Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31: Being a Loser, Psalm 23, and Chef Salad

Well, I didn't win Employee of the Year.  That's no big surprise.  I sat at the table, with the twelve other Employees of the Month, making small talk, waiting to see who was going to take home the prize.  When I say small talk, I mean tiny, minuscule, grasping-at-straws-to-fill-the-silence talk.  We had to be polite.  We listened politely, ate politely, and applauded politely.  I, at least, was hoping for a piece of chicken and a baked potato to compensate for being runner-up (or runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner-runner up).  What I ended up with was chef's salad.

My lunch
I hate salad.  I pushed the lettuce around.  Picked out as much of the egg, ham, chicken, and cheese as possible.  I gnawed on a piece of broccoli.  When the gentleman running the Employee of the Year lunch announced, "We're going to have a healthy lunch," I knew I was in trouble.

Now, everyone knows I have a small problem with jealousy.  Tiny.  Minuscule.  I managed to look gracious and happy for the person who won.  He seemed nice and humble and genuinely surprised.  He also sings country music, which counts against him in my book.  Anyway, after he won, they kicked me out of my seat in front of the fireplace to get a picture of him for the company newsletter.  I didn't really have a lot of time to allow my full, jealous rage to take over.

Therefore, I decided to make it the topic of today's praise psalm.  I know I'm supposed to have humility.  I know the first shall be last, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I'm working on it.  Really I am.  It's hard to do with just a chef's salad in my stomach.

Pray for Saint Marty.  He needs it.

Psalm 23:  A Humble Prayer

Lord, teach me to be humble.
When I expect rare prime rib,
Give me overcooked chicken breast.
When I order raspberry cream torte,
Make me settle for sponge cake,
Twinkie.  I know I’m proud, Lord,
Think less of those who like rhyme
In poems, pity their children, spouses
For their ignorance, find the world
Somehow darker because Ogden Nash
Paired “stethoscope” with “laundry soap.”
Teach me to be humble, Lord.
If I’m the only nominee for the Nobel
Prize in Literature, let the Swedes
Forgo the award for lack of talent,
Review policies that allowed me
To offend their eyes with my words.
Lord, teach me what it’s like
For people to point, jeer at my skin-tight
Tee shirt, torn jeans, haul me off
To Jansen House with drunks,
Drag queens, meth addicts, force me
To scrounge in garbage for cans to return
So I can buy a copy of Best American Poetry,
Find out which writer of inferior,
Pardon me, superior verse has received
Recognition from the editor.
Teach me now, Lord, what’s really
Important:  healthy wife, healthy kids,
Food in fridge, a home, a job,
A raise, publications, a book deal,
The National Book Award, the Pulitzer,
Vacation home in the Hamptons,
Dinners with Bill, Hillary, their dog,
An occasional invite to the White House,
Buckingham, Versailles, the Vatican,
A private viewing of the Shroud of Turin,
A vision of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ,
The power to cure cancer, AIDS, blindness.
Lord, teach me to be humble.  Please, Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30: Poetry and Fourth Grade, Psalm 22, Publishing

I don't have much time today to write a lengthier, more thoughtful post.  Last night, I went to see my daughter's chorus spring concert at school.  I had my digital camera.  I had papers to correct, just in case things went long.  Well, the camera's batteries died after one picture, and the lights were turned off for most of the performance.  Despite all that, however, I actually enjoyed the night.  And my daughter was the best thing in the show, of course.

Last night, I submitted a couple of my recent poems (Psalms 14 and 21) to an editor who's putting together an online anthology called 100 Thousand Poets For Change.  It's going to be a collection of political poems.  My good friend and colleague suggested I send my work.  Well, I e-mailed my stuff last night, around 5 p.m., and when I checked my e-mail this morning, I had an acceptance from the editor.  That kind of turn-around is completely unheard of.  So, needless to say, I 've had a very good day.

Tomorrow, I get to go to a luncheon to find out if I've won the award for Employee of the Year from the hospital I work for.  I've already won Employee of the Month, as you may recall.  Each Employee of the Month is considered for Employee of the Year.  I've been practicing my I'm-so-glad-that-dickhead-won-instead-of-me face for several days now.  I think I have it down pat.  Wish me luck tomorrow.  I just hope they're serving some food I can stomach.  And I hope I don't inadvertently throw the cherry tomatoes from my salad at the winner.

Well, I have another poem, inspired by the fact I have to teach my daughter's fourth grade class poetry on Friday.  I'm nervous about it.  I have never taught kids this age before.  I hope they don't have cherry tomatoes in their desks.

Saint Marty (soon to be Saint Employee of the Year) presents his new psalm, for your consideration, and he thanks the Academy.

Psalm 22:  Poetry With Fourth Graders

In a few days, I must feed poetry
To my daughter’s fourth grade class,
Make them hungry for broccoli verbs,
Cabbage nouns, chickpea and carrot image.
I don’t want to embarrass my daughter
In front of classmates, serve up salad
No one will eat.  Calamari Waldorf,
Sashimi Caesar.  I will bring
Chocolate syrup, whipping cream,
Strawberries so sweet and big
Those kids will squirm, jump
Like it’s June, days before summer
Recess.  This, I’ll tell them, is poetry,
This itch for sun, beach, lake,
Time stretching into July, August,
A garden full of mud, bee, zucchini,
Tomatoes red and round and larval.
I’ll teach them to stretch leg,
Arm, neck like watermelon vine,
Feel poetry, fertile and pink,
In the bud of their bodies, ready
To unfold, open in heat, hungry
Root in dirt, tangled limbs, leaves,
Pollen on stamen, pistil on sepal,
Ovary on stigma, wild, wild joy.
I’ll watch my daughter dance, sing, grow
With her friends into full summer bloom.

