Early Summer, In Images

Holy cow, where has the summer gone to? Seems like Memorial Day was just a couple days ago.

Wanna know what I’ve done this summer? (I know. I’m sooo self-involved. Many apologies.)

Well, I: Hung out at a literary festival, saw a moose, watched my girls play a lot of awesome tennis, went camping, almost hit a deer while driving, face-planted on a rock while riding, read a lot of poetry (Muldoon, Lowell, Olds, Tretheway Hass), wrote some poems, celebrated a new book, taught a few classes (confessionalism, scenes/passages, art museum writing sessions).

And I’ve been riding a fair amount. Not as much as I would have liked–what else is new–but enough to keep me sane. Relatively sane.

Here are some images. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Enchanted Forest trail at Apex.

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Me and shadow.

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Elk! Hiding behind a pole. (You can still see her.)

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Wolverine Trail, near Grand Lake, Colorado.

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Poison Spider Trail, Moab. (I crawled on my hands knees at a few points.)

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Rainbow. White Ranch.

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Spring and Robert Lowell

Ah, Spring! Lovely warm, green, vibrant spring.

I’m very glad that the earth, as it always does, has swung back around and our hemisphere has begun to lean again toward the sun, bringing us the myriad lessons of rebirth.

And yes, a rebirth of riding, too, since I rode very little this winter. There were a few short bursts on the indoor trainer (while watching Breaking Bad on Netflix), but alas, the sound was poor and I couldn’t really hear the dialogue, and so never truly lost myself in the episodes. And riding in the basement without some sort of engaging—and audible—distraction was too much to bear.

I’m still pretty out of shape. I’m still recovering from a dizzying set of recent events—loads of work, ballet collaborations, readings and talks, finishing off a book, etc. All wonderful things, to be sure, but they were all very labor and energy intensive.

Which is to say that, as great as they were, they made it easy to neglect the physical avocation that keeps me sane, i.e. biking.

My buddy Ed and I are going to Moab next weekend, and I hope I can get my legs ready, without totally burning them out. And I hope my bike holds out, too, as it’s been wonky and creaky lately. (Time for a homemade, in-garage tune-up! One more thing I love to do, but it takes a lot of free time, since I am slow and not real great at it, and tend to drop small bolts and stuff, and then have to crawl around to find it among the dust and muck.)

But I can’t complain. Such is life. The renewal, and endless tasks, the beauty and wonder of it all. I’m a very lucky man, and I’m very grateful for everything I’ve got goin’ on.

Speaking of feeling grateful—Robert Lowell’s poem “Home After Three Months Away” perfectly captures that sense of falling back into one’s life after a long absence. In his case, the time was three months in a mental hospital recovering from a manic break.

My breaks are much milder, and not (so) literal. But the poem’s happiness at being present in one’s life rings very, very true. The faster life chugs past, the more you must—you must!—slow down. You must remain present in the moment, and stop thinking or worrying about tomorrow, or whatever it is that consumes your ability to be here.

Something I’ve been trying hard to do, so that my heart stays sane.

Here’s that poem by Lowell, followed by some images from a recent ride on a cold, gray day–and one from a sunny day, too.

Happy spring to you, and yours.

 

Home After Three Months Away
—Robert Lowell

Gone now the baby’s nurse,
a lioness who ruled the roost
and made the Mother cry.
She used to tie
gobbets of porkrind in bowknots of gauze–
three months they hung like soggy toast
on our eight foot magnolia tree,
and helped the English sparrows
weather a Boston winter.

Three months, three months!
Is Richard now himself again?
Dimpled with exaltation,
my daughter holds her levee in the tub.
Our noses rub,
each of us pats a stringy lock of hair–
they tell me nothing’s gone.
Though I am forty-one,
not forty now, the time I put away
was child’s play. After thirteen weeks
my child still dabs her cheeks
to start me shaving. When
we dress her in her sky-blue corduroy,
she changes to a boy,
and floats my shaving brush
and washcloth in the flush. . . .
Dearest I cannot loiter here
in lather like a polar bear.

Recuperating, I neither spin nor toil.
Three stories down below,
a choreman tends our coffin’s length of soil,
and seven horizontal tulips blow.
Just twelve months ago,
these flowers were pedigreed
imported Dutchmen; no no one need
distinguish them from weed.
Bushed by the late spring snow,
they cannot meet
another year’s snowballing enervation.

