Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 30: He will be waiting, Prognosis, Patricia Lockwood, "The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple"

Then they 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 will be waiting.  It scared me for a long time, but you know what, Pop?  It doesn't anymore."

Robert Ives seems to have a sense, even at a very young age, that he isn't going to live very long.  He's deeply spiritual.  In fact, Robert says and does things in his that are almost saint-like.  Don't get me wrong.  He's still a teenage boy, with teenage desires.  Given the opportunity, he'll look at a naked girl.  But, on top of that human layer is a divine understanding that amazes his father, Ives.  For a long time after Robert's death, however, Ives finds no comfort in the memory of Robert's calm belief that Jesus would be waiting for him when he died.

This afternoon, I received the following text from one of my sisters:

Bad news.  Doctors are saying it's most definitely cancer.  The atrophy in her brain will never come back.  Chemo will weaken her and could kill her sooner.  Prognosis is not good for Sally at all!

My sister, Sally, is still in the hospital.  Tomorrow, she's going to have an ultrasound of her breasts and an MRI of her lungs.  They're trying to find the source of the cancer.  The doctors said that she will probably not walk again, and they don't seem very confident about any form of treatment.

I am a little numb right now.  I've cried some, and I've also been trying to remember how devoted my sister has always been to her faith.  However, like Ives, that knowledge is not giving much comfort tonight.  I don't know what's going to happen from here.  Certainly, she will eventually be going back to the nursing home.  When I went to visit her tonight, one of my sister's best friends was there, and she talked to me about hospice care.

Saint Marty isn't sure he's ready to lose another sibling.

The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple

by:  Patricia Lockwood

How many sets of her parents are dead.  How
many times over is she an orphan.  A plane,
a crosswalk, a Boer war.  A childbirth, of course,
her childbirth.  When she, Shirley Temple, came
out of her mother, plump even at her corners
like a bag of goldfish, and one pinhole just one
pinhole necessary.  Shirley Temple, cry for us,
and Shirley Temple cried.  The first word of no
baby is "Hello," how strange.  The baby believes,
"I was here before you, learning to wave just
     like the Atlantic."  Alone in the world
just like the Atlantic, and left on a doorstep
just like the Atlantic, wrapped in the grayest,
roughest blanket.  Shirley Temple gurgled
and her first words were, "Your father is lost
at sea."  "Your mother was thrown by a foam-
colored horse."  "Your father's round face is
a round set of ripples."  "Every gull has a chunk
                        of your mom in its beak."
Shirley Temple what makes you cry.  What do
you think of to make you cry.  Mommies stand
in a circle and whisper to her.  "Shirley Temple
there will be war.  Shirley Temple you'll get no
lunch."  Dry, and dry, and a perfect desert.  Then:
     "Shirley Temple your goldfish are dead,
they are swimming toward the ocean even now,"
                         and her tears they fall in black
and white, and her tears they star in the movie.
She cries so wet her hair uncurls, and then the rag
is in the ringlet and the curl is in the wave, she thinks
of dimples tearing out of her cheeks and just running,
out of cheeks knees and elbows and running hard
back to the little creamy waves where they belong,
and the ocean.  Her first
     glimpse of the ocean was a fake tear for dad.
A completely filled eye for her unseen dead father,
who when he isn't dead he is gone across the water.

My sister has always loved Shirley Temple movies

Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29: "Inside Out," "Ives" Dip, Poet of the Week, Patricia Lockwood, "He Marries the Stuffed-Owl Exhibit at the Indiana Welcome Center"

So, I just got home from seeing Pixar's Inside Out with my kids.  I found it incredibly moving.  Watching it, with my 14-year-old daughter sitting next to me, I couldn't help but think about the birthday parties we used to throw for her, with her friends all hopped up on Airheads and Twizzlers.  Or her first ballet recital, in her purple tutu, leading her classmates around and telling them where to stand.  Or her first day of kindergarten when she ditched me at her classroom door and never looked back.  If you can't tell by now, I sort of wept like a baby during this movie.

The movie also had me thinking a lot about my sister, who's still in the hospital.  I was sitting in my parents' dining room this evening, looking at my sister's high school graduation picture hanging on the wall.  She looks so happy and hopeful.  There's a lot of Joy in control, very little Sadness. 

My sisters last MRI showed spots in her brain.  The neurologist isn't sure what they are yet.  Then there's her strange eye movements.  Tonight, my other sister told me that the doctors think that may indicate neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that only affects like one in ten million adults.  Or something like that.  They're going to do another MRI of her lungs.  I guess they think that there may be cancer there, too.  To sum up:  the doctors really don't know what the hell is going on.  They just have many very frightening theories.

I'm not sure what the future holds for my daughter or my sister.  In the movie Inside Out, the character Joy learns that Sadness is an important part of life.  Every joyful memory is shaded by sandess, and every sad memory is shaded by joy.  Joy and Sadness can't exist without each other.  That's the message of tonight's post, compliments of Pixar animation.

The burning question on my mind tonight is:

Is my sister going to be healthy and whole again?

And the answer from the pages of Ives is:

Ives always liked it over there, as it reminded him of happy times when he and his father used to visit Dominguez' house in Staten Island . . . 

Okay, there's a little joy in that answer.  I'll take that and ignore sadness.  For tonight.

Patricia Lockwood is the Poet of the Week.  Her book--Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals--was one of my favorite poetry collections of 2014.  Tonight's poem is all about unconditional love.  Weird unconditional love, but still love.

Everybody can use a little unconditional love, including Saint Marty.

He Marries the Stuffed Owl Exhibit
at the Indiana Welcome Center

by:  Patricia Lockwood

He marries her mites and the wires in her wings,
he marries her yellow eyes and black centers,
he marries her near-total head turn, he marries
     the curse of each of her claws, he marries
the information plaque, he marries the owl
that she loved in life and the last thought of him
in the thick of her mind
     just one inch away from the bullet, there
                    he marries the moths
who make holes in the owl, who have eaten the owl
almost all away, he marries the branch of the tree
that she grips, he marries the real-looking moss
and dead leaves, he marries the smell of must
that surrounds her, he marries the strong blue
     stares of children, he marries nasty smudges
of their noses on the glass, he marries the camera
that points at the owl to make sure no one steals her,
so the camera won't object when he breaks the glass
while reciting some vows that he wrote himself,
he screams OWL instead of I'LL and then ALWAYS
and takes hold of the owl and wrenches the owl
away from her branch
                    and he covers her in kisses and the owl
thinks, "More moths," and at the final hungry kiss,
"That must have been the last big bite, there is no more
of me left to eat and thank God," when he marries
the stuffing out of the owl and hoots as the owl flies out
under his arm, they elope into the darkness of Indiana,
Indiana he screams is their new life and WELCOME.
They live in a tree together now, and the children of
Welcome to Indiana say who even more than usual,
and the children of Welcome to Indiana they wonder
where they belong.  Not in Indiana, they say to themselves,
the state of all-consuming love, we cannot belong in Indiana
     as night falls and the moths appear one by one, hungry.

Who's in control of your life?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28: Daughter, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

My daughter is 14 years old.  This fall, she will be a freshman in high school.  When I ask her to make her bed, she groans.  When I tell her she needs to babysit her brother for a couple of hours, she acts as if I've just harvested a kidney from her.  Nothing is ever easy with her right now.

Now, I understand the need for a young person to assert her independence.  After all, she needs to figure out who and what she is.  However, I'm not sure how staying in bed until two o'clock in the afternoon aids her on her road to self-discovery.

