Monday, September 25, 2017

September 25: Old Gang of Mine, Best Friend, Lobotomized

Now an optometrist called for attention.  He proposed a toast to Billy and Valencia, whose anniversary it was.  According to plan, the barbershop quartet of optometrists, "The Febs," sang while people drank and Billy and Valencia put their arms around each other, just glowed.  Everybody's eyes were shining.  "The song was "That Old Gang of Mine."

Gee, the song went, but I'd give the world to see that old gang of mine.  And so on.  A little later is said, So long forever, old fellows and gals, so long forever old sweethearts and pals--God bless 'em--And so on.

Unexpectedly, Billy Pilgrim found himself upset by the song and the occasion.  He had never had an old gang, old sweethearts and pals, but he missed one anyway, as the quartet made slow, agonized experiments with chords--chords intentionally sour, sourer still, unbearably sour, and then a chord that was suffocatingly sweet, and then some sour ones again.  Billy had powerful psychosomatic responses to the changing chords.  His mouth filled with the taste of lemonade, and his face became grotesque, as though he really were being stretched on the torture engine called the rack.

I am luckier than Billy.  I have close friends and best friends.  I'm not talking about people on Facebook who send you greetings on your birthday.  (Don't get me wrong.  Those are wonderful messages to receive.)  I'm talking about people who get me on a much deeper level, who have seen me at my absolute best and worst and still love me.  Billy really doesn't have that.

It may be a cliche, but my best friend really is my wife.  She knows me like no other person.  I would like to believe that all married couples have that, but, if Billy and Valencia are any indication, I know that is not always the case.  People fall out of love with each other all the time.

I'm lucky.  My wife and I have had our share of troubles, for sure.  Addictions and mental illness.  Separation.  Almost divorce (we even had custody papers drawn up).  But love won for us.  I wish I could provide some sage marital advice to couples out there, struggling to stay together.  I can't.  I really don't know what saved my marriage.  Forgiveness certainly.  Compromise.  Acceptance.  The ability not to judge, to remember why you fell in love in the first place.

Of course, all that has to come from both sides.  If only one person is doing all the work, the marriage is doomed.  I guess my wife and I are stubborn people.  We never gave up.  We came close, but we never took the final step.  And our secret is that both of is keep forgiving, compromising, and accepting.  We keep falling in love every day in small ways.

Sure, we still irritate the shit out of each other.  Sure, we yell sometimes.  Sure, we disagree about whether Fannie Flagg is a good writer or not.  That's normal.  Well, maybe not the Fannie Flagg thing, but the rest is regular as oatmeal.  Love doesn't mean you're lobotomized. 

But love does mean that you have someone to come home to at the end of the day who knows your failures and still, for some reason, thinks you're pretty damn cool.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the love of his wife.

September 25: Son at Eight, Poet of the Week, Saeed Jones, "Daedalus, After Icarus"

My son is eight-years-old for the last time today.  Tomorrow, he will turn nine.

It's difficult to believe that I am the father of a sixteen-year-old girl and an almost-nine-year-old boy.  I don't feel that old.  Yet, when I look at myself in the mirror, I know that I have lived over half my life already.

Today, I found a poem about a father and a son.  Daedalus and Icarus.  It was written by Saeed Jones, a poet I know very little about.  However, this poem speaks to me this afternoon on a deep level as I contemplate my mortality and my son's upcoming birthday.

Saeed Jones, Poet of the Week, reminds Saint Marty to allow his son to be his own person, fish or fowl.

Daedalus, After Icarus

by:  Saeed Jones

Boys begin to gather around the man like seagulls.
He ignores them entirely, but they follow him
from one end of the beach to the other.
Their footprints burn holes in the sand.
It’s quite a sight, a strange parade:
a man with a pair of wings strapped to his arms
followed by a flock of rowdy boys.
Some squawk and flap their bony limbs.
Others try to leap now and then, stumbling
as the sand tugs at their feet. One boy pretends to fly
in a circle around the man, cawing in his face.

We don’t know his name or why he walks
along our beach, talking to the wind.
To say nothing of those wings. A woman yells
to her son, Ask him if he’ll make me a pair.
Maybe I’ll finally leave your father.
He answers our cackles with a sudden stop,
turns, and runs toward the water.
The children jump into the waves after him.
Over the sound of their thrashes and giggles,
we hear a boy say, We don’t want wings.
We want to be fish now.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Septmeber 24: Sunday Afternoon, Classic Saint Marty, "In Praise of Daughters"

Welcome to Sunday afternoon. 

I've been working for a few hours on teaching stuff.  Now I'm doing blogging stuff.  Afterwards, I'm going to do poetry stuff.  I'm working on a couple new poems.  Tonight, I'll do some reading stuff.

Three years ago, I was worrying about boy stuff and dad stuff . . .

September 23, 2014:  Boys, Terry Godbey, "The Purity of Boys"

Yes, I've been thinking about little boys a lot these last couple of days.  Boy stuff.  I've never been a typical guy, especially in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up.  I don't like to fish.  The idea of shooting any living thing with a rifle makes me a little sick to my stomach.  I don't like the taste of most wild game meat.  Not my thing.  I'd rather read a good novel, watch a documentary on PBS, or read a poem.

