Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 31: Wonder Twin's Backyard, Fannie Flagg, Classic Saint Marty

This evening, I went to my friend Wonder Twin's house.  It was Book Club night.  Our get-together was supposed to be this past Thursday, but Wonder Twin's mother took a spill and got a little banged up (bruised face and arm, skinned knees).  We had to postpone until tonight.

It was worth the wait.  We barbecued hot dogs and bratwurst, ate fruit and hummus, and talked about Fannie Flagg's novel Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!  It was a really great night.  Usually, our book club meetings last about two hours or so.  We sat around in Wonder Twin's backyard for four hours.  (My son went in the hot tub and hunted Pokemon.)

I am home now, near exhaustion.  I've spent the whole weekend working on lecture notes and the final exam for my online film class--about eight hours yesterday and another four hours today.  It's ready to go now, and I'm ready for bed.

I do have an episode of Classic Saint Marty that aired one year ago.  I don't remember writing this post, but it's so full of hope.  It didn't make me sad rereading it.  It reminded me what a fighter my sister was, how she never gave up.  It made me happy because I felt her spirit in it.  I'm not wallowing here.  I'm celebrating.

July 31, 2015:  Something Beautiful, George Burns, A Frank Fairy Tale, Sharon Olds, "The Struggle"

On his back, Robert must have had time to see something beautiful, and not just the ugliness of a city street at the end of life.  Even with the tremendous pain in his badly gutted belly he would have looked up beyond the fire escapes and the windows with their glittery trees and television glows, to the sky above the rooftops.  A sky shimmery with the possibilities of death; light exaggerated, the heavens peeled back--a swirling haze of nebulae and comets--in some distant place, intimations of the new beginning into which he would soon journey.  He would have seen a few pale stars, maybe a planet or two, Jupiter or Venus. Remembering his Catholic schoolboy's mythology he might have imagined Apollo and his chariot, somewhere "out there."  And he would have seen the moon and its sad expression and imagined in its pocked luminous surface the faces of his mother and father and sister . . . The moon?  Was it out that night?  Ives tried to remember.

Ives is trying to picture his son's last moments of life, on the sidewalk, bleeding, struggling for breath, staring up at the starry night.  He imagines that Robert saw something beautiful and comforting--meteors and stars and planets, clouds of cosmic gases, a Greek god.  Above all, Ives wants to believe that Robert wasn't alone, that, in the bright face of the moon, he saw his family smiling down on him.

As a Christian, I believe that death is an entry into something better.  That's what I've been taught my whole life.  When I was younger, I really liked the image of God as George Burns, smoking cigars and telling jokes.  Vaudeville.  I imagined God performing in the Catskills.  "Did you hear the one about the snake and the naked woman?" He would say.

Something better.  That's what Heaven is supposed to be.  The other day, one of my best friends said this about my sister:  "She's only 54.  She's not ready to die yet."  I guess my friend is right.  My sister had the same Catholic upbringing I had.  The Virgin Mary and the manger and Jesus and all.  Every night when I was a kid, my family would get down on its knees and pray the rosary.  Clouds and angels and harp music.  We all believed in God's goodness and mercy.

My sister isn't ready to be measured for her wings just yet.  Even in her diminished state, she's been pretty adamant about that.  The doctors have asked her if she wants to be kept alive by any means possible, and my sister has answered very clearly, "Yes."  So George Burns is going to have to wait for a little bit, if my sister has her way.

I saw a picture of my sister this evening.  She was sitting on the side of her hospital bed, a nurse kneeling in front of her, in case she should fall.  I haven't seen my sister out of bed for over six or seven months.  She's thin, having lost close to 120 pounds over the last half year.  She looked pretty exhausted to me.  When my sister goes to the bathroom, there's blood in her stool.  That's to be expected with the chemo.  She's probably going to need a transfusion.

She's weak but determined to stick around.

Once upon a time, a little angel named Frank was put in charge of sweeping Heaven every night.  Frank had to clean up after all the archangels and cherubim and seraphim.  After choir practices, he spent hours putting away sheet music and musical instruments.  Frank never got a day off.

The day Jesus was born, Frank dusted all the stars.  He polished the angel harps and trumpets.  He counted all the halos.  Fluffed all the wings.  Frank made sure that first Christmas was perfect.

After all the shepherd and star and magi crap was done, Frank sat down to rest a little.

But God, who looked a little like George Burns, said, "Nice work, Frank.  I like this Christmas stuff.  We should do this every year."

Frank looked at God and said, "I don't think it'll catch on.  But let me tell You about a little thing I cooked up called an iPhone."

Moral of the story:  Heaven is just an app away.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

The Struggle

by:  Sharon Olds

When the minister would come into the hospital room
my father would try to sit up, he would cry out
Up!  Up! for us to raise his bed-head, then
silently he would wrestle himself
up, sweating, he would end up
leaning on the pillows, panting, a man, erect.
The minister would kiss him, they would pray, then chat,
he would hold his eyes open unblinking,
rigid adherent to the protocol of the living,
he would sit for the whole visit, and then,
the minute the man was out the door, cry
out Down!  Down! and we would lower him
down, and he would pass out.
Later the doctor wold pay a call and as
soon as my father saw that white coat
he would start to labor up, desperate
to honor the coat, at a glimpse of it he would
start to stir like a dog who could not
not obey.  He would lurch, pause,
then thrust up slowly, and unevenly, like a
camel, a half-born animal--the way,
they say, his soul will pull itself up
out of his dead body and wobblingly
walk.  And then, one day, he tried,
his brain ordered his body to heave up,
the sweat rose in his pores but he was not
moving, he cast up his eyes as the minister
leaned to kiss him, he lay and stared, it was
nothing like the nights he had lain on the couch passed
out, nothing.  Now he was alive,
awake, the raw boy of his heart stood
up each time a grown man
entered his death room.

God bless you all!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

July 30: My Daughter and Church, Camille T. Dungy, "Frequently Asked Questions: #9"

It is Saturday.  Around 4 p.m., I will go into my daughter's room and tell her that it's time to go to church.  We have been doing this every Saturday for her entire life.  I play the pipe organ, so she has been in church since before she could walk.  I remember her sitting in her carrier as an infant, sucking on her pacifier, sleeping as the huge pipes above her bellowed out "How Great Thou Art."  So the announcement that it's time to leave for church should come as no surprise.

Yet, recently, every time I alert her to our impending departure for church, my daughter flops backward on her bed as if I've just told her that Instagram or Snapchat has been outlawed.  She stomps and sulks.  Rarely does she argue, because she knows she stands no chance of winning the dispute.  But she makes her displeasure very evident.