Red and round and larval

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29: Hiroshima, Low Blood Sugar, and Psalm 21

Last night, I had a low blood sugar.  I've been teaching the book Hiroshima by John Hersey to my Good Books class in the last week.  When I woke up with my low blood sugar, I was having a dream about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  For several minutes, I was in this weird state of waking sleep.  I actually thought I was in Hiroshima just after the bomb was dropped.  I was nauseated, believed I was suffering radiation sickness.  It was one of the scariest five or six minutes of my life.  It took me that long to figure out what was really going on.

I eventually drank some apple juice, ate a candy bar, and went back to bed after about a half hour.  It was an uneasy sleep I had for the rest of the night.  The dream stayed with me.  My dreams don't usually do that.  Within seconds of waking, they're usually slipping back into my subconscious like breath into winter air.  Maybe because of my low blood sugar reaction, maybe because of the intensity of those few minutes after I woke up, I just couldn't shake the experience.  It became the subject of my poem for today.

Many of the details in the poem are taken from John Hersey's book.  Reading it directly after the tsunami in Japan has been profoundly moving, for me as a teacher and for my students.  Now, we're heading into Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  I will be passing out the Prozac tomorrow with the reading quiz.

Tonight, I have to go to my daughter's chorus concert.  Grades 4 through 12 are singing.  It's going to be a long night.  We can't even sneak out after my daughter's performance.  We're in for the long haul.  I'm bringing papers to grade, maybe a pizza and some two liters of Diet Mountain Dew.  I'm hoping to be home by midnight.

Pray for Saint Marty.  He's in for a bumpy ride tonight after a really bumpy ride last night.

Psalm 21:  Surviving the Bomb

At 2 a.m., I wake from dreams, nauseous,
Sweaty as my daughter’s breaking fever,
Convinced I was in Hiroshima just after
Little Boy detonated in resurrection light,
The air, wave after wave of heat, took
Breath and buildings away, left
Skeletons, black fingers pointing
Heavenward, at the ascended Jesus,
At God, accusations etched on skin
By the blast, kimono flowers, leaves,
Fat keloid blossoms across spine, shoulder.
I rise, stumble to kitchen, sit on floor,
Remind myself of date, year, time.
Over and over.  August 6.  1945.  8:15 a.m.
A prayer.  A chant.  To bring me back
To reality.  My fridge.  My table.  My house.
My life.  I swim, kick back to surface,
The cells of my body not weak
With charged atom, not in process
Of firestorm, decay.  I breathe deep
Breaths, hear my son cry out
In his crib.  My son.  My daughter.
My wife.  I remain in darkness, aware
Of winter air on my arms and legs.
Grateful.  I think of how Hiroshima,
One month after, cracked, opened
With goosefoot, morning glories, sesame,
Spanish bayonets and day lilies,
How ash and bones grew green,
Everywhere, grass, bean, weed.
Green, green, green.  Everywhere.  Green.

Hiroshima after the bomb

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28: Happiest Person, Psalm 20, Gallup poll

My inspiration for today's poem once more came from my radio this morning.  It was a story on a Gallup survey about the happiest person in America.  Gallup came up with a statistical profile of this individual.  It was quite specific.  I won't give the details away.  That would ruin my poem.  However, it was so off-the-wall that I thought nobody could possibly fit the profile.  But, of course, the news report included an interview with a person who fit the profile exactly.

Perfection is such an elusive thing.  If you are the happiest person in America, that means nobody else in the country should be more content with his/her life.  I'd bet the Bill Gates is pretty happy with his existence.  (Bill Gates is NOT the happiest person in America, by the way.)  So it boils down to attitude, culture, occupation, age, relationships, and religion. 

Today hasn't been perfect for me.  I spent the morning correcting papers, taught a class, and then spent an hour or so in conference with a student, going over an essay line-by-line.  It was a long afternoon.  My students don't realize that my office hours are not meant to be taken up with helping them.  My office hours are for me to work on my poem of the day.  It didn't work out that way today.  Thank God I already had an idea for my poem, or I would have been totally screwed.  However, I did get my poem written, fairly quickly.  Another gift from God.  I don't have a lot of time to say much else.  Hopefully, I will be able to get this posted before I have to go home. 

Saint Marty hopes you all have a statistically wonderful night, whatever that entails.

Psalm 20:  The Happiest Person In America

According to a Gallup poll,
The happiest person in America
Is tall, not Jimmy Stewart tall,
But not Tom Cruise short. He
(Of course a man, women need
Not apply) is Asian-American,
To insure aptitude for math,
Science, I suppose.  He must
Be an observant Jew, Christians
Tending to be too Republican,
Therefore humorless, Muslims
Raising eyebrow threat levels
On airplanes too much to allow
For vacations in Europe, Fiji,
Greece.  No, a Jew, enlightened
Enough to appreciate the writing
Of E. L. Doctorow, but strict
Enough to take Yom Kippur off work.
He should be 65 years of age
At least, almost ready to collect
Social Security for a few years
Before the money runs out.
Married with children.
His wife should be up
For kosher late night dinners,
Skinny-dips, Tony Bennett songs.
His children, graduates of Brown,
UCLA, make trips home for
Radish and salt at Passover.
He lives in Hawaii, snorkels
Coral reefs in Huaname Bay,
Stops at roadside fruit stands
To buy fresh-cut pineapple.
He has his own business, something
Non-stressful like surf blogger,
Hot air balloon captain, pastry chef,
Earns more than $120,000 a year,
Not enough to attract the attention
Of relatives, but enough to pay
For botox, liposuction, Kindles.
This man is happiest.  Satisfied.
Wakes at dawn to sit lotus,
Watch the Pacific surf, kiss
His wife of forty years before
She goes for her morning jog.
Statistic perfection, as unattainable
As Liz Taylor’s violet eyes,
As peace between Israel, Palestine,
As John Lennon’s no Heaven, no Hell,
One Gallup world, living as one.

