Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 31: Ice Cream, Marie Howe, "The Copper Beech"

There's nothing worse in life than feeling unprotected.

I've been fairly lucky in my life.  I had parents who supported me in every crazy thing I did, including abandoning a possible career in computer programming to go to graduate school to study creative writing.  I have a wife who's willing to listen to 500 drafts of a poem until it's done.  And my kids aren't too embarrassed with having a father who cries at movies like a pregnant woman sometimes.

I've had love and protection, even during the darkest moments of my life.  That's pretty unusual.  Yet, everyone deserves this.  Everyone should have a person to go get ice cream with.  To sit at a picnic table on a hot August day and lick away at some Mackinac Island Fudge or Blue Moon.  It has made all the difference in my life, this human assurance.

Saint Marty hopes everybody reading this post has a Dairy Queen pal.  Or at least a copper beech to sit under.

The Copper Beech

by:  Marie Howe

Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,

with limbs low enough for me to enter it
and climb the crooked ladder to where

I could lean against the trunk and practice being alone.

One day, I heard the sound before I saw it, rain fell
darkening the sidewalk.

Sitting close to the center, not very high in the branches,
I heard it hitting the high leaves, and I was happy,

watching it happen without it happening to me.

Everyone deserves ice cream every once in a while

August 31: Goldfinch, Alleluia Moment, Charlie Chaplin

The goldfinch here on the fringed thistletop was burying her head with each light thrust deeper into the seedcase.  Her fragile legs braced to her task on the vertical, thorny stem; the last of the thistledown sprayed and poured.  Is there anything I could eat so lightly, or could I die so fair?  With a ruffle of feathered wings the goldfinch fluttered away, out of range of the broken window's frame and toward the deep blue shade of the cliffs where late fireflies already were rising alight under the trees.  I was weightless; my bones were taut skins blown with buoyant gas; it seemed that if I inhaled too deeply, my shoulders and head would waft off.  Alleluia.

Dillard is having what I call an Alleluia moment.  It's when, for whatever reason, grace sort of descends upon you.  The whole world suddenly seems transformed into beauty.  Dillard, watching a goldfinch eating thistle, feels the very pull of gravity dissipate from her body.  She's weightless.  Winged.  As if, with a single breath, she could float into the heavens.

I realize that last night's posts weren't very grace-filled.  No Alleluia moments.  Understand that, every time these half-truths and rumors about job eliminations spread through the university departments, I get a little unnerved.  It's sort of like I'm living on the fringe of a forest that's raging with fire.  The wind shifts in my direction, and my house burns down.  At least, that's what it feels like.

I am trying to embrace grace today.  Tonight, I teach my film class.  We are watching a Charlie Chaplin movie.  Seeing Chaplin in a boxing ring, dancing around his opponent and the referee, is enough to lift my spirits.  Laughter does that, like turning on a light in a dark room.  Plus, I really enjoy talking about films and film theory.  It makes all those hours I spent as a kid reading books about the history of horror, science fiction, and animated movies worthwhile, as if I was simply preparing myself for this evening.

I don't feel quite as transformed as Dillard does in the passage I quoted.  But, after a couple of days, I have a better perspective on my future at the university.  I'm not going to start packing up my office just yet.  I don't feel quite so angry or hopeless.  After twenty years, five university presidents, seven English Department Heads, I'm still here, talking about writing and film and literature.  That says something.

They're going to have to light a stick of dynamite under Saint Marty's ass to get rid of him.

Laughter is a sign of grace, I think

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August 30: Steam in My Engine, Poet of the Week, Marie Howe, "Hurry"

I don't have much steam in my engine right now.  It's close to 11 p.m., and I have to get up at 4:45 a.m.  So, I will just name the Poet of the Week and go to bed.

Marie Howe.

Saint Marty is going to brush his teeth now.  Enjoy tonight's poem.


by:  Marie Howe

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   
and the gas station and the green market and   
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   
as she runs along two or three steps behind me   
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry—   
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.
This cartoon has nothing to do with the poem

August 30: The Birds, Filing for Unemployment, Alfred Hitchcock

In September the birds were quiet . . .

I took my composition students outside this evening.  We sat in a stand of pines, and I made them write.  In particular, they had to write a description of their surroundings using only the sense of sound.  It is a tough exercise.  As I sat, listening, I noticed that I couldn't hear any birds.  Not a crow.  Not a woodpecker.  Nothing.  Just like Dillard.  Two days from the start of September, the birds were quiet.

Sorry for my absence yesterday.  I was dealing with some stuff.  Just before I left work yesterday, I got an e-mail from a colleague at the university,  She told me that all department heads at the school received an order from administration to eliminate all contingent and adjunct instructors at the beginning of next semester.  That would mean that, after 20-plus years of teaching for the English Department, I would be filing for unemployment instead of printing out syllabi this coming January.

I was not in a good mood last night.  Now, of course, there are all kinds of rumors flying around campus.  This is what I know for sure:  departments heads were indeed instructed to cut all contingents and adjuncts next semester, or find alternate sources of funding for them.  Also, the head of the faculty union sent out a campus-wide e-mail stating that no such dictum was issued by administration.  Finally, after getting a promotion following nearly two decades of teaching, I may or may not have a job in a few months.

Needless to say, I didn't feel like sharing any thoughts at the end of the day.  If I had shared what was on my mind, I would probably have offended a few of my readers.  (I sent one e-mail last night that contained no less than 15 variations of the word "fuck.")  Thus, I took the night off.

I am no longer in a state of profane pissed-offness.  Things aren't quite as certain.  I've heard many conflicting stories today.  So, I am not going to allow my life to be ruled by rumor and conjecture.  I have a job now, and I will do the best I can to teach my students important lessons.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, this September, the birds on campus are singing.  A lot.

Saint Marty is choosing to ignore the birds until, like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, they are ready to peck my face off.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August 28: Nose to the Grindstone, Bliss, Classic Saint Marty

I've tried to keep my nose to the grindstone this weekend, but I have not been very successful.  Today, my plan was to finish reading the diagnostic writings of my composition students and then do some lesson planning.  Instead, I went back-to-school shopping with my wife and kids.  That's okay, though.  I still have time to do some class prep this evening.

I am trying to be more aware of my obligations this school year.  Last year, I was sort of all over the place because of my sister's death.  Wasn't very focused.  Had a hard time completing tasks.  Simply did what I had to do to get by.  I'm not sure if I can attribute all of that to grief.  Whatever the cause, I will not let it happen again.