I remember being 14.  It wasn't an easy age.  I didn't have it quite as good as she does.  My summer vacations were usually spent going on service calls with my father and brothers, who were all plumbers.  June through August, my days were full of sewage and water heaters and faucets and toilets.  At the time, I hated it.  Now, looking back, I know that I am a better person because of it.  A harder worker.  A more loving husband and father.  Plus, I learned that I did NOT want to be a plumber, which made me strive even harder in high school and college.

I'm not saying I want my daughter to get a job and work all summer.  What I'm saying is that I want my daughter to behave like a civilized human being instead of a surly, resentful primate--otherwise known as a teenager.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, when my daughter was still communicating with me in full sentences instead of grunts and eye rolls.

June 27, 2012:  Topper, Daughter's Friend, Boys

"Well!  I'm very glad to hear it," said Scrooge's nephew, "because I haven't any great faith in these young housekeepers.  What do you say, Topper?"

Topper had clearly got his eye upon one of Scrooge's niece's sisters, for he answered that a bachelor was a wretched outcast, who had no right to express an opinion on the subject.  Whereat Scrooge's niece's sister--the plump one with the lace tucker; not the one with the roses--blushed.

Topper is Scrooge's nephew Fred's best friend.  He also seems to be pretty horny, since he spends most of the party at Fred's house chasing after the young woman above.  It's a charming little detail in the book, and certainly Topper seems harmless enough.  He just wants to grab himself some Christmas cheer, put a little nog in his egg, if you get my meaning.

Which brings me to my subject for this morning:  boys.  Particularly, horny boys.  My daughter's best friend is a boy.  Notice that I didn't say, "my daughter's boyfriend."  My daughter has been hanging with this boy since she's been seven or eight years old.  They're the same age and get along well, when they're not annoying the shit out of each other, which they frequently do.  Just this past weekend, they unfriended themselves on Facebook on Saturday, and then friended themselves again on Sunday.

I'm not naive.  I know my daughter is reaching the age where boys start coming into the picture.  (She's eleven years old.)  One of my friends (who is of the opposite gender) said to me yesterday, "Oh, yeah.  They're going to end up dating," speaking of my daughter and her best friend.

My initial reaction to her statement was, "Over my dead body."  Even though I really like this kid, and have for several years, I just can't make that leap in my mind from best friend who is a boy to boyfriend.  Of course, I'm still in the mindset that my daughter is going to be too focused on dancing or music or collecting comic books or anything else besides hanging out with someone who has a penis.

It didn't help that my daughter sent me a picture she took of herself yesterday:

Saint Marty is in big trouble.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 27, 2015

June 26: Glass of Whiskey, My Plan, Louise Gluck, "Utopia," New Cartoon

Walking back from the park the day he had been told of his son's decision about the priesthood, he [Ives] went upstairs to his apartment.  His head aching, he drank a glass of whiskey with water and took a couple of aspirins, a twisting feeling shooting through his stomach when he realized his son was serious about his vocation.  Two whiskeys and Ives almost started to feel better.  Then he decided to watch some television, with its unpleasant war news, and--just like that--a quickly consuming bout of stomach cramps came over him.  Washing up, he decided to visit with Ramirez.

Ives' life is not turning out the way he imagined.  His son, Robert, has just told him he's planning to enter the priesthood.  His artistic ambitions have been sidelined by the responsibilities of family.  His work isn't gracing the walls of MoMA.  Instead, it's selling furniture polish in magazines.  Like most people, Ives had dreams, and those dreams have given way to reality.  And that reality is by no means utopian.

Life rarely turns out the way you expect.   I never saw myself working in the health care profession.  I hate being around hospitals and nursing homes and sick people.  Yes, a few dreams have come true for me.  I am a published author.  I teach at a university.  In my spare time, I play in a church praise band.  Music and poetry are a big part of my life.  All those things were a part of my plan.

However, God had other plans for my life.  I have two beautiful kids.  Didn't plan that.  I have a wonderful wife who happens to have bipolar disorder.  Didn't plan that.  My house is small and in need of a lot of repairs currently.  Didn't plan that, either.  Yet, like Ives, I've learned that God's plans for me are bigger and better than anything I could have imagined.

For instance, if it weren't for my daughter's wanting to study ballet, I never would have realized how much I love the art of dance.  If it weren't for my wife, I never would have developed my passion for educating people about mental illness.  If it weren't for my son, I wouldn't know my capacity for love is so bottomless.  Better plans.

So, the upshot of my post today is that perfect lives don't exist.  Movie stars die of drug overdoses.  Siblings get seriously ill.  Presidents start wars.  Parents come down with Alzheimer's.  Terrorists behead humanitarian workers.  Utopia is a fallacy.  But God can take any pile of manure and make daffodils grow.

Saint Marty tries to keep his eyes on the flowers instead of the shit.


by:  Louise Gluck

When the train stops, the woman said, you must get on it.  But how will I know, the child asked, it is the right train?  It will be the right train, said the woman, because it is the right time.  A train approached the station; clouds of grayish smoke streamed from the chimney.  How terrified I am, the child thinks, clutching the yellow tulips she will give to her grandmother.  Her hair has been tightly braided to withstand the journey.  Then, without a word, she gets on the train, from which a strange sound comes, not in a language like the one she speaks, something more like a moan or a cry.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 26, 2015

June 26: Eucharist, Visions of God, Silent Fairy Tale, Louise Gluck, "The Horse and Rider"

His [Ives'] strongest feelings about Him, it seemed, came about on Sundays, when, at around eleven, all the church bells in the neighborhood rang.  On his way to High Mass with his family, he always felt as though they were partaking in a special ceremony, like a royal wedding or a pharaonic rite out of ancient Egypt.  In the good weather a crowd always gathered on the church steps, the ladies in their bright dresses and white gloves, their light blue and pink and white hats with bird pins and veils; the men in suits; a special occasion, the marriage of the spirit to the flesh, Ives would later think in those dramatic moments when, closing his eyes, he knelt by the communion rail and awaited the Eucharist.

Ives pictures God in many ways.  He sees God as the vaporous goodness of people; an all-knowing Eye watching over the human race; colored winds circling in the sky; and the Charlton Heston version, with white beard and booming voice.  But his favorite vision of God comes at Christmas--a little infant in a manger, surrounded by adoring people and animals.  Above all, Ives sees God as a force of love.

I think that's the reason I'm drawn to Mr. Ives' Christmas. The different versions of God.  Through the centuries, Christians have depicted God in many ways.  The European version was closely related to the ancient Greek depictions of Zeus--bearded and bare-chested, stretching His arm out across the heavens.  Of course, the Europeans also painted Christ as sandy-haired and blue-eyed and white-skinned.

I'm not sure I have a clear notion of what God looks like.  I'm not against a God that's feminine.  After all, God is the Creator of all things.  S/he gave birth to the universe and everything in it.  The only reason we say "Our Father, who art in heaven" instead of "Our Mother, who art in heaven" is because ancient Israel was a patriarchal society.  Men ruled and women served, for the most part.

Currently, I have a more inclusive vision of God in my mind, a Being Who is both female and male.  After all, God created man and woman in His/Her likeness.  That means that Adam and Eve were both reflections of God's image.  Don't misunderstand me.  I don't think God has breasts and a penis.  No.  I mean that God is an Entity of both male and female spirit.

I know this is pretty deep stuff for a Friday night.  I'm sorry.  I've been thinking about God a lot this week.  My sister, the one who's been so ill, is back in the hospital in ICU.  This time a neurologist has been consulted, and she determined that my sister has swelling in both ventricles of her brain.  That would account for my sister's rapidly changing mental status and her inability to focus or keep her eyes still.  Today, my sister had an MRI, and tomorrow she will undergo a lumbar puncture.  The neurologist wants to determine the source of the brain infection.

