Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 30: Understanding,Terrance Hayes, "Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy"

Well, it is the last day for Terrance Hayes as Poet of the Week.  I thought I'd end with a poem that tries to explain the universe.  After all, that's what I try to do with every one of my blog posts--explain my understanding of things.  Of course, every time I try to understand something, I only prove how much I really don't know at all.

So, maybe this post is about the limitation of human understanding.  I have been writing and reading poetry for over half my life, and I still don't think I understand it at all.  I appreciate.  I can talk about why I appreciate it.  However, I can't explain why I read Galway Kinnell's "To Christ Our Lord" and cry.  I can't tell you why, when my sister died last year, one of the first things I did was sit down with my journal and write a poem about it.  Poetry helps me make sense of senseless things.

That's Saint Marty's Guide to the Galaxy for today.

Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy

by:  Terrance Hayes

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls
“skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.

April 30: Alpha Centauri, Greatest Father, Confessions of Saint Marty

People say that a good seat in the backyard affords as accurate and inspiring a vantage point on the planet earth as any observation tower on Alpha Centauri.  They are wrong.  We see through a glass darkly.  We find ourselves in the middle of a movie, or, God help us, a take for a movie, and we don't know what's on the rest of the film.

Dillard is writing about perspective.  Seeing life, the world, from your backyard instead of some lofty vantage point.  That would mean that the aliens observing the human race's follies from Alpha Centauri have no better understanding of our place in the universe than we do.  Of course, Dillard takes exception with this idea.  As she says, we--human beings--see through a glass darkly.  We may see what's going on around us, but that doesn't necessarily bring us wisdom or understanding.  Those things come with perspective.

Last night, I wasn't the greatest father in the world.  My son, who is struggling with his ADHD right now, was being obstinate and aggravating.  I was trying to make him understand why saying and doing mean things is wrong.  That it hurts people's feelings and gets him in trouble.  He was having none of my talk.  He screamed, stomped his feet, and cried.  I couldn't get him to listen or calm down.  It wasn't my proudest parenting moment ever.  And it accomplished absolutely nothing.

I thought my son was going to hate me forever.  (I'm still convinced last night will be the source of many hours of therapy once he gets older.)  When it was all over, I was still so angry that I didn't speak to anyone for a long time.  I just pounded away on the keyboard of my laptop and glared at everyone.

The funny thing is, a little while after this incident, my son was laughing and talking to me as if nothing had happened.  He had completely recovered from this scarring moment, and I was still sulking in a pool of guilt and anger.  My son had forgiven me, and I was still in my backyard, gazing through a glass darkly.  My son was on Alpha Centauri, looking down and saying, "Can I watch some Minecraft videos?"

I like to think I'm a forgiving person.  That I don't hold grudges and have an Alpha Centauri vantage point.  It's what I think distinguishes mentally and spiritually enlightened people from others.  Well, my son taught me a lesson in forgiveness last night.  By the time I went to bed, I felt like I'd been in some kind of desert for 40 days, facing my inner asshole self.

Marty did not earn any saint points yesterday.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 29, 2016

April 29: Outsiderhood, Terrance Hayes, "Derrick Poem (The Lost World)"

Another Terrance Hayes poem to end the day.  This time it's about race and Ella Fitzgerald and dinosaurs and loneliness.

One of the things I appreciate about Hayes is his ability to capture the feeling of being an outsider.  In this poem, the speaker is an African American man dating a white woman.  The speaker feels shame, as if he's somehow betraying his friends and family.

Now, I'm not going to talk about feeling like an outsider.  Nothing in my experience compares to being an African American male in the United States.  Yes, I've been an outsider in my family for my whole life.  I come from a family of plumbers; I teach writing and literature and film at a university.  I work in a medical office, but, on my breaks, I scribble poems in my journal.  At the university, I'm a contingent professor in a department of full-time, tenured faculty.

So, Saint Marty knows a little bit about outsiderhood.  Certainly, not as much as Terrance Hayes does.

Derrick Poem (The Lost World)

by:  Terrance Hayes

I take my $, buy a pair of very bright kicks for the game
at the bottom of the hill on Tuesday w / Tone who averages
19.4 points a game, & told me about this spot, & this salesman
w / gold ringed fingers fitting a $100 dollar NBA Air Avenger
over the white part of me-my sock, my heel & sole,
though I tell him Avengers are too flashy & buy blue & white
Air Flights w / the dough I was suppose to use to pay
the light bill & worse, use the change to buy an Ella
Fitzgerald CD at Jerrys, then take them both in a bag
past salesmen & pedestrians to the C where there is a girl
I'd marry if I was Pablo Neruda & after 3, 4 blocks, I spill out
humming "April in Paris" while a lady w / a 12 inch cigar
calls the driver a facist cuz he won't let her smoke on the bus
& skinny Derrick rolls up in a borrowed Pontiac w / room
for me, my kicks & Ella on his way to see The Lost World
alone & though I think the title could mean something else,
I give him some skin & remember the last time I saw him
I was on the B-ball court after dark w / a white girl
who'd borrowed my shorts & the only other person out
was Derrick throwing a Spalding at the crooked rim
no one usually shoots at while I tried not to look his way
& thought how we used to talk about black women
& desire & how I was betraying him then creeping out
after sundown with a girl in my shorts & white skin
that slept around me the 5 or 6 weeks before she got tired
of late night hoop lessons & hiding out in my crib
there at the top of the hill Derrick drove up still talking,
not about black girls, but dinosaurs which if I was listening
could have been talk about loneliness, but I wasn't,
even when he said, "We should go to the movies sometime,'
& stopped.

April 29: Small Dream, New/Old Job, Nuclear War

Last year I had a very unusual experience.  I was awake, with my eyes closed, when I had a dream.  It was a small dream about time.

Dillard has a waking dream.  It's about death and time and infinity.  Living in the past, present, and future.  Dillard's dream is full of flowing scarves and planets, mountains and caves, and an ocean.  Nostalgia and continents and France.  If this sounds confusing, that's alright. Taken out of context, it makes little sense.  But the entire passage about her dream is full of poetry and longing.

Today has been kind of amazing.  Like a dream even.  Earlier this week, I interviewed for a new/old job.  My position at the outpatient surgery center where I worked for 17 years was suddenly available.  I applied.  Just before I left work this evening, I was offered the position.  I accepted.  Dream number one.

Right before I left work, I also found out that I have a teaching contract for the fall semester at the university.  Two sections of Introduction to Film.  It's one of my favorite classes to teach.  I haven't been offered this course for over a year.  It is going to be a great semester.  And that would be waking dream number two.

Two waking dreams in one day.  Now, the rest of the weekend is going to suck more than a little bit.  Tons of stuff to grade.  It all has to be done by Monday at noon.  That means that I have to submit my grades by Sunday night because I'm working all day Monday.  So, as the seven dwarfs say, "Hi ho, hi ho!  It's off to grading response papers and research projects and argumentative essays and final exams until I go insane!"  That's a loose paraphrase.

Of course, the evening is not over yet.  A freak tidal wave could hit the Upper Peninsula and wipe out the entire population of Marquette County.  A tornado could swoop down and turn my neighborhood into a pile of popsicle sticks.  North Korea could launch a nuclear strike, turning the entire world into a grey shadowland where beetles become rulers of the planet.