I spent some time with my friend, Brian, from California again this evening.  He's leaving for home in a day.  He has to resume teaching in a couple weeks.  I asked him if he was coming back for Christmas this year.  He doesn't know.  Some of his friends invited him to spend the holidays in Honduras.  He said he's on the fence about where he will be come December 25.  I, however, am sure that he will be celebrating Christmas closer to the equator than me.

Brian has always been very successful in his field.  He just has a hard time staying in one place very long.  Since he graduated from high school, he was in New Zealand the longest.  Close to ten years, by my calculations.  He has a PhD in oceanography, and he was offered a tenure-track position in California, where he currently resides and teaches.  He turned it down.  I don't know of anybody working in higher education who would turn down the possibility of tenure.  Brian did.  It's not important to him.

What is important to Brian is friendship and intellectual stimulation.  Given the choice between a stable, secure job and a one-year trip to the Arctic Circle to study the mating habits of the Emperor penguin, he'd be packing his parka.  He pursues his bliss all the time.

My bliss is around me right now.  I'm at home.  My kids have gone swimming with my wife.  When they come home, they will probably be arguing.  My son will refuse to take his bath.  My daughter will flop on the couch, take out her phone, and disappear into the ether.  And my wife will be exhausted and a little cranky.

My house isn't much to look at.  I work long days and long nights, but sometimes I still can't pay my bills on time.  However, I am surrounded by people I love, even if those people want to smother each other with pillows sometimes.

Tonight's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired about a year ago. 

August 30, 2015:  Sister's Funeral, Eulogy, New Poem, "Strawberry Picking"

My sister's funeral was this afternoon.  It was not without its share of family drama.  In the end, no blood was shed, and everybody was well-fed and happy at the end.  You will forgive me if I am not witty or profound this afternoon.  I was up until about 2 a.m. finishing my eulogy and poem.  It is now after 7 p.m., and I am practically comatose.  The only blessing is that I don't have to work tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Or the next.  For the next five days, all I have to do is create lesson plans and teach.  Basically, I'll be living the life of a tenured full-timer.  No jumping jobs in the middle of the day.  No late nights at the medical office.  Basically, I will have a normal existence for the next week.

The funeral was beautiful.  My sister's best friend, Lydia, gave a moving eulogy with a Nightingale tribute.  My sister was a nurse for 32 years. And then I gave my eulogy and recited my poem.  My friends sang the "Pie Jesu" by Andrew Lloyd Webber and "I Have a Dream" by ABBA.  At the end of the Mass, I turned to Lydia and said, "I think Sal would have been happy."  Lydia hugged me and said, "Sal is happy."

So, I am exhausted.  When I got to the church, I cried.  When Lydia showed up, I cried.  When I gave my eulogy, I cried.  When my friends sang, I cried.  When I ate my stuffed shells, I cried (they were really hot).  When I got home and saw the rum my wife's cousin dropped off for me, I cried.

Saint Marty misses his sister a lot.  Or he's pregnant.

Strawberry Picking

for Sally

You took me strawberry picking
once, drove out to a farm
where we paid to squat in green
beds laced with tongues of red.
I could feel my ears and neck
tighten under the punishing
sun as we filled Morning Glory
ice cream buckets with our
harvest, each berry looking to me
like some vital body part,
an organ or muscle necessary
for life.  You sat on your haunches,
fingers staining red, as if you
were some battlefield surgeon
patching up the fallen with only
your hands.  Every now and then,
you would lift a berry to your lips,
eat it in a hummingbird moment,
smiling the smile of the freshly
healed at Lourdes, where miracles
are common as empty wheelchairs
or dandelions in a July field.

The days since you've been gone,
I see strawberries everywhere,
in a welt of blood on my lip
after shaving, a stop sign,
a friend's dyed hair,
my son's sunburned shoulders,
oxygen in the gills of a perch.
Last night, I stood outside, under
ribbons of borealis, watched
them glide between the stars
like garter snakes in a midnight
Eden.  The Bible says that, in the cool
of the day, Adam and Eve heard
God taking a stroll through
the garden.  There were probably
peacocks nesting in the pines,
a stream talking with moss and stone,
the scurry of mole and spider
in the ferns.

That's what I believe you heard
in your last moments of breath.
You heard peafowl screams,
brook trout leaps.  Grasshopper wing
and corn silk.  And you heard
His divine toes in the grass, walking
along.  When He came to you,
He couldn't resist.  He reached down,
plucked you from the stem.  You were
ripe.  Sweet.  Ready.  He put you
in His Morning Glory bucket, continued
on into the dew and sunlight.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

August 27: Mackinac Island, Justin Runge, "Movies About Horses"

I have never been a big fan of horses.  This feeling may stem from a trip I once took to Mackinac Island as a kid.  My family rented a horse and carriage, and the horse was old and stubborn.  Instead of taking a half hour tour of the sights, we ended up on a two-hour excursion.  The damn horse simply wouldn't follow commands.  We ended up at the top of a very steep hill where a sign was posted:  "Only experienced coach drivers."

I have never been horseback riding.  Never wanted to.  Horses are big, tall, and, in my experience, not very cooperative.  The one time I fed a horse a carrot, I thought I was going to lose a finger.  I have seen the Lipizzaner stallions perform.  Beautiful. Saw the Budweiser Clydesdales march in a parade.  Pretty cool.  However, the idea of sitting on the back of any kid of equine . . . Let's just say that it won't be happening, unless I am drugged and tied in the saddle.

Saint Marty will stick to watching horse movies.

Movies About Horses

by:  Justin Runge

On every comprehensive list of the greatest movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz (1939) stands out as a watershed moment in horse cinema. Inside the blue horse there is a pain foraged from the gut of gorges. Suddenly, the horse has gone magenta. She spills the beans. Swelling in every tear duct. Full gullets: their contents, rotten forest fruit. She is green now.

Seabiscuit (2003) wins your heart in a poker game marked by gunfire.

Can you deny Black Beauty (1921) when it is harassing your women? Do your muscles bulge like muslin sacks of corn when it shatters your bay windows in an act of attrition? You know, faltering is an option in this orange light.

I’ve felt it, the calm dentistry. It was National Velvet (1944) which asked of me difficult, strenuous rescues, pushed down the bullies when they spat sleet, calloused my knuckles.

Modern masterpiece, The Godfather (1972), bloodies your sheets in accidental birth. Here is a thunder that is relentless. Even the crude palate can taste a wince, a wetness, a scream the viscosity of oil. Also, what a pleasure to watch a head like an owl’s turn, and turn, and turn.

Wildfire (1945) will burn down your apartment complex and tell your parents you were notorious for falling asleep with lit cigarettes in your foolish, foolish mouth!

We’ve Die Unendliche Geschichte (1984) to do. We’ve earth to sink into, soil to swallow. Again, the bullies pursue, but we sink. They walk over us, oblivious.

