Saturday, August 19, 2017

August 19: Resurrection and Hope, Field of Strawberries, "Emmaus"

Today, I have a poem I wrote for my sister a little over two years ago.  On Easter, a day of resurrection and hope.

Hope is a strange thing.  It allows you to survive terrible experiences.  Lifts you out of the darkness.  I have some good friends who see my faith in God as naive.  A hold-over from times before nuclear bombs and modern medicine and science.  That may be true.

However, in a world full of hate, I will choose hope.  Every time.

Saint Marty hopes his sister is sitting in a field of strawberries today, listening to ABBA songs, watching my son and daughter grow and grow like summer ferns.


by:  Martin Achatz

My sister lies in her bed
while her neighbors scream
in the hallway outside her door.
My sock, something’s wrong
with my sock, moans one voice.
And, Give it back, give it back now,
begs another, so full of longing
that I want to find its owner,
reach into my pants pocket,
empty its contents into
the speaker’s hands, hope
that, among the five quarters,
scrap of paper with a phone number,
burned-out Christmas bulb,
Tootsie Roll wrapper, maybe,
just maybe, he may find
what he’s lost.  My sister
has grown deaf to these voices.
She grips her bedrails,
grimaces, pulls herself closer
to me, the effort making her
shake as if some fist
is pounding on the door of her
body.  Do you want a drink?
I ask.  No, she says.
Are you warm enough? I ask.
She nods, closes her eyes.
Should I change the channel?
I ask.  No, she says again.
Then silence as she drifts
like a vagrant kite on a windy
day.  I wonder if she dreams
her body whole, climbs through
the window of her room, begins
walking down the road, between
the snowbanks, under the moon.
Maybe she meets other people
who tell her about the things
they can’t find.  Socks.  Cocker spaniels.
Birthday cards.  Wives.  Poems.
Husbands.  Photographs.  Friends.
The road is crowded with loss.
But they all keep moving, like pilgrims
on some cold Easter morning, hoping
to meet the one who will have
directions, will know how to get home.

August 19: Bombed and Burned, Two Years Ago, My Sister

Every other big city in Germany had been bombed and burned ferociously.  Dresden had not suffered so much as a cracked windowpane.  Sirens went off every day, screamed like hell, and people went down into cellars and listened to radios there.  The planes were always bound for someplace else--Leipzig, Chemnitz, Plauen, places like that.  So it goes.

Steam radiators still whistled cheerily in Dresden.  Streetcars clanged.  Telephones rang and were answered.  Lights went on and off when switches were clicked.  There were theaters and restaurants.  There was a zoo.  The principal enterprises of the city were medicine and food-processing and the making of cigarettes.

People were going home from work now in the late afternoon.  They were tired.

Dresden is a normal city in the middle of a war.  People go to work.  Streetcars carry people to shop and eat.  Theatrical productions at night.  Phone calls from neighbors and relatives.  If people get sick, there are doctors to treat them.  The citizens of Dresden go about their lives, unfazed and safe.  They have no worries, aside from whether they're going to have schnitzel or sauerbraten for dinner.

I think that's pretty much what everybody does, every day of their lives.  We get up in the morning, make coffee, eat oatmeal, go to work, come home, watch TV.  Sure, we have bills to pay, meetings to attend, birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate.  That's normal life.  We walk around, mostly oblivious to the bombs going off around the world, because those bombs aren't falling in our neighborhoods.

Those bombs can take many forms.  Car bomb.  Terrorist.  Nazi.  White supremacist.  Job loss.  Home foreclosure.  Bill collector.  Car accident.  Alzheimer's.  Appendicitis.  Bombs go off in people's lives all the time.  Shatter windows.  Destroy homes.  Wreck lives.  No one is prepared for the bomb.

Today is the anniversary of my sister's death.  Two years ago, she quietly stopped breathing at home, surrounded by family and friends.  Lymphoma of the brain.  My sister never saw that bomb coming.  Just a few months before, when a doctor in the hospital asked her what her expectations were for her illness, she said that she wanted to get better and go home.

My family and my sister's friends are still dealing with that bomb.  Sweeping up the glass and rubble.  Our lives have returned to a new normal.  Job and church and home.  However, for me, I'm always looking into the clouds for a B-52 carrying the next bomb.

Today, I will go to the cemetery.  Talk to my sister.  Tell her how much I miss her.  Leave some flowers.  That's what we do.  We build memorials at the sites of disasters.  To remember, honor, love.

Saint Marty is thankful today for the time he had with his sister.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17: Another Poem of Resistance, Maya Angelou, "Caged Bird"

There are more white supremacist and Nazi rallies are planned for this weekend around the country.  Hopefully, there won't be any violence.

I have another poem of resistance, this one from one of my favorite poets and activists of the Civil Rights Movement.  I'm on my way to a poetry open mic event this evening.  Tomorrow, I'm heading to Baraga in the Copper Country.  I'm the featured poet at an art gallery opening.

Saint Marty has to get his poet on now.

Caged Bird

by:  Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

August 17: Oz, Fruit Stand, Truth Is Ugly

The trip to Dresden was a lark.  It took only two hours.  Shriveled little bellies were full.  Sunlight and mild air came in through the ventilators.  There were plenty of smokes from the Englishmen.

The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon.  The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen.  The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd.  It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, "Oz."  That was I.  That was me.  The only other city I'd ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.

Vonnegut enters the novel again.  One little line of dialogue.  His real impression of Dresden before the bombing.  Certainly, much of Billy's reaction to the city are also Vonnegut's, as well.  However, Vonnegut feels it necessary to step forward for a moment, wave his arms, remind his readers that what they're reading isn't all make believe.  He wants us to remember that shit's about to become real.  Really real.

As a writer, I can say that there's truth in everything I write.  Every poem or essay or story.  If truth didn't exist in a piece of writing, that writing wouldn't work.  It would fall flat on its face.  No matter what I'm reading, whether it's a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks or Ovid's Metamorphoses, I have to buy whatever fruit the author is selling.  And if that apple doesn't look ripe and real, if those grapes look shriveled and sour, I'm not going to be willing to take a bite.

Vonnegut's produce is healthy and ripe.  He spends the first twenty or thirty pages of Slaughterhouse setting us up.  He tells us that he's tried and failed many times to write about his war experiences.  We know that from the outset.  So Vonnegut layers the story of Billy Pilgrim time traveler on top of his account of the destruction of Dresden.  That's his way of telling the truth.

So what's my point?  My point is that sometimes the only way to approach the truth is through fiction or poetry.  I can't write about what's happening to my father right now except through Vonnegut through Billy Pilgrim.  My dad is on a train, bound for Dresden right now.  I think he's probably a little frightened that he may never come back, that he's on a one-way trip.  And I'm not entirely convinced that he isn't right.

Sometimes the truth is beautiful--The Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, welcoming the tired and poor and hungry.  Sometimes the truth is ugly--ISIS agents and white supremacists and fire bombs.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the oranges in his fridge tonight.