All of this could happen, and the day would be ruined. 

Thank God that Saint Marty has a half bottle of wine in his refrigerator to celebrate or crush beetles with.  Depending on how the day ends.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

April 28: Beauty and Love, Terrance Hayes, "God is an American"

When I got home last night after teaching, I had a couple glasses of wine to celebrate the end of the semester.  The wine went well with my snack of choice--Pringles and Easy Cheese.  Now, that may sound disgusting to some of my disciples, but it was a beautiful combination.

I have another Terrance Hayes poem for you all tonight.  You know, the MacArthur Genius.  National Book Award Winner.  Saint Marty Poet of the Week.  He's just stacking up the honors.

Hayes' sonnet is about love and beauty, as most sonnets are.  This morning's post was all about my work day.  The office.  Phones.  Patients.  More phones.  Computers.  Phones again.  Tonight's post is about beauty and love.

My son is out on the playground right now, playing with a new friend.  A little girl who just moved into the neighborhood.  He's been playing with her for a couple of days now.  My son is still having trouble controlling himself since his ADHD medication stopped working for him.  His dosage has been increased, and he's got an appointment with a doctor next month.  However, by evening, he is always on the edge of grabbing a toy sledgehammer and pounding a hole in a bathroom door.  He's my beautiful boy.  My beautiful, sometimes possessed boy.

My daughter is in another room, talking to her boyfriend on her phone.  She'll continue talking to him until she goes to sleep tonight.  While she's doing her homework.  Eating Ramen noodles.  Brushing her hair.  Brushing her teeth.  She'll even take the phone with her to bed and talk with him before she drifts off to dreams.  She's my beautiful girl.  My beautiful, teenager-in-love girl.

Tonight, I will have another glass of wine with my wife while we watch the 10 o'clock news.  We will laugh at the anchor's ears, which are large and a little uneven.   We'll share some Pringles and a can of Easy Cheese.  It will be a beautiful night with the beautiful woman I love.

See.  Saint Marty promised you beauty and love in this post.

God is an American

by: Terrance Hayes

I still love words. When we make love in the morning,
your skin damp from a shower, the day calms.
Shadenfreude may be the best way to name the covering
of adulthood, the powdered sugar on a black shirt. I am

alone now on the top floor pulled by obsession, the ink
on my fingers. And sometimes it is a difficult name.
Sometimes it is like the world before America, the kin-
ship of fools and hunters, the children, the dazed dream

of mothers with no style. A word can be the boot print
in a square of fresh cement and the glaze of morning.
Your response to my kiss is I have a cavity. I am in
love with incompletion. I am clinging to your moorings.

Yes, I have a pretty good idea what beauty is. It survives
alright. It aches like an open book. It makes it difficult to live.

April 28: Imbecility, Morning Post, Marching and Marching

In the chill of the next morning they are deadly still; when they rouse themselves, however, they resume what Fabre calls their "imbecility."  They slog along all day, head to tail. . . . 

Dillard is writing about a group of moth caterpillars, who form themselves into a circular procession around the rim of a vase.  The caterpillars keep marching in the circle, and they keep marching and marching.  And marching.  And marching.  That is what Fabre terms their "imbecility."  After a night of dormancy, they just pick up their circular parade again.

Good morning.  I have not been abducted by a drug cartel, suffered some brain episode, or abandoned this blog.  I was correcting papers and final exams for two days.  While I have not completed all of my end-of-semester work, I have a little time to breathe right now.  A few days to finish things up.  But I do sort of feel like one of those caterpillars--marching all day, going dormant for a little while, then waking up and doing it all over again.  Day after day.

I know that I haven't posted in the morning for quite some time, but I wanted to let my two Constant Readers know that I am still here.  In a few minutes, I will pack up my messenger bag (yes, I carry a man purse, as my daughter calls it) and head off to work at the medical office.  On my way, I will stop to buy a Diet Mountain Dew.  A big one.  I'm a little tired right now.

Yesterday evening, I taught my last evening class of the semester.  It was with a group of students who have been with me for a full year.  They took first semester composition with me in the fall, and then they signed up for second semester composition with me this winter.  They have been a great group of kids to work with.  Always funny, forgiving, and supportive.  I'm actually going to miss them quite a bit.

So, I am a little melancholy this a.m.  The end of a school year always depresses me a little bit.  But, everything ends.  Semesters.  Books.  Jobs.  That's the way things are.  Unless you're a caterpillar.

Saint Marty needs to start his daily march now.  He'll keep marching and marching and marching . . . .
I'm a monarch . . .

Monday, April 25, 2016

April 25: Jesus and Bernie, Terrance Hayes, "What I Am"

You know, I have been following the presidential race in the United States with quite a bit of fear.  Donald Trump is frighteningly close to being a candidate for President of the United States.  If not Trump, then Ted Cruz (who is a quieter, sneakier version of Donald Trump).

I have never hidden my politics in this blog.  I find any candidate who runs on a platform that belittles or disenfranchises people a little, well, reprehensible.  Donald Trump wants to send all immigrants back where they came from (much the same way that he expels any person from his rallies who disagrees with him--shouting, "Get 'em out of here!").  Ted Cruz doesn't want to build a wall along our Southern border, but he's not overly fond of illegal immigrants, either.

Yesterday, at my wife's church, I was reminded by a visiting speaker that God's commandments can basically be summed up in two statements:  1) love God, and 2) love your neighbor.

That's pretty simple.  God doesn't say love everyone EXCEPT illegal immigrants or transgender people.  God doesn't exclude people.  Neither did Jesus.  In fact, I think Jesus went out of His way to have dinner with prostitutes and thieves and tax collectors.  Jesus sought out the disenfranchised.

I think that Donald Trump would probably kick Jesus out of one of his campaign rallies, because Jesus would probably be wearing a Bernie Sanders button on his robe.

The Poet of the Week knows a little bit about disenfranchisement.  His name is Terrance Hayes, and he has won all kinds of awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship (that's a Genius Grant, if you didn't know).  He's a young African American poet who provides a necessary voice for people who are overlooked and underestimated.

Saint Marty thinks Terrance Hayes wouldn't last very long in a Donald Trump rally, either.

What I Am

by:  Terrance Hayes

Fred Sanford’s on at 12
& I’m standing in the express lane (cash only)
about to buy Head & Shoulders
the white people shampoo, no one knows
what I am. My name could be Lamont.
George Clinton wears colors like Toucan Sam,
the Froot Loop pelican. Follow your nose,
he says. But I have no nose, no mouth,
so you tell me what’s good, what’s god,
what’s funky. When I stop
by McDonalds for a cheeseburger, no one
suspects what I am. I smile at Ronald’s poster,
perpetual grin behind the pissed-off, fly-girl
cashier I love. Where are my goddamn fries?
Ain’t I American? I never say, Niggaz
in my poems. My ancestors didn’t
emigrate. Why would anyone leave
their native land? I’m thinking about shooting
some hoop later on. I’ll dunk on everyone
of those niggaz. They have no idea
what I am. I might be the next Jordan
god. They don’t know if Toni Morrison
is a woman or a man. Michael Jackson
is the biggest name in showbiz. Mamma se 
Mamma sa mamma ku sa, sang the Bushmen 
in Africa. I’ll buy a dimebag after the game, 
me & Jody. He says, Fuck them white people 
at work, Man. He was an All-American 
in high school. He’s cool, but he don’t know 
what I am, & so what. Fred Sanford’s on 
in a few & I got the dandruff-free head 
& shoulders of white people & a cheeseburger 
belly & a Thriller CD & Nike high tops 
& slavery’s dead & the TV’s my daddy-- 
   You big Dummy!
Fred tells Lamont.

