Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 31: Bull's-Eye, Dress Shopping, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Over the last couple of weeks, I've felt like God has something against me.  Bad news piled on top of catastrophe.  I finally have my house cleaned up from the collapsed ceiling.  It took seven hours of cleaning and vacuuming, two loads of laundry, and several wine coolers.  I don't know how much it's going to cost to get my house repaired.  The roof has to be fixed first, then the kitchen.  I'm not sure how much the insurance company is even going to pay.  I'm in a state of limbo.

Took my daughter dress shopping this afternoon.  Her eight-grade graduation is this Wednesday.  She picked out a  beautiful little pink dress, and we bought some shoes to go with it.  She was not thrilled with the trip.  When we got in the car, I looked at her and said, "Do me a favor.  For a couple of hours, try to get in touch with your inner girl."  She did, sort of.  She was more excited about the Rubik's Cube I bought her than her new dress.

This week isn't going to be much better.  Dance rehearsals.  Graduation.  Two days of dance recitals.  Things won't calm down until about 8 p.m. next Sunday.  Plus, I have to get an estimate on my kitchen, and I have a large payment to make on a bill.  All kinds of stresses, worries, and fears.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago.  Surprise, surprise--it's all about fears.

May 31, 2012:  Dragging Chains, Ghosts, Nightmares

This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed an hour.  The bells ceased as they had begun, together.  They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant's cellar.  Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

A terrifying little moment preceding the appearance of Jacob Marley's ghost at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.  Charles Dickens knew how to play upon the fears of his readers.  For me, there's nothing more frightening than this scenario:  knowing some unseen threat/creature/force is coming to get you.  Scrooge has to sit in his dusty room, listening to the approach of Marley with growing dread.  For me, it's the literary equivalent of hearing the theme from Jaws, knowing that the shark is somewhere in your vicinity.  DA-DUM.  DA-DUM.  DA-DUUUUMMMMM.

Fear comes in many shapes and sizes.  There's the faceless fear demonstrated in the above passage.  I would call that fear of the unknown, one of my particular specialties.  Then there's more tangible (still irrational) phobic fears:  rats, spiders, lightning, Nicholas Sparks novels, Justin Bieber songs.  Another kind of fear is generated by watching scary movies or reading scary books.

My daughter has been suffering from the latter these last few nights.  It seems my older sister thought it was a great idea to watch a film about demon possession with my daughter last Friday.  Since Sunday, my daughter has appeared at the foot of my bed, begging me to come sleep with her because of nightmares.  Last night was the first night of uninterrupted sleep I've had in four days.  I'm tired.

Yup, I grew up watching stuff like this
I'm not against horror movies or books.  Quite the contrary.  I grew up watching the British Hammer horror films in all their blood-drenched glory.  I was weaned on Stephen King novels, from Carrie onward.  I even read the loathsome Firestarter.  I am a fan of this brand of fear.  It's harmless and fun.  If you're a teenager or adult.  Not an eleven-year-old girl who's into ballet.

There's really no point to this little diatribe.  Fear happens.  Whether ghosts in the wine-merchant's cellar or bill collectors pounding on your front door, we all are afraid of something.  I have an entire wing of fears in my psyche, the largest room reserved for the Ghost of Change Yet to Come.  Fear can be healthy and useful (gun-wielding muggers  and rabid dogs and clowns), or fear can be limiting and detrimental (new jobs or new people or new chocolate bars).   Fear eventually drives Scrooge to become a new person:  kind and generous and good-humored.

Today, fear is driving Saint Marty to a two-liter of Diet Mountain Dew.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30: Face of Tragedy, Bad News, Joshua Mehigan, "The News," New Cartoon

With so much correspondence to answer, on many an evening, when she might have otherwise been studying, she [Annie Ives] sat in their living room, at their secretary, chain-smoking Chesterfields, sipping wine, and listening to music as she composed her responses.  That she did not know what to say in the face of tragedy greatly vexed her.  She would write sympathetic notes of response in her impeccable script and enclose an illustrated prayer card that her husband had made up in the office.  Christ giving his blessing.  Finishing with her signature, she handed each to Ives, as he sat by his drawing board, so that he could sign the notes too.  She was not certain that he read each one over, but had often watched his face sadden when, as if wincing, he would sign his name.

The year following her son's death, Annie spends her time answering all the letters of sympathy the family receives.  People whose loved ones have died in tragic circumstances.  A woman who lost her husband in a fire.  Parents whose son shot himself.  A mother with a two-year-old who drowned in a backyard pool.  Tragedy keeps paying visits to the Ives family.

Tragedy is never far away.  This week, floods in Texas that have killed dozens of people.  I met with a friend whose son died of a drug overdose last fall.  My sister who had her parathyroid removed at U of M hospital this week is a good example.  Last year at this time, she had just broken her wrist.  Two or three months later, she would have surgery on that wrist.  Two or three months beyond that, back surgery.  Infections.  Sepsis.  Hospital stay after hospital stay.  Then, for four months, flat on her back in a nursing home, unable to eat or move.

Last night, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  After about the third hour of vacuuming and pulling down soggy pieces of my kitchen ceiling, I stopped for a couple moments to get a drink of water.  I was hot.  Itchy from all the dust and insulation.  My nose was running.  I stood by the refrigerator and said aloud, "What have I done wrong, God?  What's my problem?"

Of course, I know that's a pointless question.  Tragedy is not some kind of divine lesson.  Tragedy is simply tragedy.  The product of a world that the human race has abused and taken for granted.  The people who died in the Texas floods or my sister or my friend weren't being punished.   Tragedy doesn't have to make sense.  It exists.  Period.

That doesn't mean that those affected by tragedy don't question the universe, get angry at God, drown in waves of grief.  There's a certain amount of baggage involved in all difficult circumstances.  What ifs.  What if my sister hadn't broken her wrist?  What if the people in Texas had decided to go to Disneyland last week?  That is sometimes, I think, the most difficult part of tragedy, because it is an attempt to assign blame or reason.

Tragedy has a way of happening, no matter how much you try to control life.  Grace resides in how you deal with any tragedy that befalls you.  Annie Ives tries to console other grieving human beings.  My friend tries to educate her students about mental illness.  Once my sister has recuperated, returns home, perhaps she will go back to work as a nurse, helping other people struggling with limiting health problems.

Saint Marty thinks grace is God's response to tragedy.

The News

by:  Joshua Mehigan

What happened to today?  Where did it go?
The raindrops dot the window and roll down.
One taps the glass, another, three at a time,
warping the view of black tree limbs and sky.
Long hush, quick crescendo.  Wind leans on the sash.
Behind me in the shadows sleep two cars.
Nearby, like something small deposited
tenderly, by a big wind on the bed,
my wife sleeps deeply through the afternoon.
The sky is gray.  What color is the sky?
Rhinoceros?  Volcanic dune?  Moon dust?
Breast of mourning dove?  Gray butterfly?
Blank newsprint.  There's no news, no news at all,
and will be none,
until, at long last, in the other room,
one light comes on, and then another one.

Confessions of Saint Marty

May 29: Nice Glass of Scotch, Kitchen Ceiling, Chicken Little

They were in one of those states that come from having had enough to drink but not enough to ward off an early hangover, and as they made their way from the 116th Street station toward Claremont, Ives began to suffer from a headache and was thinking that he would have a nice glass of scotch at home and take a couple of aspirins...

