Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30: Daughter, Poem, Pissed

We didn't get to see Water for Elephants last night because the graduation pinning ceremony went long, and then we went out for dinner and didn't get done at the restaurant until 9:30 p.m.  Our babysitter had to work at 5 a.m. today, so she asked us to come home.  We went home.

Today has been a strange day with my daughter.  She woke up pissed.  A general pissed that extended in many directions all at once, like an atomic blast.  She has alternated between contentment and pissyness all day long.  Right before mass tonight, she had another meltdown because she said she was too tired to be an altar server.  I told her make a sacrifice for Jesus and get up to the altar and light some candles.  She wasn't too happy with me.

I think she's really tired, possibly hormonal.  She is ten-years-old, and she just got invited to a mother-daughter tea thrown by the school nurse to discuss menstruation.  If today is any indication of the way she's going to be during her teenage years, we're in for a bumpy ride.

The only good thing that came out of my daughter's mood was my new poem.  It, obviously, is inspired by my daughter.

Saint Marty wishes you a little peace.  That's what he's hoping for tonight.

Angry Daughter

My daughter is angry with me,
Has stomped around all day,
Tears of frustration always near
The surface, Mississippi waters
After three days of rain,
Barely held in check
By piled sandbags.
I watch her in white robe,
Marching back-and-forth
Across the altar, lighting
Candles, arranging chalice,
Patin, cloths the way I
Slam dishes in the kitchen sink
When I lose my temper,
Hoping a plate or bowl
Shatters, makes me bleed.
I don't know what I've done
To drive her to such fury,
Whether I've ignored some
Unseen wound, a bruise
On her heart caused
By words from a classmate,
Or a slow leak, an aneurysm
In her mind from something
I said weeks ago, a joke
About the boy who shows up
At our door every day,
Asks if my daughter can
Come out to play basketball
Or touch football, some sport
That involves much physical contact.
What I do know is this:
She storms around the front
Of church like a Roman centurion
On the prowl for a Christian
To martyr, not genuflecting
In front of the tabernacle,
Looking God straight in the eyes,
Daring Him to say anything,
Anything at all.

Not my daughter, but you get the idea

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29: Quick Post, Royal Wedding, Who Cares?

I don't have a lot of time to post.  I had the day off work, but I've been running errands all day.  I went out to lunch with my sister, cleaned my house, and tried to find time to write a new poem (I failed--it will be coming tomorrow).  Tonight, I am going on a date with my wife to see Water For Elephants.  I loved the book, but I'm not a fan of Robert (hunky vampire) Pattinson.  I'll give you my review tomorrow.

Of course, the big news of the day was the wedding of Kate and William in England.  I did not get up at 4 a.m. to watch the nuptials.  I did catch bits and pieces on the TV during the day.  Of course, I wish any newlyweds the best of luck, but the hype surrounding this whole event has driven me a bit crazy.  William said they wanted it to be a more conservative event, considering the economy.  Well, from what I saw, there wasn't a whole lot of pomp that was spared in the pomp and circumstance category.  Anyway, tallyho to Kate and Wills.  My entire take on the wedding:  who cares?  (Is that too American of me?)

I am going to a graduation ceremony of a friend tonight, as well.  She's a great person who's had a very difficult time in the last few years.  She deserves some happiness and good luck.  Her ex-husband is in prison, but she's now engaged to a really nice guy and is embarking on a career in nursing.  It was a huge struggle for her, with two very young kids, but she did it.  Her graduation is a testament to the power of hope and prayer.

Have a good night, my loyal reader(s).  And good luck to Wondertwin, my number one fan.  She's running a half-marathon this Sunday.

Saint Marty's off to the royal wedding reception.  Cheers!

You may snog the bride

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28: Final Exam, Saint Peter Chanel, New Poem

Briefly outline the history of the world for your final exam.

I gave my last final exam of the semester this morning.  It really wasn't a final exam.  I gave that to my class last week.  Today, I simply handed back all of their graded papers and quizzes and tests.  One student, however, did take the exam today.  He wasn't able to take it last week because he had to travel downstate for a funeral.  Therefore, he showed up and took it today.

In general, I think exams are a waste of time.  They don't really test knowledge.  They simply test a student's ability to memorize and regurgitate facts on a piece of paper.  I'm really good at that sort of thing.  I'm the king of useless knowledge.  If you're playing Trivial Pursuit, you want me on your team.  In most of the courses I teach (which are writing courses), however, final exams are pointless.  That being said, I did give a final exam in my Good Books class this semester.

All of the books I selected for this class had something to do with hope.  I was trying to develop my students' thinking about maintaining hope in a world without hope.  We read The Lovely Bones, The Color Purple, Mr. Ives' Christmas, Hiroshima, and The Road.  Each of these works deals, in some way, with the idea of hope.  At the end of our last class last week, I told my students they were all full of hope.  One of the more jaded of the group said, "I think hope is unrealistic.  Hope doesn't really accomplish anything."  I stood there for a second, dumbfounded.  I couldn't believe I was hearing this from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old.

Today's saint, Peter Chanel, was born in Belley, France, in 1803.  After becoming a priest, he was sent as a missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific.  When he arrived there, landing on the island of Futuna, Peter was very successful in converting the locals, including the son of the king.  The king, in retaliation, sent warriors to capture Peter.  The king's warriors caught Peter Chanel and clubbed him to death.  However, "within five months [of his death] the entire island was converted to the Faith."  In the face of tremendous opposition, Peter's message of hope continued to spread and bring people to God.

