Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 31: Busy Work, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Well, I spent most of the day doing busy work.  Correcting quizzes.  Setting up my grade book for the semester.  Creating attendance sheets.  At least three hours of pencils, pens, red ink, black ink, and computer files.  But, I am done now.  I don't have to think about school again for a couple of days.

Tonight, I'm going to hunt around in my attic for some white Christmas lights; my niece needs them as decorations for her wedding reception.  After that, I plan to watch a Charlie Chaplin movie with my wife.  Then I'm going to read my book, which I'm thoroughly enjoying.  I'll talk more about it when I've finished it. 

Tomorrow, I don't plan to do anything productive.  I'm going to sleep as long as my body will allow.  I'll blog.  I'll read.  Maybe I'll go for a walk, if it isn't raining.  In the evening, my family is having a barbecue.  The last of the summer.  I will do no labor on Labor Day.

Today's Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago.  I was obviously not in a good state of mind.  So, things haven't changed all that much.

August 31, 2011:  Not Any Better, Skeletons, New Poem

My mood hasn't improved greatly since this morning.  I did succeed in registering patients and teaching a class without telling a single person to suck my ass, which was an accomplishment.  Now, I'm dealing with Blogger's new browser, which I'm not really liking very much at the moment, and I'm thinking about skeletons that people keep in their closets, secrets they don't want anyone to know.  This line of thinking is inspired by a book I'm teaching right now, Annie's Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg.  It's all about family secrets.  Today's poem is a result of that and my current bad state of thought.

Saint Marty will try to snap out of it by tomorrow morning.  (If you enter his new contest, it may help him feel better.)


I've surfed porn sites for hours, viewed men and women, women and women, men and men doing things to each other I never dreamed of as a teenager, things that made my middle-aged face fill with blood, hot, fevered.  I've doubted God, questioned whether anything divine would make Hurricane Katrina, fill a city with water, then sit back, watch the dead pile up like swamp mud along a levy.  I love eggs scrambled with hot dogs, served sloppy, the way my grandpa ate steak on the farm, just cooked, raw in the center, dripping and red as a butcher's block.  I've hated my wife when she took knives and carved her arms, when she became addicted to strangers, when she followed her messed-up brain down the rabbit hole, away from me.  All these bones hang in my closet, rattle against each other, make ancient music, the kind that drove David to Bathsheba or Cain to Abel.  I've locked the closet door now, hidden the key.  Tomorrow, I'll buy lumber, build a wall, so when they pile dirt on top of me at the end of my life, my daughter or son won't hear this poem whisper skulls and femurs, tibias and clavicles in the dark.

Confessions of Saint Marty

August 30: Dripping Wet, Julianna Baggott, "Jesus in the Mail," New Cartoon

The next day was foggy.  Everything on the farm was dripping wet.  The grass looked like a magic carpet.  The asparagus patch looked like a silver forest.

I love that description of a foggy morning from E. B. White.  It has a simple, fairy tale quality, especially the silver forest of asparagus.  It almost makes me want to eat asparagus.  Almost.

I woke to fog and rain this morning in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The fog eventually lifted, but it has been pretty much misting/drizzling/pouring rain all day long.  It was a good day to stay inside and read a book.  Which is exactly what I didn't do.

I spent some time at church, practicing on the pipe organ for a church service at which I have to play tomorrow morning.  Then I also practiced wedding music for my niece's upcoming nuptials in September.  Two-and-a-half hours' worth of organ time.  (Please keep your minds out of the gutter.)

I cleaned a house for some money after that, and then I attended the 4:30 p.m. mass at the local Catholic church.  Dinner.  Bath for my son.  A load of laundry.  And now I'm on my couch, ready to pass out.  I read about one paragraph of my current book.  Have I mentioned that I'm a little sick right now?  My head is pounding, eyes are watering, nose is running.  I'm a mess.

My last offering from Julianna Baggott is one of my favorites.  She has a way of cutting through the bullshit and getting to a clean, beating heart in her lines.  She takes the simplest, everyday moments and transforms them into resurrection.

At the moment, I can hear rain tapping on the window behind me.  The clothes dryer is humming in the kitchen.  Lawrence Welk is on the TV.  It's quiet, relaxed.  Soon, I'll retire to my bedroom with my book and a glass of water.  Maybe some potato chips or raisins.

It's not exciting, but it's Saint Marty's life.

Jesus in the Mail

by:  Julianna Baggott

Someone at the Shrine of Divine Mercy
knows I'm a lapsed Catholic;
a card comes in the mail, a chapelful of nuns
(I'd prefer a nun full of chapels)

is offering the perpetual novena, celebrated daily.
There's a checklist of spiritual ailments.
I pause over lukewarm souls and those
who separated themselves from His body.

I didn't know the soul was temperate,
made of water; and his body, I'd never thought
of myself as attached.  And yet now
both seem right, and I imagine

the soul poured into the unknotted ribs,
that we are bodies of water, and I hope
that death, when it comes, will feel like
what it was to be a girl back-floating on a lake,

pulling down armfuls, then gliding,
arms outstretched and rowing
like Christ coming out of his own body,
flying from the heavy cross.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29: Bonfire, Julianna Baggott, "Discussing Sorrow with Jesus"

I just returned from a bonfire.  Actually, it was a really small fire, but it was billed as a bonfire.  A colleague from the English Department hosted a gathering of grad students and faculty at her home.  Lots of drinking imported beer.  Lots of smoking cigarettes.  Lots of talking about bullshit irony in Juneau, Alaska.

I made an appearance, only to be seen, to have my name known or remembered by people.  It was important to do this.  It's the only way I can be a presence in the English Department.  The smoke and smokers nearly killed me.  I was coughing like Mimi at the end of La boheme.  I'm still coughing as I type this post.

Being sick makes me contemplate a lot of things.  Tonight, however, all I'm thinking about is going to bed.  However, I have a great poem to share.  It's about suffering and sacrifice.  It's about pain and healing.  It's about birth and death.

Saint Marty needs to take some cold medicine now.

