Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April 29: Grading All Weekend, Molly Peacock, "The Fare"

I have been, once again, grading all day.  I will be grading all weekend, as well.  Poetry portfolios.  Book reviews.  I'm just hoping to carve out a little time for pleasure.  A steak dinner.  A little shopping.  Some pleasure reading.

Speaking of pleasure reading, how about another poem by the Poet of the Week?

Saint Marty needs a poetic pick-me-up.

The Fare

by:  Molly Peacock

Bury me in my pink pantsuit you said--and I did.
But I'd never dressed you before!  I saw the glint
of gold in your jewelry drawer and popped
the earrings in a plastic bag along with pearls,
a pink-and-gold pin, and your perfume.  (What's this?"
the mortician said . . . "Oh well, we'll spray some on.")
Now your words from the coffin:  "Take my earrings off!
I've had them on all day, for God's sake!"
You've had them on five days.  The lid's closed,
and the sharp stab of a femininity
you couldn't stand for more than two hours in life
is eternal--you'll never relax.  I'm four hundred miles away.
Should I call up the funeral home and have them removed?
You're not buried yet--stored till the ground thaws--
where, I didn't ask.  Probably the mortician's garage.
I should have buried you in slippers and a bathrobe.
Instead, I gave them your shoes.  Oh, please
do it for me.  I can't stand the thought of you
pained by vanity forever.  Reach your cold hand
up to your ear and pull and hear the click
of the clasp hinge unclasping, then reach
across your face and get the other one
and--this effort could take you days, I know,
since you're dead.  Let it be your last effort:
to change my mistake and be dead in comfort.
Lower your hands in their places
on your low mound of stomach and rest, rest,
You can let go of the earrings.  They'll fall
to the bottom of the casket like tokens,
return fare fallen to the pit
of a coat's satin pocket.

Haven't failed anybody yet this semester

April 29: Transcendent and Beautiful, Something Beautiful, Opportunities

[Ives] sat there in his son's room thinking about the time when he had experienced the presence of God, or of something, on Madison Avenue, for the life of him, he tried to imagine death as something transcendent and beautiful, as he had been taught to believe and had wanted to believe in those moments.

This paragraph appears in Mr. Ives' Christmas shortly after Ives' son, Robert, is shot dead on the steps of a church.  Ives is full of anger and grief and confusion.  He has lived a good life.  Faithful husband.  Doting father.  Loyal friend.  Devout Catholic.  Yet, a few days before Christmas, he has to plan the funeral of his son, who was about to enter the seminary.

I struggle all the time when terrible things happen.  Right now, in Nepal, thousands of people are dead and homeless because of an earthquake and avalanche.  In Baltimore, residents are rioting in the streets against police and the National Guard.  In my life, I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of my brother's death.  My good friend, the head of the English Department, died the night before Thanksgiving.  My sister is in a nursing home.  My mother's health isn't great.  My medical office job is unsatisfying.  And my contingent position at the university is, as always, under attack from full-time professors and members of administration.

In short, my life feels like a big pile of manure.

Like Ives, I want the promise of something beautiful and transcendent.  There's a hymn by Bill Gaither that we sometimes sing at my wife's church called "Something Beautiful."  The refrain goes like this:

Something beautiful, something good
All my confusion He understood
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife
But He made something beautiful of my life

I don't understand why, in the space of twelve months, so much has gone awry in my life.  I try to see some kernel of beauty in all that has occurred.  I hope that something beautiful is coming my way.  That's the job of a Christian, I guess:  to believe and hope.  I read a saying every morning by Blessed Solanus Casey:  "In the crosses of life that come to us, Jesus offer us opportunities to help Him redeem the world.  Let us profit by His generosity."  I try to think of my struggles as opportunities.

Saint Marty is a little tired tonight of all the opportunities that have come his way recently.

I truly believe this

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

April 28: Lawns, Molly Peacock, "Cutting Tall Grass"

I dislike my lawn.  If I could afford to cement my front and back yards and paint them green, I would.  That way, all I would have to do to clean my lawn is drag out the hose and wash it down.  I do nothing to cultivate lush grass.  Yet, for some reason, my lawn always seems to thrive.  And it pisses me off.

I have killed much vegetation in my life.  The pumpkin patch I planted one year yielded only one, cherry-tomato-sized squash.  Last summer, I over-watered several ferns at my friend's house and turned them into tumbleweeds.  Easter lilies might as well stay in the tomb under my watch, and poinsettias never see Santa Claus.

No part of Saint Marty's anatomy is green.

Cutting Tall Grass

by:  Molly Peacock

I love the sound of lawnmowers each year.
There's a woman in her workpants smelling of
gasoline and cut grass, wiping a smear
of grease on her head while blotting a swelling of
sweat from her head under her plastic visor.
I'm not sure whether she loves that machine.
Short grass is none the wiser for the razor,
so the love of mowing it is love of sheen.
But one must love the vehicle, the sun,
the bugs thrown up behind and the swallows
snatching bugs at the wheels to love a lawn,
the old grass spewn in the bleak shadows,
the new grass smelling of wet and slight rot,
to love to live between what is and is not.

My idea of a healthy lawn

April 28: Daily Risks, Still Grading, Getting Tired

...Having earned a master's degree in literature from Columbia, [Annie Ives] was now working toward a doctorate in nineteenth-century English literature, though she figured it would take her forever.  So she would teach once in a while in certain schools, even when she and Ives did not need the money, and rather than taking daily risks in the city schools, which, by her light, seemed to be getting worse and worse, she preferred to find ways to bring art and literature to the local community; she spent half her free time writing grants to the government, so that they could do something for the kids, meeting with their local congressional rep, and trying to get the State Arts Council to send visiting writers and artists to talk to the kids at schools like P.S. 125.

Annie Ives is a jaded optimist.  She tries to change the world.  When she's younger, she substitute teaches in the New York public school system.  As she ages, she loses her wide-eyed enthusiasm for bringing Charles Dickens into the lives of inner-city youth.  It's a dangerous profession, trying to instill hope in kids whose homes are broken, sometimes irrevocably.

My wife was a substitute teacher for many years.  When we first married, she subbed in inner-city schools in Kalamazoo.  Some of the students were tough.  Unwed mothers smelling of marijuana.  Young men in gangs.  It was dangerous work.

I have never had to face that kind of danger in the classroom.  I've dealt with drunk students.  Sleeping students.  Suicidal students.  Wildly out-of-control bipolar students.  But I've never feared for my life.  I care about my students.  A lot.  That's why I find grading so difficult.  I don't want to see any of my "kids" fail.

Yes, I'm still grading, and I'm getting tired of it.  But, as Robert Frost said, I have miles to go before I sleep.  Miles and miles.  So many miles, I should get frequent flyer credits.

Saint Marty needs to get back to his stack of final exams.

This pretty much says it all

Monday, April 27, 2015

April 27: Poet of the Week, Molly Peacock, "Simple"

Well, it's Monday.  Time for me to bestow upon another lucky poet the title of Saint Marty's Poet of the Week.

I was paging through a book by Molly Peacock the other night, and I came across a poem that reminded me why I love her so much.  I remember the first time I read the poem below.  It kind of opened my eyes to the possibilities of poetry about spiritual or sacred subjects.  How the best poems push the boundaries of acceptability and end up in a completely holy place.

