Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19: Kilgore Trout, Little Reflections, a Little Insane

Trout lost his argument with the boy who wanted to quit.  He told the boy about all the millionaires who had carried newspapers as boys, and the boy replied:  "Yeah--but I bet they quit after a week, it's such a royal screwing."

And the boy left his full newspaper bag at Trout's feet, with the customer book on top.  It was up to Trout to deliver these papers.  He didn't have a car.  He didn't have a bicycle, and he was scared to death of dogs.

Somewhere a big dog barked.

As Trout lugubriously slung the bag from his shoulder, Billy Pilgrim approached him.  "Mr. Trout--?"

"Yes?"

"Are--are you Kilgore Trout?"

"Yes."  Trout supposed that Billy had some complaint about the way his newspapers were being delivered.  He did not think of himself as a writer for the simple reason that the world had never allowed him to think of himself in this way.

"The--the writer?" said Billy.

"The what?"

Billy was certain that he had made a mistake.  "There's a writer named Kilgore Trout."

"There is?" Trout looked foolish and dazed.

"You never heard of him?"

Trout shook his head.  "Nobody--nobody ever did."

Most writers live in obscurity, like Kilgore Trout.  Not by choice.  If writers tell you they don't care if anybody reads their work, they're lying.  Every writer wants to be read.  Every writer wants to connect with people through words.

That's the reason I write poems and essays.  It's why I write these blog posts every night.  I like to believe that somehow I make a small difference in the world with these little reflections.  I may be wrong.  However, I can't stop.  If I didn't write, I think I'd probably go a little insane.

Writing is like breathing to me.  That may sound a little melodramatic, but I would bet that, if you ask any writer, he or she would say the same thing.  For me, putting words on paper is my way of making sense of the world in all its craziness. 

As Forrest Gump says, "That's about all I have to say about that."

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for words.


September 19: Saint Marty's Day Decorations, Paul Muldoon, "The Birth"

Well, it's time to go up into the attic and drag out your Saint Marty's Day decorations.  In fifteen days, it will be Saint Marty's Day Eve, when children go to bed, dreaming of tapioca pudding.

So, tonight, put up your Saint Marty's Day tree.  Make some Saint Marty's Day cookies.  Maybe watch a couple Saint Marty's Day TV specials, like "A Charlie Brown Saint Marty's Day" and "How the Grinch Stole Saint Marty's Day."

And now, a poem in honor of Saint Marty's Day . . .

The Birth

by:  Paul Muldoon

Seven o'clock. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year.
No sooner have I got myself up in lime-green scrubs,
a sterile cap and mask,
and taken my place at the head of the table

than the windlass-woman ply their shears
and gralloch-grub
for a footling foot, then, warming to their task,
haul into the inestimable

realm of apple-blossoms and chanterelles and damsons and eel-spears
and foxes and the general hubbub
of inkies and jennets and Kickapoos with their lemniscs
or peekaboo-quiffs of Russian sable

and tallow-unctuous vernix, into the realm of the widgeon—
the 'whew' or 'yellow-poll', not the 'zuizin'—

Dorothy Aoife Korelitz Muldoon: I watch through floods of tears
as they give her a quick rub-a-dub
and whisk
her off to the nursery, then check their staple-guns for staples


Monday, September 18, 2017

September 18: Poet of the Week, Paul Muldoon, "Hedgehog"

Around this time of year, in literary circles, Paul Muldoon's name gets thrown around a lot.  He's an Irish poet.  A contemporary of Seamus Heaney.  Muldoon read at Heaney's funeral. 

Certainly, Paul Muldoon deserves to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I think he will, some day.  Maybe this year.  Who knows?

But, if his name isn't spoken in Sweden this October, Paul Muldoon can at least boast that he was named Poet of the Week by Saint Marty. 

That should be a consolation.

Hedgehog

by:  Paul Muldoon

The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself,
Sharing its secret

With the hedgehog. The hedgehog
Shares its secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you.

We mean no harm. We want
Only to listen to what
You have to say. We want
Your answers to our questions.

The hedgehog gives nothing
Away, keeping itself to itself.
We wonder what a hedgehog
Has to hide, why it so distrusts.

