Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30: Revised "Apology," Long Run, New Cartoon

This afternoon, I went for a long run.  Well, a relatively long run.  Around five miles.  I feel tired, but not exhausted.  Every Thanksgiving morning, I run a 10K race called the Turkey Trot.  It allows me to avoid guilt when I'm stuffing myself with meat and potatoes and corn in the afternoon and evening.  I sort of feel like that.  No guilt now, no matter what I eat or do for the rest of the day.

Speaking of guilt, I have a revision of my poem from last week.  This version is considerably better, I think.  The imagery is stronger.  The ideas come through better.  It almost seems like a completely different poem.

If you don't think so, all Saint Marty can offer you is an...



My son stands on the lip
of the pool, eyes frogged
by goggles, chest swaddled
in orange preserver.  Behind him
on the wall, instructions,
how to empty lungs of chlorine,
breathe life into something
blue as fish scales.  The image
distracts me, mouth pressed
to mouth, an intimate exchange,
reminds me of the winter
night four years ago
when my son's life began
with whispers, lips, tongues
mingled, coated with "yes"
and "oh, yes" and breath,
so much breath.

My son leaps at me,
at the hungry, green water,
trusts my arms will be there.
He's swallowed by wave,
splash.  His body thrashes
in that place of no air
where he once lived,
where he didn't need
oxygen, swam all day
in darkness and drum,
surrounded by the crush
of blood.  I scoop him
up, his hands, fingers
hooked in my arms
as he's hauled to the surface
like a prize tuna
after a night of empty nets.
When his head emerges,
he looks at me
with the same look Christ
gave His friend in that place
of olives and moonlight
where one mouth met another,
one breath met another,
where His friend began to climb
to that limb where the rope waited.
 My son gulps, coughs, cries,
as if he's just been born
into this world of inhale, exhale,

regret.  I stand on the branch,
teeter between the moment
of arms, safety, trust,
and gravity taking over,
pulling me down
and down.


Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 29: Large Breakfast, Eggs, Revised Poem Tomorrow, New Cartoon

After I put my bags in one of those strong boxes at the station, I went into this little sandwich bar and had breakfast.  I had quite a large breakfast, for me--orange juice, bacon and eggs, toast and coffee.  Usually I just drink some orange juice.  I'm a very light eater.  I really am.  That's why I'm so damn skinny.  I was supposed to be on this diet where you eat a lot of starches and crap, to gain weight and all, but I didn't ever do it.  When I'm out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk.  It isn't much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk.  H. V. Caulfield.  Holden Vitamin Caulfield.

Unlike Holden, I like to eat.  Holden's large breakfast sounds pretty good to me.  For more than a few years, I've been meeting my sisters at McDonald's every Saturday morning for breakfast.  It's a time for my kids to visit with their aunts, and it's a time for me to catch up on family gossip.  Food has always been a big part of family time for me.  Having eight siblings, I remember family dinners as being big and loud.  Several people talking at one time.  There would be arguments and teasing.  Sometimes big news.  Pregnancies.  Moves.  Jobs.  So my Saturday mornings at McDonald's are a natural extension of a family tradition.

Since my hours were cut at work a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I have been very careful with money.  We don't buy "extras" like pop and chips when we go grocery shopping.  I can't remember the last time I've been on  I've told my daughter she needs to start doing chores for her aunts to earn some money to pay for her dance lessons.  Saturday morning at McDonald's is about the only time during the week I eat out, and my purchases are limited to a large pop and and sausage Mcmuffin.  $2.12.

I don't mind the belt tightening.  It happens every summer when the checks from the university stop coming.  This year, however, the belt is going to get really tight.  This paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle is exhausting and discouraging.  No matter how hard I work (or want to work), I never seem to get ahead.  I know my case is not unusual.  In fact, my case is probably the norm for most people in this country.  Yet, I'm surrounded by coworkers at my two jobs (the hospital and the university) who are very lucky.  They aren't struggling to pay bills.  They can afford to take extended vacations.  And these people don't seem to think they're privileged or lucky in any way.  That's what really astounds me.  Doctors who complain how expensive plane tickets are.  Professors who think tenure is their right because they've lived in the bubble of academia their whole lives; they haven't worked a job for minimum wage since they were teenagers.

I have no idea where I'm going with this little rant this morning.  My thoughts are all over the place.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that I like being able to go to McDonald's on Saturday mornings.  It's a couple of hours of respite from a week of money and job worries.  That's not a bad buy for a little over two bucks.

Saint Marty will have an "Apology" revision for you tomorrow.  It may be a final draft.  Or not.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 28, 2013

June 28: A Poem by Darrell Bourque, "Night Prayer on Returning from Tuscany"

It has been a long day, but I wanted to leave you tonight with a poem by a poet I love.  I met Darrell Bourque about nine years ago when he conducted a writing workshop at the university where I teach.  He is a lovely, generous man and an absolutely marvelous poet.  And a former poet laureate of the state of Louisiana.

I've chosen something from Bourque's book Burnt Water Suite.  It's a haunting lullaby of a poem titled "Night Prayer from Tuscany."

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples sweet dreams.

Night Prayer on Returning from Tuscany

O little room, O sweet little space
that takes me in without question.
I open the yellow door on the black
you offer like some dark embrace,
night-skinned lover throwing the arms
around the returning beloved.
Before anything else--the touching
of bellies, the ebony hand
on the back of the neck, the touching
of faces--before anything gets asked
about the light out there,
about the air you walked in,
about the colors in those distant cities
you bathed yourself in.
O sweet little block of darkness open,
O sweet little room flanked by others
just like it where my friends lie
like elder monks drifting to another world
on day thoughts
--the problems and the progress of the acolytes,
--the weeds in the herb garden,
--how full or how empty the tithe barn is,
--where next year's lavender seeds will come from.
The only sound in this sanctified lightlessness,
a snoring so light it quivers just above
their faces.  And above my own face,
my own hymn:  O holy little space,
O sweet accepting darkness.  O holy
little room.  O little room divine.

A truly wonderful person all 'round

June 28: Backasswards, Doing Things in Reverse, Fairy Tale

"God damn it."  He was sore as hell.  He was really furious.  "You always do everything backasswards."  He looked at me.  "No wonder you're flunking the hell out of here," he said.  "You don't do one damn thing the way you're supposed to.  I mean it.  Not one damn thing."

Stradlater's angry with Holden.  Holden wrote an essay for Stradlater, but Holden didn't follow the rubric for the essay.  Let's set aside the fact that Stradlater is using Holden to cheat and focus on the fact that Stradlater is pretty much correct in his character assessment of Holden.  Holden doesn't like following the rules.  He prefers to make up the rules himself.

My whole day has felt a little backasswards.  It's my second Friday of not working, and I still feel a little out of sorts.  Actually, a lot out of sorts.  I cleaned my house when I got up this morning.  Usually, I do this cleaning in the afternoon.  Then I went for a run--usually another afternoon task.  Now, it's early evening, and I just finished reading my devotions and saying my prayers.  Now, I'm typing my first post of the day, which is a morning thing for me.  I hate this inverted Friday.  Perhaps I'll get used to it, but it's kind of hard to get over thirteen-plus years of the same Friday schedule.

However, I'm going to write a fairy tale today.  I'm not throwing all the rules out the window, like Holden.  I can't.  I like rules and ritual.  They keep me calm.

