Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30: Six More Days, Lisel Mueller, "Poem for My Birthday"

Six more days until Saint Marty's Day.

You should probably be done with your Saint Marty's day gift shopping at this point in the season.  Now, it's time to wrap the presents.  I suggest putting a classic Saint Marty's Day movie in the Blu-ray player (try Charles Dickens' A Saint Marty's Day Carol starring Bill Murray) and then having a wrapping night.  Maybe bake some Saint Marty's Day cookies while you're at it.  My favorite are sugar cookies in the shape of halos.  Very festive.

The poem I've chosen from Lisel Mueller today is, in some ways, about Saint Marty's Day.

Saint Marty has to pick up some Saint Marty's Day stocking stuffers on his way home.

Poem for My Birthday

by:  Lisel Mueller

I have stopped being the heroine
of my bad dreams.  The melodramas
of betrayal and narrow escapes
from which I wake up grateful
for an unexciting life
are starring my troubled young friend
or one of my daughters.  I'm not the one
who swims too far out to sea;
I am the one who waves from shore
vainly and in despair.
Life is what happens to someone else;
I stand on the sidelines and wring my hands.
Strange that my dreams should have accepted
the minor role I've been cast in
by stories since stories began.
Does that mean I have solved my life?
I'm still afraid in my dreams, but not for myself.
Fear gets rededicated
with a new stone that bears a needier name.

One of Bill Murray's best movies

September 30: Days Grew Shorter, Cold, Prayer for Winter

The autumn days grew shorter, Lurvy brought the squashes and pumpkins in from the garden and piled them on the barn floor, where they wouldn't get nipped on frosty nights.  The maples and birches turned bright colors and the wind shook them and they dropped their leaves one by one to the ground.  Under the wild apple trees in the pasture, the red little apples lay thick on the ground, and the sheep gnawed them and the geese gnawed them and foxes came into the night and sniffed them.  One evening, just before Christmas, snow began falling.  It covered house and barn and fields and woods.  Wilbur had never seen snow before.  When morning came he went out and plowed the drifts in his yard, for the fun of it.  Fern and Avery arrived, dragging a sled.  They coasted down the lane and out onto the frozen pond in the pasture.

It's a beautiful picture that E. B. White paints in the space of a few lines.  The book moves from autumn to Christmas in the space of eight gorgeous sentences.  Pumpkins and squashes and red little apples.  Snow and drifts and a frozen pond.  It's a time-lapse paragraph, like one of those films you saw in science class in high school.  The flower sprouts, grows, opens, waves frenetically for a few seconds, then curls, drops petals, and shrinks back into the earth.

Weather in the Upper Peninsula is like that, as well.  For example, this past Sunday was warm, almost humid, with lots of sun and temperatures near eighty degrees.  By Monday morning, rain and fog moved in, and the thermometer didn't climb too much above forty degrees.  Last night, I could almost taste winter in the air.  Time-lapse weather.

As I was waiting to pick up my son from religion class, I listened to a little conversation a man and woman were having about the coming winter.  She was complaining how cold it was, and he said something like, "Well, the Farmer's Almanac says this winter's going to be worse than last winter.  More snow.  Colder."

I couldn't listen much beyond that.  I began having visions of snow drifted up to the roof of my house and water lines freezing solid for months.  School children trapped at home because breathing outside is like swallowing icicles.  Last winter was bad.  Usually, I don't mind the gray and white of December through early March.  When that gray and white stretches into April and May, I begin to get a little anxious.

Last winter cost the communities of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan a lot of money.  In my home town, the streets are still cratered and unpaved in places, looking like bombed-out war zones.  I'm talking millions of dollars in damage from the cold and ice.  We've barely recovered, and already the cold weather is almost upon us again.

So, I have a little prayer for winter tonight.  I'm praying that it arrives late and leaves early, like a surprise visit from a irritating brother-in-law.  The quicker and shorter the visit, the better.  That's my hope.  Too many families lived without running water for weeks on my street last year.  I don't want to see people going through that again.  I don't want to go through it, myself.  So I'm removing the welcome mat from my front stoop.

When that irritating brother-in-law shows up with snow and ice and dark, Saint Marty's going to pretend he's not home.

Hoping it's wrong

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29: Poet of the Week, Lisel Mueller, "On Finding a Bird's Bones in the Woods"


Some poets really seem to strip away the skin and muscle of everyday life to examine the skeleton of the universe.  That's when a poem is really great.  When it feels like you've somehow glimpsed the fabric of time and space.  The mind of God, if you will.

As a poet, I can say it's a tremendous gift when my words fall into place and reveal a deeper truth.  Call it what you want.  Inspiration.  The muse.  Grace.  The Holy Spirit.  Luck.  It's as if I'm a conduit in moments like that, simply a mouthpiece for something bigger than myself.  I don't mean to get all mystical.  I'm not Saint John of the Cross.  I'm Saint Marty of the Upper Peninsula.

The Poet of the Week this time is Lisel Mueller, and she has a poem in her collection Alive Together about seeing/sensing the bones of existence.

Saint Marty has to go to a meeting of Mystics Anonymous now.

On Finding a Bird's Bones in the Woods

by:  Lisel Mueller

Even Einstein, gazing
at the slender ribs of the world,
examining and praising
the cool and tranquil core
under the boil and burning
of faith and metaphor--
even he, unlearning
the bag and baggage of notion,
must have kept some shred
in which to clothe that shape,
as we, who cannot escape
imagination, swaddle
this tiny world of bone
in all that we have known
of sound and motion.

God has a sense of humor, too

September 29: Writing Blog Posts, Meaning, "Web" Dip

Sometimes, when I sit down to blog, I find myself staring at a blank computer screen for a very long time.  It's as if every interesting or useful thought in my head has decided to go out for pizza.  What I'm left with are observations about the weather ("It's cold and rainy today") or my physical state ("I'm so tired I can barely depress the space bar on my keyboard") or work ("Tedious and tiring--see previous observation about my physical state").  Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'm a dry writing well this evening.

I usually have a game plan when I sit down to write a blog post.  I kind of have an idea about my subject, and I kind of have a basic structure for what I'm going to say.  If I don't have these two elements in place, I tend to ramble aimlessly, and I hate that.  I don't like writing that doesn't have meaning and purpose.  Whether that purpose is to make people laugh, think, or get pissed off, I usually have a method to my insanity.

When I find myself without any compelling subject matter, I write about it. Thus, I am blogging about not having anything to write about tonight.  It's an interesting exercise.  Short story writer Flannery O'Connor would sit at her desk in front of her typewriter every day for three or four hours.  Sometimes she wrote five thousand words.  Sometimes she didn't write anything.  The point was to be at the desk, ready for the Misfit to appear on the page.  (Those of you familiar with Flannery will understand that reference.)

That is my job this dreary evening.  To write, even if it's not very good.  Because, when I sit down to write/post tomorrow, something decent may appear.  The start of an essay or short story.  A rough draft of a poem.  This I know for sure:  if I'm not at my desk, with pen and journal or laptop at the ready, I will miss the chance of shaking hands with my next writing project.  Flannery knew that, as well.

