Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18: Dreamed I Died, Elaine Equi, "Ghosts and Fashion"

Today has been long, and it's going to get longer before it gets shorter.

I find myself yawning a lot this afternoon, trying to keep myself from falling asleep at my desk.  Last night, I dreamed I died.  It was a quiet passing, nothing fiery or catastrophic.  Just a simple letting go, as if I was setting off on a long ocean voyage.

I saw my family going on without me.  My daughter growing up, going to college, getting married.  My son playing football for his high school, tackling and fumbling and ogling cheerleaders.  And I saw my wife, alone, watching our daughter graduate and our son buy his first car.  She looked sad.  All the time.

And I wanted to touch her, hold her, let her know I was there.  But I couldn't.

So I just sat beside her, existed in her air.

Saint Marty is a little haunted this afternoon.

Ghosts and Fashion

by:  Elaine Equi

Although it no longer has a body
to cover out of a sense of decorum,

the ghost must still consider fashion—

must clothe its invisibility in something
if it is to “appear” in public.

Some traditional specters favor
the simple shroud—

a toga of ectoplasm
worn Isadora-Duncan-style
swirling around them.

While others opt for lightweight versions
of once familiar tee shirts and jeans.

Perhaps being thought-forms,
they can change their outfits instantly—

or if they were loved ones,
it is we who clothe them
like dolls from memory.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17: Heavenly Azure, Death Rattle, Homecoming

Here is how Billy Pilgrim lost his wife, Valencia.

He was unconscious in the hospital in Vermont, after the airplane crashed on Sugarbush Mountain, and Valencia, having heard about the crash, was driving from Ilium to the hospital in the family Cadillac El Dorado Coupe de Ville.  Valencia was hysterical, because she had been told frankly that Billy might die, or that, if he lived, he might be a vegetable.

Valencia adored Billy.  She was crying and yelping so hard as she drove that she missed the correct turnoff from the throughway.  She applied her power brakes, and a Mercedes slammed into her from behind.  Nobody was hurt, thank God, because both drivers were wearing seat belts.  Thank God, thank God.  The Mercedes lost only a headlight.  But the rear end of the Cadillac was a body-and-fender man's wet dream.  The trunk and fenders were collapsed.  The gaping trunk looked like the mouth of a village idiot who was explaining the he didn't know anything about anything.  The fenders shrugged.  The bumper was at a high port arms.  "Reagan for President!" a sticker on the bumper said.  The back window was veined with cracks.  The exhaust system rested on the pavement.

The driver of the Mercedes got out and went to Valencia, to find out if she was all right.  She blabbed hysterically about Billy and the airplane crash, and then she put her car in gear and crossed the median divider, leaning her exhaust system behind.

When she arrived at the hospital, people rushed to the windows to see what all the noise was.  The Cadillac, with both mufflers gone, sounded like a heavy bomber coming in on a wing and a prayer.  Valencia turned off the engine, but then she slumped against the steering wheel, and the horn brayed steadily.  A doctor and a nurse ran out to find out what the trouble was.  Poor Valencia was unconscious, overcome by carbon monoxide.  She was a heavenly azure.

One hour later she was dead.  So it goes.  

In a very short period of time in Billy's life, he gets in a near-fatal airplane crash, and his wife dies.  Of course, Billy has known for quite some time that his plane would smash into Sugarbush Mountain and that Valencia would turn a heavenly, carbon-monoxide azure.  For Billy, these are just two of the puzzle pieces of his life that he can return to again and again.  Death isn't an end.  More like a nap at the end of a long day.

I suppose that's a healthy way of thinking about death.  It takes away death's attendant fears.  Everyone enjoys a good nap.  As a Christian, I'm not really supposed to be anxious about the afterlife.  I'm actually supposed to look forward to it.  As an old saying goes, death is the price we pay for life.

I have witnessed one death in my lifetime.  My sister's.  The thing that I remember most about that morning is her struggle for breath.  I'd always heard the term "death rattle," but, until then, I'd never heard it.  My sister looked like she was starved for air.  Her chest rose and fell like ocean swells.  I knew she wasn't in pain, that it was all part of the process of dying.  Yet, I still wanted to somehow ease her struggle.  Thinking this, I almost missed the moment she stopped breathing. 

