Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 30: Poem of Hope, Elizabeth Alexander, "Praise Song for the Day"

I need a poem of hope today.  I don't want to talk about the disaster of Donald Trump or the attacks at Ohio State.  I want to leave Kellyanne Conway where she belongs--in darkness and silence.  Ditto Steve Bannon and Mike Pence.  No room for haters and racists in this post.

I want to remember a better time.  A kinder, gentler time.  A time when hope was not piggybacked on disenfranchisement and intolerance.  It was the morning of January 20, 2009.  Millions of people joined together to celebrate diversity and a better tomorrow for everyone, not just in the United States, but the whole world.

Care to take a step back with Saint Marty?

Praise Song for the Day

by:  Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

If only it really worked!

November 30: Whatever For, Sandy Hook, Lesson in Faith

The question from agnosticism is, Who turned on the lights?  The question from faith is, Whatever for? . . .

That's a pretty big distinction Dillard makes.  Who? or Why?  I guess, as a person of faith, I have to go with the second:  Why were the lights turned on in the first place?  I've never really thought about faith like that before.  Of course, I've always had questions about God, but I've never doubted His existence (well, maybe once or twice as a teenager).  My big questions were things like "Why does God allow things like the Holocaust to happen?" and "Why do people have to suffer horrible diseases like cancer and AIDS?" and "Why does God allow people to put coconut in candy bars?"

I don't have any answers to any of those big questions, any more than Dillard does.  Terrible things happen every day.  Things without rhyme or reason.  I can't imagine that the Creator had a hand in Columbine or Sandy Hook.  The world is a really broken place.  God didn't break it.  Human beings did.  We break it every day through hatred and racism and xenophobia and homophobia and Islamophobia and any other kind of phobia you can name.

I have diabetes.  My wife suffers from bipolar disorder.  My life has been touched by a whole bunch of addictions--alcohol, prescription drugs, pornography, sex, food.  God didn't put those things in my life because he was testing me.  I'm not Job.  Sure, I could tear my clothes, throw ashes on my head, and shake my fist at the heavens.  I could go all Old Testament.  But that's not where God is, either.

God comes into the picture in how I react to the challenges in my life.  Do I lose hope and faith?  Turn my back on God when it feels like He's turned His back on me?  That's the easy thing to do, I think.  The big ole middle finger to the Master of the Universe.  Anger is simple and, in a strange way, satisfying.

The hard thing to do is to try to find God in the middle of a shitty situation.  That's where faith is really put to the test.  One of my sisters hasn't stepped foot in a church since my other sister's funeral in August, 2015.  She's that pissed.  Of course, she doesn't see that she's also absolutely miserable.  Happiness is always out of her reach.

This afternoon, I found out that I will be teaching two courses next semester at the university.  That news after a couple months of profound anxiety.  Plus, the classes are pretty good.  Ones that I've taught recently.  Now, at the end of this whole period of worry, I'm sitting in my office at the university, thinking to myself, "What a waste of time all that hand wringing was!"  I know that, if I had just laid my problem at God's feet, I would have saved myself a whole lot of misery.

Saint Marty was given a lesson in faith today.

Even Adam had questions

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 29: Feeling a Little Old, Elizabeth Alexander, "Autumn Passage"

I am feeling a little . . . old today.  I think it has a lot to do with work and grading and responsibility.  In a couple hours, I have sixteen young people waiting for me to walk into a classroom and somehow teach them something about life.

The problem is that I haven't really figured out life.  I don't want to tell my students that, though.  It may scare the shit out of them.  They're going to have to discover that little piece of knowledge on their own.  Right now, they're full of hope.  They think that the world revolves around them.  I know.  That's what I used to think when I was their age.  I thought that I was going to make a real difference.  A big difference.  That's not the way things turned out. 

I hope I've made the world a little better with my teaching and writing and parenting and husbanding.  I hope that I've led a George Bailey kind of life.  Small contributions to the human story.  That would be okay by me.

Saint Marty has had, for the most part, a wonderful life.

Autumn Passage

by:  Elizabeth Alexander

On suffering, which is real.
On the mouth that never closes,
the air that dries the mouth.
On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.
On the dazzling toddler:
"Like eggplant," he says,
when you say "Vegetable,"
"Chrysanthemum" to "Flower."
On his grandmother's suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,
September zucchini,
other things too big. For her glory
that goes along with it,
glory of grown children's vigil,
communal fealty, glory
of the body that operates
even as it falls apart, the body
that can no longer even make fever
but nonetheless burns
florid and bright and magnificent
as it dims, as it shrinks,
as it turns to something else.

Merry Christmas, you wonderful old building and loan!

November 29: Horrid Irregularity, Inner Conspiracy Theorist, Bumps in the Road

In the eighteenth century, when educated European tourists visited the Alps, they deliberately blindfolded their eyes to shield themselves from the evidence of the earth's horrid irregularity.  It is hard to say if this was not merely affectation, for today, newborn infants, who have not yet been taught our ideas of beauty, repeatedly show in tests that they prefer complex to simple designs . . .

Yes, the earth is horridly irregular.  Mountains butting against deserts crossing to forests leading up to beaches touching oceans and lakes.  Dillard's factoid about newborns reflects the human attraction to complexity versus simplicity, even at the youngest ages.  Complicated things are more interesting to look at, touch, tasted, smell, read.  That's why people still scale Mount Everest, even though it was conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary close to 100 years ago.  It's all about the complexity of the experience.

In my middle years, I have started to appreciate simplicity more.  When my life is complicated, I tend not to enjoy it very much.  I prefer to know that my day-day-day existence is predictable.  Safe.  For example, I still have not been assigned classes to teach next semester, and my inner conspiracy theorist is going into overdrive.  I'm not going to be teaching in the winter.  The university is going to evict me from my office.  My laptop will be confiscated, and that will be the end of this blog.  I won't be able to pay my mortgage, and my family will end up homeless by Christmas Eve.  I'll try to sell plasma, but I'll find out that I had mad cow disease, contracted from an underdone steak I ate.