The one truth revealed in My Friend Flicka (1943) is that, when properly maintained and greased, shotguns pose no imminent threat to your children. Still, when confronted by any number of masked vigilantes, fight through your tears.

The Red Pony (1949)
is willing to die for petty victories. For horse movies. For the Boy Scouts of America. For jubilation.

Let’s not get into Giant (1956). Not right now, not at the autopsy. Not at the spelling bee.

I was all sagging sorrow at the premier of The Painted Stallion (1937). No one knew my name there — I crammed into a seat in the midst of shotgun children, the sleetspit bullies, the skin graft families. Raw eyelid curtains slid over the cataract screen and I slunk like a nickel into the seat fold. Sound of the reel roll. I felt responsible for the victims of the Texas Hold ‘Em debacle, the spirited side-saddle murder ride, all those Conestoga collisions, arrows jamming the wheel wells. In my chest rattled the death knells. When the lights in the auditorium rose, I was a conflagration. I brayed. I lost my head.

Oh, Equus (1977), you’ve become my reality. Investigate the absence of my eyes.

August 27: Grasshopper, Transformation, School Clothes Shopping

A large gray-green grasshopper hit with a clack on my shirt, and stood on my shoulder, panting.  "Boo," I said, and it clattered off.  It landed on a grass head several yards away.  The grass bucked and sprang from the impact like a bronc, and the grasshopper rode it down.  When the movement ceased, I couldn't see the grasshopper.

This little passage is all part of a larger section of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in which Dillard discusses grasshoppers and locusts and transformation.  Summer is coming to an end, and the landscape is changing.  The hot August days are giving way to the cool of September.  The world is transforming, like grasshoppers whipped into a locust frenzy.

Summer in the Upper Peninsula is winding down.  Next weekend, it's Labor Day, sort of the unofficial end of the summer season.  In the United States, it's one last time to go camping or travel or grill hamburgers and hot dogs before the festivities of autumn begin in earnest--school and Friday night football and, for me, teaching.  It really is a time of transformation.

My brother took my son on a fishing trip.  Picked him up yesterday and will return him on Sunday, much dirtier and happier.  This afternoon, I will be taking my daughter school clothes shopping, if I can get past the eye rolling and sighing.  She will complain because I am forcing her to alter her plans, which probably entailed squirreling herself away in her bedroom with her new phone.  However, eventually, she will enjoy herself.  Or I will drop her off at a homeless shelter.

I find this time of the year a little disorienting.  Half the people I know are still in summer mode, and the other half have already slipped into fall  mode.  We all have our feet in two seasons, not willing to let go of one, not willing to step into the other.  We are half-grasshopper and half-locust.

Me?  I think I'm coming down with a cold.  My throat is a little scratchy,  Hurts to swallow some things.  Of course, it could be allergies, as well.  I have never really suffered from seasonal allergies that much, but I have to admit that I'm getting older.  My body may be going through a little transformation of its own.  Or it might just be a coming-of-autumn cold.

Stay tuned.  Saint Marty may be growing wings and antenna.

August 26: Magician, Justin Runge, "Escapology"

One of the things I dreamed of being when I was a kid was a magician.  I read books on Harry Blackstone and Houdini.  Got a kid's magic set for Christmas that included a plastic top hat with a trapdoor inside to hide playing cards and a stuffed rabbit.  I almost chopped my finger off with a tiny trick guillotine that malfunctioned.

And I watched television specials featuring a magician named Doug Henning.  He did cool things like walking through brick walls and making elephants disappear.  He may have looked like a reject from the cast of the musical Hair, but he was pretty darn cool.  And he was a superstar magician before David Copperfield came along with his good looks and Las Vegas productions.

Doug Henning proved that you didn't have to be Cary Grant in order to be successful.  You could have long hair, buck teeth, and bell bottoms.

Saint Marty didn't become a magician.  He became a poet, which means that he can make entire audiences disappear with a single poem.


by:  Justin Runge

After the magician's last trick (he escapes a home imploding), I'm sent to bed. Still, I hear it all—low mutterings, live studio audiences, the fridge's lips sucking open and shut, the dactyl taps of toothbrush to sink.

Then the house dies down, hushed to nothing.

Now sleep, this quiet asks, a hypnotist, as if sleep is a safe place, not a safe to break free from, a lock box not known as coffin or tomb. This bed, to me, is a tacked-shut barrel, and I'm swept to the falls. So teach me an escapologist's calm, magician, handcuffed and seconds to tumbling: Do you dislocate? Do you clamber? Do you cry? How do I walk through this wall-like night?

He was cool

August 26: Scenes Drift, Different Clouds, Best Man

Scenes drift across the screen from nowhere.  I can never discover the connection between any one scene and what I am more consciously thinking, nor can I ever conjure the scene back in full vividness . . .

Dillard is talking about memory.  The drift of ideas and images through her mind at any given time.  The present and past exist in one space.  She calls it the "psychological present."  Dillard may be sitting under a bankside sycamore, but her mind is asking questions.  "Where am I?"  "What is that smell?"  "Is that a hawk I see in the sky?"  All these scenes drift by like so many clouds, connected by a tenuous psychological thread.

Last night, at book club, we talked a lot about death.  Since the month's selection was Mary Roach's Stiff:  The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, this shouldn't come as a surprise.  One of my oldest and best friends is a member of our reading group, and she was also best friends with my sister who died last summer.  As we moved through the discussion questions, we talked about the morning my sister passed away.

It was a strange conversation.  While I remembered the morning one way, my friend remembered completely different details.  She remembers a song playing in the dark before her phone started to ring.  I remember waking up my wife, pulling pants out of the clothes basket, and shivering even though it wasn't cold outside.  We both remember my sister's breathing.  Like the pull and tug of water on a beach.  She remembers the color draining from my sister's face at 6:27 a.m.  I remember silence at 6:27 a.m.  Different clouds, same sky.

I'm not saying these things because I'm wallowing tonight.  I'm not sad.  It just struck me last night how memory works like a poem.  Different images piled together to create an emotional response.  We all think in image.  Memory is not a novel, read from beginning to end.  It's Leaves of Grass and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Tonight, I'm meeting up with another friend who was the best man at my wedding.  Undoubtedly, we will share memories, as well as deep-fried mushrooms and a good deal of alcohol.   The poetry will be flowing all night long.  We will be drunk on poetry, as well as Tanqueray and tonic.  I'm talking close to 25 years of poetry.

Saint Marty hopes he doesn't end up with a poetry hangover.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

August 25: Outline of My Son's Day, Justin Runge, "Outline"

My son got his first two-wheel bike this afternoon.  A neighbor was having a garage sale, and there it was.  Blue with hand brakes and a bell.  The neighbor adjusted the seat for my son before I got home.