We forget the god
Under this crown of thorns.
We forget that never again
Will a god trust in the world.


September 18: Gutless Wonder, Kardashians and Hillarys, More Hopeful

Billy Pilgrim parked his Cadillac in the alley, and waited for the meeting to end.  When the meeting broke up, there was still one boy Trout had to deal with.  The boy wanted to quit because the work was so hard and the hours were so long and the pay was so small.  Trout was concerned, because, if the boy really quit, Trout would have to deliver the boy's route himself, until he could find another sucker.

"What are you?" Trout asked the boy scornfully.  "Some kind of gutless wonder?"

This, too, was the title of a book by Trout, The Gutless Wonder.  It was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured.  But what made the story remarkable, since it was written in 1932, was that it predicted the widespread use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings.

It was dropped from airplanes.  Robots did the droppings.  They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground.

Trout's leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls.  And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on people.  But they found his halitosis unforgivable.  But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race.

Of course Vonnegut is trying to make some kind of profound comment about human nature with this passage.  The gutless wonder robot can bomb innocent people with burning jellied gasoline.  That's okay.  It's just another unpleasant job, like picking up garbage or emptying bedpans or being Donald Trump's press secretary.  Bad breath, however?  Fuhgeddaboudit.

Vonnegut's ciriticism still cuts pretty close to home in the United States.  We are a society that values Kardashians and demonizes Hillarys, unfortunately.  It doesn't matter whether a person is morally or ethically bankrupt.  As long as that person looks like Bradd Pitt or is as rich as Bill Gates, he or she can do just about anything.  Maybe even be elected President of the United States.

There's a lot more going on in that little passage.  A criticism of war crimes perpetrated against innocent civilians.  War's dehumanizing effects of soldiers.  Man's inhumanity to man (pardon the gender-specific language).  Vonnegut's writing in Slaughterhouse rarely operates on one level. 

I appreciate the subtlety of Vonnegut's humor and social commentary.  There are few writers, living or dead, who are his equal in this respect.  But I'm never really sure if Vonnegut believed that humans could rise above their inherent flaws.  Certainly, he shows us repeating our mistakes over-and-over throughout time, never able to make things right.  Dresden will always be bombed.  Billy will always be assassinated.  The universe will always end.  Always in the same way,  Always at the same time.  No escape.

I like to be a little more hopeful than Vonnegut.  Perhaps it's the Christian in me.  I want to believe that people, deep down, are good and kind.  That altruism is stronger than egotism.  That's what I try to teach my kids:  focus outward, not inward.  Instead of complaining about the homeless person begging at Walmart, buy that homeless person a Happy Meal from McDonald's.  Instead of judging a person by skin color or religion or sexual orientation, go to a movie with that person, make a friend. 

We aren't trapped by the past, present, or future like Billy Pilgrim.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for Happy Meals and movies.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

September 17: Homemade Blueberry Jam, Classic Saint Marty, "Metamorphoses"

Sorry for my absence yesterday.  I was out doing poet stuff in a near-by town.  Read with a poet friend of mine under a pavilion by a beautiful lake.  It was a warm and lazy kind of day, where nobody seems in a hurry to do anything.  I ended up meeting quite a few wonderful people and picked up a jar of homemade blueberry jam.

Today, it was church in the morning.  Schoolwork in the afternoon.  Then reading and more reading.  Maybe some writing, if I'm lucky.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired two years ago, and I was talking to a good friend about suffering and tragedy . . .

September 17, 2017:  Eerie Shadows, Balloon Viscera, Laura Boss, "I Don't Visit My Father's Grave"

...One night, while working late, Ives, in his fatigue, staggered out to Madison Avenue, for as far as he could see, the office buildings were casting eerie shadows, and he felt the world a lonely and dreadful place.  He often awoke with a gasp in the middle of the night, his heartbeat accelerated, his breathing shallow, his heart filled with sadness, his head with memory.

Ives grieves for a long time.  He grieves so long that his wife considers divorce.  Ives grieves.  His daughter goes to Nepal, comes back, gets married, and has kids.  Ives grieves.  His best friend's wife dies.  And still Ives grieves.  For close to two hundred pages, Ives is in a constant state of sadness

I don't know why, but I thought I would somehow be beyond crying over my sister's death by now.  I had it all figured out.  I allowed myself to be angry and sad for two weeks.  At the beginning of September, back to work and teaching.  No more time for tears or being pissed off.  That was my schedule.