See, that's what a complicated life does to me.  It would be so much better if, at the beginning of October, I had received an e-mail from the head of the English Department that went something like this:
Dear Saint Marty, you are such a wonderful and inspiring teacher.  I am proud to offer you any classes you want to teach for next semester.  Your choice.  If you don't want to teach, that's okay, too.  We'll pay you a full-time salary, and you can spend the winter writing and traveling.   Just let me know.  It is an honor to have you on our faculty.
So much simpler and easier.  Just give me exactly what I desire, and life will be good.

For some reason, God doesn't quite work that way.  If God did work that way, Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United State, and I would be living in an eight-bedroom mansion with an indoor pool.  No, God gives you what He thinks you need.  No more.  No less.  Sometimes, that can be a little frustrating.  And complicated.

Tonight, I'm teaching my composition class for the last time this semester.  We're doing class evaluations.  Listening to student presentations.  I'm collecting a final paper.  And I made brownies.  Hopefully, it will be a fairly simple night.  No bumps in the road.

And, also hopefully, I will get an e-mail from the head of the English Department tomorrow, offering me a couple of courses for the winter semester.  Good classes. 

That's all Saint Marty is asking for.  It's not that complicated.

Too complicated for me . . .

Monday, November 28, 2016

November 28: Poet of the Week, Elizabeth Alexander, "Crash"

Elizabeth Alexander was the poet at President Obama's first inauguration.  I remember it clearly, watching her on that cold January morning.  She was somehow able to capture the hope of that moment with her poem.  The feeling that the United States really had changed for the better.

Elizabeth Alexander is the Poet of the Week, because she reminds Saint Marty of a better time, a kinder time.  A time when it seemed possible to walk away from a plane crash with just a couple scratches.


by:  Elizabeth Alexander

I am the last woman off of the plane
that has crashed in a cornfield near Philly,

picking through hot metal
for my rucksack and diaper bag.

No black box, no fuselage,
just sistergirl pilot wiping soot from her eyes,

happy to be alive. Her dreadlocks
will hold the smoke for weeks.

All the white passengers bailed out
before impact, so certain a sister

couldn’t navigate the crash. O gender.
O race. O ye of little faith.

Here we are in the cornfield, bruised and dirty but alive.
I invite sistergirl pilot home for dinner

at my parents’, for my mother’s roast chicken
with gravy and rice, to celebrate.

November 28: Hand Ax, Christmas Essay, Grading

Finally I see tonight a picture of a friendly member of the Forest Service in Wisconsin, who is freeing a duck frozen onto the ice by chopping out its feet with a hand ax . . .

That's a pretty bleak little image--the Forest Service guy taking on the cruelty of winter with a hand ax.  That's sort of like sticking your thumb in a leaking dike or electing a reality television star as President of the United States.  It just doesn't fix anything.

I've sort of felt like that all day long.  I've been going in between writing my Christmas essay and grading papers.  Back and forth, back and forth.  And I've just realized that it doesn't feel like I'm making really great progress on either endeavor.  The end of the Christmas essay doesn't seem any closer, and the pile of papers doesn't look any smaller.  Depressing.

Of course, there's not much I can do about it.  I just have to keep chopping away with my hand ax until I can free the duck, if you get my meaning.  (The sad thing is that I'm the duck frozen to the pond.)  But that's the way fall semesters always end.  Blizzards of papers and exams coupled with the craziness of the holidays.

Tonight, however, I'm not feeling overwhelmed.  Just a little exhausted.  Perhaps I will take the rest of the night off when I get home.  I have to make some brownies for tomorrow.  That's about it.  I'll probably grade a few more essays, too. 

I am trying to avoid worry and fear.  I call myself a Christian, so I'm pulling out my faith card.  I will get my Christmas essay written.  I will get all my grading done.  Eventually, I will have classes to teach next semester (haven't heard about that yet, either). 

Faith.  Trust.  Bailey's Irish Cream.  Those are Saint Marty's words of the day.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

November 27: Daily Grind, Lots of Work, Classic Saint Marty

It's always difficult coming to the end of a holiday weekend.  Tomorrow, I must return to the daily grind.  Work.  Teaching.  Grading.  Staying up late.  Getting up early.  Praying for the weekend to come.

I have loads of work that I have to do this afternoon.  I'm going to be competing with my daughter for use of my laptop, because, like me, she's put a lot of her homework off until today.  I will accomplish as much as I can today, but I refuse to stress about everything.  I can't.  It's not worth it.

Speaking of stress, I will also find out if, or what, I am teaching next semester at the university.  The course assignments are about a month overdue, and I have a feeling that a lot of contingent instructors are going to be quite unhappy with the news.  I am withholding comment until I see what's coming my way.  Then I will throw myself on the ground, grind and gnash my teeth, wail a little bit, and start wearing sackcloth.  I might even throw some ashes on my head.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty aired about four years ago, in the middle of a snowstorm, the day after Thanksgiving.  It's about a tradition that is no longer a tradition--the annual day-after-Thanksgiving Chocolate Potluck.  Those were the days.

November 23, 2012:  After Tea, P.O.E.T.S. Day, Chocolate Potluck

After tea, they had some music.  For they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, when they sang a Glee or Catch.  I can assure you:  especially Topper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one, and never swell the large veins in his forehead, or get red in the face over it.

One of my favorite sections of A Christmas Carol concerns the party at Scrooge's nephew Fred's house.  Fred jokes about his uncle, about his wife's cooking, about his inability to tell a story.  He laughs at everything, especially himself.  Fred would be the character from this novel voted most likely to play beer pong.

I like Fred.  I aspire to be like Fred--affable and friendly with everyone.  I don't like being angry.  I prefer to overlook flaws of character or moments of asshole-ness.  I like laughing, even if it's at my own expense.  And I like being around people.

This P.O.E.T.S. Day, the day after Thanksgiving, I participated in our eleventh annual Chocolate Potluck.  There are basically only two people who work on Black Friday in the Medical Center--myself and a guy from I.T.  We have worked together on this day for over ten years.  And we are both chocolate lovers.  Eleven years ago, we decided to bring chocolate products to work.  A lot of chocolate products.  Dove and Godiva and Ghiradelli and Hershey.  White fudge Oreos.  Chocolate-covered cherries and raspberries.  Our selection has expanded and improved each year.

