Monday, November 30, 2015

November 30: Poet of the Week, Peter Thabit Jones, "Afternoon in May," "Ives" Dip, Off the Top of My Head

The Poet of the Week is Peter Thabit Jones.

I only recently found his collection, Poems From a Cabin on Big Sur, in a bag of books given to me by a friend.  I was immediately drawn to the title because I had the good fortune of spending five days in Big Sur, writing poetry with poet Sharon Olds.  That week seems like a dream now.  Ocean waves crashing all day and night.  A fat moon swimming in stars.  Sulfur baths.  And poetry.  A lot of poetry.

Thabit Jones spend a month in a cabin in Big Sur as a poet-in-residence.  His book is filled with the poems he wrote during that time, and they really capture the rugged simplicity and beauty of the area.  The first poem, especially, reminds me of the afternoons I spent standing on a cliff's edge, searching the Pacific for signs of a whale (I never saw one):

Afternoon in May

by:  Peter Thabit Jones

A whale?  Basking shark?
Something like a supple log,
The colour of rock,
Brownish, greyish, trawls its way
Through the Big Sur waves.
Seen, unseen, then seen, unseen.

I can almost smell the salt air reading that poem, and I can see the sea otters playing in the beds of brown kelp breathing on the waves.

Yes, on this first day back at work, I am being nostalgic for an experience that still fills me with great pleasure.  For five days, I didn't have to worry about work or teaching or money or car problems.  I woke in the morning, got dressed, and went for a walk.  I'd find a bench somewhere, pull out my journal, and start writing.  Breakfast.  Then more poetry.  Talking with Sharon.  Lunch.  Another walk.  More poetry.  Talking with Sharon.  Dinner.  More poetry.  All my days had this wonderful rhythm.  I felt like a real writer for a brief time in my life.

And, on this last day of the month of giving thanks, I am grateful for the gift of writing in my life.  The gift of poetry.  I am able to put words down on a page and have those words mean something to other people.  That is a great, great gift that God has given me.

My Ives dip question is this:

Will I ever feel like a real writer again?

The phonograph music would fill the living room, and she would find her head turning and digging deep into the easy-chair headrest in rhythm to the beat, as if she were a 1940s bobby-soxer, and she would daydream about the time when Robert had used their living room as a rehearsal studio for a kind of jazz group he put together with kids from the neighborhood.  Some knew what they were doing, others didn't, and the neighbors knew it too.  During those sessions he played a snare drum with brushes and foot-tapped a high hat and felt so honored, so formal about jazz, despite his ecclesiastical training, that he used to shine his penny loafers and put on a tie before playing.

Ives' son, Robert, feels like a real jazz musician in the above passage.  He dresses the part.  Jams with some of his friends.  He commits himself fully to the formal study of jazz.  He's not an amateur.  He's a serious student.

I have committed myself for over twenty years to the study, teaching, and practice of creative writing.  Maybe that makes me a real writer.

Or maybe that makes Saint Marty a complete idiot.

Off the Top of My Head

Sunday, November 29, 2015

November 29: Book Club, Classic Saint Marty, Confessions of Saint Marty

This evening, my book club is meeting at my house.  Our Thanksgiving read was Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio.  My wife is at home, making a cream cheese pumpkin pie for the occasion.  Yesterday afternoon, I vacuumed, swept, and mopped the floors.  Cleaned the bathroom last night.  I think we'll be in pretty good shape by 6 p.m.

It has been a dreary day, in keeping with my general mood.  Tomorrow, I go back to work and teaching.  The next two weeks are going to be a whirlwind of grading and school programs and concerts.  Next Saturday is my daughter's fifteenth birthday.  Then, next Sunday, I am performing in a Christmas benefit concert with my band.  We are selling our Christmas CD and raising money for a local homeless shelter.  If I reach the end of the semester without going insane, it will be a yuletide miracle.

At the beginning of the holidays every year, I tell myself that I'm not going to let myself get stressed and anxious.  That I'm going to take some time to relax, enjoy Christmas and New Years without the usual array of anger and worry.  I have never kept that oath.  Ever.

So, on this First Sunday of Advent, I once again make a vow to relax a little.  Bake some cookies, not because I have to, but because I want to.  Not go crazy with gift buying.  Find Christmas presents with meaning versus Christmas meaning with presents.  That is my goal this year.  I don't expect to meet it, though.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired one year ago, at a time when I was mourning the loss of a very good friend.

November 29, 2014:  Her Old Web, Joy Harjo, "Perhaps the World Ends Here"

In the days that followed, he was very happy.  He grew to a great size.  He no longer worried about being killed, for he knew that Mr. Zuckerman would keep him as long as he lived.  Wilbur often thought of Charlotte.  A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway.  Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat.  No one had ever had such a friend--so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.

Overcoming grief is a gradual process.  Wilbur learns this fact.  He returns from the Fair brokenhearted, and, over the months that follow, he gradually adjusts to the rhythms of barn life without his friend, Charlotte.  Eventually, he is able to experience happiness again.  It takes time, like all healing.

Today, for the first time since Thanksgiving night, I have not felt overwhelming sadness all day.  It overcame me at times, but I was able to have extended moments of grace, where I had pleasant, happy memories of my friend, Ray.  And that's the way that he would want it.  I know that for a fact.  Ray was not a maudlin person.  He always looked for the humor in any situation.

For example, earlier this fall, I was sitting next to him at a poetry reading.  He was speaking to me about his weeping feet.  That is a medical term.  It means his feet were swollen and, basically, leaking blood.  It's very serious, but he laughed and said, "I thought it was stigmata, but then I remembered that starts at the opposite end."  I laughed and said, "Saint Ray of the Weeping Feet."  "You bet your ass," he said.

That was Ray.  In the days and weeks to come, those happy memories will replace the sorrow of his absence.  Healing will take place.  That's what Ray would want, too.  The quicker the better.