It hasn't worked out so well for me.  I can go for a few hours, maybe a day.  Suddenly, I'm walking to my car or brushing my teeth or eating a banana, and I start crying and can't stop.  I was talking to a good friend from the English Department, and he asked me how I was doing.  I told him about my attacks of sorrow, and he said, "Well, yeah.  You're going to be recovering from this for the rest of your life."

We talked about how the human race is united by tragedy and sadness.

"Why can't we be united by balloon animals or something?" he said.

I told him that, every time I tried to make a balloon dog or swan, it turns into balloon intestines.

"That's it," my friend said.  "We should be united by balloon viscera.  Something that lifts us up from inside."

Saint Marty's had a good day.  Good day working.  Good day teaching.  No anger.  No sadness.  Just balloon viscera raising him higher and higher.

I Don't Visit My Father's Grave

by:  Laura Boss

I don't visit my father's grave
don't put stones on his tombstone
don't say prayers
don't forget him


And another poem for this quiet Sunday afternoon about autumn changes . . .

Metamorphoses

by:  Martin Achatz



I want to speak about bodies
Changed into new forms.
My daughter, ten, on the verge
Of petal, stigma, ovule, sepal,
Talks of All Hallows Eve, the form
She will assume when Selene
Rises into the starry heavens.
Talks of the living dead, hunger
For the taste of flesh, of body.
Then changes her mind.
She will be straw in cornfield,
Blight against crow feather.
Then she chooses
A fairy nymph of cobweb,
Draped in lace and silk,
Arachne’s fine handiwork,
Fat with flies and moth wing.
Her muse shifts yet again.
She will be spell caster.
Pointed hat, frog skin,
Green and marbled with the dark
Matter of the universe.  And now,
Her final mutation, she will be
A girl, red-cloaked, a penchant
For forest and hairy stranger
In her young breast.  I fear
This form most.  Fear she won’t
Want to morph back on All Soul’s Day.
Fear she will just keep changing
States.  Liquid.  Solid.  Vapor.
Until she drifts away from me,
Or becomes some creature I don’t know
How to love.



Friday, September 15, 2017

September 15: Worry and Kids, Gabriela Mistral, "The Sad Mother"

If you are a parent, you understand tonight's poem.  It doesn't matter whether your child is 6 weeks or six months or sixty years old.  You always worry about your kids.

One of the saddest moments of my life was watching my octogenarian mother sitting by my dying sister's hospital bed, holding her hand, and saying over and over, "It's okay.  Mommy's here."

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for his two beautiful, healthy kids.

The Sad Mother

by:  Gabriela Mistral

Sleep, sleep, my beloved,
without worry, without fear,
although my soul does not sleep,
although I do not rest.

Sleep, sleep, and in the night
may your whispers be softer
than a leaf of grass,
or the silken fleece of lambs.

May my flesh slumber in you,
my worry, my trembling.
In you, may my eyes close
and my heart sleep.


September 15: Money Tree, Sistine Chapel, Happiness

Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree.  It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves.  Its flowers were government bonds.  Its fruit was diamonds.  It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.

So it goes.

A money tree.  It's a good dream.  Twenty-dollar bills getting old and falling in the autumn.  Bonds blossoming and blooming in spring and summer.  Ripe diamonds littering the ground.  And, of course, all the human greed feeding its roots.

I have always had money worries.  Most months are a game of which bill can I put off paying for another week.  That's the product of having advanced degrees in poetry and fiction and teaching as a contingent faculty member at a university.  It's the path that I have chosen, and I accept the struggle.

Money won't make my life eternally happy and blessed.  It would lessen my stress levels, but it certainly wouldn't fulfill all my dreams.  Maybe a few of them.  I've always wanted to visit the Sistine Chapel, see Charles Dickens' writing desk, pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  But money won't buy a lifetime of happiness.  My sister had hundreds of thousands of dollars in her retirement accounts, didn't really have to struggle to pay her bills.  Yet, the last couple years of her life were sickness and decline.  Money couldn't help her.

