Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Visits, SH on the Way

Today is the feast day that commemorates the Virgin Mary travelling to Jerusalem (or nearly to Jerusalem) to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist.  Of course, most Christians know how the story goes:  "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice:  'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  But who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?  Behold, the moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who believed that the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled.'"

Yup, visiting.  In less than a week now, SH (the relative whose visit I've been dreading) will be flying into town.  I've had over a month now to steel myself for this month-long exercise in patience and generosity.  At the beginning of May, I was really looking forward to the summer months:  running in the hot sun, swimming in the pool, reading books not connected to teaching or school.  Now, I'm hoping to salvage July and August.  I'll recover during those months.

My friend Wonder Twin told me this morning that I need to be the bigger person.  I have to be tolerant, compassionate, and kind toward SH.  I told Wonder Twin I was tired of being tolerant, compassionate, and kind toward SH when she's small-minded, cruel, and ignorant.  I know the whole thing Jesus said about turning the other cheek, but I'd rather drop my pants and tell SH to kiss my ass.  However, I know those aren't the cheeks Jesus was talking about.

Elizabeth recognized the presence of Jesus in Mary over two thousand years ago.  Elizabeth had the Holy Spirit on her side.  I'm not quite feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit right now.  I'm having a hard time with SH even being in the same state as I am, let alone the same room.  But Wonder Twin is right.  I need to take the high road.  I hope that doesn't mean praying SH gets a month-long migraine is the wrong thing to do.

Kidding.  I'm just kidding.  Really.

Today, on the celebration of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, I search for the presence of Christ in SH's upcoming visit.  I try to keep my heart and mind open to grace.  Unfortunately, grace isn't always rainbows and chocolate cake.  Sometimes, grace is a daisy growing out of a pile of cowshit.

Saint Marty, looking for his daisy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30: Memorial Day, New Poem, Dance Party

I just dropped my daughter off at the local Pizza Hut for a party with her dance instructor and fellow students.  I have about an hour until I have to pick her up, plenty of time to get this post done.

It's been a fairly lazy morning and afternoon.  My family and I went to a Memorial Day parade, which lasted all of five minutes.  From what I understand, Memorial Day parades used to be as big a deal as Fourth of July parades around here.  However, over the years, people have forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day and simply think of it as the three-day weekend that kicks off summer.  I want my daughter and son to realize the true significance of Memorial Day.  Therefore, I make them go to the parade, and then I take them to the local cemetery for the service conducted by the VFW.

My daughter is used to this little tradition.  She has learned to pay attention and be respectful.  My son, who is only two-years-old, is another story.  He doesn't get it.  So I spent most of my time at the cemetery walking with him among the headstones, catching bits and pieces of the ceremony over the loudspeakers.  However, he will eventually understand in years to come.

My heart and my thanks go out to all people serving in the military this day, and to their families, as well.  I can sit here, blogging away on my computer without fear of censorship, because of the sacrifices made by soldiers who protect my freedoms.  And to all who have lost loved ones in current and past wars, my deepest gratitude and prayers.

My poem is about this ultimate sacrifice.

Today, Saint Marty humbly salutes people who really understand the meaning of bravery.

Thank you.  Amen.
In Memoriam

I take my two-year-old son
To the cemetery this Memorial Day,
Walk him around gravestones
As local war veterans conduct
A service solemn as evening rain,
As a high school band plays
Stars and Stripes Forever,
As the local Methodist pastor
Talks of ultimate sacrifice.
I remain a respectful distance away
So my son's screams won't
Disrupt the placing of wreaths,
The recognition of the Gold Star mother,
A woman whose son bled
To death in a jungle over 40 years ago.
On this day, in this place,
Her grief is fresh, delicate
As the white rose pinned
To the lapel of her jacket.
I lift my son into my arms
When I see the honor guards
Shoulder their rifles and aim.
I whisper in my son's ear,
Warn him of the noise to follow.
He still flinches, jumps
When the guns crack.
Seven of them.  Three times.
I hold my son close, as if I need
To protect him from some unseen
Enemy.  The trumpet begins
To play for the dead.  My son squirms,
Wants down, wants to run,
Collect fistfuls of dandelions.
I struggle to keep him still
Until the music ends,
Until the horn's last notes fade
In the gray morning.  My son
Kicks, pushes, yells until even
The Gold Star mother turns, looks
At us.  I surrender, put my son down.
I watch him race away from me,
Laughing among the stones,
The rows of waving flags.
Happy.  Free.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 29: New Confessions of Saint Marty, Turkey Dinner

Well, you'll have to forgive me if the cartoon today doesn't look as good as the other ones.  I had to scan the images by myself after getting a crash course last night from my sister.  I think I did everything correctly, but the proof will be in the post.

Had a great morning of worship at church.  We had a string quartet playing "Nearer My God to Thee."  It was beautiful.  We also played some good music with the band.  This afternoon, we're having a deep-fried turkey with all the fixings.  Looking forward to that.  It's a slow day.  I don't know where my son is.  He went for a ride this morning with my sister, and I haven't seen him since.

Well, I'm going to cut this one a little short.  I promise something a little meatier tomorrow, even if it's a recipe for a chicken pot pie.

Saint Marty, looking forward to some turkey.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28: Cartoon, Kung Fu Panda 2

It has been a pretty do-nothing day.  That means I did nothing that could even be considered productive.  I went to breakfast at McDonald's with my kids.  Then I spent the afternoon at my sister's trailer, cooped up with my daughter's friends, an 11-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl.  It was raining.  They couldn't go outside.  Eventually, it became unbearable, so I took them to see Kung Fu Panda 2.  Awesome flick.  Jack Black rocks.

That's about all I have to report.  I will not get deep or thoughtful.  I do have a new installment of Confessions of Saint Marty.  Hope you get a laugh out of it.  I'm looking forward to watching the Lawrence Welk Show tonight.  Don't scoff until you've tried it.

Saint Marty, takin' it easy.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27: IEP, Lunch, New Poem

This afternoon, my wife and I have to attend an IEP for my two-year-old son to decide how he will be educated next year in preschool.  It seems, to me, like a ridiculous exercise in the management of school resources, but, hey, what do I know?  I just want my son to get into preschool, possibly a Headstart program.  If I have to jump through this hoop, I'll do a little stretching and leap.

Whenever I have to make decisions that impact my children's futures, like which school to attend or which teacher to choose, I get a little anxious.  I'm constantly afraid I'll make a bad choice and screw them up for the rest of their lives.  And my son's only two, so that's a helluva long time.

In a little while, I'm going out to lunch with my wife and sisters.  Then onto the IEP.  I'm looking forward to the long Memorial Day weekend.  I want to relax.  That doesn't mean I don't have obligations to fulfill, but having three days in which to get things done is a luxury I rarely get.  I have already accomplished quite a bit this morning at work, including writing a new poem.  The weekend's off to a really good start.

My new poem is about my anxieties over my son's future, obviously inspired by the experience I'm anticipating this afternoon.  Enjoy.  Give me some feedback.  Please.

Saint Marty is going to go get some deep-fried cheese curds now.