I heard her take a big watery gulp and let go of it.  Then there was silence.  At that moment, her face, which had been lined with effort, smoothed, almost like a lake after a storm.  It was beautiful and terrible to see.  The color in her cheeks leeched away.  She looked peaceful, happy.  After two years of hospitals and operations and nursing homes, she was gone, and her body reflected some kind of homecoming.  As if she had found car keys or a photograph that had been lost for a very long time.

So it goes.

Saint Marty is thankful to his sister for teaching him that death isn't terrifying.  It's just a door to walk through.


October 17: Cross and Garlic, Mark Doty, "The Owner of the Night"

Yesterday, it was a zombie apocalypse.  Today, it's a vampire.  Sort of. 

I grew up watching horror movies.  When I was a kid, I would go to the library, into the adult section, and read all the books I could about vampires and werewolves and ghosts and demons.  I read William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist when I was in fourth grade.  I'm not joking.

So this kind of material appeals to me on a deep level.  I enjoy the jump and scare, as long as it doesn't involve clowns.  And vampires are some of my favorite creatures of the night.

Saint Marty always carries his cross and garlic.  Just in case.

The Owner of the Night

by:  Mark Doty

interrogates whoever walks
this shadow-lane, this hour
not reserved for you: who

are you to enter it?
Orion’s head over heels
above the road, jewel-belt

flinting starlight
to fuel two eyes looking
down from the air:

beacons in reverse,
since light pours in
toward her appetite

until she wings her noiseless outline
between our rooftop and the stars,
over this door and all the doors

hidden in the grass:
dreaming voles,

firefly province,

wasps in the palace
they’ve hollowed under the hill.

Mole resting his face against his splayed hands.

Perch, blink. Pose
the evening’s question
to the sleepless

while the moon if there is one
scatters islands
on a field of ink. Who

maps this? The owner
of the night looks down
to mirror and admit the hours

before the upper vaults
begin to lighten and recede.
Did you hear what I said,

a face looks down from the night?
Did who hear me? Who
reads this page, who writes it?

Monday, October 16, 2017

October 16: Sleep Well, Human-Made Disasters, Suffering

The blind innkeeper said that the Americans could sleep in his stable that night, and he gave them soup and ersatz coffee and a little beer.  Then he came out to the stable to listen to them bedding down in the straw.

"Good night, Americans," he said in German.  "Sleep well."

It is a quiet moment at the end of an apocalypse of fire.  Dresden has been reduced to ash and rubble, most of its residents to unrecognizable char.  The blind German innkeeper could have refused to house the American prisoners, or made them sleep outside to breathe in the smell of flames and flesh.  He doesn't.  Instead, he gives them a roof, straw to sleep on, food and drink.  And he almost tucks them into sleep with his words, like a loving grandparent.

I think that horrible events--like the bombings or Dresden or Hiroshima, the 9-11 attacks--dissolve the differences that exist between survivors.  It doesn't matter whether you're German or American or Jewish or Muslim or Pakistani, in the dust and ruin, everyone simply becomes human.  Helping each other find missing fathers or daughters.  Handing out blankets and plates of chicken.  Hugging the grief-stricken.  Bandaging the wounded.

Yes, wars and bombings and terror attacks and mass shootings are all human-made disasters.  The aftermath, however, are usually human miracles of bravery, strength, compassion, and love.  It's sad that it takes moments like that to bring out the best in people.  (Sometimes the worst, as well.) 

This may sound crazy, but I think the world would be a much better place if we all kept the idea of human suffering in our hearts.  If we did that, recalled times of great national and international sorrow every day, we might treat each other more kindly.  Might go out of the way to help human beings in need.  Refugees.  Immigrants.  Women.  Children.  Gay.  Transgender.  Black.  Hispanic.  Jewish.  Muslim. 

Because, tomorrow, we may be the immigrants and refugees from our own lives. 

Saint Marty is thankful today for soup and ersatz coffee and a little beer.