After my student made his statement, I stood silent for a moment.  Then I said, "Well, if you don't believe in hope, you might as well go home right now."  The student looked at me, confused.  I smiled at him.  "Why do you come to class?  In the hope of getting a degree.  Why do you want a degree?  In the hope of getting a job.  Why do you want a job?  In the hope of earning money.  Why do you want to earn money?  In the hope of buying a house or car, starting a family, having a good life."  I paused.  "If you think hope is unrealistic, you should quit college, go home, buy a lifetime supply of Cheetos, sit on the couch, and spend the rest of your life watching Dancing With the Stars and American Idol.  You might as well become an alcoholic and drug addict, as well.  Have some fun before you die."  My student stared at me, red-faced.  "Look," I said, quietly, "we all have hopes and dreams.  They're what keep us moving and living."  My hope-less student nodded.

Peter Chanel believed in hope.  So do I.

Saint Marty promised you a poem.  Here it is.  He prays you find hope in your heart tonight.


I watch this student take
His final exam, hunched over
His desk, Ticonderoga No. 2 moving
Like a Geiger counter needle
Across the page as he answers
My essay question.  I want
To tell him it doesn't matter,
This hour-long effort to earn
An "A" in my course called
Good Books.  Whether he makes
The Dean's List or not, he won't
Win back the friendship
Of the boy he loved in high school
Who broke my student's nose
When my student confessed
His feelings.  He won't bring
His mother back from Florida,
Where she ran after her psych meds
Failed and she saw Hitler
Buying cabbage at Walmart.
I'm lonely, my student wrote
In his journal.  I have no
Friends.  My family's shit.
My test will not change
Any of these things.  Yet,
My student writes and writes,
In search of acceptance,
Praise, the perfect 4.0 life.
The final question I ask him
Is simple:  What have you learned
About hope in this class?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27: Tragedy, Saint Peter Armengol, Hope

Peter Armengol was a thirteenth-century holy man, although he didn't start out so holy.  As a young man, he roamed with a group of "bandits" who pillaged and robbed travelers.  One day, the bandits encountered Peter's father on the road, intending to "plunder" him.  Peter, in a fit or remorse, begged for his father's forgiveness and from then on devoted himself to penance and "mortifications."  At one point in his life, Peter saved the lives of 18 boys who were being held hostage.  Peter offered himself up in exchange for their release.  The story goes, "Shortly thereafter he was hanged but when his body was taken down, he was discovered to still be alive."

This afternoon, my best friend found out that the mother of her son's girlfriend committed suicide today.  From what I know, the mother suffered from bipolar disorder and had been unstable for a long time.  The mother hanged herself.  One of her children found her.

Moments like these leave me speechless.  I have no idea what to say in the face of a tragedy like this.  The mother left behind two children, including a son who's in the eighth grade.  Unlike the story of Peter Armengol, there's no miracle coming in this situation.  There's just a lot of pain, confusion, and anger.  I've been through a similar experience with my wife's family, and there is no quick and easy fix.  There's just a long process of healing, of turning back to hope.  Right now, I know hope seems as distant as Christmas day.

I guess I'm writing this to ask you to pray for this family, for my friend and her son.  Sometimes it's is all you have. 

Join Saint Marty in prayer tonight.  Pray for solace.  Pray for healing.  Pray for hope.

Sometimes it's all you have
Saint Marty promises a poem tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26: My Son, Saint Paschasius Radbertus, IEP

My wife took my son to be evaluated for preschool today.  We were hoping that he would be able to get into Headstart early, like my daughter.  I wasn't at the evaluation, but my wife called me afterward.  She said my son refused to do anything that the evaluators wanted him to do.  He wouldn't point out the picture of a ball.  He wouldn't sit still or listen to instructions.  He was more interested in getting up and running around the church where the evaluation was taking place.  Then, the evaluators asked my wife questions about his behavior at home and around other people.

The long and the short of this story:  he's going to be attending a class next fall for kids who have social and speech developmental problems.  He will also receive an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) from special education teachers, social workers, psychologists.  My wife said the word the evaluators used to describe my son was "sensitive."  That means that he has a short attention span and reacts loudly, sometimes physically to situations.  When my wife described our son in these terms, I found myself getting defensive.  He is only two-and-a-half, for God's sake.  How mature do they expect him to be?

I've had a few hours now to contemplate the news.  My son is gorgeous.  Will always be gorgeous in my eyes.  That's what any parent would say.  He's not perfect, I know that.  But he's smart and funny.  At night, he'll sometimes sit on my lap, watching TV before he goes to bed.  He'll reach up with one arm and softly rub my cheek with his fingers.

Today's saint is Paschasius Radbertus.  He was "abandoned at the convent of Notre Dame at Soissons, France, at the beginning of the 9th century."  The nuns adopted him and eventually sent him to be educated by monks.  He was incredibly intelligent, of course.  He was great in Latin classics and sacred studies.  After he became a monk, he wrote books on the Gospel of Matthew, the Book of Lamentations, Psalm 44, and "the first scientific monograph on the Holy Eucharist."  And, of course, he became a saint.  But the part of his story that appeals to me today is the fact that he was abandoned, unwanted as a child.  Look at the great things he ended up doing.

I know my son will do well.  By the end of the summer, he may have matured enough to be retested.  He is affectionate and loving, will give kisses and blessings (a soft tap on the forehead) to almost anybody.  I'm just having a hard time with the idea that someone thinks of him as lacking in any way.  He's my beautiful boy.  He's a saint in a toddler's body.  The nuns saw that in Paschasius.  Hopefully, my son's teachers will see that in him.  When I look at him, I don't see limitations.  I see infinite possibility.  And my heart is breaking a little right now.

Don't worry, Saint Marty will  get it together.  He just needs a blessing from his little saint son.

My beautiful boy

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25: Warm Day, Saint Mark, and Aftermath

I am not going to be including a poem in today's post.  In fact, it will be a few days before a new poem is forthcoming.  It has been a wonderful journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, full of poetry and, at times, suffering.  I have never given birth, will never give birth.  I witnessed my daughter's birth, and the pain involved.  I will not trivialize the birthing process by saying that, after my last poem was posted yesterday, I felt like I had given birth.  However, I did feel as though I had run a poetic ultra-marathon through a couple deserts, over the Appalachians, and into the swamps of Louisiana.  It was quite a ride.  Now, I just want to bask in the afterglow of that experience for a few days.  Sit back, read of few of my poems, and say to myself, "That's pretty damn good."  Then I will pick up my poet's pen and start writing more poetry.