On My Son’s Future

I meet with his future
Teachers today, a man, a woman,
To decide how we will
Mold him into something
Acceptable, a straight “A”
Football player valedictorian
Who will speak without
Sibilance or stutter,
Will eat brussel sprouts
Without glottal gag
Or plosive retch,
Will recite the alphabet,
Count to one hundred,
Name the bones of the hand
Before kindergarten,
Memorize Lincoln’s
Gettysburg Address for kicks,
Recite it on the playground
As he lobs the ball
Over the fence, takes
His victory lap around
The bases as the other
Boys glare with envy,
The girls admire
His easy, confident
Gait that will carry
Him through high school,
Into college on scholarship,
Medical school on fellowship,
Johns Hopkins, onto missionary
Work where he’ll discover
The cure for some
As yet unknown disease
Decimating sub-Saharan
Africa, for which he’ll
Win the Nobel Prize
For Medicine, thank me
In his acceptance speech
For the choices I make
Today, for asking
Whether he will get
A nap in the afternoon
Next year.

My son gets his Nobel

Thursday, May 26, 2011

May 26: Another Book Club, Tired, Crescent Weenies

I have been pretty tired all day.  I woke up tired and took a two liter of Diet Mountain Dew into the shower with me this morning.  Between washing and shaving, I slugged back Dew and tried to wake myself up.  Thank God it was a little slower at work.  I didn't have to act friendly very much.

Tonight, my book club is coming over for our monthly meeting.  Spent last night, between snatches of the mediocre American Idol finale, making crescent weenies for the get together.  I've already written about the book, Annie's Ghosts, a couple of posts ago.  I'm almost done with it, and I'm still finding it difficult to read.  Maybe the subject is a little too close to home.  I have a wife with mental illness and a sister with Down's syndrome, so a true story about a person who's institutionalized and literally forgotten isn't sitting too well with me at the moment.  I'm interested to see how my wife, sister, and mother are going to respond. 

Oh, by the way, the total for the car repairs yesterday fell somewhere between Ouch! and Boing!  And I'm not done yet.  It still needs a little more work, which sucks.  However, the rattle has disappeared, and the gate latch will function properly in about a week.  The mechanic keeps mentioning the future need for work on the head gaskets.  Not yet.  In the future.  It's like waiting for a hidden landmine to explode.

I know I promised a new poem today.  Didn't happen.  I was too busy reading Annie's Ghosts.  You will get a poem tomorrow, I promise.  I know this post isn't very inspiring or creative.  My apologies.  I'm too tired to be very funny, thoughtful, deep, or artistic.

Saint Marty settles for mediocre today.

Embrace it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May 25: Waiting for the Shoe, Car Problems, Disappointment

I dropped off my wife's car at the dealership this morning.  When I drove it last week, she mentioned that the car rattled when it was idling.  "How long has it been doing that?" I asked.  She shrugged her shoulders, as if I'd just asked her about the mating habits of the Brazilian magpie rather than the car she drives every day.  On top of the rattle, the latch on her back door sometimes sticks and doesn't open.  When I dropped her vehicle off, I listed these problems, and all I could see were dollar signs.  I have a feeling this little check-up is going to hurt.  All day long, I've been waiting for the call from the dealership, for the metaphorical shoe to drop.  I can imagine it will go something like, "Well, we got everything fixed.  The entire engine needed to be rebuilt.  The brakes needed replacing, and your tires were all worn out.  We had to repaint the entire body of the vehicle, as well, because we found some rust on the undercarriage.  Your bill comes to $27,852.73."  Or something like that.

Last night, I tried to climb to the top of my column, like Simeon.  However, I had to climb down once or twice to take care of a few things.  I spent a good hour trying to chase down my daughter's dance instructor to obtain a CD so my daughter could do a dance solo at a nursing home this morning.  I failed.  I spent three hours grazing in our kitchen because I couldn't figure out what I wanted to eat for dinner.  And I had a little battle of wills with my two-year-old son, who didn't want to go to bed.  I didn't feel very balanced last night, certainly not balanced enough to perch on top of a spiritual pole.

I'm a little tired right now, and I know the evening is going to be long.  I have praise band practice at church tonight, and my daughter is determined to watch the finale of American Idol, which I don't give a crap about.  Both of the finalists are teenage country singers.  I'd rather have a prostate biopsy.  I've hinted to my wife that I want to get take-out stir-fry for dinner tonight.  I'm not sure if she got the hint.

Top that all off with the fact that SH, my dreaded relative, will be flying in for her month-long visit in just eleven days.  I can hardly wait.  Really, I can.  Hardly.  Wait.

New poem tomorrow, or later today, if I find the time.

Saint Marty's waiting for that phone to ring....

The shoe's going to drop...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May 24: Simplicity, Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger, Columns

I've written before about Simeon Stylites the Younger, today's feast saint.  If you check my post from last year on this date, you will read how Simeon spent the majority of his life perched on top of columns in the mountains.  He did this to avoid the normal pitfalls of human existence and to aid his prayer life.  Even the bishop who ordained him climbed up the column to lay hands on him.  The other monks of the hermitage scaled the ladder to receive communion from him.  Simeon lived up there for decades.

The simplicity of Simeon's existence sort of appeals to me.  He didn't have to worry about setting alarms to get up in the morning for work.  He didn't have to do dishes or make beds or prepare food.  He was like that guy in the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax, lowering a bucket from his tower window and having everything he needed given to him.  Simeon completely trusted God to provide everything--food, drink, clothing, books, whatever.  I wish I could have that kind of trust.  I wish I didn't spend a majority of my day worrying about mortgage payments, doctor's appointments, real estate agents, cranky relatives, American Idol.  I wish I could wake up, hand all my concerns over to God, and enjoy the rest of my day.

There's really nothing that's stopping me from doing just that.  Worry and fear are the greatest enemies of faith.  Unfortunately, worry and fear seem to be my prime motivators most of the time.  As soon as one concern has been dealt with (for example, I just found out I have classes to teach in the fall semester), another concern replaces it (I have never taught a class in mythology before and have a lot of prep work to do).  I wish I could simply collect all my worries in my hands, climb to the top of a tall building or platform, and let the wind just take them away like so much dandelion fluff.  It worked for Simeon.  It's a great dream.

However, I'm the kind of person who would climb down from my perch and go searching for my problems, in bushes and tree branches and puddles.  I probably wouldn't stop until I'd retrieved each and every one of them.  That's the kind of person I am.  I don't thrive on worry.  But I'm comfortable with it.  When I don't have something to worry about, I get anxious.  I worry.  It may be a mental illness, which is another thing I can add to my bucket of concerns.

This afternoon, my wife and I have a counseling appointment.  We've been seeing this wonderful psychologist for a while, and our sessions seem more like visits with a good friend.  In the past, visits with therapists have brought revelations into my life that haven't been very pleasant.  I'm not expecting anything like that today, but it's always in the back of my mind as I sit on the doctor's couch, eating jelly beans.

I'm going to try to do something for the rest of the day.  I'm going to climb to the top of a metaphorical column, and I'm going to release my fears.  I'm going to imagine blue sky, sun, birds, pine trees, and warmth.  I'm not going to think about dinner or car insurance or who's going to win Dancing With the Stars tonight.  I'm going to just...trust.

Care to join Saint Marty?

Fill my bucket with chocolate, please

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23: Hoping for Something Better, New Poem, Annie's Ghosts

My two "something betters"
I'm reading a book right now called Annie's Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg.  It's a true story about a man who discovers, after his mother dies, that she had a sister he never knew about.  The sister suffered from a mental illness and was institutionalized at 21 years of age.  Luxenberg's mother basically lied for the majority of her life, telling everyone she was an only child.  The narrative that unfolds is heartbreaking, full of family secrets and disappointments and abandonment.  Having a wife with mental illness, I've had a hard time reading it.