I miss the days when I could make her happy with a pacifier or clean diaper, when she sat in church and looked around like she could see choirs of angels floating above her.  I know my daughter's main problem at the moment is that she's a teenager.  Awkward and difficult years.  The future scary.  I try to keep that in mind when she's rolling her eyes or saying to me, "Okay, okay, okay, OKAY, I know, I know, I KNOW!!!!"

Saint Marty loves his daughter.  He simply wishes that walking into her room wasn't like approaching a sleeping alligator sometimes.

Frequently Asked Questions:  #9

by:  Camille T. Dungy

Don't you think you should have another child?

This girl I have is hardtack and dried lime
and reminds me, every groggy morning,
what a miracle it must have been
when outfitters learned to stock ship holds
with that one long lasting fruit. How the sailors' tongues,
landing on its bitter brilliance, must have cursed
the curse of joy, as I did that morning the burst
of water brought my sweet girl into our lives.

But, already, she hates me sometimes.
Like I have sometimes hated my mother and she
must have sometimes hated her own.

After weeks at sea, the limes would desiccate and the meal
fill with worms. They would have eaten
anyway, the sailors, but taken no pleasure from anything.
Or taken no pleasure from anything but
the fact of their sustained lives. Which is to say it is all
I can do, most days, not to swallow
her up and curse her maker, I swear. Like I have not
sworn since the morning she was born.

July 30: Self-Consciousness, Troll Doll, Back Seat

It is ironic that the one thing all religions recognize as separating us from our creator – our very self-consciousness—is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures.

Dillard's right.  Human beings like to spend a great deal of their time being self-conscious, worrying about themselves and their needs.  I'm guilty of that all the time, in case you haven't noticed.  Dillard's saying that we're all so focused on our own worries that we ignore God's work in our lives.  And the needs of others.  Personal worries and wants tend to divide all of us from what's really important.

So, I'm going to get a little political for a moment.  (I know--that's not really shocking.)  But, after watching two weeks of political conventions and inflated rhetoric from Republicans and Democrats, I have to say that I'm a little tired of divisiveness.  I think there are issues almost everybody in the country can agree upon.  School shootings need to stop.  Violence against minorities needs to stop.  The majority of law enforcement officers are good, decent people trying to protect the citizens of the United States.  ISIS is a terrifying organization and a threat to world peace.  Health care isn't a privilege; it's a right.  Kids need to be able to get a good college education without ending up with debt that rivals the debt of a small Eastern European country.  Donald Trump looks like a troll doll.  These are all things we can agree upon.

These things unite us.  I want my kids to be safe.  I want police officers to be safe.  I want everyone to be safe--white, African American, gay, straight, transgender, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim.  When I have a health problem, I want to be able to receive treatment that's not going to bankrupt me.  I'm a hard worker.  I have three jobs.  I want to be able to make enough money to pay my bills and provide for my family adequately.  And I want my kids to have a future that isn't saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.  Stop and ask anybody on Main Street in the United States, and I would bet that everyone would want these things, as well.

Here's the thing:  until we all stop pointing fingers and laying blame, the world is going to be full of hunger, war, terrorism, and poverty.  And God will continue to take a back seat.  When God takes a back seat, I'm not sure I want to be in the car.

That's just the way Saint Marty sees it.

A good laugh--that connects all of us

Friday, July 29, 2016

July 29: Giant Water Bug, Late Nights, Divine Humor

That it’s rough out there and chancy is no surprise. Every live thing is a survivor on a kind of extended emergency bivouac. But at the same time we are also created. In the Koran, Allah asks “the heaven and the earth, and all in between, thinkest thou I made them in jest?” It’s a good question. What do we think of the created universe, spanning an unthinkable void with an unthinkable profusion of forms? Or what do we think of nothingness, those sickening reaches of time in either direction? If the giant water bug was not made in jest, was it then made in earnest?

I'm going to let Dillard do the hard thinking and talking tonight.  I am t-i-r-e-d.  I don't have the energy to be profound or witty.  I'm practically asleep already.  Unthinkable voids and an unthinkable profusion of forms.  That's a lot of unthinking.  The only unthinking I'm capable of at the moment is sleep.

You see, for the past two weeks, I've been staying up late watching the Republican and Democratic conventions.  That means I've been averaging about four or five hours of sleep a night for the past 14 or so days, give or take.  All those late nights are catching up with me this evening.  In fact, they're kicking my ass.

I think that God has a sense of humor.  As evidence I would point you in the direction of Dillard's giant water bug, the giraffe, and anything connected to Donald Trump.  Divine humor exists.

So does exhaustion.  Right now, Saint Marty falls into the latter category.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July 28: Only the Good, Camille T. Dungy, "Association Copy"

Tonight's poem by the Poet of the Week is about a person who died at the age of 40--poet Lynda Hull.  After publishing two books, Hull was killed in a car accident in 1994.  Her voice was amazing, and it was silenced way too soon.

In the poem, Dungy writes about finding a book of poems by Phil Levine that has Hull's signature in it.  It probably was from Hull's personal library, sold in the aftermath of tragic passing.  It's difficult giving up a loved one's belongings.  It's sort of like losing the person all over again.

I still have small pieces of junk that my sister gave me squirreled away in dresser drawers and between pages of books.  Yesterday, at work, I came across a note she'd written.  There they were, her unmistakable fat letters.  For a moment, it was like hearing her voice again.  My family still has a whole closet full of her belongings (and that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg).  Letting go is shitty, hard work.

I'm glad I found this poem.  It made me happy.  I don't know why.  It just did.  Perhaps it reminded me of the discovery of my sister's little note yesterday.  That note was a gift.  She's still with me, watching.  Somehow.  Somewhere.

Saint Marty agrees with Billy Joel.  Only the good die young.

Association Copy

by:  Camille T. Dungy

Lynda Hull
Maybe you sold it to buy junk. Though I like to think not.
And I don't want to think you used the money for food
or rent or anything obligatory, practical.
A pair of boots, perhaps. Thigh high burgandy boots
with gold laces. Something crucial as lilies.
Mostly, I want to believe you held onto the book,
that your fingers brailed those pages' inky veins
even in your final weeks. I want to believe
words can be that important in the end.

Who can help the heart, which is grand and full
of gestures? I had been on my way out.
He was rearranging his bookshelves
when, in an approximation of tenderness, 
he handed me, like the last of the sweet potatoes
at Thanksgiving, like a thing he wanted
but was willing to share, the rediscovered book—
he'd bought it years ago in a used bookstore
in Chicago. Levine's poems, with your signature inside.

That whole year I spent loving him, something splendid
as lemons, sour and bright and leading my tongue
toward new language, was on the shelf. These
weren't your own poems, autographed, a stranger's
souvenir—we'd spent vain months leafing through
New York stacks for your out-of-print collections—but you'd cared
about this book, or cared enough to claim it, your name
looped across the title page as if to say, Please.
This is mine, This book is mine. Though you sold it.
Or someone else did when you died.