Once upon a time, a man named Oatho lived in a rainy kingdom called Lukedife where everybody followed the rules.  There were rules for everything.  When to get up in the morning.  When to eat breakfast.  When to go to the bathroom.  When to go to work.  If somebody broke one of these rules, that person was immediately deported to the neighboring land of Enema, where nobody followed the rules.

Oatho was a good citizen of Lukedife.  He got up at the correct time.  He ate at the correct time.  He even brushed his teeth the correct number of times.  He never broke the law.  Yet, one morning, he received a scroll from the Department of Rules.  The scroll said,

Citizen Oatho:

You have been accused of going to the bathroom five minutes too soon on five separate occasions.  Therefore, your citizenship to Lukedife is being revoked.  Please pack up your belongings.  You have four hours to report to the Department of Rules for immediate deportation to the Kingdom of Enema.

Have a good day,

Minister of Lukedife Rules

Oatho packed up the hut where he'd lived for the past fifteen years.  That afternoon, he left Lukedife and was never seen again.

Moral of the story:  go to the bathroom frequently to avoid urinary tract infections.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Somethings are better backasswards

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27: "Out of Africa," Book Club, "The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe, Piece of My Mind

Anyway, I put on my new hat and sat down and started reading that book Out of Africa.  I'd read it already, but I wanted to read certain parts over again...

Holden loves rereading books and stories he loves.  He's constantly talking about writers and poets, and he talks about going back to visit them over and over.

I'm a lot like Holden.  I enjoy going back to literature that moves or excites me.  If it isn't evident, just check my posts for the last seven months.  They pretty much all start with passages from J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a novel I have adored since middle school.  In middle school, I was all over the "sexy" stuff in it, as Holden would say.  As an adult and writer, myself, I appreciate the craft of the writing, the character development.  And the sexy stuff.  Some things never change.

My book club is coming to my house tonight.  I have the cheese spread and crackers ready to go, and the pop (or soda, for those readers from Wisconsin and Minnesota) is in the fridge.  We read The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe this month, and I loved it.  I finished it a little over an hour ago, and, like Holden Caulfield, I want to go back and read it again.

The book is a memoir about Will and his mother, Mary Ann Schwalbe, who is diagnosed at the outset with terminal pancreatic cancer.  As Mary Ann progresses through treatments and side effects and hospital stays, she and the author start reading books together and discussing them.  But it's not like a normal book club.  During the course of their discussions, they discover things about each other, and Mary Ann is able to pass along wisdom to her son from her seventy-plus years of life.

The aspect of this book I liked the most was the portrait of Mary Ann, who is a liberal, an educator, a human rights crusader, and a Christian.  By the time I was finished reading this memoir, I wanted her as a friend.  I wanted to be able to call her up and share a cup of coffee with her.  She reads constantly, and she is a person of action, volunteering in refugee camps and raising funds to build a library in Afghanistan.  She is an inspiration.

Will Schwalbe never allows The End of Your Life Book Club to lapse into easy sentimentality.  He knows Mary Ann would never have put up with that.  She doesn't want people feeling sorry for her.  As she observes, in more than one passage, she has had a lucky, charmed life.  No pity for this lady.

By talking about the books with his mother, Schwalbe is able to champion not only good literature (books his mom loved), but also good social causes (causes his mom fought for tirelessly).  When Mary Ann finally succumbs to her illness, I, as a reader, can feel the vacuum left behind--the grief for is palpable on the page.

I'm looking forward to talking about this book with my friends and family tonight.  I'm also looking forward to the pizza, but that's a whole other post.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Read this with a good friend

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June 26: Reading Tonight

Tomorrow night, the members of my book club descend on my house for our monthly get-together.  I spent the evening reading this month's selection, Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club.  I didn't have a hole lot of time for anything else.  I did work on my revision of "Apology," which I will share tomorrow night.

It's late, and severe thunderstorms have been rolling through the Upper Peninsula all night long.  Power has been flickering in and out all night long.  I'm pooped.

Saint Marty's going to bed.

Will Schwalbe--the guy I spent the evening with

June 26: Swell, For a Change, Tiger Tail

I went around the room, very quiet and all, looking at stuff for a while.  I felt swell, for a change.  I didn't even feel like I was getting pneumonia or anything any more.  I just felt good, for a change...

One of the few moments in Catcher where Holden actually is at peace.  He's walking around his little sister's bedroom, and he feels "swell."  The two times Holden reaches happiness in the book occur when he's with or around Phoebe.  She's like a tonic to his troubled, teenage heart.

I've been having a pretty good day, for a change, myself.  Considering last week, which was just this side of contracting bubonic plague, today has been swell.  I'm not saying I haven't had my share of problems during the hours preceding this post, but, for the most part, I haven't been sucked into the black hole of despair that I was inhabiting last Wednesday.  Not bad.

I'm supposed to focus on my worries today.  It's Worry Wednesday.  However, I don't really want to tempt fate.  If I'm not in the dumps, I'm not going to backtrack into the swamps, hunting for something to be depressed or anxious about.  That's like grabbing the tail of a tiger and hoping it doesn't turn around and bite off my face.

So, Saint Marty's sorry.  He wants to keep his face intact today.

Someone's going to get bit in the ass, no matter what

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 25: Thoughts about "Apology"

I've been thinking about my poem all day long, trying to figure out why it isn't working for me.  Form-wise, I like the way it looks.  It embodies my idea of where apologies come from.  Apologies come between those moments just before you do something wrong and just after.  Apologies are frozen moments--microseconds when regret enters the mind.  I think that's why I focused on the character of Judas from the Jesus narrative.  Judas, the ultimate betrayer.  Judas, the ultimate apologizer, as well.  And Judas' regrets exist between the moment he puts the rope around his neck and the moment he leaps from the tree.  That is why I chose the form I did.

Now, it still isn't working, and it's because there's no personal connection in the poem.  I need to come up with an emotional hook.  I haven't quite figured out how to do that yet, but I will soon.

I have to find the apology in myself, some place where regret exists in me.  That's what I'm working on now.  I figure, every parent has regrets, so I'm going to focus on some horrible parenting moment when I let one of my children down.  Then, somehow, I'm going to layer the Judas moment with the parenting moment, or vice-versa.

More "Apology" tomorrow.

Saint Marty's all regretted out right now.

Not a good parenting choice

June 25: "F#@k You," Impossible. Prayer of the Week

I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another "Fuck you" on the wall.  I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something.  It wouldn't come off.  It's hopeless anyway.  If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world.  It's impossible.

Holden's little diatribe about "Fuck you" signs is one of my favorite parts of The Catcher in the Rye.  He's right, too.  No matter how much time you have, you'd never be able to erase them all from the world.  The people on our planet are programmed with "Fuck you" attitudes, starting in grade school, which is where Holden sees the first "Fuck you" sign in the book.

I'm tired of all the "Fuck you" signs I've been encountering in my life recently.  No matter how hard I work, it seems like I've been running into entire walls covered with them.  I need to work overtime to pay my bills this summer.  Fuck you.  I need a full-time job at the university.  Fuck you.  A good friend of mine is losing the job he's worked for his entire life.  Fuck you.  My daughter wants to do two solos next year in dance.  She hasn't gotten a "Fuck you" on this one; just a possible "Fuck you."