Tonight, I am going out to dinner with my wife, daughter, and my daughter's boyfriend.  I will probably order a drink.  Or two.  Then, I'll go home and watch a couple episodes of Breaking Bad with my family.  Tomorrow, I'm going to a day-long poetry event in another town.

Saint Marty doesn't need a money tree.  He has all the happiness he needs this weekend.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 14: Kilgore Trout, Celebrity, Selena Gomez

Trout lives in a rented basement in Ilium, about two miles from Billy's nice white home.  He himself has no idea how many novels he has written--possibly seventy-five of the things.  Not one of them has made money.  So Trout keeps body and soul together as a circulation man for the Ilium Gazette, manages newspaper delivery boys, bullies and flatters and cheats little kids.

Billy met him for the first time in 1964.  Billy drove his Cadillac down a back alley in Ilium, and he found his way blocked by dozens of boys and their bicycles.  A meeting was in progress.  The boys were harangued by a man in a full beard.  He was cowardly and dangerous, and obviously very good at his job.  Trout was sixty-two years old back then.  He was telling the kids to get off their dead butts and get their daily customers to subscribe to the fucking Sunday edition, too.  He said that whoever sold the most Sunday subscriptions during the next two months would get a free trip for himself and his parents to Martha's fucking Vineyard for a week, all expenses paid.

And so on.

One of the newspaper boys was actually a newspaper girl.  She was electrified.

Trout's paranoid face was terribly familiar to Billy, who had seen it on the jackets of so many books.  But, coming upon that face suddenly in a home-town alley, Billy cold not guess why the face was familiar.  Billy thought maybe he had known this cracked messiah in Dresden somewhere.  Trout certainly looked like a prisoner of war.

And then the newspaper girl held up her hand.  "Mr. Trout--" she said, "if I win, can I take my sister, too?"

"Hell, now," said Kilgore Trout.  "You think money grows on trees?"

Kilgore Trout is a disappointment for Billy.  Trout comes off as some modern-day Fagin, yelling at his newspaper orphans.  He certainly doesn't inspire admiration, except in the gullible children who crave what he promises--a free vacation to Martha's fucking Vineyard.  Trout is all about the money.

Sometimes, famous or semi-famous people can be disappointing in person.  I've met or seen my fair share of celebrities.  I shook Kurt Vonnegut's hand once.  Sat in the same room with Sharon Olds and talked with her about poetry.  Touched Vincent Price's back.  Saw John Cleese eating a hamburger with his wife in Big Sur.  Listened to Spike Lee give a speech about racism in the movie business.

My encounters with fame have varied from incredible (Sharon Olds) to pathetic (Bob Seger strolling through a shopping mall in Detroit).  Fame is not necessarily a gauge for a person's worth.  Some of the most famous people in the world are horrible human beings.  (Can I get a "Donald Trump!" on that one?)  Yet, our culture thrives on celebrity.  There are thousands of Syrians still starving in refugee camps, and yet one of the big news items today is "Selena Gomez Recovering After Kidney Transplant."  (Don't get me wrong.  I hope Selena does well with her new organ, but there are more important global issues that should be concerning us.  Can I get a "global warming!" or "neo-Nazis!" on that one?)

Kilgore Trout really isn't a celebrity.  His books are terrible.  Billy Pilgrim is probably one of the only members of the Kilgore Trout fan club.  Yet, certainly Kilgore Trout (if he really existed and did write 75 science fiction novels) would have his own booth at Comic-Con and a line of people waiting for his autograph.  That's the nature of celebrity.  It doesn't matter whether a person is a serial killer or a Nobel Prize-winning poet, fame will attract fans.

Of course, the best celebrities are those who use that fame for good things.  George Clooney and UNICEF.  Bono and his war on hunger and poverty.  River Phoenix and his work for animal rights.  Celebrity itself is not a bad thing.  It's what people do with that celebrity that makes the difference.

When Saint Marty wins the Nobel Prize in Literature this October, he promises to donate a few dollars toward a brain transplant for the current President of the United States.