Donald, you big dummy!!!

April 25: Fish-Scale and Star, Good News, Best Friends

A rosy, complex light fills my kitchen at the end of these lengthening June days.  From an explosion on a nearby star eight minutes ago, the light zips through space, particle-waves, strikes the planet, angles on the continent, and filters through a mesh of land dust:  clay bits, sod bits, tiny wind-borne insects, bacteria, shreds of wing and leg, gravel dust, grits of carbon, and dried cells of grass, bark, and leaves.  Reddened, the light inclines into this valley over the green western mountains; it sifts between pine needles on northern slopes, and through all the mountain black-jack oak and haw, whose leaves are unclenching, one by one, and making an intricate, toothed and lobed haze.  The light crosses the valley, threads through the screen on my open kitchen window, and gilds the painted wall.  A plank of brightness bends from the wall and extends over the goldfish bowl on the table where I sit.  The goldfish's side catches the light and bats it my way; I've an eyeful of fish-scale and star.

This paragraph is one of my absolute favorites in A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  It's Annie Dillard at her best--connecting the cosmic to the domestic.  Exploding star to goldfish.  When reading Dillard, I often wonder if she always thinks this way.  If she sits down to eat breakfast--a bowl of Raisin Bran--and stares into her spoon, at the shriveled grape floating in the milk, and is suddenly transported into supernovas and dark matter and California vineyards and immigrant labor.  I think to myself that every day must be an adventure of thought for her.

I wish I cultivated that perspective more in my daily life.  I think I spend more of my time walking around like a blindered horse, only looking ahead at my destination.  No time to stop and take in the cosmic narrative unfolding around me.  Because my days are like this, I'm afraid that I miss a lot of important things--things that Dillard would take note of, write down, turn into essays about divine breath and baloney sandwiches.  Something like that.

I got a text from one of my best friends as I was leaving work this afternoon.  He's a Methodist pastor and, even though we don't communicate on a daily or weekly (sometimes monthly) basis, he's never far from my thoughts.  The last time I saw him was about a year ago.  I was on a trip with my family, and we met up with him to have lunch.  I hadn't spoken with him in almost a year, and yet, when he walked into the restaurant, we started talking as if we had just seen each other that morning.  We didn't miss a beat.

Anyway, my pastor friend is my son's godfather, and my son is making his First Communion in May.  My friend has arranged to come for the occasion.  He's driving up on a Friday, spending the weekend, and attending the Mass on Sunday afternoon.  When I read that text this afternoon, I sort of felt like that goldfish in Dillard's goldfish bowl.  The sunlight was striking me, filling the world with fish-scale and star.

It is a good night for me, full of happiness.  As a morose poet, I don't have too many moments like this.  I tend to dwell on dark things.  If I'm contemplating a goldfish in a bowl, that fish is usually floating belly-up, bloated and stiff.  So, I'm going to revel a little in this feeling.

I'm sitting in my office at the university at the moment.  Outside my door, I can hear grad students laughing and swearing.  They're having a great time, full of naive, youthful hope.  They all think they're going to go out, change the world in some big way.

Saint Marty's just going to sit in his office, quietly, and think about text messages, best friends, sons, godfathers, rain, sun, the solar system, cosmic winds, the mind of God.

This Monday hasn't been so bad . . .

Sunday, April 24, 2016

April 24: Rainy Sunday, Laptops, Classic Saint Marty

Rainy Sunday.

I just got done with church a little while ago, and now I'm settling down to a day's work of grading and reading.  Lots and lots of grading and reading.  If that was all I had to do this week, I'd be in good shape.  However, because I'm a contingent professor (a temporary, 23-year employee of the university), I also have a full-time job to worry about.  I've said it before:  if I were a tenured full-timer, I don't know what I'd do with all of the extra time I'd have.

My 15-year-old daughter is currently breathing down my neck because I am using my laptop.  It is the only computer in our household, and she wants to play Minecraft with her friends.  I can feel her stare drilling into the back of my head as I sit typing this post.  She is also sighing a lot.

The sad thing is that my day isn't going to get much better after I'm done blogging.  I will be moving from one pile of papers/exams to another.  For the next week, that will be my life.  I'm not complaining.  I love teaching, and I love my daughter.  They both drive me a little crazy sometimes.  That's all.

Three years ago, I was preoccupied with my daughter, as well:

April 25, 2013:  Your Prayers, My Daughter, Last Night

"Well.  Go to sleep.  Give Mother a kiss.  Did you say your prayers?"

Holden's mother appears for a very short time at the end of The Catcher in the Rye.  She's tucking Holden's little sister, Phoebe, in for the night.  Even though, earlier in the novel, Holden says his parents aren't religious at all, Holden's mother asks Phoebe, "Did you say your prayers?"  It's a casual question, like "Did you do your homework?" or "Did you brush your teeth?"  Yet, it highlights a spirituality in the Caulfield home that Holden denies earlier.

Last night, I was pretty tired.  Alright, I was friggin' exhausted.  I was trying to make it through American Idol, and I simply couldn't do it.  I surrendered to sleep at around 9:30 p.m.  Some time later, my twelve-year-old daughter came bouncing into my bedroom and jumped into bed beside me, snuggling into my armpit.

"Daddy?" she said.

I jumped and, without opening my eyes, said, "What, sweetie?"

"Are you going to say prayers with me?"

I sort of grunted.  I sleep with a mask on to blot out light.  I could smell her hair, which was still wet from her shower.  She uses a cherry blossom shampoo.

"Please, Daddy," she said.  "You can say short prayers."

I've prayed with my daughter or for my daughter or over my daughter every day since her birth.  We have developed a fairly complicated prayer routine, praying for family and friends, sick people, cousins, and teachers.  We even pray for her pediatrician.  Then we sing "Hush, Little Baby" three times to her.  We finish it off with the "be-attitudes," starting "Be a good girl for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, you guardian angel, the king and queen angels, the duke and duchess angels, knight angels and worker angels..."  The angel list goes on, developed in detail since my daughter was a toddler.  It takes a good five to seven minutes if the prayer routine is performed in full.

I didn't have the energy for all the prayers last night, so I said short prayers, which is a truncated version of the standard prayers.  General blessings for everybody.  "Hush, Little Baby" once.  And then the be-attitudes, skipping some of the lesser angels.

This morning, I read that little snippet of dialogue from Holden's mother, and I realized how blessed I am to have a daughter who wants to pray with me.  My daughter can't go to sleep until we've gone through some ritual of blessing for the people in her life.  She reminds me how important daily prayer is.  It's not like brushing teeth for her.  It's a completion thing.  Her day isn't over until she has a few words with God.