You are a loser.  This guy's a winner.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27: Jazz, Sex, and Psalm 19

I have to tell you, this poem was a little bit of a struggle today.  I had the idea for it early this morning.  On Sundays, while I take my shower, get ready for church, I listen to jazz on my local Public Radio station.  Its a sacred time for me.  I read devotions, say prayers, think about the worship service for which I'll be playing music.  I reflect on the topic for the Sunday School class I teach.  Basically, I try to get my head ready for God.  And, these last couple of weeks, I try to think of a topic for my poem.

Jazz.  It refers to music.  It also refers to sex.  There's something very elemental and spiritual and carnal about the word, all at the same time.  When I listen to jazz, it inspires me, fills me with life, gets my juices flowing.  I love it.  It also helps me to get closer to God on Sunday.  Because God loves us completely, all the jazz of our lives.

My wife, when I read her my poem for today, said, "That's pretty private.  Isn't anything off limits?"  I didn't think of this poem as private at all.  True, it's about sex, but it's also about life and creation and Easter.  I don't know.  You drop me a comment if you agree with my wife.  I pretty much am an open book.  Nothing is really taboo.

Join Saint Marty in a little jazz.  Dim the lights.  Close the curtains.  Smoke what you got.  Pray.  Give thanks.  Lift your heart to God.

 Psalm 19:  Radio Jazz in the Morning

Guitar lifts, runs, falls, trips over
My naked body, taps along arm,
Reaches down back, into vertebrae,
Makes juices flow and jump, my horn
Riff the air, sway, heavy now, light now,
My mind still with my wife in bed,
Her curves, hot breath, parted lips,
Ready for the jazz of fingers, bebop
Of hands on her skin, rhythm, bass
On breast, thigh, nipple, neck,
Mardi Gras of body on body, tongue
On her reed, slick music in mouth,
Passed from my tenor to her alto,
Her trumpet to my trombone,
Until we're jamming, unable to tell
Me from her, her from me, our voices
Rising, like Jesus on Easter morning,
Filling the world with sound, sweet sound,
Louie, Ella, Duke, Charlie, yeah, Bird,
Chasing Bird all the way to paradise.  Yeah.

Jazz in the morning!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26: Lightening Things Up, Psalm 18, Pluto

My coworker, after reading my psalm from yesterday, told me I needed to lighten things up today.  I've gotten a little too serious.  So this morning, as I was taking my shower, there was a story on Public Radio about the downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet and the controversy it caused.  I liked the story so much, I decided to make it the topic of my psalm today.

The issue with writing a poem about science is trying to include something clever or lyrical to make it interesting to the normal reader of poetry (if there is such a thing).  I came up with an idea when I hit McDonald's this morning with my family for breakfast.  The poem was done in about an hour and a half.  I think it's lighter.  I think it works.  But you'll have to be the judge of that.

Science and poetry aren't mutually exclusive.  In fact, I use a lot of science in things I write.  There's a lot of faith and art in the work of science, especially astronomy, which makes use of mythology in its terms and names.  A lot of science has been about the origins of the universe and the development of the human race.  The theories and ideas, obviously, do not allow for any supernatural/religious intervention.  But, whether you believe in the Big Bang or Creationism, the one big questions is who/what set things in motion at the beginning.  I don't know how you can answer that questions without involving some kind of creator, with a capital "C" or not.

Alright, enough of my philosophizing.

Saint Marty presents his "light" poem for this Saturday in Lent.

Psalm 18:  In Defense of Pluto

At Solar System Elementary, Pluto got bullied
Off the playground by bigger planets,
Despite the policy of zero tolerance
Instated a few years ago when Moon
Showed up one morning, eclipsed
Sun with a fist of shadow so hard
She had to go to the nurse's office
For treatment of a bruised solar flare.
The kindergartners in Ms. Copernicus' class
Saw the whole Pluto incident, shook
In their little comet shoes as Neptune,
Uranus, Jupiter caught Pluto by the fence,
Smeared him with cosmic shit left behind
By Mr. Bigbang's schnauzer, Eris,
Chanted over and over "dwarf, dwarf, dwarf"
Until Pluto broke orbit, fled home
In a vacuum.  Principal Galileo released
A statement:  "Milky Way School District
Will not tolerate any form of bullying,
In outer space or cyberspace.  All planets
Will be safe, dwarf, terrestrial, or gaseous,
Regardless of color, shape, orbital orientation."
Pluto remained at home, didn't return
To school.  Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter
Were suspended pending further inquiry.
Rallies, parades, candlelight vigils were held
Across the universe, calling for tolerance,
Acceptance, peace among all celestial bodies.
Honk if you love Pluto!

