Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22: Really Tired, Arthur Rimbaud, "Evening Prayer"

I am really tired this evening after a long week of grading and writing and planning.

I tend to stay up very late at night, and I always get up early in the morning.  That's my life.  Now, getting to bed close to midnight and rising at 4:45 a.m. tends to wear a person down after a while.  After a few weeks, I usually have to just go to bed and sleep for a very long time.

I'm reaching that point, I think.  Maybe not tonight or tomorrow.  Soon.

Saint Marty has a little prayer from Rimbaud for tonight.

Evening Prayer

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

I spend my life sitting - like an angel
in the hands of a barber - a deeply fluted beer mug
in my fist, belly and neck curved,
a Gambier pipe in my teeth, under the air
swelling with impalpable veils of smoke.

Like the warm excrements in an old dovecote,
a thousand dreams burn softly inside me,
and at times my sad heart is like sap-wood bled
on by the dark yellow gold of its sweats.

Then, when I have carefully swallowed my dreams,
I turn, having drunk thirty or forty tankards,
and gather myself together to relieve bitter need:
As sweetly as the Saviour of Hyssops
and of Cedar I piss towards dark skies,
very high and very far;
and receive the approval of the great heliotropes.

June 22: Splendid Specimen, Poetry Reading, Brad Pitt and George Clooney

Billy ate a good breakfast from cans. He washed his cup and plate and knife and fork and spoon and saucepan, put them away.  Then he did exercises he had learned in the Army--straddle jumps, deep knee bends, sit-ups and push-ups.  Most Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Billy's body and face were not beautiful.  They supposed that he was a splendid specimen.  This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time.

He showered after his exercises and trimmed his toenails.  He shaved, and sprayed deodorant under his arms, while a zoo guide on a raised platform outside explained what Billy was doing--and why.  The guide was lecturing telepathically, simply standing there, sending out thought waves to the crowd.  On the platform with him was the little keyboard instrument with which he would relay questions to Billy from the crowd.

Now the first question came--from the speaker on the television set:  "Are you happy here?"

"About as happy as I was on Earth," said Billy Pilgrim, which was true.

Billy is a star on Tralfamadore just for being Billy.  He eats breakfast and exercises and bathes and cuts his toenails.  As an encore, he shaves and puts on deodorant.  I do almost all of that stuff every morning, but Billy is special.  He is a unicorn or Bigfoot on this alien planet.  The Tralfamadorians don't know any better.  To them, Billy is Brad Pitt and George Clooney and James Dean, all rolled into one lumpy human form.  Billy is myth and monster, specimen and superstar, and he starts liking the attention.

I gave a poetry reading this afternoon at the medical center where I work.  Not too many people showed up, but that really doesn't matter.  I got to read some of my work, tell some stories, and entertain a small audience.  For an hour, I was Brad Pitt and George Clooney and James Dean all rolled into one.  And the Tralfamadorians really enjoyed the show I put on.

I will admit to being quite nervous last night as I was planning what I was going to read today.  Usually, I do readings with musician friends, so I'm not the center of attention all the time.  My musician friends weren't available today.  That means I had 60 minutes to fill by myself.  That's a long poetry reading.

I had about twenty poems chosen.  Once I was introduced, I did what I always do:  I winged it.  Some things I had planned to read went out the window.  Other things, that I hadn't planned to read, suddenly became centerpieces, with ten minute introductions.  It went really well, I think.  Everybody was laughing and crying in the right places.  Plus, there were really good cookies to eat.

That always happens when I give readings.  I plan and organize and prepare, and it all goes out the window when I start talking.  It's not nerves.  I don't ever feel anxious when I give a reading.  It's something else.  I just sort of let myself go, and that's when I start having fun.  I figure that if I'm having fun, so are the people sitting in the chairs.

Tonight, I am going to relax.  Maybe do a little writing.  Maybe watch a movie.  Maybe read.  I'm going to do something I haven't really done all week:  I'm going to relax.

Saint Marty is thankful today for really good chocolate chip cookies and poems.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21: Summer Solstice, Arthur Rimbaud, "The Sun Has Wept Rose"

So, it is the summer solstice in the Western Hemisphere.  The longest day of the year.  I went for a walk with my wife this afternoon.  It was gorgeous and blue, with clouds that looked like they belonged in an oil landscape.

I love this day.  The promise of light until late in the evening.  It makes me want to stay awake forever.  Write.  Sing.  Draw.  Go for a run.  When I was younger, I used to call winter my favorite season of the year.  Now, it's summer.  I think that transition happens with age.

Saint Marty has a poem tonight that makes him think of the summer solstice.

The Sun Has Wept Rose

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

The sun has wept rose in the shell of your ears,
The world has rolled white from your back,
Your thighs:
The sea has stained rust at the crimson of your breasts,
And Man had bled black at your sovereign side.

June 21: Gay Nineties Couple, Inspiration, Hard Work

Billy brushed his teeth on Tralfamadore, put in his partial denture, and went into his kitchen.  His bottled-gas range and his refrigerator and his dishwasher were mint green, too.  There was a picture painted on the door of the refrigerator.  The refrigerator had come that way.  It was a picture of a Gay Nineties couple on a bicycle built for two.

