Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30: Speech, New Poem, Bow Rye

If you haven't noticed yet, I tend to worry a great deal about my two-year-old son.  I probably worry more about him than I ever worried about my daughter when she was the same age.  Don't get me wrong.  My son is a great kid.  He's funny, energetic (a little too energetic at times), and independent.  He wants to do everything himself and gets really frustrated when he runs head-first into the wall of babyhood.  He can't stand the limitations of being small.

My son ready to hit the road
One of the things I worry about the most is my son's speech.  I started worrying about it when he was tested for preschool this April and qualified for a "special" program that involves speech therapy.  He is still at the stage where he needs someone to translate for him.  I feel like I work for a U.N. ambassador when he's trying to talk to a stranger at McDonald's.  The stranger usually looks at me, baffled, and I have to explain, "He's trying to tell you he's eating fries and ice cream."  For a while, I thought he might have a hearing problem, but he doesn't.  He hears things three rooms away that I can't even detect.

Bowel a meal
I've been trying to set these fears aside, let my son be himself, develop at his own pace.  It's hard.  I want him to be able to read and write before he hits kindergarten.  I want him to skip a few grades, go to college at the age of ten.  That's not going to happen, but every parent harbors those kinds of hopes.

Today's poem is about my son and the way he talks.  It's also about language and happiness, and the poetry that comes out of his mouth sometimes.  My son really does use language right now the way a poet should use language--playfully, with joy.

Saint Marty captures his son's joy, hopefully

Bow Rye

My son leaves off consonants when he speaks, too busy to articulate words the way the offspring of a poet should at the age of two.  My car, a raspberry jam-colored Ford, becomes, on my son's tongue, a dead dar.  The milk he sucks down in his crib is his bowel a meal.  At McDonald's, he eats fry anyoo.  Fries and ice cream.  The motorcycle across the street, a coonshawwa.  When my father cuts the grass, he pushes an own kowler.  If my son wants company, he orders my wife, Mumma she, until she sits beside him on the couch.

Today, after my son takes his afternoon nyeah, my brother, Un Pow, will take him for a bow rye.  As the pontoon slides into the water, my son, swaddled in a sherbet preserver, will point at the dark line of teas along the shore, at the schools of small fees darting through the shallows.  He'll hear the motors of other boats, mistake them for pains in the sky.  And when the wind hits him in the face, the spray of the waves dampens his hair as they cruise into deep water, my son will jump, wave, scream, laugh.  Speechless.  Unable to say what he feels.  Not knowing a word big enough.

Bow rye, anyone?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29: Saint Peter, Fishing, Dinner

One of today's feast saints is Peter, disciple and one of the most flawed men in the whole Jesus narrative.  I mean, he argues with Jesus, denies Jesus (three times!), and hides in fear after Jesus' crucifixion.  Peter's faith was far from perfect, that's for sure.  He's a man after my own heart.  I mean, if Peter can be that screwed up and still become the first leader of the Christian church, there's still hope for me.

I was pretty hard on myself last night.  If you couldn't tell from yesterday's post, I wasn't in the greatest of moods.  It didn't change when I got home.  I just couldn't shake a sense of...I guess the best word I can come up with is "failure."  I felt like a failure last night.  Some members of my Spiritual Autobiography Workshop didn't show up, so I postponed the session.  Then I started going through a collection of my newest poems, nearly 100 pages of verse.  I didn't like what I read.  I found a couple of typos.  Each poem struck me as trivial, stupid, repetitive.  I finally had to put the binder away.

My daughter helps me

My daughter called me from the trailer park last night.  She was homesick.  At 9:30 p.m., I drove out and picked her up.  When she saw me at the door of the trailer, she wrapped her arms and legs around me, and I carried her to my car.  When she got home, she took a shower, and then we watched an episode of M*A*S*H while she ate a bowl of ravioli.  After she was done eating, she sat next to me, holding my hand.  My daughter made me feel loved, cherished, important at the end of a day where I felt small, sad, and a little useless.

Part of the work in the Spiritual Autobiography Workshop is to develop your ability of "noticing."  At our first meeting, I talked with the group members about paying attention, recognizing the evidence of God in your life.  It's a practice that not very many people exercise, including myself.  However, last night, I exercised it.

I was defeated and depressed.  I couldn't even muster enough self-confidence to appreciate my own poetry.  I was just sitting on the coach, wallowing.  Then my daughter called.  Within an hour of being with her. of taking care of her needs, I was feeling God in my life.  My daughter changed my attitude, made me sense God's love.  By loving her, I knew I was loved.

I know that sounds corny, but I've held on to that feeling today.  Of course, by about mid-morning, I started getting phone calls from home.  My daughter and son were screaming at each other.  My daughter somehow managed to completely soak her only pair of shoes.  My daughter had an argument with her best friends.  My daughter wasn't invited to go fishing with her cousins.  Typical ten-year-old kid stuff.  Yet, even those phone calls let me know that I was important, loved.

Tonight, I am meeting my family for dinner.  My wife will be there with my son and daughter.  I will hear the horror stories of the day.  I will hear how my daughter missed using her new tackle box and fishing lures.  (Peter is also the patron saint of fishermen.)  Listening to all the chaos and drama, I will be happy.