Today, the sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed into the upper 60s.  Days like this give me hope that Spring has finally arrived in the U.P.  When I went to the English Department to pick up a few papers to grade, there were tulips and crocuses planted outside the doors to the building.  The world is in the process of rebirth, and it's glorious.

If I sound like I'm in a good mood, I am.  I don't know why.  I still have tons of grading to do, and I haven't been for a run in about a week-and-a-half.  But I feel like I could do just about anything today.  I'm not sure if this is an after-effect of my 47-day poetry marathon.  I know that, when I've done journaling marathons in workshops I've taught, I often go home with a strange energy.  I find myself going for five-mile runs, vacuuming the house, or making cookies.  I have to believe what I'm feeling right now is a similar byproduct of my extended period of writing psalms.

The patron saint for today is the apostle Mark, writer  of the second Gospel.  Mark is also the patron saint of notaries.  No matter where I've looked, I can find no reason why Mark has received this distinction.  It would make sense if Mark worked for the government of Rome or Israel in some way.  I can't find any evidence of this fact.  I do know that Mark founded the Church of Alexandria, and he was the first Bishop of Alexandria.  Eventually, in some accounts, he was captured by the pagans of Alexandria.  The pagans put a rope around Mark's neck and dragged him through the streets of the city until he was dead.  The head of Mark was supposedly kept for centuries in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria.  However, it has been lost for some 250 years.  I don't know how you lose a saint's head.  It's not like a set of keys, for God's sake.  It would be something that would sort of stand out in your memory.  But, it is lost.  I have this vision of some bishop opening up a drawer in the cathedral one day and saying, "That's where I left it!"

Anyway, Mark's head is gone, and mine is filled with sun and tulips and poetry.

Saint Marty is having a great day.

Pope Kyrillos VI and relics of Saint Mark (but not his head)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24: Happy Easter, Psalm 47, Amen

Easter Sunday.  The last psalm of my Lenten promise.  I never thought I would make it to this day.  I never thought I would have 47 poems of which I was proud.  I thought I'd get ten or eleven that were worth pursuing.  The rest, I thought, would be throw-aways.  But, somehow, I managed to write 47 new poems in 47 days that I consider decent, unembarrassing.

I started out this morning with the idea of finishing the series with a sestina.  If you're not familiar with the form, it's incredibly complicated, involving a very strict repetition of final words in lines in a very specific pattern.  I struggled with the poem for half a day.  I realized about an hour ago that I wasn't getting anywhere with it.  So, I sat down and took the basic premise of the sestina and wrote the following poem.  It fairly flowed out of me.  I'm happy with it.  I feel it is an appropriate conclusion to my book of psalms.

Saint Marty wishes you a happy Easter.  He presents his final Lenten psalm.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Psalm 47:  Easter Bread

My mother made it on Holy Saturday
In her bowl as green as Easter grass.
She'd mix water, salt, sugar, flour,
Shortening and yeast, fold it
With her hands, over and over,
Until dough took shape, white
As my winter skin.  Then she kneaded,
Pushed and pounded, picked it up,
Slammed it down on the kitchen table,
Made the room shake with violence,
Sounds like sledges and spikes,
Holy, Easter sounds.  After she was done,
My mother left the bowl on the counter,
Draped with a towel.  She waited
For the dough to leaven, the yeast
To work like prayer, make the dough
Rise higher and higher, swell, stretch
Like a pregnant womb.  My mother
Returned, kneaded, punched
It into submission, broke
Its will, began the process anew.
As night fell, the dough rose and rose.
Some time after I went to bed,
My mother sliced loaves, and baked. 
On Easter morning, I woke
To the aroma of fresh bread.
Resurrection, sweet and warm.

Warm bread

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23: Penultimate, Psalm 46, Easter Vigil

Blessed light

Today's psalm is the penultimate.  I love that word.  It sounds so important.  As we've moved toward Easter this week, I've found that the Easter imagery has sort-of taken over.  I worry about my poems becoming too Catholic sometimes, but the imagery from Catholicism is just so rich with suffering, hope, blood, and light.  I can't resist it.  When you grow up Catholic, it becomes part of your daily vocabulary.  It soaks into your skin.

Tonight, I'm going to play the organ and sing at the Easter Vigil mass at my church.  It's my favorite service of the year, full of ritual and candles and beauty.  It starts after sundown and lasts for a little over two hours, usually.  The moment that appeals to me the most is gathering in the dark sanctuary.  After dusk, my church is pitch black on the inside.  And then the Easter flame is lit, and the light is passed from candle-to-candle throughout the church.  When I look down from the choir loft, the pews are swimming with fire and warmth.  It's absolutely gorgeous.

Today's poem is about vigils people keep.

Saint Marty hopes you're having a peaceful and blessed weekend.

Psalm 46:  Vigil

When my grandmother died, my dad
Sat by her bed all night, recited
Rosaries, listened as her breaths
Became lighter, lighter, the space
In between, longer and longer,
Like waves on a summer beach, soft
Swells and troughs breaking on sand.
Hiss.  Silence.  Hiss.  Greater silence.
My dad kept vigil, waited for dawn,
The last wave, the greatest silence.

The night before my wife gave birth
To our daughter, the hospital room
Was filled with family, friends.
We took turns holding my wife’s hand
When the pain overcame her,
Preparing her body to deliver new life.
Outside, snow, wind tore through darkness
As we kept vigil, waited for sunrise.