September 14: State Fair Almonds, Gabriela Mistral, "Decalogue of the Artist"

I am sitting in my office at the university at the moment, having just finished an eight-hour shift in the medical office.  I have lots of time to kill, as my daughter and son have dance until late this evening.  In front of me is a bag of cinnamon sugar almonds, the kind you get at state fairs and carnivals.  I'm eating the nuts, listening to "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, and thinking about the end of summer. 

This past week, temperatures in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan have been unusually warm.  In the 80s most days, including today.  It's as if September is trying to make up for the rain and cold of June, July, and August.  The leaves have started changing already.  Lots of orange along U. S. 41 on my home. 

I'm not ready to let go of summer just yet (hence my snack of state fair almonds).  Not ready to relinquish warm afternoons, nights of cricket song under thick stars.  I'm not whining here.  Just saying that this sun and heat can hang around until about Christmas.

Saint Marty is thankful this afternoon for the beauty of summer, even if it's three months late.

Decalogue of the Artist

by:  Gabriela Mistral

I. You shall love beauty, which is the shadow of God
over the Universe.

II.There is no godless art. Although you love not the
Creator, you shall bear witness to Him creating His likeness.

III.You shall create beauty not to excite the senses
but to give sustenance to the soul.

IV. You shall never use beauty as a pretext for luxury
and vanity but as a spiritual devotion.

V. You shall not seek beauty at carnival or fair
or offer your work there, for beauty is virginal
and is not to be found at carnival or fair.

VI. Beauty shall rise from your heart in song,
and you shall be the first to be purified.

VII.The beauty you create shall be known
as compassion and shall console the hearts of men.

VIII.You shall bring forth your work as a mother
brings forth her child: out of the blood of your heart.

IX. Beauty shall not be an opiate that puts you
to sleep but a strong wine that fires you to action,
for if you fail to be a true man or a true woman,
you will fail to be an artist.

X. Each act of creation shall leave you humble,
for it is never as great as your dream and always
inferior to that most marvelous dream of God
which is Nature.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September 13: Kilgore Trout, Books Make Good Friends, Sharon Olds

Nothing happened that night.  It was the next night that about one hundred and thirty thousand people in Dresden would die.  So it goes.  Billy dozed in the meat locker.  He found himself engaged again, word for word, gesture for gesture, in the argument with his daughter with which this tale began.  

"Father," she said.  "What are we going to do with you?"  And so on.  "You know who I could just kill?" she asked.

"Who could you kill?" said Billy.

"That Kilgore Trout."

Kilgore Trout was and is a science-fiction writer, of course.  Billy had not only read dozens of books by Trout--he has also become Trout's friend, to the extent that anyone can become a friend of Trout, who is a bitter man.

Billy read Trout's books when he was in the hospital after his nervous breakdown.  The guy in the bed next to him had almost everything written by Trout.  So, before he became actual friends with the author, Billy became friends with his books. 

I have become friends with an author through his/her books many times.  For instance, I'm really good friends with Charles Dickens.  I've read most of his novels, some of his letters, and a 1200-page biography about him.  I KNOW Charles Dickens.  I've done the same thing for Sharon Olds, Phil Levine, Stephen King (although it's hard to keep up with King's writing), and John Irving.  Books make good friends.

Out of that list, I've actually met only one of those writers:  Sharon Olds.  I was lucky enough to take a week-long writing workshop with her in Big Sur, California.  It was a sun-filled six days of journal scribbling and being in her presence, listening to her talk about poetry.  I was pretty damn lucky.

Of course, we have not kept up a correspondence.  Olds didn't come to my son's baptism, and I don't send her yearly Christmas cards.  Our friendship remains page-bound now, although I still have those sun-drenched memories of Big Sur .

Perhaps there is somebody reading this blog post right now who doesn't really know me and wants to be my friend.  If you are that person, I want to say that I'm pretty social.  As long as you compliment my writing or give me chocolate, I'm all yours.  I'm a pretty cheap date, as writers go.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for all the friends he has on his bookshelves. 


September 13: St. Francis of Assisi, Gabriela Mistral, "The Lark"

Most of my disciples know that I'm a sucker for St. Francis of Assisi.  I've read several books about him.  Written essays and poems about him.  If the name "Francis" is in a piece of writing, I will stop and take notice.