I'm sorry for my language.  I've reached a level of tired that tends to shut down my internal censors.  I want some good news.  I want to get up tomorrow morning without thinking immediately, "OK, what's going to go wrong today?"  I'm barely into full summer, and already I'm counting the days until my checks start coming from the university again.  (It's a depressingly large number of days at the moment.)  I want to be able to focus on something happy.

That's my prayer for this week.

Dear Boss,

Yes, it's that guy who complains every Tuesday afternoon.  Today, I'm not going to complain, however.  Today, I'm going to simply ask for happiness.

When I wake up tomorrow, let me think of something happy.  Please.  Of course, thinking of something happy means not thinking of something unhappy.  So, I guess what I'm really asking is that You take away some of my worries.  A nice, full-time job at the school would help.  Or maybe some prestigious poetry prize, although it's too late for the Pulitzer and too early from the Nobel.  Heck, I'd be happy with an obscene phone call, as long as it's tasteful.

That's what I'm praying for this week.  Happiness, for myself, my wife, and my family.  Perhaps I simply need to look around me right now.  Maybe happiness is sitting right next to me...

All I see is a calendar, an old pair of running shoes, and a candle.  If that is what's supposed to make me happy, I'm in deep doo-doo.

Help.  Please, God, help.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I get it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

June 24: Apology for "Apology"

OK, I'm not really happy with the poem I posted last night.  It's not quite working for me.  I think some of its imagery is pretty good, but, as a whole, it's not holding together for me.  It isn't saying or doing anything interesting, except retelling the Jesus narrative from a little different perspective.  Big deal.

Keep an eye out for revisions of the poem this week.  I'm going to keep working on it until I'm satisfied.  Plus, I'm going to do something I've never done before.  I'm not going to go back to the old post containing the original "Apology" and change it.  I'm going to post each revision to show the progress toward the final product.  Call it a little work-in-progress project.  Hopefully, it will be interesting to see where the words take me.

Saint Marty needs to get to bed, as soon as Antiques Roadshow is over.

First draft of a Gary Soto poem

Juney 24: Flat-Tire Question, Old Childs, Magic 8-Ball Monday

Every time I sit down to type my Monday morning posts, I have tons of questions in my head that I want answered.  They're all about the future--my jobs, my writing, my wife, my kids, my finances.  The normal obsessions.  (Well, perhaps not every person in the world worries about poetry or full-time, tenure-track university professorships.)  Then, when I actually start typing my post, those questions seem to evaporate into a cloud of superficiality.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, my problems are pretty damn trivial, and, somehow, my unconscious mind knows this and robs me of my ability to be self-absorbed.  Which leaves me with nothing to write about.

I still have all my fears and worries.  I just feel a little silly writing about them.  I mean, who really wants to hear about whether I can make my car payment or not?  Or whether I won or lost a chapbook contest I entered?  Compared to tornadoes and car bombings, those things are pretty minor.  A lot of people would look at my life and say, "What the hell are you complaining about?"  And they would be absolutely right.

If I had a stronger faith in God, my days would be much more peaceful.  Every time I leave work, as I'm walking toward my car, I start worrying about having a flat tire.  In 13 years of working at this medical office, I've had exactly two flat tires, both during the summer, both when I've had nowhere special to be in the evening.  Yet, I worry about flat tires.  I can't help myself.  All my worries are really flat-tire worries.

And I'm going to ask a flat-tire question on this Magic 8-Ball Monday.  I do this because I'm human and imperfect and really, really petty.  Here goes:

Am I a good person?

And the answer from Holden Caulfield and J. D. Salinger and the universe is:

...Old Childs was a Quaker and all, and he read the Bible all the time.  He was a very nice kid, and I liked him, but I could never see eye to eye with him on a lot of stuff in the Bible, especially the Disciples...

Hmmm.  A very nice kid.  I can live with that, I guess.

There's worse things Saint Marty could be called.

If only all worries were this easy...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June 23: Day Off, New Poem, "Apology," New Cartoon

Yes, I've taken it easy today.  Went swimming with the kids.  Went for a run.  I'm currently watching the movie Wreck It Ralph with my daughter.  It's been a really nice respite from the crap of the past week.

I do have a new poem tonight.  It's about apologies and the space they inhabit in the universe.  I'm not sure how good it is, or if it's even done yet.  But I did promise you, my disciples, a new poem, even if it sucks.

And Marty is a saint of his word.


the silver and kiss
lips pressed against His cheek
of sand, tilapia, unleaven
under the olives and moon
the whip
flesh raw as pomegranate seed
thorn, spike, spear
mud of dark cabernet
the limb, rope
the climb and final air
the leap
a field of blood

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 22, 2013

June 22: Apologizing, Excuse Me, New Cartoon, New Poem Tomorrow

I stuck around for a while, apologizing and trying to get her to excuse me, but she wouldn't.  She kept telling me to go away and leave her alone.  So finally I did it.  I went inside and got my shoes and stuff, and left without her.  I shouldn't've, but I was pretty goddam fed up by that time.

Holden does things that he regrets in Catcher.  He goes on a date with a girl named Sally, and, at the end of the night, he tells her that she gives him "a royal pain in the ass."  Obviously, Sally doesn't like that too much, and Holden tries to apologize, to no avail.

I pissed somebody off a few days ago, and I've felt horrible ever since.  Yesterday, I sent the person a card of apology, with a handwritten message inside.  I don't like hurting people's feelings.  However, my natural catty side took over, and--WHAM!--instant problem.

Apologizing is not easy.  It's humbling and embarrassing and, sometimes, fruitless.  It depends on the severity of the offense.  Yet, apologizing is necessary.  It's character-building, not matter how much it sucks swamp water.

Saint Marty has sucked a lot of swamp water these last couple of days.

P.S.  New poem tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21: Poem, Elinor Benedict, "Sudden Calm at Maywood Shores"

I have a poem for you tonight that calms my agitated mind.  I'm weary after this week of upheaval.  Tired.  Ready for bed.  Yet, my mind doesn't want to rest.  It keeps going when my eyes close at night.  I've been waking up every morning more tired, as if I've spent the night running with a herd of elk through the Rockies.

Elinor Benedict's sonnet "Sudden Calm at Maywood Shores," from her collection Late News from the Wilderness, slows me down.  Gives me peace.  That's why I want to give it to you tonight.  To give you peace.

Saint Marty wishes you a quiet, restful first night of summer.

Sudden Calm at Maywood Shores

For seven days the wind has plowed the waves
in restless rows across the moving field
of Little Bay de Noc.  While maples yield
their yellow leaves, my boundary oak still saves
its multitude of warriors' leathery hands
until they twist and threaten in the wracking
air that blows the lake to earth, attacking
grass with wars of acorns across the lands
I live to watch. 
                        These days of agitation
shake the universe beneath my hill
and make me fear this landscape never will
be calm again.  And yet--my habitation
feels just now a blanketing of grace
uncanny in its fall from no known place.

Thank you, Elinor

June 21: The Only Thing, Medical Office, Fairy Tale

...You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket.  Nobody'd be different.  The only thing that would be different would be you...