This year was no different.  Although a snowstorm was raging outside, we were inside, stuffing our faces to celebrate the commencement of the yuletide season.  I felt like Fred, welcoming guests and telling embarrassing stories and listening to Christmas music on my computer.  Bing Crosby has been at every Chocolate Potluck we've had.  He doesn't eat much, and he's a great baritone.

The Christmas holidays are upon us.  Saint Marty has the leftovers at work to prove it.  On Monday morning, he will rummage through the chocolate box, eat a Hershey Bell or peanut butter M&M, and think of Fred and his group of friends.  Maybe Saint Marty will sing a Glee or Catch, whatever the hell they are.

This puts a jingle in my bells

Saturday, November 26, 2016

November 26: Christmas Trap, Miller Williams, "A Christmas Poem"

Last poem of the week for Miller Williams.  A poem for the season.

I always love reading Christmas poems by different poets.  Love seeing how they use and subvert the various Christmas tropes and symbols.  You walk a very thin wire when writing anything related to Christmas because, as a writer, you don't want to be accused of sentimentality.  There's nothing worse to me when somebody reads one of my Christmas poems and says something like, "Oh, isn't that nice."  That's not a compliment.

So, below is how Miller Williams avoids the Christmas trap.

Saint Marty has to get back to work on his Christmas essay now.

A Christmas Poem

by:  Miller Williams

In a little bar on the Gulf Coast
someone offers a Christmas toast.
The piano player, believe it or not,
plays "As Time Goes By." Almost.

The bartender brings over a lot
of nuts and crackers. I have a shot
of Jack to get me on my way.
After a while, it's What have you got?

A drunk counts out some coins to pay
for a bottle of wine. He stops to say,
How are you doing? The syllables stink.
I lift my glass to say, I'm OK.

Out of the corner what I think
is a man in a wig and a ratty mink
weaves his way across the floor
and buys the piano player a drink.

At a table for two close to the door
a man seems to mean to ignore
a woman chewing a wad of gum.
The bartender brings me a couple more.

The piano player plays us some
of what the season wants. We hum
along and call for more and then
a man at the bar takes his thumb

out of his mouth and says there are ten
minutes left, Good will to men.
Good men, a woman says, to me.
He puts his thumb in his mouth again.

I manage a toast to the Christmas tree
and one to the sweet absurdity
in the miracle of the verb to be.
Lucky you, lucky me.

November 26: Sagging Bridge, Christmas Essay, Flesh-Eating Flytraps

The quarry path parallels Tinker Creek far upstream from my house, and when the woods broke into clearing and pasture, I followed the creek banks down.  When I drew near the tear-shaped island, which I had never before approached from this side of the creek, a fence barred my way, a feeble wire horse fence that wobbled across the creek and served me as a sagging bridge to the island.  I stood, panting, breathing the frail scent of fresh water and feeling the sun heat my hair.

Dillard has visited the tear-shaped island before, but she always crossed the creek from the opposite bank, where the crossing was easier.  This time, however, her approach is different.  Instead of using the trunk of a fallen tree, per usual, she chooses a rickety fence.  I picture the log crossing on Skull Island in the original King Kong, where Kong fords a jungle canyon, carrying Fay Wray.  A treacherous, mossy passage.

Presently, I am working on a Christmas essay.  It's been giving me some problems.  I have an idea of what it's about and where I want it to end.  But I have no idea of how to get from here to there, if you get my meaning.  There's not a clear bridge between beginning and end.  Just lots of canyons with log crossings that sort of look promising.

I worked on it for quite a long time last night.  I made some progress.  After I'm done typing today's posts, I will test a few more of those fallen trees to see if they will hold the weight of the essay.  The jungle is still pretty treacherous.  I'm not going to give up.  I can't.  In a week or so, I have to record the essay for the local Public Radio station.  Plus, I'm going to include it in my Christmas letter.

That's one of the challenges of writing.  Having a starting point and no map for how to get to the other side of the jungle.  And that jungle is full of dinosaurs and monstrous gorillas and flesh-eating flytraps.  It's a frustrating process at times.  Once the goal is in sight, however, it's almost like seeing the summit of Everest after a couple days of climbing.  (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)

So, there it is.  Right now, though, Saint Marty is standing on one side of a chasm, and there's a whole lot of weird noises coming out of the fog behind me.

A picture of me when I woke up this morning

Friday, November 25, 2016

November 25: Hard Work, Miller Williams, "If Ever There Was One"

The holidays are hard work, starting with the cooking of Thanksgiving dinner.  I am not complaining.  I'm always the first person in my neighborhood to have my Christmas tree up (the day after Halloween, usually).  I listen to Christmas music all year long.  It calms me down, makes me happy.

But the holidays require a lot of energy and effort.  Sort of like a marriage.  There's good days and bad days.  There's happiness and sadness.  Tonight, after two days of cooking and family, I am beat.  I have a feeling that I will be in bed pretty early, right after I watch the fiftieth anniversary broadcast of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Miller Williams talks about the great effort of happiness and love in tonight's poem.  It's a depressing little narrative, but it makes sense.  No matter how hard you try, you can't be a perfect husband or wife.  And no matter what present you buy, what cookie you bake, what carol you sing, you can't have a perfect holiday season.  There will be disappointment, no matter how much effort you've expended.

The trick is not to expect an Irving Berlin kind of Christmas.  It doesn't exist.  Never existed.  However, happiness is attainable.  It's just a matter of letting go.  Don't expect gingerbread and Bing Crosby all the time.  Find small moments to celebrate.  Take time to read the Christmas cards that come in the mail.  Treat yourself to a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.  Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Drop a few coins in the Salvation Army bucket.  Like I said, small moments of Christmas joy.

Saint Marty recommends adding some Bailey's Irish Cream to your hot chocolate.  It warms his chestnuts every time.

If Ever There Was One

by:  Miller Williams

She could tell he loved her. He wanted her there   
sitting in the front pew when he preached.   
He liked to watch her putting up her hair
and ate whatever she cooked and never broached

the subject of the years before they met.   
He was thoughtful always. He let her say   
whether or not they did anything in bed
and tried to learn the games she tried to play.

She could tell how deep his feeling ran.
He liked to say her name and bought her stuff   
for no good reason. He was a gentle man.   
How few there are she knew well enough.