So, I've been talking to God a great deal these last few days.  God the Father.  God the Mother.  God the Son.  God the Spirit.

Once upon a time there was a friar named Humboldt.  Humboldt lived a simple life in a monastery, getting up to pray before sunrise, eating oatmeal for breakfast, praying all morning, eating oatmeal for lunch, praying all afternoon, eating oatmeal for dinner, and then praying all evening until he went to bed.

Humboldt had taken a vow of silence.  He hadn't spoken in almost 60 years.  One night, Humboldt fell very ill and took to his bed.  The other friars of the monastery nursed him, tried to make him eat oatmeal and drink cold water.  However, after a few days, it was obvious that Humboldt was dying.

The head of the monastery came to Humboldt's bedside and said, "Friar Humboldt, you have been a good and faithful servant of God all your life.  Please, before you go to heaven, impart on me the wisdom you have gained from all your years of silent devotion."

Humboldt opened his mouth and cleared his throat.  With much effort, he took a deep breath and spoke his first words in 60 years:  "Oatmeal is lumpy."

The head of the monastery looked at Humboldt and shook his head.  "All you ever do is complain."

Moral of the story:  Stir your oatmeal as you cook it.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

The Horse and Rider

by:  Louise Gluck

Once there was a horse, and on the horse there was a rider.  How handsome they looked in the autumn sunlight, approaching a strange city!  People thronged the streets or called from the high windows.  Old women sat among flowerpots.  But when you looked about for another horse or another rider, you looked in vain.  My friend, said the animal, why not abandon me?  Alone, you can find your way here.  But to abandon you, said the other, would be to leave a part of myself behind, and how can I do that when I do not know which part you are?

What's your vision of God?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 25: Tedious, Why I Write, Louise Gluck, "The Couple in the Park"

At first, the job in itself, as an illustrator, was not so hard as tedious, his hours spent with some rather dull assignments. . . 

Ives finally takes a full-time job with the Mannis Advertising Agency when he's a young husband and father.  He realizes he has to give up his artistic ambitions to be a struggling painter for more pragmatic ambitions:  a steady income and health insurance.  It's a choice many artistic people are forced to make.  Not everybody wants to live the life of William Faulkner or Vincent van Gogh.

Many years ago, I realized that I needed to alter my expectations.  I had a pregnant wife and was a part-time book store clerk and adjunct English instructor.  Everything about my life was unstable, transient.  I needed to provide for my family.  Do I sometimes play the game of "what if"?  Of course.  I sometimes feel like an absolute failure in the game of life.

Tonight, my book club met.  We read My One and Only Bomb Shelter, a collection of stories by my friend and colleague, John Smolens.  John is a fantastic writer and one of the most humble, articulate writers I know.  Every time I talk to him, invite him to my house, he reminds me why I write.  John quite matter-of-factly says that writing has saved his life, kept him sane through a lot of difficult times.  Writing helps him understand the world.

I don't have much to add to his answer.  I write because not to write would be something akin to death.  I think any writer would agree with John, including Louise Gluck.

And Saint Marty.

The Couple in the Park

by:  Louise Gluck

A man walks alone in the park and beside him a woman walks, also alone.  How does one know?  It is as though a line exists between them, like a line on a playing field.  And yet, in a photograph they might appear a married couple, weary of each other and of the many winters they have endured together.  At another time, they might be strangers about to meet by accident.  She drops her book; stooping to pick it up, she touches, by accident, his hand and her heart springs open like a child's music box.  And out of the box comes a little ballerina made of wood.  I have created this, the man thinks; though she can only whirl in place, still she is a dancer of some kind, not simply a block of wood.  This must explain the puzzling music coming from the trees.

Not really willing to lose an ear for my art just yet...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 24: London, Youthful Passion, Louise Gluck, "The Open Window"

It had been a lovely trip, London everything they had wanted and imagined--for Annie, reading selections from several Dickens novels at the time, it was an enchantment; they took strolls through the Queen's gardens, fed the swans in Regents Park; tried to envision the shantytowns that Dickens had once written about, along the Thames, the city's architecture sometimes suspending their notion of modern time.  In fact, out of their usual context for a glorious period of several weeks, the veil of grief had somehow lifted from their hearts, Ives regaining a sense of childhood wonderment about many things.  Walking about the city with a black-bound sketchbook, Ives drew madly, as he once had as a kid . . . 

Ives' trip to Great Britain does something to him.  As a kid, he used to sit for hours with his sketchbook, drawing cartoons, people, buildings.  He was obsessed with art.  Everything he saw inspired him.  He sent samples of his work to Walt Disney, and Disney himself wrote back, encouraging him to continue drawing.  That's what Ives recaptures in London.  Passion.  Curiosity.  The love of life.

I used to have the same kind of youthful passion that Ives rediscovers in London.  Everything made me want to write.  I'd read a Stephen King novel, and it made me want to write about vampires in a sleepy Upper Peninsula town.  I'd go swimming, and it made me want to write about the moon climbing over Lake Superior.  I saw the original Star Wars (before the episodes and director's cuts), and I wanted to be Isaac Asimov.  I had that much enthusiasm and drive.

I still write every day.  During the course of my 14 or 15 waking hours, I still sometimes find inspiration.  Not as often as when I was a kid, though.  Life gets in the way.  Sick kids.  Broken windows.  Car troubles.  These things tend to stifle my passion.

Right now, I'm sitting in my office at the university.  I rode with my sister to work, and I have a couple hours before I have to punch the time clock.  So, I'm typing my blog post.  I did the same thing last Wednesday.  I find my mind much clearer at this time of the day.  The worries of job and home intrude less on my thoughts.  In the space of a half hour or 45 minutes, I'm done, and I've written something that I'm not ashamed to publish.

It makes me wish I had a life that allowed me to follow this writing practice every day.  I would be able to produce so much more work.  However, rising at four every morning, writing for three hours, and then driving to the medical office to work for eight hours is not a schedule I could maintain forever.  By 8 p.m. today, I know I will be exhausted.  Falling asleep on the couch.  I don't even know how I'm going to answer phones and deal with patients for the next nine hours.

I'm not complaining.  I'm just wishing I could somehow reclaim some of my youthful enthusiasm for writing.  I feel a little too old and too tired at the moment.

Maybe Saint Marty needs to take a trip to London.  It worked for Ives.

The Open Window

by:  Louise Gluck

An elderly writer had formed the habit of writing the words THE END on a piece of paper before he began his stories, after which he would gather a stack of pages, typically thin in winter when the daylight was brief, and comparatively dense in summer when his thought became again loose and associative, expansive like the thought of a young man.  Regardless of their number, he would place these blank pages over the last, thus obscuring it.  Only then would the story come to him, chaste and refined in winter, more free in summer.  By these means, he had become an acknowledged master.

He worked by preference in a room without clocks, trusting the light to tell him when the day was finished.  In summer, he liked the window open.  How then, in summer, did the winter wind enter the room?  You are right, he cried out to the wind, this is what I have lacked, this decisiveness and abruptness, this surprise--O, if I could do this I would be a god!  And he lay on the cold floor of the study watching the wind stirring the pages, mixing the written and unwritten, the end among them.

Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations at this desk

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June 23: Read Aloud, Novels and Poetry, Louise Gluck, "A Work of Fiction"

In the way that the inn, set up on a slight incline, was surrounded by woods, so were Mrs. Parsons' guests, gathered in the sitting room, surrounded by a fine and very old library of books.  Because there was not much else to do in the evenings, except to sip brandies and watch the fire, Mrs. Parsons, in the tradition in which she had been raised, would hobble over to a stately chair and, in a voice that was remarkably strong and in a manner that was theatrical, read aloud selections from certain volumes.

