clearly at least a hundred times. Sometimes she yelled at him, frustrated and tearful. “Please,” she would say, “I just want to be left alone. I just want to be alone.”
She came to believe that he was not really her friend because he seemed to disregard her need to be alone.
It is the third day of the new year, a Sunday, and the fog obscures the lights down in the river arts district, but somehow amplifies the sound of traffic going over the bridges coming into town, an anonymous rush and sigh to the west. Water falls from thin branches, arrhythmic and sparse.
She put on new shoes this morning, figuring she must have run 500 miles in her old ones, and noticing they felt flat and hard when her feet hit the ground. She had found a clearance deal in the fall – $40 a pair for good running shoes. She bought 3 pairs, figuring that some single pairs of shoes cost 130.00, which she could never afford. Her feet slap the ground, awkwardly loud in the near-silence of early morning.
She breathes as she runs, starting off too fast, slowing down and breathing through her nose. Transcendental meditation calls for a person to say a phrase again and again, a mantra. She considers this as she runs, thinking about the email she needs to write, the request for her help writing a grant with just two days notice, the way she’d felt anxious about saying no, not right about saying yes. She had been avoiding being in touch with the people who’d asked for her help, because she did not want to say no and she did not want to say yes.
There is an anxiety, a tightening in her sense of attention that she doesn’t like. (Even writing about it now, she feels anxious – and that is good information for her to have. At least several times a week she quietly considers the possibility that she could go on a sabbatical from working in nonprofit human services. She could get a job at the grocery store down the street – independently owned and operated, specializing in re-sale lots of an ever-changing assortment of near-expiration health foods. She goes there almost everyday anyway. It’s only a 1/2 mile away, her neighborhood store.
She has almost entirely stopped going to ‘the big store,’ a regional chain supermarket that has too much of everything and is too bright and loud for her to navigate with any sort of ease. Two days prior, on the first day of the year, she had met her mother and father at one of the remaining unimproved small stores in the big chain’s list of locations, out on the highway alternate heading toward the east end of the county. She had forgotten to both get and to soak black eyed peas for the new year, and so she was meeting her parents in the parking lot halfway between her house and their house to pick up peas her mother had soaked. A water-filled Tupperware and a small plastic bag of collard leaves from her mother’s garden. They had died and then grown-back, as some things do.
Her mother was waiting for her in the car when she got there, sitting in the backseat like a kid. “I got out of the car and then I got cold,” she explained, putting her raincoat on over her other jacket to go into the store. Inside, they looked for her father, but didn’t see him anywhere. Not in the produce section, or among the old-fashioned energy-wasting open cooler bins that run down the center of the store. “We’ll find him,” her mother said, as if losing her father in a relatively small grocery store were a regular occurrence.
In the cereal aisle, they spotted him moving in the direction against the flow indicated by the arrows on the floor, looking stunned and even weaving a little. He was the wearing purplish reading glasses that he’d gotten after his recent Lasix surgery that corrected his vision to the extent that he no longer needed glasses. He had worn glasses for so long that he immediately took to wearing a low prescription pair of readers that he got at the drugstore. “Are those purple,” she had asked, carefully and casually as he cleaned them on a recent day before driving her and her daughter back into town. “No,” he glanced briefly at the glasses before putting them on. “They are brown.”
It was in the cereal aisle that they found her father, staggering a little, seeming bewildered, list crumpled in his hand. “I couldn’t find anything, but I got bananas and pears, and then I went to find ____, and she wasn’t in the car and so I came back.” The list was assembled less as a list and more an erratic constellation of items penned in her mother’s scrawled hand. Her mother had made her lists like this for years, on yellow legal paper with tomatoes and kitty litter and ketchup written at angles, defying all of the lines and columns pre-printed on the page. Some unimportant items appeared to be written in bold. Paper towels. The letters gone over and over again, probably while her mother was on the phone with one of her sisters.
Anyway, when she thinks about the fact that there is a world in which people aren’t constantly obsessing about getting grant funds for nonprofit human services work, not constantly considering homelessness and suicide, the delicate relationships with ‘community partners,’ the politics of doing good work, the allowable activities and funding restrictions and…any of it…there is a world where people are talking about art and ideas, and savoring the sound and feel of poetry and – my God – they are laughing…and she wants that. She wants to be in that world.
She wants to take a sabbatical from the work she has done for 25 years.
Note: She wants to remember the question of why someone else’s need to talk about themselves and their ideas would supersede her need to sit quietly and think, to allow her thoughts to focus, to consider her own ideas.
Note re: need to research external processing and internal processing, possible intersection with socialized gender roles.
I decided to draw again, and in the absence of inspiration, opted to sharpen my technical skill and practice by drawing whatever was on the page of a book of clipart that I have had since 1999. Axes and hammers. Breaking and building.