So, when I came across today's poem by Gabriela Mistral, I stopped.  Took notice.  I tried to find out if Mistral is addressing St. Francis in the poem.  Couldn't find anything to substantiate that connection.  She did, early in her life, write a poetic biography of Francis.  There is that. 

However, because this is my blog post, I'm going to believe that Mistral is talking to/about St. Francis in this poem.  I mean, certainly Francis loved the lark, and there's all the stuff about a vertical flight to a haven where we can rest in light.  St. Francis could have said that.

Of course, the problem is that, being humans, our humanness always gets in the way.  Our daily troubles and worries.  Work.  School.  Bills.  Heartbreak.  All those things get in the way of following the lark in its vertical flight. 

I have been distracted most of the day by trifling, human concerns.  And I'm not done yet.  I have to teach for three hours tonight. 

There isn't going to be any vertical flying in Saint Marty's evening.

The Lark

by:  Gabriela Mistral

You said that you loved the lark more than any other bird because of its straight flight toward the sun. That is how I wanted our flight to be.

Albatrosses fly over the sea, intoxicated by salt and iodine. They are like unfettered waves playing in the air, but they do not lose touch with the other waves.

Storks make long journeys; they cast shadows over the Earth’s face. But like albatrosses, they fly horizontally, resting in the hills.

Only the lark leaps out of ruts like a live dart, and rises, swallowed by the heavens. Then the sky feels as though the Earth itself has risen. Heavy jungles below do not answer the lark. Mountains crucified over the flatlands do not answer.

But a winged arrow quickly shoots ahead, and it sings between the sun and the Earth. One does not know if the bird has come down from the sun or risen from the Earth. It exists between the two, like a flame. When it has serenaded the skies with its abundance, the exhausted lark lands in the wheatfield.

You, Francis, wanted us to achieve that vertical flight, without a zigzag, in order to arrive at that haven where we could rest in the light.

You wanted the morning air filled with arrows, with a multitude of carefree larks. Francis, with each morning song, you imagined that a net of golden larks floated between the Earth and the sky.

We are burdened, Francis. We cherish our lukewarm rut: our habits. We exalt ourselves in glory just as the towering grass aspires. The loftiest blade does not reach beyond the high pines.

Only when we die do we achieve that vertical flight! Never again, held back by earthly ruts, will our bodies inhibit our souls.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 12: Feeling Old, Gabriela Mistral, "Dusk"

I am feeling old tonight.  Tired.  Angry.  Disappointed.

Don't ask me what brought this mood on.  I'm not sure.  It could be that I have a teenage daughter who is a junior in high school and thinks, at times, that she has the world all figured out.  It could be that I've been working since 6 a.m., and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight until Thursday night.  It could be the text that my sister sent me this afternoon:
Dad just told me he had a dream the other day that he and Sally were walking in heaven, "just a nice smooth walk."
Saint Marty is feeling evening closing in.


Dusk

by:  Gabriela Mistral

I feel my heart melting
in the mildness like candles:
my veins are slow oil
and not wine,
and I feel my life fleeing
hushed and gentle like the gazelle.


September 12: Resi North, My Brother's Birthday, Important and Loved

And then it developed that Campbell was not going to go unanswered after all.  Poor old Derby, the doomed high school teacher, lumbered to his feet for what was probably the finest moment in his life.  There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces.  One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.  But old Derby was a character now.

His stance was that of a punch-drunk fighter.  His head was down.  His fists were out front, waiting for information and battle plan.  Derby raised his head, called Campbell a snake.  He corrected that.  He said that snakes couldn't help being snakes, and that Campbell, who could help being what he was, was something much lower than a snake or a rat--or even a blood-filled tick.  

Campbell smiled.

Derby spoke movingly of the American form of government, with freedom and justice and opportunities and fair play for all.  He said there wasn't a man there who wouldn't gladly die for those ideals.

He spoke of the brotherhood between the American and the Russian people, and how those two nations were going to crush the disease of Nazism, which wanted to infect the whole world.

The air-raid sirens of Dresden howled mournfully.  

The Americans and their guards and Campbell took shelter in an echoing meat locker which was hollowed in living rock under the slaughterhouse.  There was an iron staircase with iron doors at the top and bottom.