He sometimes reached to flick away a speck   
of something on her clothes and didn’t drum   
his fingers on the table when she spoke.
What would he do if he knew she had a dream

sometimes, slipping out of her nightgown—
if ever God forbid he really knew her—
to slip once out of the house and across town   
and find someone to talk dirty to her.

November 25: Tranquility and Trembling, Satanic Politician, Blood Battles

I live in tranquility and trembling . . .

I had a day of tranquility and trembling, just like Dillard.  No work.  No teaching.  My wife had to work Black Friday, so she was up and gone by about 5 a.m.  I got to sleep in a little later than normal.  My son came into my bedroom at around 6:30 this morning.  I didn't let him actually get up until 7 a.m.

It was just the kids and me all day.  I made breakfast for my son, gave him his medication.  We watched a little television.  And I cleaned the house.  Vacuumed.  Swept.  Mopped.  Scrubbed the bathroom down.  Cleaned and organized the kitchen. 

Then we sat down and binged a few episodes of my favorite television series of all time--Kolchak:  The Night Stalker.  It was an afternoon of vampires, werewolves, evil spirits, and a satanic politician (not Donald Trump).  I also helped my daughter with her English homework.  My son decided to write his own myth, so I helped him with his list of gods (Greek, Roman, and made-up). 

We had a great day together.  No blood battles broke out between my kids.  In fact, my daughter made her brother lunch.  When my wife called around noon, she asked me how things were going.  She was worried that our son would miss her.  I told her the truth:  he hadn't mentioned her all morning long.

I haven't really felt this fulfilled in a really long time.  I loved being home, taking care of my children, doing housework.  Loved sitting next to my daughter on the couch, giving her suggestions for her essay.  Loved cleaning with my son--he did some of the mopping.  As I said, it was a day of tranquility and trembling.  I could happily be a stay-at-home dad.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for a day with his son and daughter.  And a clean house.

Donald Trump praying

Thursday, November 24, 2016

November 24: Hope for the Future, Miller Williams, "Of History and Hope"

I think a good way to end this Thanksgiving night is with the poem Miller Williams wrote for the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

I must admit to having not a whole lot of hope for the future of the United States in the last few weeks.  The prospect of a Trump presidency fills me with dread.  President Obama, in his Thanksgiving message, called for all citizens to find common ground.  So did Donald Trump.  I'm not quite there yet.

But Miller Williams' poem reminds me that hope is still within reach. 

For Saint Marty, hope is about four years away.

Of History and Hope

by:  Miller Williams

We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

November 24: Wave Breast of Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day, Thanks for Everything

There is the wave breast of Thanksgiving--a catching God's eye with the easy motions of praise--and a time for it.  In ancient Israel's rites for a voluntary offering of thanksgiving, the priest comes before the altar in clean linen, empty-handed.  Into his hands is placed the breast of the slain unblemished ram of consecration:  and he waves it as a wave offering before the Lord.  The wind's knife has done its work.  Thanks be to God.

A wave breast of Thanksgiving.  That's my favorite part of the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my loyal disciples.  If you're not from the United States, let me explain.  Today (the last Thursday in November) is set aside in this country as a day to celebrate all of the blessings in your life.  I was raised with the story of the first Thanksgiving being a day when the pilgrims of the colonies shared a meal with their Native American neighbors.  It's a quaint origin myth, somewhat based on truth.

However, the real reason we celebrate Thanksgiving, in its present incarnation, is because of a woman named Sarah Joespha Hale.  Ms. Hale wrote a series of editorials during the Civil War, promoting the holiday.  In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a federal day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."

One of my Thanksgiving traditions is running a 5K race in the morning.  I've been participating in this Turkey Trot for over ten years.  This year, I ran it with one of my best friends from work.  It was cold and damp, but my friend was great company.  She was able to keep my mind off the fact that I haven't ran any considerable distance for close to three months.  Sad but true.  But I managed to cross the finish line without needing oxygen.

And then, of course, I attended two Thanksgiving dinners--one with my wife's family and one with my family.  It was a good day, filled with lots of laughter.  I was around people I love.  I got to eat food I love.  Now, I'm sitting in my living room, writing this blog post about gratitude.

I want to take this moment to thank everybody who reads this blog regularly.  I've been doing this for close to seven years.  Over three thousand posts.  That's a lot of angst, misery, and joy.  And you've stuck it out with me, even during the darkest of times.  So, thanks for everything.

Saint Marty is going to bed soon.  The tryptophan is kicking in.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

November 23: Holiday Ghosts, Miller Williams, "A Tenth Anniversary Photograph, 1952"

I think back around the holidays.  To Thanksgivings past, Christmases past.  Those times always seem to be sweeter, happier, warmer.  Sometimes, it's because of the people I've lost.   Other times, it's the yearning for something youthful--my infant daughter or son.  My mother used to be the general of the holidays, cooking the turkeys and hams, kneading the breads, dropping the oranges into the Jell-O, cutting out the cookies.  These days, she doesn't remember what day it is.

This morning, I was thinking about my sister, Sally.  She died last August.  Sitting at my desk at work, I actually found myself wanting to hear her voice.  It wasn't just a passing thought.  It was something physical.  Deep inside my chest.  It hurt.

Charles Dickens was right.  There are ghosts all around us this time of year.

Saint Marty isn't sad.  Just a little haunted.

A Tenth Anniversary Photograph, 1952

by:  Miller Williams

Look at their faces. You know it all.
They married the week he left for the war.
Both are gentle, intelligent people,
as all four of their parents were.

They’ve never talked about much
except the children. They love each other
but never wondered why they married
or had the kids or stayed together.

It wasn’t because they knew the answers.
They had never heard the questions
that twisted through the jokes to come
of Moses and the Ten Suggestions.

They paid their debts and never doubted
God rewarded faith and virtue
or when you got out of line
had big and little ways to hurt you.

People walked alone in parks.
Children slept in their yards at night.
Most every man had a paying job,
and black was black and white was white.

Would you go back? Say that you can,
that all it takes is a wave and a wink
and there you are. So what do you do?
The question is crueler than you think.

November 23: Full-of-Wonder, Thanksgiving Eve, Turkey Skin

I didn't know, I never have known, what spirit it is that descends into my lungs and flaps near my heart like an eagle rising.  I named it full-of-wonder, highest good, voices.  I shut my eyes and saw a tree stump hurled by wind, an enormous tree stump sailing sideways across my vision, with a wide circular brim of roots and soil like a tossed top hat.