I have a sort-of Thanksgiving poem from Joy Harjo tonight.  It's a poem about love and grief, pain and healing.  She gets it right.  Those big things of life really do start in small places like the kitchen table.

So Saint Marty will meet you in the kitchen in a few minutes.  Get out the cheesecake, and we'll have a Golden Girls moment.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

by:  Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November 28: God Bless You, Worries and Cares, Maya Angelou, "A Prayer for Thanksgiving," Confessions of Saint Marty

But it was Christmas, and so to restore a mood of holiday congeniality, Ives made a toast and declared, "To heck with our troubles, Tom.  To our friendship.  And as the Spaniards say, Salud!  Que Dios te bendiga!  May God bless you!"

Father Tom is one of Ives' oldest friends.  They meet at a restaurant for a pre-Christmas visit.  Ives is still struggling with the darkness of grief, unable to bring himself to forgive the man who killed his son decades earlier.  Yet, he lifts his glass, salutes Tom, and offers a blessing.

I am in a frenzy of end-of-semester grading and preparation.  Yesterday, I finished my Christmas essay, and I typed it up this morning.  Once I am done writing this post, I will dive into grading again.  It's a never-ending stack of papers and tests.  Tomorrow evening, my book club meets at my house.  That means I have to clean tonight.

Despite all of these worries and cares, like Ives, I want to lift my glass today (or in my case, Diet Coke) and say how thankful I am for all the readers of Saint Marty.  Some days, the only moments of sanity I have are when I am sitting with my laptop, blogging.  It's therapy.  It's writing practice.  It's my way of feeling connected with the world.

So, thank you all for being loyal disciples, especially through the dark times of this past year.

Saint Marty is humbled and grateful.

A Prayer for Thanksgiving

by:  Maya Angelou

Father, Mother, God
Thank you for your presence
During the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

Thank you for your presence
During the bright and sunny days
For then we can share that which we have
With those who have less.

And thank you for your presence
During the Holy Days, for then we are able
To celebrate you and our families
And our friends.

For those who have no voice,
We ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
We ask you to pour your love out
In waterfalls of tenderness.

For those who live in pain,
We ask you to bathe them
In the river of your healing.

For those who are lonely, we ask
You to keep them company.

For those who are depressed,
We ask you to shower upon them
The light of hope.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
Sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
World that which we need most — Peace.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, November 27, 2015

November 27: Beautiful and Familiar Glory, Christmas Essay, Elizabeth Alexander, "Butter," Off the Top of My Head

Ives was sitting beside Annie in his old neighborhood church on another Christmas Day looking up at the altar.  There were vases with dozens of orchids on either side of the chalice and pots of blossoms set out on the marble floors and against the columns, garlands of ivy strung along the gallery above.  In the choir stall they had installed the creche with its figures of the shepherds and kings and angels on high and the Holy Family inside the stable, the baby Jesus, the light of this world, at its center.  And they had covered the roof of the stable with evergreen boughs and someone had burned fragrant incense.  That morning as Ives first walked into the sanctuary again, hat in hand and with his wife by his side, he remembered that beautiful and familiar glory.

Ives seems to measure his life by Christmas memories.  The Christmas he first met his wife, Annie.  The Christmas Annie was pregnant with their first child.  The Christmas Ives experiences a mystical vision of God's goodness.  The Christmas their son, Robert, was killed on the steps of a church.  Christmas is a touchstone of family joy and sorrow for Ives.  Beautiful and familiar glory.

Christmas memories have been with me all day.  I've been working on my annual Christmas essay.  I made good progress.  By the time I go to bed tonight, I hope to have it pretty much completed.  I started at around 7:30 this morning, while my family was still sleeping off their Thanksgiving turkey.  The house was filled with Christmas lights and silence, except for the occasional snore or fart from a sleeping form.  I was able to really focus for an extended period of time.

This afternoon, I practiced with my band for our Christmas concert next weekend.  It's been over a year since we recorded the songs on our Christmas CD, so we had to reacquaint ourselves with the music.  Come up with some different arrangements.  Make a few adjustments.  It was a productive rehearsal.

Tonight, while my daughter and her friend (who's a boy) are watching Netflix, I will be working on my Christmas essay again.  Hopefully, putting the finishing touches on it.  My goal is to have it pretty much done by the time my wife gets home from work.

I am really thankful that I've had so much writing time today.  That it feels like I'm so close to completion.  I've been struggling with this essay for quite some time; I was almost at the point of abandoning the idea of having a new Christmas essay this year.

No fairy tale this evening.  Saint Marty's saving up his creativity reserves for tonight.


by:  Elizabeth Alexander

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite   
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

Off the Top of My Head

Thursday, November 26, 2015

November 26: Toasts of Friendship, Thanksgiving, Mary Oliver, "Rice," Off the Top of My Head

The night before, on Christmas Eve, after spending the evening with Luis and the family in his living room; after a lamb dinner and after making toasts to friendship and love, after Luis had left (around midnight) and Ives had finished talking to his daughter and sister, Katherine, about the next day's plans (dinner at his daughter's and son-in-law's apartment at three), he got into bed beside his wife; after carrying on to Annie about the cruel and selfish changes in the political climate of the country in regard to the poor and disadvantaged (unfairly condemned in Ives' words to a "hopeless future") and after kissing his wife, Ives slept through the night serenely...

Ives has finally reached a kind of peace in his life.  He has met with his son's murderer and forgiven him.  His daughter is married to a good man.  His grandchildren are beautiful and healthy.  He is still passionately in love with his wife, and his wife is passionately in love with him.  In his old age, Ives is happy and blessed.

In the past 365 days, my life has changed dramatically.  Last year on this night, my good friend, Ray, had a fatal heart attack outside a gas station.  A little over three months ago, my sister passed away after a three-month battle with brain lymphoma.  My kitchen ceiling collapsed this summer.  The brakes on my car grind.  And it's snowing tonight.