Discussing Sorrow with Jesus

by:  Julianna Baggott

The blood blurs his vision
                   so he's always winking
like a diner waitress, eye-teared
by her cigarette's smoke,
                    and I ask to take his hat
--thorns, really==but no, he says, I'm fine.
It's so like him,
               to suffer openly,
and I tell him,
               It's too much,
the way your whittled shape
                    still dangles
from gold chains and rearview mirrors
tangled in wedding garters,
                     hung forever
on the back wall of Verbitski's fish shop.
You said that we would forget
                    the sorrow
after your resurrection, like a woman forgets labor
once the child is born.
               But we haven't forgotten.
And it's a poor metaphor,
because women do not forget
                    our bodies ripped open,
the knowledge that life simply passes through,
that the child isn't born
                    but taken
and we had thought it a gift.
No, each time, a woman resigns herself to joy,
like choosing
          the bruised and bitten fruit
because the bin is almost empty.
But I've gone too far, he's embarrassed now,
slouching, arms crossed
               to hide the wound
in his side, his hands' nail holesl
and legs crossed to cover
                    his soft penis.
Tired now,
          he lies down on the sofa.
Only to rest his eyes, he says,
and I cover him
               with a white sheet
that I know he will stain as he sleeps
                         like a young girl
who bleeds without knowing, and I watch as the blood inches
like brilliant red night-crawling spores,
covering the white until it is not his body,
                         but his image,
a perfect blood-stiffened cast of our Lord
and beneath it his shallow breathing.

Shroud of Turin

August 29: Spread Bad News, Feeling Like Crap, Wale of Toe

"Well,I don't like to spread bad news," said the sheep, "but they're fattening you up because they're going to kill you, that's why."

The old sheep is not a good animal.  In fact, he's kind of an asshole.  He fairly revels in imparting the above wisdom to poor Wilbur, thereby ruining the little pig's life.  There's always one in every barn.

Every place I've worked, every organization of which I've ever been a part, has had one or two old sheep.  Nattering nimrods of negativity.  No matter what is happening, these people always find the dark cloud in a silver lining.

I must say that I can be a little bit of a nattering nimrod.  OK, I can be a BIG nattering nimrod.  At the moment, I'm really sick, I'm looking at a whole semester of tired, and I'm going to spend my three-day weekend sleeping and coughing.  I'm an old sheep right now.  I admit it.

Once upon a time, a shepherd named Nimrod lived in the Valley of Woe.  Nimrod spent every day thinking of all the bad things that might befall him.  Tornadoes.  Fleas.  Bad poetry.  Bad haircuts.  A depressed sheep market.  Nimrod never had a good day.

One day, a beautiful princess came by Nimrod's pasture and asked him to be her prince.  Nimrod turned her down because of the possibility of political revolution.

Another day, a wealthy duke rode by Nimrod's pasture and offered to give him a castle, no strings attached.  Nimrod turned him down because of the possibility of marauding cannibals.

Yet another day, a wizard flew by and offered to make Nimrod immortal.  Nimrod turned him down because of the possibility of the sun collapsing into a black hole.

Nimrod eventually died in his pasture, with his sheep, worrying about a mole on his left buttocks.

Moral of the story:  keep your head out of your ass.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

OK, this is funny.  You have to admit it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August 28: Totally Ill, Julianna Baggott, "Mary Todd On Her Deathbed"

Welcome to my poetry post for the day.  I'm still feeling totally ill.  All I want to do is sleep, get up, go the bathroom, and go back to sleep.  It's been a very long week.

Julianna Baggott wrote a poem about Mary Todd Lincoln that I love.  Mary Todd suffered a lot in her life.  She was most probably bipolar, by all accounts.  After her husband's assassination, she never really recovered.  She stayed the First Lady of Mourning until the day she died.

Speaking of deathbeds, Saint Marty is going to go slug down a bottle of Nyquil and crawl under the covers.

Mary Todd On Her Deathbed

by:  Julianna Baggott

I can hear them, choking on spoons, screaming,
in the shower stalls; the fat are given only
a raw egg and whiskey
                                  and those who refuse
to eat are force-fed. The least crazy sing,
picking scalp scabs in window-seats.
One woman finds scissors

                                        and stabs herself
again and again. It was the tireless Jew
who wore me down; no one believed
that he followed me

                             from train to train
with his satchel of poisons sneering
as they searched my baggage
for the stolen footstools, how he knew
that I shuffled because my petticoats,
stitched so tight with money,

                                           had become a heavy net
for dredging the lost. And I do not speak of the lost:
Abe could have worn me as a boutonnière
my pinched face, say it: an ugly plump bud,
hoisted skirts and petticoats

the leaf and ribbon trim.
I remember the hoisted skirts
how his body seemed

                                     a long white country of its own
But it was owned by a country
of citizens as unruly as my dead boys,
my dead boys

                      roaring through the White House.
Nothing was mine, after all. Strangers
crowded his open coffin, snipped souvenirs
from the curtains,

                           slipped hands
into the casket to unclip his cufflinks.
All the while they could hear me
                                                wailing from bed.
Every day I can move slightly less;
each body hinge becomes more stubborn

                                                              than memory.
I know how I will die: a clenched jaw,
fists gripping bed sheets. Stiff with longing,
I will have to break 
                            into heaven, the willows
in my handmade girlhood hoop-skirt snapping.

August 28: Terrific, Go Get Some Sleep, Exhaustion

"You're terrific as far as I'm concerned," replied Charlotte, sweetly, "and that's what counts.  You're my best friend, and I think you're sensational.  Now stop arguing and go get some sleep!"

Charlotte spends a lot of the book bolstering Wilbur's self esteem.  The little pig doesn't think too much of himself.  Of course, Mr. Arable almost axed him the day he was born, so the little pig didn't have a great beginning.  Learning that Zuckerman is planning on turning him into Christmas dinner doesn't help.

True friends make you feel good about yourself.  Charlotte makes Wilbur feel sensationally terrific.  Tonight, my book club met at my house.  We ate pizza.  We talked about literature and mothers and jobs.  And we laughed.  It was a great time with great friends.

Now, I'm pretty exhausted.  I haven't really recovered from my long days of teaching and my ensuing lack of sleep.  I'm also coming down with a nasty late summer cold.  My chest is tight, and I'm coughing like crazy.  I've taken some ibuprofen, but my eyes are literally burning at the moment.  I just want to follow Charlotte's advice.

Saint Marty is going to go get some sleep.

Repeat after me:  ZzzzzzzZzzzzzzzz...Oink!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

August 27: Long-Ass Day, Julianna Baggott, "Blurbs"

Sorry, guys, I'm way too tired to get philosophical about Charlotte's Web or E. B. White.  I started work at the medical office at 6 a.m., taught from 3 p.m. to 4:40 p.m., and then taught again from 6 p.m. to 9:20 p.m.  I'm lucky I can string words together into a sentence.

However, I did have a Julianna Baggott poem picked out for today.  It's called "Blurbs," and, for almost any person who writes for publication, it's funny as hell.