We make habits out of words. I grew accustomed
to his, the way they spooned me into sleep
so many times. Now I am sleepless and alone
another night. What would you give for one more night
alone? No booze. No drugs. Just that hunger
and those words. He gave me The Names of the Lost.
Need comes down hard on a body. What else
was sold? What else—do you know?—did we lose

Lynda Hull

July 28: Choir the Proper Praise, Really Good Day, Content with Life

Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.

Yes, Dillard attempts to take a wider view.  Instead of being a leaf miner, she gazes upward, outward, inward to try to understand the mysteries of the universe.  Sometimes, she questions.  Sometimes, she praises.  Dillard doesn't always comprehend the whys.  Instead, it's enough for her to simply touch the surface of mystery and know that it's good or beautiful or frightening.  Then, she opens up her mouth and sings.

I have had a really good day.  Nothing monumentally stupendous occurred.  I didn't win a fellowship to write for a year in a villa in Rome.  I wasn't given a full-time teaching job at the university because of my dedication and hard work.  And a New York literary agent didn't discover this blog and offer to represent me.  Nope.  Nothing like that.

I went to work this morning.  Worked my ass off all day.  Had a meeting at the university about my online film class.  And, in about an hour, I'm heading off to a friend's house for a book club meeting where we will barbecue bratwurst and eat noodle salad and talk about a Fannie Flagg novel.  Like I said, nothing earth-shattering.

Yet, I'm in a really good mood.  Looking forward to an evening of friendship and food.  Talking about a good book with people I love.  That's the definition of happiness.  Yes, tomorrow I will have to get up for work.  Yes, Donald Trump will probably say something idiotic tonight that will insult women, Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims, mothers, every member of the LGBT community, and Kermit the Frog.  And, yes, I have grading to do and lecture notes to compose.

For tonight, though, these few hours, I am content with my life.  Maybe it's because of my newfound focus on the positive.  Maybe it's because I didn't encounter any assholes today.  Or maybe I'm in a bubble of grace.

Whatever the reason, Saint Marty is going the choir the proper praise tonight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

July 27: More Chomped, Wasps, Ran Like Hell

Anything can happen in any direction; the world is more chomped than I'd dreamed. 

Dillard learns that nature is dangerous during Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  There's beauty in nature--waterfalls and cocoons and exaltations of larks.  There's also pain and death--rattlesnakes and floods and thunderstorms.  Dillard wasn't expecting to find so much peril in all the wonder.

Tonight, my son and I discovered a wasp nest.  Actually, it was more like a wasp condominium complex clinging to a shed in my parents' backyard.  Fat angry tenants buzzing in and out.  We stood and watched the show from a distance.

I kept telling my son, "Not too close, not too close."  I explained to him that wasps were sort of like rattlesnakes.  "There's venom in their stingers," I said.  My son nodded and took a step back.

The shed is made of corrugated metal.  It's been standing on the same patch of cement since I was a kid.  The wasps kept charging in and out of the nest.  I wanted to show my son something amazing.  Something he wouldn't forget.  I pulled him away from the shed.

"Watch this," I said.

I walked forward, got within a couple feet of the nest.  I reached up, made a fist, slammed it against the metal wall of the shed several times, and ran.

The wasps boiled out of the nest in an fevered cloud.  I could hear them buzzing like an overheated vacuum cleaner.  My son watched with eyes as big as fists.  They flooded and swarmed around their gray paper hideout.  It wasn't a beautiful sight, but it was impressive.  Like a forest fire or a sleeping grizzly.  There was the danger and wonder.

Eventually, one of the wasps came diving toward us, and my son screamed like a girl and ran like hell.  I wasn't far behind him.  When I was a kid, I fell into a nest of yellow jackets.  Got stung over twenty times.  I remember feeling like I was on fire.

Before my son fell asleep tonight, I said to him, "Stay away from those wasps, okay?"  He nodded and patted my cheek.  I watched him drift into deep, sleeping breaths.

Saint Marty knows that nature can be beautiful and dangerous.  Saint Marty's son knows it, too.  There are rainbows and wasps everywhere.

July 27: Goodness and Decency, Camille T. Dungy, "Ark"

I'm currently watching President Obama address the Democratic National Convention.

Let me come clean:  I voted for the man.  Twice.  I would vote for him again, if I could.  He's talking about hope and optimism right now.  I remember the night he first won the Presidency of the United States.  I watched him address a huge crowd of people.  I saw a news anchor, a man of color, hold back tears as he talked about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope and optimism are not normal states for me, if you haven't noticed.  I can wallow and embrace darkness.  (I'm a poet.  It comes with the territory.)  Tonight, however, I'm not feeling pessimistic.  I'm feeling proud of a country led by a good, decent man.  I'm feeling optimistic that goodness and decency will continue to be a guiding light for the American people.  Darkness and pessimism will fail.

That's Saint Marty's belief.  His faith.


by:  Camille T. Dungy

I will enter you as hope enters me,
through blinding liquid, light of rain, and I
will stay inside until you send me out;
I will stay inside until you ground me.
We cannot outrun the rain. So many
summers I have tried. So many summers.
But when the rumble calls after the spark
there can be no escape. No outstripping
the drench soak, the wet sheath, the water caul.
This is more than you want to hear. Much more
than I want to tell you. Tabernacle
transporting my life from the desert, you,
the faith I am born and reborn into,
you, rescuer, deliverer of rain.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

July 26: Miracles, Camille T. Dungy, "Requiem"

As I approach the anniversary of my sister's death, I sometimes find it difficult to be positive.  I have been trying to focus on joy and happiness, to greater and lesser success at times.  In my previous post tonight, I talked about miracles.

My sister was a miracle.  One of the smartest people I have ever known.  Generous--she bought me a new car when I graduated from my Master's degree program.  Drove me down to Kalamazoo when I started in a PhD program, hauling a trailer full of my crap.  She supported me in everything that I ever did.

I know she wasn't perfect.  She knew I wasn't perfect.  Yet, we accepted each other's failings.  A couple years ago, as we were sitting in her office at the end of a long work day, she told me that she admired my strength in dark times.  My sister wasn't a warm, fuzzy person.  Didn't hug much.  But she cared deeply, loved deeply.

Saint Marty believes in miracles.


by:  Camille T. Dungy

Sing the mass—
light upon me washing words
now that I am gone. 
The sky was a hot, blue sheet the summer breeze fanned
out and over the town. I could have lived forever
under that sky. Forgetting where I was,
I looked left, not right, crossed into a street
and stepped in front of the bus that ended me.