Billy looked at the picture now, tried to think something about the couple.  Nothing came to him.  There didn't seem to be anything to think about those two people.

I understand Billy's predicament today.  He can't conjure up any thoughts regarding the couple on the bicycle built for two.  I'm not really inspired to write anything about this particular passage from Slaughterhouse.  Usually, when I type a section from the book, some thought immediately pops into my head.  Free association.  Today, nothing's popping.

Inspiration is a strange thing.  I would say that I've read a lot of writing that I would call inspired.  I've seen a lot of performances--on stage and screen--that I would categorize as inspired, as well.  The same is true for most of the arts.  Music.  Painting.  Sketching.  Photography.  All inspired.  (Not mimes.  Never mimes.)

However, as a working poet and writer, I will say that waiting until I feel inspired to write wouldn't really work.  I would never sit down to write anything.  Instead, I would be constantly out in search of inspiration.  Sunrises or sunsets or poems or chocolate cake or Janis Joplin playing on the radio.  Inspiration is like lightning.  It doesn't strike the same place twice.

No, tonight, I'm going to sit down with my journal and force myself to work on a couple of writing projects I have going.  There will be no Muse dictating in my ear.  I will simply write and write and write until I come up with something that's not embarrassing.  That pretty much describes my process.  As Natalie Goldberg advises, I give myself permission to write shit, in hopes that something beautiful might flower out of it.

Now I won't completely discount the possibility of  being inspired tonight.  It might happen.  However, I'm not going to wait for it.  I have work to get done.  That's what writers do.  They work, and that work is hard.  But it's also the best thing in the world when I come up with one perfect word, one great image, one elegant sentence.  That's what it's all about.  String letters together, hoping for a miracle.

Saint Marty is thankful for the ability to write this evening.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 20: Daughter's Life, Arthur Rimbaud, "Young Couple"

I don't generally write about my daughter's life.  Her personal ups and downs.  Her loves.  I try to leave her privacy private.  Sure, I talk about her dance recitals.  Her grades.  My hopes and dreams for her.  Aside from that, I leave her alone in my writing.  I learned that from a conversation I once had with Sharon Olds.

So, tonight, I have a poem that sort of reminds me of my daughter.  Let's leave it at that.

Saint Marty is happy that his daughter is happy.

Young Couple

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

The room is open to the turquoise blue sky;
no room here: boxes and bins!
Outside the wall is overgrown with birthwort
where the brownies' gums buzz.

How truly there are the plots of genii -
this expense and this foolish untidiness!
It is the African fairy who supplies
the mulberry and the hairnets in the corners.

Several, cross godmothers [dressed] in skirts of light,
go into the cupboards, and stay there!
The people of the house are out,
they are not serious, and nothing gets done.

The bridegroom has the wind which cheats him
during his absence, here, all the time.
Even some water sprites, mischievous,
come in to wander about among the spheres under the bed.

At night, beloved oh! The honeymoon will gather their smiles
and fill the sky with a thousand copper diadems.
Then they will have to deal with the crafty rat. -
As long as no ghastly will O;
the wisp comes, like a gunshot, after vespers, -
O holy white Spirits of Bethlehem, charm,
rather than that, the blueness of their window!

June 20: Simulated Earthling Habitat, Zoos, Wishful Thinking

Billy was displayed there in the zoo in a simulated Earthling habitat.  Most of the furnishings had been stolen from the Sears Roebuck warehouse in Iowa City, Iowa.  There was a color television set and a couch that could be converted into a bed.  There were end tables with lamps and ashtrays on them by the couch.  There was a home bar and two stools.  There was a little pool table.  There was wall-to-wall carpeting in federal gold, except in the kitchen and bathroom areas and over the iron manhole cover in the center of the floor.  There were magazines arranged in a fan on the coffee table in front of the couch.

There was a stereophonic phonograph.  The phonograph worked.  The television didn't. There was a picture of one cowboy killing another one pasted to the television tube.  So it goes.

There were no walls in the dome, no place for Billy to hide.  The mint green bathroom fixtures were right out in the open.  Billy got off his lounge chair now, went into the bathroom and took a leak.  The crowd went wild.

A weird little section.  Billy as an exhibit.  Homo sapiens, relaxing, listening to music, pretending to watch TV, going to the bathroom.  Vonnegut is making a point here, I think.  He is satirizing our habit of capturing wild animals and turning them into entertainment.  Zoos.  Circuses.  Safaris.

I will admit that I like going to zoos.  One of my favorite things to do as a child was visit the Detroit Zoo.  We would spend an entire day there.  I could spend a couple hours just in the penguin habitat.  I loved going into the place where the tigers were in cages until one of the big cats actually lifted a leg and pissed on me when I was five or six.  Yes, I have been soaked in tiger urine.

