Monday, July 24, 2017

July 24: The Good Old Days, Beverly Matherne, "I Remember Louisiana"

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about my childhood recently.  I guess it's inevitable when you age, thinking back on "the good old days."  Of course, the problem with the gold old days is that you don't realize you're living through them.

For example, two years ago, I was working in the office of a cardiology practice.  I didn't want to be working there.  It was not a move of my own choosing.  But, now that I look back on it, it has become the good old days, because I was working with people who have become really good friends.  My sister was still alive.  My daughter was still in middle school, and I was still her knight in shining armor in a lot of ways.

All that is gone now.  I'm sure, in two years' time, I'll be reflecting on this time right now.  It may have become part of the good old days.  I don't know.  The one thing that's certain about the good old days is that you don't know they're good until they're over.  That's how it works.

Saint Marty tries to make every day a good old day.

I Remember Louisiana

by:  Beverly Matherne

I remember pole vaulting
over cane reeds
onto soft, black dirt,
running hurdles the whole
length of your yard,
then clinging fast to long vines
that swept us up and across the swamp.
I remember wild irises and egrets
and dogwood and sweet mulberries.
I remember miles of sugar cane, how
I ran through rows, sliced my legs;
miles of tobacco, lace from hurricane hail.
I remember shrimp boiled in Zatarain,
the file and cayenne in andouille gumbo.
I remember Atchafalaya, Catahoula, Coushatta,
Natchitoches, Opelousas, Tickfaw.
I remember starched lace in the tabernacle,
the smell of Johnson's Wax on the linoleum floor.
I remember feeling faint before communion,
the crisp host on my tongue, Dominus vobiscum
and Pater noster, qui es in coelis . . .
I remember chicken manure and honeysuckle
after rain, ostrich feathers
and tasseled breasts at Mardi Gras,
taut loins cavorting to Zulu drums,
the whips tearing at Jesus' flesh,
and how longing can thrust, combust,
and burn a hole through my chest.

July 24: Wet Dream, Going for a Run, Transitions

In time, Montana came to love and trust Billy Pilgrim.  He did not touch her until she made it clear that she wanted him to.  After she had been on Tralfamadore for what would have been an Earthling week, she asked him shyly if he wouldn't sleep with her.  Which he did.  It was heavenly.

And Billy traveled in time from that delightful bed to a bed in 1968.  It was his bed in Ilium, and the electric blanket was turned up high.  He was drenched in sweat, remembered groggily that his daughter had put him to bed, had told him to stay there until the oil burner was repaired.

Somebody was knocking on his bedroom door.

"Yes?" said Billy.

"Oil-burner man."


"It's running good now.  Heat's coming up."


"Mouse ate through a wire from the thermostat."

"I'll be darned."

Billy sniffled.  His hot bed smelled like a mushroom cellar.  He had had a wet dream about Montana Wildhack.

You may be wondering where I'm going to go with this post.  There are many possibilities.  I could write about my first sexual experience, since this passage is about the first time Billy and Montana have sex.  I could write about wet dreams, since Billy has had one.  Or I could write about sexual violence against women, since Montana has been kidnapped and brought to Tralfamadore for the purpose of mating with Billy.  So many possibilities.

Vonnegut was a science fiction writer.  He wrote speculative fiction and literary fiction.  If you can't tell, there is always a underpinning of social commentary, as well.  Slaughterhouse is about aliens and time travel.  But it's also about war and human tragedy and politics and death.  Vonnegut, like any great writer, is working on many levels.

I just went for a run.  I haven't been running much this summer at all.  I got out of the habit.  It's so much easier, when I get home, to simply sit down on the couch and close my eyes versus putting on my running clothes and shoes and heading back out the door.  I know myself.  If I don't exercise as soon as I get home, I'm not going to exercise at all.  This afternoon, I decided to find out how out-of-shape I really am.

Answer:  not as bad as I thought.