That's all Saint Marty has tonight.  An excuse and a poem.


by:  Julianna Baggott

I don't want to be a national treasure,
too old-codgery, something wheeled out
of a closet to cut ribbon.  I prefer
resident genius, or for the genius
to be at least undeniable.
I'd like to steer away from the declaration
by far her best.  Too easily I read,
the predecessors were weary immigrant stock.
The same goes for working at the height
of her powers, as if it's obvious
I'm teetering on the edge of senility.
I don't want to have to look things up:
lapidary style?  I'd prefer not to be a talent;
as if my mother has dressed me
in a spangled leotard, tap shoes,
my hair in Bo-Peep pin curls.
But I like sexy, even if unearned.
I like elegance, bite.  I want someone
to confess they've fallen in love with me
and another to say, No, she's mine.
And a third to just come out with it:
she will go directly to heaven.

Go blurb yourself!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

August 26: Growing Up, Julianna Baggott, "My Daughter, like Eve, Realizes Nakedness"

My daughter is going to be in eighth grade this year.  That depresses me a little.  In one more year, I will be the father of a high school student.

I'm not going to get all sentimental in this post.  Although it does seem like only yesterday that I was holding this tiny, naked baby on a cold, snowy December morning, crying my eyes out.  It just amazes me how fast my daughter has grown up.

Tomorrow night is the open house at my daughter's school.  It will be the first school open house I have ever missed.  I have to teach a class instead.  That depresses me even more.  I hate the idea of being an absent father.  I don't want to be the father from the song Cat's in the Cradle.  However, I don't have a choice this time.

The poem I have from Julianna Baggott tonight is about a little girl growing up.  It's beautiful and heartbreaking.

Saint Marty can hear Harry Chapin singing in the background.

My Daughter, like Eve, Realizes Nakedness

by:  Julianna Baggott

At graduation, every eight-grade girl,
dressed in white, walks slowly,

hems swaying as if on boat decks,
I can't find my daughter.

Her jittery gait has changed;
only a month ago, she'd have waved

and whistled through her teeth like a sailor.
I imagine it happened quickly for Eve,

as well, a moment or two of sugary sap,
and then it settled in like a drug

in the blood.  (It isn't so simple as an apple,
wagon-red and waxy, the sweet snap in the teeth,

because even the apple knows nakedness,
how like a miner beneath coal,

the apple is pale when peeled.)
Her body began to burn,

the blush at her neck, her eyes
settling to stare at her feet,

how she began to cave in, the mine again
collapsing in the dark, like my daughter--

I see her now in the poised row--
who even when fully dressed,

knows what the clothes are hiding.
I recognize the hunch of her shoulders,

the hitch in her hips as my own
and remember the wish to unmake myself,

to be a rib again, a perfect white bone
hidden in a row of perfect white bones.

A really, really depressing song

August 26: Old Doctor Dorian, Health Concerns, Prayer for a Friend

Fern disappeared after a while, walking down the road toward Zuckermans'.  Her mother dusted the sitting room.  As she worked she kept thinking about Fern.  It didn't seem natural for a little girl to be so interested in animals.  Finally Mrs. Arable made up her mind she would pay a call on old Doctor Dorian and ask his advice.  She got in the car and drove to his office in the village.

Mrs. Arable is worried about Fern.  Fern has been telling her mother stories about the animals at Zuckermans' barn.  Talking sheep and geese.  A spider that catches fish in her web.  Another spider that flies into the heavens on a gossamer thread.  Mrs. Arable thinks her daughter is losing touch with reality and turns to modern medicine for the answers.

I have been working in the medical field for close to twenty years.  I've seen a lot of miraculous things.  People who are nearly blind from cataracts undergo a surgical procedure and, Presto!, 20/20 vision.  People with cleft lips and palates undergo a surgical procedure and, Abracadabra!,

Yes, medical science can do some pretty amazing things these days.  But, as Doctor Dorian eventually tells Mrs. Arable, "...Doctors are supposed to understand everything.  But I don't understand everything..."

I have a friend who works in the medical field and is convinced she has ovarian cancer.  She hasn't seen her doctor yet.  Today, she went for an ultrasound, and, based on a comment the ultrasound tech made, my friend has given herself a grim diagnosis.  She has pulled a Mrs. Arable.

I'm asking anyone who reads this post to pray for my friend.  She is going to call her doctor tomorrow to find out the official results of the ultrasound.  I have no idea what her doctor is going to tell her.  However, I'm praying for something simple.  Menopause or gluten allergies or too much dietary fiber.  And I'm asking you guys to pray for the same.

Let old Doctor Dorian tell Saint Marty's friend that Fern is just a normal little girl.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 25: Poet of the Week, Julianna Baggott, "My Mother Gives Birth"

I know you've been waiting for this announcement.  The winner of this week's Poet of the Week Award is Julianna Baggott.

All kidding aside, Julianna is an astonishing poet.  Her collection, This Country of Mothers, is one of my favorite books of poetry.  Ever.  If you don't believe how good it is, I just have one thing to say:  Suuu-uuuuck it!

Saint Marty is making himself happy this week with Julianna Baggottt.

My Mother Gives Birth

by:  Julianna Baggott

They gave her a form of truth serum,
not to dull the pain, to dull memory.
But she does remember
asking the nurse to take off her girdle--
not a girdle but her skin taut with pain--
that the nurse told her to stop screaming,
the girl one over was having her first
and scared enough already.
She rolled my mother to her side, standard procedure,
handcuffed her to the bed rails, left her to labor alone.
My mother says her last thought was of Houdini,
that she too could fold the bones of her hands
and escape.  I want her to slip free,
to rise up from her bed and totter
out of that dark ward of moaning women.
I want to be born in black dirt.
But her mind went white as cream lidding a cup.
And she does not remember,
although her eyes were open, blank,
how I spun from her body, wailing,
drugged for truth, my wrists on fire.

One of the best out there

August 25: Watching the Emmy Awards, Shallow Stars, "Web" Dip

Here I sit, watching the 66th annual Emmy Awards.  I've been bathing in the glow of self-congratulatory back-slapping and vapid humor.  There the shallow stars stand onstage, looking winded and shocked, saying things like, "This is just too much.  I don't believe this.  I didn't think I was going to win this year."  Then they dig into a sleeve or pocket or bodice and remove an acceptance speech.

Every year, I watch these awards shows.  Emmy Awards.  Oscars.  Golden Globes.  Tony Awards.  For me, it's an exercise in mockery and envy.  Beautiful, rich people who have everything possible awarding each other gold statuettes for being better than other beautiful, rich people who have everything possible.  That pretty much sums it up.

I haven't seen anything too surprising.  The same actors are winning this year who won last year.  So, it's like watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory on TBS.  It even has Jim Parsons.

So, my question is:

Will I ever win some self-congratulatory, back-slapping award (Pulitzer, National Book Award, Nobel Prize, Blogger of the Year, Best Father Who Made His Son Cry a Little Tonight Award)?

And the answer from E. B. White is:

The crickets sang in the grasses.  They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song.  "Summer is over and gone," they sang.  "Over and gone, over and gone.  Summer is dying, dying."