This post may seem sentimental.  I don't care.  I'm proud of the fact that I have a prayerful, caring daughter.

It's one of Saint Marty's greatest blessings.

I didn't say my daughter was perfect...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

April 23: ADHD, Donald Hall, "My Son, My Executioner"

Yes, I spent this morning with my son at church.  This evening, I helped my son with his bath.  As I was searching for an image for this post, my son suggested putting the word "epic" in front of the word "executioner."  "That will give you the best picture," he said.

My son is still struggling with his ADHD.  Last year, his medication worked well.  A few months ago, he started having outbursts at school again, had trouble concentrating.  At home, he's been flying into these uncontrollable rages, where we have to restrain him sometimes so he doesn't hurt himself. 

I thought we were through with this struggle.  Things had been going well for so long.  However, like any kind of illness (physical or mental), ADHD is not really curable.  It's treatable.  I will never be able to stop taking insulin.  My wife will never be able to abandon her bipolar meds.  And, in reality, my son has a lifelong struggle with his ADHD ahead of him.  He will switch medications, add medications, subtract them.

I wish I could cure my son.  I can't.  All I can do is hold him so that he doesn't harm himself.

Donald Hall has a poem about his newborn son.  It's beautiful and strikes at the heart of what being a parent is all about.

Saint Marty loves his little executioner.

My Son, My Executioner

by:  Donald Hall

My son, my executioner,
       I take you in my arms,
Quiet and small and just astir
And whom my body warms.
Sweet death, small son, our instrument
      Of immortality,
Your cries and hunger document
Our bodily decay.
We twenty-five and twenty-two
      Who seemed to live forever
Observe enduring life in you
And start to die together.

April 23: Holy Curiosity, Communion Retreat, MFA Readings

Somewhere, and I can't find where, I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?"  "No," said the priest, "not if you did not know."  "Then why," asked the Eskimo earnestly, "did you tell me?"  If I did not know about the rotifers and paramecia, and all the bloom of plankton clogging the dying pond, fine; but since I've seen it I must somehow deal with it, take it into account.  "Never lose a holy curiosity," Einstein said; and so I lift my microscope down from the shelf, spread a drop of duck pond on a glass slide, and try to look spring in the eye.

It's an interesting story.  If the Eskimo never found out about God and sin, the Eskimo will never go to hell.  So, if the priest never evangelized, the Eskimo would be safe from eternal damnation.  Of course, there's always morality to guide a person's conscience.  My guess is that the Eskimo would know that killing a person (or stealing or voting for Donald Trump) is a bad thing, no matter what.  Yet, knowledge is something that can't be undone.  If the Eskimo knows about God, he must contemplate sin and damnation.  If Dillard knows about plankton and paramecia, she must somehow act on this information.  As Einstein said, it's all about holy curiosity.

This morning, I went to a First Communion retreat with my son.  We talked about the Last Supper and foot washing.  My son designed a commemorative Communion plate; he drew a butterfly with the names of his godparents on it (my sister who recently passed was his godmother, and one of my best friends who's a Methodist pastor is his godfather).  Then we ate pizza. 

My son always has holy curiosity.  When the priest or deacon or teacher asks a question, my son's arm is always the first in the air.  This morning, he was answering questions about Judas and silver and transubstantiation.  I call this blog "Saint Marty," but I have a feeling that my son is closer to obtaining that title than I am.  Daily, he sort of amazes me with the depth of his faith.  When we sit down to eat breakfast or lunch or dinner, he is always the first to fold his hands to say grace.  A few days ago, he was walking with my wife and motioned the Sign of the Cross over himself for safety.  That's faith.  Real faith.

In the afternoon, I attended a reading given by MFA students at the university where I teach.  They were reading from their theses.  Fiction and nonfiction and poetry.  I heard it all.  Two of the readers I saw were former students of mine.  And, as I sat listening to these young people read from the fruits of their creativity, I think I was witnessing holy curiosity again.  Writers take leaps of faith every day when they sit down to write.  When I blog, I usually have no idea what's going to come out of my head and on to the computer screen.  It's always a surprise (hopefully a pleasant one).  Holy curiosity.

So, Saint Marty has been in the presence of the divine (in one manifestation or another) all day.  Like Einstein.  Like Dillard.  He's in good company.

Friday, April 22, 2016

April 22: Process of Aging, Donald Hall, "White Apples"

I just finished Donald Hall's book Essays After Eighty this afternoon.  Hall has been keeping me company all week long, so I read the last page with a little sadness.  Of course, I could go back and reread my favorite essays, but it wouldn't be the same.  It would be like watching a movie I've already seen.  (I am not opposed to this practice.  However, the second or third or fiftieth viewing of, say, Psycho is just not the same as that first time.)

Hall's book was all about the process of aging.  The diminishments.  Hall can no longer write poetry.  Hence, a book of prose essays.  Writing prose is, for some reason, easier for him as he approaches his ninetieth year of life.

But, I do have a Hall poem for you this evening.  It's about loss and grief and death.  You know, standard poet stuff.

Saint Marty is going to miss his visits with Donald.

White Apples

by:  Donald Hall

when my father had been dead a week
I woke
with his voice in my ear
I sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again
I would put on my coat and galoshes

April 22: Pagan Stars, Earth Day, Neanderthal

Later I lay half out of my sleeping bag on a narrow shelf of flat ground between the cottage porch and the bank to the dam.  I lay where a flash flood would reach me, but we have had a flood; the time is late.  The night was clear; when the fretwork of overhead foliage rustled and parted, I could see the pagan stars.

Dillard is camping out.  In the darkness, she listens to the sound of the trees and trees' inhabitants.  Goldfinches.  A squirrel or two.  And cicadas, "the guns of August."  Night is not a time of rest in the woods.  It's a time of movement, scavenging, and noise.  Lots of noise.  Nature's stage is never empty.  The actors simply change with the sunlight and season.  Earth is in perpetual performance.

Happy Earth Day!  In celebration of this important event, I spent nine hours inside, sitting before a computer, answering phones, and dealing with people.  The closest I came to being environmentally conscious was taking the stairs instead of the elevator when I left work.  (I work on the third floor of a medical center; there was no way I was going to walk up three flights of stairs this morning. )

When my alarm went off this morning, I looked out the window and saw snow flying.  I had to scrape ice off my windshield.  I did not think or say very kind things about Mother Earth as I zipped up my winter jacket yet again.  It was dark and windy.

Now, I don't want to hear any lectures about global warming and the melting polar icecap.  I know that we have messed up this little piece of rock in the solar system we call home.  Human beings have a way of discovering natural things like crude oil or natural gas and going all apeshit over it.  I'm reminded of the scene from the beginning of 2001:  A Space Odyssey where one Neanderthal clubs another Neanderthal to death over a pool of muddy water.  We haven't progressed all that much from that prehistoric moment. 

So, tonight, I will do something green.  Maybe I'll return the bag of pop cans on my front porch.  Or go for a walk.  Turn off all the lights in my house and read by candlelight.  (I thought about going natural this morning by forgoing deodorant, but I didn't want to offend my coworkers--two twenty-something girls who wouldn't appreciate my efforts.)  So I'm still formulating my Earth Day plans.