Ives is out on the town with his wife, Annie.  They've just attended a couple of Christmas parties, done some shopping, and then they head home.  In less than an hour, they will be standing on a sidewalk in front of a church, staring down at the body of their beloved son.  Their lives are changed forever.

I'm sitting on my couch, watching Jimmy Fallon, drinking a wine cooler.  It has been a long-ass day.  This morning, shortly after I left for work, the ceiling in my kitchen collapsed.  My wife called me as I was driving to tell me the bad news.  I thought about turning around and going home, but didn't.  I went to work.  Got some overtime.  Then I went home.

It was a mess.  Ceiling all over.  Insulation.  Standing in my kitchen, I looked up into my attic, and I saw bits of sky through the roof.  It started raining a little while later, and the water started drip-drip-dripping into the room.

I spent five hours cleaning, and now I'm exhausted.  Absolutely brain dead.

Sometimes I wonder if God has something against me.  Last Friday, the massive, unexpected bill.  This Friday, the sky is falling.

Saint Marty is tired of being Chicken Little.

Sometimes, the sky really is falling

Thursday, May 28, 2015

May 28: Festively Enough, Book Club Meeting, Photos

That evening passed festively enough.  The tree had been decorated with great aplomb and by ten thirty everyone had left and the children were in bed...

Ives throws a tree decorating party every Christmas, where family and friends come together, eat, drink, and listen to Bing Crosby records.  The kids tinsel the tree, and the adults get mildly drunk.

This evening, my book club met at my house.  Our monthly gatherings are full of food and drink and conversation.  We talk about the month's reading selection (this month--We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas), and we catch up on gossip and family news.  As I've said in previous posts, it's one of my favorite evenings of the month.

Tonight, I had great news to share at book club.  My sister, who has been in the nursing home since February, flew down to the University of Michigan Hospital this morning to have her parathyroid removed.  The surgery went very well.  Before she was even out of the operating room, my sister had her calcium level checked, and it was in the normal range.

I received several pictures from my sister's hospital room.  My sister was sitting up in bed, eating potato chips.  There are two things in that statement that are remarkable.  First, my sister was sitting up--she has been flat on her back for almost four months, too weak to move.  Second, my sister was eating potato chips--my sister hasn't really eaten in almost four months either, throwing up everything.  So, two miracles in one picture.

It was a good evening.  Good book.  Good news.  Good friends.

One of the ladies in book club recently returned from a trip to Ireland.  She visited W. B. Yeats' grave and showed me a picture.  I just sort of sat there, staring at the photo.  Dumbstruck. 

Saint Marty has had a really good day.

P. S. Sorry about not posting last night.  I had a plumbing emergency at 11 p.m.  A plumber had to be called to unclog the only toilet in my house.  It was not a good scene.

Thanks to my friend for sharing this photo

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May 26: Waiting, Crappy Day, Poet of the Week, Joshue Mehigan, "The Professor"

Then they [Ives and his son, Robert] were silent.  They walked up a stretch of the block, across the way from the projects, a nerve-racking experience, even with a guard in a booth, because people were always getting held up, sometimes stabbed on that street.  They had reached Broadway when Robert added:  "You know, sometimes I think about what it would be like to be dead.  All I know is that He [Jesus] will be waiting.  It scared me for a long time, but you know what, Pop?  It doesn't anymore."

Of course, this little exchange between Ives and his son foreshadows Robert's fate.  In about twenty or so pages, Robert will be murdered, and Ives will be thrust into a world of grief and anger.  The rest of the novel hinges upon Ives' acceptance of what Robert says in the above paragraph.  It takes Ives over thirty years to accept the fate of his son.

Back at work after the Memorial Day weekend.  It was a crappy day.  Busy beyond belief.  I barely had time to sit down at my desk before the phone started ringing.  And it rang all day long.  It was three days' accumulation of patients' anxieties.  Lapsed prescriptions.  Chest pain.  Shortness of breath.  I even had someone call and ask me why they hadn't received a phone call yesterday from a nurse.  "Because it was a holiday," I said, hopefully not sounding incredulous.

Yes, most people are like Ives.  Plagued with worry and doubt.  I count myself among that crowd.  I haven't reached a point in my life where I can just let go and let God.  In fact, I kind of despise that expression.  It sounds too much like resignation to a shitty situation.  I think, as human beings, it's our duty to try to make the world a better place.  I work hard so that I can provide for my wife and kids.  It's not that I don't trust God.  I think God expects us to try to make ourselves--and our lives--the best that they can be.

I just came from the gym.  While I was running on the treadmill, my office mate (who'd just finished an exercise class) came over to talk to me about the new faculty contract proposal at the university.  After discussing it for a few minutes, we both looked at each other and said, "I'm voting 'no.'"  I simply can't accept it.  I'm not ready to put this one in God's hands yet.  I want to see if my vote will make a difference in a shitty work situation

I do have a new Poet of the Week.  His name is Joshua Mehigan, and his most recent collection, Accepting the Disaster, sort of fits right in to my discussion this evening.

The only thing Saint Marty will accept tonight is a $100 bill or a pizza.

The Professor

by:  Joshua Mehigan

I get there early and I find a chair.
I squeeze my plastic cup of wine.  I nod.
I maladroitly eat a pretzel rod
and second an opinion I don't share.
I think:  Whatever else I am, I'm there.
Afterwards, I escape across the quad
into fresh air, alone again, thank god.
Nobody cares.  They're quite right not to care.

I can't go home.  Even my family
is thoroughly contemptuous of me.
I look bad.  I'm exactly how I look.
These days I never read, but no one does,
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.
Everything I know is from a book.

That's a lot of acceptance

Monday, May 25, 2015

May 25: Mother, Memorial Day, Announcement, "Ives" Dip

My mother came home from the ER last night around 10 p.m.  The doctors ran all kinds of tests.  The whole time, all my mother kept saying was, "I don't care what you do to me.  Just let me sleep."  After much poking, bloodletting, and urine collecting, she was diagnosed with dehydration.  So, they pumped about two bags of saline into her and gave her walking papers.

She's doing much better.  I haven't seen her much this Memorial Day.  I attended a parade this morning.  In the rain.  I went to the cemetery for the VFW service.  In the rain.  Then my wife, kids, and I went to the local veterans home to visit my wife's great uncle, who served during World War II.

The rain lasted almost all day.  This afternoon, I spent some time reviewing poetry submissions for the university's literary magazine.  I had a ton of them.  However, I enjoy the process of discovering new poetic talent.  I know, in a couple of days, many writers are going to be very happy when they get their acceptances in the mail.

Memorial Day, for me, is the official beginning of summer, and I have an announcement to make:  I am going to institute a summer schedule for this blog.  From now until Labor Day, I'm only going to be writing one post per day.  I have several writing projects that I want to complete over the next few months, and I also want to take advantage of the warm weather in the Upper Peninsula.  It doesn't last very long.

Not to worry, though.  There will still be Poets of the Week.  Mr. Ives' Christmas will still be featured every day (except Sundays).  I will just be doing all these things in one daily post instead of two.  After June, July, and August, Saint Marty will return to its normal programming.

My question for Ives dip Monday is this:

Will I get a lot of writing done this summer?

And the answer from Mr. Ives is:

And [Ives] would think about that pretty woman in his office named Maria, with her air of permanent sorrow, and how she would cry in the middle of the afternoon with memories of the people, especially the children, she had watched die in Auschwitz; she had been only a child of ten when the Russians liberated the camp...

OK, that's not very encouraging.  But, I'm still going ahead with my plans.  Tomorrow, I will announce the Poet of the Week.  Stay tuned for more summer surprises.  New poems.  Contests.  Nude selfies.  (Just seeing if you're paying attention.)