A lot of things have changed for me this week.  At work.  At the university.  I wish my life could be like the little museum display Holden is talking about in the passage above.  Everything stays the same--the Eskimo, the fish, the birds, the deer.  (I won't go near the use of the word "squaw," which, obviously, is quite dated and culturally insensitive nowadays.)  Holden finds stability comforting.  Unfortunately, change happens.  People change.  Holden recognizes this fact.  And, because people change, the world changes.  Every time I reread a book, it changes for me.  The words don't change.  The story doesn't change.  I change.

I didn't work today at the medical office.  That's one of the changes that happened this week.  I woke up this morning feeling like I should be answering phones, putting together medical charts, and responding to emails.  I should have been working, like I've been doing every Friday for the last twelve or thirteen years.  It was unsettling, and I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that I didn't earn any money today.  But I can't change this situation.  I have to accept it.  Deal with it.

Today I'm supposed to provide a fairy tale, since it's Fairy Tale Friday.  I'm not feeling very once-upon-a-time-ish right now.  I feel more gin-and-tonic-ish.  However, I am a saint of my word, so...

Once upon a time, a farmer named Hamster lived on the same plot of land that five generations of his family had lived on.  For close to two hundred years, the Hamsters had raised turnips and artichokes on the Hamster farm.

One day, King Louie drove up in his carriage and said to Hamster, "Pack up your shovels and hoes, peasant.  You're no longer allowed to farm here."

"But," Hamster protested, "I've lived here my whole life.  Farming this land is the only thing I know."

King Louie listened patiently, and then he said, "Suck it."

Hamster and his family were escorted off the Hamster family farm, and King Louie sold the land to a huge, corporate farming conglomerate that converted the farm into a strip mining operation.

And Saint Marty lived unhappily ever after.

The Hamster family farm today...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 20: Sometimes I Can Be an Asshole

I know it's hard to believe, but sometimes I can be a not very nice person.  I can be catty, mean, and bitchy.  Basically, I'm Simon Cowell without the millions of dollars or talent shows to broadcast my meanness on.

I did something mean today that I'm not very proud of, and now I have to do something I find very difficult:  apologize.  That's why I try to be nice all the time, because saying "I'm sorry" is very difficult for me.  I'm thinking a card and some chocolate.  That would work for me.  In the card, I'm going to have to really suck socks, as a friend of mine says.

I wonder about the best way to apologize.  I mean, imagine if Judas got to apologize to Jesus, or Amanda Bynes got to apologize to, well, everybody.  A simple, heartfelt, "I'm sorry" doesn't seem to cut it.  Nowadays, an apology must somehow be more expressive, more thoughtful.  Flowers are nice.  Chocolate?  Money?  A trip to Vegas?

I know what I could do that would be really tough for me.  I could write a poem of apology.  That would be pretty humbling, and it might be what I have to do.  God put that idea in my head, and I know it's going to fester there like an infected cut.

Fine, I'll write a poem.  Now I have to come up with a title.

How about "Saint Marty's Sorry for Being an Asshole"?

I gotta be better than this guy, don't I?

June 20: Any Good, "Flame," Terry Godbey, Piece of My Mind

He shoved my book back with his hand so that he could see the name of it.  "Any good?" he said.

Holden's suite mate, Ackley, is speaking and once again he asks the exact question I want to answer today.

I recently got my hand's on poet Terry Godbey's Flame, a chapbook published by Finishing Line Press in 2012.  For those of my disciples who remember my review of Godbey's book Beauty Lessons, it will come as no surprise that I'm a little obsessed at the moment with Flame.  Like the poems in her previous collection, the poems in Godbey's chapbook are stunning heart breakers, hot as lightning strikes, leaving behind ashes that linger and haunt.

The subject matter of Flame's poems are moments in life when difficult choices are made.  Those moments are white-hot and brilliant.  They hurt, sometimes leaving scars, sometimes fostering new life, like oleanders blooming in Hiroshima.

The speaker in "Trouble," one of my favorite poems in the collection, reflects on difficulties she's caused--lies she's told, doors she's opened.  It's a poem about injury and survival and the heavy costs of each:


At the chichi restaurant in Delray Beach
we gorged on merlot, scallops
with blood orange glaze, jokes
about all the trouble I cause.
Later, leaving the unisex bathroom,
I hit an old man in the head
with the door.  I heard a crack
like a baseball bat, his groan.
Another man down.

My husband feels unlucky, too.
Says I used him up.  Left him
hollowed out, bitter.
He could count my lies
on one hand, but he counted them
over and over
till they numbered in the hundreds.

The lies I told myself
were worse.

I don't miss him
or the boyfriends,
the men I spun like plates
in my youth.
I miss their kisses, those small fires.
But I hate
the ashes,
those goddamn ashes.

Godbey is fearless, taking the ugly aspects of a life and searching them for beauty.  Her verse is full of light and heat, soot and cold.  Her lines connect on a level deep as the San Andreas, where all of us groan and split against the shifting plates of the heart.

Another of my favorite poems from Flame takes on the mythology of one of the quintessential voices for women in the twentieth century, Sylvia Plath:


The children's faces were not enough.
Gone, her husband,
the gilded Devon days, daffodils,
apple orchard, hum of bees.
Even hoarded honey could not help
her swallow grief,
and London so cold
it stalled her blood.
She wept in ink, mind swarming
till she could not see past
the endless falling snowflakes
filmy as her beekeeper's veil.

Terry Godbey's Flame is hot.  It burns the fingers, scalds the tongue.  And it leaves afterimages, bright ghosts that hover in the corners of memory.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

It's worth the third-degree burns

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June 19: Butternut Squash!

I have been trying not to use profanity during these last few bad news days.  I am going to try to write this post using some of the alternatives I've come up with for swear words.

Butternut squash, these last few days have been really shiitake mushrooms.  Jingles, I just want to kick everyone in their gulldarn throats.  I mean, how much more monkey bread is going to be thrown at me.  Every time some flugelhorn talks to me, I want to flipping scream, "Leave me the fizz alone!"

I don't know why all this cow pasture has come my way.  I don't know what dust bunny has it in for me.  But I'm tired of all this guacamole.  If I could, I would simply start telling the truth.  I would tell each and every goat cheese in my life exactly what I thought.  I'd say, "You are a Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and I can't stand being in your presence one more horned toad minute."

Christmas cards, Saint Marty is sorry about his language.  If he offended you in any way, go flabbergast yourself!

Go fishfry yourself!

June 19: The Only Reason, Worries, and Hits

"You know something?" I said.  "You're probably the only reason I'm in New York right now, or anywhere.  If you weren't around, I'd probably be someplace way the hell off.  In the woods or some goddam place.  You're the only reason I'm around, practically."

Holden pins all of his happiness on Sally with this statement.  Sally is a girl he's dated, off and on, for a while.  Obviously, Holden doesn't love Sally.  Only a few pages later, Holden tells her that she gives him a pain in the ass.  Their date doesn't end well, to say the least.

Holden is trying to find happiness in The Catcher in the Rye.  He's been sad for a while and spends most of his days fantasizing about people who will make him happy.  Jane is one of those fantasies--a troubled girl from his past who represents, in some way, a person Holden wants to save, like the children in the rye field.  Above all, Holden wants to preserve innocence.  He doesn't want his world wrecked by the worries and cares of the adult world.

