Saturday, October 22, 2016

October 22: Past Inserts a Finger, Smell of Orange, Druids

These trees stir me.  The past inserts a finger into a slit in the skin of the present, and pulls.  I remember how sycamores grew--and presumably still grow--in the city, in Pittsburgh, even along the busiest streets.  I used to spend hours in the backyard, thinking God knows what, and peeling the mottled bark of a sycamore, idly, littering the grass with dried lappets and strips, leaving the tree's trunk at eye level moist, thin-skinned and yellow--until someone would catch me at it from the kitchen window, and I would awake, and look at my work in astonishment, and think oh no, this time I've killed the sycamore for sure.

I love Dillard's image of the past as some little kid scratching and pulling apart things in the present.  I've seen my son do this.  He'll have a blade of grass or a piece of paper in his hands, and, pretty soon, there are shreds of green or confetti in front of him.  I do the same thing sometimes with Styrofoam cups.  After I'm done drinking my hot chocolate from it, I will slowly start to dissect it until it's a pile of white, environmental-damaging pebbles.

The past works that way.  Something nondescript, like a tree or the smell of an orange, is a portal into memory.  When I smell orange, for some reason I think of Christmas.  One year, I made an ornament out of an orange and cloves, and it filled the whole house with this sweet, citrus scent for the entire holiday season.  Orange also makes me think of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center.  The day after I graduated from high school, I went on a trip to Florida.  There was a ride at EPCOT called Horizons, I think.  In Horizons, you rode in this spaceship.  At one point, the spaceship flew over an orange grove, and the smell of orange was all around.

Halloween does this to me, as well.  As I'm walking around with my kids, collecting Milky Ways and Skittles and raisins from the neighborhood, I think about the Halloweens from my past.  The time my mother sewed me a clown costume (this was before clowns became homicidal creeps), and I painted my face white.  Or, the year the film Alien was released, and I put on a pair of sweatpants, white tee shirt, and head band emblazoned with the word "Nostromo," which was the name of the spaceship in the film.  Nobody got that one. 

When I was a kid, there wasn't a designated trick-or-treating time.  Trick-or-treating began after school let out, and I didn't stop until the last front porch light was turned off, usually around 10:30 at night.  As Bob Dylan says, the times they are a' changin'.  After a couple of streets, my kids are pretty much done.  They want to go home, sift through their booty, and call it a night.  Churches throw "Harvest Festivals" on Halloween, I assume to circumvent the holdover elements from the Druids.  The Halloweens of my past were filled with Christopher Lee Dracula movies, full-size candy bars, and the fear of razors in apples.

Yes, the past has a way of inserting itself in the present.  This weekend, I'm taking my kids pumpkin hunting.  Then we will hit the local Halloween Superstore to do a little costume shopping.  I'm sure there will be eye-rolling from my daughter.  Tantrums from my son.  By the end of the excursion, my son will tell his sister, "I hate you." 

Saint Marty will just tuck those memories into the Halloween file in his mind, along with all the pumpkin guts and leftover Jolly Ranchers.

The good old days . . .

Friday, October 21, 2016

October 21: Air of Menace, A Hundred Conversations, Misphonia

Still, the day had an air of menace.  A broken whiskey bottle by the log, the brown tip of a snake's tail disappearing between two rocks on the hill at my back, the rabbit the dog nearly caught, the rabies I knew was in the county, the bees who kept unaccountably fumbling at my forehead with their furred feet.

Dillard has a bad feeling, as if some wall of water is about to roll over her.  She's talking about rains and floods, uprooted trees and washed-out bridges.  While I don't think she's a superstitious person, Dillard is looking around her, seeing all these signs of impending disaster.  Broken bottles.  Snakes.  Rumors of rabid forest creatures.

I have had a trying day.  Eight hours of calling patients.  Over a hundred conversations.  My voice is tired, my brain is tired, and my tolerance is tired.  When I left work, I found myself disliking people.  A lot.  Not because of the people I spoke to.  Because of the number of people I spoke to.

When I feel like this, everybody irritates me.  Right now, my sister is irritating the shit out of me because she's talking so loud.  Hell's Kitchen is on the TV, and Gordon Ramsay's voice is making my skin crawl.  I want to slap people who are chewing or swallowing too loudly.  (In case you're wondering, I do suffer from misphonia, where certain noises trigger irrational anger responses.)