My Web dip question this evening is:

Will I write something tomorrow with purpose and meaning?  Something good?

And E. B. White's answer is:

"Oh, it's coming all right," [Charlotte] said, lightly.  "The plan is still in its early stages and hasn't completely shaped up yet, but I'm working on it."

Hmmmmm.  Even Charlotte has to sit in her web and wait for her plans to take shape.  She's got to put in the time, just like Flannery O'Connor.

And Saint Marty.

Flannery's desk

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28: Young Friend, Terry Godbey, "The Incredible Shrinking Tumor"

I found out in church this morning that a young friend of ours has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  She's 17-years-old, a senior in high school, and is heading to the Mayo Clinic for treatment this week (I believe).  She needs prayers, people.  Get to work.

I owe you a Terry Godbey poem.  I missed a second post last Wednesday.  The poem is about Terry's battle with cancer.

Saint Marty dedicates it tonight to his young friend,.

The Incredible Shrinking Tumor

by:  Terry Godbey

My surgeon cheers
my phenomenal response
to the drugs
when she can't find
my tumor on ultrasound.

The gratitude I try to muster
is trapped in bile.  I despise
the medieval pump
of poison, nonstop nausea.
Why not try leeches,

Chemotherapy is not the enemy,
my son reminds me.

Two weeks later
my oncologist declares
the mass of renegade cells
barely palpable,
not for my misery
but for her cold hands,
sends me off
for another megadose
of miracle.

Nothing warms me
in the squalid chemo room
but back home
I light a candle,
slide under a steaming cut lace
of peach-mango bubbles,
till the hot water runs out,

my breasts
on the surface
as if already
preparing to leave.

Healing Prayer

September 28: Seven Days to Go, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Welcome to Sunday night.  It has been a great weekend.  The weather has been perfect.  Near 80 degrees, no rain.  I actually went for a run yesterday and today.  I haven't been able to do that for almost two months because of an injury.

Tonight, I'm going to be decorating our Saint Marty's Day tree with my family.  After all, Saint Marty's Day is only a week away.  Next Sunday, to be precise.  I may even bake some Saint Marty's Day cookies and drink some Saint Marty's Day nog.  I've been listening to Saint Marty's Day carols for the last couple weeks.  My favorite is Bing Crosby crooning "White Saint Marty's Day."

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired almost two years ago.  It puts me in the Saint Marty's Day spirit.

October 5, 2012:  Saint Marty's Day Around the World

The day everyone has been waiting for has arrived!  Happy Saint Marty's Day to everyone.  I thought I'd take some time this morning to share some photos that show how the world is celebrating this annual holiday.

First, Saint Marty's Day in Rio...

Gotta love those costumes!  Viva Saint Marty's Day!

Next, Saint Marty's Day in Germany...

Break out the tubas!

Next, Saint Marty's Day in London...

Her Majesty says, "We are very pleased to extend our Saint Marty's Day greetings to the world.  Now, if our grandson Harry would please put his clothes back on!"

Saint Marty's Day at the Vatican...

Pope Benedict has been heard to say, "Oh, I miss dose Sankt Marty Days in Germany.  Oompah!"

In Beijing, the Chinese people go all out...

Gotta love those fireworks and dragons!

How about Russia...

They even put a party hat on Lenin's body in Red Square.

And, a little closer to home, in New Orleans...

Keep those shirts on, ladies!

And, last but not least, the Saint Marty's Day tree at Rockefeller Center...

Saint Marty wishes everyone a blessed and holy Saint Marty's Day.  As Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us.  Everyone!"

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 27, 2014

September 27: Pledge My Friendship, a Note, Terry Godbey, "Prize," New Cartoon

"Joy!  Aranea!  Nellie!" he began.  "Welcome to the barn cellar.  You have chosen a hallowed doorway from which to string your webs.  I think it is only fair to tell you that I was devoted to your mother.  I owe my very life to her.  She was brilliant, beautiful, and loyal to the end.  I shall always treasure her memory.  To you, her daughters, I pledge my friendship, forever and ever."

 I love this little speech Wilbur delivers at the end of the book.  When I was a kid, reading Charlotte's Web for the first time, I needed this passage.  It somehow made me feel like Charlotte wasn't really gone.  Wilbur would keep her alive.  Always.

I received a note from one of my best friends today.  He was thanking me for a birthday gift I sent him a week or so ago.  For some reason, I haven't been able to connect with him for a while.  Both our lives have gone in different directions.  He lives downstate now, below the Mackinac Bridge.  The last time I spoke with him was right after my brother passed away last May.  He was the only person who was able to make me laugh at the time.

Even though we don't talk often, he's still a part of my life.  The next time we see each other, whenever that is, we will pick up right where we left off.  I know that.  I'm luckier than Wilbur.  I will see my friend again.  Talk to him on the phone.  Get e-mails from him.  Notes in the mail.  True friendship lasts, through long separations, months of silence, missed connections.

My friend's note made me smile this afternoon.  I reread it tonight, and it made me smile again.  Imagine Wilbur getting a message from Charlotte somehow.  (I know she's dead.  Just play along.)  Maybe a passing duck or migrating swallow with a word.  One word.  Wilbur would be doing backflips in his manure pile.

I promised last night I wasn't going to talk about my son's birthday anymore.  I lied.  The poem I have from Terry Godbey is about her son's literal birthday, among other things.  Perfectly appropriate on the day of my son's birthday party.

Sorry, guys.  Saint Marty's blog.  Saint Marty rules.


by:  Terry Godbey

I strutted my new pounds, hard-won
as war medals, flaunted the globe
that was you.  My breasts, spread
with blueberry-jam veins, swelled
like flowers in time-release photos.
I gulped milk by the carton,
rested and waited for bloodstains
like all the other times,
but when three months had passed
I made my pilgrimage
to the baby store, stroked soft cottons
and flannels, dared to imagine
the unimaginable.

My body flared and prepared
for your birthday, and near the end,
swayback, I had to waddle
and couldn't tie my shoes
but child,
I could balance a tea cup on you!

And then you surprised me
four weeks early but strong,
gorging on blue-white milk.
I nursed you at parks and plazas
and parties, but now my breasts
are covered like nuns,
the cries of my womb hushed.

I no longer pray
for this body,
I prize it, I praise it
for letting you live, son,
for letting you give me life.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 26, 2014

September 26: My Son Again, Terry Godbey, "Eight Years Old"

I promise this will be the last post about my son.  You're all probably getting tired of my sentimental musings.  When birthdays and weddings and anniversaries come around, it gets me all maudlin and reflective.  Can't help it.

I'm also pretty darn tired.  It's been a very long week.  And, when I'm this tired, I'm prone to watching movies like It's a Wonderful Life or Stand By Me and crying like a schoolgirl.  I'll snap out of it in a day or so.  But, for tonight, I'm going to wallow a little bit.

Terry Godbey knows what I'm talking about.  The poems she writes about her son are full of the surprise and ache of parenting.  One day, your child is small, weak, and beautiful.  Before you know it, your child is tall, independent, and beautiful.  It happens so fast.

Saint Marty just wants things to slow down a little.

