Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February 21: Loss, Billy Collins, "All Eyes"

So many people I know have experienced loss in the last couple weeks.  I lost my dad.  A good friend lost her sister.  Tonight, another friend lost his mother-in-law.  I am tired of death.

Tonight, I have no words of comfort that will work, because I know that nothing I say will take away any of the pain that accompanies the loss of a someone you love.

Instead, I offer this poem by Billy Collins.  It's about death, but it's also about life.  It's about my dad.  My friend's sister.  My other friend's mother-in-law.

Saint Marty can hear his father's voice in this poem . . . 

All Eyes

by:  Billy Collins

Just because I'm dead now doesn't mean
I don't exist anymore. 
All those eulogies and the obituary
in the corner of the newspaper
have made me feel more vibrant than ever.

I'm here in some fashion,
maybe like a gust of wind
that disturbs the upper leaves,
or blows a hat around a corner,
or disperses a little cloud of mayflies over a stream.

What I like best about this 
is you realizing you can no longer
get away with things the way your used to
when it would be ten o'clock at night
and I wouldn't know where you were.

I'm all ears, you liked to say
whenever you couldn't bother listening.
And now you know that I'm all eyes,
looking in every direction,
and a special eye is always trained on you.

February 21: Old Quaker, "Crazy" People, Gun Violence

Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do, retired whaleman. But unlike Captain Peleg- who cared not a rush for what are called serious things, and indeed deemed those self-same serious things the veriest of all trifles- Captain Bildad had not only been originally educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket Quakerism, but all his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many unclad, lovely island creatures, round the Horn- all that had not moved this native born Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one angle of his vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some lack of common consistency about worthy Captain Peleg. Though refusing, from conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative evening of his days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the reminiscence, I do not know; but it did not seem to concern him much, and very probably he had long since come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another. This world pays dividends. Rising from a little cabin boy in short clothes of the drabbest drab, to a harpooneer in a broad shad-bellied waistcoat; from that becoming boat-header, chief mate, and captain, and finally a shipowner; Bildad, as I hinted before, had concluded his adventurous career by wholly retiring from active life at the goodly age of sixty, and dedicating his remaining days to the quiet receiving of his well-earned income.
Now, Bildad, I am sorry to say, had the reputation of being an incorrigible old hunks, and in his sea-going days, a bitter, hard task-master. They told me in Nantucket, though it certainly seems a curious story, that when he sailed the old Categut whaleman, his crew, upon arriving home, were mostly all carried ashore to the hospital, sore exhausted and worn out. For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was certainly rather hard-hearted, to say the least. He never used to swear, though, at his men, they said; but somehow he got an inordinate quantity of cruel, unmitigated hard work out of them. When Bildad was a chief-mate, to have his drab-colored eye intently looking at you, made you feel completely nervous, till you could clutch something- a hammer or a marrling-spike, and go to work like mad, at something or other, never mind what. Indolence and idleness perished before him. His own person was the exact embodiment of his utilitarian character. On his long, gaunt body, he carried no spare flesh, no superfluous beard, his chin having a soft, economical nap to it, like that worn nap of his broad-brimmed hat.
Such, then, was the person that I saw seated on the transom when I followed Captain Peleg down into the cabin. The space between the decks was small; and there, bolt upright, sat old Bildad, who always sat so, and never leaned, and this to save his coat-tails. His broad-brim was placed beside him; his legs were stiffly crossed; his drab vesture was buttoned up to his chin; and spectacles on nose, he seemed absorbed in reading from a ponderous volume.
"Bildad," cried Captain Peleg, "at it again, Bildad, eh? Ye have been studying those Scriptures, now, for the last thirty years, to my certain knowledge. How far ye got, Bildad?"
As if long habituated to such profane talk from his old shipmate, Bildad, without noticing his present irreverence, quietly looked up, and seeing me, glanced again inquiringly towards Peleg.
"He says he's our man, Bildad," said Peleg, "he wants to ship."
"Dost thee?" said Bildad, in a hollow tone, and turning round to me.
"I dost," said I unconsciously, he was so intense a Quaker.
"What do ye think of him, Bildad?" said Peleg.
"He'll do," said Bildad, eyeing me, and then went on spelling away at his book in a mumbling tone quite audible.
I thought him the queerest old Quaker I ever saw, especially as Peleg, his friend and old shipmate, seemed such a blusterer. But I said nothing, only looking round me sharply. Peleg now threw open a chest, and drawing forth the ship's articles, placed pen and ink before him, and seated himself at a little table. I began to think it was high time to settle with myself at what terms I would be willing to engage for the voyage. I was already aware that in the whaling business they paid no wages; but all hands, including the captain, received certain shares of the profits called lays, and that these lays were proportioned to the degree of importance pertaining to the respective duties of the ship's company. I was also aware that being a green hand at whaling, my own lay would not be very large; but considering that I was used to the sea, could steer a ship, splice a rope, and all that, I made no doubt that from all I had heard I should be offered at least the 275th lay- that is, the 275th part of the clear net proceeds of the voyage, whatever that might eventually amount to. And though the 275th lay was what they call a rather long lay, yet it was better than nothing; and if we had a lucky voyage, might pretty nearly pay for the clothing I would wear out on it, not to speak of my three years' beef and board, for which I would not have to pay one stiver.
It might be thought that this was a poor way to accumulate a princely fortune- and so it was, a very poor way indeed. But I am one of those who never take on about princely fortunes, and am quite content if the world is ready to board and lodge me, while I am putting up at this grim sign of the Thunder Cloud. Upon the whole, I thought the 275th lay would be about the fair thing, but would not have been surprised had I been offered the 200th, considering I was of a broad-shouldered make.
As Ishmael notes, Captain Bildad is a bit of a contradiction.  When Ishmael first meets him, Bildad is studying the Bible.  Being a Quaker, Bildad is supposed to embrace kindness and non-violence.  Yet, he has the reputation for being a difficult leader, hard on his men, not sparing any of the saltier language of the sailor in order to motivate his crew.   Godly and profane.  That's Bildad.