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25: Saint Margaret Clitherow, Psalm 17, and Geraniums

Well, I didn't finish The Invisible World before book club last night.  My pastor friend called a couple of hours before the meeting to tell me he wasn't able to come.  Too much snow, he said.  However, John Smolens did show up, and I finished enough of his novel (including the last 40 pages) to ask intelligent questions.  Overall, I thought the night went well.

Today is the feast of Margaret Clitherow, a sixteenth-century English martyr.  After marrying her husband, Margaret converted to Catholicism.  She began hiding priests in her home to ensure their safety.  She was eventually caught, arrested, and condemned to death.  A few days before her sentence was carried out, she told a friend, "The sheriffs have said that I am going to die this coming Friday; and I feel the weakness of my flesh which is troubled at this news, but my spirit rejoices greatly.  For the love of God, pray for me and ask all good people to do likewise."  She's one of the first martyrs I've read about who didn't go to her death doing an Irish stepdance.  Margaret actually expresses doubt, even fear.  She doesn't embrace death like she's going to a class reunion.  When she was crushed beneath a door covered in boulders, Margaret didn't joke with her executioners like some martyrs do.  She died within fifteen agonizing minutes.

Last night, John left after about an hour-and-a-half, explaining that his wife was very ill.  He said she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor last June, and now she is in hospice care.  He didn't eat much at the meeting.  He promised his wife he would eat dinner with her when he got home, "Even though she doesn't eat very much any more," he said.  He looked tired, worn down.  He didn't talk about his wife's pain or suffering.  He didn't talk about his own fear or sorrow.  He signed books, accepted hugs.  I hope he felt appreciated.  I hope he felt lifted up, just a little bit.

In the face of human suffering, sometimes all you can do is offer a plate of food, some conversation, an embrace.  Martyrs aren't people who play cards with Death, like some Woody Allen character.  Martyrs are people who fear, who hurt, who need support and prayer, like Margaret.  Like John.  Like John's wife.

Saint Marty said a prayer for his friend last night.  A prayer of comfort.  A prayer for hope.

Psalm 17:  Geranium Love

For John and Reesha

The geranium had been a part of him
Since college, before he called himself
A writer, before he moved to the big lake,
Before he knew who he was.  The geranium
Went with him, from Boston chowder
To Iowa corn, always red as Mars,
Always full of bud and flower.
He and the geranium ate toasted cheese
Sandwiches on Saturday mornings.
He read Camus, Tolstoy to her in bed,
Took her to Bergman films, fed her
Oysters, artichoke hearts, dark chocolate.
When the geranium’s petals turned black,
He pruned them like unneeded adjectives,
Watched red verbs unfold, open, spread
Again and again over the years, constant
Spring in his syllables, words, sentences,
Paragraphs, pages, books.  He loved
The geranium.  The geranium loved him
The only way geraniums can:  root, leaf,
Stem, bud, blossom, blossom, blossom.
These days, he nurses the geranium, folds
Eggshells, coffee grounds, carrot shavings
Into her soil.  Mists her green with water.
Wants to coax her back to color.  Still,
The geranium’s roots weaken, let go.
She knows winter is coming soon.
The geranium doesn’t want to leave him.
He sits with her far into night,
Talks of sun and rain and summer.
Talks until light touches the bedroom
Window, fills her with warmth.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 24: Book Club, Missing Students, and Psalm 16

Tonight, my book club meets at my house.  We are reading a book by John Smolens titled The Invisible World.  I haven't finished the book, won't finish it before we get together.  And that's really bad, because John Smolens is coming to the meeting.  He's a colleague of mine at the university; when I was getting my MFA, he was head of the the MFA program.  He's a great guy, and has come to our book club three or four times now.  And his books are just great reads.  He was even nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Cold, I believe.

John is having a difficult time right now.  His wife is dying of terminal cancer.  Up until a few days ago, I wasn't sure if he was even going to make it to book club tonight.  A couple weeks ago, when I e-mailed him, he wrote back that things were "touch and go" and could change quickly.  I know how much he loves his wife.  In the acknowledgments of all of his novels, the last person he mentions is his wife.  (In The Invisible World, it reads, "And always, always, to my wife, Reesha.")  She's a lovely person, as well.  I can't imagine having to go through what John is going through right now.  I've only seen him once or twice this semester.  My impression is that he stays pretty close to home these days.

The other special thing about tonight is that my pastor friend is supposed to be driving up from downstate to be at book club.  I haven't visited him since last August, right after his move.  I'm really looking forward to seeing him.  For those of you who are long-time readers of my blog, my pastor friend was my partner in Manly Man Poetry Night.

So, the evening promises to be fun and, perhaps, a little melancholy.  I hope to provide an evening of good conversation and food for John, to take his mind off his situation for a while.  I hope to have a long visit with my pastor friend, who everyone is looking forward to seeing.

I have a poem for today.  It's not quite as positive and uplifting as my others.  I apologize for that.  However, I have to take my inspiration where it comes from.  I had a student in my Good Books class who died this semester.  I don't know the circumstances surrounding his death.  All I know is that the e-mail I received said he passed away "unexpectedly."  He has haunted me for the last month.  I think of my absent student every time I teach.  That is the place from which this psalm comes.

Saint Marty will try to finish his book for tonight (but he's not making any promises).  Please pray for Saint Marty's friend, John, and his wife, Reesha.