I wonder what a Tralfamadorian exhibit for me would include.  A laptop computer, probably.  Journals and pens and a desk.  A television and DVD player with all of my favorite films, heavy on Christmas and River Phoenix flicks.  Books.  Lots of books.  Pictures of my wife and kids.  Those would be the essential things, if they were really trying to capture my essence.

I've never really thought about the things that really represent who I am.  Strange.  If I walked into a gorilla habitat, I would expect lots of tropical trees and fruits and rain, places to hide.  If I visited an elephant habitat, it would include a grassy savanna, maybe a mud hole to wallow in, and a river.  That's what I would expect.

How do I want to be described on my zoo plaque?  Good father.  Loving husband.  Loyal brother and son and friend.  Passionate.  Artistic.  Talented.  I wouldn't mind being called a genius, but that's probably pushing it.  Great writer.  Voracious reader.  Poet extraordinaire. 

Okay, I need to stop.  I'm venturing into wishful thinking.  If you want to see me in my natural habitat, stop by my house tonight.  I'll make us some popcorn, read you a poem or two, and pop Stand By Me into the DVD player.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the zoo of his life.

Monday, June 19, 2017

June 19: Poet of the Week, Arthur Rimbaud, "Dawn"

The Poet of the Week is Arthur Rimbaud.  Just because his poems are gorgeous and passionate and sexy.

Sort of like Saint Marty.


by:  Arthur Rimbaud

I have kissed the summer dawn. Before the palaces, nothing moved. The water lay dead. Battalions of shadows still kept the forest road.

I walked, walking warm and vital breath, While stones watched, and wings rose soundlessly.

My first adventure, in a path already gleaming With a clear pale light, Was a flower who told me its name.

I laughted at the blond Wasserfall That threw its hair across the pines: On the silvered summit, I came upon the goddess.

Then one by one, I lifted her veils. In the long walk, waving my arms.

Across the meadow, where I betrayed her to the cock. In the heart of town she fled among the steeples and domes, And I hunted her, scrambling like a beggar on marble wharves.

Above the road, near a thicket of laurel, I caught her in her gathered veils, And smelled the scent of her immense body. Dawn and the child fell together at the bottom of the wood.

When I awoke, it was noon.

June 19: On Display, Longcomings, a Million Views

And Billy traveled in time to the zoo on Tralfamadore.  He was forty-four years old, on display under a geodesic dome.  He was reclining on the lounge chair which had been his cradle during his trip through space.  He was naked.  The Tralfamadorians were interested in his body--all of it.  There were thousands of them outside, holding up their little hands so that their eyes could see him.  Billy had been on Tralfamadore for six Earthling months now.  He was used to the crowd.

Escape was out of the question.  The atmosphere outside the dome was cyanide, and Earth was 446,120,000,000,000,000 miles away.

Billy is used to being the center of attention in the Tralfamadorian zoo.  There he sits in his lounge chair, naked--like a chimpanzee or giraffe.  I can imagine the plaque on the geodesic dome:  "Earthling male, 44-years-old, in natural habitat."  All the Tralfamadorians snapping selfies.

It's a strange thing, being the center of attention.  Some people really enjoy it.  In this age of social media, everybody's looking to be the next viral sensation.  I suppose I sort of buy into it, as well.  I write a daily blog.  I post things on Facebook.  Poems.  Essays.  I'm just like Billy.  Standing in front of you all naked, displaying all my insecurities and longcomings.  (I am not going to use the word "shortcomings" in that sentence.)

I'm not sure that I do this for people to necessarily pay attention to me.  I like it when I know that people read and like what I write, but attention is not my primary goal.  The work is.  I love putting together words, trying to create something elegant or moving or beautiful.  Stuff that I would want to read.  That's why I do it.

Now, if something that I write or say or post goes viral, I wouldn't have a problem with it.  If Jimmy Fallon suddenly wants to fly me out to New York as a guest, I wouldn't turn him down.  I am not opposed to celebrity and its attendant perks.  Money.  Backstage passes.  Vacations to places tropical.  Yes, I know there are downsides to fame.  However, I am willing to put up with the inconveniences for a little while.  Until I have a couple cars, a new house, a vacation home, and the cover of People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive issue.

Hey, a poet can dream, can't he?

Tonight, however, I send a couple more posts out into the ether.  Feel free to pass them along.  Post them.  Repost them.  Share them.  I'm looking for a million views by tomorrow morning.

Saint Marty is thankful for his loyal fans this evening.  All two of them.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18: Father's Day, Classic Saint Marty, "Pie Jesu"

Happy Father's Day to everyone.

I have had a fairly relaxing day, as Father's Days go.  I went to church this morning.  Dropped my daughter off at Bible camp this afternoon.  I just spent an hour or so grading some papers.  Now, I am blogging.  Nothing really out of the ordinary, except releasing my daughter into the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to learn a few things about God.

I'm not a guy who likes surprises, if you haven't figured that out yet.  This has been a good Father's Day because it was a run-of-the-mill Sunday for me.  I got a card from my sister.  I have a gift to open up from my kids when I get home.  Later tonight, I will watch one of my favorite movies.  I haven't decided which one.  Probably something a little sad. 