Maybe Saint Marty will watch Wall-E and eat unsalted popcorn.  Or Pringles and Easy Cheese and Midnight in Paris.  But he'll think about acid rain as he's eating.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

April 21: Lightning Path, Prince, W. Todd Kaneko, "Rickidozan Was Big in Japan"

Catch it if you can.  The present is an invisible electron; its lightning path traced faintly on a blackened screen is fleet, and fleeing, and gone.

Dillard reflects upon how fleeting the present is.  It's here for a few moments--like a shooting star--and then burns up in the atmosphere.  Too fast to even make a quick wish on it.  It doesn't even leave an after-image in the world.  It flashes and is gone.  The future becomes the present; the present zigs into the past; and the past fades into memory.

I have been thinking about my past a great deal today.  This morning, the singer Prince was found unresponsive in his Minnesota recording studio.  Paramedics attempted to revive him, to no avail.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

I was 15 when Purple Rain came out.  It was the soundtrack to many school dances I attended, couples grinding away to "When Doves Cry."  Prince was the anti-Michael Jackson.  Jackson was all moonwalking and sequined gloves.  Prince was all screaming guitar and sex.  I listened to Jackson during the day.  Prince was my midnight music.  The stuff that played in the car as I cruised with my friends, scamming beers and girls.

So, when I heard the news of Prince's death, it made me feel old.  Mortal.  As if a part of my youth had just been declared D. O. A.  And the feeling has stayed with me all day long, into the evening when my Book Club met at my house.

This month, in honor of National Poetry Month, we read W. Todd Kaneko's The Dead Wrestler Elegies, a collection of poems about professional wrestlers who have met untimely ends.  Lots of heart attacks and cancer and drug overdoses.  It's a sobering book about growing up and grappling with mortality and love.  In short, a perfect companion to today's events.  (I have included one of my favorite poems from the collection.)

Saint Marty is feeling a little . . . fleeting tonight.  A meteor.  Electron.  A breath in winter air.

Rickidozan Was Big in Japan

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

After the empire fell, after the fires
left scars over backs of foxwife
and fisherman, Rikidozan invented
professional wrestling for Japan,
swallowed the atomic bomb, then
devised a new word for faith.
After my mother left us, after
my father dreamed of starting over
in a new place, the way Rikidozan
appeared in Japan with karate
chops and arms that grapple
men to the canvas for a quick one
two three--Rikidozan with thunder
in his hands and sun fire to forge
new names for virility, for honor.
Rikidozan with eagle claw.  Knife
hand.  Dragon's tongue.  Rikidozan
using the deadliest parts of a man
to breathe life into battered bodies.
My father watching television late
into night until every grappler faded
into static and snow.  My father
tinier in that dark room than he is now
in death.  Rikidozan devising new names
for manhood.  My father proclaiming
that professional wrestling is fake,
Rikidozan explaining that autheticity
doesn't matter when a man
needs something to believe in.

Do not go gentle into that Purple Rain storm . . .

April 21: Brain Dead, Donald Hall, "The Things"

It is raining a little tonight, with strong winds.  It's after 11 p.m., and I am pretty much brain dead.

That pretty much describes my state every Thursday.  I can barely string together two words for this post.  So, I am going to leave the work to the Poet of the Week to be profound.  Donald Hall has over eighty years of practice being wise and funny.  He never really disappoints.

Saint Marty needs to unplug his lava lamp and go to sleep now. 

The Things

by:  Donald Hall

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable 
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips 
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.

A lot smarter than me . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April 19: Horde of Locusts, Grading and More Grading, Twilight Zone

A man lay down to sleep in a horde of locusts, Will Barker says.  Instantly the suffocating swarm fell on him and knit him in a clicking coat of mail.  The metallic mouth parts meshed and pinched.  His friends rushed in and woke him at once.  But when he stood up, he was bleeding from the throat and wrists.

It's a terrifying image.  A horde of locusts enrobing a man's body.  Clicking and pinching like some 1950s radioactive monster movie.  A nightmare.  But, when the dreamer wakes, he is bleeding.  Perhaps it's a night terror, the sleeper clawing at himself.  Perhaps the attacking horde is real, chased by screams into the black air.

This morning, I would have paid to stay in bed, even if it was crawling with a carpet of hungry locusts.  I was more than dead tired.  I was living dead tired.  All day long, I stumbled around like I was starved for brains.  Even though it was Tuesday, it felt like Monday.  I was not operating at 100 percent.  I was barely functioning at 50 percent.

Tonight, I have loads of work to do.  Grading.  Lesson planning.  More grading.  And, when I'm done with that, more grading.  It is that time of the semester when all the chickens come home to roost, as Malcolm X would say.  For the next couple of weeks, I will pretty much remain in a zombie state.  Not really alive, not really dead.

Saint Marty is in the Twilight Zone of the semester.

Well, it felt like Monday to me.

April 19: Honors, Poet of the Week, Donald Hall, "Name of Horses"

 I must apologize for my absence yesterday.  After a long weekend of dance and travel, I succumbed to a bout of exhaustion.  I wasn't feeling well enough to sit down with my laptop and be witty, charming, or profound.  I was happy to simply be upright last night.  However, I have recovered.

I bet most of you thought I had abandoned my tradition of choosing a Poet of the Week.  I haven't.  I simply took a brief hiatus from it.

But now, due to an overwhelming surge of disgruntled disciples, I am happy once again to bestow the title of Poet of the Week.  Donald Hall is the recipient of this great honor.  As you know, I have been reading his book Essays After Eighty and reveling in his good humor and lack of respect for authority.  I just finished one chapter of the book on Hall's feelings about awards and honors.  (Hint:  he doesn't really give a shit.)

In the poem for today, Hall writes of the honorableness of horses.  The hard, back-breaking work done by these animals for humankind.  That's something worthy of immortality in Hall's estimation, I think.

And if it's good enough for Donald Hall, it's good enough for Saint Marty.

Name of Horses

by:  Donald Hall

All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon's heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun's muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground - old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 17: Daughter's Dance Competition, Emmett Kelly, Classic Saint Marty

My daughter making up with her boyfriend
The second day of my daughter's dance competition.  This morning, she did her make-up and then decided to do her boyfriend's make-up.  And he sat there and let her do it.  Of course, he ended up looking like an Emmett Kelly reject.  Yet, he was still smiling.

My daughter's two dances went really well today.  She received Outstanding and Superior Awards.  Plus, one of the dances received the judges' White Diamond Award and the other was part of the Entertainment Showdown.  You may not understand what I just wrote, but, take it from me, it was a big deal for a tiny dance studio from the Upper Peninsula.  I couldn't have been prouder.

After the competition was done, we did what all teenage girls do to celebrate:  we went shopping.  Old Navy this time.  She got a whole lot of clothes.  I myself picked up a few pairs of pants and a couple of shirts for myself.  And then it was Chuck E. Cheese for dinner.  My son was so excited that he didn't even wait for the car to stop to open his door.  Before I had turned off the car, he was across the parking lot and through the door of the restaurant. 

We spent almost two hours there.  The pizza was surprisingly good, and my son, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend had a really good time. 

It has been a really good weekend, full of love and happiness.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, when I was once again writing about love and happiness.