Psalm 16:  For My Absent Student

Each class, your chair sits empty,
As if other students fear
What took you away from us
Will take them some Sunday
Morning, early, while ice, snow
Still line the shores of the big lake,
Glisten in moonlight like satin.
I received only one message about
Your departure, on a Monday
After spring break.  It said
You were gone “unexpectedly,”
The word used when my wife’s uncle
Took his shotgun, went down basement
Stairs, or when a coworker’s son
Took to dorm bed one night, his heart
Going to sleep, never waking.
You have left an unexpected hole
In my grade book, gap in attendance,
A vacuum once filled by your voice
The first day, claiming you hated to read,
Played 24 musical instruments,
Hunted and fished like Hemingway.
Each class, I think of you in that space,
Air filled with drum, bass, harmonica,
Jazz, punk, folk, rock, a fusion
Of string and beat and wind.
It feels as if you are on some
Extended safari or deep sea fishing trip,
Tracking the blood of a lion,
Hauling a giant marlin boat side,
Like Francis Macomber, Like Santiago.
Your obit said you had a fiancé.
I never knew that.  I never knew,
Will never know so much about you.
How you lay tangled with your love
In bed, talked of buying a duplex,
Owning a spaniel.  Talked of children.
A daughter who had her red hair, math skills.
A son who could pluck out “Stairway to Heaven”
On your old Fender.  Slowly.  Quietly.
The way you did when you were young,
Full of expectation.

Saint Marty in The Invisible World panic

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23: Gwyneth Paltrow, Psalm 15, and da GOOP

I haven't been a Gwyneth Paltrow fan for a long while.  I used to love/lust her after she won the Oscar for Shakespeare In Love.  But then she had to go and be with Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck.  And then she had to marry Chris Martin from Coldplay, become too cool for words.  She dropped out of sight; had two kids, Apple (PUH-leez) and Moses; and didn't do a whole lot of anything that I cared about.  Seems like she's on a hot streak right now.  She was just in that movie about country music (not interested); sang with Cee Lo Green on the Grammys; and did a couple guest spots on the TV show Glee.

Last night, I saw a rerun of her first Glee episode.  I missed it the first time it aired.  It really rocked.  My whole family enjoyed it.  The only issue I had with it was at the end, when the writers had to make a joke about Mary Todd Lincoln possibly being bipolar.  For a show that's all about tolerance, making a joke about mental illness seemed like a pretty cheap shot.  I have to let that go, since mental illness still remains the one condition in the world that it's socially acceptable to stigmatize and make fun of.  (Ryan Murphy, are you listening?)

When I started thinking about my poem this morning, Gwyneth Paltrow was still on my mind.  Now, I'm still not quite as big a fan as I was when she won her Oscar.  I'm not really into her GOOP blog, where she writes about her fabulous travels, her fabulous diet, her fabulous possessions, her fabulous clothes, her fabulous life.  Gwyn sort of makes herself an easy target for critics and cranks.  However, I really have begun to like her again.  And, in the spirit of my Lenten pursuit of positivity, I wrote the following poem.

This is Saint Marty's first attempt at composing a Tweet.

Gwyn doing Cee Lo on Glee
Psalm 15:  Praiz Tweet 4 Gwyneth Paltrow

Dear Gwyn, fill da universe w/yr gold hair, yr thigh high boots, yr GOOP.  Tell this peep how 2 Go, Get, Do, Be, See, Make himself in2 U.  Yr rock goddess body, yr rock goddess voice, yr rock goddess life.  I wld hike w/U thru Spain, eat squid, oyster, goat fried in olive oil, swim naked in da Mediterranean C, climb da Pyrenees, 4 just 1 nite of Shakespeare in Luv w/U.  Unwrap yr boy chest in2 womanhood.  Tweet Spanish 2 me, words 2 make me Twitterbate in da dark.  Let me B yr Coldplay.  U B my groupie.  Teach me.  I will follow yr posts & Tweets.  I will eat them w/Cweed, macrobiotic chardonnay.  I will look 2 heaven, LOL w/U in da stars, da comets.  Chase yr nucleus, coma, tail thru da stratosphere, past Mars & Jupiter.  Da edge of da Milky Way.  Where God took Adamz rib.  Cre8ed U.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 22: Butterfly, Psalm 14, Spring Snow, and Keepin' It Real

Again, I woke this morning with the panic of having to write another poem.  I have been so lucky in the last 13 days, and I'm constantly worried that my luck is going to dry up and blow away like a cow patty in a summer pasture.  I know that if I continue to worry about getting writer's block, eventually it's going to strike.  So I have to stop obsessing and just let go of my fears.  There are things I can control, and there are things beyond my control.  Inspiration, poetic muse, whatever you want to call it--that falls into the latter category.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for my area tonight.  That means that there's a "potential" for a lot of snow tonight through tomorrow night.  Let me translate that into Yooper speak for you:  we will be getting a shitload of snow where I live (in the higher elevations), and the driving is going to suck monkeyballs tomorrow morning.  When you live in the Upper Peninsula, you learn to read between the lines of weather advisories.

The poem today is about this storm that is supposed to be blowing in overnight.  I'm not looking forward to it, but it beats earthquakes and tsunamis, that's for sure.  I just finished talking to my writing class about Flannery O'Connor, and tonight I have to read a couple chapters of John Hersey's Hiroshima for my good books class.  I know what you're thinking, but, no, I did NOT choose that book because of Japan's current situation.  However, it does make the reading of the book much more real.  Two days ago, I showed slide shows to my good books students with photos from the bombing of Hiroshima and the aftereffects of the tsunami.  I found the juxtaposition quite moving.

I just believe in keepin' it real for my students.  And for my readers.

So, Saint Marty provides you with a little chaos theory (the butterfly effect) with his psalm for today.