I keep no rank nor station.
Cured, I am frizzled, stale and small.

Photo Effects

Mood shot.

 

 

 

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Time to climb.

 

 

 

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That’s Ed. Or at least his legs. His really-in-shape-climb-a-wall legs.

 

 

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What I’ve Been Up To

I’ve been up to lots, but not riding much.

Here’s an attempt to give you a visual sense of what I’ve been working on, thinking about, and obsessing over, lately.

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Amen, brother. Tonight is Daylight Savings, and I’m so ready to get out there.

In the meantime, I’ve been squirreled away in the basement, riding on my trainer,  watching this:

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Breaking Bad. Woah.

While I’ve been watching that, I’ve been dreaming at night about this:

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And working to understand this, because I’ll be doing one of these:

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And writing poems for another Wonderbound performance, too.

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Perhaps it would be good to close with this:

Epilogue
by Robert Lowell

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme–
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.

But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

from Life Studies

 

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Yoga Christmas, With Sloth

It’s December, which means that it’s the time of the year where I totally feel like a fat, lazy, bland slob.

I’ve been eating too much chocolate, too many cookies. And not working out at all.

I’m reminded of my undergrad lit teacher, quoting Sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus: “Hey ho, I am Sloth.”

This line is supposed to be said in a lackadaisical manner, in the midst of a big sigh, and perhaps while lounging and eating chocolate. (Who brings this stuff into the house? It’s everywhere!) And perhaps, in contemporary fashion, while watching, on TV:

a. Survivor (Ah well, Tyson won. Snore.)
b. NHL Hockey (Hey ho, go Avs. Yawn.)
c. A nature show (The icecaps are melting? Ooh, that’s unfortunate.) Or maybe a car show. (Fixing up them old cars, how shiny are they? Takes a big bite of chocolate.)

‘Tis the season for human hibernation.

I guess I don’t like eating my way through the entire Hershey’s and Ghirardelli catalog, because this past week I joined Breathe Studio, which combines spin classes and yoga.

I took my first class on Thursday. Let me just say: I suck at yoga. I’m the worst yoga tryer in American history.

All the other limber folks were bending and folding like Gumby dolls, and me—well, let’s just say the my middle name isn’t Limber. It’s Joseph.

And let me just say: when I bend over the try to touch my toes, I get to a place just under my kneecaps, and that’s all I got.

But hey (ho)! At least I got some exercise in, and got those creaky joints to bend and flex to their rather limited, um, limits. I embraced my history of sloth, and began to beat it down(ward) like a (bad) dog.

At the end of the yoga session, lying flat on my back—in Savasana, I am told—I was breathing deep as light from Colfax Avenue flashed and slid across the ceiling in shards and circles, squares and trapezoids. The gold and silver bands filled me with a sense of ease and joy, and there was no slothfulness in me at all, anymore.

Here’s a lovely poem by Nate Klug that incorporates beauty and yoga—and a bicycle.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Cold, With Swan

I just finished up teaching a class on Mary Oliver, who is one of a handful of poets who make a living from writing. Her work is spare, simple, and melodic. Like another handful of poets, I’d say that she’s as much a philosopher as a poet, and therefore her work is primarily natural and spiritual. She asks lots of big questions, and isn’t too concerned about the answers, almost like a contemporary American monk might.

Whatever a contemporary American monk might be–I’ll leave that definition up to you.

I admire her poems and I appreciate them, but I’m not totally in love with all of her work. I don’t mean that in a negative way. She’s an amazing writer. And perhaps the lessons she embraces are the ones I need to embrace, too, and I’m reticent about doing so. Who knows?

End of self-analysis session.

Many of her poems involve walks through a natural landscape–most often around the environs of Provincetown. She draws inspiration and a deep sense of communion from those woods and sandy dunes, much like I draw inspiration from the landscape where mountain biking takes me. She asks questions, much like the questions that occur to me when I’m riding.

As she writes: “What is it you plan to do with your one precious life?” in “The Summer Day.

Maybe that makes me a mountain-biking monk-philosopher. (Make sure your robe doesn’t get caught in the chain.)

Here’s a good example of a quintessential Oliver poem–ending with more questions than answers.