Will you believe me when I tell you it was beautiful—
my left leg turned to uselessness and my right shoe flung
some distance down the road? Will you believe me
when I tell you I had never been so in love
with anyone as I was, then, with everyone I saw?

The way an age-worn man held his wife’s shaking arm,
supporting the weight that seemed to sing from the heart
she clutched. Knowing her eyes embraced the pile
that was me, he guided her sacked body through the crowd.
And the way one woman began a fast the moment she looked

under the wheel. I saw her swear off decadence.
I saw her start to pray. You see, I was so beautiful
the woman sent to clean the street used words
like police tape to keep back a young boy
seconds before he rounded the grisly bumper.

The woman who cordoned the area feared my memory
would fly him through the world on pinions of passion
much as, later, the sight of my awful beauty pulled her down
to tears when she pooled my blood with water
and swiftly, swiftly washed my stains away.

July 26: A Bell, Fake It, Tree with Light

I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.

Dillard has just seen something amazing.  Something that makes her whole being hum with wonder.  A tree filled with light.  All her life, she searches out things that astound, leave her breathless.  She sets out every day, journal in hand, sandwich in her backpack, on a quest.  What she learns is that you can't go out and find miracles.  Miracles find you.

I returned to work today.  I was tired and less than enthusiastic.  However, I followed the advice of a therapist friend of mine--"Fake it 'til you make it," she told me.  That's what I did.  I faked it all day long.  I faked answering the phones.  Faked registering patients and putting together medical charts.  I faked it so much today that I could have been the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.  By the end of the day, I was sort of believing my own lies.

I am happy with my job at the surgery center.  Happy to be working with my old friends.  I think it's because I've developed a greater appreciation for the work.  When I had the job before, I really didn't realize how good I had it.  I was working with my sister and one of my best friends.  People appreciated the fact that I was good at what I did.

Now, I am back, doing what I did for 17 years.  I know that my life is a miracle.  Know that God has been watching over me.  About a year ago, my sister was dying in Ann Arbor.  She suffered for months and months, and, up until almost the very end, I didn't believe that she was going to die.  And then she was gone.

But in the year since, wonderful things have happened in my life.  I've reconnected with an old friend.  Got a new car.  Received a promotion at the university.  Had a couple of poems accepted in an anthology.  And I'm back doing a job I really like, most of the time.

Saint Marty is seeing the lights in the tree tonight.  Merry Christmas.

Monday, July 25, 2016

July 25: Dreams, Poet of the Week, Camille T. Dungy, "Pity"

Camille T. Dungy is the Poet of the Week.  I'm not really familiar with her work, but I came across her poem "Pity," and, for obvious reasons, it appealed to me quite a bit.

It's about Christ and suffering.  It's about a woman and mother.  It's about not losing yourself or your dreams, or perhaps allowing your dreams to evolve.  I'm not quite sure.  However, I know how family changes your values.

Over twenty years ago, I was all about writing and publishing and teaching.  Then I got married.  Then I had a daughter.  Eight years later, a son.  I'm not going to lie, though.  Sometimes, late at night when I'm lying in bed, thinking about my life, I still think about being a full-time writer and teacher.  How my life hasn't turned out exactly the way I planned.

But, sometimes God has other plans.  Better plans.

Saint Marty is just here to play his part.


by:  Camille T. Dungy

Christ bore what suffering he could and died
a young man, but you waited years to learn
how to heal. Only when you could did you
touch the man whose body blistered for yours.

You posted him no news for sixteen terms,
then just a signed graduation notice.

The letter he wrote that week asked only,
Now that your books are closed, can boys come in?

At your wedding, you buried the woman
you thought you knew inside a stranger’s name.

This is how you found yourself: thirty-three,
nursing a son. Soon there was another.
Your mind had already begun to walk.
But you were a mother. Those cribs held you.

July 25: Open My Eyes, Weekend of Grace, Dream Job

That innocence of mine is mostly gone now, although I felt almost the same pure rush last night.  I have seen many muskrats since I learned to look for them in that part of the creek.  But still I seek them out in the cool of the evening, and still I hold my breath when rising ripples surge from under the creek's bank.  The great hurrah about wild animals is that they exist at all, and the greater hurrah is the actual moment of seeing them.  Because they have a nice dignity, and prefer to have nothing to do with me, not even as the simple objects of my vision.  They show me by their very wariness what a prize it is simply to open my eyes and behold.

Dillard is all about amazement,  She won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about opening her eyes and observing amazing things.  It's kind of a dream job.  I would love to get up in the morning, have a bowl of oatmeal, pack my journal bag with my writer paraphernalia and a chicken sandwich, and then head out into the world to be struck dumb with awe.

I've had a great weekend of grace, though.  Stayed in a beautiful condo with a hot tub.  Spent a couple of days chasing my son up the steps to water slides (and nearly collapsing when I got to the top).  Had some quality time with my teenage daughter on top of a mountain (and got a picture for my Christmas cards).  This morning, I had breakfast al fresco one last time.  It was a clear, warm morning, and the landscapers were at work trimming hedges and pulling up weeds.  "Sorry about the noise," one of them said as he revved up his leaf blower.  I waved my hand.  "Everybody's got a job to do," I said, feeling a little like a rich lawyer or neurosurgeon.

Tomorrow morning, I return to work, registering patients, answering phones, and assembling medical records.  It's not my dream job, but I haven't seen too many advertisements in the classifieds for a poet/teacher/saint-in-training.  I've looked.  Yet, I'm working with one of my best friends, and I'm done by about three o'clock in the afternoon.  Now, I know that Oprah would tell me to follow my bliss, but I have a family to support.  Bliss don't always pay the bills.

I am a blessed man tonight, coming off a weekend of blessings.  And I have only four days of work ahead of me.  I may not be struck dumb with awe tomorrow.  Probably won't have a whole lot of time to write in my journal and see muskrats surfacing in a pond.  However, sometimes I see an albino deer ghosting through the woods on my way to work.

Like Dillard, Saint Marty is keeping his eyes open, ready to behold anything that crosses his path.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24: Lazy Sunday, Water Park Again, Classic Saint Marty

It was a lazy Sunday.  Woke up at 9 a.m.  That's late.  For me, anyway.  I took a shower and then had breakfast al fresco once more.  Oatmeal and blueberries.  The morning was not quite so humid.  It was overcast, and there was a breeze.

I sat outside, said my prayers.  Some mornings, I don't always allow myself enough time to read my devotions and say my prayers.  When I don't, I feel as if my whole day is a little off.  I wasn't off today.

