Sunday, January 1, 2017

January 1: "Slaughterhouse Five," Recovering, Thanks, Classic Saint Marty

A fourth-generation German-American
now living in easy circumstances
on Cape Cod
[and smoking too much],
who, as an American infantry scout
hors de combat,
as a prisoner of war,
witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany,
'The Florence of the Elbe,'
a long time ago,
and survived to tell the tale.
This is a novel
somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic
manner of tales
of the planet Tralfamadore,
where the flying saucers
come from.

If you haven't already guessed, the book I will be examining this year on Saint Marty is Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.  It won the poll by a couple of votes, and I couldn't be happier.  I think it will be the perfect novel for the first year of a Trump presidency, since it focuses on a world torn apart by the lunacy of war and power.  It's an argument for peace, among other things, including life on other planets.

That is what's in store for the year 2017.  Vonnegut and the fire-bombing of Dresden and flying saucers.  It should be an interesting ride.  It's my hope that, by December 31st, we will still be living in peace, although I have my doubts at the moment.  Perhaps we will all be living on Tralfamadore by then.

Oh, by the way, I want to thank everyone who voted for me this last month.  I have no idea when the announcement will be made as to who will be the next Poet Laureate of the U. P.  I would have to guess it will occur at the beginning of April, which is National Poetry Month.  Regardless of whether I will hold the post or not, I appreciate all of the support I've received throughout the month of December.

Now, I do have an episode of Classic Saint Marty for you this evening.  It first aired on January 2, 2015.  Almost two years ago . . .

January 2, 2015:  So Many Memories, At the Hospital, Quiet Fairy Tale

Years ago, in the 1950s, as a young man working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Ives always looked forward to the holiday season and would head out during his lunch hours, visiting churches, to think and meditate, and, if he was lucky, to hear the choirs as they practiced their hymns and sacred songs.  Often enough, he walked along the burgeoning sidewalks, crowded with shoppers and tourists, and made his way to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where he'd become lost in a kind of euphoric longing--why he did not know.  And in a moment, he would find himself, as a child, attending Mass with his adoptive family again, so many memories coming back to him:  of standing beside his father during the services and noticing, as he looked up at his father's kindly face, just how moved he seemed to be by the prayers, and the Latin incantations, and the reverential chants; so moved, especially during the raising of the host, that he almost seemed on the verge of tears.

The opening paragraph of Oscar Hijuelos' Mr. Ives' Christmas.  It reads almost like a prose poem.  I remember the first time I read this novel.  I was living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the time, attending graduate school.  It was the end of the fall semester, around the second week of December.  I was slaving away on a research paper on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night.  I was surrounded by stacks of library books, sitting at my desktop computer, pounding away at the keyboard.  Late in the evening, I took a break, made myself some dinner, and sat down to read the book reviews in Time Magazine.  One of the books was Hiljuelos' newest effort, a book described as "...a spare, moving meditation of the spiritual life."  I was immediately tempted to drive to my local Barnes & Noble to purchase a copy.  But I didn't.

Instead, I made a deal with myself.  When I finished my Fitzgerald research paper, I would allow myself to buy Mr. Ives' Christmas in celebration.  Well, that was enough motivation for me to sit back down at my desk and finish my work.  A day-and-a-half later, I was standing in line at the cash register with that slim, green hardcover edition of Ives in my hands.  I drove back to my apartment, changed into my pajamas, and spent the rest of the night reading.  At 4 a.m., I read the last paragraph of the book, closed it, and cried myself silly.  I was that moved by it.

Over the years, I have reread it several times.  I've used it in various classes that I have taught.  I've given it to friends as presents.  It's a book that has greatly influenced who I am as an artist.  It was a serious work of literature dealing with themes of religion and faith and hope.  Each sentence is gorgeous, and the cumulative effect of the entire narrative is devastatingly beautiful.

Okay, I'm gushing.  But you get the idea.  I love this book.  When the 911 attacks occurred in New York City, I reread Ives.  I was looking for solace.  Comfort.  Peace.  I found it.  When my wife and I were separated for a year, I reread Ives.  Solace.  Comfort.  Peace.  It has saved me from despair on several occasions.

Tonight, my sister is at the hospital again.  She has been struggling for over half a year with surgeries and infections and more surgeries and more infections.  She's really sick again.  I'm still waiting for a phone call to find out what's wrong with her this time.  She was incredibly weak, dizzy to the point of passing out.  I'm hoping it's a matter of dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.  Something easy to treat.  Considering my sister's recent difficulties, I'm worried that it might be sepsis.

So, here I sit again, finding comfort in Mr. Ives' Christmas.  I have my Christmas tree on.  The house is silent.  My kids are spending the night at my parents' house, and my wife is working.  I am alone and enjoying the solitude.  I've been praying.  Staring at my Christmas lights.  Closing my eyes every now and then.  Reflecting.  That's what this book does to me.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Frank who lived on a mountain top.  Frank didn't like the noise and hustle and bustle of everyday life.  All he ever wanted to do was sit on his front porch with his favorite book and read.

Eventually, stories of Frank's wisdom and quiet life spread throughout the kingdom.  Pilgrims began climbing Frank's mountain to sit on the steps of his cabin and ask him questions.  This annoyed the hell out of Frank.

One day, a young man showed up at his front door.  Frank invited his young visitor to sit on his front porch.  "You may ask me one question," Frank told him.  "Only one."

The young man thought long and hard about what he was going to ask Frank.  Finally, he said, "I have my question, Wise One."

Frank closed the book he was reading and said, "Go ahead.  Ask."

The young man cleared his throat.  "What is the greatest book ever written?"

Frank gazed at the young man for many long moments.  The young man gazed at him expectantly.  Finally, Frank said, "I really love the Twilight series."

Moral of the story:  even wise men can have crappy taste in books.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Even smart people can be dumb

No comments:

Post a Comment