When I pulled up in my car after work, there was my son sitting on his new bike.  He'd been waiting for me.  I changed out of my work clothes, and then I helped my son take his first ride.  He was unsteady, nervous, kept saying "Oh, gosh!" when he felt himself leaning too far in one direction.  My wife took pictures.

The bike is now parked by our front steps.  By the end of the weekend, my son is going to be riding it like a pro.  That's my prediction.  It is one of those life-changing moments in a kid's life--a step toward independence.

That's the outline of Saint Marty's son's day:  two wheels and wind and pavement.


by:  Justin Runge

I sneak in, partly to escape the strange room where I wake, but also for this—thin fifteen minutes of my father. It's night for me, but his morning. The shower is two doors away. Then he's a dark dressing shape. A belt buckle's clank. A cough, a yawn. Everything of our house that creaks. Then a drone down the street that I follow to its vanishing.

I'm in the theater as the sun sets. Night is an idea outside of us. We beckon black. We wait to enter. And when I hit my mark for the final scene, nearly bedtime, there he is, through the murk of auditorium, a shape again, the only audience member. It's how he reappears. I open my mouth. There's a song in there.

First bike ride--me and my son

August 25: Form to Colour, Fecundity, Weary of People

Blake said, "He who does not prefer Form to Colour is a Coward!"  I often wish the creator had been more of a coward, giving us many fewer forms and many more colors . . .

Dillard is talking about the generosity of life forms on our planet.  All of the evolutions and mutations and permutations that have existed through time--from mastodons to mallards.  Dillard is overwhelmed, it seems, by the sheer magnitude of animals, plants, fish, birds, lizards.  Her minds wants to know them all, but simply can't.  So, she contradicts Blake:  she wants color (beauty) over form (fecundity).

My apologies for not posting last night.  I became overwhelmed by fecundity.  Lots of busy work.  New class to teach.  Conference with a student.  By the end of the day, I was wishing for a little less form, a little more color, just like Dillard.  I can say without reservation that summer, for me, has quickly transitioned into the insanity of autumn, with all its attendant obligations.

However, I am looking forward to a relaxing evening with my book club.  Lots of good food.  Lots of good friendship.  Lots of laughter.  If you're interested, our selection this month was Mary Roach's book Stiff, which is her exploration of the various uses and stages of human cadavers.  If that sounds gross, it is, but Roach is also funny as hell.  She makes reading about the process of decomposition palatable even for me.  (I may work in a surgery center, but I want no contact with whatever goes on in those rooms in the back.)

My family is currently not at home.  I have the whole place to myself, which rarely happens.  As I sit here typing this post, I'm enjoying a little color in the form of classical music.  Pretty soon, this moment will come to an end.  I still have to cut up a pineapple for book club tonight, and I have to get my chocolate fondue fountain going (per my son's request).  This is the calm before the metaphorical storm.

Because of the fecundity of my week, I'm craving solitude.  This afternoon, as I was answering phones, registering patients, responding to students' e-mails, one thought kept playing through my head:  "I am done with people."  If my phone rings, I don't want to answer it.  If I get a text message, I don't want to respond.  If a neighbor kid comes knocking at my door trying to sell magazine subscriptions, I will turn off the lights and pretend that I'm not home.  I'm weary of crowds.

Tonight, Saint Marty chooses color over form.  His apologies to William Blake.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

August 23: Sunset at Stonehenge, Justin Runge, "Travelogue"

Today, I talked to someone who recently returned from a three-week-long trip to Europe.  For one of those weeks, he stayed in Paris and walked to a local candy shop every day to buy fresh chocolates.  He also shared pictures of sunset or sunrise at Stonehenge.  I don't remember which it was, and does it really matter?

I have been to Hawaii once.  Florida a couple of times.  New York City twice.  Big Sur for a week-long poetry workshop with Sharon Olds.  I've seen a California beach carpeted with manatees.  Stood on the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, watching the oil still leaking from the wreckage below.

I guess I've seen some pretty amazing things in my life.  No, I haven't been to Stonehenge or climbed the Eiffel Tower.  Or heard the thunder of Niagara Falls.  Maybe I will.  Some day.

That's Saint Marty's travelogue for this evening.


by:  Justin Runge

The boy
at the train
did not
realize he was
waving at me.
traffic cones
in the river.
How many
know fowl
go underwater
for a second.
Or know,
but forget.
Ornate tattoo
on the small
of the pregnant
woman’s back
says Beautiful.
I am trying
to keep this
poem on Earth.
The train stops
on a part of it
long enough
that I see rust
and we begin to.
Welcome to

August 23: Sloughing Off, Sewer Problems Again, Simplifying

A kind of nothing is what I wish to accomplish, a single-minded trek toward that place where any shutter left open to the zenith at night will record the wheeling of all the sky's stars as a pattern of perfect, concentric circles.  I seek a reduction, a shedding, a sloughing off.

Hallelujah to Dillard!  I am totally with her this evening in her urge to reduce, shed, slough off, simplify.  She is talking about taking life down to its barest elements and being satisfied.  No city lights and sound and pollution.  No cell phone vibrating with texts.  Nothing but stars and clouds wheeling through the heavens.

I am sitting in my university office, waiting to teach my evening class.  First year composition.  Nineteen fresh and eager minds.  Well, nineteen minds.  Not so sure about the fresh and eager.  In a little over an hour, I will be able to see what kind of hand I've been dealt.

My day has been complicated.  I just finished a little over nine-and-a-half hours shift in the medical office.  From six in the morning until 3:45 p.m.  During that time, my sewer line backed up in my home.  Had to call a plumber.  I am happy to say that my toilet and bathtub are draining easily.  I am unhappy to report that it cost somewhere between OUCH! and BOING! to get said toilet and bathtub to drain easily.  I had to borrow money from my sister to cover the check.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that I have done something to offend the cosmos.  When floods and earthquakes happened in Ancient Greece, some angry god or goddess was to blame, exacting revenge on a stupid virgin who took a crap in a sacred orchard or something.  So, what I want to know is whose divine apple tree did I piss on recently?

Of course, God doesn't work that way really.  I know that.  However, after shelling out close to an entire paycheck to have a working toilet in my house, I'm beginning to feel like I have some target on my soul.  Yet, as the pastor at my wife's church always says, "God is good."  And we respond, "All the time!"  Then he says, "All the time!"  And we answer, "God is good!"

Saint Marty has to remind himself of God's goodness every once in a while, especially when he's got sewage in his bathtub and a classroom of composition students to entertain for three hours.