Because Saint Marty will be noticing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28: Spiritual Journey, Spiritual Auobiography Workshop, Indifference

I just spent a little bit of time doing a writing exercise for the Spiritual Autobiography Workshop I'm leading tonight.  The assignment was to divide your life into the major periods of your spiritual journey.  I did this same exercise when I taught Spiritual Journaling last fall.  The previous time I did it, I wasn't really sold on the divisions I came up with.  This time, I think I was more honest with myself, and the result is truer and a little scarier.

I came up with nine divisions for my spiritual journey:
  1. Childhood:  Dad's struggle with church
  2. Adolescence:  Indifference toward God
  3. Undergraduate Years:  Religion as a way to make money
  4. Graduate School:  Reconciling academics and faith and sex
  5. Marriage:  Childless years
  6. Celeste and Bipolar:  Some time in the desert
  7. Sexual Addiction and Separation:  Being a single parent, more time in the desert
  8. Gideon:  Being blessed
  9. Sexual Addiction Again and Healing
A lot of those time periods have some pretty difficult struggles associated with them.  I've turned my back on God more than once in my life, mostly because I thought God had turned Her back on me.  At this moment in my life, I don't feel like I'm on completely sure spiritual footing.  I think I'm on better footing than I have been in a long while, but the horizon isn't clear of all storm clouds.

Wandering in the desert

The reason I'm writing about this subject is that I was pretty astounded over how much mental illness and addiction has touched so many areas of my life.  I've wondered for a very long time about God's plan for my life and how my wife's bipolar and other problems fit into this plan.  I've been trying to figure out how to take the dross of my life and turn it into gold for a long time.  I'm hoping this spiritual autobiography is going to be the first step toward figuring out the shape and direction of my journey.

All this may sound pretty deep and heavy.  It is.  I've never been much for authors who spend a majority of their time analyzing the lint from their bellybuttons.  Such seriousness tends to turn me off.  However, I've been preoccupied all day with this line of thinking, and I can't shake it off.

It doesn't help that I'm currently working in an office with a person who seems to have some kind of grudge against me.  This person has been pretty much ignoring me all day long, or interacting with me as little as possible.  It's put me in a very bad mood.  I like this person, have always gotten along with this person.  Now, it seems as if all that good will is gone.  I tried this morning to be friendly, joke around the way we normally do.  The response was colder than an iceberg.

One of my best friends just made me read an article about detachment.  Basically, the philosophy of the author can be summed up with one statement:  "I love you, and I don't care what happens to you."  That seems fairly cold-hearted to me, but it may be the tact I have to take with my coworker who's giving me the cold shoulder at the moment.  (My initial reaction this morning was a big, fat "fuck you," but I've had a few hours of reflection.  I have settled into a state of indifference now.)

I don't have anything funny to lighten up today's post.  As I complete writing the sections of my spiritual autobiography, I will share them with you.  Stay tuned for the installments, mixed with poetry and cartoons.

Saint Marty's going to try to lighten up now.

Letting go and not caring

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27: Cat and Bird, New Poem, Sick Son

Well, I have a dentist appointment today.  Dentist appointments don't bother me.  I have no phobia about drills or shots or cavities.  In fact, I look forward to my check-ups.  The hygienist is a reader; the doctor has a good sense of humor; and I get to leave work early.  It's really a win-win situation.

I do have a new poem today.  I'm surprised I was able get one written.  It's been kind of a crazy day, right from the start.  My son had a fever all night long, so I ended up giving him a cool bath at 3:30 this morning, right before I had to get up for work.  I thought I was going to be dragging, but, right now, I feel great.

Cat and Bird by Picasso
Needless to say, my poem today is about my sick son.  It's also about a story a coworker told me about her cat bringing a dying bird to her.  The image of that cat with the bird in its mouth was too strong to resist.  Plus, as another friend recently pointed out to me, I have a thing for dead birds in my poems.  I hadn't really thought about it, but, reviewing some of my work, dead or dying fowl do seem to appear quite frequently.  Don't ask me why.

The poem deals with the issue of being helpless in certain situations.  We all like to think we're in control of our lives, and, in a way, we are.  But when it comes to really serious issues, life-and-death things, we have about as much control as a newborn baby.  Translation:  it's all about letting go.  As a good friend likes to tell me, at some point in your life, you have to realize that God isn't the co-pilot; He's the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and mechanic.  At best, we can hope to get some nuts and a Diet Coke for the flight, plus a window seat.

That's what this poem is about.  Feeling and being helpless, trusting in God.

My son in the pilot's seat

Saint Marty has to go brush his teeth now.


My friend’s cat caught a robin,
Brought it inside her house,
Dropped it at my friend’s feet.
The bird stared up at her, eyes
Wide and panicked with death.
My friend lifted it, carried
It outside, placed it in the afternoon
Sun.  When she looked at her hands,
Blood sat in the creases of her palm.
She watched as the creature shuddered,
Heaved its orange breast once, twice,
Then died in the green of summer.

I know a surgeon who hit
The orbit of his eye against a door
So hard his vision split, filled
His brain with four of his hands,
Twenty fingers that once held
Hearts and livers, pieced together
The delicate machinery of life.
As he sat in the emergency room,
He saw darkness overtake half
His world, his damaged sight slip
Away from him like some frail
Organ, a lung unable to take
Even one more breath of air.