We spent most of the day at the water park.  My daughter decided to be a typical 15-year-old girl.  She went on a couple water slides, spent a great deal of time in the hot tub, texting on her iPhone.  After 40 minutes, she announced that she wanted to return to our room to take a shower.  That would have meant that we spent about $5 per minute for her to be at the water park.  I informed her that she needed to spend a little more time being social with real people.  She begrudgingly stuck around for another hour-and-a-half.

That was the only bump in the road today.  Didn't have to rush anywhere.  We had a leisurely dinner.  I had a chocolate martini and a French dip sandwich.  Then, I made a couple of s'mores for my kids.  It is now a little after ten o'clock at night.  The hot tub is open.

I am not looking forward to the end of this weekend.  I don't know when I'm going to get another vacation.  Maybe in another five or six months.  That thought depresses me a little bit.  But I'm not going to get all melancholy.  Instead, I'm going to enjoy these last few hours in this lovely place in the woods.

Two years ago, I was contemplating hell, thanks to poet Billy Collins. 

July 24, 2014:  "Hell," Billy Collins, Bed

I'm looking forward to going to bed tonight.  The cool covers and pillows.  The fan blowing across us like some lost Alberta clipper.  Darkness, and the warmth of my wife's hand on my arm or shoulder.  That sounds like paradise to me right now.

Which explains why the poem below appealed to me tonight.  It's a hell of a poem (incredibly labored pun intended), and it touches upon many of Billy Collins' favorite subjects--the collision of poetry with life and love and the ridiculous.  And it has that breathless moment at the end when the poem opens up like a chrysalis.

Saint Marty would kill to write a poem like this.


by:  Billy Collins

I have a feeling that it is much worse
than shopping for a mattress at a mall,

of greater duration without question,
and there is no random pitchforking here,
no licking flames to fear,
only this cavernous store with its maze of bedding.

Yet wandering past the jovial kings,
the more sensible queens,
and the cheerless singles
no scarlet sheet will ever cover,

I am thinking of a passage from the Inferno,
which I could fully bring to mind
and recite in English or even Italian

if the salesman who has been following us--
a crumpled pack of Newports
visible in the pocket of his short sleeve shirt--
would stop insisting for a moment
that we test this one, then this softer one,

which we do by lying down side by side,
arms rigid, figures on a tomb,
powerless to imagine what it would be like

to sleep or love this way
under the punishing rows of fluorescent lights,
which Dante might have included
had he been able to lie on his back between us here today.

What fresh hell is this?

July 23: Ethos of the Moment, Kids in the Universe, "Zootopia"

Last summer some muskrats had a den under this tree's roots on the bank; I think they are still there now.  Muskrats' wet fur rounds the domed clay walls of the den and slicks them smooth as any igloo.  They strew the floor with plant husks and seeds, rut in repeated bursts, and sleep humped and soaking, huddled in balls.  These, too, are part of what Buber calls "the infinite ethos of the moment."

I'm not quite sure of the context of the quote from Martin Buber (although I admire anyone named Martin).  I think it has something to do with finding something eternal in every lived moment.  There's something both very present in the muskrats for Dillard, and there's also something very timeless.  Muskrats doing what they've done for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, following some kind of divine plan that was put into motion way back in the Garden of Eden, when Adam looked at the first muskrat (or the first muskrat's ancestor) and named it.

Today, I tried to live in the ethos of the moment.  I didn't have any particular plan for my time.  I didn't set an alarm.  Woke up around 9 a.m., which is a good five hours later than I normally do.  I took a shower, made breakfast for myself, and then sat outside and dined al fresco.  It was a lovely beginning to the day.  In the moment.  Listening to cicadas sawing the morning in two.

Eventually, I ended up at the water park with my son and wife for about four hours.  My daughter went on a zip line tour, soaring through the forest canopies for three hours (talk about living in the moment).  She had a great time.  My son had a great time.  I always try to imagine what kind of kid Jesus was.  Did he beg Mary to go swimming in the River Jordan on really hot days?  Or climb olive trees and scare birds out of their nests?  That's what kids do.  They carve places for themselves in the universe.

Tonight, at dusk, I went to an outdoor screening of the movie Zootopia with my family.  My fifteen-year-old daughter loved it.  My seven-year-old son, who suffers from a severe aversion to sitting still, got incredibly uninterested after about twenty minutes.  He and my wife and my sister left early while I stayed to watch the end of the film with my daughter.  It reminded me of the drive-in movies I saw as a kid.  King Kong with Jessica Lange.  Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster.  Orca with Richard Harris.  Everything huge and wondrous under the moon and stars.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that everything today felt really new and really familiar, as well.

Saint Marty is going to sleep in again tomorrow morning.  Maybe have some oatmeal al fresco for breakfast.

Eating in the moment--another thing I believe in

Saturday, July 23, 2016

July 22: Throng of Praise, Boyne Mountain Resort, Nickelodeon

Under the world's conifers--under the creekside cedar behind where I sit--a mantle of fungus wraps the soil in a weft, shooting out blind thread after frail thread of palest dissolved white.  From root tip to root tip, root hair to root hair, these filaments loop and wind; the thought of them always reminds me of Rimbaud's "I have stretched cords from steeple to steeple, garlands from window to window, chains of gold from star to star, and I dance."  King David leaped and danced naked before the ark of the Lord in a barren desert.  Here the very looped soil is an intricate throng of praise.  Make connections; let rip; and dance where you can.

Dillard is all about praise.  She praises God for the whole universe, from the roots in the ground to cosmic dust expanding through the cosmos.  Everything is an opportunity to dance like King David, shake your booty before the ark of the Lord.  It's all a matter of connecting the dots, seeing the picture that emerges, and then celebrating.

Greetings from the Boyne Mountain Resort.  It's been a day of travel and reunion.  The sun was shining, sky so blue it hurt the eyes.  When we stopped at a rest area, my son went wading in Lake Michigan.  When we were walking up from the beach, a lady who'd been watching him in the water said to me, "That reminded me of when I was a little girl on a trip with my dad."

We picked up our daughter in Gaylord, Michigan.  She's been on a trip all week with a friend's family.  There was a water park, a bowling alley, an arcade.  She went to a music museum and learned what a real nickelodeon was (not the cable kids' channel, but a nickel jukebox).  Yet, when she was sitting next to me having lunch, she said, "I was like homesick on Tuesday."  She missed us.  Amazing.

We are in a condo right now that has a private hot tub.  We went water parking tonight, and then we just walked around.  My daughter got thirsty, so I went up to little outdoor bar and asked if I could have a cup of water.  He didn't have cups of water, but he reached into his refrigerator and took out a bottled water.  I shook my head and said, "I don't have money to pay for that."  The bartender smiled and said, "Naw, man.  Don't worry about it.  Have a great night."

Are you getting the picture?  I encountered moments of grace all day long.

