An easy morning, walking Leonard to the park and back, and then a slow run along the trail. It’s still cold, but the air is still and the sun reflected twice on the lake so I could imagine for a moment I was on another planet circling three stars.

Birds were still fighting. Mid-air brawls between ducks. Or loud mating, I suppose. I guess it’s time to keep an eye out for the first of the ducklings. Last year the hens kept them well-hidden.

There’s an angry finch outside my window now. A chattering non-stop like someone shaking a maraca with a manic rhythm til you want to slug him. How do birds breathe when they do that? I imagine the little guy gasping for breath now. Then flying off before anyone calls his bluff.

A colleague tells me I can’t trim the hedges yet. (As though I were itching to do garden work). The migratory birds are still nesting.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m going to have E. make some paleo hot chocolate and take me to the beach after work. I’m hoping the oystercatchers are back. The curlews. I’m hoping the wind is still but the sea is wild, white, and loud.

It’s been several weeks since we went to the beach. And then I was busy writing poems on stones, and thinking too much.

My new personal goal is to separate my day job from my personal work, and fold that work into the quiet, like shuffling a deck of cards.

Isn’t this the image people have in their heads of what poets do? Take things easily? Move through the world aware and in the moment, and then effortlessly shape the impressions into a written missive to convey the human experience? A recognizable experience. An idealized experience?

I don’t know. Does the general reader seek the familiar? Even Sexton and Path’s pain is idealized too often. I realize I could be wrong: my teenage preconceptions of what it is to be a writer are still lodged somewhere beneath my solar plexus, gnawing at me sometimes. I’m not living up to my own fantasy. Being the poet people say puts words to their own feelings for them. The successful poets with thousands of followers on Instagram, who self-publish and make enough money to retire at 30.

But the truth is I don’t want to do that. Not that I could either.

When I was 16 I sent some submissions to Hallmark Greeting Cards and was ignored. They were inauthentic. I was trying to “write pretty”. I am too intense for the general public. Too angular for comfort. I once told a colleague that I had a nice relationship with my step-daughter, and they asked me if she got my sense of humor. Apparently, I am an acquired taste.

This is real human experience, too, though. Even the being an acquired taste part.

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would sit on the beach in wool socks and gloves. Who would walk through the sumps on purpose for no other reason than the inhale the smells of mud and broken branches of heather. Sheep shit.

I never aspired to be a poet who wrote about sheep shit.

Every year I try to explain to my students the differences between Romanticism, Bucolics, and Kitsch. Most of them don’t care. Maybe I do it to remind myself. I may be coming back to that separation of day job and personal work again.

I can feel my shoulders release now. I can let in the space of the ocean air – even here in my little room, fingers on the keys. Imagination is a wonderful thing when used right. Imagination stopped in its tracks just before it hardens everything into the familiar.

I am easing into a new ars poetica. That’s kind of exciting.

It will probably be an acquired taste.

During the second
war – so many wars – they ate
bread made from seaweed
Their hands and feet rotted
from the winter harvesting

Maybe anything shaped within the lines of poem becomes idealized, in the same way anything shown on television does? Anything framed in a gallery?

Just brainstorming here…

I overslept this morning – heavy with dreams of puppies and disappointing dance performances. I’m off to a sluggish start on a day where everything has landed in my inbox at once. Deadlines for reviews, mentoring feedback, sewing on the new books that need to be done in time for a yoga challenge giveaway on Instagram.

If this sounds like complaining, I apologize. I am rather liking my life these days.

Despite the fact that there are taxes and accounting to do. It will be a few years before my bookmaking turns any kind of profit. Even pays for just a celebratory bottle of wine. There’ve been some surprising expenses: it turns out, for example, it is cheaper to purchase a new printer each time my toner runs out than it is to purchase just the toner cartridges. (And that is not ethical consumerist behavior.) Now I get why my publisher shot down my ideas for integrated artwork in my poetry books.

It’s a good thing I trust my day job will return to normal next term. It pays my bills, and there really are moments – if not days – when I loved it. We’re all Covid damaged. Maybe the young teens especially, who normally spend a good deal of the first year playing king of the hill like young goats, sorting out the pecking order so they can settle down and move forward. Hard to perform that sort of social ritual via Zoom.