Last night, my son woke in his crib,
Hot as a winter radiator, soaked
In urine.  He whimpered as I stripped
Him, bathed him in cool water, forced
Him to swallow medicine pink as his gums.
As I carried him back to bed,
I didn’t know if I had fixed the engine
Of his young body, performed
The maintenance he needed.
I listened to him labor in sleep,
The rattle of cough, intake of oxygen,
Full of mud and marsh water.
He kicked, moaned without waking,
Fought a battle I couldn’t help
Him fight.  I had to stand
On the sidelines, like some spectator
At the Battle of Bull Run, watch,
Wait for the drums to beat,
The first shots to echo
Across the fields of Virginia.

Spectators at the First Battle of Bull Run

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26: New Cartoon, Former Classmate, EW

I am going to make this short and quick, as my posts usually are on the weekend.  I have a new cartoon for you to enjoy, ridicule, or ignore.  Take your pick.  But I wanted to say a little bit about the newest issue of the magazine Entertainment Weekly, which contains a huge, glowing review of a novel by a former classmate of mine from graduate school days.  Not only that, the same book is mentioned earlier in the magazine, as well.  I've read and reread the review quite a few times this weekend. 

This author was incredibly nice.  In fact, she was one of the nicest people I've ever met.  She liked a story of mine that the rest of the workshop pretty much used to wipe their asses with.  Plus, she was a fantastic writer, even 15 or so years ago.  It doesn't surprise me that she ended up in the pages of Entertainment Weekly.

That doesn't stop the old jealousy monster from possessing me, however.  Yes, I'm really, really, really envious of her.  It also doesn't help that she was nominated for the American Book Award a couple of years ago.  That's the state I'm in right now, and it ain't pretty.  I'll get over it as soon as another of my former classmates publishes a book and ends up in the pages of People.

Saint Marty, still looking for his share of the glory.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25: New Cartoon, Fishing, Mom's Birthday

I don't have much time to post today.  My whole family is currently upstairs, eating pizza and celebrating my mother's eightieth birthday.  I am trying to get this done between dinner and cake.  I have, basically, given myself a time-out because NB is up to her old tricks and I may end up calling her Satan's spawn in front of a large group of people.  It wouldn't be pretty, that's for sure.  I'm calming down now.

My daughter went fishing today with her visiting cousins.  I spent most of the afternoon at home while my son took a nap.  I may have taken a nap, too.  Actually, I did, but it makes me feel lazy typing it.

I played the organ at church this afternoon and managed to play fusion jazz by mistake.  Oh, well.

Sounds like the party is ready to move into the ice cream and cake stage, so I better go face NB again.

Pray for Saint Marty.

Confessions of Saint Marty

I d                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  id

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24: New Poem, Lemon Curd, Robert Frost

I did write a new poem this morning, but I wasn't sure if it was good enough to share until this afternoon.  It was inspired by something a member of my book club said last night at our gathering.  We were talking about the recipes in Cakewalk, the memoir we read.  Some people really liked reading the recipes, and other people found them distracting.  My best friend, Wondertwin, said, "I love reading cookbooks."  She sits and read cookbooks like novels.  Her statement stayed with me all night.
Lemon curd

Wondertwin made vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd for the book club party last night.  They were D-I-V-I-N-E.  Everybody loved them.  We talked a lot about the food described in the book.  We also talked about mental illness and family dysfunction and Ronald Reagan, but mostly about cakes and cupcakes and pancakes.  It was a wonderful time.  The conversation also turned to people's artistic talents and passions.  One of Wondertwin's real talents is baking beautiful, delicious cookies and cakes.  My talent happens to be language and poetry.  Baking relaxes Wondertwin; writing relaxes me.  Other passions named were sewing and running and quilting. 

This morning, when I sat down to write today's poem, as I promised I would, Wondertwin's cookbook fetish and lemon curd stuck with me, as did the discussion about talents and gifts.  I kept coming back to these subjects, even though I was trying to write about something else.  Eventually, I just gave in.  The poem turned into a reflection about art and passion and language and poetry, with Robert Frost thrown in for good measure.

I'm still not sure this poem is done, but I'm going to offer it up anyway, warts and all.  It has been rewritten three or four times already, trying to find the perfect ingredients.  It's not as good as Wondertwin's lemon curd cupcakes, but it's getting pretty damn close.

Saint Marty is ready to send this poem out into the world.


My friend reads cookbooks
The way I read poetry, hungry
For each line, each word chosen
Like tiles in a Byzantine Christ,
Pieced together, stone-by-stone,
Color-by-color, into a creation
Greater than its parts.  My friend
Mixes twelve egg yolks, salt,
Sugar, lemon zest and juice,
Butter into lemon curd, spoons
It into vanilla cupcakes, follows
A recipe she discovered
In her grandmother's Betty Crocker,
Creates a poem of vanilla, citrus,
Something her mother's mother first made
As a young girl with whisk,
Heat, ice.  As she licks her finger,
My friend reads the recipe again,
Sees where her grandmother
Crossed out "Makes 3 cups,"
Penciled in "5 cups" in careful
Letters, underlined it twice.
This revision, made over 40 years ago,
Reminds my friend of the white
Moons of her grandmother's fingernails,
Her kitchen stove, hot as July,
The abundance of curd in her bowl.
I think of Robert Frost working
In his notebook, scribbling his last line
And miles to go before I sleep,
Reading it over, then writing
And miles to go before I sleep
Again, as if he needed one more
Egg, a pinch of cinnamon, to fill
His pastry until it overflowed.