Ives and Annie take a trip to the British Isles in their old age.  They stay at an inn near Sherwood Forest.  It is a time of healing for them.  Reconnection.  Ives and Annie rediscover their passions, for art, literature, and each other.  One of the great pleasures of their sojourn is the innkeeper reading to them from Charles Dickens' novels.

I love hearing people read aloud to me.  I also love reading aloud.  I think that's why I became a poet.  It's the oral/aural part that appeals to me most.  Novel reading is a solitary endeavor for the most part.  One person sitting in a comfortable chair, building a relationship with the author, page-by-page.  Poetry, on the other hand, is more immediate, sort of begs for something more communal.

I've been getting rides to work from a friend every day since my car's been out of commission.  This afternoon, on the way home, I opened up a collection of poems by Billy Collins and started reading to her.  It was a great ride home.  She was laughing.  I was laughing.  When we got to my driveway, we sat there while I finished reading Collins' poem about 9-11, "The Names."  By the time I was done, I was crying.  My friend looked at me and said, "Isn't that a great thing?  That a person can use words and create something that moves you so much."

All Saint Marty could do was nod and smile.

A Work of Fiction

by:  Louise Gluck

As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow enveloped me.  Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real?  To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette.  In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor.  But who would see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars?  I stood awhile in the dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently destroying me.  How small it was, how brief.  Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.

Dickens made a butt load of money giving public readings

Monday, June 22, 2015

June 22: Dreams, "Ives" Dip, Poet of the Week, Louise Gluck, "Forbidden Music"

I have been thinking a lot about posterity--what I'm going to be remembered for when I shuffle off this mortal . . . Well, you get the idea.

Ever since I was a kid, I've dreamed of being a famous author.  While other kids were idolizing Superman and Clint Eastwood, I had a different set of heroes:  Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, J. D. Salinger, Harper Lee.  I wanted King's fame and Salinger's mystique.  I wanted Vonnegut's reputation and Lee's good fortune (a Pulitzer Prize for my first book).  I've never really lost this streak of literary hero worship.  I still want to be Flannery O'Connor and Robert Frost and Cormac McCarthy.  Preferably all three at once.

Of course, I've had to adjust my ambitions.  I can no longer be the youngest author to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature (the title still belongs to Rudyard Kipling, who won at the age of 42).  A little concession.  Yet, I still sit down almost every day to write.  Some nights, it's just a blog post.  Other nights, I take out my journal and scribble in it for a while after I'm done posting.  It's a matter of holding onto a dream.  Dreams provide hopes for something better.

So tonight my Ives dip question is this:

Will my dreams of becoming a famous author ever come true?

And the answer from Oscar Hijuelos (who was 39 when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction):

. . . Her "goodness" was something of a curse.  As a person of principle, who had put many years into her efforts, she could not turn her back on anything.  And yet, at the same time, she had become caustic in her approach to teaching--it took her a long time but the old indifference of the system had caught up to her.

Okay, Annie Ives eventually loses her youthful enthusiasm.  She no longer dreams of changing the world one student at a time.  I'm not quite there yet.  I still think there's hope for me.  Poem by poem.

I have chosen Louis Gluck as the Poet of the Week.  Gluck's latest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, won the 2014 National Book Award for Poetry.  At the age of 50, Gluck won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Wild Iris.  She knows a little bit about making a name for herself. 

Saint Marty still has a few years to beat Gluck to the Pulitzer.

Forbidden Music

by:  Louise Gluck

After the orchestra had been playing for some time, and had passed the andante, the scherzo, the poco adagio, and the first flautist had put his head on the stand because he would not be needed until tomorrow, there came a passage that was called the forbidden music because it could not, the composer specified, be played.  And still it must exist and be passed over, an interval at the discretion of the conductor.  But tonight, the conductor decides, it must be played--he has a hunger to make his name.  The flautist wakes with a start.  Something has happened to his ears, something he has never felt before.  His sleep is over.  Where am I now, he thinks.  And then he repeated it, like an old man lying on the floor instead of in his bed.  Where am I now?

Rumor has it that Kipling slept with the King of Sweden to get the Nobel

Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 21: Longest Day, Father's Day, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

It is the longest day of the year in my part of the world.  Summer solstice.  That means that, after today, the planet starts tilting toward winter, and we start losing daylight.  Pretty soon, the leaves are going to turn shades of mustard and cherry.  And then, one morning, frost on the pumpkins.  Shortly after that, white.  For months and months.  (Sorry, I had to go there.  It's the poet in me.)

It is also Father's Day.  For my international readers, today in the United States we honor the patriarchs in our lives.  That means lots of barbecuing.  Hot dogs and bratwursts and hamburgers.  Potato salads.  And lots of bad ties and Old Spice given as presents.  For me, it's a day where I sit around and try to do absolutely nothing.  After I'm done with this post, I'm going to sit in a corner and read a book.  That's Father's Day.

Today's episode for Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, on a summer solstice when my life was in a state of chaos.  Not like today, when everything is absolutely perfect.

June 21, 2013:  Poem, Elinor Benedict, "Sudden Calm at Maywood Shores"

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

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

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

Sudden Calm at Maywood Shores

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

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 20, 2015

June 20: Pay the Bills, Carve Out Enjoyment, Sally Wen Mao, "Lessons on Lessening," New Cartoon

[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 finances as an excuse.  He's retired, and his wife wants to travel.  She brings home pamphlets about cheap airfare to the British Isles and Italy.  She desperately wants to rekindle her love for Ives, but he is stuck, unable to move from a place of grief years after their son has been dead.

Ives and Annie are not living paycheck-to-paycheck.  They are not wealthy, but they have a comfortable life.  They don't have to worry about money.  I sort of envy them.  I can't remember a time in my life when money wasn't a concern for me.  Maybe when I was in college, living at home, and had overage checks from my college scholarships.  That's about the only time.

On Thursday, I just signed the papers for a loan to get the roof of my house replaced.  My next paycheck is dedicated to getting my car fixed.  Most of the time, my paychecks are spent on the day that I receive them.  And the bills still pile up.

I know I'm not unusual.  Most families are in this situation.  I do have great fear of what would happen if I suddenly couldn't work for whatever reason (just like Ives).  It would only take a few weeks for the walls of my life to come tumbling down, so to speak.  That's always in the back of my mind.  I try not to dwell on it too much.

I worry too much about the future.  I know that.  I worry not about things that are happening, but things that might happen.  It's not a really healthy way to exist.  It's sort of like standing on a street corner, afraid to cross the street because a car might come screaming through the intersection and kill me.  Living like that precludes any enjoyment at all.

Yes, I have to account for every dime.  Yes, I bring home left-overs from drug rep lunches at work.  Lo mein and lasagna.  Yes, I only go to movies once or twice a year now.  (It used to be once or twice a month.)  Yes, I have house payments and car payments and loan payments coming out of my ass.  Yes, yes, yes.

But I still have to carve out enjoyment.  I'm planning on going to go for a walk today.  I may take a book with me, find some place to sit and read.  Tonight, I will have pizza, maybe watch an episode of The Lawrence Welk Show.  For Father's Day tomorrow, I may read all day long.  It's cheap and relaxing.

Lawrence Welk and walks.  Saint Marty is livin' large.