This Holy Saturday, I will go to church
After night falls.  In the black pews,
I will wait for the priest to light
The first fires of Easter, for the flame
To pass from candle to candle
Until the walls, pillars, ceiling
Of the sanctuary flood with light.
I will go with my daughter,
Keep vigil with her, wait
For the church to bloom
With bells and incense and hymns,
Psalms of deserts and seas,
Hunger and manna.
I will sing with her, loud,
Joyful songs, calling all the children
Out to the playground, under the stars,
To slide, to clap, to dance, to shout,
To swing so high their feet
Kick the last breath of night
To the first cry of morning.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22: Good Friday, Psalm 45, A Day Off

I didn't work today.  I usually don't on Good Friday.  Between church services and Easter shopping, I have enough to do.  I just got back from my second worship service, and it's 8:47 p.m.  After I'm done typing this post, I' going to go home, dust a few things to finish my house cleaning, and then I may have a drink (and I ain't talking about tea).

Yesterday's poem stressed me out so much, I had serious doubts I was going to get anything written today.  However, I woke up refreshed, excited for a new poem.  If you read my psalm yesterday, you should go back and reread it now.  It has been revised extensively, and it is about a thousand times better.  Sometimes the deadline forces me to publish a poem that's not quite done cooking.  Now, Psalm 44 is cooking, to quote my Cajun friend.

Today's poem is pretty self-explanatory.  I started writing it during my first Good Friday service this afternoon.  I finished it a little while ago.  It's about sacrifice.  It's about redemption.  I think.  Anyway, it's done.

Saint Marty would like to order a gin and tonic, heavy on the gin.

Psalm 45:  Good, Bad, And Ugly Friday

I used  to think I’d be struck
Deaf and blind if I stepped outside
Between and
On Good Friday.  My family would
Unplug radios and TVs,
Let the phone ring and ring,
Never answer, in case Satan
Was calling to tempt us to eat
Meat or chocolate or jellybeans.
For those three hours, we lived
As ancient Israelites, I thought,
Unable to depend on any modern
Luxury that made life easier.
I ignored hunger, nausea,
The urge to pee or defecate, use
A flush toilet, while Jesus hung
On the cross for me, forgave
Me for finding the Playboy
Under my brother’s mattress,
Sneaking into the bathroom
To see those secret woman
Places Saint Joseph never knew.
At exactly , I went
Into the backyard, breathed
Air purged of sin, clean
As salt waves in the Pacific.
I was a chalkboard washed
Of math problems, spelling lists,
Ready for new lessons,
New vocabulary.  Not words
Spray-painted on gas station walls
By people who wandered
The streets during the sacred
Three hours.  No.  Holy words
The nuns taught me in religion class:
“Suffering,” “sacrifice,” “redemption.”
In three days, I’d meet Jesus
At Dairy Queen, split a vanilla malt
With Him, talk about all
The things I’d done.  The good.
The bad.  The ugly.  Tell Him
Of my suffering, sacrifice on Friday,
All for Him, only for Him.
Give Him the whipped cream,
The maraschino cherry.

Can we have two straws?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21: Final Meals, Psalm 44, Drama

Pass the rolls, please.
I came up with the idea for this poem yesterday as I was rehearsing a Maunday Thursday drama at church.  For some reason, I got to thinking about last meals of famous people.  Lincoln.  JFK.  Michael Jackson.  I became particularly obsessed with what Lincoln ate before he went to Ford's Theater.  I didn't know if I'd really be able to find out this information, but, for the rest of the night, I was planning today's psalm.  This morning, I found a great book by chef and historian Andrew Caldwell titled The Last Suppers:  Legends of History and Their Final Meals.  It combines two of my favorite subjects--food and death.  What could be better?

I have to perform tonight at church, and I'm a little nervous about it.  I almost have my lines down, almost know what I'm going to do.  The other actors are in the same boat.  It's going to be a nail-biter for me.

I don't have a lot more time to write today.  I used it all up with today's poem.  I have to teach, correct papers, make up a quiz.

Saint Marty wishes you a blessed Holy Thursday.

Psalm 44:  Last Suppers

Details from Andrew Caldwell and Honesto General

For years as a child, I hoped, prayed
My last night would be cataclysmic
And holy, a meteor roaring
Out of the heavens to smote me
As I descended church steps
Onto sidewalk, Jesus still lingering
On my tongue.  My parents starved
Me before mass, Body of Christ not allowed
To mingle with grilled cheese or Milky Way,
Holiness absorbed as fast as
An atomic flash.  My mother told me
If I got killed by a bus immediately
After communion, I would go straight to heaven,
The host my get-out-of-Purgatory-free card.
If I ate only holy wafers,
I could be like Padre Pio, who bled
From his hands and feet for 50 years,
Tasted the flesh of Christ in his mouth
When he died, warm, thick as the lentil soup
John Belushi consumed his last night,
Or the French onion Julia Child ate
The day her soufflé finally fell.
Custer stuffed himself with buffalo
Steaks, beans and molasses,
Roasted wild corn and prairie hen,
All fresh kills, prepared by his chef
Before Little Bighorn.  Marilyn Monroe
Ordered gazpacho, chicken breasts
As full as her own ample cleavage,
Layered taco dip, meatballs, refried beans,
Veal parmigiana.  Ginsberg made
Fish chowder, stored two gallons
In his freezer before his last howl.
John Lennon noshed on corned beef.
John Kennedy, first Catholic president,
Breakfasted not on the Eucharist,
But soft-boiled eggs, bacon,
Toast, marmalade, orange juice,
Coffee on the morning he rode
To Dealey Plaza  Martin Luther King,
A real Southerner, had fried chicken,
Louisiana hot sauce and vinegar,
Black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread
As he stood on the mountaintop,
Saw the Promised Land, his dream.
On Good Friday, Lincoln ate
Mock turtle soup with oxtail,
Roast Virginia fowl with chestnut stuffing,
Baked yams, cauliflower drenched
In cheese sauce.  He carried his cross
To Ford’s Theater, was set free
Next morning, Holy Saturday.  Jesus ate
Grilled tilapia, jugs of red wine,
White and red grapes, olives, dates,
Melon and lamb, pit-roasted
And dipped in wild honey.
His friends got drunk, sang songs,
As He broke bread, passed the cup.
They had no idea of what was coming,
The meteor bearing down on them
As they descended the stairs, stomachs full,
Into the hungry streets.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20: Feeling Like a Poet, Psalm 43, Denial

Once again, today's poem was a gift, this time from my coworker.  As we were leaving work yesterday, I told her that we were supposed to get a storm overnight.  Four to six inches of snow with high winds.  My coworker said, "No we're not.  It's going to be a sunny day tomorrow."  (My coworker is a little tired of terminal snow.)  I told her I would loan her my keys to my apartment on Denial.  "It's a beautiful place," I told her.  We laughed, and I told her that she had given me the subject for my next poem.