Terry Godbey has a great poem about boys in her collection Flame.  The boys in the poem are trying to impress the girls.  The girls are trying to attract the boys.  There's much showing off by both genders.  But, in the end, they remain on their respective sides, wanting each other, but not knowing how to say so.

Saint Marty prefers that arrangement at the moment, especially for his teenage daughter.

The Purity of Boys

by:  Terry Godbey

Water glints and sparks as they spill
from the pool and smash the sunlight to bits,
every movement designed to impress,
each glance a measure of our meager curves.
They dive and ride their bodies,
bark like seals as we chatter
and make lacy splashes in the shallow end.
Each long day drips honeysuckle.
We burn with impatience,
count out coins for ice cream cones
that drizzle our striped towels.
Sulky, drowsy in the heat, we oil
our caramel skin, watch the boys
watch us and lay side by side,
arranging our long-stemmed legs
in the blue vase of afternoon.

And, since Terry Godbey's poem is about boys, I have a poem for you about girls . . .

In Praise of Daughters

by:  Martin Achatz

Zeus gave birth to Athena himself, from a pain in his deathless temples, ten thousand Greeks pounding the walls of Troy.  She charged from his skull, full grown and armored, wailed a war cry louder than the cries of all the mothers who've lost sons in battle.  A sound that shook the dust of Olympus.  Zeus heard her, saw the bronze on her breasts, watched her flight, up and up, and knew his creation was good, the way Elohim knew light and dark, heaven and earth, sea and mud, man and woman were good on day six.

I saw my daughter charge into the world on a morning of wind and ice.  Heard her first sound, a call to battle.  For oxygen and milk.  Her frog body, slick and red, mapped the contours of my heart, its empty ventricles and auricles.  Flooded them.  The way the sea flooded the Titanic that April night.  I foundered, split, capsized, went under.  Swallowed whole by an ocean of daughter.  Now, almost eleven years later, I watch her this autumn day.  She stands in a cyclone of gold and red.  The leaves spin, rise around her, catch her hands and feet and hair, carry her up and up.  To the clouds.  To the moons.  Up and up.  To the constellations.  Up and up.  Cassiopeia.  Andromeda.  Up and up.  Cygnus.  Scutum.  And up.  Virgo.  And up.  To the arms of Zeus.  Of Elohim.  Up.  Where she sings, dances like an owl-eyed goddess.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

September 23: God is Listening, Purgatory, Human Failings

"Did that really happen?" said Maggie White.  She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.  Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.  She hadn't had even one baby yet.  She used birth control.

"Of course it happened," Trout told her.  "If I wrote something that hadn't really happened, and I tried to sell it, I could go to jail.  That's fraud."

Maggie believed him.  "I'd never thought about that before."

"Think about it now."

"It's like advertising.  You have to tell the truth in advertising, or you get in trouble."

"Exactly.  The same body of law applies."

"Do you think you might put us in a book sometime?"

"I put everything that happens to me in books."

"I guess I better be careful what I say."

"That's right.  And I'm not the only one who's listening.  God is listening, too.  And on Judgment Day he's going to tell you all the things you said and did.  If it turns out they're bad things instead of good things, that's too bad for you, because you'll burn forever and ever.  The burning never stops hurting."

Poor Maggie turned gray.  She believed that, too, and was petrified.

Kilgore Trout laughed uproariously.  A salmon egg flew out of his mouth and landed in Maggie's cleavage.

I don't think Kilgore Trout believes in Judgment Day or God or eternal fire.  He's simply messing with innocent Maggie.  Telling her things to elicit responses that amuse him.  Or maybe he does hold that concept of God, the Almighty Judge and Jury.  No matter.  His laughter is genuine and more than a little cruel, regardless of his personal theology.

I was sort of raised with this depiction of God.  I remember, when I was a kid, reading a really thick book about Purgatory.  It had a black cover, with white lettering.  Hundreds and hundreds of pages about punishment and purification and souls.  It was more terrifying than Stephen King or William Peter Blatty or Bram Stoker.  It gave me nightmares of lakes of fire.  Molten lead being poured into my mouth for lies that I'd told or repeated.  Hot pokers being shoved into my eyes for looking at pictures in magazines my brothers kept under their mattresses.

When I attend Mass now, I don't hear a whole lot of talk about Purgatory.  It's still a part of the Catholic belief system.  However, it's not a huge selling point for the Church.  Not that the Catholic Church is a commodity to be advertised and marketed.  But, torture does not give people the warm fuzzies.

I know what you're wondering:  Does Saint Marty believe in Purgatory?  My answer to that question is complicated.  I believe in redemption.  I believe that everyone can be saved.  I believe in God's love more than God's anger.  Being a parent, I know that my kids can drive me crazy sometimes, but I still love them.  So I'm sure the God gets a little insane about the stuff His kids do, as well.  That doesn't mean He sends hurricanes and tsunamis to punish us.  I don't think God is like that.

God wants me to be the best me I can be, because I'm a reflection of His love.  That's the thing that people tend to forget.  God wants each and every one of us to make the world a better place.  If we don't do that, God isn't angry.  He's sad.  Disappointed.  But He understands that we are human, with human failings.  And He understands and loves those failings, as well

Saint Marty is thankful today for love.