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired on Father's Day four years ago.  Another run-of-the-mill Sunday in June . . .

June 14, 2014:  Saint Vitus's Dance, Recitals, New Poem, "Pie Jesu"

"What kind of acrobat do you think I am?" said Charlotte in disgust.  "I would have to have St. Vitus's Dance to weave a word like that into my web."

Charlotte's reference to St. Vitus pretty much defines my weekend.  St. Vitus is the patron saint of dancers, and today, June 15, is his feast day.  My whole weekend has been dedicated to dance.  I spent all Saturday in a dark auditorium, watching my daughter rehearse for her dance recital.  Saturday night, my daughter danced.  This afternoon, my daughter danced.  Tonight, her feet are sore, and she's a cranky teenager.  But she, and my son, danced and made their father very happy on Father's Day weekend.

I know I'm not a normal dad.  I don't watch football on TV.  I could care less who wins the Stanley Cup.  I don't go fishing.  Can't stand to touch worms or fish.  I don't restore old cars, and I don't have a bunch of woodworking tools in my backyard.

I like dance.  And foreign films.  500-page novels.  Art exhibits.  Musicals.  Poetry.  It is Father's Day night, and, as a treat, I'm watching Midnight in Paris.  I'm not normal.  I'm waiting to see if my son ever realizes his father is from another planet.  Right now, he just thinks I'm really funny.  I'll take that.  It's better than being an embarrassment.  That time will come when he's a teenager.

Last night, when I got home from the dance recital, I sat down with my journal and finished my Father's Day poem for church.  All the pieces sort of fell together for me.  I simply stepped out of the way and let the poem finally emerge.  I started writing at 11 p.m. and finished around 1:30 a.m.  I went to bed very satisfied.

I read my poem this morning during the worship service at church.  It was, of course, dedicated to fathers and father figures.  I read the poem, and then my cohorts in the praise band sang Andrew Lloyd Webber's Pie Jesu.  By the time the music was over, there wasn't a dry eye in the church.  The pastor had to stand at the lectern for about twenty seconds to compose himself.

I'm not sure if all that means that my poem is any good, but I do think that the Holy Spirit was really present in church this morning.  I could almost see the tongues of fire.

Saint Marty was blessed this weekend.

Pie Jesu

by:  Martin Achatz

At my brother's funeral,
my father made sounds
I'd never heard him
make before.  Ancient sounds.
Meteor smashing into Earth
sounds, shifting the planet
from brachiosaurus to Ice Age.
Noah loading up the ark
sounds, the heavens a black
boil of rain, mud, tsunami.
Vesuvius opening above Pompeii
sounds, a highway of magma
rolling over house, dog, mother, suckling child.
Abraham on the mountain
sounds, his son climbing like an ibex
ahead of him, higher and higher,
to that stone altar.  Sacrifice
is a part of the deal, giving
up something precious.
The last piece of pizza or
a night of sleep or
a grandfather's watch or
the marrow of your bone.
My father worked twelve-hour
days, fixed toilets, faucets,
unplugged plugged sewers.
His hands, hard as permafrost,
could tear Detroit phone books in half.
Yet, when he had to let go
of my brother, my father broke.
He sat next to me, made sounds
like a charging mammoth,
drowning lion.  Like an old man
asked to give up his last breath.
I think he was waiting, like Abraham,
to hear the whisper of angel wing
in his ear, singing Pie Jesu.
Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June 17: Late-Night Tweets, Dorothy Parker, "Poem in the American Manner"

Okay, I have been trying to stay away from being political in my blog posts.  However, when I read this poem by the Poet of the Week, I immediately thought of the current leader of the United States.  I can't help myself.  It sort of sounds like a series of late-night Tweets to me.

Saint Marty hopes you take this post as it was intended:  to make you laugh and think a little. 

Poem in the American Manner

by:  Dorothy Parker

I dunno yer highfalutin' words, but here's th' way it seems
When I'm peekin' out th' winder o' my little House o Dreams;
I've been lookin' 'roun' this big ol' world, as bizzy as a hive,
An' I want t' tell ye, neighbor mine, it's good t' be alive.
I've ben settin' here, a-thinkin' hard, an' say, it seems t' me
That this big ol' world is jest about as good as it kin be,
With its starvin' little babies, an' its battles, an' its strikes,
An' its profiteers, an' hold-up men—th' dawggone little tykes!
An' its hungry men that fought fer us, that nobody employs.
An' I think, 'Why, shucks, we're jest a lot o' grown-up little boys!'
An' I settle back, an' light my pipe, an' reach fer Mother's hand,
An' I wouldn't swap my peace o' mind fer nothin' in the land;
Fer this world uv ours, that jest was made fer folks like me an' you
Is a purty good ol' place t' live—say, neighbor, ain't it true?

June 17: Royal Danish, Barbecued Chicken, Small Stuff

"Billy--" said Valencia Merble.


"You want to talk about our silver pattern?"


"I've got it narrowed down to pretty much either Royal Danish or Rambler Rose."

"Rambler Rose," said Billy.