Robert Frost's draft

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23: Book Club, Kate Moses, Fruit Salad

Don't bother me!  I'm preparing for book club!

My book club is meeting tonight at my house.  I think my streak of the last couple of months will be finally broken:  I will actually have the book completely finished.  This month's selection was a memoir titled Cakewalk by Kate Moses.  It's about her dysfunctional childhood and adolescence and her development as a writer.  At the end of almost every chapter is a recipe for one of her favorite baked foods.  The chapter I just read ended with a recipe for spiced pecan birthday cake.  Although I'm not usually a fan of pecans, unless they're disguised with lots of Karo syrup in a pie, this cake sounds absolutely mouth-watering.  I'm going to spend most of the afternoon finishing this book, if things go as planned.

The fruit's on me!
I spent an hour or so last night cutting up fruit for the fruit salad I'm going to serve tonight for the book club meeting.  I sliced up watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and pineapple.  When I get home tonight, I have to slice up some bananas and Pacific Rose apples (gorgeous and sweet).  It's going to be a huge salad that I'm probably going to be eating for days.  My friend Wondertwin made one of the recipes from the book--lemon cupcakes.  She's been describing them to me all day, and I can't wait to taste them.  My sister and mother are bringing meat pies.  It's going to be good eating at Saint Marty's house tonight.

My daughter called my wife this morning.  My wife said my daughter sounded like she'd been crying.  She told my wife, "I miss you, Mommy."  (For the past couple of weeks, she's been staying at my sister's camper with some cousins who are visiting the area.)  And then my daughter said she was having a "sad day."  Usually that means that something hasn't gone her way.  She didn't get to do something she wanted to do.  Or the weather has started to effect her.  We are now going on almost four days of fog and rain.  That would make Pollyanna suicidal.  I haven't heard any more reports about my daughter since this morning.  I'm trying to take that as a good sign.  Hopefully, things are looking up.  I remember dealing with bouts of inexplicable sadness when I was a kid.  I used to call them my "blue days."  I hope she didn't inherit that character trait from me.

My daughter on a better day
I feel guilty that I don't have a new poem for you today.  I promise to post a new poem tomorrow.  During the month of July, I have several poetry readings and panel discussions at different venues around the area, so I have to get in the "poetry" mood, if you know what I mean.  Right now, however, I need to get back to my reading my book.

Saint Marty, 89 pages and counting.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22: Saint Thomas More, Rain, Tired

Yesterday's post was all about the first day of summer.  June 21 was supposed to be the longest day of the year.  It rained almost the entire day.  Today, which is supposed to be just as long as yesterday, has been a day-long downpour.  No sun.  No light.  All my talk about embracing the light in my last post was a waste of time.  When I left the Spiritual Autobiography Workshop last night, the fog was so thick I thought it was snowing when I looked out of the window.  It was dark by 9 p.m.

Perhaps because of this inclement weather, I have felt really tired today.  I've been trying to cut back on the amount of Diet Mountain Dew I drink, holding myself to one can per day.  This morning, I had my allotted can, but by lunchtime, I was falling asleep.  I am currently chugging down my second can of Dew.  I'm perking up a little bit, but I still can't quite get up to speed.  My mind is working about three bulbs short of a chandelier.  I'm hoping I'll get a second wind soon.

Today's feast saint is Thomas More, patron of lawyers.  Thomas More is probably most famous for standing up to Henry VIII, refusing to "render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England."  Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower of London and, about a year and a half later, was beheaded for treason.  His last words were that he was dying "the King's good servant--but God's first."  During his lifetime, Thomas was a prolific author.  His most famous work is Utopia, about a fictional island state named Utopia.  In the book, More discusses things like religious tolerance, female priests, married priests, and divorce.

Being from a "mixed" marriage--I was raised Catholic, my wife is Methodist--I appreciate More's ideas about tolerance.  I've never made a big deal with my daughter about the fact the we go to "Daddy's church" on Saturday and "Mommy's church" on Sunday.  It's just church, and it's all about Jesus.  When my daughter gets a little older, maybe she'll start asking questions and making choices.  But, in a perfect world, maybe in Utopia, such distinctions wouldn't really matter that much.  American Catholics are notoriously liberal in their religious beliefs.  Most Catholics I know wouldn't have a problem with married priests, or female priests, for that matter.  Every Catholic church I know has some kind of support group for divorced Catholics nowadays.  The world really has changed since Thomas More wrote Utopia.  Yet, we still argue about the same things.  Despite his radical ideas, Thomas More became a saint.  He was a man of his time and a man of the future.

In my life, I've had to stand up for a lot of things.  My father almost didn't come to our wedding because we got married in the Methodist church.  (He eventually did come, because we had a Methodist pastor AND a Catholic priest performing the ceremony.)  Many members of my family still struggle with my wife's mental illness and sexual addiction.  Rather than taking up love and compassion, they take up stones to throw.  My life is far from utopia.  Modern society will never be utopia.  I know that.  Thomas More knew that.  But, in my own actions, in the choices I make each day, maybe I make the world just a tiny bit better.