I have enormous respect for teachers who have that age group normally. It’s absolutely not my forte. And that is putting it mildly. It is nearly literally driving me crazy dealing with these little rites.

And now that was definitely complaining.

The sun is out. And I think a long hike this weekend will do me a world of good. It will be 8 Celsius at the weekend, but that is a good temperature if we can keep up a brisk pace. The willow trees are all budding. In Norwegian, the fuzzy-looking knobs are called baby geese, or cat paws. It is that time of year – when everything sharp seems to soften a little.

Maybe that’s why I am dreaming of puppies? Puppies who were the same breed as the old lady I had to put down two years ago. She was 18 and would not give up despite all the pain. She was all bones in the end. Everything soft had left her.

I am sure there is some leap there from my subconscious, a connection I can’t quite tease out intellectually. In the dream I was critical of a dance performance I’d had high hopes for.

Yeah. No. That’s all pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Sad when even my dreams are cliches.

Lately I have really been embracing the idea of the “myth of originality”. I am not sure who coined the phrase. Or if it was coined back at the advent of post modernism and is resurfacing? If I allow myself to worry about originality – or comparing my work to what other people have “said already – and better” I would … well. What would be the point of doing anything in the world? I am not even original in terms of my own posts here. I am very certain I have circled around this topic more than once. More than once I’ve written about how a college art professor ran me out of the program when he told the class my wire sculpture was derivative of a Picasso sculpture I’d never seen. And my remark about not being familiar with it, was just fuel for his fire that I was too ignorant to be in the class if I didn’t know the work.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But really isn’t the point of art to iterate the human experience? No one has the ability to speak for everyone.

And I think about how those paintings worth millions of dollars drop in value when they find out it wasn’t painted by a famous artists, but by one of his students. Same painting. What exactly are we valuing? What are we buying into – literally?

I think this is connected to my dream. The dance performance. Now that I think about it – it was a memory not imagination. A famous dance troupe who wobbled and tottered and looked nothing like the soaring, still photographs in the advertisements.

See. Not even my dreams are original.

I am just not in the groove today. I am the Pixar Up! pup: “Squirrel!”

what if every bud
on the rosebush tried to be
original? not last year’s
promise of this year’s joy?

E. says often lately that “beginning again” is everything now that we are getting older. We are guaranteed to have trip-ups that will keep us off the trail and make it difficult to lace up the shoes and get out there. The key now isn’t to aim for improvement, it is to aim for continuation, to get up again. To keep getting up again.

The last two days have begun with beautiful sunrises, while the weather is clear and cold. The fire-bright bleed before the sun actually rises. The still water that mirrors the sky. All this makes it easier. I lift my chest and drop my spine into the center of my back, shoulders relaxed. I let go of thoughts about work, or about books, and I notice the birds. The mourning dove this morning flying unusually low to the ground, perching on a low branch in the same tree where the small squirrel lives now. Three grackles were tussling mid-flight.

The strangest thing was that we passed a group of people, 7 maybe, walking in a tight cluster. It’s unusual for people to be out so early, but it has been a year since so many people have walked to closely together. It’s a sign that the county has finally stepped up the vaccinations. It’s odd that I feel almost an apprehension about things returning to the way they were. I am ready, and I’m not. I think it’s because I feel that I’ve failed at this Covid society so far. I need to figure it out before I have to move on. I feel like I’ve missed something important. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something. A lesson? An accomplishment? An epiphany?

Maybe I am thinking that if I haven’t found the time to calm down and do things like read for fun, go for long walks more often – when will I when things speed up again? I am not ready for things to speed up. Am I alone with this feeling? Stop, stop, stop until I get my head wrapped around all of this.

Of course I’m not alone. Again, I think we can hear something over and over and think we understand it, until we experience it. “Get off this rollercoaster” is so general it can be applied over and over in our lives, and mean entirely different things: Oh! NOW I get it for real. Oh, no, I didn’t really get it! But NOW!

But what is the name of that ride where you stand, back to the wall, while everything spins and plasters you to the edges while it tips sideways? The Graviton Theatre. How could I forget?

That. Who knew the designers of carnival rides were poets working with physical metaphors for our lives to come?