Well, that's depressing.

Saint Marty's gonna call this post done.

Really?  Again?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

August 24: Last Day of Summer Vacation, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Last day of summer vacation.  Tomorrow afternoon, I start teaching again.  As a prelude, I stopped by my new office space today to check things out.  Made sure my keys worked and all that.  My wife and daughter came with me.

There were young, dewy-eyed first year college students wandering around, checking out classrooms, making sure they don't look like fools tomorrow.  As I was unlocking my office door, I ran into one of the grad students.

"Are you looking forward to starting?" she asked.

"Oh, yeah," I said.  "I'm ready to get back into the classroom."

"No," she said.  "Are you looking forward to starting as poetry editor of the magazine?"

"Oh," I said.  This was something new.  A grad student talking to me about poetry.  As a contingent faculty member, I don't teach graduate-level classes.  Therefore, I don't know many of the current grad students.  However, my new position as poetry editor of the university's literary magazine has put me a little more in the graduate spotlight.

I spent a few minutes talking to her about my vision for the year, plans I want to put into action.  I ended by saying something like, "I'm excited to be working with you guys.  I think it's going to be great."

For some reason, this little interchange buoyed my spirits a little bit.  Made me feel like I somehow was an important part of the English Department.  It made me excited to start teaching tomorrow.  Being a presence in the hallways.

Today's Classic Saint Marty first aired four years ago.  I think it's an appropriate way to end this post.  It's full of angst and jealousy and self-doubt.

You know.  Typical Saint Marty stuff.

August 25, 2010:  Saint Joseph Calasanz

I am done with my first week of teaching as of this writing.  The thing I always say to myself after the first week of classes is this:  "Fooled them again."

Ever since I began teaching close to twenty years ago, I've felt like a fraud.  I'm not an expert on anything.  I've been writing longer than my students, so I've learned a few more tricks than them.  Because of my age, I've read a lot more than most of my students, as well, so I have a broader knowledge base to draw from.  My biggest fear, however, is that my students are going to look at me one day and say, "You don't know jack shit."  It hasn't happened yet, but I honestly believe it's only a matter of time.

And then I'm just going to have to shrug and say, "You got me."

One of the smartest guys I've ever known (a professor at the university at which I teach) once told me that, after he received his PhD from the University of Michigan, he walked out of the graduation ceremony and realized he didn't know anything.  So, I'm not alone in my feelings of inadequacy.

I know I've written about this subject before.  When you've been teaching  as long as me, you sort of start wondering if anything you've done in the classroom has made an iota of difference in anyone's life.

When I went to the mail room in the English Department a couple days ago, I ran into a former student.  I'd had him in class about five or six years ago.  I even remembered his name, which usually doesn't happen.  At the end of a semester, after I've submitted my final grades, my brain usually does a dump, getting rid of names and details.  The students I remember are students who have done something unique or gone out of their way to keep in touch.

The student I ran into in the English Department was a great beginning poet when I met him.  He showed me his work when I was his instructor, and I remember wanting to kill him, incinerate his body, and claim his poems as my own (in a metaphorical sense, of course).  He was that good.

I asked him what he was up to.

"Oh, you know," he said.  "I'm a teaching assistant in the MFA program" 

Hence the dress shirt and freshly shorn hair, I thought.

"And I've been writing poetry," he said.

"Oh," I said, flipping through the envelopes in my mailbox.  "Any luck?"

"Oh, yeah," he said with a little too much enthusiasm.  "I just had a poem accepted in Cream City Review."  He then went on for half a minute, listing all the journals and magazines in which he'd been published.

And with each addition to the list, I wanted to stab him with the mechanical pencil in my hand.  Edit him out of existence, so to speak.

"And this is my first semester in the MFA, " he finished.

"Wow," I said.  "You've been busy."  You rat bastard.

"And it all started with your class," he said.  "Almost seven years ago." 

I nodded.  Now you're calling me old.  "That's nice of you to say."  I wanted out of the conversation, out of the room.

He smiled a killer smile that, I'm sure, the undergrad girls in the class he's teaching go wild over.  "No, I mean it," he said.  "I wouldn't be here without that class."

I looked at him closely.  He was being sincere, in an un-jaded, just-stepped-off-the-boat-from-Ellis-Island kind of way.  He was in the land of opportunity, and he was thanking me for helping him get there.

Joseph Calasanz is the patron saint of students.  A Spanish priest, he started teaching poor children mathematics, reading, and writing in rented  rooms outside the walls of the Vatican.  Several other priests joined him in his efforts to educate Rome's impoverished boys and girls.  Eventually, Joseph established the religious order called the Clerics Regular of the Poor Schools of the Mother of God.

I don't think it's a coincidence that my encounter with my former student/rising poetry star happened on the feast day of the patron saint of students.  That was just a little too convenient.  God loves playing those kinds of jokes on me.  I'd been wondering if I'd made a difference in any student's life.  Here was the answer.  If you're wondering what I told my student, I took the saintly road.

"You should stop by me office some time," I told him.  "I'd love to read some of your stuff."  Stuff.  That's what poets call poems.

"Yeah, sure," my student said, practically wagging his ass like a puppy.

I left the mail room, my student standing before his mailbox, shining like a fresh penny, a promising future unfolding before him.

I walked back to my office.  I turned off the lights, pulled the blinds, and closed the door.  I pretended I wasn't there.  I'd had enough messages from God for the day.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, August 23, 2014

August 23: Rainy and Dark, Mary Oliver, ""Gethsemane," New Cartoon

The next day was rainy and dark.  Rain fell on the roof of the barn and dripped steadily from the eaves.  Rain fell in the barnyard and ran in crooked courses down into the lane where thistles and pigweed grew.  Rain spattered against Mrs. Zuckerman's kitchen windows and came gushing out of the downspouts.  Rain fell on the backs of the sheep as they grazed in the meadow.  When the sheep tired of standing in the rain, they walked slowly up the lane and into the fold.

E. B. White is fantastic at capturing seasons and weather in his writing.  The above paragraph is soaked with rain.  You can almost hear it pelting through the sentences, draining down the commas and periods, and puddling in the breaths and pauses.  That's White's special brand of authorial alchemy.

I woke to rain this morning.  I could hear it drumming the windows.  It hasn't rained all day, but it certainly has been gray and wet.  The humidity is thick.  Stepping outside right now is like a smack in the face with a moist towel.  When I went to church, I just sat at the pipe organ and sweated.  Even my fingers were perspiring, if that's possible.

I'm going to be by myself again tonight at home.  My son decided to spend another night at camp with my brother.  My daughter is staying at grandma's house.  My plan, once I get this post finished, is to read a lot of Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.  My book club meets this Thursday, and I don't want to be the only person who hasn't finished the book.

