Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 28: Reading Poetry, Robert Morgan, "Audubon's Flute:

Seems like all I've been doing today is reading poetry.  My poetry.  Robert Morgan's poetry.  A couple Sharon Olds poems.  Some Whitman.  Trying to get in the right frame of mind for tonight's reading.

I was tempted to simply assemble some of my favorite poems from other poets to read, but I didn't think the audience would really appreciate that.  After all, they are showing up to hear some original stuff from me.  Oh, well. 

Saint Marty did, however, find a really beautiful poem by Robert Morgan.

Audubon's Flute

by:  Robert Morgan

Audubon in the summer woods
by the afternoon river sips
his flute, his fingers swimming on
the silver as silver notes pour

by the afternoon river, sips
and fills the mosquito-note air
with silver as silver notes pour
two hundred miles from any wall.

And fills the mosquito-note air
as deer and herons pause, listen,
two hundred miles from any wall,
and sunset plays the stops of river.

As deer and herons pause, listen,
the silver pipe sings on his tongue
and sunset plays the stops of river,
his breath modeling a melody

the silver pipe sings on his tongue,
coloring the trees and canebrakes,
his breath modeling a melody
over calamus and brush country,

coloring the trees and canebrakes
to the horizon and beyond,
over calamus and brush country
where the whitest moon is rising

to the horizon and beyond
his flute, his fingers swimming on
where the whitest moon is rising.
Audubon in the summer woods.

February 28: Beg Your Pardon, Mardis Gras, Poetry Reading

He tore open Weary's overcoat and blouse.  Brass buttons flew like popcorn.  The corporal reached into Weary's gaping bosom as though he meant to tear out his pounding heart, but he brought out Weary's bulletproof Bible instead.

A bulletproof Bible is a Bible small enough to be slipped  into a soldier's breast pocket, over his heart.  It is sheathed in steel.  

The corporal found the dirty picture of the woman and the pony in Weary's hip pocket.  "What a lucky pony, eh?" he said.  "Hmmmm?  Hmmmm?  Don't you wish you were that pony?"  He handed the picture to the other old man.  "Spoils of war!  It's yours, all yours, you lucky lad."

Then he made Weary sit down in the snow and take off his combat boots, which he gave to the beautiful boy.  He gave Weary the boy's clogs.  So Weary and Billy were both without decent military footwear now, and they had to walk for miles and miles, with Weary's clogs clacking, with Billy bobbing up-and-down, up-and-down, crashing into Weary from time to time.

"Excuse me," Billy would say, or "I beg your pardon."

Weary has been greatly humbled by the German soldiers.  All of his pomp and swagger have vanished, and now he is simply praying for his life.  Billy remains Billy--awkward and unsure of himself.  Apologizing as he is being taken as a prisoner of war.  Of course, Billy also knows that he will survive because he has been to the future, so he is not afraid.

Tonight, I am feeling greatly humbled.  As a kick-off for my Poet Laureateship (is that a word?), I am celebrating Mardis Gras by giving a poetry reading with some really great poets.  This afternoon, preparing myself for the event, I started assembling the poems that I intend to read.  Sort of a greatest hits list.  As I paged through my poems, I started feeling slightly inadequate.  Like I didn't really deserve to be the new Poet Laureate.

Of course, this feeling has to do with my ongoing battle with low self esteem.  Low self esteem is winning right now.  So, I'm in sort of the same state as Roland Weary--stumbling along in clogs, hoping that I don't fall flat on my face.  The thing that has put me in this frame of mind is all the people who have told me that they're coming to the reading tonight.  Colleagues from the university.  MFA students.  My students.  Not to mention all of my family and friends. 

I have this horrible vision of the other three poets reading ahead of me.  Then, I stand up to read, and everybody realizes that a mistake has been made.  Sort of like the end of the Oscars on Sunday.  Somebody is going to come running onstage with an envelope, and one of the other poets is going to be declared the REAL new Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.