"It isn't something we should rush into," she said.  "I mean--whatever we decide on, that's what we're going to have to live with the rest of our lives."

Billy studied the pictures.  "Royal Danish," he said at last.

"Colonial Moonlight is nice, too."

"Yes, it is," said Billy Pilgrim.

Billy doesn't really give a shit about silver patterns.  He's making small talk, hoping that Valencia will eventually stop talking or leave.  He's being polite to his fiancee.  Valencia, on the other hand, sees silver patterns as a lifetime commitment.  They will have to live with this decision until they die.

It's all a matter of perspective, I guess.  Billy doesn't see the choice between Rambler Rose and Royal Danish as that important.  For Valencia, the decision is akin to signing a Middle East peace accord.  It's binding, and it's permanent.

I understand Billy's point of view.  There are some decisions that I don't sweat.  Shorts or pants.  Chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies.  Fox News or real news.  Everyone has their own set of priorities.

Last night, I had dinner at my parents' house.  Chicken--fried, broiled, and barbecued.  It was delicious.  However, I nearly came to blows with one of my siblings because there was barbecue chicken on the table.  This person simply kept bitching and bitching and bitching about the barbecue chicken.  It started as soon as I sat down on at the dinner table and went on and on and on.  It ended with raised voices and hurt feelings.

I suppose, in this situation, I was Billy.  My sibling was Valencia.  I simply wanted to tell my sibling that chicken preparation is not a life-and-death choice (unless you choose raw).  In the grand scheme of things, it just doesn't matter.  As the old saying goes, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

So, I don't care about chicken.  I don't like barbecue, so I choose fried or broiled.  If that's not available, I will have a bowl of Cheerios.

Saint Marty is thankful today for the big stuff:  love and faith and joy.

Friday, June 16, 2017

June 16: Melancholy, Dorothy Parker, "Thought for a Sunshiny Morning"

Feeling a little melancholy this evening.

Most of my work day, I was calling patients to remind them about their cardiologist appointments.  It's a fairly mind-numbing task, but I do get to talk to some interesting people, sometimes.  Near the end of the day, I called a patient.  A woman answered.

"Hi, may I speak with John please," I said.

Pause.  "May I ask who's calling?"

"This is Marty calling from the cardiology office to remind John about his upcoming appointment."

Another pause.  "My father died in March."

I have moments like this every week or so.  It's terrible and can throw me into a pretty deep hole.  I'm in a pretty deep hole right now.

Saint Marty needs a sunshiny morning.

Thought for a Sunshiny Morning

by:  Dorothy Parker

It costs me never a stab nor squirm
To tread by chance upon a worm.
"Aha, my little dear," I say,
"Your clan will pay me back one day."

June 16: Friendless and Despised, Charles Dickens, Imperfections

With  regard to the whereabouts of Kilgore Trout:  he actually lived in Ilium, Billy's hometown, friendless and despised.  Billy would meet him by and by.

Kilgore Trout lives in Billy's home town.  He's not quite a celebrity, despite that fact that he has written a lot of books.  A lot.  And Vonnegut promises that Trout will show up later in Billy's story.

There have been a lot of people I would like to meet in my life.  Stephen King and John Irving, for instance.  Billy Collins.  I've met a few of my idols, as well.  I was twice in the same room as Maya Angelou.  I actually shook Kurt Vonnegut's hand once.  I've talked about poetry with Sharon Olds.  I had a picture taken with Alec Baldwin.

There are also people that I would have liked to meet, but never had the opportunity.  Katherine Hepburn.  Robin Williams.  As a teenager, I always thought that I was going to be friends eventually with River Phoenix.  He was going to read something that I wrote, and he would just call me up or show up at my front door.

There is something about certain public figures that just draw me in.  I have read a thousand-page biography of Charles Dickens not once, not twice, not three times.  I've read it five or six times.  Most of the time, the people who I find the most fascinating--the ones with whom I want to be friends--are really flawed.  People who have a lot of light and dark in them.  I feel a kinship with individuals like this.

I like the idea that people, despite their incredible limitations, can do really great things.  Robin Williams had mental health and addiction issues.  Charles Dickens was most certainly bipolar.  River Phoenix was a heroin addict and alcoholic.  Yet, look at the great things these artists did in their respective fields.

All this gives me hope.  I am not perfect.  I gravitate toward darkness.  Some of my acquaintances may be surprised by this admission.  For the most part, I'm fairly gregarious in public.  I like making people smile and laugh.  Just today, a coworker told me, "You're the most positive person I know."  I appreciate that observation.

Charles Dickens loved throwing lavish parties for his friends, but his temperament was quicksilver.  After he was done writing at night, he would sometimes go for a 20-mile walk.  River Phoenix would sneak up on his friends from behind and engulf them in bear hugs, but he would go on drug-binges for weeks at a time.

Nobody is perfect.  I think that my greatest creative achievements come from my greatest faults.  And, in a way, that's a gift.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for his imperfections.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 15: Fearless, Dorothy Parker, "Resume"

Writers have to be fearless.