This isn't my child, but it's a cute picture
Psalm 14:  Spring Snow Storm

The weather guy, in his ugly tie,
Predicts six to twelve inches tonight,
A spring storm out of Alaska, Canada,
Winds as strong as cattle trains.
Tomorrow, I will wake to this creature,
This force of different fronts from ocean,
Mountain, glacier, tundra.  I’ve heard
It said a butterfly’s wings, trembled
On African savannah, causes hurricanes
On the Gulf Coast, another flood
In the Big Easy, wipes out Mardi Gras
For good, an oil slick of jazz
On magnolia, pelican wing, bayou.
I wonder if the collective gasp in Japan
After earthquake and tsunami caused
This early spring snow, set into motion
Winds across the Pacific, bore
That shock and grief through salt,
Through supermoon, mixed it with cries
Of caribou and polar bear, brought
It to me, to my home, snow falling
On roof and car, snow on street, lawn,
Gas station, church steeple, snow
Everywhere, heavy as a thousand souls.
Tonight, when I press my lips to my son’s
Fingers, somewhere on this planet
Rain will start to fall in a desert place,
Filling the land with green life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21: Collective Nouns, Psalm 13, and a Little Panic

I had some moments of panic this morning when I realized I was on day thirteen of my Lenten poetry practice.  Even though I don't think of myself as a superstitious person, I don't like to tempt fate.  I will avoid walking under ladders.  I will not pick up a penny on the ground if it's face down.  I panic if a black cat walks in front of my car (mostly because, in the Upper Peninsula, that black cat is more than likely a skunk).  Then there's the whole Biblical bad number thing.  Jesus threw a dinner party for his disciples once, and there were thirteen people at the table.  Things kind of went to hell for Jesus after that, metaphorically speaking.

So this morning, I started praying, hard, for a new poem.  Nothing came to me, or what did come to me was vague and unformed.  I was in a panic by about nine o'clock.  Then I calmed down and started writing in my journal about a bunch of crows I saw in a tree the other day.  I used the term "murder of crows" in what I wrote, and I remembered that there were a lot of other strange terms for groups of animals.  So I googled the term "murder of crows" and came up with a huge list of weird collective animal terms.  Bingo, there was my poem.

Did you know that a group of jellyfish is known as a smack?  Or that a bunch of lapwings is called a deceit?  (OK, I don't even know what a lapwing is, but it's a cool term.)  A clash of bucks.  A chain of bobolinks.  A labor of moles.  A watch of nightingales.  A quiver of cobras.  A piteousness of doves.  A crash of rhinos.  A bob of seals.  A hover of trout.  A bloat of hippos.  A zeal of zebras.

I decided to use the form of a prose poem, which basically means that there are no lines breaks.  The prose poem walks that fine line between poem and flash fiction (stories less than 1000 words long).  It just seemed like the right form for the subject matter.

Saint Marty hopes you enjoy today's offering.  Remember, watch out for black cats with white stripes.

Look out Tippi Hedren!
Psalm 13:  A Murder of Crows

I saw a murder of crows, black as Good Friday, in a stand of sugar maple, their cries a riot of thanksgiving in the gray air.  Beneath them, a wrack of rabbits, too young to flee, mewled and bled, torn and ravaged by a boar sounder.  I heard the pig screams in the woods, full of spring starvation, like I feel when the sugar in my body makes my mind move like a sleuth of bears, all lumber and crash.  In this time between February and April, Ash Wednesday and Easter, the world vacillates.  Snow, heavy as a gam of whales, one day.  Warmth and wind, an ostentation of peacock plume, the next.  This morning, I woke to sleet, ice, crèche-of-penguin weather.  This afternoon, I walk to my office, taste pollen, nectar, a charm of hummingbirds, a flicker of spring.  I know, one day soon, the tomb of winter will open, sun will flood the world.  A rabble of butterflies.  A murmuration of starlings.  An ascension, exaltation of larks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20: Easter chocolate, hunger, and Psalm 12

Hello, my apostles/disciples/groupies.  I'm not going to spend a lot of time introducing today's praise psalm.  Let's just say, I was hungry.  This time of year is great.  It is the culmination of the chocolate seasons.  If you aren't aware of the chocolate seasons, let me list them for you:  Halloween (starts around late August); Christmas (starts directly after Halloween, lasts until January 1); Valentine's Day (January 1 to February 14); and then Easter (February 15 to Easter Sunday).  After Easter, it's all downhill when it comes to chocolate.  As you slide into spring and summer, that's Tootsie Roll time.  Now, I don't have anything against the Tootsie Roll, but by August, I would sell my firstborn for a fun-size, Halloween Milky Way.  Just for the record, the Milky Way is the best candy bar ever invented.  It's a gift from God.

Anyway, I have a book to read for teaching tomorrow; papers to correct; and family to spend quality time with.  Therefore, I will give you my poem for the day and sign off.

Saint Marty wishes you a good night and good chocolate.

Psalm 12:  Blessed Be Milky Way

Blessed be Twix,
     Cookie like manna at dawn,
     Gift of morning dew in the wilderness.

Blessed be M&M,
     Red, green, yellow, orange, brown, blue,
     Seraph, cherub, angel choir on the tongue.

Blessed be Snickers,
     Peanut of dirt and root,
     Color of desert sand, hunger, thirst, want.

Blessed be Payday,
     Salt along the shores of Galilee,
     Sticky as honey and locusts and sin.