Last night's poetry reading went really well.  The graduate students' poems were good, although very, very serious, or (as they say in England) "vedy, vedy, sedious."  By the end of that section of the night, I knew I needed to lighten things up.  So I read a really funny poem to start out.  I had the audience eating out of my hand by the end of it.  Then I read something really serious.  You could have heard a mouse fart in the room.  Then I read something funny, and I finished with yesterday's wren poem.  It was really fun, and I really felt like a poet, instead of someone who just scribbles in a journal and types it up.  My friend, Claudia, was there, and she read after me.  She was great, and we had a wonderful night catching up.

Today, I still feel like a poet.  I guess it's afterglow.  Whatever it is, I hope it lasts for a long time.  I'm still feeling quite stressed, still have a lot of grading and other shit to accomplish for school, not to mention all the church stuff.  I need a break.  Or a piece of chocolate.

Calgon, take me away!

Saint Marty is going to take a trip today, to a little place I have on deNial.

Psalm 43:  Denial

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
                        ----Mark Twain

I still own a condo there, return
From time-to-time when life gets rough.
It’s a beautiful place where the sky
Stays pink from dawn to dusk, egrets
Basking on the riverbanks, their feathers
Aglow, the temperature, perfect:  74.2° Fahrenheit.
Always.  There blows a gentle breeze
Off the water, and a smell of marsh
Hangs in the air, not too strong.
Last night, with weather reports
Of an April blizzard, eight to ten inches,
I took a trip to the Nile, left
Behind everything but a toothbrush,
Clean underwear, a tube of sunscreen.
I wandered the streets of Cairo, bought
Kabobs of lamb and pineapple, ate
Them on the balcony of my place,
Watched the sunset over the river,
So orange it made the water
Sizzle, jump with color, light.
I saw people I know on the street
Below.  Maija, my friend whose son
Is alcoholic, bipolar, jogged by,
Her body toned, thin, the way
She’s always wanted it to be.
My office mate, Bonnie, waded
In the river shallows, no children,
No students, just the mud in her toes,
Bach in her ears.  So many people
Taking a break in this exotic, pink
Place from all the rocks in shoes,
Hangnails on thumbs, hungry babies,
Mortgages, unemployment, oil spills.
Just a balcony.  74.2°.  Lamb kabobs.
Classical music.  Egrets, not regrets.
And 4,135 miles of water, Lake Victoria
To the Mediterranean Sea.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19: Dead Birds, Psalm 42, Poetry Reading

Yesterday, when I got home from work, there was a bowl face-down on my front lawn.  I thought my daughter had eaten a snack outside and then left the empty bowl carelessly on the grass.  I swore a little bit, went to the bowl, and picked it up.  Underneath was a dead wren.  I screamed like a girl for a second.  When I went inside, my daughter told me she'd covered the bird up because she it made her sad to look at it.  I thanked her for giving me the idea for a poem.  That is the genesis of today's psalm.

Bye bye birdie!

This whole week is going to be crazy busy.  Tonight, I have a rehearsal for a drama in which I'm performing on Maunday Thursday.  Then I going to a local business to read poetry at an open mic night for National Poetry Month.  (I told you about this event yesterday.)  Tomorrow night, I have another drama rehearsal at 6 p.m.  I have choir practice at 7 p.m.  Then I have band practice at 8 p.m.  On Thursday, I have one more drama rehearsal at 5 p.m.  The drama takes place after a potluck dinner at 6 p.m.  At 7 p.m., there's going to be a communion service.  On Good Friday, I have services at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.  On Saturday, I have practice for an Easter sunrise service at 11 a.m.  At 9 p.m., I'm playing for the Easter Vigil mass at the local Catholic church.  Then, on Easter morning, I have a service at 7 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.  After that, I'm going to collapse and possibly drink heavily.  Between all those things, I have papers to correct and poems to write.

Saint Marty is trying to maintain his sanity, trying to carve a little sacred time out of an incredibly crazy week.  Pray for him.

Psalm 42:  Wren

My daughter found a dead wren
On our lawn this morning,
On its back in frozen mud,
Its brown and white feathers
Dusted with frost and dew.
It looked as if it had fallen
In love with the stars during
The night, lain down on the ground
To admire their slow burn
Across the dark, and gone to sleep
In the middle of its reverie,
The way I sometimes doze off
In bed mid-prayer, blessings
Still sitting on my tongue, waiting.
My daughter covered the wren
With a cereal bowl, Corelle
Mausoleum under the April sun,
White as an eggshell.  I saw
The bowl when I came home,
Bent down, lifted it up
To see what it concealed.
The wren greeted me
With black eyes, its body
Soaked with melt and warmth.
As I watched, its chest
Lifted, fell, lifted again.
I waited to see if the wren
Would flit to its feet,
Fly away, risen, resurrected.
The wren continued
To move, and I realized
It was being reclaimed,
Its body broken down by
Lice and ant and larva
To its elements, its primal state.
I placed the bowl over
The wren once more, to give
Its death privacy.  In three days,
I will check on the wren
To see if the stone has been
Rolled away, the tomb, empty
As Easter morning.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18: Language Poems, Psalm 41, Six More To Go

I don't know if I have given my opinion of language poems in my blog before.  I just did a search of my labels to see if "language poems" was there.  It wasn't.  Therefore, I have to assume that this topic has never come up before, which really surprises me.  I have very strong opinions on the subject.  I guess I'll just give you an idea of where I stand on the current poetry in vogue with most literary magazines:  language poetry.  Here goes...