When I was about 6 my mother was trying to sweeten the pot when leaving me with new babysitters: They’re making tacos for dinner. But the couple was from Mexico and their “tacos” were something I’d never seen before. Creamy, greenish, bland chicken, soft tortilla shells. No cheddar. No jalapenos. What?! I remember thinking it tasted very “grown-up”. There is little worse (to this day) than anticipating a dish then being presented with some twisted version of what you know and have been salivating at the thought of.

I have no idea why that popped into my head. I suppose we learn that words aren’t always a reliable indicator of a shared reality. I suppose it has something to do with the five aggregates, staying in the moment, and not clinging to expectations.

And I think the five aggregates have everything to do with poetry.

A good poem (in my opinion) works through all of them: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and discernment. Maybe poetry is nothing more than the attempt to overcome the limitations of words through metaphors.

My love is like an overripe peach
too soft to touch without
bruising in spots – sweet
maybe, but too round
on the tongue, too
indistinct

Still thinking about Earth Day.

I read an interesting blog post – and an interesting comment there about how humans cooperating with one another is the key to the success of our species.

I’ve been thinking. What is the measure of success here? That we’ve overpopulated the earth? Overwhelmed other species? Poisoned our own homes? Occasionally wiped out huge swathes of our fellow humans in the name of “good”?

And what is the time frame here? Will we be as successful as the horseshoe crab? The jellyfish? It longevity a criteria? Is it to literally be the last man standing when we’ve eviscerated the earth entirely to make plastic toys? When the world is quiet but for our own voices?

It’s overwhelming to contemplate. We’re too close, too small and too temporary to take it all in with any sense of context and proportion. I actually had a better sense of this as child, when I wondered where the trash went, what happens when the dead are all buried in their pretty, sealed coffins and there’s no more land. At one point I stopped wondering.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think children are wise. I do think they ask the questions we learn to choose to ignore in order to get along: to cooperate. Maybe that is the arc of wisdom – the innocent questions, the learned norms, then questioning those norms once all the ducks are in a row and you have the freedom to do so? Wisdom could be circling back to the questions with the experience to understand how they fit/don’t fit with cultural stories and a culture’s silence?

Most of us adults are not wise either. And most of us don’t have the privilege to think too hard about these things, and stay functional.

I saw a video once about a woman whose trash from one year barely filled single mason jar. She had a lot of good ideas for cutting down on waste, but (forgive me), I am wondering where she gets packages of toilet paper that isn’t wrapped in plastic?

Most of my waste from a year is from food packaging (and with the exception of curry pastes, I don’t eat processed foods). She shops at stores where it is possible to bring your own packaging. I know of two stores in my region that have produce I can buy and put in my own bags. But I would have to drive the car a half an hour each way to shop there. I don’t know how to do the math to figure out which is better for the planet.

I wonder about the energy involved in the server she is storing that video on. About the server storing this – and all my other online activities – that are basically about: See me. Let me in. Community – cooperation.

Environmentalist’s Overwhelm is a thing for sure. When a kid tugs at our hand with a question, the answer is: “Oh, it’s complicated. Let’s go get an ice cream.” I know when I start to question, I often have a glass of wine and watch a soap to distract myself from the guilt. And hopelessness.

About a decade ago I did learn what happens when the cemeteries fill up. I was living a couple of blocks from a nice one in downtown Stavanger. There is a small fenced in area with the graves of the British fighter pilots who died in a crash here during WWII. I don’t know their names.

There are some old graves with big monuments that beg for rubbings. But one afternoon I stumbled on a backhoe and a pile of broken headstones. I checked the dates and they were from the 70s and 80s.

I don’t have extended family, so these kinds of details of normal life are mysteries to me. I didn’t know (E. has since told me) that families have to pay to keep the site after a certain number of years. His father died in the 80s and already the family pays a yearly rent on the space.

We go a couple of times a year to his father’s grave and leave candles. On Christmas we take a couple of dozen candles and light up the all the dark graves in that section of the cemetery. I love graveyards. I see the graves as proof of human empathy. We will all die despite our efforts for immortality, so I think we comfort ourselves for our loss and for our own “I remember them, and someone will remember me”. We do this for each other and for ourselves. We do it for loved ones and for strangers. But even the greatest mausoleums crumble in anonymity. The graveyards in London and Paris are filled with huge monuments that are anonymous now. But someone cared. Someone bothered. Once upon a time.