In the past, I've blogged about the fact that I fear my son or daughter will develop mental illness.  Mental illness runs on both sides of our families, so the deck is stacked against them.  I watch my children for evidence of mental problems, even though they're very young.  My daughter is ten, and my son is two.  My daughter tends to be very mercurial in her mood swings and has been for a while.  I'm not sure if this temperament is normal or the tip of a much larger iceberg of emotional/mental difficulty.  My son has no patience with anything.  I may be overreacting.  I probably am.  They may just be normal kids, but that doesn't assuage my worries.

I can't imagine making the choice that Steve Luxenberg's grandparents made.  They left their daughter is a mental hospital for the rest of her life.  Annie, the mentally ill daughter, spent close to 40 years in institutions before she died.  It goes against every parental instinct I have.  I have a friend whose daughter suffers from schizophrenia, and my friend goes between being exhausted, frustrated, pissed, and exhausted again.  But my friend has never walked away from her daughter and pretended like she didn't exist.  As a parent, I want my children's lives to be better than my life.  I want them to be happier, more successful, more content.  I don't want them to struggle the way I have, especially with mental illness.

However, I know that I have little power over mental illness.  In fact, I have little power over whether my children will be happier than I have been.  I can give them cell phones, ballet lessons, and laptops.  I can go to dance recitals and art shows and track meets.  In life, however, there are no guarantees.  I find myself constantly looking into the distant future, trying to see if there are thunderclouds on the horizon.  It's a pointless exercise.  The most I can do is live the best I can, every day.  If problems arise, I deal with them.  If the day goes well, I give thanks.  That's the definition of sanity.  Maybe that's the only "something better" I can give my children.

My new poem deals with this topic, the hope all parents have for their children.

Saint Marty hopes for something better for you today.

Something Better

I want something better for my kids,
The way all parents want their offspring
To attend college, law or medical
School.  Do something extraordinary.
We scrub toilets, paint walls, deep-fry potatoes
For thirty or forty years, put everything
On hold until we're sure our daughters
Can study veterinary medicine, our sons
Learn to x-ray broken vertebrae, tibias,
Clavicles.  My uncle drove to the GM plant
For over thirty-five years before he received
His pension, then began to paint oil landscapes
Of places he’d dreamed about in rush hour
Traffic on I-75, places full of waves,
Evergreens the color of Chinese jade,
Places he knew he'd never see,
All so his daughter could study,
Become an engineer at Ford.
I don’t want my children to teach
College English part-time, work
Eleven-hour days in an office,
Scribble poems on napkins, lunch bags,
Margins of graded essays, dreaming
Always of a time when those words,
Cut and polished and set in lines of gold,
Will buy vacations to Stockholm or Rome,
Ballet lessons and birthday parties
In hot air balloons.  I want my kids
To know a life better than mine,
Even if it means I eat bologna
With cheese every day, pretending
My cut of lunchmeat is somehow
Superior to the one my father ate
At work for over fifty years.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22: New Comic, Fast Post

Good evening, my loyal reader.  This post is going to be extremely fast.  It is late, and I have to help my daughter finish some homework.  However, I do have a new picture for the weekend comic strip.  I hope you enjoy it.  I'm enjoying doing the art work.

Good day of worship at church.  Good day of play with the kids.  Looking forward to a relaxing evening.  Maybe some sancks.

Tomorrow, Saint Marty promises a new poem and something of substance.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21: New Feature, Birthday Party, Family

Currently, I am at the birthday party for my sister.  It was actually her birthday last weekend, but since we were travelling, we put off the celebration until tonight.  As usual, with family get-togethers, there's the joking, kidding, and crabbing.  People get on other people's nerves, and, by the end of the evening, someone is going to be supremely pissed at someone else.  Hopefully, I won't be the pissed-off or the pisser-off.

Today, I'm going to start a new feature of the blog--a cartoon.  I'm going to call it Confessions of Saint Marty.  The cartoon will allow me to incorporate another one of my artistic pastimes, drawing.  Plus, I've noted several Blogs of Note that are by visual artists and cartoonists.  It just ups my chances of receiving that distinction.  (Are you listening, Blogger staff?)

I hope you find this cartoon funny, amusing, annoying, something.  It will probably just appear on the weekends.  Think of these posts as special weekend editions of the blog.  Hope everyone has had a good Saturday.

Saint Marty now presents the first edition of...

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20: TGIF, Lunch, Cleaning House

As the title of my post says, I'm so glad it's Friday.  I'm tired, and I'm looking forward to sleeping in a little later the next couple of days.  I may even stay in bed tomorrow until 7:30 a.m., depending on how early my son wakes up.  Now, 7:30 may not seem late to some people, but I usually rise around 4:15 a.m., so anything beyond 6 a.m. seems like a luxury.  My daughter will be camping with her aunt.  I'm hoping for a very quiet, stress-free weekend.

In a couple of hours, I'm going out for lunch with my wife and sister.  And then I get to go home and clean.  I didn't get to clean last weekend because of my trip, so the house is getting a little too dirty for me.  I'm looking forward to smelling lemon in the dining room, Pine-Sol in the bathroom.  My house is always too cluttered for me.  My goal this summer is to de-clutter, de-complicate my house and my life.  (That may be a little hard with my difficult relative flying in from Utah for a month, but that's what my plan is.)  I really want to sell my house, get something with at least three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  (An indoor pool, sauna, and exercise room would be nice, too, but I don't want to be greedy.)  In a few years, I have a feeling my currently ten-year-old daughter isn't going to want to share a room with her little brother.

I have nothing deep to say today.  I have no poem with which to end the post.  I just hope everyone has a good day.  For the first time, I'm going to try to include a music video in my post.  It's one of my favorite praise songs by Chris Tomlin, "Jesus Messiah."  It just makes me feel good.  Enjoy.

Saint Marty is ready to kick-back and take it easy.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19: Telling Lies, Fibs, Trangressions

Don't piss off the Blue Fairy!

I have a new poem for today.  It was inspired by something that happened at the medical office where I work.  A patient told the nurses a lie, and, because of his lie, he ended up spending the entire day waiting for his wife to come pick him up after his surgery.  The man, who was in his fifties, was humiliated and humbled, and his wife, who was working,  had to leave her job and drive two hours to discharge him.  She was not amused.

It got me thinking how even the tiniest of white lie can cause huge problems.  Think about it.  Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives because he didn't come clean about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.  Countries have gone to war because of lies.  Marriages have ended because of lies.  People have woken up on beaches naked because of lies.  (OK, that may just be me, but it happened.)  My son, who is only two, has already started to deny things that are obviously true.  Just last night, I asked him if he'd taken a bath.  He looked up at me, with muddy cheeks and dirty hands, and said, "Yeah."  The impulse to lie is built into all of us at a very young age, I guess.

That's what this poem is about.  Brace yourself.  It's another language poem. 

Saint Marty has had a much better day today.  Honest.