Full-of-wonder.  That's a pretty good term for what Dillard is describing.  I have experienced it myself, walking across campus on a March day when a warm wind was blowing.  It's a stirring of the soul.  A movement from pupa to phoenix.  And it happens unexpectedly, triggered by some inner earthquake.

It is Thanksgiving Eve.  Tomorrow, almost everyone in the United States sits down with family or friends and shares a meal.  Usually turkey.  Sometimes ham.  Mashed potatoes and gravy and stuffing and corn.  The windows of the house are usually steamed with all the cooking.  And there's a coming together.  A communal sense of gratitude and blessing.  Spirit lifting.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays.  My mother would break out the tablecloth and linen napkins.  Nice crystal.  My parents would drink wine.  My brothers and sisters would load up on their favorite dishes.  For my sister, Sally, it was a strawberry Jell-O.  My brother, Kevin, favored pumpkin pie.  My sister, Mary, would make a turkey sandwich with homemade bread, mashed potatoes, corn, and gravy.  Me?  This may sound disgusting, but I've always loved the skin of the turkey.

Tonight, I have some cooking to do.  My wife is making double-layer pumpkin pie.  I have to throw together two pecan pies and a corn casserole.  I am not a big pie eater.  I hate pumpkin.  I can take or leave corn casserole.  But that's not the point.  In the end, it really doesn't matter what we eat.  It's about belonging, being a part of something bigger than myself.  A full-of-wonder moment.

Tonight, Saint Marty gives thanks for turkey skin and family.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22: Watching the News, Miller Williams, "Going Deaf"

I just finished watching the news.  A good portion of it was devoted to Donald Trump.  I have been making an effort to stay away from the topic of Trump in my blog posts, for I am still beyond dumbfounded at the results of the election.

On my local PBS station tonight, a documentary about the history of African Americans in the United States was airing.  I caught the last 40 or so minutes of it.  It showed footage from the night that Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States, and it filled me, for a few moments, with happiness.  I just remember all the hope of that night.  I actually believed that my country had somehow fundamentally changed.  We were better.  Kinder.  More just.

Not feeling that so much anymore.  I guess that I'm going to have to avoid watching the news for the next four years, or at least until Donald Trump gets impeached.  It may be the only way I'll survive without having some kind of stroke or developing a personality disorder.

Perhaps Saint Marty should just pretend that he's deaf.

Going Deaf

by:  Miller Williams

No matter how she tilts her head to hear
she sees the irritation in their eyes.
She knows how they can read a small rejection,
a little judgment, in every What did you say?
So now she doesn’t say What? or Come again?
She lets the syllables settle, hoping they form
some sort of shape that she might recognize.
When they don’t, she smiles with everyone else,
and then whoever was talking turns to her
and says, “Break wooden coffee, don’t you know?”
She pulls all she can focus into the face
to know if she ought to nod or shake her head.
In that long space her brain talks to itself.
The person may turn away as an act of mercy,
leaving her there in a room full of understanding
with nothing to cover her, neither sound nor silence .
That was a really good night.

November 22: Welcome Hyssop, Thanksgiving Service, Pie

I have glutted on richness and welcome hyssop . . .

Dillard is talking about generosity and thankfulness.  Richness and welcome.  She talks about rising up, like a monarch butterfly.  Gliding on the winds.  Up and down.  Dillard's celebrating the real world, naked and unadorned by the pearl of sunlight.  Not gilded by false expectations.

I went to a Thanksgiving service this evening at my wife's church.  Her pastor is from Liberia and is one of the most spiritual people that I've ever met.  His is a faith that is unreserved.  He doesn't hold anything back from God.  His wife and kids are still in Liberia.  So, he's here by himself in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where not a whole lot of people look or sound like him.

Yet, like Dillard, he is full of joy and thankfulness.  Tonight, he spoke about the upcoming holiday.  Talked about food and family and friends.  Yet, he went on, most people leave out the most important element in this festival of gratitude.  Not a whole lot of people raise their hands, shout "Hallelujah!" to the heavens on Thanksgiving Day.  God is the Great Provider, and we forget to thank Him.

After the service, we all sat around and ate pie.  Blueberry.  Apple.  Pumpkin.  Raspberry.  There was a young woman who was weeping at a table near me.  I'm not sure why, and I also don't know why I didn't get up and go to her.  Maybe she needed a hug.  Maybe she was just overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.  Maybe her mother had just died.  Or maybe her heart had just been broken.  Like I said, I just don't know.  But I missed an opportunity to show a little compassion,  Share a little happiness.

Saint Marty is thankful for the blueberry pie he had tonight.  He's also going to say a prayer for that young woman.  A prayer for laughter instead of tears.

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 21: Poet of the Week, Miller Williams, "For a Girl I Know about to Be a Woman"

So, there have been five poets who have read at U. S. presidential inaugurations since 1961:  Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander, Richard Blanco, and this week's Poet of the Week--Miller Williams.  Funny enough, all of these poets participated in the inaugural ceremonies of Democratic Presidents of the United States.  John F. Kennedy.  Bill Clinton.  Barack Obama.  You can decide for yourself why no poet has read at the presidential inauguration of a Republican.

There's a big brouhaha on the Internet right now about what poet would read at the inauguration of Donald Trump.  Lots of bad protest verse is being written.  My prediction is that there will not be a poet at the Trump inauguration.  It would be too difficult to get through the crowds in white sheets.  (That is my one and only Trump joke for this post.)

Miller Williams read at the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton.  Williams was a native of Arkansas (just like Maya Angelou four years before).  Later in the week, I will include Williams' inauguration poem.  Tonight, however, I found one that speaks to any father of a teenage daughter.

Saint Marty wishes he had written this poem.

