Wednesday, November 22, 2017

November 22: Montana Wildhack, Thanksgiving Eve, Meltdown

Another clerk came up to Billy and asked him if he was going to buy the book or not, and Billy said that he wanted to buy it, please.  He had his back to a rack of paperback books about oral-genital contacts from ancient Egypt to the present and so on, and the clerk supposed Billy was reading one of these.  So he was startled when he saw what Billy's book was.  He said, "Jesus Christ, where did you find this thing?" and so on, and he had to tell the other clerks about the pervert who wanted to buy the window dressing.  The other clerks already knew about Billy.  They had been watching him, too.

The cash register where Billy waited for his change was near a bin of old girly magazines.  Billy looked at one out of the corner of his eye, and he saw this question on its cover.  What really became of Montana Wildhack?

Billy's strange life has brought him to this point, standing in a dirty bookstore in New York City, trying to buy a Kilgore Trout novel about Jesus Christ, reading about the porn star he's mated with on Tralfamadore on the cover of a girly magazine.  Again, Billy's life seems to be a series of circles that keep intersecting, or Russian nesting dolls, one experience swallowed and mirrored by the next.

Welcome to Thanksgiving Eve.  I am currently sitting at home, alone.  Earlier this evening, I underwent a little meltdown of sorts.  It had to do with my family and Thanksgiving and my crazy, bifurcated life.  Like Billy, I am sort of bombarded at times with different versions of myself--husband, son, sibling, father, teacher, poet, friend.  Each one of these selves compete for my attention at times.  Tonight, it became a little too much.  I simply packed up my book bag and computer, said to my wife, "I need to be alone," and came home to my empty house.

For a while, I just sat on the floor in the dark kitchen, trying to calm my racing mind.  Too many things to think about at once.  My 90-year-old father is in the hospital with pneumonia.  The social worker is attempting to find a bed for him at a local nursing home.  He won't be coming home again.  He's too fragile, and his Alzheimer's has progressed fairly quickly.

So there's that.

My brother has been down in a hospital in Grand Rapids for evaluation of his heart this week.  The news wasn't great.  His heart is working at about 25% capacity.  The doctors wanted to implant an assistive device, but my brother refused.  Instead, he now has an external defibrillator.  He and my sister are coming home on Friday.

So there's that.

And I have papers to grade, a Christmas essay to write, some poetry readings to plan, and Christmas music to learn.  In about a week, I have five or six days of insanity--my daughter's birthday parties, a benefit reading for a local Canathon, a poetry workshop, and teaching.

So there's that.

All of these different parts of my life sort of battling for attention, like little kids.  I felt my brain shutting down earlier, and I had to get away.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight.  He's not sure what he's thankful for, but he's thankful.  Maybe for an empty house.  A warm blanket.  Peanut butter and a banana.  And silence.

November 22: Turkey Trot, Sharon Olds, "Ode to Wattles"

I have much to do and think about in the next few days. 

Tomorrow morning, I am running the annual Turkey Trot.  A 5K race that will probably kill me.  I haven't run in a while, and I'm a little anxious about the prospect of doing it tomorrow.  However, if I am anything, it's a person of tradition.  I haven't missed the Turkey Trot in almost 15 years.

Then, there's Thanksgiving dinner.  Actually, it's going to be Thanksgiving lunch.  For some reason, the decision to eat early was made.  I think it has something to do with the Black Friday sales that start at 5 p.m.  on Thursday.  (Side note to any CEO of a large corporation:  your employees deserve to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families, too.  I will NEVER participate in Black Friday that starts on Thanksgiving afternoon.)

So, Saint Marty is going to bed early tonight, hopefully, to rest his wattles for the Turkey Trot in the morning.

Ode to Wattles

by:  Sharon Olds

I want to write about my wattles--oooo, I
lust after it.
I want to hold a mirror under my
chin so I can see the new
events in solid geometry
occurring below my jaw, which was
all bone till now, and now is jam-packed
reticule.  I love to be a little
disgusting, to go as far as I can
into the thrilling unloveliness
of an elderwoman's aging.  It is like daring
time, and the ancient laws of eros,
at once.  But when I look down,
into the compact's pool, and see
my face hanging down from the bottom of my face,
like a raft woven of popsicle sticks,
my nursing-home neck,
then, though I'm willing to age and die
for there to be sex and children,
the slackness of the drapery, and the
inside-out pockets of the jowls shock me.
I thought it wouldn't go far with me
that I would be geology,
my throat a rippling of synclines and anticlines
back when the crust was warm, and I
was hot.  Secretly, I don't know yet
that I'm not, but I bow my head to time,
and count my withered chins, three five seven
nine, my muses, my truth which is not
beauty--my crone beauty, in its first youth.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

November 21: Son of God, Second Chance, Show Off

The bookstore was run by seeming quintuplets, by five short, bald men chewing unlit cigars that were sopping wet.,  They never smiled, and each one had a stool to perch on.  They were making money running a paper-and-celluloid whorehouse.  They didn't have hard-ons.  Neither did Billy Pilgrim.  Everybody else did.  It was a ridiculous store, all about love and babies.