Down in the locker were a few cattle and sheep and pigs and horses hanging from iron hooks.  So it goes.  The locker had empty hooks for thousands more.  It was naturally cool.  There was no refrigeration.  There was candlelight.  The locker was whitewashed and smelled of carbolic acid.  There were benches along the wall.  The Americans went to these, brushing away flakes of whitewash before they sat down.

Howard W. Campbell, Jr., remained standing, like the guards.  He talked to the guards in excellent German.  He had written many popular German plays and poems in his time, and had married a famous German actress named Resi North.  She was dead now, had been killed while entertaining troops in the Crimea.  So it goes.

There's a lot of death in this passage.  The whole meat locker is meant to hold dead things.  Cattle.  Sheep.  Pigs.  Horses.  Everyone in the meat locker--the Americans, the guards, Howard W. Campbell, Jr.--are hiding from death.  And, at the end, we find out that Campbell's wife is dead, a casualty of war. 

Today is my brother Kevin's birthday.  He's been dead for three years now.  He was a good guy.  Worked hard all his life.  Unfortunately, he didn't take care of his health.  Ignored his diabetes.  Chose to spend his money on cigarettes instead of insulin.  He paid the price for those choices.  So it goes.

If you have a sibling, be thankful tonight.  Call your brother.  Text your sister.  Let them know that they're important and loved.

Saint Marty misses his brother.


Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11: Earthling Needs, Terror Attacks, Love and Compassion

Campbell's audience was sleepy.  It had worked hard at the syrup factory, and then it had marched a long way home in the cold.  It was skinny and hollow-eyed.  Its skins were beginning to blossom with small sores.  So were its mouths and throats and intestines.  The malt syrup it spooned at the factory contained only a few of the vitamins and minerals every Earthling needs.  

Campbell offered the Americans food now, steaks and mashed potatoes and gravy and mince pie, if they would join the Free American Corps.  "Once the Russians are defeated," he went on, "you will be repatriated through Switzerland."

There was no response.

"You're going to have to fight the Communists sooner or later," said Campbell.  "Why not get it over with now?"

The Nazi Campbell is not receiving a warm response from Billy and his fellow prisoners of war.  Of course, it could be that the men are too tired or sick or hungry to really care about Campbell's words.  Keep in mind, Campbell isn't real.  He was created by Vonnegut for his fictional story about the destruction of Dresden.  Soon, the bombs will begin to fall, and tens of thousands of innocent people will perish.  That part of Vonnegut's story is real.

On this September 11, I feel a little strange using a passage that quotes Campbell.  But I'm using Campbell's little speech to get to the crux of my post this evening.  Sixteen years ago, thousands of innocent people died in terror attacks on the United States.  A President of the United States used these attacks to go to war.  The current President of the United States was elected because of the kind of hate that the 9-11 attacks generated in some Americans.

I think that a lot of people tend to forget how united we were in this country following 9-11.  But it wasn't a unity based on bigotry and intolerance.  We came together to help each other out, make each other feel better.  I was proud of my country in the days following those attacks, because we weren't giving in to fear and anger.  We were holding hands.  Hugging strangers.  Wanting the world to see that we were better than terrorists. 

When I say better, I don't mean that the United States had more power or weapons.  I mean that we were free and open, a place where everyone could practice and express their beliefs without fear.  I'm not overlooking the anti-Muslim violence that also occurred.  That also happened, and it was shameful. 

But what I want to remember most about the weeks following September 11, 2001, is the love I saw.  The compassion.  Everywhere.

Saint Marty will light a candle and say a prayer tonight for all those who lost their lives 16 years ago.


September 11: Dreamers, Poet of the Week, Gabriela Mistral, "Tiny Feet"

Since it is Nobel Prize season, I've selected Gabriela Mistral as Poet of the week.  In 1945, Mistral was the first Latin American writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Mistral was a Chilean educator and diplomat.  In particular, she concerned herself with the plight of children in her work, placing hope in the youth of the world. 

She seems like a voice of reason for the United States at the moment, where the future of thousands of immigrant children and young adults hang in the balance.

Saint Marty salutes Dreamers this evening.

Tiny Feet

by:  Grabriela Mistral

A child's tiny feet,
Blue, blue with cold,
How can they see and not protect you?
Oh, my God!