Finally, Saint Marty gives thanks to all veterans and their families this Memorial Day.  He is profoundly humbled by their sacrifices.

Thank you.  Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

May 24: My Mother, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

My mother was taken by ambulance to the hospital this evening.

Today started out normally.  Church in the morning.  I played in the band.  I sang with the choir.  Celebrated Pentecost Sunday.  There was cake after the service in honor of the church's high school graduates.  It was a good time.  Lots of smiles and photographs.

This afternoon, I cut up a watermelon for a barbecue at my parents' house.  My sister grilled some bratwursts and hot dogs.  Dinner was on the table.  My mother got out of her chair, grabbed her walker, and headed toward the dining room.

The next thing I heard was my wife yelling, "She's going down, she's going down!"  I turned around, and my mother was on the floor, unresponsive.  After a few moments, she started talking, but her speech was slurred.  She kept saying that all she wanted to do was go to sleep.

I called 911.  My mother was combative and confused when the EMS guys started helping her.  Eventually, they got her out of the house and to the ambulance.  Her blood pressure was 80 over 40, and she kept saying, "I just want to sleep."

I'm home now.  My son is in bed.  The doctors are still running tests on my mother.  They don't know what's wrong.  She could be dehydrated.  She could have had a stroke.  I'm waiting for the phone to ring with some news.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired on a Memorial Day weekend two years ago.

May 25, 2013:  Beatnik Saturday, New Poem, "Extreme Unction," New Cartoon

This Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I'm looking forward to three days of relaxation.  Well, I'll relax as much as I can relax.  I still have to play the pipe organ for two church services (one tonight, one tomorrow morning).  I still have to write some blog posts, and I have a book I want to finish reading this weekend.  That's my definition of relaxation.

I have a new poem for you today.  This one's been sitting and percolating in my head for a couple of weeks, slowly taking shape.

Saint Marty can't wait to have some barbecue this weekend.

Extreme Unction

Swaddled by AIDS in hospital bed.
Unlimbed by bombs in Afghanistan.
Unhinged by helix in mind.
Stunned by stroke, macheted by Hutu.
Unbreasted by cancer, unvoiced by dictator.
Addicted by birth, unmemoried by age.
Jack Kennedy at Parkland Memorial,
wide-eyed on the stretcher,
Jackie staring into his wrecked face.
Twenty six at Sandy Hook,
taken on a sunny December morning
just before Christmas break.
My father sits with them all,
the wounded, ruined, helpless,
waits for the priest's prayer and oil.
To the man in black, he whispers,
This is for my wife, accepts it,
carries it home on his forehead,
cupped in his palms, like winter
run-off.  He gives it to my mother,
pours it over her feet, legs, hands, head.
He hopes she will jump out of her chair
and start cooking him liver and onions
the way she did when they were first
married, standing in front of the stove,
singing a Doris Day song, hair wrapped
in a blue kerchief, hips swaying,
looking as if she will live forever.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23: Inner Workings of God, Brooding and Cheetos, Gregory Pardlo, "Pool Table," New Cartoon

Whatever had happened, it reinforced his feelings that a God existed . . . and yet?  Weighing the possible meaning of what he had experienced that Christmas season [he had his mystical vision], he believed that he had been privy to the inner workings of God.  He was not crazy and had not come easily to that conclusion, his route having been circuitous and riddled with doubts and terrifying thoughts . . . 

Ives struggles with his mystical vision of colored winds above Madison Avenue and the sun spinning in the heavens.  Sometimes he doubts he even experienced it.  He questions his sanity, searches for answers in books and religious tracts and spiritual presentations.  In the end, he comes to the belief that whatever he saw was a glimpse of the divine machinery of the universe.  A God's-eye-view of humanity.

As you can tell by last night's posts, I struggle a lot with doubts and fears and worries.  When I should feel confident and calm as a believer, I don't.  I take the other route.  I question, get angry, and doubt.  It's a matter of control.  I want to be in control of my life, to avoid dangers and catastrophes.  And God has this irritating habit of throwing deer in the path of my car (sometimes literally), just to remind me Who's in charge.

Somehow, I have survived every crisis in my life so far, not because of anything I've done.  I contemplated suicide one night, and I saw the morning.  I was at the brink of a divorce, and love reasserted itself.  My wife suffered a pulmonary embolism after our son's birth, and she survived.  I was forced out of a job I'd held for close to 15 years, and I found another job.

Yet, I still panic in the face of great adversity.  Instead of turning to prayer and meditation, I turn to brooding and Cheetos.  I have had over twelve hours to recover from yesterday evening's little surprise in the mail.  I have gained perspective.  Taken some deep breaths.

I still have a whopping bill to pay, but now it doesn't seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  It's a pretty steep climb, but, eventually, I will reach the summit.  I just needed to remind myself of the inner workings of God.

Saint Marty knows God's check is in the mail.  Metaphorically, of course.  Although he wouldn't turn down a little monetary miracle.

Pool Table

by:  Gregory Pardlo

It belongs to the guy who used to cut
our lawn and has become by now my math tutor,
my sitter, my ersatz uncle--I call him Chief.
A sometime grad student and sometime sub
at Levitt Junior High.  He seems to be polishing it, flaring
the angles of his stroke.  He webs the table with his
mind's dotted lines.  Beneath the Old Milwaukee
Tiffany Lamp it smells of Thai stick and talcum.
Its felt as green as fresco hills spins English clean off the cue.
He strings together combinations hinged and whimsical
like flinty syllables playing with emphasis and breath
as he lectures me on the errorless vectors, velocity.
The spheres vanish like field mice as he runs the table
then lances one of the smoke rings shimmying like jellyfish
toward the dropped ceiling's popcorn panels
in his father's basement.  He hikes himself up on
the rail, and sparks the dimming ember of his spliff
while I corral a spectrum in the field
of my embrace, arrange a bouquet of solids, stripes, each
numbered iris for Chief again to scatter the fragments
before my eyes like asteroids in an arcade game.
He claps a cloud of powder while he calls the four cross-
side, and then he calls me Grasshopper, tells me soon
I'm going to grasp all this like a pebble from his hand.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22: My Kids, Gregory Pardlo, "Problema 3"

I have been thinking about my kids and kids in general this evening.  About how much parents sacrifice for their children.  My wife and I don't buy presents for each other for any occasion.  Birthdays.  Christmases.  Mother's Days.  Father's Days.  Anniversaries.  We save our money for dance lessons.  Video games.  Slumber parties.  Plush toys.  Class trips.

I'm not complaining.  It's what parents do.  Right now, we're trying to figure out if we can afford our annual fall trip to the Kalahari Resort in the Dells.  Plus all the other normal adult expenses.  Mortgage.  Car payments.  Utilities.

Parenting is not easy.

I'm not going to be able to give my kids much of a summer this year.  My daughter will go to Bible camp.  My wife's church will help us with that.  My son will be happy if he can just go swimming every once in a while.  My one week of vacation in August will not involve any trips or shopping or movies.  That's a done deal.

One of the reasons I love Gregory Pardlo's collection Digest is that he writes about the struggles of parenting.  He is in the trenches with me.

At this moment, Saint Marty's hardest job is being a father.