April 17, 2013:  Athletic Bastards, Hate in General, Love in General

Ed Banky was the basketball coach at Pencey.  Old Stradlater was one of his pets, because he was the center on the team, and Ed Banky always let him borrow his car when he wanted it.  It wasn't allowed for students to borrow faculty guys' cars, but all the athletic bastards stuck together.  In every school I've gone to, all the athletic bastards stuck together.

Holden is an alienated young man.  He has a problem with "athletic bastards" like his roommate Stradlater.  He has a problem with phonies like his father, who's a corporate lawyer.  He has a problem with Ackley, his suitemate at Pencey Prep, because of his bad hygiene.  Pretty much Holden has a problem with practically the whole world.

Perhaps that's why so many troubled teens identify with Holden.  Holden speaks for a group of people who usually have no voice.  I think that's why The Catcher in the Rye is considered to be such a subversive book, because its main character is on the fringe, not fitting in with any of his peers.  It's no wonder that Holden's story has been linked to so many messed-up kids involved in violent acts in schools and on the streets.  Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, had a copy of the novel with him when he was arrested.  He inscribed the book, "This is my statement" and signed it as "Holden Caulfield."

Yesterday afternoon, a colleague saw my copy of The Catcher in the Rye sitting on my desk.  He looked at it and half-jokingly said, "Are you allowed to keep that here?  Has the FBI talked to you about Boston yet?"

At first, I was a little taken aback.  I quickly regained myself and said, "Yeah, I told them the book belonged to you."

My colleague laughed and then went on a diatribe about terrorists and Islamic extremists and the suspension of the Geneva Conventions and torture.  I listened politely.  I understood his anger.  I was angry Monday night as I watched the news reports about the Boston Marathon bombing.  It wasn't unfocused, general anger.  It was anger that wanted justice and retribution and revenge for all the lives that were injured and lost.

We still don't know who's responsible for what happened in Boston.  Domestic or foreign, it was an act of terror.  Certainly, the person or people who did it felt justified (maybe even righteously inspired) to plant those explosive devices.  For me, it's a Mark David Chapman moment, the guilty party using the Bible or Koran or Declaration of Independence or Second Amendment or The Catcher in the Rye or whatever to perpetrate an act of senseless hatred and violence.

People just don't get it.  Mark David Chapman didn't get it.  Osama bin Laden didn't get it.  Skinheads don't get it.  J. D. Salinger wasn't promoting hatred.  In fact, at the end of the novel, Holden says he misses Stradlater and Ackley.  Mohammed and Jesus Christ didn't promote hatred.  They were all about love and peace.  Anybody who thinks otherwise has got it wrong.  Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and thieves.  He loved these people, even if He disagreed with their life choices.

I call myself a follower of Christ.  That means I'm supposed to love people.  Forgive people who do me harm.  Anyone.  Black, white, straight, gay, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindi, short, tall, fat, skinny.  I have to forgive the party responsible for the Boston bombing, show love and compassion.  That's a tall order.  But being a Christian is not easy.  Just ask Jesus.  He has the scars to prove it.

Hate in general is bad.  Hatred of anyone (gay or African American or Muslim or Christian) or anything (unless it's bad poetry).  Love in general is good.  It's what we should all aspire to.  Jesus said, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another."  Mohammed said, "Do you love your creator?  Love your fellow-beings first."  John Lennon sang, "All you need is love."

Saint Marty thinks those are words to live by.

Sing it with me...

April 16: The Muse, Billy Joel, Donald Hall

Michael Goldman wrote in a poem, "When the Muse comes She doesn't tell you to write; / She says get up for a minute, I've something to show you, stand here."  What made me look up at that roadside tree?

I love this little quote that Dillard uses.  She's writing about inspiration.  For her, at this particular moment, it is a tree.  But, at another moment, it may be moonlight in a mud puddle or a cloud of mosquitoes attacking a porch light.  The Muse comes when the Muse comes, and the poet just needs to step aside and let her work her magic.

It has been a busy day.  My daughter danced this afternoon.  A tap dance solo to Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."  It was the first time I've seen her solo.  She did a great job.  The other dancers were great, too.  I'm always amazed at the level of talent at these competitions.  When I watch these dances, I can tell when the Muse is with the dancer.  There's something extra present.  An energy or technique or connection to the music. 

My daughter received an Outstanding Award for her solo.  That's like a gold medal.  I am so proud of her.  She has the Muse, is my Muse.  I know how much she loves to dance, and when I watch her, I can tell when the music takes over.  It's like that moment when I'm writing and something just drops out of the air onto the page.  Something totally unexpected and beautiful.  A sparkle of tinfoil in a robin's nest.

This morning, I went shopping with my son, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend.  We hit Toys-R-Us first.  Then we headed to Barnes & Noble.  I haven't been to an actual Barnes & Noble in years.  I didn't think they still existed.  I found a new book by Donald Hall.  Essays after Eighty.  I've already read about 15 or 20 pages, where Hall talks about that fact that poems don't come to him anymore.  "Prose endures," Hall writes. 

I find that a little depressing.  Donald Hall has been one of my poet heroes for a long time.  I met him a few years ago.  I attended a dinner in his honor.  He was a lovely man.  Close to 90 years old and still sharp as a shard of glass.  The fact that I will never read a new Donald Hall poem again makes the world a little less bright. 

Yet, Hall's prose contains moments of absolute poetry.  The Muse is still visiting him, even in his old age, as he sits by the window in his house and watches snow coat the world.  So, that gives me hope.  My daughter has the Muse.  Donald Hall has the muse.  And tomorrow, I will go watch my daughter dance again.

Saint Marty is having an a-Musing weekend.

One of my favorite pictures

Friday, April 15, 2016

April 15: Queen Mary, Grand Rapids, Vacation

When I look across the street, I can't believe my eyes.  Right behind the road's shoulder are waves, waves whipped in rhythmically peaking scallops, racing downstream.  The hill where I watched the praying mantis lay her eggs is a waterfall that splashes into a brown ocean.  I can't even remember where the creek usually runs--it is everywhere now.  My log is gone for sure, I think--but in fact, I discover later, it holds, rammed between growing trees.  Only the cable suspending the steers' fence is visible, and not the fence itself; the steers' pasture is entirely in flood, a brown river.  The river leaps its banks and smashes into the woods where the motorbikes go, devastating all but the sturdiest trees.  The water is so deep and wide it seems as though you could navigate the Queen Mary in it, clear to Tinker Mountain.

Spring is rushing into Tinker Creek, a great brown sea that rewrites the entire landscape.  It's probably something that happens every year.  Downing weak trees, washing away pastures.  When all is said and done, after the snow has melted and runoff charged through, Tinker Creek will settle into summer.  New and wide.

Greetings from Grand Rapids.  It has been a long day of travel.  As we drove, we passed through valleys where spring runoff had flooded pastures, the waves practically lapping at the roads.  Yes, like Dillard, I saw quite a few bodies of water that looked big enough for the Queen Mary to come sailing by.

It was a relatively painless journey.  Yes, my seven-year-old son had a few meltdowns.  Yes, my daughter wanted to abandon her brother at a Subway in Gaylord, Michigan.  And, indeed, my wife over-packed yet again.  We came down here with a small grocery store in the back of my sister's van.