It's a stupid thought, fueled by self-doubt.  I'm going to have to do a few Jack Handey affirmations to make it through the night.  Say after me, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for all his family and friends who are coming out to support him.

Monday, February 27, 2017

February 27: Poet of the Week, Robert Morgan, "Holy Cussing"

My son hits me every time he hears me swear.  Doesn't matter whether I say "hell" or "shit" or [insert your favorite curse word here], if my son is within earshot, I know I will quickly feel a hard slap on my arm or back or whatever part of my body is within reach.  It's not a love tap.  It stings for a good half hour afterward.

I enjoy swearing.  I know it's nothing to be proud of, but a good curse word at just the right moment gives me a great deal of pleasure.

Robert Morgan, the Poet of the Week, knows a thing or two about swearing.

Saint Marty better get his ass moving now.  He has a class to teach tonight.  Son of a bitch.

Holy Cussing

by:  Robert Morgan

When the most intense revivals swept
the mountains just a century ago,
participants described the shouts and barks
in unknown tongues, the jerks of those who tried
to climb the walls, the holy dance and laugh.
But strangest are reports of what was called
the holy cuss. Sometimes a man who spoke
in tongues and leapt for joy would break into
an avalanche of cursing that would stun
with brilliance and duration. Those that heard
would say the holy spirit spoke as from
a whirlwind. Words burned on the air like chains
of dynamite. The listeners felt transfigured,
and felt true contact and true presence then,
as if the shock of unfamiliar
and blasphemous profanity broke through
beyond the reach of prayer and song and hallo
to answer heaven's anger with its echo.

February 27: Bug-Eyed with Terror, Anit-Semitic Acts, Kindness

Billy was helped to his feet by the lovely boy, by the heavenly androgyne.  And the others came forward to dust the snow off Billy, and then they searched him for weapons.  He didn't have any.  The most dangerous thing they found on his person was a two-inch pencil stub.

Three inoffensive bangs came from far away.  They came from German rifles.  The two scouts who had ditched Billy and Weary had just been shot.  They had been lying in ambush for Germans.  They had been discovered and shot from behind.  Now they were dying in the snow, feeling nothing, turning the snow the color of raspberry sherbet.  So it goes.  So Roland Weary was the last of the Three Musketeers.

And Weary, bug-eyed with terror, was being disarmed.  The corporal gave Weary's pistol to the pretty boy.  He marveled at Weary's cruel trench knife, said in German that Weary would no doubt like to use the knife on him, to tear his face off with the spiked knuckles, to stick the blade into his belly or throat.  He spoke no English, and Billy and Weary understood no German.

"Nice playthings you have," the corporal told Weary, and he handed the knife to an old man.  "Isn't that a pretty thing?  Hmmm?"

A gruesome little passage, Billy and Weary facing their captors.  Billy--the innocent, unarmed and already beaten--seems to be pitied by the German soldiers.  Roland, on the other hand, armed to the teeth and caught pounding the shit out of Billy, is treated with suspicion.  Violence begets violence.

Before I came to my university office this afternoon, I heard a news report on NPR about the increase in anti-Semitic acts across America.  Bomb threats being phoned in to Jewish schools.  Jewish cemeteries being vandalized.  At the end of the report, the commentator actually said, "There's no indication as to why there has been an increase in anti-Semitic acts . . ."  I sat in my car and actually said out loud, "Are you kidding me?"

I suppose the commentator was trying to be unbiased and/or objective, not wanting to connect the dots between Donald Trump and the rise in acts of hate.  It seems to me, however, that the Roland Wearys have been given the keys to the car in this country, and, until someone comes along and takes those keys away, there are going to be a lot of innocent bystanders who are going to get hurt.

So, I guess my job in this mess is to be kind.  Just like violence begets violence, I think kindness begets kindness.  At least, that's how I'm going to respond, by making a difference one kind act at a time.  That's my message for tonight.  Short and sweet.