Presidents do it, bear false witness,
Dupe, dissemble, dissimulate
About weapons of mass destruction,
Dresses stained with seminal fluid.
Husbands do it to wives, wives to husbands,
Boyfriends to girlfriends and vice versa,
Repeat disinformation, deceptions, distortions,
Fictions, myths, tales about old/current lovers,
Romeos, Juliets, flames, fuckbuddies.
Guys do it all the time, invent whoppers
Regarding the size of fish, trout, salmon,
The size of penises, manhoods, members.
Women won’t come clean about age or weight,
Density or mass, poundage or size.
My daughter, in the throes of adolescence,
Misleads, misinforms, misspeaks,
Misstates, misrepresents, maligns
In her quest for cell phones and laptops,
Sleepovers, makeup and piercings.
My two-year-old son does it, fibs,
Fudges, fabricates, fakes when I ask him
If he’s soiled his diaper, says “no”
Although the room reeks of bowel,
Methane, manure, shit.  Even a wooden
Puppet does it, cons, concocts,
Beguiles, equivocates, perjures,
Plants, prevaricates, snows, soft-soaps
In his need to be a real boy, not
Realizing, by calumny and subterfuge,
He’s just as human as the rest of us,
Regardless of the length or timber of his nose.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 18: A Looooooooooong Day

Well, I was planning to write a new poem today.  Didn't happen.  I was also going to plan out a writing workshop I'm going to teach this summer.  Didn't happen.  I've had one of those days where life just conspires to fuck up every single thing you want to do.  It's been a really long, tiring ten or eleven hours.

I have choir practice tonight, so my day isn't over yet.  So I don't have time to write anything of depth or meaning.  Forgive me.  I promise to give you something of substance tomorrow, whether it's a poem or a reflection on the state of affairs in the Middle East. 

Saint Marty is a little crispy today.

That about sums it up

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17: My Son, Saint Paschal Baylon, Reading

Paschal Baylon, today's saint, was born in 1540 in the Kingdom of Aragon.  The thing that sticks out in his biography, for me anyway, is how much he wanted to read.  According to my book, "[s]o great was his desire for instruction that while tending his sheep he carried a book with him and begged those he met to teach him the alphabet.  Thus, in a short time he learned to read."  The reason I'm focusing on this fact is that my son doesn't seem that interested in reading, and I think it's my fault.

When my daughter was born, I read to her all the time.  When she was an infant, I read to her.  When she was three years old, I read her Charlotte's Web.  My daughter is now ten, and she loves reading.  She's currently working through the Harry Potter books.  She's always at the top of reading in her class.

I haven't invested as much time in my son's reading.  Right now, he has very little patience for even sitting down to look through a picture book.  He'd rather be up, moving, destroying.  One of his favorite books was a board book of trucks.  It had wheels and pictures of different vehicles.  He ripped the wheels off the book and tore it apart.

Now, some people will tell me, "Well, that's just what boys do."  I'm not convinced that his inability to sit for even the shortest story is just a "boy" thing.  Until he's forced to sit or lie down, he's in constant motion.  At times, his infinite supply of energy is exhausting.  This weekend, when we were travelling, trying to strap him in his carseat was like landing a marlin on a deep sea fishing trip.  Now, I may be overreacting.  I may be seeing things in his behavior that just don't exist.  However, Paschal Baylon makes me feel guilty.  My daughter never had a problem with reading, because I always read to her.  I haven't done that for my son.

Last week, I read him a Dr. Seuss book, Hop on Pop, I think.  After he stopped trying to rip the pages out, he really liked it.  He sat through the whole thing.  That tells me he would sit still if I took time each night to read to him.  I know my son will never be Paschal Baylon.  He won't beg people to teach him the alphabet.  But he will sit in my lap and let me read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish to him.  I'm going to read to him tonight before he goes to bed.  I'm a freakin' English professor.  That's what I should do.

Nobody ever told Saint Marty being a father was going to be so tough.  So much work.  So much guilt.  So much love.

My son, sitting down for once

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16: Back to Work, Lost Dog, New Poem

I won't lie to you.  It was difficult getting back in the saddle this morning.  Getting up at 4:15 a.m. was tough.  But, of course, I dragged my ass out of bed, showered, and drove to work.  The first few hours were even tougher, but I worked through my exhaustion.  I think all of the stress and excitement of the trip finally caught up with me.  On top of that, usually Mondays are fairly slow.  Not this Monday.  The phone was ringing.  The FAX machine was humming.  And I was sucking down Diet Mountain Dew faster than the Titanic took on water.

However, I made it through the morning.  After lunch, I decided to go for a run, since I have meetings tonight at church.  I won't have time after work to run.  As I followed my normal running route around the college campus, I came upon a little dachshund standing in the middle of the street in front of a really big car.  The car wasn't moving.  The dog wasn't moving.  I really wanted to finish my run, but my friggin' conscience wouldn't let me.  So I went and scooped the dog up.  Then I spent ten minutes knocking on doors around the neighborhood, trying to find the dog's owner.  No luck.  I walked back to the medical office at which I work.  I got the dog some water and a blanket.  Then I called the police.  The city animal control officer came and picked the little guy up.

That has been my day, so far.  I have a new poem.  It is about the little lost dog, sort of.  I just wrote it a little while ago, so be kind.

Just call me Saint Marty of Assisi.

Unfortunately, I don't look good in brown

They say Francis used to preach
To olive trees filled with meadowlarks,
Sang to them so sweetly, they filled
The air around him with the flutter
Of wing and heart and breath.
They say Francis crawled into the den
Of a man-eating wolf, traced
A cross on its forehead, tamed
Its hunger with his long fingers,
His voice of sunset, night, rest.
They say, when Francis lay dying,
He praised his donkey, thanked it
For bearing him over rock, through
Storm and heat, for never tripping
Or braying complaint.  The donkey wept.

As I ran this afternoon, I saw
A dog almost get hit by a Toyota.
It was a miniature dachshund,
Gray around the muzzle.  It shivered
Before the car as I walked over.
The dog stared up at me, and I could see
Fear, wild as blueberries or lightning,
In its eyes.  For a moment, I thought
It would sink its teeth into the flesh
Of my ankle.  Then I began to speak,
The way, I imagine, Francis always
Spoke, with the sound of God's feet
Walking through Eden's grass at dusk.
I reached down, picked up the dog.
It leaned into my heartbeat
As I walked and spoke, petted
Its black head.  The birds of Assisi swooped,
Danced, blessed the afternoon sunlight.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May 15: On the Road Again...

I am posting this morning before we leave the hotel.  We just finished breakfast.  Everyone is a little tired, a little cranky.  My sister has gotten on my nerves five times already this morning, and my daughter is complaining that she has a headache.  My son is currently screaming at the breakfast table behind me.  It's shaping up to be a great day.

The weather has turned.  When we got here, it was 80 degrees and humid.  It is currently around forty degrees, rainy, and windy.  It's freezing.

Well, it looks like my people a done with breakfast.  Time to pack up and check out.  At my wife's church, whenever anyone is going on a trip, the congregation prays for travelling mercies.  I think it's a Protestant tradition, but I really like it.  I can imagine Mary putting her hand on Jesus' head as He went out the door, praying for travelling mercies for Him.

Pray for travelling mercies for Saint Marty.