So Saint Marty is dancing tonight, shaking it for all the day's goodness.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

July 21: Flurry of Packing, Sandra Beasley, "Love Poem for Wednesday"

Tonight, when I get home, my wife will be in a flurry of packing.  Washing clothes.  Making lists.  Every once in a while asking me a question that she already has the answer to, like "Do you think I should pack two or three cans of Pringles?"  (If you're interested, my answer is always, "Please don't over pack for this trip like you do for every trip we take.")  My wife likes to prepare for every contingency, including a world-wide Pringles shortage and the extermination of humankind by a killer meteor.

I will attempt to help, but, ultimately, I will fail.  My wife is very serious about packing and preparing.  I am a little less strict.  As long as I have my insulin, a book, my journals, a fountain pen, and clean underwear, I'm pretty much all set.

It's Thursday night.  I don't have to work tomorrow.  It's the start of my long weekend.  Long drive ahead of me.  Five or six hours.  I don't really like long car trips, but I like being some place different.  I loved Waikiki and Big Sur and the Wisconsin Dells.  Some day, I want to visit Italy, Rome in particular.  Maybe it will happen.

I have a poem tonight from Sandra Beasley about Wednesdays.  It's a good poem.  A poem I wish I'd written.  I will be packing my laptop for this trip.  Doing some remote posts.  Maybe I'll write a love poem for Friday or Saturday.

Who knows?  Marty may end up as a Saint of the Week on some writer's blog.

Love Poem for Wednesday

by:  Sandra Beasley

You’re the day after Tuesday, before eternity.
You’re the day we ran out of tomatoes
and used tiny packets of ketchup instead.

You are salt, no salt, too much salt, a hangover.
You hold the breath of an abandoned cave.
Sometimes you surprise me with your

aurora borealis and I’ll pull over to watch you;
I’ll wait in the dark shivering fields of you.
But mostly, not. My students don’t care for you

or your lessons from the life of a minor god.
Can you hit the high C in our anthem?
Can you bench press a national disaster?

I fear for you, Wednesday. Your papers
are never in order. Your boots track in mud.
You’re the day I realized I didn’t even like him,

and the day I still said yes, yes, yes.
Sometimes I think you and I should elope,
and leave this house of cards to shuffle itself.

You are love, no love, too much love, a cuckold.
You are the loneliest of the three bears, hoping
to come home and find someone in your bed.

July 21: Caribou, Insomnia, Boyne Mountain

Do the Eskimos' faces shine?  I lie in bed alert:  I am with the Eskimos on the tundra who are running after the click-footed caribou, running sleepless and dazed for days, running spread out to scraggling lines across the glacier-ground hummocks and reindeer moss, in sight of the ocean, under the long-shadowed pale sun, running silent all night long.

Dillard lies awake at night, thinking about Eskimos hunting caribou on the tundra.  By the ocean.  Under the midnight sun.  Running and running.  There's not a whole lot of sleeping going on with that running through her head all the time.

I have suffered from insomnia most of my life.  I'm fine for long periods of time, and then I simply can't fall asleep.  I'm tired.  I put my head on the pillow, and WHAM!  I'm thinking about work or blogging or reading a good book or the zombie apocalypse.  I've been lucky for a while now.  Of course, I stay awake until midnight and get up at around 4:45 a.m. every day.  I keep myself on the brink of exhaustion to combat sleeplessness.

Today was a really long day.  The last work day before vacation always, ALWAYS drags on.  Plus, I didn't buy any pop this morning.  By about one o'clock, my head was the size of a beluga whale, and I thought I was going to puke.  It was bad.  I thought that I was coming down with the flu or something.  Then, after I dragged myself out to my car and drove home, I drank a Diet Coke.  Instant cure.  The headache disappeared, and my appetite returned.

I'm going to try to get to bed a little earlier tonight.  Maybe by 11:30 p.m.  The only thing that's going to be on television is Donald Trump's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.  If I watch that, I may never sleep again.  Nightmares of orange-headed trolls taking over the universe.

Tomorrow morning, we head downstate for a mini-vacation.  Four days at the Boyne Mountain Resort.  Pools.  Water slides.  Chair lifts.  Campfires and s'mores.  Maybe a magician or juggler.  For me, it means no work.  Sleeping in.  Showers every day.  And escape.  From trolls and students and everyday responsibility.  By this time tomorrow night, I'll be reading a good book on a veranda, sipping a wine cooler.  If I sound like Scarlett O'Hara, so be it.  (In actuality, by this time tomorrow night, I'll probably be chasing my son up and down a bunch of water slides and praying that he gets a tiny charlie horse, just to slow him down.)

Four days.  Ninety-six hours.  5,760 minutes.  345,600 seconds.

Saint Marty is going to sleep very well tonight.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

July 20: Fan Dancer, Nail Polish, Youth and Stupidity

And nature is a fan dancer born with a fan; you can wrestle her down, throw her on the stage and grapple with her for the fan with all your might, but it will never quit her grip. She comes that way; the fan is attached.

Dillard is talking about the unpredictability of human beings.  No matter what you do, how you try to control the fan dancer, she will never give up her vocation.  The fan is in her hand, the dance will go on.

Tonight, my son decided to take a bottle of nail polish and paint pictures on the side of my parents' house.  That's right.  Ruby red cave drawings right on the siding.  No matter how much nail polish remover I used, I simply couldn't erase it all.  It looks like a palimpsest scroll--my son's hieroglyphs still visible.

I don't know what to say.  My son can't explain why he did it.  He just starts crying when I ask him about it.  So, I will simply have to chalk it up to youth and stupidity.

And Saint Marty's fingers still smell like acetone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 19: Searching for Beauty, Sandra Beasley, "Inventory"

I am sitting in my office at the university at the moment.  The hallway is dark.  The place shuts down at 4 p.m. during the summer.  Everybody goes home, and the lights, one by one, blink out.

I was looking for something beautiful to write about in this post.  I thought about sitting by a window and gazing out at Lake Superior.  I contemplated hiking into the forest and gazing at all the green around me.  Tried listening to music, reading some Sharon Olds.  Nothing is striking me as beautiful this evening.

Maybe I'm trying too hard.  There's an empty Diet Coke bottle sitting on my desk.  The fluorescent light is striking it, and it's glowing like an icicle on Christmas morning.  There's a ratty copy of Shakespeare's plays on my bookshelf, its binding frayed and torn, and it looks like it belongs in the Library of Alexandria.  My office mate has a picture of her two sons sitting on her desk in a filigreed metal frame.

Maybe beauty is always around.  I just don't take the opportunity to notice it very often.

Saint Marty is pretty hungry at the moment.  Food sounds beautiful.  A double cheeseburger would be the freakin' Sistine Chapel.


by:  Sandra Beasley

We gaze into your eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes.
We forget the display is blind.