Like Ives, I have a generally melancholy nature.  The last twelve months have tested me.  Darkness has been an almost constant companion.  This Thanksgiving night, I haven't quite made peace with this darkness.  I still get angry and sad about my sister's death.  My kitchen ceiling still has a hole in it.  I still don't have the money to fix my brakes.  And, tomorrow morning, I am going to have to shovel my driveway.

However, I am grateful this Thanksgiving.  I ran a 5K race this morning, and I finished it without injury.  I got to eat two really good turkey dinners this afternoon.  I don't have to work tomorrow.  My daughter's friend who's a boy (which is different from boyfriend) is spending a couple of days at my house, and he's a good kid.  I like him.  Christmas is just around the corner, and a new year is on the way.

I am at peace this evening.  Sure, I'll struggle tomorrow and the next day.  And the next.  And the next.  The world is not a perfect place.  There's terrorism and poverty and hunger, and that's just tomorrow morning when my son wakes up.  But, given the choice is between sadness and hope, I will choose hope every time

Saint Marty gives thanks for hope this snowy Thanksgiving.  Hope for health and prosperity.  Love and kindness.  Beauty and poetry.


by:  Mary Oliver

It grew in the black mud.
It grew under the tiger’s orange paws.
Its stems thicker than candles, and as straight.
Its leaves like the feathers of egrets, but green.
The grains cresting, wanting to burst.
Oh, blood of the tiger.

I don’t want you to just sit at the table.
I don’t want you just to eat, and be content.
I want you to walk into the fields
Where the water is shining, and the rice has risen.
I want you to stand there, far from the white tablecloth.
I want you to fill your hands with mud, like a blessing.

Off the Top of My Head

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 25: Peaceful and Clean, Small and Big Blessings, Billy Collins, "Aimless Love," Off the Top of My Head

At around eleven that night, a predicted snowfall had come.  He and Annie looked out about midnight before pulling the plug on the tree lights and going to bed, and mutually agreed how peaceful and clean the streets of New York seemed in such weather.

Ives and Annie have spent an evening appreciating small things like Italian cold cuts and pastries, Spanish wine, bubbling Christmas ornaments, young people in love.  Now, as they prepare for bed, they stop at a window to appreciate one last thing:  snow falling on the street below, making everything soft and cold.

It is the end of the work week.  Tomorrow, I will sit down with my family and celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  For my international readers, that's a day where people in the United States are supposed to give thanks for the blessings in their lives.  The small and big blessings.  Mashed potatoes and good health.  Cranberry sauce and beautiful kids.

Tonight, I will be cooking.  My house will be filled with the smell of baking pecans and sugar.  Maybe I'll have a drink when the pies are in the oven.  Something root beerish that can knock you on your ass after a couple of sips.  My kids will be there, staying up a little later because they don't have school tomorrow.  Maybe we'll watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or Frosty the Snowman.  Then, when it gets late, and the pies are cooling on the front porch, we'll go to bed, and I will say a little prayer.  Give thanks for pecans and sugar, my son and daughter, Linus and Snoopy, my wife, my life.

It is going to be a good night, filled with gratitude.

And by the second hard root beer, Saint Marty will be wearing his candy corn hat and singing "Over the River and Through the Woods."

Aimless Love

by:  Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door –
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor –
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.

Off the Top of My Head

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 24: Stealing Kisses, My Wife, Billy Collins, "Thanksgiving Morning," Off the Top of My Head

Leaving Macy's, they spent an hour walking uptown and lingered by the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink, on the promenade, directly across from the bronze statue of Prometheus reclining, the great tree, a Maine pine, some fifty feet high and as wide as a house, covered with thousands of lights, towering cheerfully over the scene.  Down below, a hundred skaters, of all ages, circled the ice, some gracefully as professionals, others clumsily, their faces and twisting bodies in colored caps and suits, vivid in the surrounding floodlights.  Leaning against the railing, Annie and Ives were caught up, as were so many others, by the romance of the setting, and, ever so happy, held each other tightly, nudging one another with their chilled noses and stealing kisses, until laughing, she said, "Oh, Eddie, you make me feel like a kid again."

Annie and Ives love each other deeply.  The above moment occurs just hours before their son is killed.  It is Christmas time, and they are swept up in holiday joy.  They've just attended some parties and finished their Christmas shopping.  And they end up at the Rockefeller ice rink, watching the couples glide around the ice.  They kiss and hold each other like teenagers on a first date.  Ives and Annie have true passion and love for each other.

This month I have been writing about thankfulness.  It was a challenge from my wife.  She had been noticing a streak of melancholy in my posts, and she wanted me to focus on the blessings in my life.  That is what I have been trying to do.  It hasn't been an easy task.  Some days, I've really struggled to remain positive and grateful. 

Today, I faced many challenges.  Up at 4:30 a.m.  Work at 6: 30 a.m.  Loooong day.  And then, this evening, I attended my daughter's high school chorus concert.  Crazy busy, with barely a moment to relax.  I am already exhausted, and it's not even 9:30 p.m.

I am thankful for my daughter's concert, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I loved the music and the (at times) slightly off-key singing.  I sat with my wife in the auditorium, holding her hand.  Like Ives and Annie at the ice rink, we felt like we were on a date at the concert.

My wife is funny and beautiful.  She struggles in her life with mental illness and addiction.  Our twenty years of marriage have not been without difficulty.  Yet, my wife is a fighter.  She takes her medications; attends support group meeting on an almost daily basis; and follows the suggestions of her doctors.  She wants to be well.

And I love her for that.  She is kind and caring and generous.  My best friend and life partner.

Saint Marty gives thanks for his wife tonight.