Here we go again!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May 14: The End, Long Day, Platinum

Today was a much less stressful day than yesterday was.  We didn't get lost once, even though we ventured out into Howell, Michigan, a little further.  In the morning, my wife and I took a drive to find the local Weight Watchers franchise, so my wife could weigh in for the week.  Then we walked around the little strip mall next door to our hotel.  Outlet stores.  There were a lot of good buys.  I, myself, purchased a swimsuit so I could swim this evening.

After a morning of shopping and not getting lost, we got my daughter's hair in the required bun and her face covered with make-up,  Then we headed to the dance competition for her first performance.  I wasn't nervous until the minute they announced the title of her dance.  Then I felt like my son after drinking milk in a moving vehicle.  Translation:  I wanted to vomit.  But she, and her whole group, were fantastic.  My wife cried, and I nearly cried.  When I went to see her after she danced, all I could do was hug her and hug her.

Then we went for dinner at the local DQ in downtown Howell for dinner.  Not very satisfying.  I had a chocolate-covered strawberry Blizzard.  I really didn't feel like eating a hot dog.  Then it was back to the competition for my daughter's second number and the awards ceremony.

The second dance went great, as well.  It got one of the biggest ovations of the afternoon.  When it came time for the awards, my daughter's first dance got a gold star, which I thought was a rip-off.  It deserved more, but what the hell do I know?  I'm just a father, not a dancer.  (Yes, that was a veiled allusion to the film Showgirls.)  Anyway, my daughter's second number won a platinum star (the highest), and an award for most creative and most innovative.  Or something like that.  My daughter's first number also won the competition's best storytelling award.  It was a good day for my daughter's dance studio.

At the end of a long day, I went swimming with my daughter for a couple of hours.  I just tucked her into bed a little while ago, with an order of fries and chicken nuggets from McDonald's.  Overall, even though I'm pretty tired, I had a really good day.  I didn't get to write a poem (maybe tomorrow).  But I did something even better.  I saw my daughter positively glowing onstage.

Saint Marty.  A proud dance dad.

And proud of it!

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 13: Friday the 13th, Travelling, Swimming

The trip down to my daughter's dance competition was, for the most part, uneventful.  About an hour into the trip, my two-and-a-half-year-old son decided to throw up the milk he'd just drank.  There is nothing worse than the smell of curdled milk vomit.  It ranks right up there with dogshit on your shoe.  Well, that mess took me about 15 minutes to clean up.  My son was thrilled.  He got out of his car seat and ran around a gas station store the whole time.  He acted like he'd won a trip to Disney World.

One of the highlights of the day was having lunch with one of my best friends, who is a Methodist pastor in Roscommon.  I haven't seen him since last July, so it was a really good visit.  I realized, sitting and eating pizza with him and his wife and nine-month-old daughter, how much a really miss having him close by.  Unfortunately, because of his profession, moving every seven or eight years is part of the job description.  It sucks, but so it goes.

It wasn't until about mid-day that I realized it was Friday the 13th.  By that time, it was too late to be superstitious.  I was already half-way to Detroit.  I'm not a very superstitious person, anyway, but it might have made me a little nervous.

Once we got to our hotel, we unpacked and decided to scope out the school where the competition is happening tomorrow.  After almost 500 miles of travelling, we got lost trying to find the local high school.  Unbelievable.  We circled and circled for almost an hour.   By the time we finally found the school, everyone was a little crispy--tired, hungry, and cranky.

After a quick bite to eat, we finally got back to our hotel room, and then my daughter decided to start pestering me to go swimming.  Basically, all I wanted to do was climb into the crib with my son, pull the covers over my head, tap my heals together three times, and say, "There's no place like home.  There's no place like home.  There's no place like home."  But, I put on my swimsuit and went down to the pool.  One of my good friends from work was at the pool with her granddaughters, who go to the same dance school as my daughter.  So, I spent two hours talking with her while the girls laughed, swam, fought, and shivered.  The night ended when someone threw up in the pool.

Saint Marty is tired, and teenage girls with cell phones keep coming into the business center to e-mail boyfriends.  It's a little distracting.  It's time for Saint Marty to call it a night.

At least there weren't any machetes!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

May 12: Road Trip, New Poem, Remote Blogging

I'm going on a road trip with my family this weekend.  My daughter has a dance competition in Howell, Michigan, which, as far as I can tell, is a little way from Ann Arbor.  It's going to be around an eight hour drive with a ten-year-old girl and a two-and-a-half-year-old boy.  It's going to be a really long weekend.  My sister is coming to watch my son while we take our daughter to the dance competition.  However, my son likes to run.  He's like a charged ion.  He doesn't sit still.  This trip is going to be quite a test for him.

What I'm going to try to do for blogging is take a laptop with me.  I would bet the hotel will have WiFi access.  Therefore, the next time you hear from me, I will probably be in Howell, Michigan.  That's my plan, anyway.  If it doesn't work out, you may not hear from me until Sunday or Monday.  Keep checking the site, though.  I'm sure I'll be able to blog tomorrow.

I have a brand new poem for today.  I wrote a poem for Mother's Day this past weekend.  I guess you could call this one a Father's Day poem, even though Father's Day isn't for another month.  I'm just planning ahead, in case I get asked to read another poem at church for that occasion.

Tonight, I have to take my daughter to ballet class, go grocery shopping, and pack my clothes for the trip.  I have way too many things to try to remember.  It kind of sucks.  I like travelling, but I hate the details of travel.  I always plan and plan, and I always forget something important.  In fact, I just went downstairs to pick up a prescription that almost slipped my mind.  I will be a happy camper when I'm safely camped back at home on Sunday night.

Saint Marty on a pilgrimage to Howell, Michigan.  God help us.

Rules of Fatherhood

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 he 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.

My daughter, with attitude

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 11: Lost Job, Revenge in Writing, Anger

At the moment, I'm so pissed I can barely think straight.  A few weeks ago, my wife, who has been out of work for over a year and a half, got hired by a local gas station for the afternoon shift, part-time.  The manager, let's call her Judge Moody, made herself appear to be a caring, considerate, family-oriented, understanding woman.  She hired my wife on the spot.  For the last three weeks, Judge Moody has been horrible--critical, unhelpful, petty, stupid, childish, and unapproachable.  Today, she called my wife up and left a message on our answering machine, saying, "You don't need to come into work tonight.  Your services are no longer required."

A lot of authors say you shouldn't use writing as a form or revenge.  At the moment, I sort of agree with Anne Lamott, who basically says there is no better reason to write.  She says you own the bad things in your life--failed marriages, lost jobs, rotten siblings or parents--and, if people didn't want to end up the subject of your novel or poem or memoir, they should have treated you better.  That makes a lot of sense to me, right now.

Of course, I have to be careful.  I don't want to slander or libel anybody.  I don't want any collateral damage.  Judge Moody has a reputation for being difficult.  Whenever my wife told anybody where she'd been hired, the person would nod knowingly, say something like, "Judge Moody runs a tight ship" or "Judge Moody is difficult."  The woman goes through employees like bags of Doritos, chewing them up and shitting them out.  She told my wife that, when she was young, she wanted to be a WAC in the army.  Basically, she wanted to be a drill sergeant.  No big surprise there.  Nothing satisfies this woman, unless it involves ridicule, criticism, or mean-spiritedness.

I will not say anything about the business itself.  I'm not that kind of person.  I believe in supporting local establishments, even if it's part of a multinational corporation.  However, ever since the Gulf oil spill, I can't really understand why people still support this chain of gas stations.  The company basically ruined the shrimping and tourism industry along the Gulf of Mexico, and yet it still made a few billion dollars in profit last year.  But I'm not going to name the place my wife used to work.  That's just not me.