Lessons on Lessening

by:  Sally Wen Mao

In the rigmarole of lucky living, you tire
of the daily lessons:  Sewing, Yoga, Captivity.
Push the lesson inside the microwave.
Watch it plump and pop and grow larval

with losses.  Watch it shrink like shrikes
when they dodge out of this palatial
doom.  On the sky's torn hemline, this horizon,
make a wish on Buddha's foot.  How to halve,

but not to have--how to spare someone
of suffering, how to throw away the spare
key saved for a lover that you don't
have, save yourself from the burning turret

with the wind of your own smitten hip.
Do you remember how girlhood was--a bore
born inside you, powerless?  How you made
yourself winner by capturing grasshoppers

and skewering them?  You washed a family
of newts in the dry husked summer, wetted
them with cotton swabs before the vivisection.
That's playing God:  to spare or not to spare.

In the end you chose mercy, and dropped
each live body into the slime-dark moat.
Today is a study in being a loser.  The boyfriend
you carved out of lard and left in the refrigerator

overnight between the milk and chicken breasts.
Butcher a bed, sleep in its wet suet for a night.
Joke with a strumpet, save the watermelon
rinds for the maids to fry in their hot saucepans.

Open your blouse and find the ladybugs
sleeping in your navel.  Open your novel
to the chapter where the floe cracks and kills
the cygnet.  Study hard, refute your slayer.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 19, 2015

June 19: Did God Will That, Neighborhood Bullies, Clown Fairy Tale, Sally Wen Mao, "The Bullies"

[Ives r]emembered how Robert, coming home in tears after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, had asked him, "Did God will that?"

Ives' son, Robert, asks a question theologians and Christians have wrestled with since Christ was crucified, I think.  In the face of great tragedy, every person of faith eventually runs into crises.  Loved ones who become ill.  Job loss.  School shooting.  Church shootings.  Health scares.  And the inevitable question that arises is, "Did God will that?"

My son is a good kid.  Six years old, he doesn't have a mean bone in his body.  When he goes out on the playground, he thinks everybody is his friend.  When they turn out to be less than friends, he lacks the skills to deal with the rejection.  For example, there is a group of older neighborhood kids who take pleasure in getting him angry.  They taunt him, call him names, throw things at him until he reacts.

I don't know where children learn to be mean to other children.  I have never taught my son to judge other people.  His aunt has Down Syndrome.  He's had friends who were deaf and blind.  He loves everybody.  So where do other kids learn to hate?  It has to come from somewhere.  I want to believe that people, at the core, are good, but, when my son comes to me and says that kids are throwing rocks at him, I tend to have a spiritual crisis.  I want to march over to the kids' houses, pound on their doors, and yell at the first adult who answers, "What the hell are you teaching your children?"

Dylann Roof, the kid who killed nine people in a Charleston church two days ago, wasn't always a racist.  The kids who throw rocks at my son weren't always little shitheads.  Somewhere along the line, Dylann Roof was poisoned.  Ditto the neighborhood bullies.  God doesn't will hatred and cruelty into being.  It happens because the human race is incredibly flawed.  In a perfect world, love and understanding would be the guiding principles.   We don't live in a perfect world.

Once upon a time, a clown named Giggles lived in a town where clowning was against the law.  People hated Giggles.  They ignored him, wouldn't invite him to Thanksgiving dinner or July 4th picnics.

One night, Giggles got drunk, stumbled into the town square, and startled juggling handkerchiefs.  A grim crowd gathered to watch him.  Eventually, the sheriff showed up, beat Giggles with a billy club, and confiscated his red nose.

Giggles crawled home, bloody and bruised.  He crawled into bed and vowed to never clown around again.

Moral of the story:  Clowns suck.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

The Bullies

by:  Sally Wen Mao

In 1997, the days were long, the sun
bloodshot, and Mountain View, CA smelled
like duck shit.  Those days, everyone's mind

was a sex tape on repeat.  Hirsute rumors

clogged the shower drains.  When young girls
disrobed together in a locker room, rancor
smelled like petunias.  The whole stink glowed

with mutant love.  In 1999, tremors erased

my larynx.  Voice mails flooded with cackles,
inboxes sneered.  Late afternoons, my legs
greened Granny Smith-style, and I believed

when they called my leviathan.

Ovoid girl--black hair, burnt skin, snaggletooth
and sexless ruin.  I saw tumors grow the size
of California.  Nobody spat.  Only suggested.

Give this up.  Shucked each desire.

Evenings, when I was finally free, I saw crushed stars
roll into the thistle field.  On that pungent summit

I was a gutter, a bountiful gutter.  I collected
clean rain.  I was a passageway to the open shore.

Where's my fairy wand?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18: Bewildered Expression, South Carolina Shooting, Sally Wen Mao, "Hurling a Durian"

And then Ives blinked and found himself standing on the sidewalk beside his wife, across the street from the Church of the Ascension.  On the pavement, just by his feet, was a large piece of canvas, and under it a body, stretched out.  Then the officer lifted off the canvas and shined a flashlight onto the face to reveal the shocked and bewildered expression of his son.

Ives' son is the victim of a violent crime.  He's shot on the steps of his church by a teenage boy named Danny Gomez.  Gomez, raised in poverty by a single mother, is the victim of a society bent on keeping the lower classes as low as possible.  Robert Ives and Danny Gomez both lose their lives because of the world's inequalities.

Last night, in Charleston, South Carolina, a 21-year-old man entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sat down.  He prayed with those gathered for a Bible study.  After about an hour, the man stood up, took out a gun, and began shooting.  He killed nine people and then fled.

The police now have a suspect in custody.  His name is Dylann Roof, and Roof's uncle told reporters that his nephew received a .45-caliber handgun for his last birthday.  But, the uncle added, nobody in the Roof family saw "anything like this coming."

Once again, the President of the United States had to have a press conference, consoling victims and condemning an unspeakable act of violence.  A church.  People praying and reading the Gospels.  Once again, the alleged shooter is a young man scarred by a culture of racism and violence.

Very little leaves me at a loss for words.  Tonight, this tragedy does.  I'm not going to turn this post into a diatribe on gun violence in this country.  I'm not going to talk about a culture that simply can't shake off the chains of racism.  There's too much finger pointing going on right now.

Tonight, I'm going to pray for the victims in Charleston.  I'm going to pray for the victims' families.  I'm going to ask God to bring comfort to members of the Emanuel A.M.E Church, who lost their beloved pastor.  I'm going to pray for my country, that the ugly wounds of poverty and racism may be healed somehow.  And I'm going to pray for Dylann Roof, who obviously needs help.  And forgiveness.

Sally Wen Mao has a little poem about the difficulty of forgiveness.  I'd like to share it with all of you this evening.

Saint Marty needs to believe that forgiveness is possible.  That's what being a Christian is all about.

Hurling a Durian

by:  Sally Wen Mao

This is the fantasy fruit:  it can awaken
desires lodged deep inside a person

                but stuck, like an almond clogging
                the windpipe.  The smell of a durian

may erase a child's immediate memories.
So I am addicted, of course.  Not to eating

               but to sniffing it like glue, my fingers probing
               its dry, spiked surface until they bleed

and I eat.  But the feast disappoints
me because its taste replaces the corpse

               scent with something sweet and eggy,
               a benign tang I flush down with wasabi.

For there is nothing a kid like me
can do except awaken to loss and wish

               for a seven-piece suit of armor.  The deisre
               always returns:  durian as a weapon of truth.

Even if I don't know how to pull a trigger
or whet a knife, it's tempting to imagine

               throwing a dangerous fruit at the head
               of the person who failed you, who hurt you,

who, for all these years, has tried to break
you.  But this desire is lodged deep

               for a reason:  the pull of forgiveness
               like a hopeless gravity, and always I try

to resist.  So I do by taking a spoonful
to my lips, savoring the smear, the din

               of my cleaver hacking the husk, the juice,
               the sweat ripping open the rind.