Thanksgiving Morning

by:  Billy Collins

The crossed multiple blades of the blender
set out to dry on a counter.
The corkscrew unsheathed and ready

to enter whatever cannot resist its twisting.
The carving knife waiting alongside
the sharpener for its abrasive touch,

The blue box of matches, the white candles.
The branch of dry leaves brought in
Along with vines clustered with red and yellow berries,

All of which points to the anonymous turkey,
soon to be trussed with string
but now soaking on the cold porch
in a bucket of salted ice water,
in brine, as they like to say this time of year.

And we must not overlook the oven,
radiating in a corner of the kitchen
set at first at 500 degrees
then lowered almost mercifully to 350,

still hot enough to lift the bird
into the condition of sacrificial edibility,
yet short of what would incinerate a book,
the oven that swallowed the witch and Sylvia Plath
and now the oven of our pleasure,
our forks and glasses blindly raised.

Off the Top of My Head

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 23: Thanksgiving Poems, Linda Pastan, "Home for Thanksgiving," "Ives" Dip, Off the Top of My Head

I have decided to feature Thanksgiving poems this week.  Of course, the challenge is finding good Thanksgiving poems.  Poems that aren't one step away from a Hallmark card.  So, don't be surprised to see Sharon Olds and Billy Collins this week.

But, for today...

Home for Thanksgiving

by:  Linda Pastan

The gathering family
throws shadows around us,
it is the late afternoon
Of the family.

There is still enough light
 to see all the way back,
 but at the windows
that light is wasting away.

Soon we will be nothing
but silhouettes: the sons'
as harsh
as the fathers'.

Soon the daughters
will take off their aprons
as trees take off their leaves
for winter.

Let us eat quickly--
let us fill ourselves up.

the covers of the album are closing
behind us.

It has been a busy day.  Work.  Doctor's appointment.  Interview at the library for an upcoming reading.  And now, blogging and grading and writing.  I am going a little crazy every day.  I have not really relaxed since my vacation started.  Maybe I'll give myself Thanksgiving off.  Or maybe I'll just lapse into a turkey coma.

I am thankful this evening that I have only two more days to work this week.  Two more days of toil and stress.  Come Wednesday night, when I'm putting my pecan pies in the oven, I will be ready for a little Thanksgiving cheer.

I have a question about another project I have to complete this week:

Will I get my Christmas essay finished this week?

And the answer from the Good Book of Ives is:

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."

Well, that's a pretty good answer.  Robert is no longer afraid of death.  He knows he'll be safe, under God's care.  I have been anxious for several days about getting all my work done.  I just need to take a deep breath, relax, and do my best.

Saint Marty has things under control.  Sort of.  Maybe.

Off the Top of My Head

Sunday, November 22, 2015

November 22: Ravioli, Robin Williams, Classic Saint Marty, Confessions of Saint Marty

Dinner at my parents' house tonight.  Ravioli.  I can feel the heat from the water on the stove.  Dead Poets Society is on the television--one of my favorite movies.  Pretty soon, we will be eating.

I don't have much more to say about today.  I spent most of the afternoon putting up Christmas decorations at church.  Up and down ladders and stairs.  Stringing garland and lights.  Hanging ornaments.  As usual, most church members left before the work began, so the bulk of the decking of the halls fell upon the usual suspects, die-hard parishioners with a sense of duty.

Tonight, I will watch a holiday baking competition on the Food Network.  My wife and daughter will join me, and we will yell at the TV and make fun of the contestants.  It's my household's version of watching Sunday Night Football, except with buttercream frosting and fondant.

Tonight, I am thankful for Christmas decorations.  Die-hard parishioners.  Ravioli.  Robin Williams.

And I'm thankful for an episode of Classic Saint Marty that aired exactly one year ago. 

November 22, 2014:  The Big Christmas Tree, Decorating Weekend, Fairy Tale

While I was walking, I passed these two guys that were unloading this big Christmas tree off a truck.  One guy kept saying to the other guy, "Hold the sonuvabitch up!  Hold it up, for Chrissake!"  It certainly was a gorgeous way to talk about a Christmas tree...

Most people forget that Catcher is a Christmas book.  It's the end of the semester at Pencey Prep.  Christmas break is starting.  Holden's sister, Phoebe, is in a Christmas play called A Christmas Pageant for Americans.  And Holden borrows Phoebe's Christmas money at the end of the novel.  Not to mention the little Christmas tree scene above.

It's going to be a weekend of Christmas decorating for me.  Tomorrow, I'm in charge of decorating at my wife's church.  Tomorrow night, I'm putting up our Christmas tree at home.  On Monday morning, I'm finishing my decorating at work.  Then I will be D-O-N-E with decking the halls.

I prefer to have all that busy Christmas work finished before Thanksgiving.  There's less pressure the rest of the holiday season then.  I can actually sit back with a cup of eggnog and relax some evenings.  Of course, there's shopping to do, presents to wrap, cookies to bake.  All that yuletide crap.  But the big part, for me, has already been completed.

Which reminds me, I went to the radio station this afternoon and recorded my Christmas essay.  That's another big cookie off my Christmas plate.  Now, I can concentrate on one of the things I love doing the most this time of year:  writing my Christmas poem.  I started it a while ago (back in August).  It's a matter of going back and reworking, revising, possibly throwing stuff out or starting over.  Whatever it takes.  I love the writing process, no matter how crazy it makes me.

Which reminds me of a little story...

Once upon a time, an elf named Holden lived at the North Pole with his parents.  Ever since he was a small elf...Well, all elves are small, but young elves are so small they sometimes get mistaken for animal crackers by Santa's reindeer.

Anyway, ever since Holden was young, his parents groomed him to be a part of Santa's toy team, which is the most important job in all of North Poledom, next to driving the sleigh and delivering the presents.  But Holden had no interest in making toys.  In fact, he wasn't very good with his hands.  He couldn't even pound in a nail without bending it sideways.