I want to write a poem like Molly Peacock's "Simple" one day.  It may take me a lifetime, but I'm willing to wait.

Saint Marty is a patient guy.


by:  Molly Peacock

When the wafer dissolves on my tongue I won-
der what part of the Lord I have eaten,
His scrotum molecularly recon-
structed in a pale disc, or a wheaten
flap of armpit?  Perhaps internal organs
vaporized to universal atoms
from the thorax of our Lord.  Others had plans
to preserve the saints in bits, the phantom
of Anthony's larynx in a ruby vase,
Agatha's breasts in cold caskets, the flesh
reserved.  I only eat our Lord and mas-
ticate the host, the church a creche,
and I in my stall not even knowing how
to blow glass housing for a saint or wield
a hammer with my hoof, unable to bow
or scoop breasts into a box.  The world
transubstantiates me to animal
evolving in reverse:  soon I could be a lizard
on the wall of the manger, in time once-celled,
perhaps a single cell of the baby Lord,
perhaps His tongue, so what I chew a symbol
I might at last become:  simple.

A simple poem

April 27 Finals Week, Grading, "Ives" Dip

Welcome to finals week at the university.  I have just spent several hours grading some exams I administered last week.  After I'm done typing tonight's two posts, I will go back to grading, probably staying up to an ungodly hour, red pen in hand, dispensing academic judgement.

I hate the grading part of education.  Some professors relish wielding the crimson ink.  I don't.  I much prefer the give-and-take of the classroom.  Prying open minds to new ideas.  Making young people (and sometimes older people) see the world in a different way.  That's the greatest reward of teaching for me.

However, tradition dictates that I must somehow place a value on my students' progress during the semester.  Granted, some students make a great deal more progress than others, but I find placing a price on academic progress a little . . . counter-productive.  Certainly, I have no problem giving a D or F to a student who put forth no effort.  But then there are the students who really tried, all semester long, but couldn't measure up to their "smarter" classmates.  I have a hard time grading those students.

Well, it's Monday, and, therefore, it is time for an Ives dip question:

Will I get all of my grading done on time?

And the answer from Edward Ives is:

...He received Holy Communion and did not open his eyes or move from the white crimson-cloaked railing until the wafer had completely dissolved on his tongue...

Well, either Saint Marty's grading is anointed by God, or Saint Marty will need to go to confession after he's done grading.

I haven't F-ed anyone yet

Sunday, April 26, 2015

April 26: Dance Competition Practice, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Well, I am currently sitting in a dark auditorium, watching my daughter practice for next weekend's dance competition.  I'm going to be sitting here for three hours, being ignored by her.  It's not cool to sit with a parent, let alone speak to him or her.  So, I have a lot of time to kill.  After I'm done posting, I'm going to correct some final exams and papers.  Maybe I'll run out and pick up a birthday cake for my sister, whose birthday we're celebrating this afternoon. 

Oh, and my book club meets tonight at my house.  I've already made my casserole for that.  It just needs to be heated up.  Tomorrow morning, my sister in the nursing flies out to University of Michigan Hospital for an appointment and possible surgery.  I have two exams this week to give this week, and then, on Thursday evening, after I'm done teaching, I head downstate for the dance competition. 

If you can't tell by now, I'm a little stressed right now.  Too much happening in a very short period of time.

Today's episode of Class Saint Marty first aired five years ago.

Enjoy this trip down Saint Marty Lane.

May 4, 2010:  Saint Antonina

To paraphrase the little girl from Poltergeist: "I'm baaaaa-aaaaack."

April turned into quite the creative writing killer for me. First, I had Easter and all the crap that goes along with it for a church musician (rehearsals, meetings, special services, special meetings, rehearsals for special services, music for rehearsals for special services, meetings about music for rehearsals for special services). Couple that with end-of-the-semester grading, which generally includes enough essays and research papers to level a medium-sized redwood forest, and you get a pretty good idea of how the month went for me. By the time I sat down with my journal and pen at night, I could barely remember how to hate Glen Beck and Sarah Palin.

Anyway, my grades are submitted; Easter is long-gone; and summer is on its way. I actually find myself with time for reflection and introspection, which means I have time to obsess and indulge my favorite hobbies: jealousy, selfishness, and envy.

Since I last posted, my coworker has moved into her new manse on the lake. My other coworker has received her employee of the month gold badge, gold pin, and picture in the employee newsletter. In addition to these wonderful (he said with gritted teeth) events, another couple I know has just sold their house, and my pastor friend has started packing up his office and house for his move to a downstate church on June 21. There are exactly five Manly Man Poetry Nights left, if other obligations don't get in the way to fuck things up.

As you can tell, I'm just as neurotic, angry, and confused as always. My Lenten exercise in forgiveness taught me 1) I am not very forgiving, and 2) forgiveness is a process that takes A LOT of time and patience (a virtue of which I am in usually very short supply). A full posting will be forthcoming on this subject, possibly titled "Forgiveness: Who Needs It?" or "On My Way to Forgiveness I Rediscovered Anger."

Yesterday, my daughter was named student of the week at her elementary school. It's something she's wanted for a while. Either that, or it's something I've wanted for her for a while (ever since I saw the parade of undeserving delinquents who were winning week-after-week). She received a dragon pencil, a rub-on tattoo, and a pin that identified her as the winner. Her name and picture will also be displayed for the next five days at the school. She is really excited. I'm really excited, but not in the same way she is. I'm excited in the all-you-other-kids-are-losers way. She's excited in the look-at-my-cool-pencil way.

I don't know why I act like this. My siblings would say it's because I'm the baby of the family and, therefore, crave attention like Paris Hilton at a nightclub. I crave attention so much that, when my daughter receives recognition, I think it somehow reflects on how good a job I'm doing at parenting her. That's messed up, I know.

Since I'm revealing this ugly side of myself, let me give you another example. Every year, when the winners of the big literary awards are announced, I act offended and put-off by the fact that I didn't win. This year, a classmate with whom I took a fiction-writing workshop ten years ago was nominated for the National Book Award for her collection of short stories. There was even talk that she was going to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (she didn't, wasn't even nominated). She was always lovely and kind to me. When my book of poetry was published, she wrote a great review of it on In short, she's a great person, and monstrously talented to boot.

I hate her.

The saint for today, Antonina, was a martyr. But I don't really care about her. I'm drawn to an anonymous participant in her story. This is what my book of saints has to say:

The pre-1970 Roman Missal had the following short history: A soldier named N. tried to save St. Antonina, who had been condemned to death during the persecution of Maximian in Constantinople. He changed clothes with her and took her place. However, the ruse was discovered, and both were tortured and then burnt to death.

So, this guy puts on a dress and gets tortured and roasted alive, but Antonina gets to be a saint. He becomes an unknown footnote in drag.

That pretty much sums it up for me today.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April 25: Mr. Ives Senior, Finding My Path, Garrett Hongo, "What For," New Cartoon

Mr. Ives Senior was able to give his third son clothes and books, two brothers and a sister, a little money, and a room in his large, somewhat rundown brownstone, three stories high, on Carroll Street.  And a name:  Edward...