Hold your nose and eat

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June 17: People's Privacy, Favorite Word, Sally Wen Mao, "Capsaicin Eclogue"

He [Ives] ended up giving them [his son and son's friends] a lecture about respecting people's privacy and writing the lady a discreet note, and although she must have known what she was doing in the first place, she kept her window curtains closed from them on.  And Robert?  Trembling, he later approached his father, as Ives sat by his drawing board, saying, "It wasn't my idea, Pop.  I swear it."

Ives catches his son, Robert, and Robert's friends spying on a neighbor girl who has a habit of walking around her bedroom nude, with her window curtains open.  Given the opportunity, a group of teenage boys will watch a naked female, even if it is ethically or morally questionable.  Ives doesn't scream or yell at them.  He makes them feel ashamed.  Shame and disappointment are powerful parental tools.

In the last few days, I have found myself in the difficult position of having to lecture my six-year-old son.  For some reason, he has suddenly developed the vocabulary of a sailor who has been at sea for about ten years.  His favorite word is "fuck," and he uses it in its many permutations:  "fuck you," "fuck off," "fucker."  Its a little disconcerting.  It's like living with a diminutive Robert De Niro.  I half expect him to look at me one night and say, "Are you talkin' to me?"

I have set up some punishment guidelines for my son.  I believe he has been hearing this language in the videos he watches on my iPad.  Therefore, on his first offense, my son will lose his iPad privileges for a day.  Second offense, he will lose his privileges for a week.  Third offense, he will no longer be allowed to watch videos on my iPad.

I told my son how much words can hurt people.  How they can sometimes get a person in a lot of trouble.  I'm not sure if anything I said actually registered in his six-year-old mind.  However, I felt it was my duty to try to make him aware of the fact that, if he says "fuck you" to the wrong person, he might get the crap beat out of him.

I'm not sure if my punishment will be a deterrent for my son.  My pastor friend used to put hot sauce on his son's tongue when he swore or said something unacceptable.  Of course, there's the old standby:  soap.  I used that technique with my daughter once.  It didn't work.  Ketchup sometimes does the trick, as both of my children detest its taste.

Right now, however, I'm just waiting.  I'm sure my son will tell his sister to "fuck off" in the next few days, and I will be forced to lecture him again and inflict punishment.  That's my job as Punisher and Chief of the household.  It's not a position I enjoy.

Sally Wen Mao has a great poem about the Trinidad Scorpion, which is a kind of chili pepper.  A really hot chili pepper.

Maybe Saint Marty needs to go to the grocery store and stock up on a few Scorpions.  The ultimate "fuck" penance.

Capsaicin Eclogue

by:  Sally Wen Mao

The Trinidad Scorpion is shaped like a wrinkled
valentine.  Its taste exudes mudslide, the hurt
of long fortnights--kettle whiplash, Bunsen flame,
red-blooded bullet.  Tongue a piece of tinder.
Driftwood mouth.  Brown tongue, yellow tongue,

miscegenation of burnouts.  Raw white, yolk drains
through gullet, burning spigot.  But the scorpion
doesn't only sting--these seeds cross borders,
travel through sense and tissue, drill into eyeballs,
stampede the remote throat.  Have courage:  swallow.

Dance in all the forest fires of the future:  Tingle--
dance!  Mix the pulp.  Snakes snap their jaws
through stomach lining.  The furniture melts
and outside, the cool evening breaks your legs.

Tag the building with your spit!  Each little devil
fits inside your hand:  Naga Vipers.  Infinity chillies.
Naga Jolokia.  Taste one million Scoville units.
This is how tongues make mistakes.  Your name
in lights, on stranger lips.  Your lips, in red myth.

Words can hurt--they can burn the shit out of your mouth, too

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

June 16: Building Weeping, Miracles, Sally Wen Mao, "Monstera Deliciosa"

In one slip of a second, anything seemed possible--had the moon risen and started to sing, had pyramids appeared over the Chrysler building weeping, Ives would have been no more surprised.

Ives has just had a near death experience.  As he walks the streets of Manhattan, he starts having visions of God's goodness.  Four colored winds spinning in the sky.  The sun, glowing red and huge.  Car horns sounding like celestial trumpets.  As the above passage says, anything seems possible.

I've been contemplating miracles recently.  Ives thinks of his near-death experiences as some kind of divine vision granted to him.  I'm not so sure that's accurate.  I think most people go through their days with blinders on.  Ives' blinders have simply been removed for a little while.  He's seeing the world from a God's-eye-view. 

I think I'm a lot like the blindered Ives.  Driving to work, talking to patients, eating lunch, walking to my car at the end of the day, I probably miss more miracles than contained in the gospels.  For instance, near the medical center where I work, there's a bike path in the woods.  I know there are albino deer in that forest.  One night, as I was leaving the university after teaching an evening class, I drove by a cemetery.  Near the cemetery fence was a family of deer.  When the headlights of my car spotlighted them, the deer leaped into the darkness, hurdling headstones and hedges like souls racing to heaven.

Everyday miracles.  I need to open my eyes and look around more often.  Maybe I'll see the moon singing or the university clock tower weeping.  Who knows?  The whole world is full of wonder.  Sure, I'm sort of stuck in a swamp of worry right now.  But I know that my very existence--my lungs' habit of breathing, my heart's habit of beating, my pores' habit of sweating--all of the things that keep me alive are impossible miracles of creation.

Sally Wen Mao's poem for tonight is about one of those miracles of nature that most people don't even stop to notice.

Saint Marty is taking some time tonight to give thanks for miracles.

Monstera Deliciosa

by:  Sally Wen Mao

I'm a monster because I poison the children.
They dance around me and my fronds flutter
with holes.  They invite:  Eat my fanged fruit.

Each scale will peel off easy, but if you eat it
unripe, it will steal your voice.  Your gums
will blister little stars.  You'll vomit, swell, tremble.

When ripe, it is sublime.  Better than banana,
soft mango, sweeter than wild yellow rambutan
coated in syrup.  It only takes one year.  Bite.

Bon appetit!

Monday, June 15, 2015

June 15: More Bad News, "Ives" Dip, Poet of the Week, Sally Wen Mao, "Valentine for a Flytrap"

Well, another day and more bad news.

My car isn't going to be fixed until the end of the month.  We had budgeted about $300 for the fix.  It's going to cost about twice as much as that.  I have to wait until my next paycheck at the end of the month.  Then I'll be able to pay for it.  Notice that I didn't say I would be able to afford it, just pay for it.  The mechanic also says I need four new tires.  Not even touching that right now.

Let's see.  What else has gone wrong today?  Ummmm.  We got a note from my daughter's chorus teacher informing us that she didn't get accepted into the high school show choir.  She has been looking forward to getting into that group for four years.  Now, we have to go back to the school and reconsider her entire fall schedule.  My sister is going back to the nursing home tomorrow, and, sometime this week, I have to go to the credit union to sign the papers for a loan to get my roof fixed.

On the flip side, I have a friend who has offered to drive me to work tomorrow.  I will be able to get my roof fixed, and then my kitchen ceiling.  Eventually, my car will be drivable again.  Eventually.  Physically, my sister is doing better.  She needs to do physical therapy now.  Massive physical therapy.

My Ives dip question has to do with my luck:

Is my luck going to change any time soon?

And the answer from Edward Ives is:

In the falling elevator, he [Ives] recalled how stupid and hopeless he had felt that day at the beach, and in his supposed last moments, though the sun loomed through a late-summer haze like a god, he had no thoughts of comfort, and simply wanted to be saved.  If the truth be told, he cried for all his faith, doubting there would be another life ahead of him . . . .