Monday, August 22, 2016

August 22: Freshman Comp, Poet of the Week, Justin Runge, "History"

Tomorrow, my semester begins with a freshman composition night class.  Three-and-a-half hours of it.  We won't accomplish a whole lot.  Introductions.  Diagnostic essays.  And a poem.

Last winter semester, I taught an evening composition class, as well.  I started each class with a poem, used it as a jumping off point for the night.  I plan to do the same this semester.  I'm comfortable with poetry.  It relaxes me.  Excites me.  It eases me into teaching mode at the end of a long day.  And I think that relaxes and excites the students.

Justin Runge excites and relaxes me.  Until I found the poem below on the Internet, I'd never heard of him.  Now, I'm a little obsessed, enough to name him Poet of the Week and start my class with him tomorrow night.

Recollection.  History.  Love.  Saint Marty wishes he had written this poem.


by:  Justin Runge

Here is what I’ve collected: He set fire to the front lawn. She learned and then forgot the guitar. Like all daughters, she was a vegetarian. He was sent to school on the mountain. She would run through the mountain. Their siblings stood in the way. The mountain was beautiful but merciless. Its trees loomed like chaperones. He took to botany. She slept in the haunted room. After the growth spurt, he was a natural athlete. She worked at a fast food restaurant. Both left without diplomas. He sat in a bunker, catching moths. She would walk to a payphone in the center of town. They would solve crossword puzzles days late. He escaped on a motorcycle, as in his favorite songs. They married on her birthday. Her hair was never longer. She left a home imploding. He had a television and a frying pan. They made mistakes—pepper oil, poison ivy. They had one child, then me.

This is what my students will be doing tomorrow night.

August 22: Excessive Emotions, Birthday Shopping, Pig Pen

Our excessive emotions are so patently painful and harmful to us as a species that I can hardly believe that they evolved.  Other creatures manage to have effective matings and even stable societies without great emotions, and they have a bonus in that they need not ever mourn.  (But some higher animals have emotions that we think are similar to ours:  dogs, elephants, otters, and the sea mammals mourn their dead.  Why do that to an otter?  What creator could be so cruel, not to kill otters, but to let them care?)  It would seem that emotions are the curse, not death--emotions that appear to have devolved upon a few freaks as a special curse from Malevolence.

It's an interesting idea that Dillard posits:  the curse of life isn't cancer or AIDS or lymphoma or flood or fire.  The curse of life is that we care about these things.  Emotions are God's special curse.  Sure, we experience joy and ecstasy, love and passion.  But we also undergo sadness and despair, grief and fear.  That is life's greatest tribulation.

I sort of agree with Dillard, and I sort of don't.  My life would be so much simpler without excessive emotions.  Today, I went to pick up a birthday present for my nephew.  As I stood before the cash register, waiting for my debit card to clear, I was in a panic.  I had no idea if there was enough money in my account to cover the purchase.  (I had shown up with a coupon for 60% off any merchandise.  Unfortunately, books weren't a part of that deal.  I had to pay full price)  By the time the approval finally came through, I had almost gone through all the stages of grief and was rounding the corner on acceptance.

Emotion turned that whole birthday shopping excursion into one of the circles of Dante's Inferno--the one reserved for people who overdraw their checking accounts.  It was not pleasant.  Without feelings, I wouldn't have had to deal with the worry and fear.  In fact, without feelings, life would simply be a series of happenings.  Christmas would be the day that comes after December 24.  In the United States, July 4 wouldn't be Independence Day--no parades, no fireworks.  It would just be another hot and muggy summer day.

And death wouldn't be saddled with all the emotional baggage, either.  No desperation or false hope.  Grief and despair would be dinosaurs--bones in the Museum of Natural Emotional History.  Terrorism would be completely ineffective because there would be no terror or fear or rage to fuel it.  Basically, we would all be flat lines, walking around--breathing, eating, sleeping, working, fucking--until we just stopped.  No wailing or gnashing of teeth at the end.  A last breath and then . . . nothing.

For the last year, one of my sisters has been mired in grief.  She walks around like Pig Pen, a cloud of dark emotions following her everywhere.  She hasn't been able to work.  Suffers panic attacks.  Spends days sleeping.  She's pissed at God for not saving our sister, Sally, last summer.  Guilty because she believes that she could have done something else to save Sally's life.  Sad because life didn't turn out the way she planned.

Of course, all these emotions have one root cause--helplessness.  My sister can't wrap herself around the idea that she's not in control (has never been in control).  So her way to stay in control of her life is through anger and guilt and sadness.  And, as a result, her life is completely out of control.

Now, I am not the poster child of emotional health.  Tomorrow night, when I step into the classroom for my first night of teaching, I will be a beehive of panic and anxiety.  I am human.  Therefore, I am an emotional creature, just like a dog or elephant or sea otter.  I can't escape it, and don't really want to.  Sure, sometimes there are tears and screaming, but, on the flip side, there are also embraces and passionate kisses.

Tears and hugs are gifts, not punishments.  Hopefully, Saint Marty's sister will learn that soon.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

August 21: Syllabi, Best Man, Classic Saint Marty

I am prepared for teaching.  My syllabi are finished, and my first writing assignments are prepared. 
It depresses me a little bit to sit down with a calendar and plan out my life from today until the second week of December.  Basically the rest of the year is contained in the two documents I created this afternoon. 

Not only that, but I took a trip to my kids' dance studio and signed them up for their dance classes for the entire year.  That's a commitment of six days a week for nine months.  Of course, all I have to do is drop off my son and daughter at the studio.  They do all the hard work.  I just have to somehow pay for it. 

There is a bright spot this Sunday.  One of my oldest friends is in town.  Brian was the best man at my wedding.  I've known him for close to thirty years.  We used to direct plays together at a local community theater.  We were so close that most people thought we were partners.  Not in the business sense.  Can't really blame anyone who came to that conclusion.  We were always together.  We directed plays and loved show tunes.  Yes, I know all of these things are cliches, but, if the cliche fits...

Brian teaches at a university in California, but he's led the kind of life that most people only dream about.  He went to school in Hawaii and New Zealand.  In Waikiki, he lived in an aquarium, taking care of the exhibits, feeding the seals and stuff.  He got his doctorate in oceanography in New Zealand and has dual citizenship.  He's a Kiwi and a Yankee. 

That's my friend Brian.  I haven't seen him for a couple of years, not since his recent move to California from The Shire.  Yet, when my sister passed away last year, he was one of the first people who contacted me.  Offered anything he could.  Told me that I could come to California for a vacation.  (He did the same thing when my wife was struggling with bipolar and sexual addiction.  That time, he wanted me to pack up my daughter and move to New Zealand for a while.  I thought about it.)