Ives was adopted by a widower, who himself was an orphan.  Ives was lucky.  He had a parent who loved him, provided for him, and encouraged him in his artistic pursuits.  There was no pressure for Ives to follow in his adoptive father's trade--printing.  Ives was allowed to find his own path.  Make his own life.

When I was young, my father, a licensed master plumber, insisted I go on service calls with him.  He said that, no matter what I decided to do with my life, I would always have a trade to fall back on.  So my summers were a series of blocked sewers, leaking water heaters, plugged toilets, and drippy faucets.  I didn't enjoy these days.  I would rather have been in my bedroom, reading novels or writing stories and poems and essays.

My father's intentions were good.  He worked hard, and he taught me to work hard, as well.  My parents both came from pretty humble backgrounds.  My mother was raised by a single mother in Detroit (my grandfather died of stomach cancer when my mother was a young girl).  My dad grew up on a farm and then moved to Detroit, where my grandfather became a plumber.  My mother's mother worked for the railroad and then a local brewery. 

I was allowed to find my own path in college.  At first, I studied computer science (at the urging of my mother).  Four years, I wrote computer programs and took math classes, but I also took literature and writing courses.  Upon graduation, I applied to a graduate writing program and was accepted with a teaching fellowship.  The rest is history.

I am not a plumber, like my father.  I am not a computer programmer.  I am a struggling, part-time college instructor.  Scribbling poems in my spare time.  I thank my parents every day for the chances they provided for me.  The choices I was allowed to make.

Saint Marty has very few regrets.

What For

by:  Garrett Hongo

At six I lived for spells:
how a few Hawaiian words could call
up the rain, could hymn like the sea
in the long swirl of chambers
curling in the nautilus of a shell,
how Amida’s ballads of the Buddhaland
in the drone of the priest’s liturgy
could conjure money from the poor
and give them nothing but mantras,
the strange syllables that healed desire.

I lived for stories about the war
my grandfather told over hana cards,
slapping them down on the mats
with a sharp Japanese kiai.

I lived for songs my grandmother sang
stirring curry into a thick stew,
weaving a calligraphy of Kannon’s love
into grass mats and straw sandals.

I lived for the red volcano dirt
staining my toes, the salt residue
of surf and sea wind in my hair,
the arc of a flat stone skipping
in the hollow trough of a wave.

I lived in a child’s world, waited
for my father to drag himself home,
dusted with blasts of sand, powdered
and the strange ash of raw cement,
his deafness made worse by the clang
of pneumatic drills, sore in his bones
from the buckings of a jackhammer.

He’d hand me a scarred lunchpail,
let me unlace the hightop G.I. boots,
call him the new name I’d invented
that day in school, write it for him
on his newspaper. He’d rub my face
with hands that felt like gravel roads,
tell me to move, go play, an then he’d
walk to the laundry sink to scrub,
rinse the dirt of his long day
from a face brown and grained as koa wood.

I wanted to take away the pain
in his legs, the swelling in his joints,
give him back his hearing,
clear and rare as crystal chimes,
the fins of glass that wrinkled
and sparked the air with their sound.

I wanted to heal the sores that work
and war had sent to him,
let him play catch in the backyard
with me, tossing a tennis ball
past papaya trees without the shoulders
of pain shrugging back his arms.

I wanted to become a doctor of pure magic,
to string a necklace of sweet words
fragrant as pine needles and plumeria,
fragrant as the bread my mother baked,
place it like a lei of cowrie shells
and pikake flowers around my father’s neck,
and chant him a blessing, a sutra.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 24, 2015

April 24: One Year Turning, End of Semester, Quick Fairy Tale

Now, Ives watched one year turning into another and had already begun to miss Robert's and Caroline's childhood, perhaps more than they did themselves...

Yes, part of Ives' story is the inevitable passage of time, and the losses that accompany the movement of the hands of the clock.

I am under the gun tonight for time.  I have a university commitment in an hour I have to attend.  A celebration for the graduating MFA students.  Poetry.  Fiction.  Non-fiction.  And food.

So, tonight, I have a quick fairy tale for you all.

Once upon a time, a clockmaker lived in a tiny village in the middle of an immense forest.  The clockmaker's name was Gus.

One morning, Gus threw all of his clocks out of the window of his cottage.  When his neighbors asked why he had done it, Gus said, "I was drunk."

(I bet you thought I was going to say Gus wanted to make time fly.  I'm a little more original than that.)

Moral of the story:  Clockmakers can't hold their liquor.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

No time tonight...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 22: "The Exorcist," Garrett Hongo, "I Got Heaven"

I just got finished watching The Exorcist with my Intro to Film class.  They all acted like brave, disillusioned college students.  Jaded.  Unafraid of anything.

But, as the night wore on, they all started giggling nervously.  Shrinking down in their seats.  I have to admit, the film affects me on a deep level, and I've seen it many times.  There's something very unsettling about it, forty years after it was made.

After that movie, Saint Marty could use a little Heaven.

I Got Heaven

by:  Garrett Hongo

I Got Heaven...
I swear that, in Gardena, on a moonlit suburban street,
There are souls that twirl like kites lashed to the wrists of the living
And spirits who tumble in a solemn limbo between 164th
And the long river of stars to Amida's Paradise in the West.
As though I belonged, I've come from my life of papers and exile
To walk among these penitents at the Festival of the Dead,
The booths full of sellers hawking rice cakes and candied plums,
All around us the rhythmic chant of min'yo bursting through loudspeakers,
Calling out the mimes and changes to all who dance.
I stop at a booth and watch a man, deeply tanned from work outdoors,
Pitch bright, fresh quarters into blue plastic bowls.
He wins a porcelain cat, a fishnet bag of marbles,
Then a bottle of shōyu, and a rattle shaped like tam-tam he gives to a child.
I hear the words of a Motown tune carry through the gaudy air
…got sunshine on a cloudy day…got the month of May…
As he turns from the booth and re-enters the River of Heaven—
These dancers winding in brocades and silk sleeves,
A faithlit circle briefly as warm in the summer night.

We all need a little Heaven sometimes

April 22: Mother and Child, Praying, Scary Movie

He prayed, his eyes upon the painting of the Mother and Child near the altar.  He prayed for his dead adoptive father, and for his mother and father whom he had never known.  For all the things he never knew.

Okay, Ives prays a lot in the book.  He prays for his son and parents.  For understanding and forgiveness.  He struggles with his feelings for God, but Ives never turns his back on Him.

I spend a lot of my day praying.  I wake up, stumble into the bathroom, and start thinking about people who need help.  People who are sick or struggling.  Who need to be uplifted.  My sister and mother.  A friend with lung cancer.  That's all before I brush my teeth.

And then, driving to work, I pray.  I'm not always happy at the medical office, so I pray for patience and maybe a little joy.  All day long, I say little prayers, especially when I find myself getting angry or annoyed.

Tonight, I'm praying that I don't have nightmares.  I screened The Exorcist for my students this evening.  I've seen it many times.  It still scares the shit out of me.

Saint Marty is going to bed now.  Hopefully, he'll stay awake long enough toooooooooooooo........