I'm with Holden.  Since last Friday, I've had one piece of bad news after another from the adult world.  Today isn't any different.  As a good friend of mine says, life has been totally sucking socks for me.  I'm not a person who deals well with change.  Especially change that catches me by surprise.  The only kind of surprises I like go something like this:  "Congratulations!  You just won the Great Poem Poetry Prize.  Here's a check for $1,000."  Unfortunately, I've been getting these kinds of surprises:  "I'm sorry to inform you that, as of 12 p.m. yesterday, you owe the Internal Revenue Service $10,000 in back taxes and penalties."

I know that pinning my hopes and dreams on a person (like Holden does) isn't going to make my situation any better.  The English Department Head is not going to call and offer me a full-time professorship at the university this afternoon.  I know that pinning my hopes and dreams on a thing (like a poetry contest or new job) isn't any better.  I've tried medicating myself with Milky Ways and handfuls of M&Ms.  That worked until I realized I'd polished off a one-pound bag of candy and still had not solved any of my dilemmas.

I'm weary.  I'm weary of worrying.  I need to let go of all of these issues.  I'm not going to be able to do a damn thing about them, anyway.  All I'm succeeding in doing is losing sleep and eating badly.  Meanwhile, the hits of misfortune just keep on rolling in.

Saint Marty needs a vacation.  A long one.

These don't solve your problems, but they taste great with gin and tonic

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June 18: Playgrounds

I'm going to a playground with my wife and kids after work.  At first, I was simply going to hang around town until 7 p.m., when I had a meeting with some colleagues from the university.  Well, the meeting was postponed, but my wife had already told my four-year-old son about coming to visit me.  And she mentioned the playground.

I'm actually looking forward to this evening.  Normally, I don't get much time to watch my kids being kids.  I'm always driving my daughter to dance lessons or giving my son a bath.  By the time I get home, it's late.  Within an hour-and-a-half, my son is in bed.  My daughter's nose is always buried in her iPod or Kindle or smart phone.

However, there's no WiFi at the playground.  And my son will have plenty of towers to climb and holes to crawl through.

I will sit with my wife on a bench and watch our children play.  Lake Superior will be over my shoulder, shimmering like a broken mirror.  Maybe I'll read a book.  Maybe I'll close my eyes and listen to the waves.  Maybe I'll reach over and hold my wife's hand.

Saint Marty loves playgrounds.

Beat you to the top!

June 18: Alice Holmborg, Wishing, Praying

"Alice Holmborg showed me how.  You cross your legs and hold your breath and think of something very, very hot.  A radiator or something.  Then your whole forehead gets so hot you can burn somebody's hand."

Holden's little sister, Phoebe, believes she can create fever in herself.  Her friend, Alice, has shown her a fail-proof method, involving breath-holding and leg-crossing and visions of heat.  It's something a second grader would naturally have faith in.  Like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Some people would compare faith in God to faith in figures like Santa and the Easter Bunny.  I think there's a huge difference, however.  With Santa, kids send the big guy a letter at Christmas time, telling him all about their most fervent wishes--Red Ryder BB Guns and the like.  Santa brings things.  Toys.  Clothes.  Sometimes trips.  Books.  The Easter Bunny is the same way.  Chocolate rabbits.  Peeps.  Marshmallow bunnies.  Instant, sweet gratification.

God doesn't work like that.  God asks for faith and trust.  If something bad happens (like losing hours at work, overdue water bills, a lump in a breast), God doesn't promise new jobs or envelopes full of money or good diagnoses.  No, God promises strength and courage and, occasionally, an unexpected blessing.  It's the difference between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  On Christmas Eve, we lie awake, imagining all the goodness that will come in the morning.  We have hope and expectation.  That's God.  Christmas morning brings opened presents and broken toys and iPhones to set-up.  That's Santa.  We try to make our own happiness with things we buy and receive.

So, what I'm trying to say here is that, sometimes, praying is all about giving up control.  In truth, control doesn't really belong to anyone.  It's a fantasy.  The big things in life--health, good jobs, kids, happiness--can't really be bought at Walmart on Black Friday.  They're not ours at all.  They're gifts from you-know-Who (and it ain't the fat guy in red).

Today, I'm going to practice letting go.

Dear God,

Hi, it's me again.  How's Your Son doing?  Did He recover yet from the crucifixion thing?  I sure hope so.

Well, You already know what a crappy weekend I've had.  Bad news followed by more bad news.  (By the way, did You really have to raise our house insurance that much because of our old roof?)   I'm trying to hang on to hope and faith.  I need to believe that things are going to work out for me and my family.  I need to let all my worries go, give them up to You.

That's tough for me to do.  I'm kind of a control freak.  You already know that.  You made me this way.  I don't deal well with uncertainty.  I like to know what I'm having for dinner when I wake up in the morning.  I already have plans for my birthday this year, and it's in October.  That's me.

God, give me faith.  Help me to trust.  Let me feel the peace of Your guidance in my life.  I'm waiting for Your sign.  A phone call would be nice.  Maybe a well-worded email.  Anything.  Throw me a bone.

I'm waiting and willing to surrender (like I have any choice in the matter).

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

I'd better take this call...

Monday, June 17, 2013

June 17: Early Departure, Other Work, Meetings

Because of my early departure from work this morning (not by choice), I have been able to accomplish many tasks this morning.  This post is my second of the day, and I haven't even had lunch yet.  I've also written and responded to quite a few university e-mails, and I composed a letter to the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the university.  And it's only 12:30 p.m.

It's amazing what an overload of tense, manic energy does for my work output.  After I'm done typing this post, I'm going to work on a new poem and try to finish a memoir I've been reading.  While I'm at it, I may solve world hunger and the crisis in Syria, if I have a few extra minutes.

I been avoiding going home.  If I go home this early in the day, I feel like I'm not really doing my job as the provider of the family.  Granted, I'm not really earning any money sitting in my office at the university and blogging, either.  However, I'm being productive in some way.

Tonight, I have church meetings to attend/chair.  It's my normal, monthly dog-and-pony worship show where I lay out my vision for the future.  On this cool June night, we will be discussing plans for Christmas, among other things.  At the moment, I'm not feeling very holly or jolly, but I'm going to work up some yuletide cheer.

In the mean time, I've got a great idea for a poem.  Well, it's a mediocre idea.  OK, it's just a fleeting thought.

Cut Saint Marty some slack.  Cheese Louise!

And for my next trick...

June 17: Bad News, Spiral, Magic 8-Ball

I received some bad news at work today.  It seems the health care system which recently acquired the hospital where I work has sent down an edict that no clerical staff are allowed to work overtime any more.  That means that the overtime money that usually helps my family make it through the summer has suddenly gone the way of the passenger pigeon.

Here I sit in my office at the university.  I had to leave my other job because I'd already worked too many hours.  I'm in a downward spiral at the moment, imagining everything from bankruptcy to foreclosure.  In one of my fantasies, an asteroid hit the hospital and took out the entire administration building.  That was actually quite pleasant.

I don't know what I'm going to do.  I don't know if or how my family is going to survive until the checks from the university start coming again in late August.  Basically, I don't know anything.  It has been a pretty crappy few days for bad news.

My question for Magic 8-Ball Monday is pretty simple:

Is my family going to make it through the summer financially?

And the answer from that wellspring of positivity, Holden Caulfield, is:

"She's fine, thanks.  I haven't seen her too recently, but the last I--"

I'm going to take that one to the bank.  Too bad I can't cash it.  I'm going to be "fine," according to Holden.  Of course, "fine" for Holden is a nervous breakdown and pneumonia.