Okay, there's no comfort in that little passage.  Ives trapped in a falling elevator.  Ives nearly drowning at the beach when he was a kid.  Ives doubting his faith, thinking he's going to die.  I guess it's going to be a bumpy summer.

I am pleased to announce Sally Wen Mao is the Poet of the Week.  All the poems you will be reading will be coming from her first collection, titled Mad Honey Symposium.  It's the kind of poem that appeals to me right now.  Cruel.  Vicious.  Beautiful.

Kind of describes Saint Marty's life right now.

Valentine for a Flytrap

by:  Sally Wen Mao

You are a hairy painting.  I belong to your jaw.
Nothing slakes you--no fruit fly, no cricket,
not even tarantula.  You are the caryatid
I want to duel, dew-wet, in tongues.  Luxurious
spider bed, blooming from the ossuaries
of peat moss.  I love how you swindle
the moths!  This is why you were named
for a goddess:  not Botticelli's Venus--
not any soft waif in the Uffizi.  There's voltage
in your flowers--mulch skeins, armory
for cunning loves.  Your mouth pins every stickey
body, swallowing iridescence, digesting
light.  Venus, let me swim in your solarium.
Venus, take me in your summer gown.

Open wide and smile

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 14: Phone Call, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Got a distressing phone call last night from my sister in the hospital.  She was calling to tell me that she loves me and was tired of being a burden.  Then, she preceded to tell me how she was going to kill herself after she got off the phone with me.

Thank goodness, I was at my parents' house.  I waved my arm, got my other sister's attention, and told her to call the nurses' station.  I kept my sister talking.  I don't even remember what I said to her.  Babbling.  At that point, I'm pretty sure I was babbling.  Anything to keep her distracted.

I heard the nurse come into her room and say something to her.  My sister paused on the phone and said, "Oh, you called in the troops."  She said something else to me that didn't make sense, and then she hung up.

It was a bad night, between phone calls and texts and guilt.  I'm not sure what's wrong with my sister.  The doctors don't know what's wrong with her.  Since my car has been basically out of commission for the past five or six days, I wasn't able to visit her much during the week.  She's had visitors, but she doesn't remember them.

I'm happy to report that, when I saw her this afternoon, she is much improved from last night.  It was almost as if she had no recollection of what transpired.  I brought her strawberry custard, and we actually had a cogent conversation.  In fact, I haven't seen her so upbeat and talkative in months.  This morning, even the doctor noted the improvement.

I hope last night was simply the end of a long period of decline for my sister.  She's got a long recovery ahead of her.  Hopefully, that recovery won't include any more emergency phone calls.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, during my time with Scrooge and company.

June 14, 2012:  Neglected Grave, Mortal Coil, Last Day

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, EBENEZER SCROOGE.

Most of my disciples can probably guess where this little paragraph occurs in A Christmas Carol.  It is the culmination of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  In it, Scrooge is given the unpleasant revelation of his imminent demise.  Judging from all the evidence, Scrooge's death is fast approaching.  Not ten years down the line.  Not five years down the line.  The impression I've always gotten from reading the book is that Scrooge is going to die within a year. 

The main clues for this assumption come from the death of Tiny Tim.  The Ghost of Christmas Present predicts, "If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race...will find him here."  That means that Tiny Tim will be dead within a year.  In the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come stave, Scrooge sees Bob Cratchit mourning over his son's body.  A few scenes later, the paragraph above appears.  That means that Scrooge is already planted in the ground by the time Tiny Tim shuffles off this mortal coil.  Scrooge has less than a year to live at this point in the narrative.

I've posed this scenario to my Good Books students in the past:  if you suddenly heard God's voice in your ear, and God's voice told you, "You will die next Tuesday at 3:17 p.m. EST," what would you do?  The answer I invariably receive is not sit in a classroom with me, talking about Great Expectations or The Grapes of Wrath.  They would be out with their family or girlfriends or boyfriends.  They would spend their remaining time with their kids.  They wouldn't worry about their finances.  In fact, 100% of my students don't even mention money, unless they intend to purchase gifts for loved ones.  That last mortgage payment for J. P. Morgan Chase doesn't even make a blip on the radar.  It doesn't even make the top 100 list of things to do.

Certainly, when Scrooge is faced with the reality of his untimely end, it changes him.  Actually, it scares the shit out of him.  He can no longer go back to his old life and old habits.  He must embrace a different way of thinking and acting.  I know, if I were in the position of knowing my final dance was approaching, I wouldn't be blogging.  I wouldn't be working.  I wouldn't be doing a lot of the things I normally do every day.

That's what makes the difference for Scrooge.  It should make a difference for everybody.  There's no guarantee, when you eat that bowl of Rice Krispies this morning, that you will be around to finish off the box of Rice Krispies tomorrow.  That should make us hug our daughters a little longer.  Enjoy that Milky Way bar a little more.  Listen to those birds singing for a few extra minutes.  I know it would change my day(s) drastically.

Maybe I should live today like it is my last day.  Make choices that really count, that make me happy.

Saint Marty needs to go.  He has a family-size bag of Cheetos and a pan of brownies to eat.

Judgement Day is here.  Grab a spoon.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, June 13, 2015

June 13: Chanting, Holy Spirit, New Cartoon, Michael Mlekoday, "Going North"

On that occasion, during Holy Week, Father Tom, transplanted from the Bronx and studying advanced Latin at the Gregorian University, had told them [Ives and his family] about a tenth-century church in Trastevere where some of the most devout Catholics in Rome gathered on Wednesday evenings for services that would "tear one's heart out," as he had put it.  So they went, and no sooner had they entered its candlelit gloom than Ives did feel the presence of early Christian spirits.  That night worshipers took turns giving testimony to their faith and strong belief in Him before the congregation.  They wept, beat their chests, they lay stretched out on their bellies on the floor, praying.  Others crawled on their knees, hands folded in prayer, toward the altar, their shadows thrown high against the vaulted walls.  Chanting in Latin, their eyes wide open, they seemed to be seeing something--the presence of Jesus of the Mother or the Holy Spirit--that Ives could not.

Ives is a deeply spiritual man.  Yet, he struggles with his faith, as most Christians do.  He goes to church every Sunday.  He does charitable work in his neighborhood.  Quietly.  Above all, Ives teaches his children to love God.  On a trip to Italy, he takes his family to the church described in the above passage.  He marvels at the utter surrender in the worshipers.  How the veil seems to have been torn away from their eyes and their vision is more eternal, less temporal.  Ives strives his whole life to reach this state of understanding.

Like Ives, I've had glimpses of what I call Holy Spirit moments, when something beyond my understanding has taken hold.  Sometimes, it's happened during worship services, when candlelight climbs the walls and incense clouds the air.  Sometimes, it's happened during songs I've sung or played at church; the music starts, and suddenly the hair on my arms bristles and I feel . . . something moving in the place.

I was lucky.  I grew up with church.  I didn't have to spend years on some spiritual journey.  Church was a part of my life.  Always.  Some people might consider that a bad thing.  I don't.  My upbringing has helped with my understanding of the world.  I like to think that I'm a more tolerant, loving person because of it.  I try not to judge too much (although I frequently fail on this account).  But, I'm a work in progress, for sure.

One of my biggest failings is trust.  When troubles come my way, I tend to panic.  Run around, crying out, "The sky is falling!"  It takes me quite a while to calm down, take a deep breath, and pray.  I think it's part of my control issues.  I don't like it when my life becomes a big bundle of entropy.  I think Ives' biggest struggle is the same.  He has a good, happy life, and then bad shit happens.  For over 150 pages, he is lost, until the end of the novel.  Then he's found again.