Saint Marty is thankful this evening for the apple juice he drank at dinner.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26: Oscar Night, Classic Saint Marty, "Easter Bread"

I have been going a little crazy today.  Church this morning.  An interview this afternoon about being Poet Laureate.  Then jump starting a car, fixing a flat tire, writing for a Lenten devotional.  It is now 8 p.m., and the Oscar broadcast is just getting started. 

I am tired.  Don't know if I'm going to be able to make it to the end of the Academy Awards this year.  It's going to be a very long evening.

Saint Marty give thanks tonight for Wheat Thins and Easy Cheese.

February 24, 2013:  Oscar Night, Party

Yes, tonight Hollywood celebrates itself in the year's biggest pageant of cinematic self-absorption.  The dresses, the tuxedos, the jewelry, the hairdos.  The limos and red carpet.  And, of course, the burning question on everyone's mind:  "Who are you wearing?"

I recognize the supreme shallowness of the Oscars.  I know that, really, who wins Best Supporting Actor or Best Actress isn't going to bring about peace in the Middle East.  I also know that, tomorrow morning, when the Oscar parties on the West Coast are winding down and all the stars are stumbling back to their hotel rooms, my life will be the same.  Same job.  Same money problems.  Same worries.

Yet, for one night, I can be selfish and catty and vapid.  I can imagine my life revolves around whether Lincoln or Argo wins Best Picture.  I will be at an Oscar party.  There will be cheese and crackers and rotelle dip.  I will compete against my siblings and parents and children and in-laws for the honor of taking home a mock-Oscar statuette.  It will be cut-throat.  We will tease and taunt and humiliate each other.  It's one of my favorite nights of the year.

Yes, the Saint Marty clan takes its Oscars seriously.

A poem for tonight about bread . . .

Easter Bread

by:  Martin Achatz

My mother made it on Holy Saturday
In her bowl as green as Easter grass.
She'd mix water, salt, sugar, flour,
Shortening and yeast, fold it
With her hands, over and over,
Until dough took shape, white
As my winter skin.  Then she kneaded,
Pushed and pounded, picked it up,
Slammed it down on the kitchen table,
Made the room shake with violence,
Sounds like sledges and spikes,
Holy, Easter sounds.  After she was done,
My mother left the bowl on the counter,
Draped with a towel.  She waited
For the dough to leaven, the yeast
To work like prayer, make the dough
Rise higher and higher, swell, stretch
Like a pregnant womb.  My mother
Returned, kneaded, punched
It into submission, broke
Its will, began the process anew.
As night fell, the dough rose and rose.
Some time after I went to bed,
My mother sliced loaves, and baked. 
On Easter morning, I woke
To the aroma of fresh bread.
Resurrection, sweet and warm
As the wren.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 25: Judged, Competition, "Simeon's Promise"

It's difficult watching your children do anything where they may be judged as good or bad, whether it's dancing or wrestling or singing or reading.  I find myself wanting to punch other parents in the mouth as they sit in the bleachers, screaming at their kids.

I haven't raised either of my kids to be bloodthirsty when it comes to competition.  My wife and I always emphasize simply doing the best they can.  Unfortunately, a lot of other parents have different values.

I often wonder how Mary and Joseph may have treated Jesus as a child.  Wondered whether he was a perfect son, never doing anything wrong, picking up after himself, treating all of his friends with kindness.  I mean, in things I've read, it's always emphasized that Christ was fully human and fully divine.

That fully human side interests me.  The side that gets angry, overturns tables, whips money changers with ropes.  That's something that I can understand.  As a writer/poet, I find perfection a little . . . boring.  It's imperfections that interest me.

Saint Marty is and always will be a work in progress.

Simeon's Promise

by:  Martin Achatz

The Virgin saw the face of God
Daily, took it in her hands,
Saw Eden's requiem in His eyes.
For 33 years, she hoarded the mysteries
of Him in her breast,
Like black pearls.
When He died, she rubbed her fingers
Raw on those dark stones, felt
the bite of His birth,
The salt of His scourging.
Did she pray on those dim gems
For the day when she would see
His face again, unfolding
Like a lightning storm,
A bright gout of love,
In the oyster of her heart?