Saint Marty needs to stop spiraling.  Now.

Anybody got a spare parachute?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16: Happy Father's Day, New Poem, New Cartoon

I want to wish all the fathers out there a happy Father's Day.  I'm taking it easy today, so all you get is a new poem and new cartoon.

Saint Marty's going to eat some bratwurst now.

Fine Print

My job as a father today
is to watch my twelve-year-old
daughter go out the front door
to play basketball with the boy
from down the street who turned
thirteen last week and looks at her
like she's a meat-lover's pizza
and he's just finished football practice.
My job as a father today
is to catch my four-year-old
son on the playground, before
he scales the slide or swings
away on the monkey bars.
Catch him, haul him inside,
pinned under my arm, him slick
as a greased piglet, thrashing,
squealing all the way to the tub,
where he spits, kicks water
until I'm baptized, head-to-foot,
with fatherhood.  Yes, it's all
in the job description.  Check the fine print,
right below the subsections about shit,
vomit, Popsicles, strep throat.
It reads, Be prepared for broken glasses,
bones, watches, windows.  For first crushes,
kisses, first erections and break-ups.
Be prepared to work overtime
for dance lessons, summer camps,
class trips to Mackinac Island,
cell phones.  Be prepared to spend
twenty-plus years getting used
to their crying, bleeding, brooding,
and the rest of your life getting used
to their leaving.  See Section 93B:
Guilt and Grandkids.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June 15: James Castle, Bullies, New Poem Tomorrow, New Cartoon

...There was this one boy at Elkton Hills, named James Castle, that wouldn't take back something he said about this very conceited boy, Phil Stabile.  James Castle called him a very conceited guy, and one of Stabile's lousy friends went and squealed on him to Stabile.  So Stabile, with about six other dirty bastards, went down to James Castle's room and went in and licked the goddam door and tried to make him take back what he said, but he wouldn't do it.  So they started in on him.  I won't even tell you what they did to him--it's too repulsive--but he still wouldn't take it back, old James Castle.  And you should've seen him.  He was a skinny little weak-looking guy, with wrists about as big as pencils.  Finally, what he did, instead of taking back what he said, he jumped out the window.  I was in the shower and all, and even I could hear him land outside...

There are bullies everywhere.  Holden deals with bullies.  My son deal will with bullies.  My daughter deals with bullies.  And I deal with bullies, everywhere, where I work, where I worship, where I live.  Unfortunately, a person simply can't get away from bullies.

Yesterday, I saw the results of institutional bullying.  It was mean.  It was cruel.  It was horrifying.  And it was unjust.  I'm doing what I can to combat it, but I still find myself completely flabbergasted and disgusted.  Phil Stabiles with small hearts and small souls can do a lot of damage with big mouths.

That's all Saint Marty can say about it.

P.S.  A new poem will be posted tomorrow.

Confessions of Saint Marty

from Sunday, June 9...

and from today...

Friday, June 14, 2013

June 14: A Poem, Rick Barot, "Child Holding Potato"

I do have a poem for you today.  This poem is by a poet named Rick Barot.  It's a stunner, originally published in the magazine Memorious and republished in The Best American Poetry 2012.

It just spoke to me today for some reason.  It could be because my sister is having surgery today.  It could be because of the Madonna and Child and saints imagery.

Or maybe Saint Marty's just hungry for a baked potato.

Child Holding Potato

When my sister got her diagnosis,
I bought an airplane ticket

but to another city, where I stared
at paintings that seemed victorious

in their relation to time:
the beech from two hundred years ago,

its trunk a palette of mud
and gilt; the man with olive-black

gloves, the sky behind him
a glacier of blue light.  In their calm

landscapes, the saints.  Still dripping
the garden's dew, the bouquets.

Holding the rough gold orb
of a potato, the Child cradled

by the glowing Madonna.  Then,
the paintings I looked at the longest:

the bowls of plums and peaches,
the lemons, the pomegranates

like red earths.  In my mouth,
the raw starch.  In my mouth, the dirt.

This is the closest I could come to Madonna, Child, and Potato

June 14: Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield, Fame, Fairy Tale

I sat down on old D. B.'s desk and looked at the stuff on it.  It was mostly Phoebe's stuff, from school and all.  Mostly books.  The one on top was called Arithmetic Is Fun!  I sort of opened the first page and took a look at it.  This is what old Phoebe had on it:


That killed me.  Her middle name is Josephine, for God's sake, not Weatherfield.  She didn't like it, though.  Every time I see her she's got a new middle name for herself.

I love the fact that Holden's little sister, Phoebe, tries to improve herself.  She's not happy with her name, so she changes it, makes herself sound more stately or royal  Every kid does this, I think.  I know I used to do it.  I never like my first or middle name, so I thought up alternatives.  Instead of "Martin" or "Marty," I liked the moniker "Adam."  It sounded sexier, more exciting, to me.  ("Adam" was the name my mother originally picked for me.)  It sounded like a name people would take note of.

I've gotten used to my name.  I even like it now.  However, when I was younger, I dreamed of having a name that sort of blazed.  There was once a young Southern woman who dreamed of being a famous writer.  She had tremendous talent.  Everyone knew it.  But she didn't like her name.  It sounded like a Catholic schoolgirl's name:  Mary O'Connor.  I think it was too dainty for her.  Too proper.  So, when she started publishing, she chose to drop her first name and use her middle name only:  Flannery.  "Flannery O'Connor" was a writer's name, she thought.  And she was right, obviously.

I wonder if Flannery O'Connor would have made as big a splash if she had been Mary O'Connor instead.  I think, with her talent, she probably would have.  It might have taken a little longer for her to break through.  "Flannery" is a much more masculine sounding name, which was significant in the 1940s and 1950s.

Maybe I should consider using a pseudonym again.  I've always liked "Stephen King," but I'm not sure if anyone would buy a book by a guy named Stephen King.  "Dan Brown" is kind of plain, and "Nicholas Sparks" is a little too showy-sounding.  Nobody could use those names and get famous.  I guess I'll stick with Saint Marty.

I've got a little fairy tale about names to share with you.

Once upon a time, there lived in the kingdom of Fartalot and good-looking, talented scribe named Gilbert.  Everyone from the seven kingdoms knew how talented Gilbert was, but Gilbert was never invited to read his poems or stories anywhere.

One day, Gilbert ran into a friend of his at the local pig sty.  "Flannery," Gilbert said, "have you found a publisher for your new book?"

"Oh, yes," said Flannery.  "I received a passenger pigeon yesterday with the news.  It will be hitting the monasteries in the fall."

Gilbert swallowed.  "I'm so happy for your you.  What did you title it?"

"I called it A Hearty Fellow Is Difficult to Discover," Flannery said.

"Catchy," Gilbert lied.  He left Flannery to purchase a new sow with the gold advance from her publisher.

I need to come up with a new name, Gilbert thought as he walked along.  A name peasants will stand up for.  A name kings will call for.  A name that commands respect.

Suddenly, a magic squirrel appeared before Gilbert.  "Halt," it squeaked.  "I have a name that will guarantee to win you a place in literary history."

Gilbert took out a gun and shot the squirrel dead and continued walking.  When he reached his walk-up studio hut, Gilbert found a magic mouse standing before his front door.