Go to Judge Moody's gas station, support this woman's tiny dictatorship.  I will not think less of you if you do.  After all, vengeance is such an unseemly business.  Just make sure to salute before you leave.  And don't feel guilty at all about all the lives that were ruined in Louisiana.

Saint Marty feels better now that he has that off his chest.

A pretty good likeness of Judge Moody

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10: Power Outage, New Poem, 27 Days

This morning, terrible thunderstorms rolled through the Upper Peninsula.  As I was getting ready to take my shower, the lights flickered once or twice and then went out.  I was plunged into complete darkness.  There are no windows in my bathroom, so it was the kind of darkness experienced in coal mines in Kentucky.  I couldn't see my hand in front of my face.  And the power stayed out for the rest of the shower.

As I drove to work, I drove through two cities that were completely black.  At work, I found this storm took out the power to almost 80% of the U.P.  That's a lot of dark showers.  And because of the power outage, schools were closed all over the place.  My daughter got the day off.

That was the inspiration for today's poem.  There's so much possibility in darkness.  So much can exist in it.  There's a reason that the Book of Genesis starts out in darkness.  It's a place of imagination and creation.  It's where life comes from.  And art.  Music.  Poetry.  All of that stuff comes, essentially, from the primordial darkness of Genesis.

Pretty deep, huh?  Well, there are 27 days left until SH arrives.  I'm trying to give it up to my Higher Power.  My Higher Power keeps giving it back to me in different guises.

Saint Marty's Higher Power is a pain in the ass sometimes.

Showering During the Blackout

This morning, early, as I stepped
Under the spray of shower head,
Hot needles of water scratching
My bald scalp and wide shoulders,
The electricity went out, plunged me
Into darkness complete as the first day
Of creation, before God spoke anything
Into being.  I stood in that windowless
Bathroom, contemplated possibility.
In this moment of prehistory,
I was Adam before Eve, before Eden,
Before mammal and fish and bird,
Before continent and sea, land and sky,
Sun and moon.  I was an idea in God's
Infinite mind, made in His image.
I hoped He looked like a young
Cary Grant or an old Richard Gere,
Killer smile and beautiful hair.
I hoped He had a body muscular,
Toned as an Olympic swimmer,
Hairless, sleek, and graceful.
I hoped He had blue eyes
Because I've always wanted
Blue eyes, a light denim color,
Comfortable as my favorite jeans.
I hoped His teeth were straight, white,
The marble of Michelangelo's David.
As I toweled my body in the dark,
Before a mirror I couldn't see,
I reveled, danced like Baryshnikov,
Prayed the light would never return,
So I could stay beautiful, strong, perfect.
I will never eat another apple, I promised
God in the blackness. Never.

Don't I look good?

Monday, May 9, 2011

May 9: Being an Adjunct, Saint Pachomius, Instructor Bridesmaid

I'm currently reading a really interesting book about teaching as an adjunct professor in higher education.  In the Basement of the Ivory Tower was written by Professor X.  The man doesn't want to identify himself.  He fears embarrassing his students and the institutions at which he teaches.  But Professor X is exposing the underbelly of colleges and universities.  Discussing full-time, tenure-track professors, he writes, "[a]ccording to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, only 27.9 percent of faculty fit this description in 2007, a decline from 33.1 percent in 1997.  In community colleges, only 17.5 percent are full-time tenured or on the tenure track."  That means that I'm a member of the majority teacher class (72.1 percent) in institutions of higher learning.  That doesn't give adjuncts any more respect, however.  In fact, the Modern Language Association judges the quality of a school by this gauge:  "the fewer the adjuncts on the job, the better."

Buy this book!  Hug your adjunct!

I really shouldn't read this book.  I find it both enlightening and depressing at the same time.  I've known for some time that I'm basically on the lowest rung of the academic ladder.  For the last few years, the adjuncts at my institution have been trying to unionize.  The full-time professors have voted to accept us into their union by a very slim margin.  However, the e-mail debate preceding the vote was heated, nasty, and incredibly self-centered.  I understand where the full-timers are coming from.  They're an endangered species, and they're trying to protect their turf.  I would probably be doing the same thing, if I were in their privileged position.  I am not, however.

One of the things I have learned from Professor X's book is that I probably don't stand a chance of ever being hired full-time by my university.  Because I am basically gum on the soles of professorial shoes, scraping that gum off and giving it a full-time job with benefits, private office, and retirement is not very likely.  I have known this fact for a while in the back of my mind.  I mean, as the old saying goes, why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free (or next-to-nothing)?  The only chance I probably have of ever being hired by my department is if I win the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, or the Nobel Prize.  Therefore, I will always be Instructor Bridesmaid, never Professor Bride.

I am not bitter about this fact.  Much.  I think I realized the truth of my situation a long time ago.  I just prefer to live in a state of intellectual denial.

In a lot of ways, my professional situation is a lot like the situation of Pachomius, today's feast saint.  Pachomius was born at the end of the third century in Egypt.  What he did that nobody had done before is "organize hermits into groups and write down a Rule for them."  Pachomius was the founder of Christian monasticism, although the credit is usually given to Saint Anthony (I don't know why).  Even Basil and Benedict, the most famous Christian monastics, based their rules on Pachomius' Rule.  But Pachomius is not a household name.  When you go to kindergartens, there aren't a lot of little Pachomiuses running around.  Basically, Pachomius is an adjunct saint, acknowledged only grudgingly by the full-time, big-name saints.

Professor X is still teaching.  Like most contingent faculty (that's the more politically correct term for adjunct), he needs the money and, also, believes what he does in the classroom actually makes a difference.  Which is also something that sets adjuncts apart from many full-timers.

Professor X, Pachomius, and Saint Marty--adjuncts for life and beyond.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8: Mother's Day, Poem, Weeping

Mother's Love
It is Mother's Day in the United States.  Aside from Christmas, more people got to church on this day than on any other Sunday in the calendar year.  I guess kids feel obligated to make their moms happy, even if it means having to rise early, dress up, and attend a worship service.  Anything for mom.  I also imagine this day is the biggest for people going to Sunday brunch at restaurants, as well.  One or two days out of the year, we all fulfill our sonly or daughterly obligations.  Tomorrow we can all go back to being our normal, self-centered selves.

At church today, I read my new poem.  I wrote it last night because I wasn't happy with one of my old poems I was going to use.  It didn't seem quite right to me.  So, after Lawrence Welk was over last night, I sat down and wrote the poem at the end of this post.  It took me about an hour-and-a-half.  Of course, I'd been thinking about the poem most of the day.  I had it pretty much all planned out.  That's why it didn't take me too long.

When I read my poem this morning, my one goal was not to cry when I read it.  I practiced it five or six times without getting too emotional.  I thought I was free and clear.  Then the pastor decided to play a video that got the entire congregation and the choir weeping.  I could feel the tears sitting in my throat like a fist afterward.  I knew I was sunk.  I got to the last three lines of the poem, and I choked up, started to cry.  After about 15 or 20 seconds, I was able to finish.  Then I had to sit down and play Schubert's "Ave Maria."  Holy crap, I think every Kleenex box in the place was empty.  My friend who was singing the song lost composure about half-way through.  Everybody was sobbing.