Eight Years Old

by:  Terry Godbey

Even in winter, my son refuses to wear
a pajama top.  When he comes near,
I lean close and brush his skin
or stroke it outright
like bolts of wedding satin,
and something catches in my throat
like undissolved chocolate
in a cup of cocoa.  He is lush,
toes pink and curled
as the pearly hearts of seashells,
voice lifting and plunging,
a heron diving for fish,
his pogo-stick stride,
arms like clock hands gone wild,
the balloons of his cheeks when he grins,
and on his restless legs, faint hairs
pointing in all directions
as if ruffled by wind,
a great storm on the way.

Hold on just a little bit longer...

September 26: Aeronauts, Son's Birthday, Letting Go Fairy Tale

"We're leaving here on the warm updraft.  This is our moment for setting forth.  We are aeronauts and we are going into the world to make webs for ourselves."

Most of Charlotte's children don't hang around at the end of the book.  They quickly take to the air, drifting away into their new lives.  Of course, a few of them stick around.  A children's story has to have a happily ever after, even if the title character dies alone in an empty pigpen at an abandoned Fair grounds.

Today was my son's sixth birthday.  He had a great day.  At school, he got to share birthday cake ice cream sandwiches with his classmates.  He even gave one to the principal.  I know this because the principal called and left a message on our answering machine, thanking him and wishing him a happy birthday.  Tonight, we took him to see The BoxTrolls.  He's been talking about that movie since he realized it was going to be released on his birthday.  Basically, my son got to do everything he wanted to do for his birthday.

It's difficult for me to believe that he's already six years old.  As I said in yesterday's post, it seems only yesterday that I was rocking him in the NICU at the hospital, feeding him amid the beeps and chirps of the IVs and heart monitors.  And now, he has his own mind.  Knows what he wants.  What he likes.  Pizza for breakfast sometimes.  Popcorn and Diet Mountain Dew at the movie theater.  And the quickest bath possible when he gets home.  Then a little computer time.

It's hard for me to think of him being independent.  Not needing me as much.  Yes, he still wants me to read to him at night, say prayers.  When he hears something go bump in the night, he still calls out for me.  In the morning, he sits in my lap and wants to snuggle for a couple minutes.  He's still a little boy.  But it won't last.  Pretty soon, like Charlotte's children, he'll find a warm updraft and drift away into the world.

That's in the parent job description.  Nurturing.  Providing.  Raising.  Letting go.

Once upon a time, a barber named Sweeney lived near the palace.  Sweeney had young son named Todd.  Sweeney loved Todd with his whole heart.  He would do anything for the little boy.

One day, an errant knight came into the barbershop for a shave.  As Sweeney sharpened his razor, the knight watched Todd run around the room, riding a broom like a horse.

"That's a fine, strapping boy you have there sir," the knight observed.

"Yes," Sweeney said.  "He's the joy of my life."

"Have you thought about his future?" the knight said.

Sweeney started shaving.  "What do you mean, sir knight?"

"I'm in need of a page," the knight said.  "Somebody to polish my armor, keep my swords sharp, water my horse."

Sweeney swiped the blade across the knight's cheek.  "I couldn't part with him, sir."

"Have you ever heard the saying, my dear barber, that if you love something you should let it go?" the knight said.  "And if it returns to you, then your love is true and sure."

Sweeney stopped shaving the knight.  He stood thinking for a moment.  Then, he raised his razor again.  "Have you ever heard the saying, my good knight, that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear?"

With that, Sweeney sliced off the knight's ear.

The knight thrashed in the chair.  "Why did you do that?!" he cried.

Sweeney smiled.  "Don't worry, kind sir," he said, throwing the knight's ear out the window.  "You have to let your ear go.  If it returns to you, they your love is true and sure."

The knight left the barbershop, whimpering.

Moral of the story:  Don't get a shave or haircut from a guy named Sweeney.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Anybody need a shave?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

September 25: My Son, Terry Godbey, "Smelling My Son"

Tomorrow is my son's birthday.  He will be six years old.

That number seems impossible to me.  I can't believe it's been that long since I first saw his squirming, naked form in the neonatal intensive care unit.  He was screaming at the top of his lungs, pissed off at a world where nurses and doctors were poking, prodding, stretching, and diapering him.  Wanting only to be warm and fed and asleep.

He has his struggles now, with kids on the playground, with his own impulsive mind.  But he is a genuinely good boy.  Terry Godbey has a poem about her son that I love.  It's from her newest collection of poems Hold Still.

Saint Marty dedicates this post to his beautiful boy.

Smelling My Son

by:  Terry Godbey

Leaning close to kiss his cheek,
I inhale the heady tea
of crushed wild grasses
and goldfish crackers,
the buttery fragrance
of baby flesh, lingering.

He snores softly,
the sound a dog makes
when someone it loves
gets too near the food dish.
I lie down beside him.

He cried on Christmas
after biting off the head
of a chocolate bear
with a large red heart,
his first taste of cruelty,
the treat spoiled.
But he is a different boy
at bedtime, devious,
willing to do anything
to stay up late, scattering
toys like cookie crumbs.

I, too, was devious,
willing to do anything
to trick my ovaries,
satisfy my craving.

Each night I stand over his crib
terrified the rise and fall
of his blanket
will stop,
remembering all my children
who never got to take their first breaths.

Happy birthday, buddy

September 25: Best Storyteller, "Struck by Genius," My Book Bag

"Charlotte is the best storyteller I ever heard," said Fern, poking her dish towel into a cereal bowl.

Yes, the little spider does spin a good yarn (pun intended).  Charlotte tells stories about the Brooklyn Bridge and flying spiders and fish trapped in spiderwebs.  Her little narratives keep all residents of the Zuckerman barn in rapt attention.

This evening, my book club met to discuss the memoir Struck by Genius by Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg.  The book chronicles Padgett's traumatic brain injury and its aftermath.  Padgett suffers from PTSD, OCD, and depression as a result.  He also develops acquired savant syndrome and mathematical synesthesia.  He is the only person in the world to have both of these gifts.

What this means is that, when Padgett steps into the bathroom in the morning and turns on the faucet, he sees the geometry of the water falling into the sink, swirling down the drain.  His interaction with the world is seen through this incredible geometric lens.  Where we see leaves in trees, Padgett sees fractals and versions of the irrational number pi.

He is also able to understand complex mathematical concepts and ideas intuitively it seems.  Padgett is transformed from a guy who hated math in high school into a mathematical savant able to discuss the number pi and its importance to the very structure of the universe.  He can make pi sound like the lost Ark of the Covenant.

His tale is incredible, and Padgett and Seaberg tell it with great beauty.  While the discussions of theoretical math may turn some readers off, they are tempered with the human elements of narrative:  Padgett's self-imposed exile; his love affair with his wife, Elena; his conversations with ex-cons and cerebral palsy sufferers about the importance of pi.  The authors link the two sides of Padgett's life together, showing how one (synesthesia, acquired savant syndrome) influences the other (being a husband, father, and victim of a traumatic brain injury) and vice versa.

It's a hard sell, but Seaberg and Padgett are great salespeople.

And that's what is in Saint Marty's book bag tonight.