The members of our Grand Rapids landing party include myself, my wife and daughter and son, my sister, and my daughter's boyfriend.  We have three days of dance competitions and eating and shopping ahead of us.  I'm going to try to make the best of my time down here, because it will probably be the only vacation I get this summer.  (By the way, it is seventy degrees down here.  For a Yooper, that sort of feels like July.)

I am happy.  I'm with people I love.  The weather's great.  I'm about a half mile away from a Barnes & Noble.  Tomorrow, I get to see my daughter dance and have a really good steak dinner, hopefully.

Marty is a very happy saint this evening.

My daughter and her boyfriend

April 14: Sunlit Detail, Grand Rapids, Nostalgia

All these things I saw.  Scenes grew in depth and sunlit detail before my eyes, and were replaced by ever more scenes, as I remembered the life of my time with increasing feeling.

Dillard is talking about memory.  Remembering the sunlit times of her life.  In paragraphs before and after the above passage, she writes of oceans and space and France.  Things from her past.  She's flooded with nostalgia, thinking about a former place or time in her life.  With nostalgia comes a certain degree of sadness, as well.  Dillard is walking a tightrope.  Above, moon and stars.  Below, canyon and darkness.

First, I apologize for my absence these last two days.  It was my mid-week blogging pause to lesson plan and grade and teach.  By the time I get home after class on Wednesday night, I am usually brain dead.  It takes much energy to engage a classroom full of 25 undergraduates between the ages of 18 and 23.  Last night, I had enough gumption to order a pizza, eat it with my wife and daughter, and then stumble off to bed.

This weekend, I will be traveling to Grand Rapids with my family.  My daughter has a dance competition.  We will be leaving tomorrow morning.  It's about a six- or seven-hour drive, depending on the number of stops we make.  The members of our Grand Rapids landing party include myself, my wife and son and daughter, my sister, and my daughter's boyfriend.  By tomorrow night at this time, I will probably be throwing my son into a swimming pool or eating McDonald's food in a room at the Ramada Inn.

On my way home from work this evening, I stopped to visit my sister's grave.  I drive by the cemetery almost every day, and sometimes I just experience this urge to turn into the entrance gates.  Tonight, I stayed there about ten or fifteen minutes, talking, telling my sister about the trip, work, school.  I told her about her godson (my son), and how he is now sporting a Mohawk haircut.  And I told her about my daughter and her boyfriend.  My sister would have liked him.

Yes, like Dillard, I indulged myself in a little nostalgia.  Happiness and sadness.  I know that grieving is a process.  Healing takes a lot of time.  It has been almost eight months since my sister's death.  It was sunny and warm in the cemetery this afternoon.  All the snow had melted around my sister's headstone.  The metal nameplate on it was warm to the touch. 

I sometimes experience tremendous guilt for convincing my family to discontinue my sister's medical treatment, for bringing her home under hospice care.  It's an irrational feeling.  I know this.  My sister's brain lymphoma was very advanced, the tumor in her head caused a debilitating stroke.  She wasn't opening her eyes, barely responded to questions.  She had suffered a lot and was going to die.

My family had been praying for a miracle.  Our parish priest brought the stole of Bishop Baraga to bless my sister.  Frederick Baraga was declared venerable by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.  That means that he's two steps away from being declared a saint.   Father Larry placed the stole around my sister's head, anointed her with chrism.  We recited the rosary.

Now, perhaps the miracle my sister received was an end to her pain.  I remember the morning she died.  One of her best friends was standing at the foot of her bed, and, as we prayed, she lifted her arms up, as if she were giving my sister up to God.  It was a gesture that profoundly moved me.  It was shortly after that moment that my sister breathed her last breath.

Yes, grieving is about letting go.  Releasing all the pain and anger and sadness.  Until I give all that up, I'm never going to be able to appreciate what I had with my sister.  The jokes we shared.  The long hours we worked together.  The closeness and trust.

That is what Saint Marty is missing tonight.  Those sunlit details.

Monday, April 11, 2016

April 11: Live Water, the Past, Sleeping Pill

Live water heals memories.  I look up the creek and here it comes, the future, being borne aloft as on a winding succession of laden trays.  You may wake and look from the window and breathe the real air, and say, with satisfaction or with longing, "This is it."  But if you look up the creek, if you look up the creek in any weather, your spirit fills, and you are saying, with an exulting rise of the lungs, "Here it comes!"

It's a baptism image.  Annie Dillard doesn't shy away from the God thing.  Granted, in this paragraph, she simply talks about "live water" healing memories.  I don't think that's too far off from the living water of the Bible that brings eternal life.  It's all about healing, physically and emotionally and spiritually.  That's why I chose Pilgrim at Tinker Creek as the blog book of the year.  It's all about looking forward instead of backward.

That's a difficult thing to do--letting go of the past, focusing on the future.  My daughter at the moment has two boys interested in her.  The first boy--the one who's been in the picture for about six months--is really having a difficult time with the situation.  He's feeling a little sidelined, sitting there and watching the girl he likes flirt with another boy.

Seeing this unfold, I found myself really sympathizing with my daughter's current boyfriend.  When my wife and I were separated, I found myself in a very similar situation.  Lost and rejected, I spent an entire year of my life sidelined, caring for our kindergarten-aged daughter and wondering what the hell happened.

The past has been haunting me these last few days.  I want to tell my daughter how much it hurts to have someone about whom you care deeply turn her back on you.  It's painful.  Gives you sleepless nights.  Makes you crazy.  I thought that I'd moved forward, left this moment of my life floating down the creek and around the bend.  Unfortunately, I've found that wound is still a little raw.

Now, my daughter is doing nothing wrong.  She's being a 15-year-old girl.  Neither of her boys are doing anything wrong.  They are being 15-year-old boys.  My wife and I have a strong marriage.  We just celebrated our twentieth anniversary last October.  No worries.

The past, however, has a way of sneaking up on you, and that's exactly what happened to me this weekend.  The single-father me has reappeared and given me a bad case of insomnia these last few nights.

Saint Marty may be taking a sleeping pill tonight with a glass of live water.

I don't mind spoilers--no surprises for me!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

April 10: A Better Day, Classic Saint Marty, Toothache

Today has been a better day than yesterday.  For some reason, yesterday was long and stressful.  My daughter had another teenage boy visiting for the day.  There was a lot of tension between them.  I felt horrible for the poor kid who's been visiting and staying at our house on weekends.  He looked absolutely miserable.  I just kept on telling him that everything was going to be alright.  If my daughter is anything, she's loyal and loving.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't have anything against the other boy.  He was charming and polite, played with my seven-year-old son.  Nice looking.  His father is a college professor, and his mother is a nurse.  He did everything right to make me like him.  And I did like him.

But I have a strong affection for the other kid.  He's a little shy, a little awkward.  Funny as hell.  He's the one that went on a date with me to Dairy Queen last Thursday.  He said he was spending "quality time" with me. 

He just left for home.  He lives about two hours away from us.  However, he will be returning on Thursday night because he is going on a trip with us to Grand Rapids.  My daughter has a dance competition.  The invitation was my idea, and his parents agreed to let him come.  He was smiling hugely when he left.