Problema 3

by:  Gregory Pardlo

The Fulton St. Foodtown is playing Motown and I'm surprised
at how quickly my daughter picks up the tune.  And soon
the two of us, plowing rows of goods steeped in fructose
under light thick as corn oil, are singing Baby,
I need your lovin', unconscious of the lyrics' foreboding.
My happy child riding high in the shopping cart as if she's
cruising the polished aisles on a tractor laden with imperishable
foodstuffs.  Her cornball father enthusiastically prompting
with spins and flourishes and the double-barrel fingers
of the gunslinger's pose.  But we hear it as we round the rice
and Goya aisle, that other music, the familiar exchange of anger,
the war drums of parents and child.  The boy wants, what, to be
carried? to eat the snacks right from his mother's basket?
What does it matter, he is making a scene.  With no self-interest
beyond the pleasure of replacing wonder with wonder, my daughter
asks me to name the boy's offense.  I offer to buy her ice cream.
How can I admit recognizing the portrait of fear the mother's face
performs, the inherited terror of non-conformity frosted with the fear
of being thought disrespected by, or lacking the will to discipline,
one's child?  How can I account for both the cultural and the inter-
cultural?  The boy's cries rising like hosannas as the mother's purse
falls from her shoulder.  Her missed step from the ledge
 of one of her stilted heels, passion loosed with each displaced
hairpin.  His little jacket bunched at the collar where she has worked
the marionette.  Later, when I'm placing groceries on the conveyor
belt and it is clear I've forgotten the ice cream, my daughter
tries her hand at this new algorithm of love, each word
punctuated by her little fist:  boy, she commands, didn't I tell you?

I have employed every one of these styles

May 22: Pay the Bills, Bills and More Bills, Froggy Fairy Tale

[Ives said,] "Yes, we'll go.  I'll pay for it, and then you tell me who'll pay the bills a year from now if something should happen to me."

Ives is using money as an excuse to avoid stepping outside of his world of grief, depression, and anger.  He has been wallowing for decades.  Annie, his wife, is trying to convince him to go on a trip to Europe, something they dreamed about before their son's death.  Now, I think Ives feels guilty about the idea of being happy with his son gone.

I don't use lack of money as an excuse to avoid life.  I simply don't have money.  No excuses.  This evening, when I got home, I found a very large bill that I wasn't expecting.  It kind of threw me off my game.  I was happy, looking forward to the long Memorial Day weekend.  Now, all I can think about is where I'm going to come up with the money to pay this bill.

I'm really tired of never having enough cash.  Each day, I hate looking through the mail.  It never brings good news.  Only more envelopes containing pieces or paper detailing how much money I owe.  It doesn't matter.  I usually can't pay them anyway.

If you can't tell, I'm a little stressed.  Even typing this post isn't giving me much pleasure.  After I'm done writing, I'm going to go home, clean up my living room, scrub the toilet, and then sit down and read that bill.  Over and over and over.

Once upon a time, a poor frog farmer named Kermit lived in a swamp.  Every morning, he pulled on his boots, grabbed a burlap sack, and waded into the marshy water, searching for frogs.

Kermit never made much money as a frog farmer.  He lived in the kingdom of Vegetaria.  Every citizen of Vegetaria was a practicing vegan.  Nobody was interested in buying Kermit's frog legs.

One night, after a long day of harvesting, Kermit came home with a sack of frogs.  As he sat down to eat a plateful of legs, he thought aloud, "Maybe I should start growing asparagus and parsnips instead of hunting frogs."  He took a bite of frog.  "Then, once I earned a little money, I could expand.  Tomatoes and carrots and bell peppers."  He chewed thoughtfully.  "Eventually, I could become the richest farmer in Vegetaria."  He swallowed.

A frog in his burlap sack croaked loudly.

Kermit looked down at his plate of frog legs.  "But I love me some frog meat."  And he finished eating his dinner and went to bed.

During the night, a hurricane blew through the swamp and wiped out the entire frog population.  Kermit never harvested frogs again.  He lived the rest of his life eating artichokes and tofu.

Kermit never got rich.  Never moved out of the swamp,  At the end of his life, he didn't have a penny to his name.  He died of gastrointestinal distress after consuming an entire box of apricots.

Moral of the story:  If given the choice between tofu and frog legs, go to a different restaurant.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

It doesn't taste just like chicken

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21: Directionally Challenged, Gregory Pardlo, "Boethius"

I am directionally challenged.  Always have been.  If I have to travel some place new, I print out maps (I don't have an iPhone, so Siri is not a friend of mine).  One of my biggest fears in life is getting lost.  I hate not knowing how to get where I need to go.

I've gotten lost driving to my sister-in-law's house, and I've been there many, many times.  I've gotten lost on Oahu, trying to get back to my hotel in Waikiki.  In Walt Disney World.  In California and Wisconsin.  In Detroit.

It's a terrible affliction.  I have literally gotten lost in hotels and shopping malls.  If I had an iPhone, it wouldn't matter.  I don't know how to get Siri to work.  I'm a little technologically challenged, as well.

So, basically, Saint Marty is doomed to wander the world, hopelessly lost.  Or stay in his house, watching reruns of Mike & Molly.

Boethius:  The creator moves the slowest bodies and halts those that are too fast, brings back to the right path those which have strayed.

by:  Gregory Pardlo

Even Virgin Mary couldn't compete with the miracles
performed on dashboards by GPS devices that summon
the heavens for guidance instead of forgiveness.  Instead of
blessing we want clairvoyance and the dust bursts of angels
and demons appearing on our shoulders, though we know
they may only goad us into leading some high- or low-speed
chase while America tunes in at home, their eyes in the skies.
Used to be the battle of getting there was indeed a tortoise and
hare propositions full of K-turns in strangers' driveways, but our
omniscient technology has made speed obsolete.  Who needs to
hurry when we have a hivemind of newfeeds, can discern death's
thumbprint in the marrow of a bone and engineer children who
are elegant and fleet?  In the end, James Dean couldn't outrun
a glacier.  Just as the slowest floes preyed timelessly on dinosaurs
and shat their bones, our rockets now fold the speckled
firmament to take orbit on the shoulders of eternity where they
may fill the creator's ears with our mortal doubts and provocations.

The TV show based on my life...

May 21: Vaporous Goodness, Yoga, Visions of Goodness

Once, when his son was only five or six and they were sitting on a beach by Lake Sebago, watching the water, Robert asked [Ives] what God looked like.  It was that time of day when the changing light and wind had made the water choppy and mysterious, when the silt had risen like clouds of dark milk from the lake bed to just below the surface.  In those moments, when Ives told Robert, "God is a spirit," he imagined Him as a vaporous  goodness inside people's being.

Much of Mr. Ives' Christmas concerns goodness inside people's being.  There is no real bad guy in the novel.  There are flawed people.  Ives' best friend physically assaults his own son, has an affair on his wife, and worries that his son is "a fairy."  Then there's the teenager who kills Ives' son.  For decades, Ives is tormented by his inability to forgive Danny Gomez.  Yet, Gomez repents, turns his life around, and for years tries to meet Ives to apologize for his stupid, violent act.  Eventually, Ives and Gomez meet, and Ives sees the goodness in Gomez's being.  Nobody is beyond redemption in Ives' world.  I think that's why I love the book so much.  It is laced with darkness and tragedy, but, in the end, it embraces a vision of a broken world populated by good people.

I went to a yoga class this evening at the gym at which I'm a member.  It's the first time I've sat in on the class.  I knew it wasn't going to be easy.  All those positions like Downward Dog and The Swan and Cradle the Elephant.  (OK, I made that last one up.)  You get the idea.  My body did things this evening that it hasn't done since my junior prom.  I barely walked five steps during the whole hour, but, by the time I was done, I was drenched in sweat.