For a Girl I Know about to Be a Woman

by:  Miller Williams

Because you’ll find how hard it can be
to tell which part of your body sings,
you never should dally with any young man
who does any one of the following things:

tries to beat all the yellow lights;
says, “Big deal!” or “So what?”
more than seven times a day;
ignores yellow lines in a parking lot;

carries a radar detector;
asks what you did with another date;
has more than seven bumper stickers;
drinks beer early and whiskey late;

talks on a cellular phone at lunch;
tunes to radio talk shows;
doesn’t fasten his seat belt;
knows more than God knows;

wants you to change how you do your hair;
spits in a polystyrene cup;
doesn’t use his turn signal;
wants you to change your makeup;

calls your parents their given names;
doesn’t know why you don’t smoke;
has dirt under his fingernails;
makes a threat and calls it a joke;

pushes to get you to have one more;
seems to have trouble staying awake;
says “dago” and “wop” and words like that;
swerves a car to hit a snake;
sits at a table wearing a hat;
has a boneless handshake.

You’re going to know soon enough
the ones who fail this little test.
Mark them off your list at once
and be very careful of all the rest.
Robert Frost at President Kennedy's Inauguration

November 21: Chomp or Fast, Saint Francis of Assisi, Whiny Bitch

Still, it is to the picture of the "sleek silvery" crab-eater seals that I return, seals drawn up by scientists from the Antarctic ice pack, seals bearing again and again the long gash marks of unthinkable teeth.  Any way you look at it, from the point of view of the whale or the seal or the crab, from the point of view of the mosquito or copperhead or frog or dragonfly or minnow or rotifier, it is chomp or fast.

That's a fairly depressing worldview, if you ask me.  Survival depending upon size and aggression and chance.  If I am a crab, I look out for the seal.  If I am a seal, I'm looking over my shoulder for the whale with the big teeth.  God help me if I'm a dragonfly or minnow.  Every creature needs to consume.  Every creature can be consumed.  The choice Dillard lays out here:  are you going to feast or starve?

Of course, Dillard knows life is a little more complicated than this paradigm, especially for human beings.  Most of the creatures of the world operate on instinct.  They see food, they eat food.  Simple as that.  Humankind has to throw in complicated things like morality and ethics and conscience and social responsibility.  All those things sort of mess up the menu for us.

However, this post is not going to be about food, despite the fact that Thanksgiving (that American festival of gluttony) is only three days away.  No, my point tonight is about sacrifice.  Last night, I finished reading Saint Bonaventure's biography of Saint Francis of Assisi.  (That's right--it's a book about a saint written by a saint.  Double your pleasure.)  Over and over, Bonaventure writes of how Francis would retreat to some desert hideaway to fast and pray for extended periods of time.  Francis wouldn't eat for, like, forty days and nights.

Saint Francis really valued sacrifice.  He starved himself, donated what food he had to the poor.  On more than one occasion, he gave the clothes right off his back to some cold, needy schlub that he met along the road.  He walked barefoot.  Wore robes that were soft as asbestos.  He slept on the ground, using a rock for a pillow.

Now, you might guess that all of this sacrifice may have done him some injury.  You would be right.  A good portion of his adult life, Francis was a very ill man.  At the time of his death, he was nearly blind and suffering from the wounds of the Stigmata.  One biographer even hypothesizes that Francis may have contracted leprosy from his ministrations at a local hospital for lepers. 

Yet, from what Bonaventure writes, Francis always counted himself the luckiest of people.  His choices weren't limited to chomp or starve.  He exuded joy all the time, even at his physically weakest moments.  I imagine he could tell a good joke if the mood struck him.  And people thronged him wherever he went.  Wanted to be with him, talk to him, feed him, house him.  He was a pretty popular guy, for a hermit.  It probably had something to do with his ability to cast out demons, make the lame walk, and raise the dead.  But, at the time of his death, Francis had thousands of disciples.  Not bad for a guy with a bad haircut.

I'm not trying to blaspheme here.  My point is that sometimes I lose sight of the joy in my life.  Instead of focusing on my blessings, I focus on my needs.  I do that a lot of the time, as a matter of fact.  I have a feeling that, if I were to meet Saint Francis on the street, he would kick my ass and call me a whiny bitch.  (He would speak in Italian, so it would sound a lot holier.)  He wouldn't have suffered my brand of spirituality very long.  If you can't tell, I was little . . . humbled by the life of Saint Francis last night.

So, in honor of Francis of Assisi, Saint Marty is giving thanks for the needs of his life tonight, because needs are just opportunities for moving a little closer to God.

There are no funny Saint Francis cartoons

Sunday, November 20, 2016

November 20: Shoveling, Newt Scamander, Classic Saint Marty

Heard the snowplows go by my house at around 5:30 a.m.  About 15 minutes later, I was outside with a shovel, cleaning up my driveway and front yard.  It took me over an hour.  By the time I was done, I was soaked in sweat and ready to go back to bed.

But I didn't.  I took a shower and got ready for church.  A whole morning of practicing with my praise band and then the chancel choir.  An hour of worship.  Then I went home, got changed, and drove over to my dad's house to shovel his driveway.  I have to say that I'm already tired of winter, and it's only the first snowstorm of the season.  It's going to be a long six or seven months.  (For those of my disciples not from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I am NOT exaggerating.) 

The afternoon got a lot better, though.  I went to see a movie with my kids--Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  That's right, Newt Scamander and a big bucket of popcorn did a lot to change my mood.  I will not say that it was my favorite film from the Harry Potter universe, but it was a really good way to change my rather cold and icy mood.  My teenage daughter even laughed and smiled.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired four years ago, when my little girl was on the brink of teenagehood.  All I can say is that some things change and some things are pretty constant.

November 20, 2012:  What Did I Do?

I am tired of being the father of an almost-teenage girl tonight.  When I picked my daughter up from my parents' house this evening, she came unglued on me.  She was mad that I had showed up to bring her home.  When we got home, she came unglued on me again, this time because she had lost a notebook she needed for school.  Then, after she had calmed down, she came unglued once more because she left another school book at my parents' house.

Currently, we are sitting in silence in the living room.  We are at a stalemate.  She doesn't want to talk to me, and I don't want to be screamed at anymore.  Perhaps things will get better when we're both asleep.

I don't like fighting with my daughter.  Actually, I'm not fighting with her.  I have spoken a total of three or four times to her.  I have said "Let's get going, sweetie" and "Do you have any homework tonight?" and "What are you looking for?" and "Did you leave it at school?"  I think that's about it.  In return, I have gotten door slamming, screaming, tears, and glares.  It's like living with a skunk.  I walk around, trying not to startle her in order to avoid a big stink.

