Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19: Bombings and Sky Battles, Synchronicity, Barack Obama

Just about the time poor Valencia was pronounced dead, Lily came into Billy's and Rumfoord's room with an armload of books.  Rumfoord had sent her down to Boston to get them.  He was working on a one-volume history of the United States Army Air Corps in World War Two.  The books were about bombings and sky battles that had happened before Lily was even born.

Really, this passage is all about dovetailing.  All of the details of Billy's life sort of funnel together in this moment.  Billy in the hospital bed.  His wife just dead.  His roommate a history professor writing a book about the bombings of World War II, Dresden, I'm sure, among them.  There's a certain synchronicity in what is happening.

In writing, I love this kind of happenstance, when the elements of a novel or essay or poem all coalesce and things become a little clearer.  Now, this passage doesn't necessarily tie up the loose ends of Slaughterhouse, but it certainly feels like the beginning of the end.

This kind of dovetailing rarely happens in real life.  There's too much chaos.  Too much entropy.  Things tend to fall apart in the world, not come together.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but recent events in the United States bear this observation out.  At the end of the Presidency of Barack Obama, the country seemed to be in a good place.  We were on the road to a kind of universal health care.  Job growth for eight years.  Climate change was a priority.  Tolerance and love were the norm.  And almost the entire world respected us.

Now . . . well, Donald Trump.

I'm not going to devolve into an anti-Trump rant.  What I'm saying is that things don't feel like they're coming together any more.  I'm not living in the epilogue to the Obama Presidency.  I'm living in the prologue to Mein Kampf.

Saint Marty is thankful for the synchronicity of Barack Obama.


October 19: Literacy Night, Lynn Emanuel, "From a Train"

I have a busy evening ahead of me.  I'm volunteering at the Children's Museum in Marquette as part of its Literacy Night.  I'm supposed to help kids write "letters home" from camp.  I'm not quite sure what that means, but I will find out soon.

This afternoon, I have a Halloween poem from one of my favorite poets.  It's about a haunted train encounter.  Sort of.  I certainly won't be sharing this poem with the kids at the Children's Museum.

Saint Marty will never be invited back if he does.

From a Train

by:  Lynn Emanuel

After night’s black abandoned truck—
morning is locked down tight,

and the sky’s brewing up
some trouble.

So far at the bottom of this
moment, she could fall off.

Coat hem. A pair
of sultry shoes. She is five.

Small for her age.
Meeting her father for the first

time. Union Station. Denver.
Behind the harsh horizon

beyond the tracks, a dark
wildness over the swing set,

brick yard, development.

Little nowhere, where
Did you come from?


The train roams through
the gone and vanquished,

some pale, soft voice talking.
Spooks. Phantoms.

He is the unclosed
cut of her.

Find the missing
dark scythe. Find

the jawbone of an ass.
Dead wood, cemetery, oil vat

shooed away—harried—
by the train’s advance.

First this, then that, then
a thrush’s three notes happen

all at once at once at once

and a figure
in a red hat.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18: Time to Time, Difficult Questions, Exact Date of My Death

Billy knew nothing about it.  He dreamed on, and traveled in time and so forth.  The hospital was so crowded that Billy couldn't have a room to himself.  He shared a room with a Harvard history professor named Bertram Copeland Rumfoord.  Rumfoord didn't have to look at Billy, because Billy was surrounded by white linen screens on rubber wheels.  But Rumfoord could hear Billy talking to himself from time to time.

Rumfoord's left leg was in traction.  He had broken it while skiing.  He was seventy years old, but had the body and spirit of a man half that age.  He had been honeymooning with his fifth wife when he broke his leg.  Her name was Lily.  Lily was twenty-three.

Billy is oblivious to the fact that his wife is dead.  Well, he knows that his wife dies of carbon monoxide poisoning as she is driving to the hospital to see him.  He knows that he survives the plane crash that put him in the hospital bed.  He knows that he survives the bombing of Dresden.  He pretty much knows his entire life, from the day he will be born to the day he will die.

I'm not sure I would like that kind of knowledge.  Certainly, it would come in handy every once in a while. It would take the edge off difficult questions.  Will I hit a deer with my car on my way home from school tonight?  Will I get my kitchen and bathroom ceilings fixed?  Will the baby in the hall outside my office stop crying?  Will Donald Trump start a nuclear war?  I would know the answers to all those questions right now if I were Billy Pilgrim.

But I certainly wouldn't want to know the exact date of my death.  I wouldn't want to know when my parents die.  Or my spouse or children.  I don't think I could live with that information in my head all the time.  Of course, I have a very limited, human understanding of time.  I'm not able to jump backward to my high school prom or forward to the birth of my grandchild.  I won't be taking a flying saucer ride to Tralfamadore any time soon, either.

So that leaves me with this moment.  I'm exhausted and hungry.  The baby in the hallway has stopped crying.  In less than two hours, I will be in front a classroom full of students, trying to impart some kind of knowledge about doing research.  In about five hours, I will be in my car, driving home.  That is my present and not-too-distant future.

Saint Marty is thankful this afternoon for the silence of his office.


October 18: Dreamed I Died, Elaine Equi, "Ghosts and Fashion"

Today has been long, and it's going to get longer before it gets shorter.

I find myself yawning a lot this afternoon, trying to keep myself from falling asleep at my desk.  Last night, I dreamed I died.  It was a quiet passing, nothing fiery or catastrophic.  Just a simple letting go, as if I was setting off on a long ocean voyage.

I saw my family going on without me.  My daughter growing up, going to college, getting married.  My son playing football for his high school, tackling and fumbling and ogling cheerleaders.  And I saw my wife, alone, watching our daughter graduate and our son buy his first car.  She looked sad.  All the time.

And I wanted to touch her, hold her, let her know I was there.  But I couldn't.

So I just sat beside her, existed in her air.

Saint Marty is a little haunted this afternoon.

Ghosts and Fashion

by:  Elaine Equi

Although it no longer has a body
to cover out of a sense of decorum,

the ghost must still consider fashion—

must clothe its invisibility in something
if it is to “appear” in public.

Some traditional specters favor
the simple shroud—

a toga of ectoplasm
worn Isadora-Duncan-style
swirling around them.

While others opt for lightweight versions
of once familiar tee shirts and jeans.

Perhaps being thought-forms,
they can change their outfits instantly—

or if they were loved ones,
it is we who clothe them
like dolls from memory.