What Holden wanted to do, more than anything else, was be a Christmas poet, but his parents wouldn't even let him talk to Santa about such a job.

"If you mention this poet thing to Mr. Claus," his father fumed, "I will be kicked out of the elf union and lose my seniority and pension."

"Not to mention what all the other elf mothers would say to me if my son turned into a poet," his mother said.  "Why couldn't you have been gay?"

Holden went to toy school.  He learned how to make toy cars and toy kitchens.  He studied how to create apps for iPhones. But, at night, after his parents went to bed, Holden sat in his bedroom, writing elf sonnets and elf haiku.

Finally, one day, Holden worked up the courage to approach Santa.  "Please, sir," Holden stammered.  "I don't want to be a toy elf.  My dream is to be the first poet laureate of the North Pole."

Santa looked down at Holden, with a twinkle in his blue eyes.  "Ho, ho, ho," Saint Nicholas chuckled, "you've got to be joking.  Get back to work, or I'll have you shoveling reindeer crap for the rest of your life."

Dejected, Holden went back to toy school, graduated near the bottom of his class, and went to work in Santa's toy sweatshop, making knock-off iPads and Kindles.  Holden never wrote another poem.

Moral of the story:  Santa Claus is kind of an asshole.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, November 21, 2015

November 21: Italian Cold Cuts, Happy Chaos, Issa, Two Haiku, Confessions of Saint Marty

Earlier in the day Ives had walked over from the office to Ninth Avenue during lunchtime, to buy boxes of Italian cold cuts and pastries, and these were set out on a table as a buffet...

To prepare for his annual Christmas tree decorating party, Ives buys food.  A lot of food.  Ham and salami and pastrami and cannolis.  Family and friends gather in his apartment, listen to Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney on the record player, and the kids decorate the tree with ornaments and fire-hazard lights that bubble and blink.  It's happy chaos.

I think that's the best way to describe holiday family gatherings.  Happy chaos.  This coming week is going to be filled with that kind of craziness.  On Monday or Tuesday, I'll bake my pecan pies.  My wife will throw together her double-layer cream cheese pumpkin pies.  On Thursday, pies in hand, we will attend two turkey dinners--one in the early afternoon, one in the evening.  There will be joking and tension, laughter and resentments.  That's family.

And I am thankful for this happy chaos.  Everyday life is too crammed with worry and stress.  It seems, some days, that I just move from crisis to crisis.  At night, when I climb into bed with my wife, I'm just happy that I've survived without landing in the hospital or worse. 

I used to thrive on the hectic quality of my life--two jobs, church organist duties, the publish or perish mentality of the university.  Now, I find it a little exhausting.  Given the choice between a quiet night at home watching the Food Network and performing in a Christmas concert, I would probably end up on my couch with a bag of chips.  Peace over turmoil.

I know this coming holiday week will not be without it share of drama.  But it's a different, more relaxed kind of drama.  Certainly, this first Thanksgiving since my sister's death will not be easy.  However, there will be the happy chaos of children and family, crowded into the kitchen, fighting over hot dinner rolls and mashed potatoes.  A blessing of busyness to combat sadness.

Saint Marty will be in the kitchen, knocking people out of the way to get his share of turkey skin.

Two Haiku

by:  Issa

     Windy fall--
these are the scarlet flowers
     she liked to pick.

     The pheasant cries
as if it just noticed
     the mountains.

Confessions of Saint Marty

November 20: Company Luncheon, Long Winter's Nap, Buson, Two Haiku, Off the Top of My Head

The next day, Ives was in the office by eight-forty-five, the last business meeting of the year before the Christmas holidays, with various art directors and executives, scheduled for half past nine.  Afterward there would be a company luncheon, and the office would close for a pleasantly long weekend at three, and the parties, held here and there at different agencies and suppliers would begin...

It is a few days before Christmas.  Ives has just hosted his annual tree-decorating party the night before, friends and family coming to the Ives' apartment, listening to records, eating lots of food, drinking lots of wine.  Now, on the last business day before December 24, Ives and his coworkers are going through the motions.  Having meetings.  Wrapping up last-minute projects.  Maybe writing a memo or two.  Nothing really important is accomplished, though.  The holidays have taken over.

I love the last day of work before Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Usually, there is little to do.  There is talk of Christmas shopping or pie making.  Sometimes, silliness ensues.  Snowflake-making contests.  Spontaneous caroling or turkey gobbling.  And then there's the baked goods in the break room.  Petty arguments are forgotten, and goodwill reigns, for a little while anyway.

It is Friday night.  Thanksgiving break for the university has commenced.  Over the next week, I have grading to do, books to read, a holiday essay to write .  But it's Friday, and here I sit, typing this blog post, listening to Christmas music.  For the first time in a long while, I am relaxed.  I don't really have to do anything tonight.  The world will not come to an end if I choose to crawl into bed right now and take a long winter's nap.

I am very thankful for this moment of peace, however fleeting it may be.  A respite is a respite, whether it's Johnny Mathis crooning "Winter Wonderland," Jimmy Fallon writing thank you notes, or Robert Hass translating seventeen-syllable Japanese poems.

Once upon a time, a wizard named  Bob decided to take a night off.  He popped some popcorn, rented a couple Harry Potter DVDs, and hung a sign on the door to his cottage that read "Visitors Unwelcome."

Half-way through Chamber of Secrets, somebody knocked on Bob's door.  Bob paused his movie and yelled, "Go away, or I'll turn you into a toad!"

After a few moments, there came another knock.

Bob took out his wand.  "I'm warning you," he yelled.  "If you knock again, I will turn you into an amphibian."

Another knock.

Bob stood up, jabbed his wand at his front door, and shouted, "Eat ribbit!"  A shower of sparks filled the room.