I know that there are some subjects that cause me a great deal of pain.  Usually, if I find myself trying to avoid something in my writing, I know that it's the very thing I need to confront.

Dorothy Parker confronts difficult topics in her writing.  Heartbreak.  Betrayal.  Death.  Suicide.  She just does it in a really funny way.

Saint Marty hopes he will never be a coward in his writing.


by:  Dorothy Parker

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

June 15: Publisher Has Failed, Labor in Obscurity, Place of Pain

"I don't think Trout has ever been out of the country," Rosewater went on.  "My God--he writes about Earthlings all the time, and they're all Americans.  Practically nobody on Earth is an American."

"Where does he live?" Valencia asked.

"Nobody knows," Rosewater replied.  "I'm the only person who ever heard of him, as far as I an tell.  No two books have the same publisher, and every time I write him in care of a publisher, the letter comes back because the publisher has failed."

He changed the subject now, congratulated Valencia on her engagement ring.

"Thank you," she said, and held it out so Rosewater could get a close look.  "Billy got that diamond in the war."

"That's the attractive thing about war," said Rosewater.  "Absolutely everybody gets a little something."

So, Kilgore Trout is sort of the Thomas Pynchon or J. D. Salinger of the Slaughterhouse universe, except that Trout really isn't a good writer.  As stated earlier, he has good ideas, but his prose sucks, according to Rosewater.  Maybe that's why all of his publishers fail.

All writers labor in obscurity.  Even Stephen King was living in a trailer when he sold Carrie to a publisher.  Obscurity is a writer's natural habitat.  Not by choice.  I know that if I had the choice between anonymity and fame as a poet/writer, I would choose fame.  The main goal of writing is to communicate.  Connect with people, on some level.

I think that's why I started this blog.  I wanted to somehow know that I had some kind of audience, no matter how big or small.  When I send these posts out into the Internet ether, I wait to see how many views they get.  I sort of gauge the success of a post on that number.

Recently, my page views have dropped off.  I don't know why.  It seems to coincide with the start of summer.  Warm weather means low page views.  People don't want to spend the free time in June, July, and August surfing blogs, I guess.  I don't blame them.  After I'm done typing this post, I plan to go outside, sit on my front steps, and read a good book.

That doesn't mean that I wouldn't kill for a million views.  I would.  Figuratively, of course.  I don't want to be Kilgore Trout.  I want to be Stephen King or J. D. Salinger or Dr. Seuss.  Any writer who says otherwise is a liar. Writers are needy people.  They want to be loved.

Perhaps that's why so many writers are damaged people.  Alcoholic.  Bipolar.  Abused.  Depressed.  Addicted.  I think that most good writing comes from a place of pain.  I know that I'm attracted to poems and books that feel like open wounds.  There's something very honest in work like that.  It helps me through difficult times.  Makes me feel less alone.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for good writing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

June 14: Do the Right Thing, Dorothy Parker, "Social Note"

I like to think that I am a decent person.  I always try to do the right thing, even if that thing is difficult.  That's the way wrongs can be righted, goodness can be spread, and peace can be achieved.  Everybody just needs to be decent.

For me, today, the right thing is caring for my wife and kids, cleaning my house, maybe reading a good book, and then working on a poem.  That will be my contribution to the world today.

Saint Marty will also spread a little laughter, thanks to Dorothy Parker.

Social Note

by:  Dorothy Parker

Lady, lady, should you meet
One whose ways are all discreet,
One who murmurs that his wife
Is the lodestar of his life,
One who keeps assuring you
That he never was untrue,
Never loved another one . . .
Lady, lady, better run!

June 14: Only His Ideas Were Good, Saints, Abandoned

Billy's fiancee had finished her Three Musketeers Candy Bar.  Now she was eating a Milky Way.

"Forget books," said Rosewater, throwing that particular book under his bed.  "The hell with 'em."

"That sounded like an interesting one," said Valencia.

"Jesus--if Kilgore Trout could only write!" Rosewater exclaimed.  He had a point:  Kilgore Trout's unpopularity was deserved.  His prose was frightful.  Only his ideas were good.

Only his ideas were good.  I can sympathize with Kilgore Trout.  I have great ideas all the time for things to write.  The problem is in the execution.  If my writing journals ever see the light of day, I will be incredibly embarrassed.  They are full of crap.  Starts and stops.  Fits and detours.  Ninety-five percent of what I scribble is absolute vomit.

The problem, it seems, for Kilgore Trout is that he publishes the vomit.  My problem is that I work on projects for so long--essays, poems, short stories--that it becomes difficult for me to decipher the good from the bad.  Everything looks like crap.

For example, I have been working on a project about Catholic saints off-and-on for many years.  It's an idea that simply won't leave me, so I will see it through to completion.  However, everything that I've written reads like Kilgore Trout--good idea, bad execution.  That frustrates me.  That's why I take long breaks from the project.

That is the life of a writer.  Laboring away in isolation on a piece of writing that might turn out to be absolute garbage.  Or it might turn out to be a Slaughterhouse Five.  Eventually, for me, it's a matter of simply letting go.  I think to myself, "I can't do this anymore," and I call it done.  Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."  I really believe that.