So, it will be a quiet night.  I think it's supposed to rain again.  My whole goal is to stay awake this evening, which is sort of what my final poem from Mary Oliver is about.  Staying awake.  Or, to be more precise, falling asleep when you're supposed to stay awake.  And the poem is about nature.  Like E. B. White, Mary Oliver knows how to write about nature.  In this case, wind, crickets, a silver tree, and a lake.  Somehow, she makes everything seem holy with her words.

Saint Marty bets even Mary Oliver's grocery lists read like psalms.


by:  Mary Oliver

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me.  But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me.  And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn't move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
     blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, August 22, 2014

August 22: The Past, Mary Oliver, "An Old Whorehouse"

I've been thinking a lot tonight about childhood summers.  How those months seemed to last forever.  The long days, full of sun and insects and dirt.  The humid nights, full of cricket and distant stars.  June, July, and August were so full of freedom.  We could do anything we wanted.  Swim.  Ride our bikes up to the Holiday gas station on the highway to buy ice cream bars.  Dare each other to knock on the doors of girls' houses, just to see what they'd be wearing when they answered.

Mary Oliver has a great poem that captures this time of adolescent adventure.  When you're stuck between childhood and adulthood, trying to figure the world out.  It's one of my favorites.

Saint Marty is still trying to figure the world out.

An Old Whorehouse

by:  Mary Oliver

We climbed through a broken window,
walked through every room.

Out of business for years,
the mattresses held only

rainwater, and one
woman's black shoe.  Downstairs

spiders had wrapped up
the crystal chandelier.

A cracked cup lay in the sink.
But we were fourteen,

and no way dust could hide
the expected glamour from us,

or teach us anything.
We whispered, we imagined.

It would be years before
we'd learn how effortlessly

sin blooms, then softens,
like any bed of flowers.

August 22: Tired of Living, Quiet Night, Fairy Tale of Onwee

"There's never anything to do around here," he thought.  He walked slowly to his food trough and sniffed to see if anything had been overlooked at lunch.  He found a small strip of potato skin and ate it.  His back itched, so he leaned against the fence and rubbed against the boards.  When he tired of this, he walked indoors, climbed to the top of the manure pile, and sat down.  He didn't feel like going to sleep, he didn't feel like digging, he was tired of standing still, tired of lying down.  "I'm less than two months old and I'm tired of living," he said.  He walked out to the yard again.

Wilbur is having an existential crisis in this paragraph.  He's questioning the meaning of his life, and he's finding no answers.  None of the normal pig occupations seem to satisfy his empty heart.  Not eating.  Not scratching himself.  Not climbing the manure pile.  Not sleeping or digging.  As he says, he's simply tired of living.

E. B. White is dealing with a little more than Wilbur's loneliness for Fern here.  He's touching upon a very modern dilemma.  Every person wants to make some kind of difference in the world.  I know I do.  I don't want to spend my life in meaningless activity.  When I die, I don't want the last thing said about me to be "Marty who?"

This evening, I sort of feel like Wilbur.  My son is with my brother at our family's camp.  My daughter is spending the night at grandma's house.  My wife is working.  And I'm sitting home alone, typing a blog post that will be read by at least three or four people.  Five, if I'm lucky.  I actually scratched my back against the wall a few minutes ago, but I don't have a manure pile on which to roost.

Of course, I know that my life has meaning.  All I have to do is look at my son and daughter to know that.  But, in quiet moments like this, I question some of the choices I've made in my life.  For instance, I have three college degrees (two of them advanced), and I'm working two part-time jobs that barely pay my bills.  What the hell was I thinking?  Who in his or her right mind gets a terminal degree in poetry?  Where's the meaning in that?

Don't worry.  I'm not about to leap from the top of the manure pile.  I'm just tired, not suicidal.  Summer is slipping into autumn.  The days are getting shorter.  Some of the leaves in my maple tree are already looking a little yellow.  Change.  It makes me a little unsettled.  Sad sometimes.  But I'll roll with it.  I really don't have a choice.

Once upon a time, a turnip farmer named Onwee lived in the Kingdom of Nodd.  Onwee came from a family of turnip farmers.  His father, his father's father, and his father's father's father farmed turnips.  One day, Onwee stood in the middle of his turnip fields and thought to himself, "Who the hell wants to eat turnips?!"

Just then, a beautiful young milkmaid came running to him, exclaiming, "Oh, turnips are so sexy.  I love a man who knows how to grow root vegetables."

Onwee dropped his hoe.  "I have the biggest turnips around," he told the milkmaid.  "I inherited them from my father."

"Can I pull a few of your turnips?" the milkmaid said.

Onwee nodded.  "We can pluck in this field as much as we want."

And they did.  They plucked all afternoon and far into dusk.

As the moon rose into the sky, Onwee looked at the milkmaid and said, "Would you marry me?"

The milkmaid laughed.  "Are you kidding me?" she said.  "I was just looking for a free pluck.  I'm not going to marry a turnip farmer."  And she went skipping off into the night.

Onwee stood there, turnips piled at his feet, and thought, "Shit."

Moral of the story:  milkmaids are tramps.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

She's a sexy bee-atch.  And the milkmaid isn't bad, either.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August 21: Things You Don't Want to Do, Mary Oliver, "The Poet Thinks about the Donkey"

Every day, I do things I don't want to do.  I get up early.  Go to work.  Spend eight hours with really lovely people doing a job I really don't enjoy all that much.  Then I get to leave and do things I really enjoy.  Teach.  Be with my kids.  Write.  Kiss my wife.

Very few people have dream jobs.  Maybe Oprah Winfrey.  John Irving.  The Kardashians.  The majority of the human race are just like me.  Putting one foot in front of the other, waiting for moments of grace.

Mary Oliver captures moments of grace.  That's what I love about her.  She takes the absolute ordinary and finds something miraculous.

Saint Marty thinks this poem is miraculous:

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

by:  Mary Oliver

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
     leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
     clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been:  small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

August 21: Beechnuts and Truffles, Perfect Nights, Books for Perfect Nights

"Well, I'm sort of sedentary myself, I guess," said the pig.  "I have to hang around here whether I want to or not.  You know where I'd really like to be this evening?"


"In a forest looking for beechnuts and truffles and delectable roots, pushing leaves aside with my wonderful strong nose, searching and sniffing along the ground, smelling, smelling, smelling . . ."

Wilbur's idea of a perfect night is pretty simple.  All it takes is a forest and some nuts, roots, and fungi.  And a pig snout.  That is pig paradise.  Certainly, the rest of the animals in Zuckerman's barn would have different perfect nights.  The sheep's perfect night would probably involve a lot of pasture full of clover and alfalfa.  Templeton would need a garbage dump full of rancid chicken and maybe some moldy bread.