When the smoke cleared, Bob stormed to the door and threw it open.

On his front step were two pizzas from Pizza Hut and a toad.

"Oh,"  Bob said.  "Did you remember the breadsticks?"

Moral of the story:  don't expect a tip from a pissed-off wizard.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Two Haiku

by:  Buson

     The old man
cutting barley--
     bent like a sickle.

     A tethered horse,
     in both stirrups.

Off the Top of My Head

Thursday, November 19, 2015

November 19: Hours of Service, Operation Christmas Child, Basho, Two Haiku, Off the Top of My Head

During the next several months Ives sent the center several large boxes of art supplies and paper from the office, and every so often on a Sunday afternoon he would go up to run a workshop for the kids, work that Ives much enjoyed, as it got him outside of himself.  He did this, either alone or with his daughter or Annie, on and off, for five years, and with a few hours of service, found an agreeable way of passing his time.

One of the ways that Ives fills his time after the death of his son is volunteering at a community center for inner city youths.  He donates his time and talents, and, for a few hours, his spirits lift.  By thinking of the needs of other children, Ives is able to find some happiness and peace.

This evening, I took my kids to a local dollar store to shop for a charity named Operation Christmas Child.  My son and daughter filled two shoe boxes with gifts for impoverished children in places like Eastern Europe and Africa.  We had a really good time.  My son ran up and down the store aisles, finding notebooks and plush toys.  My daughter, a little more methodical, went from section to section, filling her box with things like toothbrushes and a baby doll.  When we got to the cash register, my son proudly placed his box on the counter and said to the cashier, "I'm sending Christmas to a little boy who doesn't have Christmas."

I have to admit that I wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending an hour at the dollar store shopping this evening.  My wife was supposed to accompany us, but she got called in to work.  Operation Christmas Child has always been my wife's holiday tradition with our kids.  Tonight, it became my duty by default.  As we left the store tonight, I felt really blessed.  Yes, my wife and I are struggling financially right now, but, compared to the people who will be receiving our shoe boxes, we are well off.  Wealthy even.

So I am thankful for Operation Christmas Child.  For the generous hearts of my son and daughter.  For my wife forcing me to take my kids shopping.  For the money to fill those shoe boxes.

Saint Marty had a real Christmas moment tonight.

Two Haiku

by:  Basho

     Felling a tree
and seeing the cut end--
     tonight's moon.

     The crane's legs
have gotten shorter
     in the spring rain.

Off the Top of My Head

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

November 18: Why Me, Darkness and Light, Two Haiku, Buson, Off the Top of My Head

But for all that, there hummed through his body a sorrow and loneliness that took him back to his son's death.  The very thought made him dig into his own skin, deep scratches further enflaming his condition of old:  cutting himself and bloody and restless turning all night, an impossible itchiness--"un picazon" he told Ramirez--hives ravaging his knee and arm joints, bumps formed under his arms.  He knew it was really bad when welts rose on his back and blotches appeared floating like large measle dots on his face, a depressing state, because he felt like a leper, not wanting to touch or be touched, and he would twist and turn and ask, "Why me?" and "Why is it going on and on?"

For decades, Ives tortures himself like this.  He can't let go of his sadness and grief.  If he tries to be happy, he feels guilty, and the guilt manifests as scratches and oozing sores on his body.  Every day is a punishment for Ives.  At night, one question swoops through the air above him like a fruit bat--"Why?"  Ives wants to understand the reason behind his son's death and his own unending sorrow.

I have been in a quiet state of sorrow myself for the past three months.  I try not to let it overwhelm me.  It's difficult some days.  Driving to work in the morning this past week, I've been listening to a radio station that has been playing just Christmas music.  Bing Crosby.  The Carpenters.  Johnny Mathis.  Every morning, I've cried.  I'm not sure if it's the early hour, the music, or my tired state of mind.  By the time I get to the medical office, I'm a mess. I have to sit in my car for a few minutes just to pull myself together.

I don't think I'm as bad as Ives.  I don't brood or avoid happy occasions, and I haven't stopped participating in any of my normal activities.  In fact, I'm currently planning a Christmas concert to benefit a local homeless shelter.  I am able to function.  Yet, sometimes, when I'm alone, there's a sadness that descends upon me.  It's palpable, like putting on a wet bathing suit.

I know that grief is a process.  I simply can't wake up one morning and say, "Okay, I'm done with being sad.  Time to move on."  It just doesn't work that way.  And I'm getting better.  There are whole days where I don't experience that clinging sadness.  I am very thankful for days like that.  Other days are more challenging.  And I am thankful for days like that, too, because they remind me to cherish my blessings--my family, home, jobs.

You can't have light without darkness.  That's just the way the universe works.  The darkness defines the light.  Therefore, Saint Marty is thankful for the darkness.

Two Haiku

by:  Buson

     Calligraphy of geese
against the sky--
     the moon seals it.

     It cried three times,
the deer,
     then silence.

Off the Top of My Head

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 17: Big Party, Classroom Observations, Issa, Two Haiku, Off the Top of My Head

On December 29, 1982, there had been a big party in the boardroom, and it was attended by many of the old-timers like Ives himself--Crane, Silverman, Schamberg--and Mr. Mannis, having survived his third open-heart operation, made a speech.  They had given Ives a watch--a gold Swiss pocket watch from the 1920s, engraved with his name on the back (to go into a drawer along with the watch he had intended to give his son long ago at Christmas)--and a plaque.

Ives is a respected advertising executive.  Over the years, he has fostered the work of younger artists and Spanish-speaking employees.  By the time he retires, Ives' hair has turned white, and he feels outdated.  Tired.  Ives knows that he isn't Norman Rockwell or Andy Warhol.  Yet, in his own small way, he has changed the world.  For that, he is proud.

