In 1979, William Stafford and Marvin Bell attended a conference in Fairbanks, Alaska and afterward, began a correspondence that carried on for two years and produced a book called Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry.
Eventually I found the book buried deep in the Hawaii State Library system, and I read it through last night, am reading it through slowly again this morning. Here are the fifth and sixth poems in the sequence:
Hunting What Is
by William Stafford
There are days when everything waits—you run
down the street, and it’s cool, and now has a light
inside it, and you are entering that light
as a part of time, by giving your look—
But things are hiding. As you run the street
angles widen ahead even as they close
behind. True, you felt close, back there,
but what opens is also true, and the street. . . .
So it all marks your life—what you pass
and almost find will define your part.
You claim, “Things are happening to me!”
And the world goes hovering on as you pant, “Mine.”
by Marvin Bell
I go out to find whatever comes
but the first fifteen minutes
are for trying to breathe, the next
fifteen for using both legs
without almost having to count
cadence, and the second half hour
for water, two cheeps at a bird,
and the reassurance that important chemicals
are now in the bloodstream. The first
fifteen minutes are the hardest,
anyone will tell you that, the first thirty
are the hardest, and the first hour
is the hardest hour, but in the second hour
something goes right without your knowing:
a mixture of good motions, oxygen
and a certain giving up
that permits you not to hurry
and gives you back for every slow minute
two that are beyond you. It’s the slow
who have to keep going who get to take back
the possessive note they struck
when they were strong. Weak, they find
fatigue is buoyant, they can coast, float,
and they sometimes have thoughts
too pure to be brought home
but not righter than others, despite
what you see on the talk shows
with your legs up and your toenails blacker.
Out-and-back runs, says David,
are like folding a piece of paper.
At the far end, you know what to do.
Loops are the worst, repeating what you see
as if you owned it. You look forward
to the past; the run lengthens.
I like runs that take a hill in one direction,
pass a body of water,
go down one street no one knows,
and find a breeze. Most of us save the long run
for Sunday, which is sensible
not religious. No believer, after all,
but no doubter, I do
look around, except uphill, the more so
after the first two hours
(when it gets easier).