I'm sure, when I finally see Brian, that there will be questions about my sister.  He knew her well.  This weekend, however, has not been as difficult as I anticipated, and talking with Brian about my sister's death will feel right, like grieving with a brother.

August 22, 2015:  Sunglasses, Maggie Nelson, Invisible Horse, Confessions of Saint Marty

Walking down the street, Ives could not look into anyone's eyes very long without his inward pain bringing tears to his eyes.  He found himself wearing sunglasses all the time, night and day, and oddly, despite the darkness of his spirit, he wore a large crucifix given him by Carmen Ramirez and let it hang on his chest, visible to all.  He remembered sitting for hours inconsolably in his son's room the night after he had died.  He'd sat there examining a Revell model of a man that his son had kept on a shelf, the outer plastic shell transparent, the organs inside visible.  He remembered when his boy, then twelve and wondering if he might one day become a doctor, had asked him to buy that model kit for Christmas.  And when that Christmas had passed, Ives would find his son lying on his stomach in the living room, with a biology textbook open before him, dipping a brush into one or another small jar of airplane-model paint, trying to capture accurately the colors of the organs.  He saw the miniature liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and all the rest set into place, and thought about his son.

Ives finds it difficult being around people immediately following his son's death.  Even the smallest gestures or looks from friends or acquaintances or complete strangers bring him to tears.  He tries to build a wall around his heart, but it doesn't take much for that wall to crumble.  His son is with him always, in people, sounds, objects, toys.

I find myself in a similar situation when I go out in public.  If a friend or colleague gives me a hug or says "I'm so sorry," I can feel my walls breaking down.  It's a strange phenomenon.  I can be walking along, confident and strong, and, in the next moment, I'm an open wound.

I'm sure most of you are tired of me writing about this subject.  But I'm trying to understand grief on many levels.  I'm fascinated how I can switch from incredible sorrow to happiness to anger and back to happiness in the space of a few minutes.  It's as if the wires of my brain have been stripped of their rubber sheaths, and now those wires are pulsing and flashing with energy.

I'm sitting at McDonald's right now, a place my sister came to every Saturday morning before she got sick.  Most of the managers knew my sister.  One manager in particular, whose daughter is in the same grade as my son, came out to give all of us hugs.  And the wires snapped and popped and sparked in my head.  I could feel a flood of emotion rising.

Given time, I know these moments will happen less frequently.  I don't think it will ever disappear completely.  As long as I'm working at the medical center, going to places frequented by my sister, I will find her, in the surroundings and people.  I can't avoid it.  My sister is still a part of my life and always will be.  (When I'm working in the medical office, I still hear her voice in my head, telling me how to do things.)

I don't want people to ignore my loss.  There are a few people at work who have done this, and it feels even more alien to me, like watching the Titanic sinking and saying to a friend, "Isn't it a beautiful night?"  I prefer an acknowledgement, however small or uncomfortable.  Somehow, I find some comfort in those tiny exchanges, as if I'm not alone in my loss for a few seconds.  It's how my sister would have wanted it.

And that's Saint Marty's lesson in the anatomy of grief for today.

100 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

It often happens that we count our days, as if the act of measurement made us some kind of promise.  But really this is like hoisting a harness onto an invisible horse.  "There is simply no way that a year from now you're going to feel the way you feel today," a different therapist said to me last year at this time.  But though I have learned to act as if I feel differently, the truth is that my feelings haven't really changed.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, August 20, 2016

August 20: All the Blood, Final Days of Summer, Middle-Aged

I stand.  All the blood in my body crashes to my feet and instantly heaves to my head, so I blind and blush, as a tree blasts into leaf spouting water hurled up from roots.  What happens to me?  I stand before the sycamore dazed; I gaze at its giant trunk.

It's a familiar phenomenon.  Dillard stands too quickly after being seated for a while.  Her body isn't ready for it, and her head swims and vision swims out of focus until her blood pressure catches up with the rest of her.  It's like teleporting to the top of Pike's Peak from the shores of the Dead Sea.  It takes a few moments to reach equilibrium.

I won't have much time to reach equilibrium today.  We will be rushing from about ten o'clock in the morning to evening.  There's a wedding.  There's a reception.  And there's playing the organ for evening Mass.  My blood pressure won't be catching up with my body until about 7 p.m.

It's the final days of summer.  Lots of stuff going on.  Weddings.  Signing up for dance lessons.  Open houses at school.  College classes kicking off.  For me, it's a matter of changing modes.  I'm still in summer mode.  By Monday, I have to be in autumn mode.  It's a difficult transition.

Autumn and winter used to be my favorite seasons when I was younger.  I loved the colors and holidays, going from pumpkins to turkeys to Santa.  When I saw snowflakes for the first time in the fall, my spirits would lift for some reason.  Perhaps it was snow days.  Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations.

I have become a typical middle-aged person.  Summer is now my favorite season.  No snow to shovel.  A break from the grind of school functions--concerts and pep band and parent-teacher conferences.  No heating bills to pay.  Beach and pool days.  Long weekends.

Saint Marty doesn't know when he became so old.

Middle-aged people think this is hilarious!

Friday, August 19, 2016

August 19: The Last I saw, Anniversary, Maya Angelou, "When Great Trees Fall"

After several minutes of rummaging about in the grass at my side, he eased into the water under the bridge and paddled to his den with the jawful of grass held high, and that was the last I saw of him.

Dillard is talking about a muskrat.  She spends days watching for and observing this creature.  The bubbles on the surface of the water as it appears.  The weed stump it chews down.  The mouthful of grass it gathers.  And then, after all of that, Dillard watches it disappear forever into Tinker Creek.

Today was the anniversary of my sister's death.  A year ago today, she took one last breath just before 7:30 in the morning, and then she was gone.  Just before 7:30 this morning, I stopped by the cemetery.  It had rained overnight, and my sister's stone was studded with water drops.  I stood there for several minutes, remembering the chaos of a year ago.  The crying, phone calls, arguing (yes, there was arguing--when my family gathers for any reason, there's always the possibility of disagreement). 

This morning, however, there was peace.  I returned after work with my daughter and son, who wanted to put flowers on my sister's grave.  As we were leaving, my seven-year-old son said, "The world feels like something's missing.  Something big."  I nodded and hugged him.

This evening, to honor my sister, I attended a fundraiser for my sister-in-law, who participates in a cancer walk in New York every year.  It was a good night, full of laughter and food and fellowship.  I wasn't able to donate a whole lot of money, but at least I did something meaningful in my sister's memory.  And had fun.

Saint Marty's sister was a great soul.