I sometimes pray for other people, too...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 21: Hawaii, Garrett Hongo, "Eruption: Pu'u O'o"

I found my mind drifting during the meeting I just attended at the university.  I started thinking about Hawaii.  My wife and I honeymooned there, and, when I'm stressed or depressed or both, I think of Oahu and Waikiki Beach.  I think of snorkling in a bay of coral.  White sand.  Lava thundering into the ocean.

It's one of my happy places.  I go there when I need a break from reality, because that time I spent on the Hawaiian islands seems like a dream.

That's why I chose the Garrett Hongo poem below.

Saint Marty is going back to the beach.  Aloha.

Eruption:  Pu'u O'o

by:  Garrett Hongo

We woke near midnight,
flicking on the coat closet's bulb,
the rainforest chilled with mist,
a yellow swirl of gas
in the spill of light outside.
Stars paling, tucked high
in the sky's blue jade,
we saw, through the back windows
and tops of ohia trees,
silhouettes and red showers
as if from Blake's fires,
magenta and billows of black volleying.
Then, a burbling underground,
like rice steaming in the pot,
shook through chandeliers of fern
and the A-frame's tambourine floor,
stirring the cats and chickens
from the crawl-space and their furled sleep.
The fountain rose to 900 feet that night,
without us near it, smoking white,
spitting from the cone 6 miles away,
a geyser of flame, pyramids and gyres of ash.
Novices, we dressed and drove out,
first to the crater rim, Uwekahuna
a canyon and sea of ash and moonstone,
the hardened, grey back of Leviathon
steaming and venting, dormant under cloud-cover.
And then next down Volcano Road past the villages
to Hirano Store on Kilauea's long plateau.
There, over canefield and the hardened lava land,
all we saw was in each other's eyes--
the mind's fear and the heart's delight,
running us this way and that.

Been there, seen this...

April 21: Working Late, in the Office, End of Semester

For years [Ives] found working late dispiriting, for he lived to see his kids.  On his desk, among the piles of mechanicals, memoranda, purchase orders, magazines, and page proofs, and upon his walls were a number of photographs:  a shot of himself and his father and brother and sister taken years ago in front of their house on Carroll Street; a picture of Robert, ten years of age, shaking hands with Pope John XXIII during a general audience at the Vatican, "the greatest moment of my son's life," Ives used to think; and a third and favorite shot, of himself and Annie and the kids when they were small, about 1956, posed in the park before Grant's Tomb...

Ives is a successful commercial artist, makes a decent wage, and lives a very comfortable life.  Like most fathers of his era, Ives doesn't see his kids in the morning, before he goes to work, and in the evening, when he gets home from work.  Ives was an orphan, left on the steps of a foundling home when he was an infant, so, for Ives, being a part of his kids' lives is paramount to him.  So, when he has to work late, it depresses him.

I understand Ives' reaction to working late.  Tonight, in about 25 minutes, I have to attend a workshop at the university about the implementation of a new curriculum.  Dinner is being provided, which is nice, but I would rather be home with my wife and daughter and son.  That's my life, though.  Long days, long nights.  Plus it's the end of the semester.  Lots of extra grading and planning.  In a couple of weeks, my life will be simpler.  No more teaching until late August.  Time to read and think.

During the school year, my attention seems to always be elsewhere.  If I'm at a family get-together, I'm thinking about the papers I need to grade.  If I'm watching my daughter's band concert, I have a book in my lap that I have to lecture about the next day.  It's never-ending.  Now, if I earned a decent wage for this distraction, I would say that it's worth it.  I love teaching and being in the classroom.  However, I also have a second, full-time job which occupies my time and energies.

So, like Ives, I sometimes get a little dispirited on these late nights at the university.  I think about helping my six-year-old son take his bath or reading Harry Potter to him as he drifts off to sleep.  I think of my daughter at the dance studio, gliding or stomping across the floor.  I think about my wife at home, singing a lullaby to my son in his dark bedroom.

Saint Marty thinks way too much sometimes.

Just because I needed to laugh...

Monday, April 20, 2015

April 20: Poet of the Week, Garrett Hongo, "The Legend"

So, last night, a poet friend asked me to come to her house.  She has decided to rid herself of much of her "things."  Books.  Shoes.  Artificial Christmas trees (she has four).  The reason she invited me was because she wanted to give me first pick of the books she is jettisoning from her house.

For close to two hours, I scoured her shelves, finding books by Linda Hogan and Mary Oliver and Louise Gluck.  I left with two boxes and three grocery bags of poetry.  As I was looking through her collection, my poet friend said to me, "I have this feeling that I need to get ready, in case anything happens to me."  I told her that nothing was going to happen to her.  She's just ending her first year of full retirement, and I think she's taking stock of her life, her accomplishments, her regrets.

One of the books I got from her was a signed edition of Garrett Hongo's collection The River of Heaven.  Therefore, I have chosen Hongo as the Poet of the Week.

Saint Marty still needs to unpack the rest of the boxes and bags from his car.

The Legend

by:  Garrett Hongo

In Chicago, it is snowing softly
and a man has just done his wash for the week.
He steps into the twilight of early evening,
carrying a wrinkled shopping bag
full of neatly folded clothes,
and, for a moment, enjoys
the feel of warm laundry and crinkled paper,
flannellike against his gloveless hands.
There's a Rembrandt glow on his face,
a triangle of orange in the hollow of his cheek
as a last flash of sunset
blazes the storefronts and lit windows of the street.

He is Asian, Thai or Vietnamese,
and very skinny, dressed as one of the poor
in rumpled suit pants and a plaid mackinaw,
dingy and too large.
He negotiates the slick of ice
on the sidewalk by his car,
opens the Fairlane's back door,
leans to place the laundry in,
and turns, for an instant,
toward the flurry of footsteps
and cries of pedestrians
as a boy--that's all he was--
backs from the corner package store
shooting a pistol, firing it,
once, at the dumbfounded man
who falls forward,
grabbing at his chest.

A few sounds escape from his mouth,
a babbling no one understands
as people surround him
bewildered at his speech.
The noises he makes are nothing to them.
The boy has gone, lost
in the light array of foot traffic
dappling the snow with fresh prints.

Tonight, I read about Descartes'
grand courage to doubt everything
except his own miraculous existence
and I feel so distinct
from the wounded man lying on the concrete
I am ashamed.

Let the night sky cover him as he dies.
Let the weaver girl cross the bridge of heaven
and take up his cold hands.

                                                     IN MEMORY OF JAY KASHIWAMURA

Taking stock of life with Garrett Hongo

April 20: Disappointment, Windmills, "Ives" Dip

Today, I received disappointing news.

Not the kind of disappointing news that ends marriages or shortens lives.  It wasn't catastrophic disappointing news.  As disappointment goes, it ranks up there with a rejection of a manuscript by a publisher or the need to have a strange mole removed from a shoulder.  It was a medium-sized disappointment.  A blow to the ego more than anything else.

I am not going to spend this entire post lamenting this disappointment (not that I'm above wallowing).  No, today's setback is just me tilting at another windmill.  I set myself up for failure all the time.  I engage in some kind of endeavor, convince myself that success is inevitable, and then find myself flat on my back in the mud, staring up at the stars.