It is the end of the weekend.  Work tomorrow.  Dreading, dreading, dreading.  I've had a toothache for the past week.  At first, I thought it was due to tooth-grinding at night while I sleep.  This weekend, however, my jaw hurt all day long.  So, I put in a call to my dentist yesterday.  I'm hoping to get an appointment tomorrow. 

So, that's where I am tonight:  dreading work, aching tooth, posting blog.

Tonight's Classic Saint Marty comes from my Charlotte's Web year--2014:

April 10, 2014:  Stretched Out, A Funeral, A Nap

Lurvy appeared, carrying an Indian blanket that he had won.

"That's just what we need," said Avery.  "A blanket."

"Of course it is," replied Lurvy.  And he spread the blanket across the sideboards of the truck so that it was like a little tent.  The children sat in the shade, under the blanket, and felt better.

After lunch, they stretched out and fell asleep.

This evening, I am tired.  I'm sitting in my office at the university, grading quizzes, and getting more and more tired.  I am so thankful this day (and this work week) is almost done.  It's been a really exhausting five days.

This afternoon, I played the pipe organ for the funeral of a friend's wife.  They were married over 50 years.  He looked so sad and lost in the front pew.  I played his favorite songs, and my wife sang his wife's favorite hymn.  In a lot of ways, it really was a celebration, but I left the church very depressed.

Then, I came to school and finished showing Brokeback Mountain to my film class.  By the time it was over, I was emotionally exhausted.  That's the way it's been all week for me, and I don't know why.  Working at the medical office depressed me.  Teaching depressed me.  Now, typing this post is depressing me.  I may have to drag out my DVD of It's a Wonderful Life this weekend.

I think my mood has a lot to do with my impending job change.  After working in the same office for 17 years, I think I'm allowed to mourn a little bit.  I'm not saying my current job is perfect.  It isn't.  However, I love the people with whom I work, and I'm really good at what I do.  In some ways, it almost feels like my coworkers are treating me like I'm already gone.  They keep asking me, "When's your last day?"

So I'm thankful for this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of respite.

I know I'm supposed to write about what's in my book bag on Thursdays, and I apologize.  I haven't had the time or energy to read anything this week.

Saint Marty just wants to crawl under Lurvy's Indian blanket tent and fall asleep.

This cartoon has nothing to do with my post, but it's funny as hell.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

April 9: Jealousy, Billy Collins, "Flock"

Yes, I owe you some poetry.  Since all I've been carrying around is the collection, Aimless Love, it is Billy Collins again.

It's one of those poems that I read and think to myself, "Dammit, I wish I had written that."  My two Constant Readers know that I have a little problem with jealousy.  It's one of my many character flaws.  And when I find a poem that I really love, it makes me want to write a better poem.  I suppose that's a good thing.  Some people may say that I'm being inspired by the poem.  I think I'm just competing.  But that's okay.  A little competition never hurt anybody.

I haven't written a new poem in several months now.  I've been too wrapped up in work and teaching.  By the time I get home at night, I can barely stay awake.  Soon, the semester will be coming to an end, and I will have about two months before I start teaching again.  Hopefully, I can start competing with Billy Collins during that time.

In the meantime, Saint Marty will just seethe with envy.


by:  Billy Collins

          It has been calculated that each copy of
          the Gutenburg Bible . . . required the
          skins of 300 sheep.
               ---from an article on printing

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed,

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

This cartoon inspired by Charles Schulz . . .

April 9: Skunk Cabbage, Untying Knots, Negative Capability

The point I want to make about the snakeskin is that, when I found it, it was whole and tied in a knot.  Now there have been stories told, even by reputable scientists, of snakes that have deliberately tied themselves in a knot to prevent larger snakes from trying to swallow them--but I couldn't imagine any way that throwing itself into a half hitch would help a snake trying to escape its skin.  Still, ever cautious, I figured that one of the neighborhood boys could possibly have tied it in a knot in the fall, for some whimsical boyish reason, and left it there, where it dried and gathered dust.  So I carried the skin along thoughtlessly as I walked, snagging it sure enough on a low branch and ripping it in two for the first of many times.  I saw that thin ice still lay on the quarry pond and that the skunk cabbage was already out in the clearings, and then I came home and looked at the skin and its knot.

Annie Dillard is trying to explain a mystery.  It could be titled like a Hardy Boys' book--The Mystery of Snakeskin Knot.  The question with which she is wrestling is how a snake ties itself into a knot and then sheds its skin, leaving behind a dried knot of epidermis.  It seems like an impossibility.  Along with this mystery is a larger question of why the snake would coil itself into this physical state in the first place.  Protection against larger snakes and other predators?  Dillard doesn't know.  (Of course she figures it out in the next paragraph.  It deals with the act of shedding--the snake peeling the skin off like a sock peeling pulled off a foot.  The skin turns inside-out, and then, for some reason, the skin turns itself right-side out again in one place.  The result is a lump of wrinkled skin that, when dried, resembles a knot.  Pretty cool.)

The reason this paragraph appeals to me is because of its sense of wonder.  Dillard has no reasonable explanation for what she has found, and, for a while, she walks around thinking that snakes do something unnatural, magical even.  I appreciate her ability to embrace the unknown and revel in it.  Of course, being Annie Dillard, she has to reason out an explanation.  But the explanation itself is still a little miraculous.  The creation of an artifact that confounds even scientists.

I have no problem living in a state of Negative Capability.  There's something about mystery that appeals to me.  Poet John Keats said that great thinkers and artists are "capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”  Now, I'm not saying that I'm a great thinker or artist, but I am saying that I don't always have to untie the knot in the snakeskin.  Sometimes, for me, it's enough simply to admire the knot.

For example, my kids are kind of a mystery to me.  Sometimes, I can see myself or my wife reflected in them.  Recently, I watched Michael Moore's films Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 with my daughter and her friend.  My daughter loved the movies.  The irreverence and humor of them.  Also, their questioning of social mores and expectations.  I like to think that I had a little to do with that kind of intelligence, but I know that it's a little more complex than that. 

My son is even more of a mystery to me.  I am not an outdoor person.  I don't particularly enjoy fishing.  I've only gone hunting once or twice in my entire life.  Yet, my son loves being outside.  He likes finding things like anthills and spiders.  He gets excited when he finds dead animals.  (He once discovered a dead deer in a neighbor's backyard.  The poor creature ran through the yard during a snowstorm, tried to leap over a fence, and broke its neck.)  Those are the kinds of things that excite him.  I don't know where he got that from.  It's like there's some little piece of primeval DNA squirming around in him.  The hunter/gatherer neanderthal.  It's not anything that I taught him or that he observed me doing.

Another example of Negative Capability in my life right now--my daughter and boys.  Today, she has two teenage boys visiting.  Both have traveled a good distance to see her.  Over one hundred miles for each of them.  Through a lot of snow and ice.  Now, teenage boys are not a mystery to me.  I used to be a teenage boy myself.  However, seeing my daughter interacting in a group of peers with penises is a little disconcerting.  She's moody and mercurial.  Maybe that's what attracts the boys.  I don't know. 

So, this Saturday is Negative Capability day for Saint Marty.  Uncertainty all around.  A blizzard of unanswered questions.

Mathematical Negative Capability