When Great Trees Fall

by:  Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,


gnaws on kind words


promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

 fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance 
dark, cold


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.

She existed.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 18: Feel the Now, ER Visit, Classic Saint Marty

What else is going on right this minute while ground water creeps under my feet?  The galaxy is careening in a slow, muffled widening.  If a million solar systems are born every hour, then surely hundreds burst into being as I shift my weight to the other elbow.  The sun's surface is now exploding; other stars implode and vanish, heavy and black, out of sight.  Meteorites are arcing to earth invisibly all day long.  On the planet the winds are blowing:  the polar easterlies, the westerlies, the northeast and southeast trades.  Somewhere, someone under full sail is becalmed, in the horse latitudes, in the doldrums; in the northland, a trapper is maddened, crazed, by the eerie scent of the chinook, the snow-eater, a wind that can melt two feet of snow in a day.  The pampero blows, and the tramontane, and the Boro, sirocco, levanter, mistral.  Lick the finger:  feel the now.

Dillard is talking about living in the present, because so much is going on at once.  Galaxies being born,  meteorites fizzing through the atmosphere to darkness.  Winds changing the landscape of the entire planet--melting snows, moving dunes.  All in the now.

Right here and now, I am sitting in my living room, recently returned from a trip to the local ER with my daughter.  She's been battling a severe infection in her left eye for a couple of weeks now.  She's already been through one round of antibiotic eye drops.  Now, she is on different antibiotic eye drops.

Also now, I have a tiny bit of panic building inside me:  I don't have my syllabi done for the classes I'm teaching next week.  I've started them, but I am far from being ready.  Was planning on getting them done this evening, but my daughter's eye problem changed my now.  Basically, a chinook came in and blew me in a different direction.

I tend to focus on the future quite a bit.  For instance, all I can think about right now is tomorrow morning.  The weekend.  The beginning of the fall semester.  The end of summer.  That's what's on my mind.  Not the cool cup of water I'm drinking or the air being pushed around by the ceiling fan.

The only thing that tethers me to the present are my kids.  They're young.  The future is not on their radars yet.  At seven and thirteen, they have no concept of the passage of time.  For the most part, it's all instant gratification.  I want pizza NOW.  I want the new Galaxy phone NOW.  I want my own laptop NOW.  If anybody lives in the now, it's a young person.

This time last year, I was pretty much focused on the present, though.  I know that I usually save episodes of Classic Saint Marty for Sundays, but I wanted to share the following post this evening:

August 18, 2015:  Terrible Darkness, Maggie Nelson, Divine Darkness, Adventures of Stickman

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 had 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.

Yes, I have used this passage just recently.  It describes the moments before Annie and Ives learn that their son has been murdered.  The implication is that, at the instant that the "terrible darkness" enters them, Robert has passed into eternal life.  It hints at the enormity of the tragedy about to overtake their lives.  Annie and Ives have no idea what the darkness means, but it is powerfully sad, draining away their Christmas joy.

Darkness has always been used to describe moments of profound grief and loss and ignorance.  There's a reason why the Dark Ages was followed by the Age of Enlightenment.  The first period calls to mind a world full of suppression and rigidity, blind faith and blinder reason.  The second period, on the other hand, is the time of Bach and Mozart, Descartes and Voltaire.  Free thought and freer spirit.  Darkness=bad.  Enlightenment=good.

In the Biblical accounts, the birth of Christ is heralded by an immense star in the heavens.  Blinding angel choirs singing "Glory to God!"  Jesus is the bringer of light into a world of sin and darkness.  Again, darkness gets a metaphorical bad rap.

I'm not so sure that darkness is all that bad.  When the sun slips below the horizon, I am more at ease.  My day is over, and I'm able to relax, kick back, watch some mindless television.  For me, I am more myself in darkness.  Able to do what I want.  Read.  Write.  Nap.  Fart.  Whatever.  Darkness is a gift.

Maggie Nelson talks about Divine Darkness in Bluets.  Her description of darkness is comforting.  It's a state beyond sun and seeing, beyond knowledge and wisdom.  It's a place where trust exists.  And faith.  There is something in Divine Darkness that transcends comprehension.  I think that you can either fight it--and go through a "dark night of the soul"--or throw yourself into it--take that leap into God's open palm.

I know that's way too deep for a Tuesday night.  But that's what I'm thinking about.  Comforting darkness.

Saint Marty is going to go see his sister now.  Pray for her.  Let her know that she doesn't need to be afraid of the dark.

159 from Bluets

by:  Maggie Nelson

A good many have figured God as light, but a good many have also figured him as darkness.  Dionysius the Areopagite, a Syrian monk whose work and identity are themselves shrouded in obscurity, would seem to be one of the first serious Christian advocates of the idea of a "Divine Darkness."  The idea is a complicated one, as the burden falls to us to differentiate this Divine Darkness from other kinds of darknesses--that of a "dark night of the soul," the darkness of sin, and so on.  "We pray that we may come unto this Darkness which is beyond light, and, without seeing and without knowing, to see and to know that which is above vision and knowledge through the realization that by not-seeing and unknowing we attain to true vision and knowledge," Dionysius wrote, as if clarifying the matter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

August 17: Great University, Green and Puckered, a Cold Bath

Once I visited a great university and wandered, a stranger, into the subterranean halls of its famous biology department.  I saw a sign on a door:  ichthyology department.  The door was open a crack, and as I walked past I glanced in.  I saw just a flash.  There were two white-coated men seated opposite each other on high lab stools at a hard-surfaced table.  They bend over identical white enamel trays.  On one side, one man, with a lancet, was just cutting into an enormous preserved fish he'd taken from a jar.  On the other side, the other man, with a silver spoon, was eating a grapefruit.  I laughed all the way back to Virginia. 

Dillard is talking here about inspiration.  Tiny life moments that simply grab you in their beauty or sadness or ridiculousness.  At the great university, she happens upon a scene that is simply weird.  Dissection mixed with a mid-morning snack.  Dillard's funny bone is duly tickled.

Institutions of higher learning are rife with this kind of strangeness.  When I was an undergraduate, I was in the basement of the science building after a computer class.  It was lunchtime, and I was heading to the quad to grab a quick sandwich.  Walking down this long hallway, I happened to glance into a room where nursing classes were conducted.

Inside the room was a group of students and an instructor.  They were all leaning over a cadaver, its chest cavity splayed open.  The cadaver's skin was the color of a frog.  Light green and puckered.  Needless to say, I lost my appetite and didn't find it again for several hours.