So, there is an air of menace about me this evening.  Invisible bees buzzing around my head.  I have to force myself not to speak, because, if I open my mouth, I will probably yell, scream, or swear for no good reason.  I would look like a crazy person, which I might be.

I think that Bob Dylan suffers from misphonia, as well.  That's why he hasn't said anything about his Nobel Prize.  Either that or he just doesn't give a flying fig, which, again, irritates the shit out of me.

Maybe Saint Marty should just go to bed.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

October 20: Long Lyrics, Poetry Reading, Bigfoot

The birds have started singing in the valley.  Their February squawks and naked chirps are fully fledged now, and long lyrics fly in the air . . .

Birds singing in the February air.  Dillard listens to a mockingbird trilling in the trees, echoing in her chimney.  She sees the mockingbird as a limitless inventor, creating a song.  Repeating it, over and over.  Then, molding a new song.  Dillard writes that the mockingbird "strews newness about as casually as a god."

Tonight, I was a mockingbird at the library in my hometown.  I gave a poetry reading, accompanied by a couple of my musician friends.  The poems I read were from a collection about Bigfoot on which I have been working.  In the past few weeks, I've been very productive.  Four new poems, the last one finished this morning.  At this rate, by next summer, I should have a new book.

We got a bigger crowd than I expected.  A few complete strangers and some friends and family.  And one of my students.  Everybody seemed to like the event.  My musician friends sang "Creep" by Radiohead and "Mad World" by Gary Jules.  We started out the whole night with "Secret" by The Pierces from the TV show Pretty Little Liars

There are few times in my life when I feel like a real poet.  Most of the time, I write in stolen moments.  Early morning, before work.  In my office at the university, waiting for my kids to be done with dance classes.  So, my poems come together in pieces, revised and patched together over many weeks sometimes.  Tonight, I felt like a poet.  A real one.  I even had someone come up to me after the reading and say, "I can't wait to read your new book.  Do you have a publisher yet?"

Tomorrow, it's back to my normal life.  Instead of a mockingbird, I will be a worker drone for eight hours.  It will be a letdown for sure.  Then, this weekend, I have a huge stack of midterms to grade, a house to clean, and church services to attend.  Hopefully, somewhere in there, I will be able to start a new Bigfoot poem.

Bob Dylan is a Nobel laureate who doesn't care about being a Nobel laureate. 

And Saint Marty is a poet who really doesn't want to go to work tomorrow.

I feel a poem coming on . . .

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October 19: Run a Universe, Pulitzer Prize, Sorry Bob

Is it a better way to run a universe?

Dillard is talking about evolution and death.  How the survival of the planet sort of depends upon death in some way.  As she says at another point in her discussion, "Evolution loves death more than it loves you or me."  Eventually, all of us will cease to exist.  That is a 100% certainty.  Yet, ironically, death will go on, claiming species, taking the weak, leaving the strong.  That's the way God set up the universe.

So, let me talk about how I would run the universe (or at least my little portion of the universe).  First, I would have a tenured teaching position at a university.  Most of my days would be spent writing.  You see, my first collection of poetry would have won the Pulitzer Prize, which would have immediately catapulted me into a full professorship, do not pass "Go," or associate and assistant professorship.

My second book of poems would also have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, making me the youngest and hottest poet in the country.  Harvard and Cambridge and Oxford would have come knocking on my door.  But I would have humbly demurred, preferring the rural life of the Upper Peninsula.

I would teach in the fall semester, only classes of hand-picked poetry students who had to submit samples of their writings in order to be selected for a position in my writing workshop.  In the winter semester, the university would pay me to simply work on my writing, perhaps giving a few lectures at the United Nations and the Library of Congress.

Speaking of the Library of Congress, I would have already served twice as the Poet Laureate of the United States.  I would have been offered the position as a lifetime appointment, but, again, I would have demurred because of my humility.

And, of course, I would have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last week instead of Bob Dylan.  Unlike Dylan, I would have already granted interviews and accepted the Swedish Academy's invitation to attend the Nobel Week festivities in early December.

Wouldn't the universe be a better place with Saint Marty in charge?

Sorry, Bob, there's a new sheriff in the universe.