Yes, perfect nights are relative.  My son's idea of a perfect night would involve ice cream and computer games.  My daughter would probably need an iPhone and some YouTube videos.  My idea of a perfect night would involve an 80 degree night, a five-mile run, and then a really good book.

At the moment, my night is not going to be perfect.  I am going to clean my bathroom and clean some clutter off my kitchen table.  Then I may read the current book in my book bag, Frog Music by Emma Donoghue.  I am not ready to review the novel yet.  Give me another week.  But, since today is book bag Thursday, I have decided to list a few books on my list for my perfect night:

  • Barolo by Matthew Gavin Frank (haven't read it yet, can't wait)
  • Pot Farm by Matthew Gavin Frank (ditto)
  • Any poetry collection by Sharon Olds (yes, I've read them all already, but who cares?)
  • Dickens by Peter Ackroyd (an almost one-thousand page biography of Charles Dickens, what's not to like?)
  • Any book by John Irving (Garp being at the top of this list, followed by The Hotel New Hampshire)
  • Early Stephen King (Carrie, The Shining, anything pre-drug-addicted, pre-alcoholic Stephen King)
So, there you go.  A glimpse at my beechnut and truffles.  Of course, I wouldn't turn down a pizza and a bottle of wine to go along with my book.  And that list of books is not inclusive.  I did love Stephen King's 11/22/63, but the last couple of Irving books didn't really float my balloon.

Saint Marty isn't going to have a perfect night tonight.  But, his daughter is going to help him clean, and tomorrow is Friday.  That counts as a reasonably lovely evening.

Don't knock it 'til you try it

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 20: Melancholy, Mary Oliver, "Happiness"

I find myself a little melancholy tonight.  Perhaps because of the impending close of summer.  Perhaps because my life has changed so much over the past three or four months.  Perhaps because my brother died recently.  Perhaps because my five-year-old son cried in bed tonight because his cousins are leaving tomorrow to return to their home in Utah.  Perhaps because the world is such a fucked-up place, where journalists are murdered for their pursuit of truth, where neighbors bomb neighbors, where peaceful communities become war zones.

Whatever the reason, I'm a little blue.

Mary Oliver has a great poem about the pursuit of joy.  Every time I read it, it makes me smile.  Lifts my spirits.

Saint Marty needs a little lift tonight.


by:  Mary Oliver

In the afternoon, I watched
the she bear; she was looking
for the secret bin of sweetness--
honey, that the bees store
in the trees' soft caves.
Black block of gloom, she climbed down
tree after tree and shuffled on
through the woods.  And then
she found it!  The honey-house deep
as heartwood, and dipped into it
among the swarming bees--honey and comb
she lipped and tongued and scooped out
in her black nails, until

maybe she grew full, or sleepy, or maybe
a little drunk, and sticky
down the rugs of her arms,
and began to hum and sway.
I saw her let go of the branches,
I saw her lift her honeyed muzzle
into the leaves, and her thick arms,
as though she would fly--
an enormous bee
all sweetness and wings--
down into the meadows, the perfection
of honeysuckle and roses and clover--
to float and sleep in the sheer nets
swaying from flower to flower
day after shining day.

Silly old bear

August 20: Enlarged His Perspective, Relativity, What's Important

To counter his anxiety, [E. B. White] looked for rhythms and unity everywhere.  Now and then he peered into the cosmic paradoxes of Einstein's theories.  He enjoyed the dizzying revelations of astronomy and found that they cleared his mind and enlarged his perspective on everyday life in a visceral rather than an abstract way...

It seems odd to imagine the young future author of Charlotte's Web walking the streets of New York City, contemplating Einstein's theories.  Yet, it also seems entirely appropriate, for Charlotte's Web really is an exercise in perspective.  Wilbur's dilemma seems huge throughout the entire book.  How is Charlotte going to save her friend's life?  Yet, at the end, when Wilbur's safety has been secured, Charlotte reveals that she is about to die.  Suddenly, the book changes.  It's no longer a book about animals fooling human beings.  It becomes a book about deep, abiding friendship and sacrifice.

Yes, enlarging your perspective is important.  A few nights ago, I was discussing my penchant for petty jealousy.  I have a friend who is an incredibly successful writer.  "Tina" has published books and has a full-time tenured job at a university.  She's won writing awards.  She's been reviewed in The New York Times Book Review.  Everyone knows she's amazing.  I love Tina.  And I hate her.

After several minutes of listening to me complain, my wife said, "Let me ask you something.  Would you trade our kids for what Tina has?"  Her point was pretty clear.  Tina has made sacrifices in her life.  Having children being one of them.  She has a wonderful spouse and has tried to start a family, but, sadly, her pregnancies have ended in miscarriages.

Perhaps Tina thinks about me at night sometimes,  Maybe she would trade all of her professional success for what I have:  two smart, beautiful kids.

You see, most human beings are never satisfied with what they have.  They do not see the bigger picture.  I think having a successful writing career and a university job would make me happy.  Tina would trade all of her books for the chance to be a parent.  It's all a matter of perspective.

My wife ended our conversation with this question:  "Did it ever occur to you that you are exactly where God wants you to be, doing what you are supposed to do?"

Saint Marty has to think about that one.

It's all a matter of pear-spective

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August 19: Be on the Watch, Tragedy, Prayer for Ferguson

On Sunday, the church was full.  The minister explained the miracle.  He said that the words on the spider's web proved the human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.

I've written about this subject before.  Everyday wonders.  The minister is right.  Human beings should walk around with their eyes open, on the lookout for miracles in things like spider webs or rain storms or foggy mornings.  Charlotte's trick reminds the readers that small things can be extraordinary.

There's been a lot of tragedy in the past ten days in Ferguson, Missouri, starting with the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.  Tragic.  There have been demonstrations, peaceful and fiery.  People are angry.  People are sad.  People want justice.  All of it started with horrifying bloodshed.  It continues with nightly gunfire and looting.  Violence begetting violence, if you'll excuse the Biblical language.

I'm wondering where the meaning is.  I'm waiting for some kind of miracle to come out of all this tragedy.  I've seen news reports of police officers walking with protestors, expressing the same horror and sorrow.  This morning, I saw Michael Brown's parents interviewed.  They looked frozen with grief and anger, but they've called for peace, an end to violence, despite their loss.

I discussed the whole situation with my friend, Matt, last night.  He is rightfully outraged.  When I expressed my reservation at condemning the police officer, Darren Williams, Matt called him a murderer.  Matt said Officer Wilson forfeited any chance of compassion when he fired six bullets into Michael Brown's body (two into his head).  "I don't care if his father abused him or he grew up in a slum," Matt said.  "He's a fucking killer."