I have been trying to avoid commentary on the recent school shooting in Florida last week.  I know that's unusual.  Simply put, I get so weary of seeing those heartbreaking images on the television and hearing the empty platitudes of politicians offering up prayers while still accepting massive campaign donations from the National Rifle Association.

This time, however, the major scapegoats that the current man residing in the Oval Office and his crew of sycophants are blaming are people with mental illnesses.  I know I shouldn't be surprised by this tactic.  Scapegoats seem to be the source of all woes in the United States according to these "leaders."  Mexicans.  Illegal refugees.  Legal immigrants.  Women.  Muslims.  Now, the mentally ill.

Let me be clear here:  I think that my country is woefully negligent in helping people suffering from mental illnesses.  There is lack of funding.  Lack of understanding.  Lack of compassion.  "Crazy" people don't deserve the kind of support and research that people suffering from other illnesses deserve.  That's pretty much the attitude held by the majority of the population in the United States.  Good, "Christian" people.

And so, the mentally ill are being blamed for the fact that the United States has a major problem with guns.  It's not the weapons themselves that are the problem.  It's the crazy people who use them to kill students in schools, worshipers in church, concertgoers in Las Vegas.

I find this logic faulty and, frankly, offensive.

Yes, anyone who goes into a school with a weapon and kills innocent people probably has some mental health problems.  However, had the person not been able to purchase said weapon, there would be 17 people alive today who are, instead, being buried.  That's the simple, honest truth.  "Crazy" doesn't kill people.  Guns kill people.

My wife has bipolar disorder.  Therefore, there is a possibility that my children may develop bipolar disorder.  I have a friend whose daughter has been struggling with schizophrenia for most of her adult life.  My wife's uncle, who had bipolar disorder, committed suicide.  So, I am not talking out of my ass here.  I know mental illness.

The majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent murderers.  Just like the majority of Muslims in the world are not terrorists, and the majority of Mexicans are not rapists and drug dealers.  To believe otherwise is simply false.  And stupid.

I'm tired of trying to sugarcoat my ideas about gun control, so let me say it as clearly as I can:

Guns kill people.  Take away the guns, and people don't die.  There is no need for automatic or semiautomatic guns for "sport."  These are weapons designed simply to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time.  Anyone who can't wait 28 days to buy a gun--who needs it within 48 hours--probably shouldn't be able to buy a gun.  And the answer to school shootings is NOT to arm kindergarten teachers.

So.  There it is people.  I stand with those students from Florida.  The problem here isn't mental illness.  The problem here is that we have a country filled with leaders who have been bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association.  Those leaders will never allow common sense to rule their decisions in regard to gun control.

And in two weeks' time, we will be talking about another school shooting.

If you have a problem with anything that I have just said, I'm sorry.  I'm tired of young people dying.  You probably should be, too.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for freedom of speech.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 20: Series of Love Affairs, Billy Collins, "Aimless Love"

I slept in this morning because my kids got a day off from school.  Freezing rain last night that shagged the entire world with ice.  When I shoveled, the snow flaked up like pieces of dried paint.  It was heavy and wet.