When I had my tattoo done on my back (tattoos are forever – but that’s another story), we had long inking sessions and long talks. The artist told me about his friend whose job it was to drive that backhoe in the cemetery. About how his friend described sometimes lifting up a rib cage caught in the prongs of the machine.

I know there is research about how when too many people come together empathy is lost. I am not at all sure how this all works in the real world. There is that philosophical/ethical question – in real events not as a thought experiment: when you must choose do you save famous works of art or “insignificant” people.

I’m listening to the blackbirds outside the window. The sparrows, too. Sometimes I do think there’ll come a day when we won’t hear birds.

When there are no more fireflies in the fields of Kentucky.

What is significant?

a magpie quivers
on the sidewalk concrete
feathers blood and breath
what to do with a crushed bird?
a dime a dozen among cats

This morning I have been thinking about Neil Reid’s comment about having a story, but not being that story. It’s been helpful today as the events would give anyone the impression that I am incompetent with regard to getting through the days without shattering. More importantly, it would give me that impression.

I forgot a doctor’s appointment. I rushed through the shower and drove a half an hour before I learned it was a telephone appointment. I waited another half an hour in the parking lot for the call before driving home again – still waiting for the call. At home, I return to two open browsers and a total of 13 tabs open, most of them have half-finished comments or orders or form fields. The details of my life are slipping through my fingers. E. says I left the water running in the kitchen sink.

The doctor finally called and says I need better sleep hygiene. I want to burst into tears. And take a nap.

Now, I’m drinking mint tea. Taking deep breaths. Reminding myself that this morning is not who I am. That taking a nap is not an option. That I have to go into work in two hours. And it will be okay.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what grief feels like? When there is a great big hole in your life and everything left is tender – the bloated paleness of vulnerable. What happens when you carve out an entire plot line in your life’s story. I wonder if that’s not actually a characteristic that separates genre fiction from literary fiction. We can move cities, or countries and begin a new chapter. But ending a plot line half-way through is maybe worse than an unhappy ending? All that stuff that came before? Yeah, no. That’s irrelevant now. New theme. New inciting incident. New goals. And it will be no surprise that we’ll repeat this “fresh start” from nothing again.

Real life. There’s no escapism. An honest bumper sticker.

I honestly don’t know if any of this pertains to me. I have never planned beyond my reach, really. And have so often loved being taken by surprise.

The first time in Rome, I sat outside the Sistine Chapel crying. One of my colleagues thought I was having a religious epiphany of some sort. I tried to explain it to him, but he assumed it was a hormonal thing.

Really though, it was probably the first time I was grateful for having gown up in trailers and Good Will clothes much of my childhood: I never even dreamed I would be in Italy, looking at the artworks I’d seen in books. I dreamed of New York City in only the vaguest of ways.

When I was in high school I drove to Lexington along to see Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers for real. I was sixteen, I think. And astounded. It was like walking through the looking glass to see them in 3 dimensions. I had a similar experience years later walking under Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John in London once. It made me dizzy.

On that trip to Rome, I was traveling with a group of wonderfully kind people, who for all their sophistication and appreciation, weren’t experiencing the same kind of joy as I was that day. I guess we all find our joy in different contexts. That is wonderful really, even if we can’t always share it with one another.

Because our stories do matter. They may not define us, but they describe us. They provide the context for our experience of the present.

Maybe they create the beast that “we” ride? I’m thinking of the metaphor of the beast and the rider in Buddhist thinking. The instinctual vs the deliberate. As much as I would like to think that I can intellectually control my responses – my instincts=habits that I’ve developed in my life, I think we all do an awful lot of rationalizing after the fact. Trying to convince ourselves of better motives – of motives of any kind – kind motives. When, really, our beast is making moves before we are done deciding how much cream we should have in our coffee.

So maybe we have the story we know: the one we tell ourselves while we stir our coffee. The one that lets us feel sane.

And maybe we have a story in our cells. A buzzing, collaborative narrative we overhear now and then, and that pushes us towards the unexpected.

would she jump like that
if the lamb knew her story
come the fall – knew her
long, heather evenings purple
everywhere until the end