I miss the little girl who would sit in my lap while I read Charlotte's Web to her.  I have a friend who recently went on a trip to Pennsylvania.  When I asked my friend how her trip was, she said, "If I had to do it over, I would raise my kids Amish.  They're up at dawn, in the barns and fields.  They work all day and are too tired at night to cause any problems."  My friend has three daughters.  All three of them had babies when they were teenagers.

Maybe my friend is on to something.  Maybe the Amish are on to something.  No zippers.  Long, black dresses.  Church.  Barn raisings.  Arranged marriages.  Horses and carriages.

The only problem is that Saint Marty doesn't look good in a beard.

This would not be a good look for me

Saturday, November 19, 2016

November 19: Turkey Trot, Richard Blanco, "Unspoken Elegy for Tia Cucha"

This coming Thursday, I am going to run a 5K Turkey Trot.  It's sort of become a tradition for me.  Every Thanksgiving morning, I get in my car, travel 20 or so miles, and participate in this race that benefits a local high school orchestra.

When I first started doing this over ten years ago, I used to run the 10K race.  Did it for close to six or seven years.  Then, one year, I injured myself in the summer, and all I could manage was the 5K that year.  I haven't run the longer race ever since, although I keep promising myself that I will.

I think it has something to do with getting older.  I know I am in no shape to run ten kilometers.  I'm barely in shape to run five.  I may end up walking a good portion of the course this year.  Just haven't been running much.  I'm getting older.

My father's recent fall at home has put me in a reflective mood.  Mortality has been looming large in my thoughts.  I'm not getting maudlin about it.  I'm just realizing that I'm not longer in my twenties anymore, when running a 10K would have not even caused a cramp in my side.  Nope.  This Thursday, I will count myself lucky if I cross the finish line without a limp.

Richard Blanco understands this grappling with aging relatives.  My dad will always be the guy who can tear a Detroit phone book in half with his bare hands, even if he can't walk across the living room right now without getting winded.

And Saint Marty will always be able to run a 10K without breaking a sweat.

Unspoken Elegy for Tia Cucha

by:  Richard Blanco

I arrive with a box of pastelitos,
a dozen red carnations, and a handful
of memories at her door: the half-moons
of her French manicures, how she spoke
blowing out cigarette smoke, her words
leaving her mouth as ghosts, the music
of her nicknames: Cucha, Cuchita, Pucha.
I kiss her hello and she slaps me hard
across my arm: ¡Cabrón! Too handsome
to visit your Tía, eh? She laughs, pulls me
inside her efficiency, a place I thought
I had forgotten, comes back to life
with wafts of Jean Naté and Pine Sol,
the same calendar from Farmacia León
with scenes of Old Havana on the wall,
the same peppermints in a crystal dish.
And her, wearing a papery housecoat,
sneakers with panty hose, like she wore
those summer mornings she'd walk me
down to the beach along First Street,
past the washed-out pinks and blues
of the Art Deco hotels like old toys.
The retirees lined across the verandas
like seagulls peering into the horizon,
the mango popsicles from the bodeguita
and the pier she told me was once
a bridge to Cuba- have all vanished.

I ask how she's feeling, but we agree
not to talk about that today, though
we both know why I have come
to see her: in a few months, maybe
weeks, her lungs will fill up again,
her heart will stop for good. She too
will vanish, except what I remember
of her, this afternoon: sharing a pastelito,
over a café she sweetens with Equal
at her dinette table crowded with boxes
of low-salt saltines and fibery cereals.
Under the watch of Holy Jesus' heart
burning on the wall, we gossip about
the secret crush she had on my father
once, she counts exactly how many
years and months since she left Cuba
and her mother forever. We complain
about the wars, disease, fires blazing
on the midday news as she dunks
the flowers in a tumbler- a dozen red
suns burst in the sapphire sky framed
in the window, sitting by the table.

November 19: Ichneumon Flies, Blood Sport, Money Struggles

"To prevent a like fate," Teale continues, "some of the ichneumon flies, those wasplike parasites which deposit their eggs in the body tissues of caterpillars, have to scatter their eggs while in flight at times when they are unable to find their prey and the eggs are ready to hatch within their bodies."

Weird little fact.  Flies zigging through the air, dropping their eggs like the firebombing of Dresden.  The flies have to do this.  If the eggs hatch inside the flies, the young will start munching on their mommies.  So, it's either kill or be lunch.

Children can be trying at times.  Especially around this time of year, when they are bombarded by commercials for new gadgets, toys, technology, books, music.  The blood sport of Black Friday shopping in the United States.  I must admit to making some back alley deals for a Tickle Me Elmo back in the day.  As a parent, I want to make my son and daughter happy, give them everything they want.

Of course, I've never been able to do that for my kids.  They are pretty aware of the financial constraints that exist in our household.  But, interestingly enough, they have always been pretty happy in our modest home.  (Since my daughter has become a teenager, she's been chafing at the fact that she has to share a room with her little brother.  We're working on that one.)  My wife and I try to give them a good life.  Today, my son gets to go see the Trolls movie.  My daughter gets her dance lesson this afternoon.  Tomorrow, we're all going to see the new Harry Potter movie.  Like I said, we do the best we can. 

Big things--like remodeling the attic for my daughter--take a lot of planning and time and prayer.  A LOT of prayer.  I'm not complaining.  I know that my problems are another person's fairy tale.  My kids are smart and funny and compassionate.  Hopefully spiritual, too.  (My daughter sometimes bristles at going to church, but she eventually comes around.)

I know that I will never be a rich person.  We will always have money struggles.  My kids will never be the best dressed.  My daughter is not going to get a new car as a graduation present.  My eight-year-old son is about eight years away from getting his own cell phone, although he wants one desperately right now.  That's just the life I've chosen.  But I don't think I'll ever have to push my kids out of an airplane to save myself from being eaten alive. 

Saint Marty gives thanks today for his daughter and son.

Friday, November 18, 2016

November 18: Before Thanksgiving, Richard Blanco, "Mother Picking Produce"

This weekend before Thanksgiving, I've been thinking a lot about the meals my mother used to prepare for the holiday.  How I would wake up in the morning to the smell of the turkey already in the oven.  Watching the Macy's parade on television while she made Jell-O molds, boiled potatoes, and stirred gravy.  The cranberries on the plate, still ribbed and shaped like a can.