It's all in our hands
On this rainy Wednesday, with my tired mind, I embrace the idea of tolerance.  I embrace the idea of not limiting people because of gender or race or sexual preference or religion.  I embrace the idea of the healing power of love, as corny as that sounds.  I embrace the idea of utopia.

Saint Marty raises his Mountain Dew to Saint Thomas More.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 21: First Day of Summer, Longest Day of the Year, Workshop

Today is the official first day of summer, the longest day of the year.  For the next few days, light takes hold of this part of the world and doesn't let go.  Then comes the slow slide to autumn and winter.  Each day will become shorter and shorter.  Pretty soon, it will be dark at four in the afternoon.  Darkness will be the guiding force.

I always like saying that for my friends who are sun worshippers.  When I was younger, I preferred the fall and winter months.  I loved rain and snow, the grey pall of those seasons.  As I've gotten older, I've found myself leaning more and more toward sunlight, like a plant in a window.  I now count summer as my favorite time of year.  I appreciate that dusk doesn't arrive now until almost 10 p.m.  I love running in temperatures in excess of 80 degrees.  I'm just one step away from those alligator-skinned people who winter in Florida and tan so much they're translucent.

Too much sun?

I plan to celebrate this long day of light by going to my Spiritual Autobiography Workshop this evening.  I've been looking forward to it all weekend.  I love the people in it, and I love the idea of using writing to become closer to God.  I don't think God has given me too many missions in life.  I just sort of stumble along until I happen to do the right thing, hopefully.  The times when I feel closest to doing God's work is when I'm teaching people about writing and journaling and poetry.  That's my mission, my gift.

I have met many gifted people in my life.  People who are able to do super-normal things.  I have a good friend who can sit at a piano, pick up a piece of music, and play it flawlessly.  She's always been able to do that.  I have another friend who can sing anything and bring you to tears.  The best man at my wedding can build anything, just give him a hammer, twist tie, and a rubber band.  My brother can do anything with electricity.  They're all gifted.

Gifts are different than talents.  I have a talent for music, but I have to practice my ass off.  I have a talent for art, but I suck at drawing hands.  I have a talent for directing plays, but I plan and prepare for a production for weeks.  I have a talent for singing, but I can't sight-read music for the life of me.

Talent takes work.  Gifts don't.

I have a gift for writing, and I love sharing that gift with other people in writing workshops.  That's why I'm looking forward to tonight.  I'm looking forward to using words and language to help people discover their own gifts and talents.  It will be joyful--full of laughter, maybe a few tears, and light.  Lots of light.

Saint Marty can't think of a better way to commemorate the first day of summer.

Celebrate the light

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20: Dirty Secrets, Skunk, New Poem

First, I would like to thank Mr. Lonely, the person who left a comment for me yesterday, wishing me a happy Father's Day.  I really appreciate hearing from people who read my blog.

Today has been fairly productive for me.  I got a whole crapload of work done early this morning in just a couple hours.  Then I started thinking about a poem for today's post.  I struggled with finding a topic for a while, and then I remembered the skunk from last week.

This isn't Flower!

When I left for work last Monday, I stepped onto my front porch and could immediately smell skunk.  This might not sound like an astonishing fact in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Let me explain.  I, generally, don't smell skunks.  The ability to smell skunk is, I think, hereditary.  My brother didn't inherit the ability to smell skunk, and neither did I.  The only time I can smell skunk is when its scent is so strong it can knock the "normal" skunk smeller unconscious.  I've actually stopped by a dead skunk on the side of the road, stood over it, and sniffed deeply.  I didn't smell a thing.  So, if I smelled skunk on my front porch last week, that skunk was close by.

When I opened my front door, I saw the reason why the skunk was hanging around my house.  My garbage can was knocked over, and the garbage bag was torn open.  There was rubbish, trash, nasty shit all over my lawn.  I spent 15 minutes cleaning it up.  I was annoyed and a little embarrassed seeing all my crap spread out before me.

That is the inspiration for this new poem.  The poem ended up being about all of the dirty little secrets we harbor in the trashcans of our hearts.  We all have secrets.  And most secrets, eventually, become public knowledge in very public ways.  (Just ask Bill Clinton or Anthony Weiner.)

Today, Saint Marty airs some of his dirty secrets.  Metaphorically speaking.

Skunk Morning

Trash can overturned,
The skunk clawed open
Garbage bags, eviscerated
Their contents across my lawn.
My son’s diapers, swollen
With urine, shit, the night’s rain,
Glowed like marble in the early morning
Moonlight.  Banana peels floated
In mud, crawled down the sidewalk,
Nested in grass.  Gnawed, black, raw.
An empty bag of Cheetos at the curb.
Dental floss.  Used sanitary napkins.
A condom from two nights before,
Kids asleep, wife fresh from a shower,
Skin, pink and sweet.  All my secrets
Littered the dark, spread out
For the skunk to nose, chew,
Fill its stomach with, satisfy
Its dark hunger.  I gathered
The dirty details of my life,
Scooped them into a bag,
Knotted the bag, sealed them away.
Under the stars, I smelled
The black-and-white intruder,
Creature of soiled intimacy.
It smelled of musk and fear,
Of all those things I wanted
To keep hidden.

Can't hide forever

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19: Happy Father's Day, Rain, Dinner, Second Post of the Day

Happy Father's Day to all of my readers who happen to be fathers.  I hope your day is filled with...absolutely nothing, which sounds like a slice of paradise to me.