One of the benefits of running is that it clears my head.  Shakes out all of the cobwebs from my workday.  Now, sitting here, reflecting on this little passage from Vonnegut, I'm able to think a little more clearly.  I'm not worrying about the work I've done the past eight hours, or the work I have to do tomorrow.  It's all about the work that's in front of me right now.  Writing this blog post.

That's sort of what Billy does through this whole book.  As he becomes unstuck in time, over and over, he has to shake off one present as he enters another present.  He leaves Montana behind for his bed in Ilium.  Trades one kind of heat for another kind of heat.  One kind of sexual experience for another.  Billy masters the ability to adjust quickly to his alternating realities.

Me?  I need a little time.  I ran for about a half hour this afternoon.  Now, after I'm done typing this post, I'll probably put my head back for a little while and take a nap.  Maybe read a book.  I haven't decided yet.  Maybe I'll time travel back to when I first met my wife or to our wedding night or to the mornings my daughter or son were born.  It's not difficult.  Just a matter of dredging up some specific, concrete detail from those moments.  A smell or sound.  A word or song.

This post is working on many levels, if you haven't noticed.  I have successfully avoided writing about anything potentially embarrassing, although I'm not opposed to those kinds of disclosures.  I have shifted subjects pretty quickly from sexual encounters and wet dreams to running and work and time travel.  I'm not quite as skillful as Vonnegut at these kinds of transitions.  So it goes.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful that he didn't injure himself running.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23: Need to Withdraw, Beverly Matherne, "I Wonder What It Was Like"

I am feeling the need to withdraw today for some reason.  Not be around too many people.  That doesn't work too well when you're the father of a teenage daughter and eight-year-old son.  Plus, I usually have dinner at my parents' house on Sunday evening.  It's one of the few times in the week that I can visit with my siblings.

Yet, I have cloistered myself at my parents' dining room table, headphones on, listening to music and writing blog posts.  When I'm done blogging, I will probably pretend that I'm still blogging, just so that I won't have to talk to anyone.  I know it's a terrible thing to do, but my weeks are full of human interaction.  On weekends, I try to be as antisocial as possible.  It helps me recharge my supply of human compassion and empathy for the week.

I think that poets need to do this every once in a while, too.  Poetry requires a certain amount of isolation and introspection.  To think and feel things through.  Figure things out.  Find the perfect word and phrase.  To wonder and speculate.

So, if you're looking to talk to Saint Marty today, he won't be answering his phone, unless you are a publisher; head of a university English Department looking for a full-time poet; or member of the Swedish Academy selecting the next winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

I Wonder What It Was Like

by:  Beverly Matherne

I wonder what it was like
when Mama met Daddy
that spring dance
at Ascension Catholic high,
her brown hair
to the slim waist
of her white organdy dress,
Daddy's Billiantined hair,
his green eyes sparkling.

I wonder what it was like,
their white shoes
scuffing waxed linoleum
to Louis  Armstrong's band,
crawfish and Jax Beer
and fruit punch and
magnolias filling the air.

I wonder what it was like,
their high-pitched laughs,
the differences between their dialects:
l' epouvantail, la paillasse.

I wonder what it was like,
Daddy tipsy, reciting
"To-morrow, and to-morrow . . ."
to show he knew English,
Mama's movie-star smile,
her perfect white teeth,
their long stroll on the levee,
as the Mississippi licked the shore
and rolled on, rolled on . . .

July 23: Work Tomorrow, Classic Saint Marty, "Rules of Fatherhood"

A year ago on this day, I was on vacation, in a condo downstate.  Swimming.  Eating.  Hiking.  Taking too many pictures of my kids.  It was a really good time.  Hot every day.

This afternoon, I'm thinking about going to work tomorrow, all the stuff I have to accomplish in the coming week.  Feeling a little overwhelmed, as I always do on Sundays.  The piles of work never end.  And, to make things worse, I have to prepare everything for next week, as well, because I will be on vacation for four days.  So, my workload is doubled.  It's the price I have to pay for wanting a few days off.