At the end of the class, the lights were turned down in the class area, and one of the trainers did a relaxation exercise.  It was lovely.  We got down on our back on the floor, closed our eyes, and let all of the day's anxieties and pressures and problems sort of melt away.  By the time it was over, I really did feel more centered and positive.

Positivity does not come naturally to me.  I don't often focus on the goodness of people.  Generally, I distrust people.  Nobody really is completely good all the time.  That's an impossibility, unless you're Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama.  So, I'm always on my guard.  I try to be positive and happy at work, but I've had cranky patients call me fat and bald.  I try to be supportive of my coworkers and colleagues, but I've suffered tremendous bouts of jealousy when somebody gets a literary award or a promotion.

Goodness is all around me.  I know that.  It might be vaporous, or it might be a sense of well-being after a yoga class that kicks my ass.  I wish I could remain in that state a little longer.  But life happens.

For now, though, Saint Marty is one with goodness.  Namaste.

I'm going to have one sore namaste tomorrow

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

May 20: Dreams, Gregory Pardlo, "Raisin"

Tonight, I've been thinking a lot about dreams.  It seems like my whole life I've been a dreamer.  If it weren't for my dreams, I don't think I'd be able to get out of bed and go to work every day.  I feel a little like a sell-out in the medical office.  I don't believe that I'm helping people.  I feel like I'm helping a huge healthcare organization take advantage of sick people.

Dreams.  I believe that my life can be better.  That there's something better around the corner.  Maybe down the hill.  Across the river.  Through the desert.  And over the mountain.

Saint Marty is ready to go the distance.


by:  Gregory Pardlo

I dragged my twelve-year-old cousin
to see the Broadway production of A Raisin
in the Sun because the hip-hop mogul
and rapping bachelor, Diddy, played
the starring role.  An aspiring rapper gave
my cousin his last name and the occasional child
support so I thought the boy would geek to see a pop
hero in the flesh as Walter Lee.  My wife was newly
pregnant, and I was rehearsing, like Diddy
swapping fictions, surrendering his manicured
thug persona for a more domestic performance.
My cousin mostly yawned throughout the play.
Except the moment Walter Lee's tween son stiffened
on stage, as if rapt by the sound of a roulette ball.
Scene:  No one breathes as Walter Lee vacillates,
uncertain of obsequity or indignation after Lindner offers
to buy the family out of the house they've purchased
in the all-white suburb.  Walter might kneel to accept,
but he senses the tension in his son's gaze.  I was thinking,
for real though, what would Diddy do?  "Get rich
die trying," 50 Cent would tell us.  But my father would
sing like Ricky Scaggs, "Don't get above your raisin',"
when as a kid I vowed to be a bigger man than him.
That oppressive fruit dropped heavy as a medicine
ball in my lap meant to check my ego, and I imagined
generations wimpling in succession like the conga
marching raisins that sang Marvin's hit song.  Silly,
I know.  Outside the theater, my cousin told me
when Diddy was two, they found his hustler dad
draping a steering wheel in Central Park,
a bullet in his head.  I shared what I knew of dreams
deferred and Marvin Gaye.  (When asked if he loved
his son, Marvin Sr. answered, "Let's just say I didn't
dislike him.")  Beneath the billing of many billion
diodes I walked beside the boy through Times Square
as if anticipating a magic curtain that would rise,
but only one of us would get to take a bow.

A Diddy in the Sun

May 20: New Expenses, Part-Time Dreams, Dodo

Once settled in, Ives decided, having so many new expenses, to find a full-time job, and eventually began his long tenure with the Mannis Advertising Agency...

Working in advertising was not Ives' dream.  He wanted to be a serious artist, with paintings hanging in MoMA and the Met.  He wanted to draw for Disney, with his creations on kids' shirts and cereal bowls.  Yet, Ives has a wife and kids that he has to support, so he settles.  He takes a job that pays the bills and provides health insurance and paid vacations.  He never becomes Picasso.

My medical office job is a lot like Ives' job at the Mannis Advertising Agency.  It started out as a part-time gig while I was in graduate school, getting my MFA.  I was filling in for a woman out on maternity leave.  The woman never came back.  Part-time turned into full-time turned into 17 years.  It wasn't my dream to have a career in the medical field.  It still isn't my dream.  I've settled.  For my wife and kids.  For stability.  For a home.

I still have dreams of becoming a famous writer.  That's why I write this blog every day.  It keeps my dream alive somehow.  I know people are reading my words.  Maybe people are even being moved by what I post.  I write poems and essays.  I conduct writing workshops for community school programs.  I volunteer to teach poetry to elementary school students.

I do all these things because to not do them would mean that I have given up.  That my dreams have gone the way of the passenger pigeon and dodo.  I'm not quite ready for that.  I don't want my epitaph to be "Professional Clinic Office Clerk."  I would much prefer "Poet" or "Teacher" or "Thinker" or "Dreamer."  I could live with any of those titles.

Saint Marty doesn't want to be a dodo.

I wonder if he dreamed of being an ostrich

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

May 19: Jehovah's Witness, Gregory Pardlo, "Problemata"

For a few years now, I have a woman who shows up at my front door every once in a while, usually on a Saturday or Sunday.  She's middle-aged, a grandmotherly type.  She always asks after my son and daughter, comments when she sees them about how they need to stop growing so fast.  She stands on the steps of my house, Bible in hand, ready to hand me some tracts.  She's a Jehovah's Witness.

My wife doesn't understand why I have continued talking to this woman for so long.  After one of the visits, my wife will say something like, "You're just leading her on.  You should tell her you're not interested."

I can't do that.  I enjoy the brief pleasantries that I exchange with this woman.  Plus, I admire her strength of faith.  I don't get in my car and go door-to-door in my neighborhood, telling people about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This woman opens herself up to hostility and derision for the sake of her beliefs.  That is something to admire.

So, I will continue to talk to this woman when she appears at my door.  I will take her Bible tracts.  I will listen as she tells me about our fallen world and how I can be saved.

Saint Marty will take as much saving as he can.

a section from Problemata

by:  Gregory Pardlo

Consider the dear evangelists who canvas our homes
Saturday mornings, who share their pamphlets and good
words, their domestic concerns swelling with their
longing for the fellowship of us.  Spinoza gives us
this reason not to opt off of their call lists:  The good
which a man desires for himself and loves, he will love
more constantly if he sees that others love it also;
he will therefore endeavor that others should love it also.
Be tolerant of their attention, their pursuit of agape,
a planet-sized chip they bear on their shoulders
from house to house, door to door, welcome
or not, blessing whatever they find inside.

One way to discourage Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons

May 19: Agony of Memory, Painful Remembrances, Haunted

And Ives?  For his part, he did not like to be away from [Annie, his wife] and yet seemed to enjoy his excursions upstate alone, now and then, in the winter.  The harshness and the monasterial nature of the place much appealing to his purgatorial side.  The days would go by, Ives occupied by his work, the evenings desperately lonely.  He would have a drink or two,  put on some upstate public radio station that played 1940s music, the mellow voice of Roy Rogers crooning some cowpoke song; or there might be a Bach oratorio on another station and he would sit by the fireplace listening, the choruses rising, and suffer in the wondrous agony of memory.

Such a strange expression--"the wondrous agony of memory."  I chose the above paragraph simply for those five words.  Ives is a haunted man.  He still loves his wife, being away from her making him "desperately lonely."  Yet, Ives can't be with just her; he always brings the memory of their dead son to breakfast, dinner, bed, church.  He can't go for a walk or stare at a Christmas tree without being joined by some ghost.  That is the wondrous agony of memory.