Last night, my daughter didn't spend the night out at the trailer with her visiting cousins as she has been recently.  She was feeling sick to her stomach, so she came home.  I made her take a cool bath, gave her ice cream, and watched The Lawrence Welk show with her.  Before you say I was subjecting her to cruel and unusual punishment, I wasn't.  She enjoys watching Lawrence Welk with us.  Really.  Our Saturday nights wouldn't be complete without our weekly dose of champagne music. 

Turns out my daughter wasn't really sick.  She just got pushed on the merrygoround at the playground one too many times.  She was fine this morning.

Sunday worship this morning.  Our band played some great music.  Currently, it's raining, which may screw up a lot of barbecue plans today.  Since I don't care for the taste of barbecue sauce, this weather has not dampened my spirits one iota.  This evening, my brother is deep-frying a capon for dinner.  Until a couple weeks ago, I had no idea what a capon really was, except that it belonged to the poultry family.  I now know that a capon is a newtered rooster.  And it tastes just like chicken.

Nothing else to report.  I'm looking forward to dinner and a quiet, uneventful evening.  No stress.  Just capon.  Corn.  Brussel sprouts.  Mashed potatoes.

Saint Marty is kickin' back.

Confessions of Saint Marty

June 19: Vacation, New Cartoon, First Communion

Yesterday, I obviously took a break from the computer.  Actually, I didn't have much of a choice.  My wife had a baby shower to attend, my daughter went fishing, and I took a nap with my son.  That was my morning and afternoon.  Then I had to go to my niece's first communion at church.  After that, it was a first communion party for my niece and a graduation party for my nephew.  I had no time at all to even think about blogging.  Well, actually, I thought about it, but sitting down at a computer was out of the realm of possibility.

I did, however, have a chance to draw a new installment of The Confessions of Saint Marty, which you will see at the end of this post.  The cartoon was the only creative thing I managed to do yesterday.  However, it was a nice little vacation.  But, to make up for my absence, I have two posts for today, both cartoons.  I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoy drawing them.  I don't often have a reason for sitting down with my drawing notebook.  My comic strip gives me a reason.

Saint Marty contemplates communion.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17: Homeless Man, Saint Harvey, Lost Tooth

In the area in which I live, a homeless man died of exposure in the woods this past week.  Usually, in early June in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it can get chilly at night, but not so cold it would kill somebody.  Homelessness is not an issue most people think about in the U.P.  We have our share of group homes for people with mental illnesses, and we also have a low-income hotel, as well.  However, when you walk down the streets of our towns, there aren't people begging on the corners or pushing loaded shopping carts around.  Homeless people live in the big cities--Detroit, Lansing, Flint.  Not along the shores and beaches of Lake Superior.

Not in my hometown

When I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting last year in Marquette, one of the people there (let's call her Tina) had a brother who was schizophrenic.  Tina's brother wasn't taking his medications, and she was at the end of her rope.  Until her brother tried to harm himself or someone else, Tina couldn't get her brother hospitalized.  It's one of the horrible truths in the treatment of the mentally ill in this country.  In the effort to protect the rights of a person with a mental illness, that person has to try to kill somebody before he can be helped.  My coworker, who also attends NAMI meetings, told me yesterday that she thinks the homeless man who died in the woods was Tina's brother.

Tina's brother slipped through the cracks, the victim of a system that was set up to protect him.  He died, homeless in the woods, his civil rights intact.  I understand the reasons behind the laws, but I have also been in a situation like Tina.  My wife needed help, was obviously out-of-control, but her therapist, her doctor, couldn't tell me anything.  They just had to let her march down a self-destructive path.  Thank God it turned out better than it did for Tina's brother.

Today's saint, Harvey, was born blind.  His father died when Harvey was an infant, and his mother gave him to a "holy man" to raise.  Eventually, the holy man sent him to a monastic school to continue his religious education.  Harvey eventually became Abbot of the monastery, even though he was never ordained a priest.  He's famous for being a wandering minstrel and performing miracles as an exorcist.

In today's world, a wandering, blind, holy exorcist would probably end up freezing to death in the woods.  At the very least, Harvey would be one of those people you avoid in subways and bus terminals.  Poor.  Homeless.  Hungry.  When I think of people like Harvey and Tina's brother, I find myself a little humbled.   My first thought isn't about their mothers or uncles or brothers.  My first thought is how lucky I am to not be them.  My second thought is how lucky I am to have a family member with a mental illness who is relatively stable, healthy, and happy.

My third thought is about my daughter, who called me this morning to tell me she lost another tooth, and my son.  I think about the capacity for mental illness they've inherited.  I pray that they won't end up homeless in the cold woods. 

Saint Marty prays they will end up performing miracles with their lives.

My kids, reaching for the stars

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16: Soapboxes, Judgment Day, New Poem

I do have a new poem today.  It was inspired by a lot of recent news stories and experiences in my life.  Basically, I'm tired of Chicken Littles, people who run around screaming "The sky if falling!" all the time.  I have several individuals like that in my life, and it becomes a little tiresome at times.  (I can also be a Chicken Little, but I try not to feed into the frenzy most of the time.)