How Jason Padgett sees the world

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 24: Growling, Drawing and Writing, Absent Father

Soon Ross was growling at Thurber, "How the hell did you get the idea you could draw?"

The publisher of The New Yorker, Harold Ross, did not like the cartoons of James Thurber.  In fact, he hated Thurber's drawings, as evidenced by the quote above.  Of course, in retrospect, everyone knows that Thurber became famous for his artistic talent, in particular his New Yorker cartoons.

I am my own Harold Ross.  Every time I write a blog post or write a poem or draw a Confessions of Saint Marty, I hear that Ross voice in my head hissing, "How the hell did you get the idea you could write or draw?!"  Self-doubt is my constant companion.  And, with every rejection I receive, that Ross voice gets louder and louder.

It spills over into other parts of my life, as well.  I question myself in the medical office.  I question myself as a husband.  As a father.  I tend to focus on my failings as opposed to my successes.  For instance, every night that I'm away from home, teaching or working, I go into my son's bedroom when I get home and look at him in his bed.  For two days straight, I barely see him.  On Wednesday nights, he's comatose when I leave the house and comatose when I return.  The term "absent father" comes to mind.  Staring down at his little sleeping form, I feel like a complete failure.

That's where I am tonight.  In the failure zone.

Maybe Saint Marty should drink some hot chocolate with Kahlua.  Then he can be a drunken failure.

I think Thurber can draw

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23: Boys, Terry Godbey, "The Purity of Boys"

Yes, I've been thinking about little boys a lot these last couple of days.  Boy stuff.  I've never been a typical guy, especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up.  I don't like to fish.  The idea of shooting any living thing with a rifle makes me a little sick to my stomach.  I don't like the taste of most wild game meat.  Not my thing.  I'd rather read a good novel, watch a documentary on PBS, or read a poem.

Terry Godbey has a great poem about boys in her collection Flame.  The boys in the poem are trying to impress the girls.  The girls are trying to attract the boys.  There's much showing off by both genders.  But, in the end, they remain on their respective sides, wanting each other, but not knowing how to say so.

Saint Marty prefers that arrangement at the moment, especially for his teenage daughter.

The Purity of Boys

by:  Terry Godbey

Water glints and sparks as they spill
from the pool and smash the sunlight to bits,
every movement designed to impress,
each glance a measure of our meager curves.
They dive and ride their bodies,
bark like seals as we chatter
and make lacy splashes in the shallow end.
Each long day drips honeysuckle.
We burn with impatience,
count out coins for ice cream cones
that drizzle our striped towels.
Sulky, drowsy in the heat, we oil
our caramel skin, watch the boys
watch us and lay side by side,
arranging our long-stemmed legs
in the blue vase of afternoon.

Just another Yooper guy

September 23: Poison Ivy, Stung by Wasps, Prayer for My Son

"Oh, Avery," chuckled Mrs. Arable.  "Avery is always fine.  Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on.  He's fine."

Avery Arable is a normal boy.  Destructive.  Attracted to things with scales and stingers.  Always on the verge of another catastrophe.  Unlike Fern, his sister, who simply wants to sit beside a pigpen and listen to animals talk (a habit that causes Mrs. Arable much concern), Avery could probably blow up a shed with gun powder and still be considered "fine" by his mother.

My son is drawn to typical "boy" things--swords and guns and dead birds and live worms and basketballs and any form of dirt (sand, gravel, mud, etc.).  And he likes to play rough.  One of his favorite games is "boss battles," something I think he got from a video game.  In boss battles, my son is an attacking robot/alien/zombie/whatever, and I (or my wife or whoever) must defend myself against his escalating campaign of violence.  My son frequently dies in this game, and his opponents are frequently cooked or wounded or maimed.  Typical boy stuff.

However, my son has a problem with controlling his temper.  When things don't go his way, he tends to strike out at things.  TVs.  His sister's art projects.  His bed.  Other kids on the playground.  You name it.  When I ask him why he gave his friend "Johnny" a bloody nose, he shakes his head and says, "I just don't know.  I couldn't help it."

Now, he may be trying to avoid the consequences of his outburst, but I think it's a little deeper than that.  He really does seem to have no idea why he lashes out sometimes.  It's like a switch gets flipped, and, for a few minutes, he's gone.  A totally different little kid.  Then, he's back and, usually, pretty remorseful.  It's not an act to avoid punishment.

So, as I said last night, I'm at a loss.  I don't like the idea of medicating him, but I'm beginning to believe it may be necessary to help him control his impulses.  I've been praying about it a lot, and God doesn't seem to be giving me any guidance on the subject.  I'm not looking for much, just a handwritten message on the bathroom mirror saying something like, "Hey, everything's going to be OK.  Just give your son the medication.  Love the blog.  Yours truly, God."

Please pray for my son this week.  He'll be six on Friday.  He's a good little boy.  Really.  He needs a little help beyond what I can provide.  A little divine intervention maybe.

Saint Marty will check his bathroom mirror when he gets home tonight.

I'm not asking for much

Monday, September 22, 2014

September 22: Poet of the Week, Terry Godbey, "Bully"

I'm back at home.  The bathroom is clean.  My lunch is made.  My son is asleep, and a rerun of The Big Bang Theory is on the TV.  I'm finally a little relaxed.  That doesn't mean I'm not worried about my son pounding some other kid's face into hamburger on the playground.  Or the classroom.  Or the school bus.  I'm just sitting down with my feet up, worrying about my son pounding some other kid's face into hamburger.

My Poet of the Week has a poem about bullying.  It comes from her collection Beauty Lessons.  I've written about Terry Godbey before.  She's funny, with lines that are razor-sharp.  You're in for a great week of poems.

Saint Marty promises.


by:  Terry Godbey

You lay in wait like a spider.  Carol Hatchett,
came at me snarling after school, kicked
the air with your spindly-legs, called me chicken.
I kept walking, my fear disguised as disgust,
arranged around me, like a magician's cape.
Now I picture you dead, buckled
under the weight of your demons,
perhaps flattened like a cartoon character
under the wheels of a furniture truck
or struck by lightning
as you opened your umbrella at the bus stop,
finally learning what it feels like
to be singled out--your black eyes
staring at the sky, lashes shaggy
with mascara, dark puddles of quicksand
that consumed anyone who fell in.

Hamburger anyone?

September 22: Multitasking, Church, "Web" Dip

I'm writing this post in my journal as I sit in church.  Monday nights, my son attends catechism classes.  And once a month, there's a session for the whole family.  It usually involves baked goods (my favorite), a video, and (for me) a sometimes tedious presentation about the nightly topic.  Tonight's topic is the sacraments.

Since I'm writing in my journal, you can probably surmise that I'm not all that engaged in the presentation.  The guy's giving an etymology lesson on the word "sacrament."  Everybody's looking at their watches already.  I just checked my phone for texts.  I'm not proud of my boredom, but I have so many things I have to do tonight.  Get my son to bed.  Pick up my daughter from dance classes.  Clean the bathroom.  Type in this post.  Make my lunch for tomorrow.  My mind is going in quite a lot of directions.