I tend to get a little lost every day.  Michael Mlekoday's poem today is about going north, looking for something.  I think that pretty much describes all of us.  We spend our whole lives trying to avoid the scary stuff--black bears, falling ceilings, death.  We walk around, sometimes in circles, looking for the answers.

Saint Marty just needs to stop walking.  Look up, metaphorically.  That's where the answers are written.

Going North

by:  Michael Mlekoday

The black bear of a Bible
that belonged to my grandparents
has gold-lined pages, paws
dipped in honey.

Running through its forests
is like deja vu every time.
The black bear eats everything.
If you've never stared past its teeth,

you've never held your breath waiting
to be ended.  The largest male black bear
weighs almost a thousand pounds
and can be found hunting at night

somewhere deep in the North.
I still have nightmares of his silence.
I haven't eaten fish since I saw him
pick a salmon from its bones.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, June 12, 2015

June 12: Gold Hamilton, Nature Essay, Juggling Fairy Tale, Michael Mlekoday, "Self Portrait, Downtown"

Roaming through the aisles, Ives had picked up some half-dozen ties and wallets for certain male friends, a scarf for his brother, and a nice French hat for his sister Kate.  That year he had decided on buying Robert a good watch and prevailed upon an overwhelmed saleswoman to pull some twenty watches out of a case, before he settled on a black-banded gold Hamilton with Roman numerals, suitable, Ives had thought, for a young man headed to a seminary.

Ives never gives that watch to Robert.  Within a couple of hours, Ives will be standing on a sidewalk in front of a church, staring down at the pavement, into the shocked expression of his murdered son.  Ives' life is on a collision course with tragedy.  A sledgehammer of change.

This past month, I have been amazed how quickly the trajectory of life can veer in an unexpected direction.  I thought this summer was going to be calm, easy.  I would have time to write, read, clean out my attic.  Yet, in the space of a few weeks, my summer has been completely transformed.  I now am putting myself in debt for another five years to put a new roof on my house.  I don't even know what's wrong with my car, and I still have a huge hole in my kitchen ceiling.

I know you're all probably tired of hearing about these subjects.  Sorry.  These are things I fall asleep and wake up thinking about.  I'm actually thinking that I need to get another part-time job or sell some organs to raise a few extra dollars.  All this worry is exhausting.

I finished writing my nature essay a couple of days ago.  Put it in an envelope and mailed it yesterday to the contest.  It's over and done.  And the best I can say about the essay is that it's done.  It's not great.  In fact, I considered not submitting it at all.  I've just been so preoccupied this past month that I didn't devote as much energy to my writing.  The result was an essay that's alright.  Not great.  Certainly not worth $250.

It feels like I'm very scattered.  My life is in fragments at the moment.  I haven't been able to concentrate.  Perhaps, after I find out what's wrong with my car and the roofers are stripping my house of shingles, I'll be able to carve out a little peace of mind.  Not right now, though.

Once upon a time, a juggler named Freego lived in a small village on the shores of a beautiful lake.  Freego was the worst juggler that had ever lived.  He could only juggle one ball at a time because he lacked concentration.  He would stand in the village square and throw his ball in the air over and over.  Nobody stopped to watch Freego's act.

One day, Freego decided he needed to learn how to juggle two balls.  All day and all night, he practiced at home.  He threw balls, caught balls, dropped balls.  After many months, Freego thought it was time to unveil his new, improved juggling act.

He went to the village square and called out, "Watch the Great Freego defy the laws of gravity!"

A crowd gathered as Freego took his balls out of his pocket.  He took a deep breath and tossed his balls in the air.  One ball flew into the face of the village baker.  The other ball fell into the village well.

The crowd slowly dispersed, and Freego went home, humiliated.

Moral of the story:  don't play with your balls in public.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Self Portrait, Downtown

by:  Michael Mlekoday

We left because we were lost and broken.
The sun rode us like donkeys.  Our hooves
turned colors in the dust.  Shush, you said,
every time I dropped a mirror and it broke
into song.  It's the only way I could see
myself in fragments, which I think is how
the earliest surgeons studied before cutting.
Where were we going?  Maybe the woods,
maybe Detroit.  There's a way in which
the thick skin of air in the woods hangs
like sweat in the inner city.  I've mistaken
drops of air conditioner exhaust for rain
while leaning against apartment brick,
watching a fistfight bloom in mid-July,
the highway humming in the distance
like the time you kicked a hive and smiled.
I lied.  We didn't really leave, and broken
is just another way of saying we left shards
and splinters of ourselves everywhere,
like kids trying to leave a trail back home.
We're still here, right here, and here,
this debris makes the street glitter like a river.

Nope.  Not me.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

June 11: Tattered Nerves, Blessings and Curses, Michael Mlekoday, "Home Remedies"

He [Ives] stood on the front steps of his building on a nice spring day, in checked Bermuda shorts and new tennis shoes, waiting for his wife and daughter, and for Ramirez and his family, so they might all go for a long drive and picnic upstate.  He fell asleep one night with the television on in the background, his tattered nerves soothed by Bing Crosby in the movie Going My Way, and he thought about his son as a priest.  He played bridge aboard a Circle Line boat, during an Advertising Club cruise, as it made its way down the Hudson under the George Washington Bridge, and won twenty dollars in petty bets.  He wept while watching Miracle on 34th Street. . .

Ives is trying to move on.  He takes trips with his family, watches movies on television, goes on boat cruises, and plays cards.  Yet, no matter how hard he tries to create a son-less life, his life keeps bringing his son back to him.  Bing Crosby reminds him of his son.  James Bond reminds him of his son.  The assassination of Robert Kennedy reminds him of his son.  Each blessing becomes a curse.

I had a stress test this morning.  Two hours of scans and treadmills.  I didn't go into cardiac arrest.  The cardiologist didn't come charging into the room, yelling, "Stop the test immediately!"  I showed up, did the test, and left, hungry and sweaty.  The nurse was kind.  The ultrasound tech was funny.  They were blessings this morning.  Now, I wait until I get a phone call from my doctor.

I'm not worried really.  I don't think there's anything wrong with my heart.  The chest pain I've been experiencing has subsided, ever since I started taking medicine for acid reflux.  Plus, my life has pretty much been a stress test recently.  My kitchen ceiling.  My roof.  My car.  My job.  Two funerals this week.

I'm really good with life's curses.  My philosophy has always been to be prepared for the worst.  If anything besides the worst happens, I count that a blessing.  For instance, my car is currently out of commission.  I have an appointment with the mechanic on Monday.  I'm preparing myself for some really bad news.  If the mechanic comes back with a four-hundred-dollar fix, I'll count that as a blessing.  Plus, my sister has loaned me her car for the past two days.  That's a great blessing.

Other blessings that have come my way:  the credit union will give me a loan to fix my roof; the insurance said it will fix my kitchen ceiling (I'm a little skeptical); and the weather has been dry (no water dripping into my kitchen in the last week).

I just watched a movie with my daughter called God Is Not Dead.  In the movie, one of the characters keeps saying, "God is good.  Always."  Curses can become blessings, with God's help.

Saint Marty needs to be reminded of that every once in a while.

Home Remedies

by:  Michael Mlekoday

Baba once cast a demon out of my brother.
She slapped him hard across the face
and left a glass of vodka
on the kitchen table overnight.
By morning, the glass was empty
and the rainclouds hung fat and fanged
over our block.  Whenever it stormed,
she tongued her dentures out of her mouth
and sucked them back in, staring
out the window, and crossed herself,
cursing under her breath in Polish.

She taught us the old curses and the blessings,
brought us to the cemetery to practice both.
I was always better with the curses.
The way they had to be dragged
from the body, the odor
of sea salt stuck to the breath,
how they kicked the heart
like the pop of a burnt-out bulb.