"I have the perfect name that will make you famous and rich," the mouse squeaked.

Gilbert stomped on the mouse, killing it.  He went inside and threw himself down on his straw.  Suddenly, a magic chipmunk crawled onto his stomach.

"I have the perfect writer's name for you," it squeaked.  "Everyone from the seven kingdoms will know who you are."

"Fine," Gilbert sighed.  "What name should I use?"

The chipmunk leaned forward and whispered the name in his ear.

"Are you sure?" Gilbert said.

The chipmunk nodded and then vanished in a cloud of acorn smoke.

Gilbert immediately started sending out poems and stories using the name the chipmunk had whispered to him.  The passenger pigeons soon started returning with rejections.  One of the notes from a publisher said, "We can't consider publishing a poem by a poet named I. M. A. Schitthed."

Moral of the story:  never trust magic rodents.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Never trust a rodent bearing names

Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13: A Good Day

I've had a good day.

I don't say that very often, especially on weekdays.  However, it really has been a pleasant, stress-free day.  Yes, I've had a ton of work to do.  Yes, the phone's been ringing off the hook.  Yes, I'm ready to get home, change into my exercise clothes, and go for a run.  But, despite all that, I've enjoyed myself today.

A coworker and I had our own private potluck.  I made a bacon quiche for breakfast.  She made a pizza casserole for lunch.  In between, we snacked on a blueberry pound cake another coworker brought.  It was lovely.  I've received some e-mails and phone calls from friends I haven't heard from in a while, and I haven't experienced the hectic rush that's dominated the last couple of weeks.

It was a good day.  A day for which I can be grateful.  Don't worry.  I'm not going to get all Oprah Winfrey on you.  I haven't stepped into Hallmark Card country.

Saint Marty just wants to give thanks for blueberry cake and pizza casserole.  For phone calls and e-mails from good people.  For the time to sit down and take a deep breath.

How can you not have a good day with this to eat?

June 13: What the Hellya Reading, Jennifer Howard, "How to End Up," Piece of My Mind

He kept standing there.  He was exactly the kind of guy that wouldn't get out of your light when you asked him to.  He'd do it, finally, but it took him a lot longer if you asked him to.  "What the hellya reading?" he said.

Holden Caulfield can't stand Ackley, his suite mate at school.  Ackley has a lot of unsavory habits, like not brushing his teeth and barging into Holden's dorm room uninvited.  But Ackley also asks Holden the question that I want to answer today:  What the hellya reading?

I just finished a great chapbook of short stories by Jennifer Howard.  The book is titled How to End Up, and it was the winner of New Delta Review's 2012-2013 Chapbook Contest.  Jen is a colleague of mine at the university, and she is also the editor of Passages North, the English Department's literary magazine.  Above all, Jen is a fantastic writer.

How to End Up is a strange hybrid of a book, part fiction, part poetry.  It falls into that literary limbo sometimes called flash fiction or sudden fiction, sometimes called prose poetry.  No matter what label is placed on these stories, they are filled with weirdness and heartbreak and stunning imagery.  Each story holds the best elements of fiction and poetry:  humanity coupled with surprising moments of revelatory beauty.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is titled "No, They Do Everything on Porpoise."  It's told from the point of view of a female dolphin having an affair with a human man.  While the set-up sounds just this side of absurd, Howard extracts from this quasi-fable an emotional power and depth, with an ending that could anatomize any modern relationship:
...The dolphin stayed where she was for a long time, looking up at the sky and imagining she could feel the moon pulling her upward, out of the water.  She thought about what to have for dinner, and the bulls waiting for her back home, and about why it mattered if the man went home to sleep inside a dry grotto with the woman.  What would she do, anyway, if the man lived in the water with her, all the time swimming around so deliberately with those hopeless legs?  She'd have to keep him from breathing in any water and find him a place to rest and worry about him looking at her sisters.  She'd be responsible if a shark ate him.  Worst, she would never again be able to swim out too far, where the water was best, without worrying about how he was.
There's a brand of courage in Jen Howard's fictions.  She doesn't shy away from characters who make unpopular or puzzling choices.  Women enter and leave marriages.  Children suffer from metaphorical and literal defects of the heart.  Sex is a vehicle of connection and separation.  The final story of the collection, "Though Bob Eubanks is Still Alive and Kicking," ends with these lines, which resonate through the entire book:  ""Nobody has asked it of you yet, but you worry that someday, when you are older, when you have figured out exactly how it is that you will die, someone will.  That they will ask you who was the love of your life and you won't know the answer even though you have loved and loved."

I love and love Jennifer Howard's How to End Up.  It's a smart and haunting volume.

And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.

Get it, read it, love it

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12: To Run or Not to Run

That is the question.  It's a beautiful day in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We haven't had too many beautiful days so far this summer.  The question is whether or not I'm going to go for a run again tonight.

I've run every day since Sunday.  No really long distances.  A couple of miles at the most.  However, I'm tired today.  Really tired.  I'm still recuperating from dance recital weekend, I think.  Plus, I stayed up way too late last night watching America's Got Talent.  I am totally  beat.  So lacing on my running shoes when I get home is not sounding very appealing.

Perhaps I'll take the night off.  I'll be a potato, sit on the couch, and channel surf.  OK, that's not really my style.  Maybe I'll be a yam, climb into bed, and read a book.  Nope, that's not doing it for me either.  Perhaps I'll simply force myself to run, give my son his bath, put him to bed, and then collapse from exhaustion on the floor.

Ding, ding, ding!  We have a winner.

Throw in a hot shower and making a quiche, and that describes Saint Marty's night.

I know how he feels...

June 12: Old Thurmer, Headmaster, Superior Worries

"Even the couple of nice teachers on the faculty, they were phonies, too," I said.  "There was this one old guy, Mr. Spencer.  His wife was always giving you hot chocolate and all that stuff, and they were really pretty nice.  But you should've seen him when the headmaster, old Thurmer, came in the history class and sat down in the back of the room.  He was always coming in and sitting down in the back of the room for about a half an hour.  He was supposed to be incognito or something.  After a while, he'd be sitting back there and he's start interrupting what old Spencer was saying to crack a lot of corny jokes.  Old Spencer'd practically kill himself chuckling and smiling and all, like as if Thurmer was a goddam prince or something."

If you haven't noticed by now, Holden has a big problem with authority figures, especially authority figures who seem to take advantage of their positions.  Thurmer is a prime example.  The Pencey headmaster, in Holden's eyes at least, abuses his power.  Mr. Spencer puts up with Thurmer's presence in his classroom simply because Thurmer has the ability to fire him.  Thurmer isn't a "goddam prince."  Thurmer is an institutional bully.

I've dealt with a lot of people like Thurmer in my life.  I used to work at a book store where the management made "surprise" inspections, throwing everyone into overdrive.  As a university instructor, I'm observed, monitored, and inspected by an array of people, from administrators all the way down to students.  The medical office in which I work is a department of a much larger health care system that was recently acquired by an even larger health care system.  Since the take-over, people and jobs have been disappearing at an alarming rate.  Everyone is terrified of losing their positions.

Holden has the luxury of being able to call phonies out.  Thurmer gets called out.  Mr. Spencer gets called out.  Even Holden's brother, D. B., gets called out.  They all have sold their souls, so to speak.  Rather than maintaining their integrity, as Holden sees it, they compromise their values in order to hold on to their jobs or make more money.