I have to stop dreaming the impossible dreams.  It's something I've done my whole life, and it hasn't served me well up to this point.  Perhaps I simply need to ground myself in reality.  I'm a decent poet.  I have a not-very-important job in a medical office.  I'm a contingent instructor at a university where both the administration and full-time faculty count me as pariah.  I live paycheck-to-paycheck.  That's reality.  Dreaming is too expensive a pastime.  This morning, I had to have some of my teeth drilled down by my dentist because I've been grinding them in my sleep, giving myself jaw-aches and headaches.  That's what dreaming has gotten me.

So, I relinquish windmills this evening.  It's time for me to embrace my truths.  Maybe my teeth will stop hurting, and my bruised self-esteem will begin to heal.  And that's my question for Ives this evening:

Should I stop dreaming my impossible dreams?

And the answer:

". . . Just remember, if you don't take care of business, no one else will.  Do you really think God gives a shit?"

 Saint Marty knows God gives a shit, but He sometimes has a pretty funny way of showing it.

I'm retiring my lance

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19: Taking the Christmas Tree Down, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

This afternoon, Christmas finally ended at my house.  I took down the Christmas tree this afternoon.  All vestiges of the yuletide season are safely stored away in my attic for a few months.

This may sound silly, but taking down Christmas decorations, even in April, depresses me a little bit.  When I go home tonight, I may have to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  There's something about Christmas--and all its trappings--that buoys my spirits.  There will be no flashing lights in my living room tonight.  Nothing to combat my natural inclination to dark matter.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty is about dark matter.

April 19, 2013:  Ruining Things, Depressive, Robert Frost and P.O.E.T.S. Day

After I'd told her I had to meet somebody, I didn't have any goddam choice except to leave.  I couldn't even stick around to hear old Ernie play something halfway decent.  But I certainly wasn't going to sit down at a table with old Lillian Simmons and that Navy guy and be bored to death.  So I left.  It made me mad, though, when I was getting my coat.  People are always ruining things for you.

Holden could be labeled a depressive.  Through most of The Catcher in the Rye, he's saying things like "People are always ruining things for you."  As I've pointed out before, his tale is not a happy one.  Brother dead from leukemia.  Kicked out of school.  Afraid to go home.  Running out of money.  Holden has all the makings of a good Bob Dylan song, or Willie Nelson (minus the pickup truck, hound dog, and pot).  Holden simply isn't having a good time.

I'm reading a biography of Robert Frost at the moment.  Jay Parini, the author, uses one word more than any other to describe him:  "depressive."  Frost came to his dark nature naturally.  His father was an unstable figure, most likely suffering from at least depression, if not bipolar disorder.  Frost himself comes off as violently moody in the book, prone to bouts of severe depression.  He was not an easy person to be around.

This past week, I have not been an easy person to be around, either.  My recent blog posts are a testament to that.  I don't even want to be around myself right now.  I wonder if that's a writer's normal nature.  So many biographies I've read of famous authors involve some form of mental illness--depression or bipolar disorder at the very least.  That doesn't provide me much comfort.  Especially because so many of these writers ended up committing suicide.  Anne Sexton.  John Berryman.  Sylvia Plath.  Virginia Woolf.  Ernest Hemingway.  Emily Dickinson didn't commit suicide, but she certainly suffered from mental illness.  Robert Frost didn't commit suicide, either, but most of his best poems are grounded in very dark soil.

I have been treading the same Frostian ground for the last few days.  Bob felt trapped at points in his life, going down roads he didn't want to travel.  That's where I find myself right now.  I know where I want to go.  I can see the village in the distance.  But, on this P.O.E.T. Day, I have miles to go before I sleep, if you get my meaning.  Miles to go before I sleep. 

That line has always haunted Saint Marty.

I should tattoo it on my ass...

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18: Important People, Fame, Judith Minty, New Cartoon

Afternoons and evenings found Ramirez working in the Biltmore Men's Bar, a large mahogany-paneled room, with tulip-shaped fixtures, high gloomy windows, and many a dimly lit corner.  That important people came and went was indisputable, along the bar mirror rim and along the walls were various signed photographs:  Joe Dimaggio's, Douglas MacArthur's, Milton Berle's, Cesar Romero's, and Ronald Coleman's, to name a few that Ives wold remember.  There were others, but most of the autographs were carefully, if inexpensively, framed.  Some were just signatures, scribbled out on napkins or beer coasters.  Some with messages:  "Para Lius, con amistad, Ernest Hemingway," on a bar menu.

Famous people make cameo appearances in Ives' story.  Besides the ones mentioned above, Shelley Winters appears later.  Walt Disney shows up in the beginning pages.  And the ghost of Charles Dickens haunts the whole book.  They are not even secondary characters.  They appear, are mentioned in passing, and then fade into the background of Ives' grief.

I have had encounters with many famous people in my life.  Vincent Price.  Alec Baldwin.  Victor Borge.  Sharon Olds.  N. Scott Momaday.  John Cleese.  Like Ives, I can't say I had close relationships with any of these celebrities.  I spent a week in a poetry workshop with Olds, my longest brush with fame.  I had lunch with John Cleese.  Sort of.  I was eating lunch.  He was eating lunch at another table with his wife.  That counts, in my book.  I've got a picture with Baldwin outside the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All my life, I've wanted to be a famous writer.  When most kids my age dreamed of being in the NFL or on Happy Days, I dreamed of publishing contracts and book tours.  People lined up in book stores for my autograph.  That was my fantasy.  I know that marks me as a little strange.  But, I've always embraced strangeness.

I am not a famous person.  If I were, my poetry workshop next Tuesday would have been filled to capacity instead of being canceled due to poor enrollment.  And I would probably have a full-time teaching job at the university instead of being a contingent instructor.  Fame certainly has its benefits.

However, I, for the most part, have a pretty good life.  Good friends.  Great kids.  Beautiful wife.  Maybe some day I will write a book that brings pilgrims to my front door, begging for wisdom or a selfie with me.  If that ever happens, I will certainly have to move or buy an electrified security fence and trained attack Doberman.  Forgive me.  I have lapsed into fantasy again.

Judith Minty is a celebrity.  In Michigan, anyway.  In the Upper Peninsula.  On the Yellow Dog.

Saint Marty is a celebrity.  In his house.  In his living room.  On his couch.


All winter, my poems
were thin and icy, my head
filled with other people's words.
Those dark months, I lived
in the corners of failure.
Now, here by the river,
the hermit thrush opens his throat,
lines flow over the page, the afternoon sun
warms shoulders, my back
in its slow circle.


Those mice were too bold.
They ran right up to my chair,
across the sink.  They peered at me
from around pint cans on the shelf.
Last night, I set the traps,
then dreamed I skinned a fox
for the Cherokee woman downstate.
Today I unlock two frozen bodies, look away
from their surprised eyes, try to recall
that woman half-crazed by moonbeams.


This good French bread
from the Negaunee bakery
has lasted almost a week. 
I tear off a piece, then lather it
with butter.  I remember
she apologized it wasn't a long loaf.
No doubt, hearing my downstate accent,
she thought I meant to cut it with a knife.
How could she know my tongue
arched to thank her in the northland gutteral,
that I would kiss the bread before I ate it.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, April 17, 2015

April 17: Some More Yellow Dog, Judith Minty, Spring

I have a few more poems from the Yellow Dog tonight.