That's the dilemma.  Tempering outrage with understanding.  Moving past violence toward harmony.  Martin Luther King marched for peace and equality.  Violence ended his life.  Yet, it's not his death we focus on.  We focus on the change he wrought in the United States.  The fact that, in Ferguson, it's not just African Americans who are raising their voices in protest.  It's people of all races and genders.  That's Martin Luther King's legacy.

So, let's all pray for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, tonight and this week.  For Michael Brown's family.  And, yes, for Darren Wilson and his family.  For the protestors.  For the police officers.  For peace and justice.  Let's pray for the miracle.

Saint Marty believes that Martin Luther King's dream is still alive.

Let's keep our eyes open for the miracle, folks

August 19: Poem for Peace, Mary Oliver, "After Her Death"

I just wrote about Ferguson, Missouri.  Michael Brown.  Searching for meaning in the middle of tragedy.

I think that's where a lot of people stand right now.  Trying to find meaning is a seemingly meaningless situation.  Looking through Mary Oliver's book Thirst, I think I found a poem that touches upon this grappling.  There are no real answers to all the questions that are being asked.  Maybe the point is the struggle in this dark night.

It's a human urge, when you're stuck in darkness, to reach out and try to find some light.

Saint Marty finds some light with Mary Oliver.

After Her Death

by:  Mary Oliver

I am trying to find the lesson
for tomorrow.  Matthew's something.
Which lectionary?  I have not
forgotten the Way, but, a little,
the way to the Way.  The trees keep whispering
peace, peace, and the birds
in the shallows are full of the
bodies of small fish and are
content.  They open their wings
so easily, and fly.  So.  It is still

          I open the book,
which the strange, difficult, beautiful church
has given me.  To Matthew.  Anywhere.

There's light out there

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 18: Darkness, Poet of the Week, Mary Oliver, "The Uses of Sorrow"

OK, so I wrote about dreams in my previous post.

I'm not feeling very dreamy this evening.  I'm feeling a little dark.  This week's Poet of the Week, Mary Oliver, knows a few things about darkness.  Sometimes, it's difficult to see the sun through the clouds.  But clouds are important, too.

Tonight's poem is short, but it captures my thoughts perfectly.

Mary Oliver sometimes makes Saint Marty think he should give up writing.

The Uses of Sorrow

by:  Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

There can't be light without darkness

August 18: Beers, Reality, "Web" Dip

Went out for a couple beers tonight after work.  Yes, that's right.  I said beers.  Two very large apple beers at a local pizza place.  By the time I stepped away from the bar, I was pleasantly...happy.

The occasion was a visit with my friend, Matt.  Great guy.  Fantastic writer.  Foodie extraordinaire.  He just got back into town from his summer book tour.  We talked about books and rodent phobias and Ferguson, Missouri.  We dished about the upcoming semester at the university.  Matt and I share a similar take on higher education (that it's full of elitist, privileged babies).  He has been lucky enough to get a full-time, tenured position in academia, but he doesn't ever lose sight of his roots.  (He spent years working in the food industry before he went to college.)

Maybe it's the alcohol in my brain, but I find myself contemplating the reality of my life.  I don't think I will ever get hired to teach full-time at the university.  After 18 years of contingent teaching, I could fall off the roof of the science building and nobody in the English Department would notice.  (I might get a bouquet of flowers and a nice card.)  It's a difficult realization.  I really thought hard work and dedication would get me somewhere.  It hasn't.

So, perhaps I shouldn't drink beer.  Or perhaps I shouldn't ponder reality.  Or perhaps I shouldn't dream of a better life.  Let me ask E. B. White:

Should I dream of a better life?

And his answer this evening is:

"It's about Fern," she explained.  "Fern spends entirely too much time in the Zuckermans' barn.  It doesn't seem normal.  She sits on a milk stool in a corner of the barn cellar, near the pigpen, and watches animals, hour after hour.  She just sits and listens."

Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes.

"How enchanting!" he said.  "It must be real nice and quiet down there.  Homer has some sheep, hasn't he?"

Yeah, Fern is a dreamer, and Dr. Dorian doesn't see anything wrong with that.  In fact, he seems to envy Fern.  Sitting in a barn, by the manure pile, talking to pigs and geese and cows and spiders.

Maybe Saint Marty still has a few dreams left.

Doesn't mix with dreams

Sunday, August 17, 2014

August 17: Preparations, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

After I'm done typing this post, I'm going to work on my syllabi for the upcoming semester at the university.  I've already completed a lot of the preliminary stuff.  Looking up important dates, classroom numbers, exam times and days.  Now, I have to plug all those things into my existing syllabi, switch a few numbers around, and Presto!  Instant semester.

It's a tedious process.  Busy work, mostly.  However, it will keep me sane for the next three months.  I can't go into the fall feeling unprepared.  It causes way too much stress in my day-to-day existence.  Tonight, I'm registering my kids for dance.  Once I have those schedules figured out, I'll be able to set my university office hours.  That's the last piece of the puzzle.

I know none of these things is very interesting to any of my disciples.  That's my life right now, though.  I'm at an in-between place in my year.  No longer summer.  Not yet autumn.  I'm not ready to let go of August, and I'm not ready to grab hold of September.  Limbo.  That's where I am.

Today's Classic Saint Marty finds me in that same limbo.  Between chlorophyll green and frost yellow.

This episode aired almost four years ago, before Saint Marty was Saint Marty.

August 21, 2010:  Saint Pius X

Two days before I start to teach for the fall semester at the university.  The weather has been swerving from grey and raining to cool and sunny to humid and hot all weekend.  It is the end of summer, even though there's still two weeks of August left.  These last days of summer always fill me with melancholy.  I know, I know.  No big surprise.  I usually spend this time planning and preparing the next three months of work for myself.  Read this book this week.  Papers to grade the next week.  Quizzes to create that day.  Reading journals to review the following weekend.  I am no longer free to do what I want.  I have obligations, 50 students depending on me.  Lesson plans.  Schedules.  Deadlines.  Less day.  More night.  Basically, everything that is the opposite of May, June, July, and August.  And don't even get me started on Christmas music and programs at church.  Yes, it starts this early.  You thought Wal-Mart was bad.

It doesn't help that I just started rereading Cormac McCarthy's The Road for class, which is one of the coldest, bleakest novels ever written.  The first time I read it, I was sitting by a pool in the middle of July during a heat wave, and I still found myself getting chilled.  If you haven't read the novel, you should.  It's one of my favorites.  It's about a father and son trying to reach the Pacific Ocean in post-apocalypse America.  They're starving and desperate.  They encounter bands of cannibals who capture and keep people like livestock, harvesting them for food.  The father and son have a handgun with one bullet for protection.  Oh, and the father is dying of some ailment that causes fits of bloody coughing.  This all takes place in a landscape of charred trees and baked earth, where sunlight is a memory and everything and everyone is covered in grey ash.  Constant snow and rain.