I am home with my wife for one more day.  I plan to clean the house and work on my saint book some more.  I'm not quite ready to abandon it yet.

Saint Marty is thankful for saints and writing today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 13: Best Medicine, Dorothy Parker, "One Perfect Rose"

I am tired this morning already.  Didn't sleep all that well last night.  Lots of worries on my mind, for my wife, my sick daughter.  I did get to sleep in a little bit.  Usually, I'm awake at 4:45 a.m.  I think I got out of bed at about 7:30 this morning.  Almost three extra hours.

Laughter is the best medicine, and Dorothy Parker always provides it.

Saint Marty needs to call the pharmacy now.  Laughter doesn't cure strep.

One Perfect Rose

by:  Dorothy Parker

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

June 13: A Bum, Sick Daughter, Kindness and Patience

The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel.  In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had.  He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground.  There couldn't possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought.  The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning.  The voice of God came crashing down.  He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity.  God said this:  From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

I kind of like the Gospel of the visitor from outer space.  It really does fall in line with the other Gospels, in a way.  The Gospel of Matthew says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  So, basically, anything that is done to a bum or homeless person is done to Christ/God.  It's what my kids are taught in school, too.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  It's all about spreading kindness throughout the world.

It has been a long day or so, but my wife has been covered with so much kindness.  So much prayer and good will.  I spoke with her this morning, and she had a rough night.  Not really feeling the greatest this morning, either.  But, if all goes well, she will be discharged later this afternoon.  That's the plan, anyway. 

I spent the morning at the doctor's office with my daughter, who has developed what I thought was strep throat.  Turns out that it's not strep, but the doctor put her on antibiotics because of the severity of the infection.  She's lying down now, and I'm waiting to pick up the prescription for her from the pharmacy.

So, I am the caretaker for two people now.  I don't mind.  The word of the day is going to be "kindness."  Maybe "patience," too.  At the moment, I am running short on patience, because the doctor has not called in my daughter's prescription yet.  It's throwing a monkey wrench in my plans for this morning.  It was supposed to be simple:  One, take my daughter to the doctor.  Two, pick up my daughter's medicine.  Three, go to the hospital to pick up my wife.  Simple.

However, as with anything in life, it's never simple.  So, I am chanting my mantra:  kindness and patience, kindness and patience, kindness and patience.

Saint Marty is thankful today for kindness and patience.

Monday, June 12, 2017

June 12: Poet of the Week, Dorothy Parker, "Love Song"

After a long and stressful morning, I need some levity. 

Therefore, I turn to Dorothy Parker as the Poet of the Week.  She's witty and wicked, a member of the famous Algonquin Round Table.  Everything she said, everything she wrote, makes me laugh out loud.

Saint Marty is sitting in the hospital waiting room, making a fool of himself with laughter..

Love Song

by:  Dorothy Parker

My own dear love, he is strong and bold
      And he cares not what comes after.
His words ring sweet as a chime of gold,
      And his eyes are lit with laughter.
He is jubilant as a flag unfurled—
      Oh, a girl, she’d not forget him.
My own dear love, he is all my world,—
      And I wish I’d never met him.

My love, he’s mad, and my love, he’s fleet,
      And a wild young wood-thing bore him!
The ways are fair to his roaming feet,
      And the skies are sunlit for him.
As sharply sweet to my heart he seems
      As the fragrance of acacia.
My own dear love, he is all my dreams,—
      And I wish he were in Asia.

My love runs by like a day in June,
      And he makes no friends of sorrows.
He’ll tread his galloping rigadoon
      In the pathway of the morrows.
He’ll live his days where the sunbeams start,
      Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
My own dear love, he is all my heart,—
      And I wish somebody’d shoot him.

June 12: Wrong Guy to Lynch, Feeling Powerless, Trust

The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn't look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe.  Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:

Oh, boy--they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And that thought had a brother:  "There are right people to lynch."  Who?  People not well-connected.  So it goes. 

I understand Vonnegut's thinking here.  Sort of.  In his interpretation of the Christ narrative, Vonnegut sees Christ's "lynching" as a power thing.  The way Vonnegut's thinking goes is this:  the readers of the Gospels know that Christ is the Son of God, and therefore they also know that it was wrong to crucify the Son of God.  People with connections don't get lynched, and, if they do, there's hell to pay (literally, with Christ).

The flaw in that thinking is that the people who "lynched" Jesus Christ didn't know who He was.  To them, Jesus Christ was just another Jewish troublemaker, talking about love and peace and understanding.  Not really bowing down to any of the authorities, calling them vipers.  To the people in power, Jesus was the son of a poor carpenter. 

And that's the real story.  Poor people are killed all the time.  That's a fact, throughout all of history.  The powerful take advantage of the disadvantaged, all the time.  Vonnegut is telling a story, and it is a story of the bombing of innocent people, sending children to fight wars.  His version of the story of Christ works well with his own story.