Holden would probably lump me in with Thurmer (or Spencer), as well.  I need all my jobs, and, therefore, I sell out.  I laugh when managers make jokes that aren't that funny.  I worry when I hear rumors of who's been "escorted" off the hospital grounds and wait nervously for my turn to take that long walk.  It's a terrible way to work.

I've always felt much more secure at my university job.  I know I'm good at what I do, and I don't get intimidated by the academic setting.  I know that nobody is indispensable.  I learned that when, in a fit of righteous indignation, I walked away from a busboy job at a local Elk's Club.  I thought they would call me up and apologize for what an asshole the manager had been.  Instead, I received my last check in the mail a week later.

I think supervisors and managers and bosses and superiors are supposed to make their employees worry.  It's one of their job requirements.  The line of thought is fairly straightforward.  If I'm not worried, I'm too comfortable.  If I'm too comfortable, I get sloppy.  If I get sloppy, students or patients suffer.  If students or patients suffer, I lose my jobs eventually.  Thus, worry helps me hold on to my low-paying, part-time positions.

Saint Marty worries.  Therefore, Saint Marty is employed.

Been there, done this...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 11: Another Day, Another Run

Yesterday, I went for a run when I got home.  And I got soaked in a rainstorm.  Today, I plan to go for a run when I got home, as well.  I'm hoping to fare a little better this evening.

I just received a lovely e-mail from a wonderful poet whose book I reviewed last November in Saint Marty.  Her name is Terry Godbey, and she is simply a lovely person.  Her communication was a blessing in my life this afternoon.  I always love connecting with fellow poets and writers.  It's one of the perks of being associated with a literary magazine and having a blog that writers sometimes stumble across in their spare time.

Life is good today.  I know I don't say that very often, but it's true.

Saint Marty sometimes (well, most of the time) has a pretty nice existence.  Good friends, good books, good food, good kids, good spouse.  Hallelujah.

Just count 'em up, folks (your blessings, I mean)

June 11: English, Books, Prayer of the Week

...They said they were schoolteachers and that they'd just come from Chicago and that they were going to start teaching at some convent on 168th Street or 186th Street or one of those streets way the hell uptown.  The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history and American government.  Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English.  Books not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them...

Holden meets these two nuns in a diner, and he strikes up a conversation with them.  He learns they are schoolteachers, obviously.  The one who teaches English starts asking him questions about books and plays he's studied.  Of course, being a teenage boy, he mind drifts toward sex.  Holden's mind almost always drifts toward sex.  He wonders how a nun who teaches literature deals with the "sexy" material.

It really doesn't matter if you're a nun or Brad Pitt.  If you're an English teacher, students feel uncomfortable discussing things of a sexual nature in a classroom.  I've been teaching college-level English students for over twenty years, and I can say, without a doubt, that, even though sex is on all their minds, they don't want to talk about it.  It's like the elephant in the room that everybody's ignoring.  That's one of the challenges of teaching young adults.

I love teaching.  I love the hormonal intricacies of young minds.  I love making students see things they've never seen before.  I taught a class a year or so ago called Good Books.  I chose books that all focused on mental illness.  We read about bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and the history of the medical treatment of mental illness in the United States.  It was a great class.  In fact, I would rank it as the best class I've ever taught.  I could actually see the changes in my students' attitudes and thinking.  It was exciting.

I would love to teach full-time at the university.  It's my dream job.  I've been doing it part-time for most of my adult working life.  I don't do it because it pays so well (it doesn't).  I don't do it for the glory (there isn't any).  I do it because I can make a difference in the world.  That may sound corny, but it's what I truly believe.  I can open minds and change people's ideas.  There's nothing better than that.

So, my prayer of the week is about teaching.

Dear God,

Yeah, I know.  You're getting tired of hearing from me.  But You did say that You'd always listen if I wanted to talk.

Well, You know I how I feel about teaching.  You know it's what I've wanted to do full-time for as along as I can remember.  I'm just asking if You could help me out a little bit here.  I'd like some job opportunity to open up at the university.  You don't have to kill one of the poets a week before classes start in the fall.  I don't want anything catastrophic to befall anyone.  I would just appreciate a few little miracles.

Here's what I need:  some publications, some awards in writing contests, and a full-time teaching assignment.  On the scale of miracles, those are pretty small, when You think about it.  The Israelites needed You to part the Red Sea and write some commandments down on stones.  All I'm asking for is an itty, bitty little job at a university.

Thanks for hearing me out.  I know You've got my back, no matter what, so I'll try not to worry (even if my job at the hospital gets eliminated).  You are the God of enough.  You've always given me and my family enough to get by.  I trust You.  Like I have any choice.

Your child,

Saint Marty

It's all about trust

Monday, June 10, 2013

June 10: Make-up Post, Robert Gibb, "Spirit in the Dark"

Last Friday, I neglected to post a poem I liked.  I had one picked out, but I never got around to keying it in.  So, since I have a little extra time this afternoon, I thought I'd share it with you.

It was written by a poet named Robert Gibb, and it was first published in the journal Prairie Schooner.  It was chosen by guest editor Mark Doty to be included in The Best American Poetry 2012.

Saint Marty hopes it doesn't scare you too much.

Spirit in the Dark

What to make of the night we sat up late,
Listening to Beethoven's Ninth

In that otherwise darkened apartment?
The New York Philharmonic

Was gathering together the fragments
At the fourth movement's start--

Momentum they'd ride like a wave
Through the fanfare and final chorus--

When we felt something else enter the air,
A front in the weather of the room.

It sat us upright on the edge of our chairs
While it tracked toward the record

And hung suspended for a measure or two
Above the still point of the stylus.

Then, just as steadily, it withdrew,
A patch of fog that had been burned off . . .

The look the dead raised on your face
Must have been the same on my own.

"What was that?" our expressions asked.
Decades later, I'd still like to know.

And what changes, if any, were played
Upon us?  And did any of them take?

"Be embraced," the chorus sang,
And then the crescendo and kettledrums,

The whole Ninth welling before us
Before fading as well from the room.

Anybody just feel a chill?

June 10: Running After Work

Yes, as soon as I get home tonight, I'm going to change into my running clothes and shoes, and then I will go for a run.  At the moment, I'm so tired my eyes are burning.  I have a feeling I'm going to be falling asleep very early tonight.  The weekend of dance has finally caught up with me (not to mention staying up until after 11 p.m. last night to watch the Tony Awards).  My body is ready to shut down for hibernation.

I know I don't ever get enough sleep at night.  At the very most, I'm able to catch about five-and-a-half hours.  I can do that for about three of four weeks, and then my mind says, "Uh, excuse me.  Remember me?  I need about eight hours of sleep every night?"  My mind can be a little pushy.

At the moment, I could put my head down on my laptop, close my eyes, and be in REM in about ten seconds.  In fact, I just slipped into REM for a few seconds as I was typing.  For a few moments, I was in Candyland, battling the evil Coconut Count Bonbon for control of the Great Chocolate Mountain.  I was losing, and getting coconut in my mouth at the same time.  I was not good REM.

I'm back for the time being, but, pretty soon, my eyelids are going to get all cement heavy again.  Then I will be back on the Mountain, battling an army of Almond Joys.

Saint Marty really despises coconut.

Yeah, coconut doesn't belong anywhere near this place