Thus, I am multitasking.  In church.  God may strike me dead, but, with a pen in my hand, I can center myself a little more.  That's the poet in me.  I don't feel any kind of electrical disturbance in the air, and my hair (what's left of it) isn't standing up, so I don't think I'm going to be smited (smote?) by lightning.

My question on this Web dip Monday has to do with my five-year-old son, who had some problems at school today.  The problems involved my son's fist and other kids' faces.  I was really hoping this year was going to be different than last year.  I was actually praying for it.  Right now, in conjunction with two doctors, we're thinking about medication to help my son control his impulses.

Now, please don't flood this blog with comments denouncing modern psychiatric medicine.  I don't want to be directed to hyperlinks about the evils of vaccinations and ADHD drugs.  I know it.  I've read it.  That's why I'm conflicted.  However, my son is headed toward another year of detentions and fights and teacher meetings.  I'm getting a little desperate.

So, my question:

Will my son ever learn to control himself and be a good boy in school?

And the answer from E. B. White:

...Mrs. Arable scrubbed the back of Avery's neck, and wet his hair, and parted it, and brushed it down hard till it stuck to the top of his head--all but about six hairs that stood straight up.  Avery put on clean underwear, clean blue jeans, and a clean shirt...

So maybe there's nothing wrong with my son.  Maybe he's just Avery, with frogs in his pockets and hay in his hair.

That answer gives Saint Marty a little comfort tonight.  Amen.  (That's how you end everything when you're in church.)

I think God is a multi-tasker, too

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21: Rain and Fog, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Woke up to rain drumming the windows this morning.  Yes, for how beautiful yesterday's weather was, today's weather is the exact opposite.  Cold.  Rain.  Fog.  Even now, in the late afternoon, the sun is nowhere to be seen.  The rain has ceased for the time being, however.  It's the kind of day that makes me want to do one of two things:  sleep or read.  After I'm done with this post, I will probably do the latter, followed by a little of the former.

Once more, the weekend is at an end, and it feels as though it has just begun.  I wish I could go back to my three-day weekends.  Having Fridays off really helped my sanity.  It was a day I could breathe, accomplish things.  Currently, I am in a constant state of catching up.  Just keeping my head above water.

That's what today's episode of Classic Saint Marty is sort of about.

September 21, 2011:  Keeping My Head Above Water, Babysitter, Saint Jonah

Today is the feast day of Jonah, he of being-swallowed-by-a-whale fame.  Considered a minor prophet (I don't know what you have to do to graduate to major prophet), Jonah was sent by God to the Ninevites to tell them to stop being bad.  Use your imagination about what the people of Nineveh were doing to tick God off so much.  It probably involved livestock and whipped cream.  Jonah didn't want to go.  Instead, he went on a cruise to the land of Tarshish.  To make a long story short, God nearly sank Jonah's boat.  Jonah got thrown overboard.  He was swallowed by some huge fish.  Three days later, he washed up on the shores of Nineveh, properly humbled, ready to follow God's instructions.

I was having a conversation with a coworker this morning about God making you do things you don't want to do.  My coworker and I have a little problem with stupid people.  She has a son-in-law she can't stand.  Pretty much, when he got circumcised, the doctor threw out the best part.  I, on the other hand, can get quite irritated by any number of idiots I encounter during the course of a day.  My coworker and I both were taught to treat everybody like you would treat Jesus.  Every person, from the kindest of friends to the dumbest of assholes, deserves to be honored and helped.  That's the Christian thing to do.  My coworker and I are both on a boat to Tarshish, about to be swallowed by a seamonster.

I'm trying to keep my head above water, but the whale is somewhere below me.  I can feel it.  God wants me to be kind and grateful for my jobs, my work, my family, my life.  For some reason, I'm having difficulty with this gratitude.  I'm tired of our tiny house.  I'm tired of getting up before the butt crack of dawn.  I'm tired.  Here comes the whale!

Our babysitter can't come tonight, so my wife is going to choir practice by herself.  I will be staying home, bathing, feeding, and taking care of the kids.  I'm a little disappointed.  I like going to choir practice.  I like seeing the people in the choir.  Plus, there's a going-away party after practice for a friend of mine who's moving.  Thank You, once again, God.

Okay, the whale's got my foot...sucking me under.

Saint Marty will see you on the shores of Nineveh, after he's learned his lessson.  He'll be the one that smells like whale shit.

Which way to Nineveh?

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September 20: Rumor of Sadness, Warm Day, Philip Levine, "Night Thoughts Over a Sick Child," New Cartoon

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.  Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year--the days when summer is changing into fall--the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Yes, the end of summer is a time of sadness and change.  The trees are preparing for winter.  Crickets seem to call for frost and snow at night.  At dusk, the sun turns everything gold--the grass, bark on the pines, swings on the playground.  The whole world is a sepia photograph.

Today felt like August, not late September.  Near 80 degrees.  Sky, blue as church window glass.  The wind was temperate and constant, making the oranges, greens, and yellows flicker and spark in the trees.  It was a perfect day.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, but it also fills me with a kind of melancholy.  I suppose it's that rumor of sadness and change that White writes about.  Something coming to an end.  Soon it will be cold and white in the mornings, and the sidewalks will be a carpet of fallen maple and aspen and oak leaves.

No, I'm not suffering from seasonal affective disorder.  Yet.  That comes after the first six months of winter.  I'm simply mourning the end of summer.  One of the reasons I've chosen to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my family is the acuteness of the seasons.  Spring, summer, fall, winter--they're all magnified here.  Spring is greener.  Summer, hotter.  Autumn, oranger.  Winter, whiter and colder.

Today, I'm being reflective.  Thinking about everything that's happened and changed.  It's been a year of upheaval for sure.  It makes me nostalgic for simpler times in my life.  Retro times, if you will, when happiness was easier to come by and worries were just shadows in a brightly lit room.

My son is still coughing, but not so acutely.  He has more energy and is hungry again.  He's on the mend.  I found a poem by Phil Levine about caring for a sick child.  It certainly touches upon the fears of all parents when it comes to the illness of a son or daughter.  Especially a very young one.

Saint Marty hopes you love it as much as he does.

Night Thoughts Over a Sick Child

by:  Philip Levine

Numb, stiff, broken by no sleep,
I keep night watch. Looking for
signs to quiet fear, I creep
closer to his bed and hear
his breath come and go, holding
my own as if my own were
all I paid. Nothing I bring,
say, or do has meaning here.

Outside, ice crusts on river
and pond; wild hare come to my
door pacified by torture.
No less ignorant than they
of what grips and why, I am
moved to prayer, the quaint gestures
which ennoble beyond shame
only the mute listener.

No one hears. A dry wind shifts
dry snow, indifferently;
the roof, rotting beneath drifts,
sighs and holds. Terrified by
sleep, the child strives toward
consciousness and the known pain.
If it were mine by one word
I would not save any man,

myself or the universe
at such cost: reality.
Heir to an ancestral curse
though fallen from Judah's tree,
I take up into my arms my hopes,
my son, for what it's worth give
bodily warmth. When he escapes
his heritage, then what have

I left but false remembrance
and the name? Against that day
there is no armor or stance,
only the frail dignity
of surrender, the dumb beast's fall,
unseen in the frozen snow.   