In my mind, Thanksgiving was my mother's holiday.  She worked herself to exhaustion, the whole day.  And then, when everything was on the table, she would sit down to a wine glass filled with Cold Duck.  She would sometimes give me a sip of it, cool and red and bitter.

Now, it's up to us.  We cook the turkey and pumpkin pies.  Mash the potatoes.  Open the cranberries.  Drop the fruit into the Jell-O.  And my mother sits there and marvels at all the food in front of her.  Thanks us for making the dinner.

Saint Marty was an ungrateful kid, not really appreciating anything that his mother did.

Mother Picking Produce

by:  Richard Blanco

She scratches the oranges then smells the peel,
presses an avocado just enough to judge its ripeness,
polishes the Macintoshes searching for bruises.

She selects with hands that have thickened, fingers
that have swollen with history around the white gold
of a wedding ring she now wears as a widow.

Unlike the archived photos of young, slender digits
captive around black and white orange blossoms,
her spotted hands now reaching into the colors.

I see all the folklore of her childhood, the fields,
the fruit she once picked from the very tree,
the wiry roots she pulled out of the very ground.

And now, among the collapsed boxes of yucca,
through crumbling pyramids of golden mangos,
she moves with the same instinct and skill.

This is how she survives death and her son,
on these humble duties that will never change,
on those habits of living which keep a life a life.

She holds up red grapes to ask me what I think,
and what I think is this, a new poem about her-
the grapes look like dusty rubies in her hands,

what I say is this: they look sweet, very sweet.

November 18: Prayer Tunnel, Mr. Tumnus, Son's New Medication

The prayer tunnel was a tunnel fully enclosed by solid snow.  It was cylindrical, and its diameter was the height of man.  Only an Eskimo, and then only very rarely, could survive in the prayer tunnel.  There was, however, no exit or entrance; but I nevertheless understood that if I--if almost anyone, volunteered to enter it, death would follow after a long and bitter struggle.  Inside the tunnel it was killingly cold, and a hollow wind like broadswords never ceased to blow.  But there was little breatheable air, and that soon gone.  It was utterly without light, and from all eternity it snowed the same, fine, unmelting, wind-hurled snow.

Every time I read Dillard's description of the prayer tunnel, it reminds me of two things:  Narnia under the spell of eternal winter and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from November to about April.  Unending cold and wind and snow.  If you don't believe me, come to my house about mid-December.  You'll probably see Mr. Tumnus the faun and Aslan the lion walking down the street, talking about Christmas.

Tonight, the first major winter storm is barreling down on the U. P.  About 3 a.m., the winds will start screaming, and the Trump signs on my neighbor's lawn will hopefully be picked up and carried away to the ice castle of Jadis, the White Witch.  It could happen.  The forecast is for 50- to 60-mile-per-hour gales.  All day long, it's felt like a prelude.  Gray and damp.  Clouds heavy as wet bed sheets.

My son took the first doses of his new medication today.  The pharmacist warned us about sudden drops in blood pressure and uncontrollable sleepiness.  We're keeping a close eye on him this weekend.  In a way, it's like watching for the first snowflake to come roaring out of the sky.  Something's going to change.  Either it will be pleasant--a fairy tale filled with gnomes and talking beavers--or it will be difficult--a blizzard with tornadic snows.

I'm cautiously hopeful.  I didn't really notice any difference in my son's behavior this evening.  He was tired and stubborn, repeating his current catchphrase ("I don't even care").  Yesterday, I attended a meeting with the guidance counselor and my son's teacher.  It was primarily to discuss ways to deal with his sometimes aggressive behaviors.  As I was leaving after the meeting, I thanked my son's teacher for being so patient with him.  "I know he can be very challenging," I said.  I think she could tell I was little down about the whole thing.

She smiled and put her hand on my shoulder.  "But he's worth it," she said.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for caring teachers.

One of my neighbors

Thursday, November 17, 2016

November 17: A Visit, Richard Blanco, "El Florida Room'

A poet friend of mine just stopped by for a visit.  She used to be a professor at the university where I teach.  Over the years, we have worked on a lot of projects together.  When she was poetry editor of the university's literary magazine, I was her assistant editor.  She directed my MFA thesis and my Master's thesis.  When I'm with her, I feel like a real writer.

The reason for her visit--she wants me to judge a poetry contest with her.  Of course, I accepted the offer.  I haven't gotten too many opportunities to do things like that recently.  When my friend was at the university, we spent many hours combing through poems for the magazine.  It was an exciting time for me.

As she was leaving this evening, she gave me a hug and said, "This will be just like the good old days."

I hugged her back and said, "We still have a lot of good days ahead of us."

I'm still basking in our conversation, which ranged far and wide, from poetry and writers to Donald Trump and racism.  It made me a little nostalgic, I have to admit.  I miss the time when I felt a little more . . . valuable in the English Department.  When my opinion mattered for something.

In tonight's poem, Richard Blanco sort of captures the ache that I felt after my poet friend left.  For a while, it was as if I'd taken a few steps back in time.

Now, Saint Marty is in Trumpland again.

El Florida Room

by:  Richard Blanco

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.

Not a sitting room, but El Florida, where
I sat alone for hours with butterflies
frozen on the polyester curtains
and faces of Lladró figurines: sad angels,
clowns, and princesses with eyes glazed
blue and gray, gazing from behind
the glass doors of the wall cabinet.

Not a TV room, but where I watched
Creature Feature as a boy, clinging
to my brother, safe from vampires
in the same sofa where I fell in love
with Clint Eastwood and my Abuelo
watching westerns, or pitying women
crying in telenovelas with my Abuela.

Not a family room, but the room where
my father twirled his hair while listening
to eight-tracks of Elvis, read Nietzsche
and Kant a few months before he died,
where my mother learned to dance alone
as she swept, and I learned salsa pressed
against my Tía Julia’s enormous breasts.

At the edge of the city, in the company
of crickets, beside the empty clothesline,
telephone wires, and the moon, tonight
my life is an old friend sitting with me
not in the living room, but in the light
of El Florida, as quiet and necessary
as any star shining above it.