Last night, I found out that nobody signed up for a poetry workshop that I was going to conduct next Tuesday at the local library.  It's canceled.  It was a little depressing when I got the e-mail.  Of course, poetry is always a hard sell, even if it's National Poetry Month.

I have sort of recovered.  Still feeling a little ego-bruised, but I plan to drink a little bit tonight.

Saint Marty is glad it's Friday.

from Yellow Dog Journal, "Spring" section


Mice in the woodbox.  The fire
still warm, they must think
I am like Gulliver, either dead
or asleep.
They poke their little heads out,
they rattle over newspapers
to eye intruder
who writes in their giant bed.
Later, in the dark, they will
tie me here
with fine threads from their nests.


Though nearly midnight,
the sky is dawn's, shadows
of trees balanced against gray.
When I step onto the chill porch
to look for her, the moon
is there,  Nearly full
she forms a cross through the screen:  north, south,
east and west, reaching out
to mark us all in lunacy,
to set us mixing days and night.

Anybody want to get naked and dance under the moon?  Yeah, me neither.

April 17: Habits of This Life, Going Back, Nostalgic Fairy Tale

That had all happened long ago, and a few weeks before another Christmas, Ives awoke in the bedroom of his apartment on Ninety-third Street as a much older man and recalled how for years he would get up for work at seven in the morning, and swear that he could hear his son, Robert, whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show in the hallway, as he used to in the days when he delivered newspapers.  Ives would dress, half-expecting to find the boy in the hall, ready to start his morning's work regardless of the weather; or he would hear Bach sung faintly through his door, or find one of the books his son had been reading in the living room, left casually open on the couch as if he had just been reading it again.  And although he would think, "Caroline," another part of him imagined his body, nostalgic for the habits of this life, materializing from the hereafter.

Ives spends a good portion of the book wishing he could go back to happier times in his life, when his son was still alive and the future held so much hope and promise.  Ives wants a life without tragedy and loss.  A life where his son is delivering newspapers in the neighborhood and his daughter is dancing to Beatles records in her bedroom.  Where his wife and he sit on a couch in their living room, listening to jazz recordings, sipping gin and tonics.

Of course, everyone wants a life without tragedy and loss.  I miss my daughter as a little girl, sitting in my lap, letting me read Charlotte's Web to her.  I miss going to movies with my wife and making out in the darkness.  I miss my son learning to walk, lurching across the floor like a newborn colt.  These are memories that make me happy, nostalgic for better times.

Life never seems to get easier.  It just moves from minor setbacks to catastrophic losses and back.  I hope that doesn't sound too pessimistic.  I have been in a bit of a funk all day.  After I'm done typing these posts, I'm going to visit my sister in the nursing home.  One of my best friends has arranged for a lawyer to take on her case.  That's good news.  My sister has an appointment at Mayo Clinic in early June.  That's good news.  Now, getting my sister to Mayo Clinic is a whole other issue.  Suing a national healthcare system is, too.

I wish I could go back to last September, so that I could tell my sister not to have her back surgery.  I wish I could go back to last November, so that I could tell my friend, Ray, to go to the hospital before he had his fatal heart attack.  I wish I could go back to right before the birth of my daughter, when my wife and I were painting the nursery pale purple and plastering the walls with Winnie the Pooh stickers.

But that isn't the way life works.  There's no going back.  Happiness is as fragile as a soap bubble.  But so is sadness.  My funk will pass tonight.  By tomorrow morning, I will be sitting at McDonald's, eating some kind of McBreakfast, and having some form of McFun.

Once upon a time, there was a fisherman named Clyde who spent his whole life wishing he could go back to school and finish his degree in Culinary Arts.  "I could have been the cook to the king," he would tell anyone who would listen.

One day, Clyde cooked a pork roast for his wife.  As always, as he was cutting the meat, he said to his wife, "I could have been the cook to the king."

Clyde's wife looked at him and said, "The pork is dry.  The mashed potatoes are lumpy.  The carrots are half-cooked.  And the chocolate cake looks like a pile of cow manure."

Clyde stared at her.

"I'm sorry, honey," his wife said.  "You're a great fisherman, but you're a terrible cook."

That night, his wife died of severe food poisoning because Clyde didn't cook the pork long enough.

Moral of the story:  always cook your pork to an internal temperature of 150 degrees.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Saint Marty loves him some pork...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15: Another Long Night, Judith MInty, Another Poem

I was up until after midnight, grading tests.  I was up and out of the house by 6 a.m.  I will be getting home tonight around 10 p.m.  Then I have a whole bunch of poems to get through for tomorrow night's workshop.  Translation:  it's going to be another really long night.

Of course, I have Judith Minty to keep me company this evening.  The poem below comes from the "Fall" section of Yellow Dog Journal.

Saint Marty has some caffeine to consume now.


Once, in anger, my mother said
no man would marry me if I kept
my mean disposition.
Now my own daughters scowl and turn
their eyes to men, and my husband
has a heart big enough to hold a month of tantrums.

Still, I come here without them
and turn into this crone, this old woman
who hobbles on her stick along the riverbank,
who mutters deep in her throat
and smells of bear,
who combs her fingers through her hair
and cackles when leaves float down in front of her.

It is almost time.  There is no one
who remembers the child, except perhaps
the animals who breathe softly around her.

More grading to do...

April 15: Like Drowning, My Dad, Incredible Guilt

Ives and Annie slept, entangled in each other's arms, their daughter sleeping alone.  Ives wold get up a half-dozen times a night to make sure that she was resting.  And every so often he would push the door open, intending to turn the radio off, but would find himself standing silently over her, his heart breaking whenever he would think about how much Robert's death must have pained her.  And he would sometimes move closer, and, brushing aside the hair that fell over her brow, plant a tender kiss on her forehead.  He would hear her sigh . . . You know what it was like?  It was like drowning.

This paragraph comes shortly after Ives' son, Robert, is murdered.  It's always a difficult passage for me to read because it's full of so much pain.  I have done what Ives is doing:  standing by my daughter's bed, watching her sleep.  It's that parental impulse of wanting to protect your child from any harm, any heartbreak.  And not being able to.

My dad visits my sister every day in the nursing home.  He drives there for lunch and stays several hours.  It's really all he can do to help her.  He doesn't understand medicine or surgery or treatment.  In fact, I would say that he has a severe distrust of doctors and nurses and the medical establishment.  Understandably.  The healthcare system for which my sister worked fired her for getting a prolonged sickness.  The doctors have really done nothing to help her.  Now, she's looking at a long-term stay in a nursing home.

My dad comes from the same generation as Ives.  Hardworking.  Devout.  Protective.  My sister's situation is tearing him apart.  He knows she can't come home in her current state, but he doesn't want to see her flat on her back in a hospital bed all day, every day, either.  As a father, it's a terrible position to be in.

I have incredible guilt at the moment.  I feel like I should be doing more to help my sister, and, yet, I have to work and teach.  My family depends on my paychecks for survival.  I don't have a whole lot of freedom in my life.  I want to be her advocate, hound the lawyer and social worker and doctors.  Yet, I can't do it all on my lunch break or after work.