Confessions of Saint Marty


September 20: Owed Poem, Philip Levine, "Among Children"

I owe you guys and gals a poem.  Thursday night, I was busy cleaning and packing and being tired.  This afternoon has been a little lazier for me.  I'm done with most of my work, and I've just spent an hour looking at online speculation about who will win the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.  (Surprisingly, I do not appear on any of the lists of potential winners.)  Now I'm getting ready to head out to church for Saturday evening mass.

The poem I've chosen to share is a meditation on children and desperation and the future.  It's heartbreakingly beautiful.  A poem about the cycle of poverty that exists in many of the industrial cities in the state of Michigan.

It makes Saint Marty want to hug his kids.

Among Children

by:  Philip Levine

I walk among the rows of bowed heads--
the children are sleeping through fourth grade
so as to be ready for what is ahead,
the monumental boredom of junior high
and the rush forward tearing their wings
loose and turning their eyes forever inward.
These are the children of Flint, their fathers
work at the spark plug factory or truck
bottled water in 5 gallon sea-blue jugs
to the widows of the suburbs. You can see
already how their backs have thickened,
how their small hands, soiled by pig iron,
leap and stutter even in dreams. I would like
to sit down among them and read slowly
from The Book of Job until the windows
pale and the teacher rises out of a milky sea
of industrial scum, her gowns streaming
with light, her foolish words transformed
into song, I would like to arm each one
with a quiver of arrows so that they might
rush like wind there where no battle rages
shouting among the trumpets, Hal Ha!
How dear the gift of laughter in the face
of the 8 hour day, the cold winter mornings
without coffee and oranges, the long lines
of mothers in old coats waiting silently
where the gates have closed. Ten years ago
I went among these same children, just born,
in the bright ward of the Sacred Heart and leaned
down to hear their breaths delivered that day,
burning with joy. There was such wonder
in their sleep, such purpose in their eyes
dosed against autumn, in their damp heads
blurred with the hair of ponds, and not one
turned against me or the light, not one
said, I am sick, I am tired, I will go home,
not one complained or drifted alone,
unloved, on the hardest day of their lives.
Eleven years from now they will become
the men and women of Flint or Paradise,
the majors of a minor town, and I
will be gone into smoke or memory,
so I bow to them here and whisper
all I know, all I will never know.

Can't say more than this

Friday, September 19, 2014

September 19: Barking Son, Bronchitis, Philip Levine, "A Sleepless Night"

I didn't sleep well last night.  In the next bedroom, I could hear my five-year-old son coughing.  He sounded like a seal in San Francisco bay.  It was a terrible sound in the dark.  Eventually, about five in the morning, he came stumbling into bed with my wife and me.  And kept coughing.

I hate it when my kids are sick.  It's that whole parent urge of wanting to fix everything that's wrong for your children, and you can't.  I could tell my son was exhausted, but he couldn't put his head on a pillow for longer than a minute or so before he started barking again.

My wife took him to the pediatrician.  Acute bronchitis.  He has bubblegum-flavored antibiotic now.  By tomorrow, he should be feeling better.

I'm tired.  It has been a long week.  I'm ready for a little down time.

Saint Marty has a poem tonight from Mr. Levine about insomnia, and the first shards of morning.

A Sleepless Night

by:  Philip Levine

April, and the last of the plum blossoms
scatters on the black grass
before dawn. The sycamore, the lime,
the struck pine inhale
the first pale hints of sky.
An iron day,
I think, yet it will come
dazzling, the light
rise from the belly of leaves and pour
burning from the cups
of poppies.
The mockingbird squawks
from his perch, fidgets,
and settles back. The snail, awake
for good, trembles from his shell
and sets sail for China. My hand dances
in the memory of a million vanished stars.

A man has every place to lay his head.

My son last night

September 19: Look Radiant, Being Myself, Golden Fairy Tale

It is not easy to look radiant, but Wilbur threw himself into it with a will.  He would turn his head slightly and blink his long eye-lashes.  Then he would breathe deeply.  And when his audience grew bored, he would spring into the air and do a back flip with a half twist.  At this the crowd would yell and cheer.  "How's that for a pig?" Mr. Zuckerman would ask, well pleased with himself.  "That pig is radiant."

Wilbur has to force himself to be radiant for the visiting crowds.  Back flips and half twists.  He knows his life depends upon it.  He must convince Zuckerman that he is special, that he can contribute more to the life of the farm than a slab of back and a Christmas ham.  So he puts on a show.

I know how Wilbur feels.  Every day, I paste a smile on my face, joke with patients, collect money for the healthcare organization for which I work, and try to remain positive and upbeat.  It's not easy at times.  Today, for instance.  I did not feel very compassionate or kind.  People irritated me.  Yet I answered phones, registered patients, and tried to look radiant, like Wilbur.

Tonight, I'm all smiled out.  I've used up my daily supply of goodwill.  Thank goodness I'm alone right now.  No noise.  No TV.  Just the click-click-click of the clock on the wall and the tap-tap-tap of my fingers on the keyboard.  Anything beyond that would push me over the edge.

Once upon a time, a misanthrope named Hugh lived in a tent on the top of a mountain.  Hugh did not like people.  In fact, when family members came to visit him, he threw pine cones at them and called them names like "dumbhead" and "picklenose."

One day, a wizard, disguised as a beggar, came to his tent.  The wizard cried out, "Oh, please help me.  I haven't eaten in a week, and the arches of my feet have fallen."

Hugh opened the flap of his tent and threw the contents of his chamber pot in the wizard's face, yelling, "Piss off."

The wizard stood there, drenched in urine.  Then, he took out his wand and said the magic words, "Cow patties!"

Seven-hundred-and-fifty pounds of cow manure fell out of the sky onto Hugh's tent, instantly killing Hugh.

Moral of the story:  it's better to be pissed off than pissed on.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Watch where you're aiming that thing

Thursday, September 18, 2014

September 18: Clean Straw, Much Work, Cleaning and Packing

Lurvy picked up a pitchfork and walked away to get some clean straw.  Having such an important pig was going to mean plenty of extra work, he could see that.

Lurvy is right.  Wilbur's growing fame just adds to Lurvy's duties at the Zuckerman farm.  More hay to shovel.  Rubbish to pick up.  Extra slop for Wilbur's trough.  Job upon duty upon task.  I kind of feel sorry for the guy.

I have had much work to complete this evening.  I did some cleaning (the bathroom) and some packing (for my daughter for Bible camp this weekend).  I am absolutely beat.  Therefore, I will impart no wisdom tonight.  I have no amusing anecdotes to relate.

Basically, I have nothing but a weary mind and sore feet.

Saint Marty needs a massage.  And a long autumn's nap.

Anybody want to give me a foot massage?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

September 17: Tired Again, Philip Levine, "Get Up"

Got home about an hour ago from the university.  It was a long day of work and teaching.  By the end of my night class, I was almost falling asleep.  That's a pretty hard thing to do with Pulp Fiction playing on the screen.  Tarantino does not lend himself to napping.  Doing jello shots, yes.  Relaxation, no.