One of my best friends visited my sister in the nursing home yesterday afternoon.  My friend described my sister as being "really weepy."  "She feels forgotten," my friend said, "like nobody thinks about her."  After talking to my friend today, I did think a lot about my sister.  All the things she's done for me and my family.  And how she's sort of a ghost right now.

I don't mean that she's on her deathbed.  I mean that she resides in a painful place of memory.  The happy remembrances of her are overshadowed by her current situation.  My family is great at denial.  Rather than face difficulties head on, we prefer to hide from them.  During the week, if I see my father and ask after my sister, his answer always consists of two words:  "The same."  As if that somehow encapsulates everything.  How my sister throws up every time she eats.  How she can't even get out of bed by herself.  How she spends all day staring at the ceiling or walls of her room.  The same.  And everybody accepts that answer.

Perhaps, constant reader, you're tired of hearing about my sister.  I apologize for that.  But, you see, like Ives, I'm a little haunted presently.  Every day I go to work, I visit the surgery center my sister used to supervise, talk to people she used to manage, stare at the door to the office she used to occupy.  My sister is with me all day.  I can't get around that.

Maybe, a year from now, when my sister has healed, come home, resumed her life, I will not suffer this agony of memory.  That's my hope and prayer.

In the meantime, you're all going to have to put up with Saint Marty's ghost stories for a while.


Monday, May 18, 2015

May 18: Poet of the Week, Gregory Pardlo, "Problema 4"

For the past few years, I haven't liked the books that have won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry (with the exception of Sharon Olds' Stag's Leap).  I didn't even bother ordering last year's winner.  However, because of the poetry workshop I taught this past winter, I did order Gregory Pardlo's Digest, which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.

I opened the book and started reading it.  I was fully prepared to hate it.  In fact, I will venture to say that I was predisposed to hate it.  That's how unimpressed I have been with the poetry Pulitzers recently.  After reading the first poem, I didn't hate it.  After the second poem, I was pleasantly surprised.  By the third poem, I found myself really liking Pardlo.

In short, Gregory Pardlo won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and now he is Saint Marty's Poet of the Week.

Problema 4

by:  Gregory Pardlo

At thirteen I asked my father for a tattoo.
I might as well have asked for a bar mitzvah.
He said I had no right to alter the body
he gave me.  Aping what little Marx I learned
from the sisters down the street who wore torn
black stockings with Doc Martens, I said
I was a man because I could claim my body
and the value of its labor.  This meant I could
adorn it or dispose of it as I chose.  Tattoos,
my father said, are like children:  have one,
you'll want another.  I knew there was a connection
between the decorated body and reproduction.
This is why I wanted a tattoo.  Yet I reasoned,
not in so many words, his analogy only held
in the case of possession, i. e., I possess my body,
but can not possess my children.  His laughter
was my first lesson in the human Ponzi
scheme of paternalism, the self-electing
indenture to the promise of material inheritance,
men claiming a hollow authority because,
simply, their fathers had claimed
a hollow authority.  Knowing I had little
idea as to what my proposed tattoo might
resemble, my father sent me to my room
to sketch it using the pastels he had given me
for Christmas.  Based on his critique, he said,
he would consider my request.  But he had
already taken the shine from my swagger.
How can I beautify what I do not possess
and call it anything but graffiti?  Chris Rock says
my first job is to keep my daughter
off the pole.  Whether or not I agree with him,
I get his point.  As a father myself
I now see every mutinous claim of independence
as the first steps toward my sweet pea's
falling in with a bad crowd.  Richard Pryor
says we are bound to fuck up our kids
one way or another.  My father would
split the difference:  I made you, he'd say,
I can un-make you, and make another one
just like you.

Maybe they got it right this time...

May 18: Nature Essay, Kalahari Vacation, "Ives" Dip

I spent a good portion of today working on my nature essay.  I have a deadline.  June 13.  That's when the contest closes.  I really want to submit my best work, because the prize is $250.  I was first honorable mention the last time I entered.  I was one of the judges of the contest last year.  This year, I want to write something that will clearly stand out from the pack.  And I think I'm off to a good start.  It sort of reads like a cross between Annie Dillard and Galway Kinnell.  At least that's what I'm shooting for.

One of the reasons I really want to put forth my best effort is I could really use that prize money.  Every October, we make a trip to the Wisconsin Dells for a dance convention at the Kalahari Resort.  Usually, my sister joins us, and she helps to finance the trip.  Well, there's a very good chance my sister will not be able to come this year.  That means one of two things:  1) we don't go to the Kalahari this year, or 2) we somehow finance the entire trip ourselves.  So, I think you can understand why this nature essay is so important.

Which brings me to the inevitable Ives dip question:

Will I win the nature essay contest this year?

And the answer from Ives is:

...There had been that autumn day when [Ives] and Annie and the kids had taken a drive upstate and, getting lost, had found an old house that had been built in the 1920s, in the style called "Stockbroker Tudor," and the kind that one saw in ads about happy families with wag-tailed dogs and gardens in the springtime and warm, homey parlors, bountiful tables, and stone fireplaces at Christmas, the kind of place that Ives had illustrated dozens of times--images from "another America" that he had somehow disregarded when it had come to his own family...

Well, either that means that we're going on the Kalahari trip and will get lost, or we're going to miss the dance convention and stay home, in our old house built in the 1890s in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Saint Marty is really hoping that he isn't stuck in Walnut Grove in October.

Even Laura got out of town every once in a while

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 17: Trying to Work, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I'm trying to concentrate.  Trying to get work done.  I've played for a worship service this morning.  Cleaned two bathrooms.  Now, I'm sitting down to get this post done.  Tonight, I'm going to work on my nature essay and read a book for my upcoming book club meeting.  Problem is, I can barely keep my eyes open at the moment.

Just drifted for a moment.  It's been a long, busy weekend.  Late nights.  Chorale concert.  House cleaning.  Tonight, a birthday party for my sister.  If I'm still conscious after I get my son to bed, my plan is to sit down and write.  Something.  Anything.

Sorry, just drifted again.  Maybe I should just give in for a little while.  Close my eyes and . . . float until dinner.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired almost three years ago.

May 23, 2012:   A Cousin Rant, Jealousy, Ugly Side

Yesterday at work, someone attached the newspaper clipping below to the refrigerator door:

Yes, the gentleman in the center of the picture is my famous cousin, Grant, who has won some kind of James Beard Award.  Again.  One of my friends at work said to me, "The James Beard Award.  Isn't that like the Nobel Prize for chefs?"

I will not, in this post, drag my famous cousin through the mud.  He is famous for a reason.  He's a genius chef.  He's a millionaire.  He was named one of People magazine's sexiest men alive.  He got mouth cancer.  He almost lost his tongue.  He didn't lose his tongue.  He survived mouth cancer.  He wrote a memoir about surviving mouth cancer.  He just opened up another restaurant, and it's even more successful than his first restaurant.  And now he's just received another accolade from the James Beard Foundation.  I salute my famous cousin.

Yes, I do have an ugly side to my personality.  I'm a little prone to jealousy.  I tend to make fun of people whom I really envy.  I make disparaging remarks about their successes or looks or personalities.  I do everything I can to shift the spotlight to myself, including being mean, cruel, vindictive, and, above all, funny.  I mean, yeah, Grant has a great story.  The whole mouth cancer thing is worthy of an Oscar-winning film starring Meryl Streep as my cousin.  (Hey, she's already played Julia Child, for God's sake.)  But, c'mon.  Another James Beard Award?!