It sucks.

That being said, in Best American Poetry 2010, there was a language poem by Sharon Olds that I absolutely loved.  There are always exceptions to the rule.  On the whole, I can't stand poems that simply are trying to be clever deconstructions of words, language, or syntax.  Those kinds of poems lack a certain heft which I find in the poems that I like.  If the entire aim of a poem is to confound expectations, create confusion, I don't really care to read it.  Perhaps it's old school, but I actually expect poetry to communicate something.  Language is a vehicle to bring people together--poet and reader, friend and friend, husband and wife, wife and son.  Not drive them apart.

OK, I'm stepping down off my soap box now.  And, having said what I just said, my psalm today is a language poem, or my version of a language poem (which is very similar to Sharon Olds' version).  I'm attempting to be playful with language but also reach some emotional depth.  That is my intention, anyway.  The idea for this poem came to me yesterday when I spoke with my Cajun friend about the Olds poem.  I thought I'd try to experiment a little.  The result is below.

My daughter is home sick today.  Sore throat.  She's been sick all weekend.  My wife took her to the doctor this morning.  I have to pick up antibiotic after work for her.  Right now, my daughter is having a meltdown because of all the homework she has to complete before she returns to school tomorrow.  I believe her exact words to me were, "WHAT?!!  THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!"  Then she disappeared into the bowels of her room, and my wife hasn't seen her since.  Being a fourth grader is hard work.

Forty-one poems down, six to go.  The end is in sight.

Saint Marty hopes you enjoy this language poem.  If you don't, you can join his daughter in her bedroom, sulking and crying.

Psalm 41:  Holy Week

I am weak this Holy week,
Tired of holes in my life,
My weaknesses apparent, transparent
In the weeks of unpaid cable, electric bills,
Holes in my savings account, zeros
Piled high as the National Debt Ceiling.
Nonillion.  Decillion.  Octodecillion.
Exotic terms for emptiness as great
As snowfall in Thompson Pass, Alaska,
Where white mounts to such levels
It can’t be measured.  Certain
Places celebrate hole-ness.  Jackson Hole.
Hole in the Wall.  Bully Hole Bottom.
The universe has black holes,
Where weak matter collapses, swirls
To gravity, density, infinity.  Musicians
Play whole notes.  Mathematicians count
Whole numbers.  My son drinks whole
Milk.  Thomas had such weak faith
He wouldn’t believe until he put
His fingers through the holes
In Christ’s palms, in His side.
Holy weakness.  Or weakly whole.
This whole morning, I’ve chased white
Rabbits into holes, found myself staring
At mirrors, seen myself whole, in parts,
A weak reflection, an apparition.
I'm a 98-pound-weakling on the road
To Golgotha,  Christ comes along,
Kicks sand in my eyes
With His holy feet.

Wholly Weak

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17: Seven More Days, Psalm 40, Weaving, Music

It is Palm Sunday.  After today, I have seven more poems to write.  That will complete my Lenten obligation.  My psalms have not all been about praise, as I initially intended.  However, I do think this little series of poems more accurately reflects the make-up of the actual Book of Psalms, which is full of praise, sorrow, anger, despair, and every other human emotion in between.

Today's service at church was really joyful, full of good, rocking music and palm waving.  It filled with me with happiness.  That may sound old-fashioned or sentimental.  I don't care.  I felt a spiritual lift from raising my voice in praise.  It was great.

When I was a kid, my sisters used to take the palms we got on Palm Sunday and weave them into different shapes.  I remember crosses and lanyards.  It always amazed me.  I was never able to learn the technique.  But I remember these palms being around the house all year long, behind pictures of the Sacred Heart and crucifixes.  They would be dry and yellow by the next Palm Sunday, when they would be replaced.  Those weavings were the inspiration behind today's psalm.  (I was going to write about Easter chocolate, but this idea sort of took over when I started working.)

On Tuesday night, I'm going to an open mic poetry night at a local establishment.  I'm going to read a few of my psalms.  I guess I've become a topic of interest in my Cajun friend's graduate-level poetry class.  The fact that I've been able to write 40-plus poems in as many days astounds some of her students.  I will have to say that, some days, I almost came up empty-handed.  But not today.

Psalm number 40 from Saint Marty.  Fun with palms.

Psalm 40:  Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, I sat during Mass,
Watched my sisters mold, caress,
Bend thin fronds, yellow, green,
Reminders of sand, of desert rock.
They split, braided, transformed
Those palms into lanyards, honeycomb.
Crosses.  Peacocks.  Hummingbirds.
Sheep.  Hands with spikes in them.  Deer.
It was like watching stop-motion films.
Robin eggs hatching, rose bushes blooming.
As the priest stalked church aisles,
Incense heady as fresh-cut grass,
I marveled at simple acts of creation
Taking place beside me.  My sister Ruth said
Let there be rhino.  Twist.  Fold.  Tie.
There was rhino.  It was as much
A miracle to my eight-year-old heart
As the story of the man nailed
To a tree, dying, then rising in silver
Light three days later.  Even now,
After thirty-some years, I see
A pile of palms in church, have faith
It will grow, breathe, advance
Toward the altar.  A throng as great
As the animals lining up for Noah's ark
While thunder, lightning broke the clouds.
Or flocks of meadowlarks on Easter
Morning, singing sweet hosannas
In the pearl dawn.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16: Psalm 39

Hello to all my readers.  I know you're out there.  It is a day of snow and rain in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Depending on which weather report you hear, we could be in for more sleet or up to six inches of snow by tomorrow morning.  However, I'm not letting it get me down.  Yesterday's poem was downer enough.