Your fanned tail really a cupped palm,
gathering each hen’s quiver to your ear,

your feathers the green-blue glamours of
reflective absence. No one

ever praises the ass of the peacock,
grin of quills that does the heavy lifting,

or how you eat anything from ants
to Styrofoam, from cheese to chicken.

Road roamer, flower devourer:
the one who’ll pick a fight with a goat.

Preen all you want. What I love of you
will be the bare undercarriage,

the calamus. I am done with beauty.
Only a blinking eye can measure the light.
Beauty's in the eye of the beholder . . .

July 19: Turning Over Rocks, Soft Core Porn, Dung Beetles

If you want to find a species wholly new to science and have your name inscribed Latinly in some secular version of an eternal rollbook, then your best bet is to come to the southern Appalachians, climb some obscure and snakey mountain where, as the saying goes, "the hand of man has never set foot," and start turning over rocks.

Dillard is making fun of humankind's need to use things.  Here, she's talking about discovering something "new" in the natural world (although, really, whatever is discovered is probably pretty old--that's the way the world works).  Humans want to overturn a rock, find some heretofore unknown creature or plant, and claim it as their own.  It's all about fame and glory, being able to name something like an erstwhile Adam in the Garden of Eden.  Knowledge and understanding are secondary to the human impulse for recognition.

I certainly agree with Dillard, and I will admit that I am guilty of this character trait.  I have a blog.  Every time I sit down with my laptop to pound out a post, I would be lying if I didn't have some strange fantasy about the post going viral across the globe, waking up tomorrow morning to Matt Lauer on my doorstop, begging me for an interview.  Then the agents and publishers start calling.  Book deals.  Movie deals.  By this time on Friday, I'll be sipping champagne with Oprah Winfrey.

See what I mean?  As a writer, I want to be read.  By a lot of people.  Of course, I worry about the quality of my work.  I don't want to be the next E. L. James (although she does have enough money to buy a small African nation).  And, now that I've written the above paragraphs, it strikes me that perhaps I've approached writing the wrong way.

I want a wide readership, that's true.  But I don't want to write soft-core porn or novels about sexy vampires in order to achieve this goal.  Maybe, instead, I should simply write a book that I would want to read.  A book that excites me.  Then I wouldn't care whether it sells a million copies and get adapted into a film starring Tom Hanks.

Glory and fame would be great.  But how many people actually remember who helped the world understand the habits of the dung beetle (Jean Henri Fabre, in care you wanted to know)?  Glory isn't something to search for.  Fame can't be captured like a stray dog.  Instead, I should do work that fascinates me, makes me happy.

I know that this revelation may seem a little elemental to most people.  However, it's very easy for me to get distracted as a writer and person.  Worry about what other people think.  Get angry when "undeserving" writers receive attention.  Jealousy is one of my character flaws.  I recognize it, and I own it.

So, to sum up, glory and fame don't necessarily translate into peace and happiness.

Now, Saint Marty requests that you send this post to all the friends you have on Facebook, and ask them to send it to their friends.  By tomorrow morning, Saint Marty will have a million page views and be on a plane to New York.

Monday, July 18, 2016

July 18: Republican Convention, Poet of the Week, Sandra Beasley, "Let Me Count the Waves"

On this, the first day of the Republican convention in Cleveland where a political party is going to nominate an actual caricature for President of the United States, I had to find a Poet of the Week who made me laugh.  I found Sandra Beasley, thanks to Rita Dove who named her as a young poet to watch.

What you will read below is a sestina.  Notice the words repeating in a pattern.  Notice how Beasley stretches the lines and words in places.  Plus, she talks about Pringles.  What more could you want in a poem?

Saint Marty is going to try to avoid political talk this week.  He'll let the idiot in Cleveland speak for himself and offend as many people as possible.

Let Me Count the Waves

by:  Sandra Beasley

We must not look for poetry in poems.
                  —Donald Revell 
You must not skirt the issue wearing skirts.
You must not duck the bullet using ducks.
You must not face the music with your face.
Headbutting, don’t use your head. Or your butt.
You must not use a house to build a home,
and never look for poetry in poems.

In fact, inject giraffes into your poems.
Let loose the circus monkeys in their skirts.
Explain the nest of wood is not a home
at all, but a blind for shooting wild ducks.
Grab the shotgun by its metrical butt;
aim at your Muse’s quacking, Pringled face.

It’s good we’re talking like this, face to face.
There should be more headbutting over poems.
Citing an 80s brand has its cost but
honors the teenage me, always in skirts,
showing my sister how to Be the Duck
with a potato-chip beak. Take me home,

Mr. Revell. Or make yourself at home
in my postbellum, Reconstruction face—
my gray eyes, my rebel ears, all my ducks
in the row of a defeated mouth. Poems
were once civil. But war has torn my skirts
off at the first ruffle, baring my butt

or as termed in verse, my luminous butt.
Whitman once made a hospital his home.
Emily built a prison of her skirts.
Tigers roamed the sad veldt of Stevens’s face.
That was the old landscape. All the new poems
map the two dimensions of cartoon ducks.

We’re young and green. We’re braces of mallards,
not barrels of fish. Shoot if you must but
Donald, we’re with you. Trying to save poems,
we settle and frame their ramshackle homes.
What is form? Turning art to artifice,
trading pelts for a more durable skirt.

Even urban ducklings deserve a home.
Make way. In the modern: Make way, Buttface.
A poem is coming through, lifting her skirt.
Better than anything that's going on in Cleveland

July 18: Grace Never Flags, Dirty Dishes, Unmade Beds

It has always been a happy thought to me that the creek runs on all night, new every minute, whether I wish it or know it or care, as a closed book on a shelf continues to whisper to itself its own inexhaustible tale. So many things have been shown to me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free.

I really love this passage about grace.  Grace like Tinker Creek, constantly flowing, daybreak to daybreak, moving and flowing.  Or a book on a shelf, whispering its never-ending story over and over.  Basically, Dillard is saying that God's grace in inexhaustible, burbling, whispering, at work all the time.

I sometimes forget about grace.  When I got home this afternoon, I found a few dishes in the sink and my daughter's bed unmade.  The first thing that came to my mind was not, "Thanks, God, for my home and family."  I made the bed, washed the dirty frying pan and bowl, swearing the whole time.  I felt a little taken for granted.  You see, I can't stand to have dirty dishes or unmade beds.  I can't even sit on the couch in the living room if I know there's a fork in the sink or a pillow on the floor.

It occurs to me that I do the same thing to God.  God gives me blessings all day long--sunrises, a car, a can of Pringles, a nap--and I completely ignore them.  Instead, I launch into scatological tirades about plates caked with rice and piles of blankets on the floor when I should be giving thanks for the food and the warm bed.  Grace.