I'm done.  I promise.  I will not say another word about Grant Achatz.  In this blog.  Today.  I'm not jealous.  I think he deserves all the success he has achieved.  I admire his good looks.  They run in the family.  I, myself, will one day receive the "Sexiest Blogger Alive" award from the crew at Blogger.

Grant Achatz has nothing on Saint Marty.  Except millions of dollars.  And international fame.  And bestselling cookbooks.  And five-star restaurants.  Aside from that, they're pretty much the same.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, May 16, 2015

May 16: Generally Good Spirits, Key to a Happy Life, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Another Sonnet, New Cartoon

One of the kids would say that Robert [Ives' son] had showed up in generally good spirits around a quarter after four, a little late, and that they joked about the prospect of getting hired to record a theme song to a cartoon show about outer-space hounds from Japan in the new year, word that Ives had gotten them through a connection; that he walked in with a Sam Goody's shopping bag as well as another bag filled with different items, mainly paperback books.  Dressed too lightly for the cool day, he had worn a long black-hooded raincoat and a cap that he didn't like because it messed up his fine dark hair, brown penny loafers and galoshes, a Cardinal Spellman High School senior ring.  During the break he sat around with a couple of his friends in the choir room, showing them the 33rpm records he had bought as Christmas presents that afternoon, about fifteen albums in all.

Robert's last moments of life.  He's focused on the future--practicing for Christmas church services, talking about a paid singing job, showing off the Christmas presents he'd bought for his family.  And, of course, he's wearing his senior ring, marking an even bigger door opening to life beyond school, mother, father, and sister.  In less than an hour, he will be dead.

It's a sad paragraph about a young man, full of hope and excitement, not realizing how short and unfair life can sometimes be.  It's also a good paragraph to remember when I'm feeling upset about some inconvenience or disappointment in my life.  Really, all the struggles I face on a daily basis are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  My wife has a job that she really likes.  I have a few jobs that pay the bills, buy the food, and provide health insurance.  My kids are smart and healthy.  My life is pretty damn good.

Could it be better?  Of course.  Just because I have all of these blessings doesn't mean I can't try to make my life (and my family's life) better.  I would love to have a full-time teaching job.  I would love to publish another collection of poems.  I would love to move into a bigger house where I don't have to fight my daughter for bathroom time every night.  It's not wrong to desire something better.

What's wrong is walking around, being dissatisfied and unhappy every day of my life.  That's something I do a lot.  Right now, I'm sitting in McDonald's, having breakfast with my family.  It's a bright sunny morning.  We're not hungry, and it's going to be a beautiful day.  I need to revel in this time.  Like Robert, I'm not sure what's going to happen when I step outside of this restaurant.  I may have a wonderful day, or I may face some serious struggle.

I can't worry about the future.  It's unhealthy.  Not productive.  I need to simply give thanks for the dandelions on the grass outside.  The smell of French fries in the air.  The cold water I just drank.  That's the key to a truly happy life.

Saint Marty needs to use that key a little more.

from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Kyrie

What I remember best is my cousin's crow.
He found it, fed it, splinted its damaged wing,
and it came when he whistled it down, ate from his hand,
said, like a slow child, what he had said.
Emmett never used a leash or cage;
for a year it hulked in the big pine by the door
or in the windmill's metal scaffold, descending
for apple, a little grain, a little show.

Once God gave out free will, I get He was sorry.
So much had been invested in the bird,
the bird not understanding gratitude.
Well again, it turned up in the yard
from time to time, no longer smart or amusing,
no longer his, just another crow.

Confessions of Saint Marty

May 15: Chuck E. Cheese's, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Another Sonnet

It is almost midnight, and I'm waiting for my phone to ring.  My daughter is on her way back from Great America with her class.  When she gets to Chuck E. Cheese's in Green Bay, someone is supposed to call me to let me know.

It's been a long day.  I was up at 3:45 this morning to drive my daughter to school.  I went to work.  Went to a concert by a chorale group.  Now, I'm watching Jimmy Fallon and staring at my phone, willing it to ring.  I have a feeling that bus is going to be pulling into the school parking lot around 3 a.m.

Saint Marty needs a little poetry to stay awake.

from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Kyrie

I always thought she ought to have an angel.
There's one I saw a picture of, smooth white,
the wings like bolts of silk, breasts like a girl's--
like hers--eyebrows. all of it.  For years
I put away a little every year,
but her family was shamed by the bare grave,
and hadn't they blamed me for everything,
so now she has a cross.  Crude, rigid, nothing
human on it, flat dead tree on the hill,
it's what you see for miles, it's all I see.
Symbol of hope, the priest said, clearing his throat,
and the rain came down and washed the formal flowers.
I guess he thinks that dusk is just like dawn.
I guess he had forgot about the nails.

Ring, damn you!  Ring!

May 15: Euphoric, World's Goodness, Goodness Fairy Tale

Then something else unusual happened:  walking down the street toward the impossibly crowded avenue, and standing shoulder to shoulder amid a throng of shoppers on the corner, Ives was waiting for the light to change, when he blinked his eyes and, in a moment of pure clarity he would always remember, began to feel euphoric, all the world's goodness, as it were, spinning around him.

Ives has just had a near-death experience.  The elevator on which he was riding plunged several stories, uncontrolled.  For many tense minutes, Ives believed he was about to leave the world--his wife and children--but, eventually, he's rescued.  Given a second chance.  That's when he has his vision of the world's goodness.

I usually do not have a world view that focuses on the world's goodness.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have realized that I am drawn to darker subjects.  Even the book that I'm focusing on this year (Mr. Ives' Christmas) bears testimony to this predisposition.  Ives' son is shot dead on the steps of a church right before Christmas.  For decades, Ives suffers through crushing grief and depression.  It's not a light read.

In the end, however, Ives finds happiness.  Instead of lack and absence, he chooses to embrace the world's goodness.  His euphoric vision on the streets of Manhattan becomes his life.  The last 50 or so pages of the novel are saturated with forgiveness, healing, and happiness.  That's Ives' legacy by the last page.

I'm not sure what my legacy is going to be when I shuffle off this mortal coil.  If it's this blog, I may be in a little trouble.  I wouldn't call my posts uplifting.  Maybe amusing.  Or thoughtful.  Even provocative at times.  But the world's goodness is usually not on display in my words.  I think what I do is a chalk outline of goodness.  I point out the injustices or disappointments in my life, and, by doing so, the shape of goodness becomes more obvious.  Sort of like looking at a wall and seeing the bright square where a picture used to hang.

Once upon a time, a good man named Goodman Brown lived in a good town named Goodton (short for Good Town).  Goodman Brown had a good life.

He grew fruits and vegetables for a living, and the good people of Goodton loved his produce stand.  They usually paid him double his asking price, because they were such good customers and Goodman Brown was such a good farmer.

One day, a hurricane hit Goodton, and most of the village was flooded or blown away.  Goodman Brown lost everything.  When the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical depression, he surveyed the damage to his farm.

His fields were swamps.  His barn was rubble.  And the artichoke patch he had just planted was merely a memory.

His neighbor, Goodman Black, walked by and patted Goodman Brown on the back.  "Be of good cheer, friend," Goodman Black said.  "Life is good."

Brown smiled at Black and said, "Eat shit."