I cleaned my house this afternoon, took my daughter to her orthodontist appointment.  Tomorrow morning, I rejoin my regular life.  Work and teaching and parenting and poetry.  Each competing for my attention.

Today, however, I had a chance to fall in love with a lot of things.  The layer of ice on my car.  The branches of the trees outside my window, still holding some frozen winterberries, red as paper cuts against the snow.  The omelet I had for breakfast.  The nap I took after lunch.

That really is what a day is all about.  A series of love affairs.  Ask Billy Collins.

Saint Marty is ready to fall in love with his pillow.

Aimless Love

by:  Billy Collins

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

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

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

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

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

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor--
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

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

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

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

February 20: Sign the Papers, Bakery or Newspaper, Cautious and Careful

"Very good. Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!"
"I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact."
"Good again. Now then, thou not only wantest to go a-whaling, to find out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there."
For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious request, not knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in earnest. But concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain Peleg started me on the errand.
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.
"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back; "what did ye see?"
"Not much," I replied- "nothing but water; considerable horizon though, and there's a squall coming up, I think."
"Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where you stand?"
I was a little staggered, but go a-whaling I must, and I would; and the Pequod was as good a ship as any- I thought the best- and all this I now repeated to Peleg. Seeing me so determined, he expressed his willingness to ship me.
"And thou mayest as well sign the papers right off," he added- "come along with ye." And so saying, he led the way below deck into the cabin.
Seated on the transom was what seemed to me a most uncommon and surprising figure. It turned out to be Captain Bildad who along with Captain Peleg was one of the largest owners of the vessel; the other shares, as is sometimes the case in these ports, being held by a crowd of old annuitants; widows, fatherless children, and chancery wards; each owning about the value of a timber head, or a foot of plank, or a nail or two in the ship. People in Nantucket invest their money in whaling vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks bringing in good interest.
Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.
So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture names- a singularly common fashion on the island- and in childhood naturally imbibing the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with these unoutgrown peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a Scandinavian sea-king, or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature's sweet or savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language- that man makes one in a whole nation's census- a mighty pageant creature, formed for noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease. But, as yet we have not to do with such an one, but with quite another; and still a man, who, if indeed peculiar, it only results again from another phase of the Quaker, modified by individual circumstances.

Ishmael is doing something here that I would never do.  He has just stepped aboard the Pequod and, within of few minutes of meeting Captain Peleg, is ready to sign on for a three-year whaling voyage.  Of course, that's why he and Queequeg came to Nantucket.  And, of course, Moby-Dick wouldn't be much of a book if Ishmael were less impulsive in his decision here.  There wouldn't be Ahab.  Or a monstrous white whale.

I am not a person who rushes decisions.  I prefer to think about things.  A lot.  Examine all sides of an issue.  Sometimes, I've been accused of being overly cautious.  It's just my nature.  If I were Ishmael, I wouldn't have ended up on the Pequod.  I'm sure of it.  In fact, I would have visited every whaling ship in the harbor, taking notes in my journal, maybe writing down names and drawing pictures.  Weighing my options.  And then I would have hopped on a boat for the mainland, turned my back on the ocean, and found a nice job in a bakery or newspaper.

I am not a coward.  I stand up in front of a group of 35 college students every day, talking about film and writing and poetry.  Subjects that 18- and 19-year-old men and women don't really give two shits about.  I sit at a pipe organ every Saturday night, making music to a church filled with people.  I've played the lead in the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  I've directed musicals.  And I've attended a clothing optional poetry workshop. choosing the optional one night.

So, you see, I take chances.  Do things that would make other people incredibly uncomfortable.  Yet, I'm not impulsive in the choices I make.  Before I took up teaching college English, I worked in a book store.  Cleaned a hospital operating room at night.  Studied computer programming.  I tried my hand at a lot of things.  Then I decided I wanted to teach.

Before I played Pseudolus in Forum, I was part of a lot of choruses in musicals.  That's like being the second guy at the bus stop in a movie.  Or the fifth member of the landing party on an episode of the original Star Trek.  I built up some experience before I stepped into the spotlight.

That's how I roll.  I'm Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula at the moment.  I love meeting people, sharing poems, encouraging other poets.  It's exciting.  However, I've been practicing poetry for close to 20 years now.  I'm still practicing.  Every time I sit down with my pen and journal to work on a new poem, it's like I'm in my first poetry workshop all over again.

I'm not an impulsive person.  I'm careful.  I don't think that makes me timid.  That makes me smart.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for being cautiously fearless.