And I have to get up early again tomorrow.  Department meeting at the medical office.  Then, if that wasn't exciting enough, I have eight hours of computer training to look forward to.  I'm going to be drooling on the keyboard in the first fifteen minutes.  If I'm lucky, I'll be struck with a severe case of violent diarrhea.

I hate alarm clocks.  For some reason, I always wake up a half hour before the alarm sounds, and I lie in bed, eyes squeezed shut, determined to fall back asleep.  Usually, I do manage to drift off again, about five minutes before I have to get up.

I have a poem from Phil Levine about waking up.  It seems he's not a big fan of mornings, either.

Saint Marty is ready for a vacation.

Get Up

by:  Philip Levine

Morning wakens on time
in subfreezing New York City.
I don't want to get out,
thinks the nested sparrow,
I don't want to get out
of my bed, says my son,
but out in Greenwich Street
the trucks are grinding and honking
at United Parcel, and the voices
of loudspeakers command us all.
The woman downstairs turns
on the TV, and the smoke
of her first sweet joint rises
toward the infinite stopping
for the duration in my nostrils.
The taxpayers of hell are voting
today on the value of garbage,
the rivers are unfreezing
so the pure white swans may ride
upstream toward the secret source
of sweet waters, all the trains
are on time for the fun of it.
It is February of the year 1979
and my 52nd winter is turning
toward spring, toward cold rain
which gives way to warm rain
and beaten down grass.  If I
were serious I would say I
take my stand on the edge
of the future tense and offer
my life, but in fact I stand
before a smudged bathroom mirror
toothbrush in hand and smile
at the puffed face smiling
back out of habit.  Get up,
honey, I say, it could be worse,
it could be a lot worse,
it could  be happening to you.

What's to like?

September 17: James Thurber, Jealousy, Colleagues

In March 1927 a new writer came on board at The New Yorker, a tall and nearsighted, bespectacled and mustached thirty-two-year-old named James Thurber.  He had considerably more journalistic experience than Andy.  He had already worked as a newspaperman in his native Columbus, Ohio, as well as for the Chicago Tribune in Paris alongside other expatriates such as William Shirer.  Thurber was serious about his career as a writer, but like Andy [White] he couldn't remain solemn for more than an hour at work.  In Paris, Thurber liked to sneak in fictional filler paragraphs, including one quoting President Coolidge as having said to a religious convention that a man who does not pray is not a praying man.

E. B. White worked with great writers at The New Yorker, Thurber being one of them.  Despite Thurber's greater success and fame, White harbored no jealousy against his new colleague.  They shared an office.  White championed Thurber's cartoon work at the magazine's art meetings.  He thoroughly enjoyed his friend's humor and talent.

Any long time reader of this blog knows I have a small problem with jealousy.  It comes from years of watching people teach classes I wanted to teach.  Get jobs I wanted to get.  Write and get published books I wanted to write and get published.  Life in higher education is sometimes thrilling and challenging, and sometimes it's just plain challenging.  I have generally fallen on the challenging end of the spectrum.

I have friends and colleagues whose writing I truly admire.  They deserve all of the accolades and rewards their talent provides.  That doesn't mean my little, mean-spirited side remains silent.  No.  It whispers things in my ears like, "What the hell?  Who did he screw to get a MacArthur Genius Grant?" and "She can't teach poetry.  She can't even spell 'poetry.'"  It's my nasty secret.  Intense envy, bordering on sociopathic.

I'm sitting in my office at the moment, waiting to teach my Wednesday night Intro to Film class.  It has been a long day, starting at 4 a.m.  I just walked down a hallway of the English Department, reading the names of full-time, tenured professors on the office doors.  I've been teaching here longer than most of them.  In fact, I've been teaching here longer than the majority of the full-time English faculty.  That's a little depressing.  Sometimes I feel like the red-headed stepchild of this little academic family.

I'm not complaining, though.  Well, maybe I am a little.  I simply wish I would feel a little more accepted than I do.  Unfortunately, I carry the descriptor "contingent" in front of my academic title.  That marginalizes me in most professor's eyes.  I'm "temporary."  After 18 years, I could just leave because I'm not invested in the success of the university.  I'm only in it for myself.  I stick around for the (ahem!) huge salary and (gag!) incredible benefits.  Not to mention the (cough!) respect.

So, you'll excuse Saint Marty's attitude tonight.  He's just wondering when the MacArthur Foundation is going to recognize his genius.

I can spell "genius":  S-A-I-N-T  M-A-R-T-Y

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September 16: Love, Philip Levine, "Ascension"

If you can't tell from my last few posts, I'm a little preoccupied with the idea of time and love and growing up and growing old right now.  Weddings do that to me.  It's all that hope and joy fermenting in one day.  Like a flower bulb that, after two or three or four years of being dormant in the soil, suddenly blossoms toward the sun.

Of course, it's not all roses and champagne.  Marriage is difficult.  Love is difficult.  Anything that's precious requires work.  It's like when I was learning how to braid my daughter's hair when she was little.  I would sit with her in my lap and braid and unbraid and braid again.  I wanted her to be beautiful and perfect.

I have a poem tonight from Phil Levine that is about love in a way.  It's about the culmination of an entire life, all the hard work that goes into something precious, something blessed, something holy.

Saint Marty knows about that kind of work.


by:  Philip Levine

Now I see the stars
are ready for me
and the light falls upon
my shoulders evenly,
so little light that even
the night birds can't see
me robed in black flame.
I am alone, rising
through clouds and the lights
of distant cities until
the earth turns its darker
side away, and I am ready
to meet my guardians
or speak again the first words
born in time.  Instead,
it is like that dream
in which a friend leaves
and you wait, parked
by the side of the road
that leads home, until
you can feel your skin
wrinkling and your hair
grown long and tangling
in the winds, and still you
wait because you've waited
so long.  Below, the earth
has turned to light but,
unlike the storied good
in Paradise, I see no going
and coming, none of the pain
I would have suffered had I
merely lived.  At first
I can remember my wife,
the immense depth of her eyes
and her smooth brow in morning
light, the long lithe body
moving about her garden
day after day, at ease in the light
of those brutal summers.  I can
see my youngest son again
moving with the slight swagger
of the carpenter hitching
up his belt of tools.  I
can even remember the feel
of certain old shirts
against my back and shoulders
and how my arms ached
after a day of work.  Then I
forget exhaustion, I forget
love, forget the need to
be a man, the need to
speak the truth, to close
my eyes and talk to someone
distant but surely listening.
Then I forget my own trees
at evening moving in the day's
last heat like the children
of the wind, I forget the hunger
for food, for belief, for love,
I forget the fear of death,
the fear of living forever,
I forget my brother, my name,
my own life.  I have risen.
Somewhere I am a god.
Somewhere I am a holy
object.  Somewhere I am.

It's hard work, but it's worth it

September 16: Topmost Car, Niece, Prayer for Happiness

As they passed the Ferris wheel, Fern gazed up at it and wished she were in the topmost car with Henry Fussy at her side.