Blessed be Almond Joy,
     Coconut meat, fragrant
     As Mary Magdalene's thighs at midnight.

Blessed be Milky Way,
     Caramel, soft lamb's skin,
     Chocolate thin as unleavened bread.

Blessed be Red Vine,
     Twisted blood, scourge, crown,
     Cross, streams of water, Cabernet.

Blessed be Cadbury Egg,
     Cracked, opened, stone rolled away,
     Resurrection cream, gold, white as spring snow.

Blessed be Milk Dud, Whopper,
     Blessed be Smartie, Pop Rock, Baby Ruth,
     Butterfinger, Kit Kat, Starburst.  Blessed be Hershey,
     Godiva, Ghiradelli, Lindt.  Blessed be.  Sweet Salvation.

Saint Marty and a gift from God

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19: Ghosts, Emily Dickinson at McDonald's, and Psalm 11

This morning when I woke up, I followed my normal routine of praying, showering, and then asking for God to send me my poem for the day.  It didn't work.  As I got breakfast for my son, changed his diaper, dressed him, I was in a panic.  Inspiration has been striking me so quickly these days, I thought maybe I had gone to the well one too many times.  Maybe it was bone dry, closed for the season.

My family and I went to McDonald's for breakfast.  We ordered and started eating.  The whole time I'm chewing on my sausage biscuit, I'm thinking of possible subject matter--"In Praise of Cholesterol" or "Thank God for Buttering My Biscuit" or "Save Me From Heart Disease, Lord."  Nothing was really clicking with me.  Then my daughter took a picture of me with her iPod Touch.  She did something to the photo with a free app she had downloaded and showed me the result.

There, sitting over my shoulder, was the ghost of Emily Dickinson.  I had my poem.  God wasn't letting me struggle for shits and grins.  He was waiting to give me a picture to post AND a poem to write.  It took me about another hour-and-a-half to write the psalm.  Add in another couple hours of tweaking, and viola!--Psalm 11.  Enjoy!

(For the record, Saint Marty is a firm believer in ghosts.)

Saint Marty and the ghost of Emily
Psalm 11:  Praise for the Nun of Amherst

Lord—send the buzz of poetry
A fly—black as the grave—
Bless me with the gift of verse—
The ghost of Emily.

Fill my lines with feathers—Lord—
Song perches in my soul—
My spirit hops—Its caws—It crows—
It fills the air with hymns.

If my psalm seems narrow—weak—
Thin fellow in the grass—
Pardon my unbraiding words—
They stumble into bog.

But if my music makes White Heat
Against vermilion cloud—
Take flight with me—My Heart—My Love—
Rise toward Eternity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18: Poetry and Ecstacy, NPR, and Psalm 10

Yesterday, my friend and colleague at the university said she was jealous of me, because I'd written nine poems in nine days.  "You're bleeding poetry," she said.  I wrote her comment down I liked it so much, and it became the basis of today's psalm. 

I've always been fascinated by stories about people who suffer from the stigmata.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, stigmata refers to the wounds of Christ.  Starting with Francis of Assisi, certain holy people throughout the centuries have developed sores on their hands, feet, head, and flanks which, more or less correspond to the injuries Jesus received during His crucifixion.  These mystics usually undergo visions and trances, as well.  They also have a tendency to perform miracles.

I once went to a healing service where a local man, who purportedly had the stigmata, was going to appear.  The church was packed with people in wheelchairs and with crutches.  The mass before the healing service went on for two hours.  I never saw the stigmatic man.  I had to leave before he entered the church.  He passed away a year or so ago.  I probably missed my one and only chance to witness this phenomenon firsthand.

Anyway, my friend's comment got me thinking about stigmata, religious ecstasy, visions, and poetry.  They all seemed to swim around in my mind, along with a healthy dose of sex.  Whenever I hear the word "ecstasy," there always seems to be a certain amount of sexual energy/imagery that goes along with it.  Just look at the pictures below of a famous sculpture by Bernini of the stigmatic mystic Teresa of Avila.  Look at the expression on her face.  It rivals the facial expressions of women in porn films.  The psalm I wrote for today deals with all of these issues.

This afternoon, I went to the local Public Radio station to record my psalms for the month of April, which is National Poetry Month.  It's something I've done for the last few years.  It provides me my annual fifteen minutes of fame.  I chose to read all of the psalms I've written so far.  Psalms 1 through 10.  If you're interested in hearing me read these poems, I will post a link when they put it on podcast.

Here is the poem for the day.  Saint Marty's warning:  you may need to smoke a cigarette or take a cold shower after you're done reading it.

Bernini's "Ecstasy of Saint Theresa"

Psalm 10:  Ecstatic Stigmatic

A Cajun friend told me I’m bleeding
Poetry, that my hands, feet, side, head
Have opened, like Francis of Assisi
After his chat with a burning angel,
Lilacs, roses spilling out of my ragged
Skin.  Put your hand in my ribs, pull
Out a sonnet or elegy, slick, pink,
Like a newborn as it flushes with breath
For the first time.  Dig your fingers
Into my palms, feel the moon rise
In my veins, the tongue of a lover
Brush the dermal ridges of your
Fingertips.  On the gauze of bandage
I wrap around my feet, I find
Words, lines of verse in frank, red
Blood that say things like, “ I press
My lips to your mango neck, taste Eden”
And “Rise with me at night, climb
The slope of my body to heaven.”
In the mirror, I examine the mystic
Cut of thorn in my forehead, see
Within my wounds the girl I wanted
In high school, her dark hair,
Curve of back, rosary of body I would
Have kissed over and over with prayer,
See Teresa of Avila in ecstasy,
Her seraph as he pierced her
Heart again and again with his spear
Of gold, made her writhe, moan
In sweet pain until she opened
Her lips, sucked in a breath,
Cried out her love poem for God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17: Saint Patrick, Psalm 9, and Flannery O'Connor

Well, my streak of luck has continued.  I have another new poem for today.  For those of you who aren't poets or writers, let me tell you that I generally am not able to produce nine poems in nine days.  Well, nine poems I consider good, anyway.  But it has been working out for me so far.