So, throw that uplifting piece of literature on top of my already end-of-summer melancholia, and you have the recipe for a pretty shitty day.  I know I should feel blessed in my life.  I mean, I'm an English major with advanced degrees, and I have jobs that don't require me to run a deep fryer.  Let's make it even simpler:  I have jobs that allow me to pay my bills.  In this economy, that's pretty damn good.  I'm feeling sorry for myself when some people I know don't have the money to make their next house payment.  That's pretty fucked up.

I used to look forward to fall and winter, the shortening of the days, the long reach of the night.  I waited for the maple leaves to turn yellow and orange, the evenings to ice the throat when you breathe.  I've always been a lover of the dark.  That may shock some of you.  I never opened windows or curtains in my house.  I was the neighborhood Boo Radley, with kids walking by my property and whispering stories about the crazy English professor who only comes out under the cover of darkness.

Nowadays, I look forward to those long summer days, when the sun is in the sky at 5 a.m. and sticks around until nearly 11 at night.  I like the bright heat, opening windows and airing out the dead moats of autumn and winter.  I crave those dog days when just shifting in a chair from one ass cheek to another can make you break a sweat.  The thing is, in the hot months, I don't have to do anything that makes me sweat.  School's out, and, aside from punching the clock at my second job, I have the freedom to  That freedom comes to a close tomorrow.

I don't do well with things ending, especially things that I've enjoyed, like vacations or friendships or movies or books.  It's a selfish impulse, wanting a happiness to continue forever.  In his last will and testament, today's saint, Pius X, who was one of the first popes of the 20th century, made the following statement:  "I was born poor, I have lived in poverty, and I wish to die poor."  Maybe, because of my mood, I read those words as meaning poverty of body, mind, and spirit.  Right now, I'm clinging to the happiness of the last month or so.  It has been a time of stability and relative peace in my usually chaotic day-to-day.  I've really enjoyed that.  But usually, when things are going that well, the earth shifts, and I find myself in poverty again.

Poverty is not a bad thing.  It brings you back to the basics, makes you realize what wealth really is.  Wealth has nothing to do with the tangible--money or possessions.  It has everything to do with the intangible (peace, love, security, hope), because the tangible always ends up slipping away, like sea water through your fingers.

Cormac McCarthy writes in The Road, "All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain.  Their birth in grief and ashes.  So, he whispered to the sleeping boy.  I have you."  It's a father cleaving to his son.  A man cleaving to something pure, something sacred, something intangible.  It's the way, I imagine, God cleaves to us.

Through pain.  Through darkness.  In light like summer.  That's unchangeable.  That's wealth.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16: Changes on the Way, Oliver de la Paz, "A Cupboard Full of Halos," New Cartoon

The autumn days grew shorter, Lurvy brought the squashes and pumpkins in from the garden and piled them on the barn floor, where they wouldn't get nipped on frosty nights.  The maples and birches turned bright colors and the wind shook them and they dropped their leaves one by one to the ground.  Under the wild apple trees in the pasture, the red little apples lay thick on the ground, and the sheep gnawed them and the geese gnawed them and foxes came in the night and sniffed them...

Small changes pile up in that paragraph.  The days slipping away sooner.  Frost under the stars.  Green giving way to red and orange and yellow in the trees.  The harvest of pumpkin and squash and wild apple.  August into September.  Summer into autumn.

Yes, changes are on the way in the next couple of weeks.  In one week, I start teaching at the university.  The week after that, my kids go back to school.  My work hours are going to change.  My kids are going to be going to dance lessons and God knows what else.

At the beginning of the summer, I actually had hopes of having a full-time teaching job at the university.  I dreamed of teaching undergraduate- and graduate-level poetry courses.  I would have been able to set my own schedule for the most part.  Volunteer in my son's class.  Drive my kids to school every once in a while.  It was a lovely vision.

However, none of that came to pass.  I'm pretty much stuck working in a medical office and part-timing my teaching.  If I sound disappointed, I am.  However, I'm grateful that I'm still able to be in a classroom.  It's one of my favorite things in the world.

So, as the nights come earlier and frost starts forming on the pumpkins, I accept the coming changes.  Perhaps something wonderful is just around the corner.

The last Oliver de la Paz poem I've chosen is one of my favorites.  It's about miracles in everyday wrapping.  Opening a kitchen cupboard and finding an angel.  That sort of thing.  Maybe I'm doing things wrong.  Maybe I just need to look for my miracles in different places. 

Saint Marty is cleaning his bathroom tonight.  Who knows what he'll find under the sink?

 A Cupboard Full of Halos

by:  Oliver de la Paz

After he fills the junk drawer in the kitchen with wreaths made from scraps of paper, cloth, and sticks, Fidelito stores new ones in a cupboard above the stove.

He drags a stool from the garage and sets it to reach the place where Maria Elena keeps cookbooks.  In the multi-hued halos go, forced.  Some of them tumble out like hula-hoops onto linoleum.  Others become bracelets and slide down his arms as he reaches up to stop them.

When he closes the door, Fidelito forgets until his mother, ready to cook, opens the cupboard.  They spill to her from the dark, a noise of coins from another world.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15: A Saint Poem, Oliver de la Paz, "Under the Stained Glass Saints"

For obvious reasons, I'm a sucker for poems about saints.  There are quite a lot of them out there, believe it or not.  One of my favorites is Galway Kinnell's "Saint Francis and the Sow."  Perhaps I'll share it with you guys some day.

I have a saint poem from Oliver de la Paz tonight.  It's got Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Thomas Aquinas.  It reminds me of my Catholic childhood, growing up under the stained glass windows among the flickering votives.

Saint Marty can almost smell the incense in these lines.

Under the Stained Glass Saints

by:  Oliver de la Paz

For squirming, Fidelito receives a pinch from his mother.  Disturbed by his yowl, the once quiet congregation sing their Aves an octave louder.

The boy, uncomfortable under the gaze of Saint Francis de Sales who writes reports on his misbehavior, rubs a welt the size of a nickel on his arm.  The hands of Thomas Aquinas, folded in prayer, frighten him too.  He thinks, if he turns his head, the fingers will spring to life and pinch his ear.  Briefly, Fidelito behaves.

But when the time comes to kneel and the padded boards come down from their hinges, Fidelito straddles one as though it were a horse.  He urges it to run far from the stream of the Saints' blue shadows.  Those praying around him bow their heads and smile.

I'm a sucker for stained glass, too