Tonight, I going to see a production of Peter Pan with my daughter.  It's the last in the local college's theater season.  She's looking forward to it.  I'm looking forward to possibly seeing somebody fly into a wall by mistake.  It's going to be a good night.

This morning, I was listening to the radio, and I heard a discussion of string theory.  It so struck me, the inter-connectedness of the universe, that I had to write about it.  I mean, I've heard it said that actions vibrate through history.  Until today, I had given it very little thought, especially when it comes to poetry.  The idea, however, that each poem that's written in the world is just an extension of one, long, universal poem really appeals to me.

So Saint Marty presents a lesson in poetic string theory.

Psalm 39:  String Theory and the Book of Psalms

I heard on the radio we're not alone,
Not beings with independent atom,
Nucleus, DNA, hemoglobin, muscle,
Bone, skin.  Strings connect me to my wife,
Daughter, son, brothers and sisters,
Parents, kindergarten teacher, Brit Lit
Professor, Wordsworth, Julius Caesar,
Cleopatra, Herod, John the Baptist,
Jesus, Isaiah, Solomon, King David.
David, gazing at Bathsheba's arms,
Legs, breasts under desert sun,
Vibrates in the filaments of my bed
As I fall into my wife, lose myself
In the Jerusalem of her body,
Each of these words I write now,
Just extensions, continuums,
Revisions of David's songs, verses,
The way Whitman wrote, rewrote
Leaves of Grass, added, subtracted,
Refined until the day he breathed
His last breath.  Walt, David, and I
Dance naked in a cornfield,
Our joy a ticker tape parade through time,
One long poem of lament, of praise
To God, filtering through the air,
Like rain on Easter, full of music, promise.

A little strong theory humor!

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15: Friday Night, Psalm 38, Guys' Night

Going the wrong way
I have felt at times today like I've been heading down the wrong street.  My day hasn't been horrible.  I haven't had any terrible mishaps.  I just feel a little off, that's all.  Everybody has days like this, I know.

Tonight, my wife is taking my daughter to see a high school production of Guys and Dolls.  Our niece has a part in it.  I'm staying home with my son.  We're going to have a guys' night.  Actually, I'm going to have a guys' night, since my son goes to bed at 7 p.m.  I just bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One.  I plan on having a wine cooler and a movie.  No school work.  No more writing.

Today's poem sort of reflects my feeling of heading in the wrong direction.  I will admit it's not very joyful.  In fact, I would say it's downright depressing.  But it's what I got today.  With my general mood today, I think I'm lucky to have any poem to post at all.

Saint Marty is going to try to find his way back to joy tonight.  Wish him luck.

Psalm 38:  Wrong Turn

When I visited her in the hospital, she sat in the lounge with me, brooded, stared out the fifth floor windows, her face empty, hollow as a church bell.  I made small talk:  "What did you have for dinner?" and "How'd you sleep last night?" and "How'd group therapy go?"  Her answers, one or two syllables.  A shrug.  A nod.  I knew my presence irritated her, reminded her of the flannel sheets on our bed, turkey loaf, our daughter's shitty diapers.  When I left, walked out the doors, heard them close, lock, I knew she hated me even more, wanted to scratch, claw my skin, make me ache the way she did.  She would go back to her room, her bed.  Lie down.  Stare out her window.  Try to draw a map of her mind.  Get lost.  Me, I drove home, through dusk, listened to the classical station.  Bach.  Mahler.  Mozart.  Didn't pay attention to streets, traffic lights, other cars.  I thought about her on our wedding night.  Warm against my nakedness.  Each curve, path of her body as familiar to me as my breath, my heart.  I wondered what wrong turn we had taken.  When I got home, our house was dark, silent under the starless sky.  Foreign.  Berlin.  Gdansk.  Sarajevo.  Nagasaki.  Baghdad. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14: Trucks, Psalm 37, Daycare

I am going to make this really quick.  I have to leave work early to pick up my children from daycare.  My wife is working this evening, so I am flying solo.  My daughter has ballet, and I have to go grocery shopping.  Daddy has his work cut out for him, but he's up for it. 

This poem is about my son's love for cars, something that I did nothing to encourage.  I don't understand what part of my or my wife's genetic make-up accounts for this love.  That's the issue of today's psalm.  It took me about an hour to write.  Add another half hour of revision.  Viola.

Saint Marty, once more is an a hurry.  He promises to write more meaty posts after he's done with his Lenten project.  Really, he does. 

Psalm 37:  My Son’s Cars

When I read to my son, he runs
From me, as if I’m a hungry lion,
He, a well-fed Christian condemned
By Nero.  I have never played with green
Soldiers, refuse to buy toy guns or darts,
Still have my daughter’s old dolls
In the toy chest.  My son obsesses over
Cars, matchbox tractors, helicopters tiny
As frogs.  I don’t know where he learned
This hunger, if it somehow mutated
From some Neanderthal gene, hairy,
Full of mammoth hunts, stone wheels.
He sits on the floor, growls, makes sounds
Of rusty mufflers, truck engines stuck
In pools of swamp mud.  I listen,
Watch him shove cars across hardwood,
Think of my father, a plumber, hunter,
Car guy, in the front row for Our Town
When I was in high school.  He watched me
The way he watches the Super Bowl
Every year, as if his life depends on
His team bringing home the Vince Lombardi
Trophy.  I took my bow, looked at my father,
Standing, clapping, maybe understanding
Thornton Wilder’s words about how
We all go through life, ignorant of
Toast mothers make for breakfast,
Grass fathers mow on summer nights,
Our daily acts of devotion, sacrifices
We make without even thinking.
I will sit in stadium bleachers
If my son joins the football team.
I will buy popcorn, cheer, stomp.
I will do this for him, not quite
Comprehending the rules of his game,
The mechanics of toy cars pushed
Straight through the walls of my heart.