It feels like all I can do is be like Ives:  stand by my sister's bed, watch her sleep, pray.

Saint Marty feels like he's drowning a little bit tonight, too.

Don't know how long I can hold my breath

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 14: Spirit and Mannerisms, One Post, Judith Minty

Whatever, in those moments, [Ives'] faith seemed nothing more than a construct, that he had merely learned to mimic the spirit and mannerisms of his truly devout father, that deep down inside he was nothing more than a fake, an actor, a sense of worthlessness coming over his foundling soul . . . and though he did not feel this all the time, he regarded such feelings as one of his little secrets.

Another struggle for Ives.  He starts his life in a foundling home.  Never knows who his biological mother and father are, although he wonders his whole life.  His whole life, Ives feels like a fraud, a castoff, an unwanted soul.  Worthless.

I just finished conferences with some of my poetry students.  As the two Constant Readers of this blog know, I, myself, sometimes struggle with feelings similar to the ones Ives feels in the above paragraph.  As I was sitting, talking with my students this evening, I could hear whispers of self-doubt in my ear:  You don't know what you're talking about.  They're going to find out you know absolutely nothing about poetry.  Faker.  Fool.

You get the idea.  Anyway, tonight, I actually think I helped a couple of people.  I think I gave some good writing advice.  That's very gratifying.  Like Ives, those moments of self-doubt are fleeting, dark secrets.  Except on this blog.

I have time for only one post this evening.  I have a ton of grading to complete tonight.  So, I am scaling back a little.  Out of necessity.  However, I do want to end with a couple more sections of Yellow Dog Journal.

Saint Marty is still in love with Judith Minty this week.


Crazy, Crazy woman.
     I've stopped combing my hair.
     Now I whisper in the cabin
     and cross myself at dusk.
Crazy, Crazy woman.
     Tonight, on the porch,
     I unbutton my shirt, let my breasts
     swim in the full moon's light.


When the sun falls,
oaks pull in their branches
and shadows
creep closer to the cabin.
I am never alone in these woods.

I guess we all experience self-doubt...

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13: Poet of the Week, Judith Minty, "Yellow Dog Journal"

Yes, I am naming a new Poet of the Week tonight.

I met Judith Minty almost twenty years ago.  She visited a poetry workshop I was in, and, later that night, I had a few drinks with her.  I remember her being incredibly funny and smart.  The more I drank, the smarter and funnier she became.

One of my favorite poetry collections ever is Minty's Yellow Dog Journal, a series of poems based on her time living in a cabin on the Yellow Dog River in the Upper Peninsula, about thirty miles from my house.  I took this slim little volume off my bookshelf last night, started reading, and fell in love with Judith Minty all over again.

There are no titles to the poems in the book.  They are simply numbered in two sections:  Fall and Spring.

Saint Marty is going to start with a few selections from Fall.


400 miles into north land, driving hard
like a runaway, each town peeling away the woman skin,
turning me pale and soft, as if I
had never married, had not
been planted twenty years in the suburbs.

I come here as my father's child, back
down his rutted road, through a cave of sagging timer
to the clearing.  Nothing changed.
His land, his shack leaning over the riverbank,
the Yellow Dog barking home to Superior.


My father's slippers, found
in a trunk, now mine to wear.
Too large, creases in the leather
barely touch the flesh.
I slide my toes to the end, along the old ridges.

His feet clump over linoleum floor
table to dishpan, woodbox to stove.
Only the scrap of rug by the door
muffles his presence.

On the Yellow Dog

April 13: Visiting My Sister, Low Blood Sugar, "Ives" Dip

You'll pardon me if my thoughts seem a little disjointed or non-jointed this evening.  I just got my son to bed, and my blood sugar is hovering around 45 at the moment.  For those readers who are not diabetic or are unfamiliar with normal blood glucose levels, most non-diabetics have blood sugars between 70 and 110.  Hence, my slightly incoherent coherence right now.

I went to visit my sister in the nursing home this evening.  She was in good spirits, or she was faking it really well.  The latest news on her health front is that she will be going to Mayo Clinic for her parathyroid surgery.  The social worker at the nursing home is working on transportation (an ambulance) and insurance issues.

Frankly, I don't know how my sister can stand being in that place, not that she has a choice.  There are people in wheelchairs roaming the hallways, moaning and screaming.  My sister keeps her room door closed to discourage unwanted visitors.  The walls are painted cinder block, and the air is perfumed with the scents of urine and feces at times.

Which brings me to my Ives dip question:

Will my sister ever come home from the nursing home?

And the answer is:

". . . Just remember, if you don't take care of business, no one else will.  Do you really think God gives a shit?"

As a matter of fact, I DO think God gives a shit.  I have to.  I know that my sister isn't walking out of that place without some serious medical intervention, but I believe God IS watching out for her.  If He wasn't, she would already be dead.

Saint Marty's blood sugar is coming up.  He can actually focus on the computer screen now.

Good advice this evening...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12: Blogging Stuff, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

It has been a pretty busy day.  Church stuff in the morning.  Poetry Editor stuff in the afternoon (I had to meet with a colleague to go over some submissions for the university's magazine).  Now it's blogging stuff.  Then dinner stuff.  Then grading stuff.  Then sleeping stuff.

It's warm today.  Sixty degrees.  My world is full of drips and running streams.  The snow is quickly dwindling.  Looking out the window, I see kids in shorts, swinging on the playground.  Windy and bright.  It feels more like late May.  And, in keeping with the weather, we're having hot dogs and bratwurst tonight, with watermelon for dessert.  I will probably eat about a dozen brats, my favorite.  (I'll leave it up to you to decide whether I'm exaggerating or not.)

Today's episode of Saint Marty first aired five years ago.  It contains a poem that I vaguely remember writing.  It's not the greatest poem in the world, but this post makes me miss my pastor friend.  We used to get together on Thursday night.  Sometimes we'd eat and write.  Sometimes we'd just eat.

Saint Marty needs to go do some bratwurst stuff now.

April 8, 2010:  Saint Agabus

For those of my readers who've been wondering what has happened to Manly Man Poetry Night, it went on hiatus for a couple of weeks. On the fourth Thursday of every month, I host a book club at my house, and the Thursday after that was Maundy Thursday. Needless to say, my pastor friend was otherwise engaged that evening, and so was I. But, never fear, loyal and faithful poetry fans (there has to be at least two of you out there). Manly Man Poetry Night has reconvened, and all is right with the world. The muses are at work, and the onion rings are on the plate.

So, this Thursday, my pastor friend and I met for dinner. Now, for those of you that think dinner refers to lunch, let me correct you. You're wrong. Lunch is lunch, and dinner refers to the third meal of the day, generally eaten after 5 p.m. We met at Big Boy at 6:30 p.m., and, since neither of us had time to eat, we both ordered meals.

I ordered a great farmer's omelet with ham and cheese and onions and peppers. It was served on a bed of hash browns with a side of rye toast. My friend ordered the club sandwich, I believe, with a side of onion rings (of course), plus the soup and salad bar. After we sat for a while and complained about the snowstorm shaking the windows of the restaurant, we moved on to our poetry for the night.