Tonight, my daughter is on a trip with the family of one of her dance friends.  I thank God for friendship.  My son just came inside and asked me if he could have a Popsicle at a neighbor's house.  I thank God for a polite son.  I'm working on a new laptop issued to me by the university where I teach.  I thank God for work that fulfills me (even if it doesn't pay all the bills).  Pretty soon, I'm going to help my son take a bath and get ready for bed.  I thank God for fatherhood.

Saint Marty has grace coming out of his butt.

Another perk of grace:  annoying people

Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 17: Sister's Birthday, New Poem, "Last Breath," Classic Saint Marty

Today would have been my sister's fifty-fifth birthday.  Last year, she was entering the last month of her life.  The lymphoma was blossoming in her brain, and she could only speak one or two words.  It was a really difficult time.

Last night, I sat down with my journal, intending to record my thoughts about my sister.  Instead I wrote a poem:

Last Breath

for Sally, July 17, 2016

It's been almost a year
since your last breath
pushed out from between
your lips, spread its wings,
took flight, a wet
slap of a sound, almost
like something being born,
full of the salt and blood
of the newly alive, and you
were no longer, were emptiness
with a kind of gravity,
a burned-out building,
a sunken row boat, a shoe
on the side of the road, perhaps
tossed out of a car window
or left behind after an encounter
between two teenagers who thought
they loved each other but found
only a grain of pleasure followed
by fumbles for pants and tee shirts
in the night, a sense that their lives
were shorter, had moved
closer to nothingness, to that last
fist of oxygen in the lungs,
and our mother sat beside
your bed before the Farley brothers
came to take you away, she sat,
talked to you about coffee, the slant
of sun on your face, how
she was glad for your stillness,
and she held your hand,
the way my son holds
the string of a circus balloon,
afraid to let go, see it wheel,
spin away like a goshawk
hunting for rabbits among the stars.

A year ago, I was focusing on happiness.  It's what my sister would have wanted.  Today, I choose to do the same.

July 17, 2015:  Kind of Magnificence, Diamonds on the Soles, Gnomish Fairy Tale, Adrienne Su, "Under the Window"

Annie could not help but hide behind a car like a child, red-faced and laughing, trying her best to smack Ives on the head.  Ives received her shots with joy and mounted his own assault.  Raising his portfolio like a shield, he shouted at the top of his lungs, and, charging toward her, pulled her down into a drift of snow, where they briefly kissed and he felt the first fleeting heat of her tongue.  Then they rested, side by side, on the frigid pavement like dummies, wistfully looking upward at nature's swirling activity.  A kind of magnificence, heaven, as it were, coming down on them.

A really joyful passage from the book.  A young Ives and Annie, just getting to know each other.  They let go of all their cares and worries and simply behave like kids, throwing snowballs at each other, tackling each other in the wintery night.  It's one of those rare life moments:  complete and total happiness.  All their future pain and sadness not even a shadow on the radar of their lives.

Driving home from work this afternoon, I had a moment like that with a friend.  We had the windows of my car rolled down, and Paul Simon's album, Graceland, cranked on my CD player.  The wind was cool.  The sun was bright.  We cruised along and sang at the top of our lungs:  "She's got diamonds on the soles of her shoes....Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...."  It felt so good.

Tonight, I will not focus on my sister's illness.  It's her birthday.  Instead of talking about her chemotherapy or inability to speak, I choose to think of her in better times.  Camping in her trailer on a July weekend.  Swimming in the pool or lounging by the hot tub.  At night, listening to Garrison Keillor on the radio around the campfire.  Those are the memories I am going to celebrate.

We had cake tonight for my sister.  Called and sang to her.  The cake was yellow and chocolate, covered with chocolate frosting and a thick layer of sprinkles.  It was really good.  I know she would have enjoyed it.  A lot.

Tonight, when I get home, I'm going to continue the happiness.  After I clean the bathroom, listening to ABBA music (my sister's favorite), I will sit on the couch and read a good book.  Maybe I'll put on an episode of Kolchak the Night Stalker, one of her favorite TV shows when we were kids.  The only rule for the evening:  no sadness invited.

Once upon a time, in a dark forest, lived a dark little gnome named Marvin.  Marvin was known far and wide as the saddest person in the gnome kingdom.  While the other gnomes got naked and danced in the moonlight, Marvin sat in his burrow and worried about the color of the mole on his stomach.

One day, a beautiful little gnome name Bertha knocked on Marvin's door.  When he answered, Bertha said, "Marvin, I love you.  Would you take my hand and dance the dance of wedlock in the daffodils with me?"

Marvin shook his head.  "I can't dance.  Bad ankles."

Bertha persisted.  "Would you go down to the waterfall and swim in Love Lake with me?"

Marvin shook his head.  "I don't know how to swim."

Bertha tried again.  "Would you come out of your burrow and sit in the pines with me?"

"I can't," Marvin said.  "I'm allergic to bug bites and tree sap."

Bertha tried one more time.  "Marvin, will you kiss me in the gnomish way right now?"

Marvin said, "I don't have any gnomedems for protection."

Bertha went away, and Marvin closed his door and lived the rest of his life in complete darkness, never knowing a single minute of joy.

Moral of the story:  Girl gnomes are tramps.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Under the Window

by:  Adrienne Su

Day and night in the green hospital
the woman whose name means Fortunate Jade
grows smaller.  Her son forgets

more Chinese with every visit.
He sits by the bed and cries tearlessly.
He is fifteen and remembers his birthplace

as the sputter of its two taxis,
chickens in a wire box, deep-fried
oysters, and guttural speech.

Even in health, his mother looked
small in the supermarket aisles.

She hated the food; she said the people
were dumb as animals.  For the last

year, her flesh has been slowly
making its way back to China.

Her son does not tell her
she is still beautiful
even though he knows the words.

He rearranges the camellias,
asks her if she wants TV.
He jumps up, sits down, changes

the water in her glass.  He is in love
for the first time and can't talk
about it in any language.

This is the boy she prayed for,
implored all the gods,
even the foreign one, to deliver.

He arrived with a clear cry,
the first son of his generation.
The house filled with blessings

and fat red envelopes.  Her husband
found work in America, where
they learned to drive cars--

and now this.  Perhaps it was ill luck,
a bad ancestor, the nameless daughter
she had prayed out of existence.

It could be the water
from the strange pipes
or the foul teas she'd sipped

to turn the not-yet child
into a boy.  It could be
the songs she had crooned

to her belly, not thinking
of the unblessed rice paddies,
the slighted earth, the moon

that now glared into her window
through each night, saying,
You will not sleep.  You will not sleep.

Bertha, you ignorant slut!