I guess talking, thinking, singing, writing about mothers does this to people.  I think it has something to do with mothers' selfless love.  It's a love that goes on and on, through childhood, through adulthood, and beyond.  It's the kind of love I think God has for each and every one of us.  That's what Mother's Day is really about.

Saint Marty wishes all mothers a blessed, peaceful day.

For Mother's Day at Mitchell U.M.C.

I was 18 the first time I saw
My mother cry.  Arthritis invaded
Her spine, stiffened her vertebrae
Until, on that morning, she couldn't
Cough or lift a coffee cup without
Feeling whipped, scourged.
She'd given birth to nine children,
Her youngest daughter with Down's,
A baby the doctors told her to forget,
Put in an institution, walk away,
Erase, like a hurricane after waters recede.
But Mother brought my sister
Home, began the hard work of mothering.
Feeding,  Diapers.  Teaching.  Colors.
Letters.  Numbers.  Watched my sister
Laugh, walk, speak, do all the things
Doctors said she would never do.
My sister flourished like an orchid
In the hothouse of my mother's love,
Became exotic and beautiful, healthy.
If my mother cried when the doctors
Used the words "mongoloid," "retarded,"
She never said.  If she cried
When my sister took her first impossible
Step, she never said.  If she cried
When my sister first called her "mommy,"
She never said.  The day I saw my mother
Cry, she felt helpless, old, reduced.
Like Mary, she realized she couldn't
Carry every cross for her baby. 
Ave, Mother, Ave.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7: Quick and Easy, Nice and Quiet

Pretty much, the title of this post describes my day.  It seems to have have gone by pretty fast.  Nothing stressful has happened.  I haven't gotten into any disagreements with anyone, and I got to take a nice, quiet nap this afternoon.  What more could a person ask for on a Saturday?

Tomorrow is Mother's Day, and I'm reading one of my poems at church and playing Schubert's "Ave Maria."  I was going to write a new poem today about motherhood, but you're going to have to wait for that until tomorrow.  Once I get my son in his crib tonight, I plan to wrap some presents for my wife and mother.  Then I'm going to try to write the poem.

That's pretty much what I have to report today.  At church, my fountain pen, the one I've been using for the last eight or nine years, broke a little bit.  It is now being glued.  Hopefully, it will be fine tonight, ready to be used.  I panicked a little bit when I noticed the break, couldn't find the pieces of it.  However, a little Super Glue fixes a lot of problems.

Went for a run today.  It was in the 50s most of the morning and afternoon.  The run was good, but I am really out-of-shape.  I need to work a little harder.  The doctor's appointment went alright.  My doctor did not sing the "Hey, Fatty, You Need to Lose Some Weight" song.  However, I could tell it was right on the tip of his tongue.  If the examination had gone on much longer, he would have broken out the tap shoes and cane.  Thank God it was a quick and, relatively, painless check-up.  No DRE.  (For those of you who don't know what that is, it's where the doctor slips on a rubber glove, lubes it up, and tells you to bend over and touch your toes.  When my doctor tells me to do that, I usually ask him for a box of chocolates and a dozen roses afterward.)

Saint Marty hopes all of you had a quick and easy, nice and quiet kind of day, as well.

Schubert and Mary, A Love Story

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 6: Book Club, Doctor's Visit, Unleashing

The book club meeting went well last night.  I didn't get the members to choose all the books I wanted to read.  I had to give in for September (an Alice Hoffman book), October (a novel about Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter), and December (a Dave Barry Christmas book about a dog).  Other than that, I'm pretty happy with the choices for the next six months.

My big thing I have to do today is a doctor's appointment.  I'm diabetic, so every six months I have to go in to get my prescriptions renewed, my feet checked, and my weight criticized.  As soon as the doctor finishes his exam, he flips through my chart and says something like, "Well, everything looks good, except..."  And then he sings the "Hey, Fatty, You Need to Lose Some Weight" song.  (Not really, but the image of my skinny little doctor doing a Sammy Davis Jr. song-and-dance makes the experience bearable.)  I've been steeling myself for this check-up for two days now.  Yes, I did think about cancelling briefly, but that would only be postponing the inevitable.

In preparation for my doctor's visit this afternoon, I have limited my intake of food to a fruit bar, a snack-size Twix bar, and a Diet Mountain Dew.  I'm not going to do anything that puts another ounce of fat on my body.  I know I sound like a teenage girl before the prom, but that's what a physician examination does to me.  Afterwards, I plan to unleash.  I'll probably hit McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC on the way home.  Then I'll order a stuffed-crust pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner.

Wish Saint Marty luck with the scale today.  If he hasn't gained anything since his last visit, it will be a miracle.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 5: Book Club, Saint Angelo, Forgiveness Again

Tonight, my book club is meeting at my house.  We had to postpone our meeting last week to accommodate some people's schedules, and to insure people would actually come.  We read poetry for April, Garrison Keillor's new anthology called Good Poems American Places.  It is a really good collection.  However, poetry doesn't necessarily rank high on people's reading lists.  Several of the club members didn't even purchase the book.  That's fine.  I will still force them to listen to poems, talk about poems, and appreciate poems.  It will be a good night.

It's also going to be a crazy night.  My wife is working, so I have to chauffeur my daughter to her ballet class.  That means I'm going to be about a half hour late for the meeting at my house.  My sister is going to be doing the hostessing duties while I'm not there.  The only problem with this plan is that, when I'm not present at book club, the other members tend to select the books for the next six months.  That means I usually get stuck reading novels I wouldn't buy for my worst enemies.  However, there is nothing I can do about the arrangements.  Therefore, I can only pray that the food is enough of a distraction until I get home so I won't end up having to slog through the newest Richard North Patterson tome.

Speaking of worst enemies, I just found out today that a relative (let's call her Shithead, or SH, for short) is coming this summer for an extended stay.  I used the word enemy simply for a smooth segue.  The person I'm speaking about is not an enemy, but she has made my life, and my family's life, very difficult in the past.  I try to be the bigger person.  I try to look past SH's faults into love and forgiveness.  I really do.  This person doesn't make it easy.  SH also successfully drags other people into her little feud with me.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's going to be a pretty shitheady June.

I could take a few pointers from Angelo, today's patron saint.  A Jewish convert to Christianity, Angelo "experienced great success in making converts among the Jews, especially in the areas of Palermo and Leocata."  In 1225, Angelo was stabbed by a man he had criticized for his sinful life.  As Angelo bled to death, he prayed for his murderer, forgave him.

Stories like Angelo's tend to humble me.  I'm not, nor have I ever been, that forgiving.  I hold on to hurts way too long.  The reason I'm not consumed with anger 24-7 toward SH is that she lives a great distance away.  That makes things tolerable.  When we're in the same state of the union, I start to break out in hives, metaphorically.  The fact I found out about SH's visit on Saint Angelo's feast day is serendipity.  I think God's sending me a message.  It's not a message I'm accepting very well right now.  At the moment, I'm thinking a mission trip to Venezuela sounds pretty good.  God has another plan for me, though.  His plan involves humility, compassion, and forgiveness.  It sucks.