THE SWAN

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating—a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers—
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company—
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

Postscript: It’s been brutally cold here in Colorado–today’s high will be around 10 degrees–and my bike is in pieces. I need a new front shock. (Maybe Santa will bring me one?) The few times I’ve gotten in the saddle recently, I’ve been sticking to the roads.

Here’s an image from a recent ride, taken before the freeze set in.

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And a pic from later that day:

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Good Deal. Comes in Three Speeds.

Let me just say: I’m pretty sick of driving to and from work, five days a week, along the I-25 corridor. There’s the traffic, the lame FM radio that seems to play the same 15 songs over and over, the bad drivers, the jarring roads. Not to mention the significant car troubles we’ve endured lately slipping transmission (estimated replacement cost = $4,500); overheated car and shot ignition coils ($600); clogged catalytic converter ($1,200). And so on. Not to mention my vague discomfort at our gigantic carbon footprint, as the drive is around 22 miles each way. And the cost of gas–around $1,500 a year. (Cripes, that’s a lotta cash.)

So when I found a deal to sign up for half off a Denver Bike Sharing membership, I leapt.

So far, it’s been great. I take the bus, which picks me up just 50 yards from our front door, downtown and then I grab a red bikeshare bike, and ride the 4 miles or so to work. The bike’s only got three speeds, which has opened up a completely new and radical idea: to take my time, rolling along. To look around and notice my surroundings. To actually enjoy the journey.

Which has been so nice, I must say. It’s like discovering a rainbow in the sky every morning.

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Photo from Bike Share website.

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Rain, and Change

The rains have come and gone, and now all that’s left is the aftermath. What have we lost?
In many ways, after this summer of 2013, we will never be the same. From wildfires to floods, nothing gold can stay, as Frost said so well.

When my wife and I first moved to Denver, in 1997, we had no idea how that Mother Nature had such power, such fury. Growing up in Buffalo, I’d survived lots and lots of snow, but there’s something eerie about the power of nature in the summer. But there’s also something impressive about the frontier spirit here in Colorado, how people wait out the storm, and then they get back to work. There’s no quit out here.

Our first August here, a tremendous storm overtook downtown Denver, and from our second-floor downtown loft, we watched as Arapahoe Street turned from roadway into swirling, rushing river, filled with hail and junk. We thought the city would be decimated. We thought it was the end times. We were supposed to teach a writing workshop that night, and decided that he had to cancel. We called all the students to let them know. However, one guy, a crusty local, laughed at us, saying, it’ll be sunny and the roads’ll be clear in a couple hours. Ah, you easterners, he chuckled.

He was right. The banks of hail melted. The water disappeared. The sun blazed in a blue sky. By 5:30 PM, it was as if nothing had happened.

The rain of this past week might be gone soon, but the destruction will be with us for a long, long time. And I hope that everyone is safe, and that they recover quickly and with little grief. I also hope that my favorite biking trails—and the roads to get there—are still reasonably intact. Though I’m fairly certain that the trails I knew will never be the same. I guess that’s one of the uncanny things about biking for many years—the trials you know so well are dynamic, everchanging. Some sections get easier, some get more difficult. (Cue the riding-as-metaphor-for-life music….)

Here’s a poem I wrote back in 1997, after that first shocking storm.

WHEN IT DISOBEYS

it brings a storm that discovers
a man-made river-bed in concrete
and asphalt, leaves women and men
clinging to rooftop chimneys,
their cold hands trembling in its midst, then
it brings the hail—white, killing,
obnoxious white when there
should be more rain—first pea
then quarter then softball
sized, full of hubris,
stony pellets coursing
through streets, a swirling
river of rain and downed trees and things
it has dismantled. Will it not
avoid stinging the innocent faces,
the defeated shoulders—
will it not give up the mindless idea
that it can last in August?
It is relentless, abiding by precepts
which are not laws
but ideas of laws, things
children copy down in school:
Planets in their ellipses,
the moon’s granite face
waning and waxing,
cosmic dust on a calm night—
meteors burning the night,
seen for a second, then gone,
like the faraway shouts
and moans when the sky
clears and a rainbow comes.

# # #

Here’s a pic I took on Monday, riding the Hog Back, about 15 minutes before the front edge of the storm rolled in.

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