We used the same tabloid exercise that we used at our previous meeting a few weeks before. (For those of you that missed that posting, check out March 18 on Saint Alexander. Also, try to keep up better.) Now, as before, I tried to kill two birds with one poem. I wrote about both the tabloid headline and the saint for the day.

If you couldn't tell by my recent entry that made use of Star Wars, I will confess to you right now that I am a bit of a science fiction geek. When the original Star Wars was released in theaters, I saw it 27 times. (I'm not talking about the bastardized version Lucas released prior to ruining the series with Jar Jar Binks. I'm talking Alec Guinness as a flesh-and-blood Obi-Wan, and the kiss between Luke and Leia before it became yucky and incestuous.) So, it should come as no surprise that the headline I chose to base my poem on was "Martians Monitor Middle East Violence," which has echoes of War of the Worlds (both Spielberg's and George Pal's versions) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original with Michael Rennie, not the dumb Keanu Reeves remake with locust clouds of alien fleas).

The saint for the day was Agabus, a contemporary of the twelve apostles and probably one of the 72 disciples. Agabus' story is pretty much like the stories of all the disciples. He wandered the deserts and towns, spreading the ideas and words of Jesus, working a few miracles along the way to keep people talking. Agabus had the gift of prophecy. He foretold the coming of a famine in the Roman Empire, which took place in 42 to 44 A.D. He also prophesied the imprisonment of Paul, which is referred to in Acts 21.

So, I have a New Testament prophet, Martians, and the Middle East. Add some onion rings, a few Diet Pepsis, and a weekend of revisions, and you get the following poem:

Martians Monitor Middle East Violence

Pile-8 met Agabus in a desert
In Palestine, came down in a wheel
From the stars, came from the blood planet
On a quest for truth about Earth's children.
Agabus, fresh from Roman famine,
Called Pile-8 an angel, a winged
Servant of God, waited for the visitor
To deliver a message from the one
Agabus called peace's prince.
Pile-8 blinked his olive black eyes,
Kept silent, wings folded, waited
For a sign to unleash death's ray
Upon the hairless, sand ape.

Agabus filled Pile-8's eight ears
With words of love and forgiveness,
Words of a son of the universe,
Whipped, torn, spiked, speared.
Agabus talked of this son
Rising, shaking off the tentacles
Of death like a great, blue whale,
Flooding the world with oceans of light.
Pile-8's stomachs quivered into fists
When the ape called the one who rose
The lord. The savior. The way. The truth.

Like his cousin did for Ezekiel, Pile-8
Took Agabus into his wheel, probed
The grey matter of his skull
For fragments, pictures of this truth
Giver. All he found were dreams
Of deep wells filled with sun,
Cups pressed to thirsty lips,
Baskets spilling thousands of silver
Fish into dry, empty lake beds.
And bread. Bread steaming. Bread white.
Bread dark. Bread yellow as honey.
Bread red as Pile-8's home.
After days and days of this bread,
Pile-8 returned Agabus to the sand,
Then ascended back to sky, to stars,
To black space, to his planet of war.

Pile-8 couldn't rest after that time,
Always felt hollow. He watched
Earth for two thousand solar cycles,
Watched as the brothers and sisters
Of Agabus whipped, tore, spiked,
Speared each other, over and over,
Acted as hungry, thirsty as famine, drought.
More than once, Pile-8 aimed his fire
At the deserts, almost rained apocalypse
On the warring children of this world.
But, always, the dreams of Agabus
Stopped him, filled his four bellies
With a need he couldn't name,
A need for more than the cold, killing
Rocks of Mars. A need for wells
Full of light. Bottomless cups.
Fish multiplying exponentially
From baskets. And bread.
White as polar caps. Dark as mud.
Yellow as citric fruit. Red
As his mother's deep womb.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, April 11, 2015

April 11: Sit in a Corner, Keeping to Myself, Billy Collins, "The Names," New Cartoon

[Ives] watched the column lights passing rapidly in the tunnel, tried to read the newspaper, felt a little despair.  Earlier, getting on the train at Ninety-sixth Street, he was amazed to think that he used to ride the subways at least twice a day during the week for years, and he used to stand in the middle of the car, lost in the newspaper, his portfolio by his side, fairly oblivious of people, and now?  He kept to himself, preferring to sit in a corner like everyone else, except the wide-eyed tourists.

Ives is older, retired.  He has spent his life helping people, listening to people, trying to forgive people--even with his wounded heart.  He has reached a point in his life where his cup feels a little empty, I think.  He has become a little numb from years of grief and despair.

This morning, I went to McDonald's with my wife, sister, and son.  We do it almost every Saturday morning.  I call it McDonald's therapy.  For a couple of hours, we are disconnected from our day-to-day lives.  We relax.  Read.  Do crossword puzzles.  I draw cartoons.  It's one of my favorite times of the week.  Of course, we have to return to reality in the afternoon.  For a while, however, there's nothing to rush to, no task that needs to be done immediately.

When I'm not at work or the university, I like keeping to myself.  I socialize very little on the weekends.  Yes, I go to church, play the pipe organ and keyboard.  But I need to recharge my depleted battery on Saturday and Sunday.  I'm a little selfish with this time.  Like Ives in the above paragraph, I like to sit in the corner and not be bothered.

Of course, if there is a birthday party or graduation or other family event, I gladly attend if I can.  I'm not a misanthrope.  I'm a introvert.  I don't hate people, but I need a break from them every once in a while.  That's who I am.  Those breaks help me write poems, read good books, watch good movies.  And those solitary things allow me to do the more social things in my life.

I have learned that, at the end of really busy weekends, I dread the upcoming week.  The people,  Job.  Teaching.  I'm a little off-center, and I don't regain balance until I carve out a little quiet time for myself somehow.  A few hours  just sitting in my office at the university, staring at the walls.

Billy Collins wrote a poem for the victims and survivors of 9-11.  It's a poem that tries to find a center in an un-centered world.  Read it by yourself.  Reflect on its beauty.  Find your balance.

That's what Saint Marty did this morning.

The Names

by:  Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.

A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,

And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,

I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,

Then Baxter and Calabro,

Davis and Eberling, names falling into place

As droplets fell through the dark.

Names printed on the ceiling of the night.

Names slipping around a watery bend.

Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.

In the morning, I walked out barefoot

Among thousands of flowers

Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,

And each had a name --

Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal

Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.

Names written in the air

And stitched into the cloth of the day.

A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.

Monogram on a torn shirt,

I see you spelled out on storefront windows

And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.

I say the syllables as I turn a corner --

Kelly and Lee,

Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.

When I peer into the woods,

I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden

As in a puzzle concocted for children.

Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,

Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,

Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.

Names written in the pale sky.

Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.

Names silent in stone

Or cried out behind a door.

Names blown over the earth and out to sea.

In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.

A boy on a lake lifts his oars.

A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,

And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --

Vanacore and Wallace,

(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)

Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.

Names etched on the head of a pin.

One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.

A blue name needled into the skin.

Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,

The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.

Alphabet of names in a green field.

Names in the small tracks of birds.

Names lifted from a hat

Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.

Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.

So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Confessions of Saint Marty