In the spirit of Angelo, however, Saint Marty will start praying for SH.  Sonofabitch.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 4: Fractals, Friends, and New Poem

I love fractals.  The idea of fractals.  Fractals in nature.  For those of you who don't know what a fractal is, it is "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole..."  That's the definition from Wikipedia.  I find the best way to understand a fractal is to look at pictures of them.  Here you go:

The reason I'm talking about fractals is because you have to understand the concept in order to really get the poem for today.  I started writing this poem while I was waiting to meet with my friend to give her the birthday story I wrote for her.  She loved the story, since no cocker spaniels were harmed in its writing. 

Since the story I wrote was, in essence, about sorrow, this poem is about the recursive power of sorrow, its fractal-ness, if you will.  Hold onto your hats, because, in some ways, it's another language poem.  I don't know why I'm suddenly writing language poems, but it's always good to push yourself.

Now, after your lesson on fractals, I think you're ready to read the poem.  Think of it as an M. C. Escher poem.  That may help.

Saint Marty now presents a little fractal of verse.

Fractally Speaking

I give my friend a bag of sorrow
For her birthday, infinitely green
As forest moss, filled with the kind
Of chocolate truffles I gave my wife
On our last anniversary, dark, bitter
Cocoa my mother dusted on her
Brownies made from my grandmother’s recipe
The autumn after she died under
An August sun.  Blood vessel burst
In her brain as she watered
Her garden, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes
My father couldn’t get to ripen
In cold, Michigan August, bending
Instead to grass, dirt, to killing
Moisture and worm, turning soft, black
Coat I wore to a friend’s wake
Where people hung at the bar,
Drank whiskey, stout, talked about
How she could drink any of us under
The kitchen table with an empty cookie plate,
A note to Santa from my daughter
Saying, I don’t believe in you any more,
But I want a laptop and cell phone and
All these fractals of loss, of tears,
Tiny as paper cuts, large as tsunamis,
Recursive snowflake and coastline
Reflections of all the times I’ve sat,
Listened to my hollow chest
Ring like a church bell tolling Angelus,
I give it to my friend today,
Hope she knows where to plant this birthday
Gift so next spring it will sprout into
Cauliflower and crystal, lightning and broccoli.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May 3: Story Curse, Frogs and Snails, Hunger

I'm really hungry right now.  Not just eat a few jelly beans hungry.  I want to sit down and eat a three-course meal.  I don't know why I'm this hungry.  I know I don't have a tapeworm, and I haven't been starving myself this morning at all.  I just want to eat.  And eat.  And eat.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Well, I e-mailed my new short story to my sister, who is really good formatting and making documents look pretty.  I asked her to read my story and add whatever graphic she thought was appropriate.  I didn't give it another thought until I got home.  My wife told me, "Your sister called.  She sounded really upset."  I listened to the message my sister left on our answering machine.

"I did what you asked me to do.  But I really didn't appreciate it."  She sounded like she was crying.  "You should have warned me."  She hung up.

When I tried to call her, she refused to talk to me.  When my wife read my story later, she handed it back to me, crying, and said, "I never want to read that story again."

The story seems to evoke really strong reactions in readers.  I'm not sure if that's good.  I try not to be emotionally manipulative with my writing, and I really tried to make this story ring true.  You, my readers, need to tell me if this story is a sentimental piece of crap or not.  As it is, I'm getting a little gun shy about giving it to my friend this afternoon.

Well, I will post the story, and if I start getting death threats, I know something is seriously wrong.  I don't really want to have to hire body guards.  But I'm beginning to think this story is cursed.

Saint Marty is going to post his story now, but then he's going into hiding until the dust settles.

Jeepers, peepers!

Frogs and Snails 

for Karen on her birthday

I found myself at my son’s tree house three months after I killed him.  The peepers sang under the full moon, and Nick, our cocker spaniel, raced through the tall grass, stirring up clouds of fireflies that winked and sparked.  In the distance, I could see the black water of Mud Lake, still as sleeping crows.  I could smell fish and something else.  Skunk?  I couldn’t be sure.  Wild and secret, the musk sat on my skin like sweat.

Cooper, my son, loved the smell of skunk.  A few weeks before I murdered him, we’d paced a skunk as it waddled down our road, nosed through garbages.  I had to hold Coop back, kept saying, “Too close, too close.”  Nothing would have made him happier than to be sprayed.  To be able to take that stink to bed with him like a favorite pillow.  Smell it all night.  Wake up with it.

Nick bounded to me, his red hair slick with night dew.  He jumped up on my legs, left muddy prints on my jeans.  Before I could scold, he leaped away again.

I hadn’t wanted to go for this walk, but Nick had been desperate, insistent with his whines and scratches at the door.  As if his life or my life depended on it.  I avoided going outside as much as possible these days.  I couldn’t stand the looks of my neighbors.  Most wanted to say something to me, but nobody knew what to say.  So I spared them the effort.  Spent most evenings on the couch, listening to Billy Joel.  My son’s favorite song.  “Goodnight, My Angel.”  I’d sing it to him before he went to sleep.

Good night, my angel

Time to close your eyes

Nick barked a few yards away from me.  He’d been my son’s dog, bought right around the same time Coop was born.  Nick slept next to my son every night, his black nose tucked under my son’s chin.  The day after Coop’s funeral, I almost took Nick to the county Humane Society.  Had him sitting in the Sable next to me.  But I couldn’t.

I looked down at the base of the oak that held my son’s tree house.  On a root, a frog perched, its throat expanding, contracting like a bubble of milk.  On the dirt beside the frog was the knuckle of snail shell.  I held my breath, listened to the frog call.  Pweee-pweee-pweee-pweee.

Good night, my angel

Now it’s time to dream

Nick was at my side again.  He stared down at the peeper at my feet.  I expected him to pounce, bat the frog around with his paws.  But Nick just stood, pink tongue hanging out, panting.  The frog didn’t seem to notice, just kept crying.  Pweee-pweee-pweee-pweee.

I reached down, rubbed Nick’s back.  His tail swayed back-and-forth.  Slow.  Content.  I could feel his quick breaths.

I closed my eyes, remembered the last time I’d had my hand on my son’s chest, felt the work of his lungs under my fingertips.

Coop had been hiding behind my Sable, waiting to jump, surprise me as I stepped out of the car.  It had been a long workday, and light was already faded from the sky.  My wife had asked me to pick up a gallon of milk on my way home.  I’d forgotten.  Sighing, I shifted my car into reverse and started backing down the driveway to go to the IGA.

And dream how wonderful your life will be

Cooper was heaving liquid breaths when I got to him.  I heard myself saying, “Oh, God, God, God, no, no, no, God, no.”  I put my hand on his eight-year-old chest, stared into his wide eyes.  “Sshhhh,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  Sshhh.”

Before my wife got to us, Coop smiled up at me,  “Surprise,” he said.  Then he was gone.

Then in your heart

There will always be a part of me

I kneeled beside Nick, kept rubbing his wet back.  He looked up, licked my chin, the way I’d seen him lick Cooper hundreds of times.  I never cried for my son.  Not at the hospital or funeral or after the funeral.  I reached down, touched the thick finger of Nick’s tail, which moved and moved.

Over my son’s crib, my wife hung a plaque when he was born.  Precious Moments, which I hated.  A poem:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

At the base of the oak.  Underneath the tree house and stars and moon.  In air of fish and skunk.  The peeper sang.  The snail crawled.  Nick nosed my hand.  And I wept in the dark.

Someday we’ll all be gone

But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be