My daughter has been gone since Thursday evening, camping with her boyfriend's family.  Now she's texting to ask if she can stay another day, come back tomorrow.  I can say that having a teenage child is a joy and a struggle for me.  I love the young woman that my daughter is becoming, but I have a really hard time opening my hand and letting go.  Change has never been my forte.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired a year ago, when I was on vacation, practicing living in the moment.  Don't do that too much nowadays.

July 23, 2016:  Ethos of the Moment, Kids in the Universe, "Zootopia"

Last summer some muskrats had a den under this tree's roots on the bank; I think they are still there now.  Muskrats' wet fur rounds the domed clay walls of the den and slicks them smooth as any igloo.  They strew the floor with plant husks and seeds, rut in repeated bursts, and sleep humped and soaking, huddled in balls.  These, too, are part of what Buber calls "the infinite ethos of the moment."

I'm not quite sure of the context of the quote from Martin Buber (although I admire anyone named Martin).  I think it has something to do with finding something eternal in every lived moment.  There's something both very present in the muskrats for Dillard, and there's also something very timeless.  Muskrats doing what they've done for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, following some kind of divine plan that was put into motion way back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam looked at the first muskrat (or the first muskrat's ancestor) and named it.

Today, I tried to live in the ethos of the moment.  I didn't have any particular plan for my time.  I didn't set an alarm.  Woke up around 9 a.m., which is a good five hours later than I normally do.  I took a shower, made breakfast for myself, and then sat outside and dined al fresco.  It was a lovely beginning to the day.  In the moment.  Listening to cicadas sawing the morning in two.

Eventually, I ended up at the water park with my son and wife for about four hours.  My daughter went on a zip line tour, soaring through the forest canopies for three hours (talk about living in the moment).  She had a great time.  My son had a great time.  I always try to imagine what kind of kid Jesus was.  Did he beg Mary to go swimming in the River Jordan on really hot days?  Or climb olive trees and scare birds out of their nests?  That's what kids do.  They carve places for themselves in the universe.

Tonight, at dusk, I went to an outdoor screening of the movie Zootopia with my family.  My fifteen-year-old daughter loved it.  My seven-year-old son, who suffers from a severe aversion to sitting still, got incredibly uninterested after about twenty minutes.  He and my wife and my sister left early while I stayed to watch the end of the film with my daughter.  It reminded me of the drive-in movies I saw as a kid.  King Kong with Jessica Lange.  Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster.  Orca with Richard Harris.  Everything huge and wondrous under the moon and stars.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that everything today felt really new and really familiar, as well.

Saint Marty is going to sleep in again tomorrow morning.  Maybe have some oatmeal al fresco for breakfast.

And a poem for this rainy afternoon about the struggles of being a father . . .

Rules of Fatherhood

by:  Martin Achatz

When I first heard my daughter's heart
Ten years ago in the doctor's office,
I had no clue how to care for a girl,
Those unwritten rules new fathers
Must learn over time.  Make your girl
Sit frog-legged in the bathtub
To allow warm water to flow
Into areas of her body where skin
Turns raw, pink or red as grapefruit,
In the privacy of diaper or panty.
When she turns three or four,
Teach her to wipe front-to-back,
Not back-to-front, to avoid kidney,
Bladder infections.  Comb her hair
As soon as she's done bathing.
Slide the teeth through and through,
To remove all tangles, then braid.
Start simple, one ponytail at the back
Of her head.  Work to French braids,
Beautiful as sweet, curled loaves
In bakeries at Christmas.  Never
Utter the name of the boy she likes
When she's five or seven or ten.
Just watch them play together.
Notice how he always insists
She climb the steps of the slide
Before him, his neck craned upward,
Cheeks flushed, as she goes higher and higher.
Invite said boy to her tenth birthday
Party, watch him squirm when you sit
Beside him and say, "What are your
Plans for the future, son?"
Even though you don't believe
In guns, buy one to hold
In your lap when she goes
On her first date.  When the boy arrives,
Stare at him, the way a lion stares
At a wounded water buffalo.

All these rules I've learned
Since that day the doctor waved
Her wand over my wife, pulled
From the top hat of my wife's belly
That sound:  crickets singing
On a summer night, Love me, love me, love me.