The sky is falling!!!
Of course, just last month, there was a preacher who claimed the day of rapture was going to be May 21.  Everybody was waiting for Jesus to make His appearance, and it didn't happen.  The preacher, after a day or so of complete disappointment that he was still alive, announced that he'd made an error in addition.  He probably forgot to carry the 8 or something.  Any way, the actual day of rapture, according to Reverend Chicken Little, is going to be December 21, so get ready.  At least that saves everyone a lot of money.  We don't have to worry about buying Christmas presents this year.

There is the whole contingent of the world's population who believe that the world's going to end in the year 2012.  I guess there's something Biblical about the year or the number or something.  I don't really pay that much attention to such things.  I will confess to stockpiling some water and money for Y2K, but, of course, nothing came of that whole scare. 

I know I can worry a little too much.  Some of my friends may even say that I'm a little negative at times.  However, I don't go out of my way to seek out things to worry about.  Worries come naturally enough without me having to fabricate them.  I just try to be happy for what I have right now and hope that I still have it tomorrow.  Doomsday will come soon enough.  I'm going to try not to rush it.

That's what today's poem is about.  I dedicate it to all the Chicken Littles in my life.

Saint Marty, keepin' it real.

Judgment Day

I’m tired of people on soapboxes
Who stand in the middle
Of college quads, busy intersections,
Preach the world will come
To an end tomorrow, Jesus will rip
The Sky in two at noon, ride
In on a Harley, His pack
Of Heaven’s Angels tear up
The clouds behind Him with their hogs,
The day of rapture shattered
By motorcycle thunder, leather jackets.
I’m tired of people who whisper
In offices about budget cuts,
Pink slips, whip coworkers
Into meringues of worry
Until they can’t sleep, sit up
All night, spoon lemon pie
Into their mouths, cry
Over its sour bite on their tongues.
I’m tired of people telling me
My two-year-old should speak
In ten-word sentences
Instead of point at garbage trucks,
Bulldozers, say beep-beep and smile.
I’m tired of self-helpers,
12-steppers, magic-eight-ballers,
Thought-of-the-dayers, New Agers
Who meditate and yoga, go vegan,
Go organic, detox and cleanse,
Chant mantras like, “The only sure thing
In life is change.”  I’m tired
Of all those people who have
Their bombshelters stocked,
Their swimsuits packed for the next
Great Flood.  Judgment Day won’t be
Like fireworks over Cinderella’s castle.
It will be like this morning,
When I woke up, couldn’t find
My car keys or debit card,
When the light in the bathroom
Burned out.  It will be the day
When all my boxers are in the dirty laundry.

I hope he's wearing clean underwear!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 15: Publicity Photo, Band Practice, Potluck

Greetings, readers, friends, and the simply curious.  I wish I could tell you I have a new poem for you to read today.  I don't.  I wish I could say I have some witty, embarrassing story to tell you.  I don't.  I wish I could relate some important event from today.  I can't.

It's been one of those days, like so many countless days in a person's life, where nothing of real significance has happened, and I haven't accomplished anything of note.  Last night, at the first session of the Spiritual Autobiography Workshop I'm running, I talked a little bit with the workshop members about the spiritual discipline of noticing.  I often go through my day without really paying close attention to what's going on around me.  As a Christian, I've been taught and really believe that God is everywhere--in the eggs I eat in the morning, in the words I type into my blog, in the people I help at my job.  Every one of my actions, everything I say, is a reflection of God's presence in my life.  That's pretty heavy.

The problem is that most people have become blind to the evidence of God in their lives.  Because I see the sunrise every morning as I go to work, I don't notice whether it's pink or orange or lemon-colored.  Because I register patients for surgery every day, or teach students about comma splices, I don't contemplate that I may be talking to Jesus.  Because I hear it every day, I don't recognize God's love for me when my son squeals "Daddeeeeeee" as I walk through the door in the evening.  I'm so wrapped up in my problems and worries that I forget to look for miracles, for God's footsteps or fingerprints, in my daily grind.

That's what the spiritual discipline of noticing is all about--slowing down, looking around at God's work each and every minute.  Noticing isn't a common practice among most people, even those who profess to be Christians.  It's much easier to focus on what we don't have than what we do.

So, on this basically ordinary day, I give thanks for ordinary miracles.  I give thanks for the cheesy potatoes at the potluck at work this afternoon.  I give thanks for the songs and music I'll play at praise band practice tonight.  I give thanks for the photo of me my friend took with her phone-camera (even if it shows all of my chins and highlights my follicle-challenge).  I can use it for a publicity poster of a poetry reading I'm going to be giving in July.  When you take the time to look around, you notice the miracles.

That's Saint Marty's message on this boring day:  take a look around and see God.

My publicity photo--"Say cheesy potatoes!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14: Another Hero, Another Workshop, Another Car Repair

Well, the Spiritual Autobiography Workshop I thought I was going to have to cancel picked up two more participants this morning.  Therefore, I will be at church tonight talking about spiritual journeys and Abraham and writing.  It should be a really good night with good conversation and people.  We'll see if, after I explain the requirements of the workshop, everybody will want to move ahead.  It requires quite a commitment of time and energy, from the participants and me.

But I'm not complaining.  You see, I found a new hero who has taught me something about complaining.  You'll remember, last Friday, I wrote about Dale Price from the blog Wave At the Bus.  He's the father who dressed up in costumes and waved at his teenage son's school bus.  I found another everyday hero on another blog.  The Blogger people chose a blog about Alice x, a 15-year-old girl with terminal cancer, as a Blog of Note yesterday.  Alice's Bucket List is not depressing, maudlin, or in any way like Terms of Endearment.  Alice x is a normal girl, living each day to the fullest.  She's matter-of-fact about her chances of survival, which I gather are not very good, and she's trying to do awesome things with the time she has left.