This morning, a full-time professor came to my Good Books class to observe me.  I have been teaching at the university for 23 years now.  That's a lot of hours standing in front of classrooms over the past two decades.  I shouldn't get nervous.  Yet, I didn't sleep well last night, and I could barely think straight when I finally climbed out of bed at 4 a.m. for work.

That being said, the classroom observation went really well.  My students participated, asked questions, pretended to be interested.  The full-timer who observed me seemed impressed.  As he was leaving, he said that he was going to use one of my teaching techniques in his own class next semester.  I think that bodes well for my written evaluation.

So, I am thankful this evening that my classroom observation is over.  I am thankful that it went well, and that my evaluator responded to my lesson plan.

Saint Marty is also exhausted.  Too little sleep.  Too much worry.

Two Haiku

by:  Issa

     Napped half the day;
no one
     punished me!

     The toad!  It looks like
it could belch
     a cloud.

Off the Top of My Head

Monday, November 16, 2015

November 16: Poets of the Week, Buson, Two Haiku, "Ives" Dip, Off the Top of My Head

For the first time, I have decided to award Poet of the Week to three writers.  Three masters of haiku--Basho, Buson, and Issa.

I have never been able to write a successful haiku, but I have always admired them.  The concentration of image.  The surprise of the final line.  There's so much possibility for humor and beauty.  Making the ordinary extraordinary.  Buson does all of that.

Two Haiku

by:  Buson

     His Holiness the Abbott
is shitting
     in the withered fields.

     Cover my head
or my feet?
     the winter quilt.

See what I mean?  When I came across that first one, I literally laughed out loud in my office at the university.  A grad student was walking by my door at the time and did a double take.  That's alright.  I'm already known as the guy who plays Christmas music all year long, so I'm just five cats away from being the English Department's certifiable eccentric.

Speaking of the English Department, tomorrow morning I have a guest coming to my Good Books class to do my annual evaluation.  Now, I've recently learned that I have been teaching for 46 semesters at the university as a contingent professor.  Doing the math, that is exactly 23 years of teaching.  I shouldn't get nervous about classroom observations any more.  Yet, my inner Catholic schoolboy always gets the best of me, and I spend a few weeks being anxious and guilty.

So, my question for this evening's Ives dip is:

Will my classroom observation go well tomorrow morning?

And the answer from Oscar Hijuelos is:

As they happily walked to the subway, they were looking forward to spending a lot of time together at home during the holiday, in the company of family and friends.  Ives and Annie stopped to peer into a window display of French linen when, just like that, a terrible darkness entered them, and they could not move and stood looking at one another stupidly, on the crowded and busy sidewalk.

Okay, the first half of that passage points toward a really good evaluation.  However, the second half is a little Stephen Kingish in feeling and tone.  So, either everything's going to go great tomorrow morning, or I'm going to be attacked by a rabid Saint Bernard on the way to class.

Saint Marty isn't sure which answer he prefers.

Off the Top of My Head


Sunday, November 15, 2015

November 15: Robot Grandchild, Classic Saint Marty, Confessions of Saint Marty

My Christmas tree is up and fully decorated.  It is fifty degrees outside, and the lawns are still green.  Tonight, when I get home, I will turn on the tree lights, sit on my couch, and relax for the first time this weekend.  Then I will start grading papers and making lesson plans. Work never ends.

In about an hour, I will be going to a dance show in which my daughter is performing.  She's not very excited about it, but my wife and I will enjoy it.  Something different from the routine.  My daughter is simply tired.

My daughter has been watching a "robot" baby all weekend.  It's for her Child Development class.  This baby cries when it's hungry or needs to be changed.  It coos when it's happy.  Sometimes it simply wants to be held and rocked.  And it does this at all hours of the day and night.  Last night, she was up at least three times to feed, burp, and change the baby.  So she's pretty beat.

Plus, she had a friend over for most of the weekend.  This friend happened to be a boy.  A good kid whom she met at Bible camp this summer.  Last night, he slept over.  On the living room floor.  With two rooms, two parents, and a robot baby in between them.  I like this kid a lot.  He's funny and polite, and he goes to church.

Tonight, I am thankful for my robot grandchild, one of the greatest forms of birth control I know for a teenage girl and boy.

Tonight's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired a year ago on this date.  So much has changed since then, but so much has also stayed the same.

November 15, 2014:  My Masterpiece, Christmas Essay, Maya Angelou, "On the Pulse of Morning"

"I'll tell you in the morning," [Charlotte] said.  "When the first light comes into the sky and the sparrows stir and the cows rattle their chains, when the rooster crows and the stars fade, when early cars whisper along the highway, you look up here and I'll show you something.  I will show you my masterpiece."

Charlotte does some pretty amazing things.  She creates webs that sparkle with dew and mystify human beings.  Single-handedly, she saves her friend's life.  And, in the end, she chooses to die alone, content with the knowledge that she has made a huge difference in the world.  Her masterpiece?  An egg sac, containing 514 eggs.  Her lasting legacy.

It is the time of year where I once again must write my Christmas essay for the local National Public Radio station.  I know my subject.  I've even done the necessary research.  I know what I want to say.  It's a matter now of figuring out how I want to say it.  And I sort of have that figured out, as well.  Now comes the fun part:  writing it.  That's what I'm going to be doing this evening.

I'm not sure I'm working on my masterpiece.  Every time I sit down to write something--a blog post, poem, short story, essay--I always have this feeling that it's going to be the last thing I'm ever going to write.  It's crazy.  I wait to see if I've hit the bottom of my well.  I fully expect to send down my bucket one day and come up dry.  Not tonight, though.