Why do I share this story with you tonight?  To point out the strange culture of academic life.  I spent two-and-a-half hours in an English Department meeting this afternoon.  It was our first gathering of the semester, and there was much business to take care of.  People to recognize.  New faculty members.  New teaching assistants.  Then a lengthy discussion of proposed curriculum changes, most of it pointless and circular.  The meeting ended with a dire description of budgetary and enrollment woes.

By the time it was all over, I felt like I'd just attended a Donald Trump campaign rally.  Enrollment's in the toilet.  Illegal aliens are stealing all the tenured jobs.  Terrorists are invading the geology department.  The university is one class away from closing its doors forever.  Welcome back!  Have a good semester!

I am exaggerating.  To a degree.  It's the same story that was told last year, and the year before.  During the meeting, I suggested doing a fundraiser for the English Department.  A bake sale.  A dunk tank featuring the president of the university--one thousand dollars a crack to give him a cold bath.  Nobody went for the idea.

That was Saint Marty's afternoon.  Gloom.  Despair.  Hand-wringing.  A little laughter.  And graduate students.

Pretty much describes my afternoon

August 17: Old M&M, Maya Angelou, "The Lesson"

I ate an old M&M I found in a jar.  It was green and sweet, and I was hungry.

If that sounds like a William Carlos Williams poem, I'm sorry.  I just wanted to share a small pleasure I experienced today.  For the most part, life is like that--tiny moments of happiness.  I don't think many people have huge moments of happiness every day.  Maybe Oprah.  And Kim Kardashian, who's too stupid to know any better.

Aside from them, we all go from M&M moment to M&M moment, with a few peanut M&M moments thrown in there for good measure.  Small, little pleasures.  Unexpected hugs from my teenage daughter.  A piece of cold pizza.  An e-mail from a friend.  These are the things that make life livable.

Saint Marty thinks Maya Angelou enjoyed green M&Ms, too.

The Lesson

by:  Maya Angelou

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August 16: Big Trees, Old Posts, Walk Through the Forest

Big trees stir memories.  You stand in their dimness, where the very light is blue, staring unfocused at the thickest part of the trunk as though it were a long, dim tunnel . . .

Dillard sees memory in trees.  Talks about living water.  As she observes the day-to-day at Tinker Creek, she knows that the woodchucks and goldfinches and giant water bugs are all part of some large tapestry that we humans only see the bottom of.  Only the Weaver can seen the whole pattern, how the trees and seas and sands and waters teem with memories and light.

I am attempting something that I've never done before.  As I sit here, typing this post, I'm keeping my eyes closed, letting my fingers do the work.  It's a way of trying to turn off the inner censor that is very loud tonight.  Nothing that I'm typing seems very good.

It's difficult to produce something worth reading every day.  I rarely reread old posts.  Can't stand to revisit the past.  Trees might trigger memory for Dillard.  For me, I prefer not to take strolls down Nostalgia Lane.  Maybe, some day, I will sit down and peruse the 2,977 posts I've written over the last six years.  I have a feeling that would be a painful experience, like reading Moby-Dick or Bridges of Madison County

Memory can be a painful thing.  For example, if I were to read my posts from exactly one year ago, I would be in the midst of my sister's last days.  Don't know if I want to pull on that thread.  If I went back four years, I'd probably be watching the London Olympics.  Six years ago, worrying about the start of the semester at the university (some things never change). 

Saint Marty isn't quite ready to walk through the forest yet.

Monday, August 15, 2016

August 15: Heaven, Poet of the Week, Maya Angelou, "Preacher, Don't Send Me"

For some reason, Maya Angelou has been on my mind for the last few weeks or so.  It could be a television commercial that has been playing during the Olympics broadcasts, featuring Angelou's distinctive voice reading a poem about what unites us as a people.  It could be that every time I see Hillary Clinton in the newspaper or on TV, I think about her husband's first inauguration, when Angelou read her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" in the clear January day, her words rising in clouds of breath.

I have featured Angelou as Poet of the Week before.  However, not to sound childish but . . . my blog, my rules.

It's a beautiful August night.  My daughter is out with her dance friends.  My son is in need of a bath after a day of dirt and sweat.  My wife is working, and I have half a bottle of wine at home.  It's going to be a good night.  Not heaven.  I'll leave that to Angelou tonight.

Saint Marty is hoping to find some leftover Cheetos.  That would be heaven.

Preacher, Don't Send Me

by:  Maya Angelou

when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I've known those rats
I've seen them kill
and grits I've had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on Sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don't
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I'm dead
I won't need gold.

I'd call a place
pure paradise
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Promise me that
or nothing at all.

August 15: Pleistocene Herds, Summer Months, Lack of Urgency

The landscape of the earth is dotted and smeared with masses of apparently identical individual animals, from the great Pleistocene herds that blanketed grasslands to the gluey gobs of bacteria that clog the lobes of the lungs.  The oceanic breeding grounds of pelagic birds are as teeming and cluttered as any human Calcutta.  Lemmings blacken the earth and locusts the air.  Grunion run thick in the ocean, corals pile on pile, and protozoans explode in a red tide stain.  Ants take to the skies in swarms, mayflies hatch by the millions, and molting cicadas coat the trunks of trees.  Have you seen the rivers run red and lumpy with salmon?

Dillard is astounded by the fecundity of the planet, so much so that she devotes an entire chapter to the subject.  The above passage is just one of her poetic musings on God’s great generosity.  Ants and mayflies, bacteria and salmon.  Dillard points to them in wonder.  I can almost picture her shaking her head and saying, “Holy shit, that’s a lot of life.”
It is early Monday afternoon, and I am easing back into my autumn schedule.  Work, school, home, sometimes school again.  The summer months, for me, are slow.  May through August, I usually have only the job at the medical center to worry about.  Next week, however, fall semester begins at the university.  Students are already returning to campus like Pleistocene herds or mayfly hatches.  For me, fecundity begins next week.
I spent the day taking care of business.  Working, e-mailing anxious students, planning out my life for the next three or so months.  I have to admit that I enjoy the relative torpor of summer.  Sort of like a dog, lying in the shade on a boiling August day.  That absolute lack of urgency appeals to my inner introvert.

For the majority of the year, I am forced into the throng.  Don't get me wrong.  I love teaching.  However, the relative calm that I've been enjoying these last few weeks (every since my summer teaching ended) is difficult to relinquish.   Yet, the water is frothing, and the salmon are climbing.  (I am not equating university students to spawning fish.  This is merely a metaphor for the change of seasons.  Spawning is but one of the things that preoccupy the college-age mind, along with pizza and how to avoid classes that require essay writing.)

For the time being, I will enjoy the canine days of August.  Do a little more pleasure reading.  Watch a little more mindless TV.  Prepare myself for the approaching swarm.

Saint Marty needs to get some insect repellent.  Or a pepperoni pizza.