It's difficult to see children grow up sometimes.  Mrs. Arable certainly struggles with the idea of Fern being interested in Henry Fussy.  Simply letting her daughter wander off into the Fair without her makes Mrs. Arable a little weepy.  And the highlight of the Fair, for Fern, is not Wilbur's victory.  It's being stuck at the top of the Ferris wheel with Henry.

My niece got married this weekend.  Soon, she will be heading downstate with her new husband.  It's difficult to think of her as a grownup, let alone a married woman.  She's heading out into the world to carve out a new life, create a new family for herself.  Yet, like Mrs. Arable, I can't seem to get past the fact that she and her husband still seem so young.

I'm not worried about them.  They're both smart and resourceful.  And they are really in love.  I was talking with my five-year-old son last night, and he said to me, "She is going away now, and I won't see her any more, right?"  He was genuinely sad at the idea of my niece not being around any more.  I told him that he would see her at holidays and other special times, but it didn't really cheer him up.  He doesn't quite grasp the idea of separation.  His world isn't quite that big yet.

I know my son will adjust to my niece's new existence.  The next time he sees her, he may even refuse to give her a hug, because that's just the way little boys are.  Love is malleable.  He's going to take his feelings about my niece and mold them, like a lump of playdough, into something he understands.  A fish.  Bear.  Goblin.  Heart.

My prayer tonight is for my niece's happiness as she heads out into the world.  I pray that she will always know love and kindness.  That she will never feel want or hunger.  And that, when difficult times arise, she and her husband will know they are never alone.

This is Saint Marty's hope for her.

Home is where the heart is

Monday, September 15, 2014

September 15: Bad News, Philip Levine, "Going Back"

Before I announce the poet of the week officially, I'd like to say a few words about poetry contests:

They suck.

Now that I have that off my chest, I am happy to announce that Philip Levine is the Poet of the Week.  Levine was born in Detroit and is what I would call an elder statesman in American poetry.  He's won just about every award available except the Nobel Prize.

The poem I chose for tonight comes from Levine's Unselected Poems.  It's about loss and memory.

Saint Marty lost a poetry contest today, and he hopes to put it out of his memory.

Going Back

by:  Philip Levine

I opened War and Peace to reread the scene
in which Natasha's brother Petya
falls in his first battle, and Denisov turns
from the boy's body to lean against a wattle fence.
In memory I heard a man so wracked the Cossacks
thought at first they heard the yelping of a dog.

Before I could locate the exact page I found
maple leaves I'd brought back from the East
in 1972, seven perfect blood red
pansies pressed for safekeeping, a dried thistle,
poppy or rose petals so dark and fragile
they glowed in the lamplight like shavings of oak.

Beneath them the author's words seemed frozen
in a common language no one understood.
"The cause of the delay was Natasha's skirt. . ."
Outside the sky darkened.  By the open window
with David Ber I sat, with Yenkl Tsipie,
Abraham, with all my lost, while the rain fell.

One of my heroes

September 15: Son Problems, Punching, "Web" Dip

Well, my son had a clean record for the first two weeks of first grade.  Today, the record fell.

While on the playground before school began this morning, my son punched a classmate in the face and got in huge trouble.  No detention or suspension.  However, he is now a marked child.  The playground aides are going to think he's a troublemaker.  His teacher sent home a note I had to sign.  The principal was notified.

While my son was taking his bath, I asked him what happened.  "I don't know," he said.  "I just got mad."  I tried to get him to tell me more about it.  He couldn't.  As he was getting out of the bathtub, he looked up at me and said, "Is something wrong with me, daddy?"

It broke my heart.  He looked worried and sad.  I gave him a hug, told him that everybody gets angry.  That he just needed to learn how to control himself more.  "I just don't know," he said, "why I do it."

He's a conflicted little boy, and, of course, I worry about him, for him.  I worry that he really has some kind of problem.  Mental illness.  Impulse control.  Whatever.  I just want him to be happy.  Have friends.  Follow the rules a little.

My question this Web dip Monday is:

Will my son have a good year in school?

And the answer is:

"Oh, it's coming all right," [Charlotte] said, lightly.  "The plan is still in its early stages and hasn't completely shaped up yet, but I'm working on it."

You know, that's a really good answer.  It reminds me how young my son really is.  He's in his early stages.  He's testing the waters, so to speak.  Navigating the social landmines of school.  He isn't completely shaped yet.  That's coming.

What I do know about my son:  he loves to play.  Has a great imagination.  Cares about people.  Cries when he sees somebody else crying.  Will share his chocolate bar.  Gives the best hugs.  Loves unselfishly.

Saint Marty knows his son is a good person.

My son--the future saint--and his sister

Sunday, September 14, 2014

September 14: Wedding Clean-up, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I spent a little time this afternoon helping with wedding clean-up.  The reception hall had to be undecorated and put in order.  Food had to be packed and distributed.  Gifts had to be opened and "oohed" and "aahed" over.  Because of church, I only made it for the tail end of these activities.

I was able to lend a small hand.  And I was able to hug and kiss my niece and wish her good luck.  She is moving away to start a new life.  That is as it should be.  Endings and beginnings.  I will miss seeing her, but I am really happy for her, as well.

Today's Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, when my niece was probably is the first throes of new love.

September 14, 2011:  Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Teaching, Feeling Good

Today is the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  Basically, it commemorates a very specific event.  Emperor Heraclius of Constantinople invaded Persia around the year 629 to take back, among other things, the cross of Christ from the Persians.  (Yes, it was the actual cross on which Christ was crucified.)  After Heraclius captured the cross, he returned to Jerusalem with it.  When he reached Jerusalem, he stripped off all his emperor finery, put on sackcloth, and, in bare feet, carried the cross up the hill of Calvary to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  That's the event that today celebrates.

It kind of amazes me that anyone was able to find the real cross of Christ, since the Romans probably took it down or threw it in a ditch or well so that it couldn't be used as a shrine or relic.  But the thing that really amazes me is the complete humility shown by Emperor Heraclius.  Basically, he dressed like a beggar and carried that tree up a mountain to a church.  Images like that inspire me, make me feel unworthy of calling myself a follower of Christ.  Despite my problems with his politics, Ronald Reagan hugging the weeping child of a Challenger astronaut makes me feel the same way.  Or Bill Clinton comforting a crying child after a hurricane or flood.  A moment of complete humility, of human desolation and consolation.

Today, I had a moment like that in my Good Books class.  We were discussing mental illness and its many complications.  Shame.  Guilt.  Fear.  For an hour and a half, we talked, person-to-person, about moments of alienation and abandonment in our lives.  We talked about the absolute terror of having your own mind turn against you.  It was a good class. After it was over, a student came up to me, told me about her own struggles with depression and drug addiction.  She thanked me for the class discussion.  She told me she hardly ever had an opportunity to talk about her mental illness openly, even with her family.

I felt like Heraclius, stripped and carrying the cross.  I was looking into the face of Christ, and Christ was thanking me for caring.  I felt transformed by the encounter as I locked up the classroom.  That student's words are going to stick with me for a while.  When I think I'm not making a difference as a teacher, I'm going to remember what she said to me, how I truly felt like a servant of Christ today.

Saint Marty is feeling good.

Feeling a little humble

Confessions of Saint Marty