My favorite Maya Angelou poem--her masterpiece among lots of masterpieces--is the poem she read at President Clinton's first inauguration.  I was a grad student at the time, and I remember crowding around a TV screen in the basement of the university library, watching and listening to Dr. Angelou read her poem.  Some of the people standing next to me were crying.  Some of the people on the television were crying.  It was an incredible moment.  We were all united.  Part of something huge.  A fellow traveler on a road of hope.  I will never forget it.  When she was done reading, I actually thought to myself, "I will do that some day."

Of course, that's like me thinking, "I will win the Nobel Prize in Literature" or "I will suddenly grow wings and fly to Crete."  A dream.  A hope.  That's what writing is about.  Every time I sit down to put my thoughts on paper, it's an act of hope.  For something better.

And Saint Marty is full of hope tonight.

On the Pulse of Morning

by:  Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, November 14, 2015

November 14: Compose Himself, Sue, D. H. Melhem, "33," Confessions of Saint Marty

Ives wore a blue suit and stood by the door, speaking with one of the parish priests and greeting, ever so quietly, people as they came in.  But now and then he would look off toward the casket and turn his back on the people, as the darkest thoughts overwhelmed him, and he would have to compose himself again.  Every so often Ramirez went up to him, took him by the arm, and whispered, "You are all right, my friend."

Ramirez is Ives' best friend.  Ramirez is not a saint, by any means.  He cheats on his wife, physically abuses his son.  Yet, he has a bond with Ives that lasts over half a century.  Ives recognizes his best friend's faults.  He gently pushes Ramirez to correct his behavior toward his wife and son, without preaching or anger.  They respect each other and see each other through some very difficult times.  In the end, this friendship saves each man from loss and despair.

On Thursday night, I hosted my book club meeting.  At the appointed time, our friends and family showed up, bearing food and jokes.  We ate and talked and discussed the night's selection (Hannah Nordhaus' American Ghost--a great read).  Yet, the whole night was tinged with a little sadness for me.

One of my best friends is in the book club.  I've known Sue for over 20 years, since before I married my wife.  Sue has been the Ramirez to my Ives for a very long time.  She's lifted me up when I've fallen, and I've done the same for her.  We've seen each other through family deaths and marital strife.  Sure, we don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but we respect each other.  Love each other.

Sue is moving away this weekend.  She is now divorced and without family in the Upper Peninsula.  So, she has decided to relocate to be near her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.  I'm happy for her, but I'm going to miss her a great deal.  She is a kind, sweet, sharing soul.  Like Eleanor Roosevelt in D. H. Helhem's poem below, Sue has had a way of speaking to me in the loneliest times of my life.  And for that, I am truly thankful.

So, as I put up my Christmas tree this afternoon with my daughter and son this afternoon, I will be thinking of Sue.  Her friendship and what it has meant in my life.  I will miss seeing her in the front pew at church.  Miss her brownies at book club gatherings.  Miss her long, rambling stories.  Miss her.

Saint Marty has been blessed with a really good friend.

33. (from Country:  An Organic Poem)

by:  D. H. Melhem

Eleanor Roosevelt
                            walking underground to workers
reminds a president that what he can't see

I saw you once in my high school auditorium
thought you were not real     having stepped out of
the radio and The New York Times
you hand a kind voice that spoke to loneliness

you were

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, November 13, 2015

November 13: Bewildered Expression, Paris, D. H. Melhem, "41," Off the Top of My Head

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.

This is the moment when Ives' entire life shifts.  The police officer lifts that piece of canvas, and Ives stares down at his new life.  A life defined by tragedy and loss.  He's no longer going to be the father of a future priest.  Forever more, Ives will be a grieving parent, victim of violence, symbol of tragedy.

This evening. I spend almost two hours watching the news reports about the terrorist attacks in Paris.  So much confusion and fear.  Over 140 people killed in six separate attacks.  The entire country of France shut down as the police and military try to restore peace.

As I sat watching the same images over and over, listening to the news anchors saying the same things over and over, I couldn't help but remember September 11.  How I spent the day glued to the television, watching the World Trade Center towers fall again and again.  And the panic.  Cars lined up at the gas stations because of a rumor about skyrocketing prices.  All airplanes grounded.  Everyone was waiting for the next tragedy to happen.

I'm sure, in the coming days, the networks are going to be full of stories about the victims and survivors.  There will be wild speculation over who is responsible.  Tomorrow, I'm sure, names will start coming out.  A long ticker tape of the innocent.

In light of these events, I find myself struggling to find something about which to be thankful tonight.  I am thankful that my wife and kids are safe.  I'm thankful that I live in a place that's remote, protected.  Not that I think that I'm immune to tragedy in the Upper Peninsula.  I'm not.  But I don't have to worry about soldiers patrolling the streets of my hometown, toting automatic weapons.  My kids don't have to walk through metal detectors at school.  Most of my neighbors don't even lock their front doors at night.

Tomorrow, I will go to McDonald's for breakfast with my family.  In the afternoon, I will put up my Christmas tree with my daughter.  I will attend church in the afternoon and get pizza for dinner afterward.  Tomorrow night, I may watch It's a Wonderful Life.  My life is not a fairy tale, but I am, for the most part, happy.  Safe.

Saint Marty is living happily ever after.

41. (from Country:  an Organic Poem)

by:  D. H. Melhem

Education is out there,
                                        in the street, man--

I told you of the Beast, and Beauty, and that the Beast was how he saw himself, and was treated, although the handsome Prince within his skin was the virtue of his soul, and how Beauty approached with a single candle flickering away the dark to disclose the perfection of his blackness, and the drops of white tallow that burned him awake to his death by the stream where Beauty followed, and her tears upon him as she cried, "Ma Bete!"  And beneath those tears the loving Prince of his desire rose to embrace her as they were received by the stream that grew everywhere into its pervasive tributaries, nourishing the dessicated land.  And I wept, that the joyful Prince could not speak in you, that you feared and raged along the banks of your spirit, that you could feel upon your skin, as yet, only the tallow . . .

Off the Top of My Head