Moral of the story:  you're an asshole, Goodman Brown.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Chalk outlines that make you happy

Thursday, May 14, 2015

May 14: Chafed, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Another Sonnet

I went to the gym after work this afternoon. I ran on the treadmill for half an hour.  It actually wasn't as horrible as I thought it was going to be.  After I overcame my absolute dread, I actually felt good about myself, until I got home and realized that I was so chafed my thighs felt like they'd been dipped in acid.

Aside from that, I still feel good about myself.  I don't know if I'm going to the gym tomorrow.  If I move my legs together, I think they may set my pants on fire.  Perhaps a leisurely walk is more appropriate.

I do have another Kyrie sonnet.  I must say it's difficult to get a good sense of this collection from individual sonnets.  In my opinion, it's really a book-length poem. 

However, Saint Marty doesn't have time to type all 75 pages tonight.

from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Kyrie:

After I'd seen my children truly ill,
I had no need to dream that they were ill
nor in any other way imperiled--
no more babies pitching down the well,
no more watching from shore as my boy rolls
like a kicked stone from the raft, meanwhile
Kate with a handful of bees--
                                               when I was a girl,
I practiced in the attic with my dolls,
but Del went out of right mind, his fingernails
turned blue, and Kate--no child should lie so still,
her small excitable body held enthralled. . . .
After that, in order to make it real
I dreamed them whole.

I'm getting a standing ovation

May 14: Vague Depression, Daughter's Trip, Little Princess

Although he had confided in his father about his decision regarding the seminary and it was hardly a secret in their household, Robert could not bring himself to tell his mother about his doubts, for the young man truly believed that one of his jobs in life was to seem independent.  So even though he suffered through many a bad day, even after talking it over with his father, when a vague depression came over him, as if he already knew about his true future, and wanted to rest his head upon his mother's lap, to feel her reassuring hand on his head, he kept his feeling bottled up inside--at least around her.

Robert Ives is a young man struggling with very adult issues for the first time in his life.  He is not going to college.  Or getting married.  Or starting a new job.  Robert has decided to devote his life to God.  He's terrified and confused, and, even though he craves his mother's attention, he can't bring himself to admit it.  He's growing up.

My daughter is going on a class trip tomorrow morning.  In sixth grade, it was a day trip to Mackinac Island.  Seventh grade, a couple of days at a survival camp.  This year, it's Great America.  Tomorrow, I will drop her off at 4:45 a.m., and she will climb on a bus and head off to Chicago.  Without me or my wife.  Wearing a tee-shirt that says "Class of '19."

Yes, I know I'm being melodramatic.  My daughter will be back in the bosom of her family around 3 a.m. on Saturday.  She will be crabby and tired, and she won't want to tell me about what she did over the past 24 hours.  She will get home, climb into bed, and proceed to sleep for the next 12 hours.  Maybe she'll get up to go to the bathroom.  I may slide a pizza under her bedroom door about noon.

My daughter is a good kid.  She studies hard, gets straight A's, and reads all the time.  On weekends, she goes to church on Saturday and Sunday (sometimes with a little grumbling, if not outright hostility).  And she's going to be a high school freshman next fall.  She's already talking about getting her driver's license.

Yes, I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the times my daughter would lean against my chest and let me be her daddy.  These days, when I wake her up in the morning, I have to announce to my wife, "I have released the Kraken." 

Saint Marty isn't ready for his little princess to turn into a prom queen.

Not this kind of prom queen

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

May 13: No Time, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Another Sonnet

I have no time this evening to reflect poetically.  My daughter is breathing down my neck.  She wants my laptop.  Plus, I have to get to work on my nature essay.  I've got a little research to do about memory and smell.  (When I post my nature essay, that statement will make sense, I promise.)

But, I have to give Ellen Bryant Voigt some space.

Saint Marty has enough time to type fourteen lines.

from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Kyrie:

He planned his own service, the pine box,
the open lid, which hymns, chapter and verse,
who would pray, how long, who'd carry him out.
He wrote it all down in a fair hand,
stroking the shawl around him in his chair,
and gave away his watch, his dog, his house.

Emmett said, he'd have lain down in the grave
except he needed us to tuck him in.

He shaved each day, put on his good wool pants
chosen for the cloth and a little loose
as they lowered in another son-in-law.
Sat by the door, handrolling cigarettes
three at a time, licking down both ends,
and wheezed and coughed and spit in a rusted can.

You tell 'em, Vlad

May 13: Give It a Try, Collage Concert, Let There Be Peace

"The thing is, Pop, I've decided to give it a try, it just feels like something I'm destined for; it's something I've thought about since I was a kid, and it just won't go away.  I guess what I'm asking you, Pop, is for your blessing.  I know you can give me that, can't you?"

Robert, Ives' son, has decided to enter a monastery, and he wants his father's blessing.  Ives never saw it coming.  He knew his son was devout in his faith, but Ives didn't realize how deep the waters flowed in Robert.  Of course Ives gives his blessing, but, like most parents, he frets and worries about his child's happiness.

I just got back from my daughter's Collage Concert.  It is the big, end-of-the-year performance for all the bands and choruses (grades four through high school).  It's one of my favorite events of the school year.  This evening, the closing number was an arrangement of "Let There Be Peace on Earth."  I thought I was going to hate it.  They have been playing that song at the end of the worship services at my wife's church every Sunday for months.  It doesn't make me feel very peaceful any more.  It makes me want to jab somebody with a sharp pencil.

However, tonight, I found myself profoundly moved by the closing number.  All those young people, singing, playing instruments, raising a sound for peace and love.  I was overwhelmed.  The fact that this is my daughter's last year in middle school may have also been a contributing factor, as well.  Like Ives, I find myself fretting and worrying about my daughter's future.

Anyway, Saint Marty had a really good night, full of music and laughter and a few tears.

There is hope for this world...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May 12: Winter Spring, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Another from "Kyrie"

Coming up to my university office this evening, the wind was more than bitter.  It was a winter wind.  Had the kiss of ice.  I'm not looking forward to going back outside.  It's what I would call a winter spring day.  It's May.  The trees are budding.  I've heard the peepers caroling at night.  But it feels like it's going to snow tonight.

It's quiet and dark in the English Department.  It feels as though I'm the only person in the world.  Certainly, I'm the only person in the building.  I have music blaring from my computer, just to stave off the silence.  Currently playing is "Concerto Grosso, Opus 3, Number 4."  Beautiful and baroque.

Feeling a little melancholy at the moment.  I think it has to do with the onset of the cold.  It's already dark outside, and it's only a little past 8 p.m.  Being a writer requires a certain solitude.  When I'm in the throes of writing, I don't even want to listen to music.  I crave isolation.

Tonight, however, I find myself craving human interaction.  I went to the gym after work.  Went to a counseling session with my therapist.  I believe I've been thinking inwardly a little too much this evening.  I need to think about something frivolous and stupid.

Anybody got a copy of George W. Bush's memoir to loan Saint Marty?

from Ellen Bryant Voigt's Kyrie:

Snow heaped like a hat, square gray face,
the drift a shawl gathered at the neck--
a mailbox left unshoveled can be the sign,
a spirit crouching there beside the road--
I was at hand.  I followed the doctor in:
Go ye therefore into the highways.
Renie had been the warning, months before
the universal pestilence and woe.
We'd had a late frost, a ruined spring,
a single jay was fretting in the bush,
quick blue smudge in the laden spikes of lilac:
it was an angel singing--don't you see:
it might was well have been a bush on fire.

Always good for a chuckle