My son and his truck

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

April 13: 50 Posts, Psalm 36, Beef Balloons

Hello, my faithful followers.  This post marks the fiftieth new one since I switched over to Saint Marty.  We should have a celebration, cake, ice cream, confetti, a pinata.  At the very least, somebody should write a comment to me, congratulating me on lasting this long.  I'd settle for that.

Today also marks 36 new poems in 36 days.  I never really thought I'd be able to last this long.  I have approximately 11 more days and 11 more poems to go to fulfill my Lenten vow.  What looked like an impossibility on Ash Wednesday now seems within my reach.  I'm probably more excited by that fact than my fiftieth post.

Today's poem was inspired by a video clip of Billy Collins reading his poem "Litany."  I played it for my students yesterday, and they really got into it.  When I started thinking about today's psalm, I kept flashing back to Collins and "Litany."  I decided to follow his example.  I took one of the most famous psalms, Psalm 23, and reworked it a little bit.  It was a lot of fun and came relatively easily.

Easter is fast approaching.  I have choir practice and praise band practice tonight.  Palm Sunday this week.  I'm going to breathe a huge sigh on Easter Sunday.  I always over-commit myself this time of year.  I need to slow things down a little.

Saint Marty (with a nod to Billy Collins) now invites you to rethink Psalm 23.

Psalm 36:  23 Revisited

The Lord is my shepherd.  I lack for nothing.
Well, almost.  I could use a bigger
House.  Mine is a little crowded for four people.
Plus, the neighbors smoke pot in their garage.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I try to stay out of pastures.  Not a big fan
Of livestock.  I once had a bull chase me
On a friend’s farm.  It scared the shit out of me.
He leads me beside quiet waters,
            He refreshes my soul.
Getting back to the house, I’d like a view
Of the big lake, be able to hear waves
Through my bedroom window in summer,
Watch snow roll across surf in January.
He guides me along the right paths
            For His name’s sake.
I always try to do the right thing, give
To Haiti earthquake relief, tsunami aid
To Japan.  I even skipped McDonald’s
For a week or so after Oprah’s exposé
On the cattle industry.  I’d look at a Big Mac,
See corn-fed, hormone-enhanced cows,
Balloons of beef on toothpick legs.
Even though I walk
            Through the valley of the shadow of death,
            I will fear no evil.
I’m a college adjunct English instructor.
Need I say more?
For You are with me;
Your rod and your staff,
            They comfort me.
This morning, when I woke at 1 a.m.,
My hand an ache of carpal tunnel,
I sat in the living room, said a prayer,
Felt Your presence on the couch
With me, like my grandmother’s afghan
Around my shoulders.  I felt better.
Then I took a Xanax, went back to bed.
You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies.
Which reminds me, I haven’t had lunch.
I brought two pieces of cold pizza,
Left them in the fridge.  I hope none
Of my coworkers got into them.
I once brought leftover potpie.
The bastards ate the whole thing.  Really.
You anoint my head with oil;
            My cup overflows.
My mother taught me to say thanks,
Count my blessings the way I counted
Seashells I collected on the beach
As a kid.  So, thank You, Lord, for
My small house, cold pizza, Xanax,
Coworkers who don’t respect boundaries.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me
            All the days of my life.
Each night, when I go home, feed,
Bathe my kids, their skin
Fresh and pink from hot water,
I know You are there, Lord, watching.  Always.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
As long as it has three bedrooms, two baths,
And a really, really, really big kitchen.

Cheeseburger anyone?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12: Peace, Psalm 35, Greta Garbo

Another psalm down.  I began writing this poem last night, as I was waiting for my daughter to finish up at her ballet class.  It's a time I kind of treasure each week, because I have about 45 minutes completely to myself.  Sometimes I read.  Sometimes I say prayers.  Sometimes I work on poems.  Sometimes I poke around on the Internet.  In short, I do whatever the hell I want.  For 45 minutes.  Heaven.  Yesterday, I started writing this poem.

The last four or five days, I've had a real struggle getting my daily psalm done.  Of course, when a writer starts to struggle, the writer starts to worry about writer's block.  Then the writer starts to focus so much on the struggle, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The writer becomes constipated--no words, no poetry, nothing.  I'm trying to avoid that situation.

I'm typing this post right before I have to go and teach my writing and literature class.  We're into the poetry section of the semester.  My favorite.  I'm showing the students a video of Billy Collins doing a reading.  If Billy Collins can't get someone to like poetry, it's hopeless.  My goal is to change some minds today about what poetry is and can be.

Today's psalm was described by my coworker, Mary, as "peaceful."  I like that.  I rarely write anything to which that adjective can be applied.  I was peaceful when I thought of this poem last night.  I was pretty peaceful, for the most part, during its composition. 

Saint Marty brings you a little peace today...

Psalm 35:  Praise for Waiting

I scribble these lines in my journal
As I wait for my daughter’s ballet
Class to end, her to come out of the studio,
Flushed from grand jeté, allegro, pirouette.
I treasure these moments of waiting
At the end of the day, in my car,
Radio silent, evening creeping into air
Like frost on a kitchen window, delicate
Fingers of cold and dark.  This moment,
Suspended between dinner and sleep,
Seems timeless, the way pictures of Garbo
Seem timeless, black-and-white, eyes
Focused upward, as if some lover
Hovers above her, waiting to press
His lips to hers, taste her meter, rhythm,
Sonnet of skin, snowdrift body.
Words cannot, will not touch these long
Seconds, no verb or adjective coax
Onto page the pure pleasure of possibility,
Reaching out like an unwritten poem.
I close my eyes, understand why Garbo
Disappeared when she did, left the world
Waiting for one last word, one last glimpse.
A snapshot.  My daughter caught mid-leap,
Waiting, always waiting, to descend.
"I vant to be alone."