Tiny wounded feet,
Bruised all over by pebbles,
Abused by snow and soil!

Man, being blind, ignores
that where you step, you leave
A blossom of bright light,
that where you have placed
your bleeding little soles
a redolent tuberose grows.

Since, however, you walk
through the streets so straight,
you are courageous, without fault.

Child's tiny feet,
Two suffering little gems,
How can the people pass, unseeing.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10: Clown Phobia, Classic Saint Marty, "The Miracle of the Bus"

Sunday evening.

I went to see the movie It with my daughter and her boyfriend this afternoon.  I ended up with a huge tension headache.  If you're wondering what caused it, I will confess:  I have a huge clown phobia.  They have terrified me ever since a close encounter with a Benjamin Franklin clown at the Ringling Brothers circus in 1976.  It wasn't pretty.  He was drunk and threatened to throw me under an elephant.

I'm sure I will be having flashbacks for the rest of the evening.  I may even sleep with the lights on.

Tonight, I'm going to be preparing for teaching and work.  Making lunches.  Doing some reading.  Maybe some lesson planning.  Picking out my outfit for tomorrow.  My wife will be making lunches, as well.  My daughter will be doing the homework she's put off all weekend.  My son is taking his bath right now.

Things change, and things stay the same . . .

September 10, 2016:  Locust, Down's Syndrome, Complex Innocence

In 1921 a Russian naturalist named Uvarov solved the mystery.  Locusts are grasshoppers:  they are the same animal.  Swarms of locusts are ordinary grasshoppers gone berserk.

Grasshoppers gone berserk.  Creatures transformed through drought or other natural calamity into something dangerous.  Great hordes of locusts swarming over farmland and field, pillaging and marauding like shoppers on Black Friday, leaving behind shreds and stalks.  Nature can be cruel.  Locusts and tornadoes, tsunamis and earthquakes.

I have a sister with Down's syndrome.  All my life, she was a loving presence.  Everybody loved her.  When I was in high school, the members of the football team loved her.  I never went to a game, whether it was homecoming or playoffs.  My classmates came to my house, picked up my sister, and brought her to the football games.  Like I said, everybody loved her.

As people with Down's syndrome get older, they can sometimes change.  Alzheimer's disease and dementia are fairly common.  There's a genetic link between Down's and Alzheimer's.  Over the last few years, my sister has become a different person.  She asks the same questions over and over.  Although she's always been stubborn, she was never mean about it.  Now, she will become downright physical if things don't go her way.  She's punched me on more than one occasion.

I'm not sure if that means that my sister is developing Alzheimer's.  She's certainly not the girl who went to high school football games with my friends.  It makes me a little sad.  Sometimes she's the sister I remember from my childhood, but, more and more often, she's belligerent and downright mean. 

People who are not around her on a daily basis don't recognize how different she is.  In small doses, she is still sweet and funny, hugging everybody, saying, "You know, I love you."  To those closest to her, however, she is just not the same.  Of course, I know she's still the sister who I grew up with, but I miss the simple innocence.  Her innocence now is more complex.

I love my sister.  It's tough to see her aging and changing.

Saint Marty prefers the grasshopper.

And a poem for this evening . . .

The Miracle of the Bus

by:  Martin Achatz



My son stands curbside, coiled tight.  Waits for the bus to appear in the morning light like some mythic mammal with beaver fur, kangaroo tail, pelican mouth.  He cocks his head, listens for the stampede of diesel in the air.  Distant at first.  The way, I'm sure, buffalo herds sounded in the Old West.  Tremor.  Tremble.  Rumble.  Roar.  Avalanche of back and horn and hoof.  When it appears at the end of the street, my son knows a miracle is about to happen.  He jumps, claps.  If he had palm fronds, he'd be waving them, singing hosannas with the rocks and trees.  The bus groans to a stop.  Its door exhales, opens.  My son ascends the steps.  Slow.  Heracles climbing to Olympus, joining the other gods in this yellow chariot.  The door sighs.  Closes.  The bus coughs, moves off into the blue air, leaving me, mere mortal, jealous, hungry for the ambrosia of chalk and crayon and recess.