The clerks occasionally told somebody to buy or get out, not to just look and look and paw and paw.  Some of the people were looking at each other instead of the merchandise.

A clerk came up to Billy and told him the good stuff was in the back, that the books Billy was reading were window dressing.  "That ain't what you want, for Christ's sake," he told Billy.  "What you want's in back."

So Billy moved a little farther back, but not as far as the part for adults only.  He moved because of absentminded politeness, taking a Trout book with him--the one about Jesus and the time machine.

The time-traveler in the book went back to Bible times to find out one thing in particular:  Whether or not Jesus had really died on the cross, or whether he had been taken down while still alive, whether he had really gone on living.  The hero had a stethoscope along.

Billy skipped to the end of the book, where the hero mingled with the people who were taking Jesus down from the cross.  The time-traveler was the first one up the ladder, dressed in clothes of the period, and he leaned close to Jesus so people couldn't see him use the stethoscope, and he listened.

There wasn't a sound inside the emaciated chest cavity.  The Son of God was dead as a doornail.

So it goes.  

The time-traveler, whose name was Lance Corwin, also got to measure the length of Jesus, but not to weigh him.  Jesus was five feet and three and a half inches long.

An encounter with Christ.  Or the body of Christ.  That's what the Kilgore Trout novel seems to be about.  The time-traveler wants to find out if Jesus really died on the cross or if Christ's death and resurrection was some elaborate hoax perpetrated by the Son of God and his disciples.  Guess what?  Jesus is dead as a doornail.

Of course, that's one of the great parts of the Jesus narrative--Him sacrificing His life for the sake of humankind.  I'm not sure Vonnegut really bought this tenet of Christianity, and it really doesn't matter.  I just find any kind of encounter with Christ--historical, Biblical, or fictional--really compelling.

So, let me follow up on my encounter with the young homeless man that I wrote about yesterday.  After I finished my blog post about this man yesterday, I got in my car and was heading off campus.  I was still feeling really guilty about not helping this guy out early in the morning, when he was headed to the Warming Center in town, which offers assistance to the homeless.

As I was driving along the street, heading out of the university, I looked over to my left.  There was the young man, carrying the same suitcase, walking along the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette.  I shook my head, sort of not believing that I had a second chance.  I drove a little way up the street, turned around, and went back to the young man.

I rolled down my window, introduced myself, and offered to buy him some food at Burger King.  He thanked me, stubbed out his cigarette on the sidewalk, put his suitcase in the back seat of my car, and got in.

"Thanks, man," he said, putting out his hand.  "My name's Josh."

I shook his hand, said, "I'm Marty."  I explained that I had to get an appointment, but I wanted to do something for him.

"You know," Josh said, "if you could drive me to the church up the street, that's where I'm spending the night."

In Marquette, there is a homeless shelter called Room at the Inn that rotates around various churches in the area.

"Sure," I said.  We drove up the street to the church, listening to Christmas music on the radio.  When I pulled into the parking lot, Josh reached over and shook my hand again.  "Thanks," he said.  He got out and retrieved his suitcase from the back seat of my car.  "Maybe the next time I see you, I'll have some place to live," Josh said.

I nodded.  "I hope so," I said.

He closed the door and walked up into the church.

I had an encounter with Jesus yesterday.  He was a young, homeless man carrying a suitcase.

Saint Marty was grateful for the second chance.

P. S.  When I checked my e-mail tonight, there was a message from a couple poet friends of mine.  They want to organize some kind of reading for and by homeless people in the area, and they were looking for some ideas.  God really likes to show off sometimes.

November 21: Odes, Sharon Olds, "Wind Ode"

Sharon Olds' last collection of poems was titled Odes.  It contains odes to things that you wouldn't generally read odes about--like tampons and the penis and the word "vulva."  Strangely, all of these odes have an incredible amount of beauty. 

That's what Sharon Olds does.  She celebrates everything, finds inspiration in the lowliest, most human of subjects.  It's all about praise and thanksgiving.

Saint Marty has a poem for today's wind and snow in the Upper Peninsula.

Wind Ode

by:  Sharon Olds

I saw the water, ruffled like a duck,
as if its ruffles arose from within.
I saw clouds, scudding across
as if by their own will.  I sat here,
over the pond, and saw its fierce
gooseflesh and its rough chop
as if it were shivering.  I did not know you,
I looked right through you.  And then, one summer
day, Wild Goose was in nine moods
at once, and I went down to it,
and into it up to my lower eyelids, and I
saw a row of fine lines
rushing toward me, then another row
crosshatching it, rushing, then a veil of dots swift
in, like a hat-veil-sized spirit, I saw you,
it was you, and there were many of you, I sank
underwater, and looked up,
and saw your strokes indent the surface.
Could we trace them back, these hachures and gravures,
to the Coriolis force caused by the
spinning of the earth?  Who is the mother
of the wind, who is its father?  O ancestor,
O child of heat and cold, wild
original scribbler!