I am currently sitting in the waiting room at the hospital.  My wife is out of surgery and in the recovery room.  Everything went really well.  It was a difficult morning.  Vonnegut talks about power and powerlessness in the passage above.  I've been feeling very powerless for the last few hours.  It's a difficult thing, putting the life of someone you love in another person's hands. 

Of course, that's what faith is really all about.  Trust.  Christ knew that His Father had His back.  Vonnegut, despite his agnostic leanings, survived the firebombing of Dresden and went on to change the world with his writings.  That's a God thing, too, whether Vonnegut would admit that or not.

I know that my wife was covered in prayer this morning.  That brought me some peace.  I know she will be covered in prayer over the next few weeks, as well.  She has a good doctor and a good care team.  We are powerless, and we are covered.

Saint Marty is thankful for his wife's life and love today.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 11: Wife's Surgery, Classic Saint Marty, "War Story"

The day before my wife's surgery.  It's gray and rainy.  Earlier this afternoon, I mowed my lawn, because I don't know when I will have the opportunity to do it in the next week or so.  I have a feeling that the next few days are going to be very hectic.

So, I am trying to relax some today.  I will watch the Tony Awards tonight.  (I checked.  They are actually on tonight.).  Then, early tomorrow morning, I will drive my wife to the hospital.  I have to be honest:  I am a little worried.  I know she is going to be fine.  She has a first-rate surgeon and will receive great care.  However, I can't help myself.  Her life is going to be in other people's hands.

So, I'm asking anybody who reads this post to say a prayer for her tonight.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired four years ago, when I had different worries and concerns.

June 11, 2013:  English, Books, Prayer of the Week

...They said they were schoolteachers and that they'd just come from Chicago and that they were going to start teaching at some convent on 168th Street or 186th Street or one of those streets way the hell uptown.  The one next to me, with the iron glasses, said she taught English and her friend taught history and American government.  Then I started wondering like a bastard what the one sitting next to me, that taught English, thought about, being a nun and all, when she read certain books for English.  Books not necessarily with a lot of sexy stuff in them, but books with lovers and all in them...

Holden meets these two nuns in a diner, and he strikes up a conversation with them.  He learns they are schoolteachers, obviously.  The one who teaches English starts asking him questions about books and plays he's studied.  Of course, being a teenage boy, he mind drifts toward sex.  Holden's mind almost always drifts toward sex.  He wonders how a nun who teaches literature deals with the "sexy" material.

It really doesn't matter if you're a nun or Brad Pitt.  If you're an English teacher, students feel uncomfortable discussing things of a sexual nature in a classroom.  I've been teaching college-level English students for over twenty years, and I can say, without a doubt, that, even though sex is on all their minds, they don't want to talk about it.  It's like the elephant in the room that everybody's ignoring.  That's one of the challenges of teaching young adults.

I love teaching.  I love the hormonal intricacies of young minds.  I love making students see things they've never seen before.  I taught a class a year or so ago called Good Books.  I chose books that all focused on mental illness.  We read about bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and the history of the medical treatment of mental illness in the United States.  It was a great class.  In fact, I would rank it as the best class I've ever taught.  I could actually see the changes in my students' attitudes and thinking.  It was exciting.

I would love to teach full-time at the university.  It's my dream job.  I've been doing it part-time for most of my adult working life.  I don't do it because it pays so well (it doesn't).  I don't do it for the glory (there isn't any).  I do it because I can make a difference in the world.  That may sound corny, but it's what I truly believe.  I can open minds and change people's ideas.  There's nothing better than that.

So, my prayer of the week is about teaching.

Dear God,

Yeah, I know.  You're getting tired of hearing from me.  But You did say that You'd always listen if I wanted to talk.

Well, You know I how I feel about teaching.  You know it's what I've wanted to do full-time for as along as I can remember.  I'm just asking if You could help me out a little bit here.  I'd like some job opportunity to open up at the university.  You don't have to kill one of the poets a week before classes start in the fall.  I don't want anything catastrophic to befall anyone.  I would just appreciate a few little miracles.

Here's what I need:  some publications, some awards in writing contests, and a full-time teaching assignment.  On the scale of miracles, those are pretty small, when You think about it.  The Israelites needed You to part the Red Sea and write some commandments down on stones.  All I'm asking for is an itty, bitty little job at a university.

Thanks for hearing me out.  I know You've got my back, no matter what, so I'll try not to worry (even if my job at the hospital gets eliminated).  You are the God of enough.  You've always given me and my family enough to get by.  I trust You.  Like I have any choice.

Your child,

Saint Marty

It's all about trust

And a poem for tonight . . .

War Story

by:  Martin Achatz

My wife wants to have her breasts cut off.
After babies and breast feeding and mothering,
She wants a surgeon to remove them,
Like infected tonsils or a mole gone black.

She waits for her breasts to attack her,
To fill up with tiny concentration camps
Spilling ash into her blood.
In the dark, she presses her fingers
Around her nipples, into the soft tissue,
Searching for Nazis.

I want to tell her that she's fine,
She's worrying for nothing.
Yet, in the early morning, I know
She hears her mother's last breath again,
Cutting the night in two
                        Like a freight train.