Let me tell you how I have been writing this past week.  I start thinking about the poem as soon as I wake up.  Literally, it's one of the first things that goes through my head after my alarm goes off.  As I take my shower and get ready for work, I say my prayers, and then, as I get in my car, I start thinking, "OK, God, can you send me an idea for a poem now?"  And, I'm not kidding, by the time I get to work, I have the idea and first few lines of my poem.

Today was little bit different.  When I thought, "God, can you send me an idea for a poem?", the answer I got right away was "villanelle."  Now, a villanelle is a French form of poetry that is incredibly difficult to compose, including lots of repeated lines and rhymes.  The most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."  Well, when I got that answer this morning, my response was, "Thanks, but no thanks.  Can you send me something else?"  Well, of course, God wouldn't do that.  As the morning wore on, I kept coming back to the idea of a villanelle.  Finally, I surrendered and started working on a villanelle.  I was done within a couple of hours.

Now, I'm not saying it's always going to happen this way for me.  I know better than that.  But, I'll take the grace of poetry as long as it keeps coming.

Today is Saint Patrick's Day.  I'm wearing green, but I'm not having corned beef and cabbage for dinner.  The closest thing I did that is related to Ireland today is teach the Flannery O'Connor shorty story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" to my class today.  I also had my students workshop their papers on Frank McCourt's memoir Angela's Ashes.  I'm not sure if either of those things count as celebrating Ireland, but it's all I got.

So, Saint Marty wishes you a happy Saint Patty's Day.  Here is today's psalm.

Psalm 9:  His Voice Cries Out

His voice cries out in the dark,
For milk or prayer or song.
Like you, Lord, I rise, embark

On a quest to answer my son, mark
His need for help.  My headstrong
Voice also cries out in the dark

Night after night, desperate, hungry, stark
In my need.  I long
For light, Lord.  I will rise, embark

To distant shores, board some ark
With hairy, tusked, scaled throng,
All our voices crying out in the dark.

We will sail, search for You, Monarch
Of olive branch, rainbow, milk.  We belong
To You, Lord.  We dance, rise, embark,

Worship.  All.  Trout.  Bear. Doe. Meadowlark.
You hear our infant sobs, our nightlong
Cries of praise and want in the dark.
You rise, Lord, listen, and embark.

Saint Marty says, "Top o' the mornin' to ya!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16: Squeaky Cheese, Saint Urho, and Psalm 8

Well, this is going to be a short post.  It is Saint Urho's Day.  You see, the Finns got a little jealous of Saint Patrick's Day, where everyone wears green clothes, drinks green beer, pukes green puke, and, in general, celebrates being Irish.  Saint Patrick, according to legend, drove the snakes out of Ireland.  Finnish Americans wanted their own special holiday to eat, drink, and be sick on, so they invented Saint Urho, who supposedly drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, saving the grape crop.  Now, Saint Urho didn't really exist.  The legend of Saint Urho originated in Minnesota in the 1950s, as far as I can tell.  In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, however, Saint Urho's Day is celebrated by wearing purple (a hold-over from the grape thing, I suppose) and eating squeaky cheese (don't ask--it's disgusting).

I forgot to wear purple this morning, so I am a huge loser.  I did write a praise psalm, however, that mentions my friend, who is Finnish and lived in Finland as a baby.  I don't think that makes a difference, but I thought it was worth a shot.  Anyway, here is my poem for today.  Hope you enjoy it.

Psalm 8:  Word Made Flesh

Lord, make my poem stretch, yawn.
Descend like the Blue Fairy, take
My words, mutter a blessing
Over them, give them muscle, tendon,
Make them pirouette, arabesque
Into a body on the brink of puberty.
Let my words sprout hair in secret
Places, girl chest bloom into orchids
Or boy sapling swell with resin
To fill buckets at Spring’s first blush.
I want my poem to kiss my lips,
Head out into the world, tote books,
Lunch pail, ready to redeem humankind
Stanza by stanza, line by line,
Syllable by syllable, my word made flesh.
Lord, did You sit at Your desk,
Scribble Jesus on a scrap of paper,
Then fold it, crease it, origami it
Into legs, arms, head, beard,
Let it walk away from Your pen
Into a world of critics, just waiting
To judge Your line breaks, imagery,
Your turn of phrase, your metaphor?
How much did it hurt when the reviews
Came in, when they took Your poem,
Tore it up, used it to wipe their asses?
Did You think of writing something else?
A sonnet that could bound like an elk,
A villanelle that sang like a loon,
A sestina that wallowed like a bison?
My friend, Lydia, makes paper cranes.
Perhaps You could write some haiku,
Give them to her.  She would take them,
Make neck and beak, body and tail.
She could give them wings, let them fly,
Hear them brush the air like jazz:
Praise, praise, praise, praise.

Lydia's Cranes

Saint Marty is going home, putting on a purple thong, and eating some squeaky cheese.  We imaginary saints have to stick together.