The number one item on Alice x's bucket list is "To make everyone sign up to be a bone marrow donor."  Her sister, Milly, ran the Race for Life this past Sunday, and, thanks to Alice's Bucket List, Milly raised over £30,000.  (By the way, Alice is British.)  In just five blog posts, Alice has over 12,000 followers, and she's become an Internet superstar.  For being positive and brave and selfless.  She's absolutely amazing.

And her story puts things into perspective for me.  I often get wound up in my little world of jealousy and ego.  I mock the famous, ridicule the fortunate, and bemoan the fact I can't get chosen as a freakin' Blog of Note.  I'm a small person, most of the time, with petty worries.  Alice x is a fearless girl with fearless dreams.  She deserves to be admired.  She is a hero, in every sense of the word.

I guess what I'm trying to say today is that we're all blessed.  When I get up in the morning, that's a blessing.  When I get a hug from my daughter or son, that's a blessing.  When the garage calls to tell me I have to have my brakes fixed to the tune of $500, that's a blessing, too.  Because I have a car.  Because I can scrape together the cash to pay for the fix.  I'm blessed.  (I wish I wasn't QUITE so blessed with the car repair, but that's the way it goes.)

Go visit Alice x's blog.  She doesn't ask for money or tears or pity.  She doesn't ask for anything.  She just counts her blessings and goes for walks with her mom and dog.  She really is a saint.

Saint Marty has a lot to learn.

Saint Alice x

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 13: Take 4, Another Cartoon, Caught Up

Last post for the day.  I drew this cartoon while waiting for my daughter's second dance recital to begin on Sunday afternoon.  I was a little tired, a little cranky.  I started thinking about what happens when I try to find a quiet place to pray and meditate.  Viola.  New cartoon.

I am now caught up with my posting and cartooning.  Back to a regular schedule.  I start teaching a Spiritual Autobiography Workshop tomorrow night at church, if anybody shows up for it.  I have posters out, but I haven't gotten anyone to commit to do it, aside from my wife and one of my best friends.  If nobody else shows up tomorrow, my wife and I are going to take advantage of having a babysitter.  Maybe go to a movie or out to dinner.  I'll postpone the workshop until the fall.

Saint Marty needs to go for a run tonight, however, before he meditates the rest of the evening away.

Confessions of Saint Marty

June 13: Take 3, Dance Recital, Cartoon

As promised, here is the first of two new cartoons for Confessions of Saint Marty.  As I said in "June 13:  Take 1," I spent a good deal of my time in dark auditoriums this weekend, watching my daughter rehearse for her dance recitals.  That is the inspiration for this doodle.

Saint Marty does Swan Lake.

Confessions of Saint Marty

June 13: Take 2, New Poem, Surprises

Yes, I did write a poem this morning.  Therefore, this post will be the second one for today.  Two more (with new cartoons in them) are on the way this evening, when I can get to a scanner.

When I started writing this poem, I thought it was going to follow a certain path.  However, sometimes poems don't cooperate with the poet.  I found myself writing about things I had no intention of writing about.  Let me put a disclaimer on this poem.  It's a disclaimer a lot of poets place upon their work:  don't confuse the speaker of the poem with the poet.  While most writers (including poets) use details from their lives in their writing, it is very dangerous to think that all the details of a poem are true.  There is truth in all poems.  That's the difference.  It's a fine line.  It's sort of like thinking Catcher in the Rye is true because Holden seems so real.  There is truth in Salinger's book, but it is not non-fiction in any way.  Get it?

If it sounds like I'm trying to cover my ass, I'm not.  I'm pretty open about my life.  All you have to do is read this blog to realize that.  As Forrest Gump would say, "That's all I got to say about that."

Saint Marty, setting the record straight.


My son slapped my wife
Across the face yesterday.
Hard.  Made her ears ring,
Eyes water.  Only two, my son stared
At my wife, who cried, rubbed
Her cheek as if she’d been
Stung by a wasp.  He didn’t
Understand my wife’s tears,
Why she looked at him
Like he’d just pulled
A gun on her, wanted her
To surrender her wedding band,
Anything she held dear.

Now that I’m grown, I hear
Stories from my sisters
How my father punched
Holes in the bedroom wall
When he got angry with Mom,
How Mom hung framed
Cross stitch and photos over
The holes, airbrushed Dad’s temper
Away so we kids wouldn’t
Be frightened of him.
I remember one picture
In my parents’ room:
Them at a campfire, brown necks
Of beer in their hands,
My dad’s arm draped around
Mom’s shoulder, smiles on both
Their faces.  He looked calm,
Happy as Jimmy Stewart
After the angel gave him
His life back on Christmas Eve.

My wife tells me how my son
Comes to her today, puts his head
On her knees, pets her leg,
Fingers soft as a blade of grass.
He harbors my wife’s tears
In some hidden part of himself,
Like the holes in my parents’ walls,
Those places families hide
Savings bonds and fists,
Grandmother’s wedding rings,
Bruises and strings of pearls.
Anything children will inherit.