February 25: Eve, Beauty Anywhere, Cold Medicine

Next to the golden boots were a pair of feet which were swaddled in rags.  They were crisscrossed by canvas straps, were shod with hinged wooden clogs.  Billy looked up at the face that went with the clogs.  It was the face of a blond angel, of a fifteen-year-old boy.

The boy was as beautiful as Eve.

I don't have a whole lot of time to get deep this morning.  The fifteen-year-old boy is another image of innocence.  That the innocence is attached to a Nazi youth is a little troubling.  The blond angel may not be an angel, but Billy, unstuck in time, inexperienced at war, is grasping at any possibility of kindness and beauty.

It is going to be a busy day.  As I said last night, there's a wrestling tournament, a dance rehearsal, and a church service.  Some time in there, I need to work on a new poem and figure out what I'm going to read at Tuesday night's poetry reading, all the while hopped up on cold medicine.

There's always the possibility of finding beauty anywhere you go.  There's snow coming down hard right now.  There are pancakes in front of me.  I'm on the front page of the local newspaper for being the new Poet Laureate of Upper Peninsula.  Despite feeling like I've been run through a wood chipper, I think today is going to be pretty good.

Saint Marty is thankful today for kids who pass along illnesses.  Not.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Febraury 24: Colson Whitehead, Untied States, "In the Beginning"

Sorry that I didn't post last night.  Too tired after my book club gathering.  This month, we read Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad.  It was fantastic and disturbing and led to a long discussion of immigrants and travel bans in the Untied States (typo intentional). It was a really great night, but I was exhausted when it was all over.

I am still pretty tired, so I let my daughter pick out a poem tonight.  She paged through my collection, came up with a poem about herself.

Saint Marty has a date with some cold medicine and a pillow.

In the Beginning

by:  Martin Achatz

Celeste rolls on the carpet
like dice that won't pause
on green felt, won't give
me the satisfaction
of 3 or 6, 1 or 5.
There is too much in her
knee-and-wall world to touch, too
many snakes with cardboard wings,
neon troikas plastered with words--
apple, cow, star.  When I speak to her,
she studies me, tries to unravel
my dictionary of sound.
Can I teach her to love language
the way lightning loves redwoods?
What will her first word be?
Will she shock me
with hamster, fridge, triangle?  Will
she point out the window, say
wind?  Will she sing the world,
the way Christ sang when He slid
from Mary's iron-taut uterus,
tasted her blood, saw Joseph radiant
with sweat?  Will Celeste's mouth open,
flood waters pour out, 40 days
and nights, preparing the world
for the rainbow of her tongue?

February 24: Adam and Eve, Pablo Neruda, Wrestling Tournament

Their commander was a middle-aged corporal--red-eyed, scrawny, tough as dried beef, sick of war.  He had been wounded four times--and patched up, and sent back to war.  He was a very good soldier--about to quit, about to find somebody to surrender to.  His bandy legs were thrust into golden cavalry boots which he had taken from a dead Hungarian colonel on the Russian front.  So it goes.

Those boots were almost all he owned in this world.  They were his home.  An anecdote.  One time, a recruit was watching him bone and wax those golden boots, and he held one up to the recruit and said, "If you look in there deeply enough, you'll see Adam and Eve."

Billy Pilgrim had not heard this anecdote.  But, lying on the black ice there, Billy stared into the patina of the corporal's boots, saw Adam and Even in the golden depths.  They were naked.  They were so innocent, so vulnerable, so eager to behave decently.  Billy Pilgrim loved them.

I love this little passage, with its almost magically real image of Adam and Eve in the commander's boots.  War and death.  Innocence and vulnerability.  Billy falling in love with them as he is flat on his back on the black ice of the frozen creek.

That's the way poetry happens, really.  In the middle of the shitstorm of life, something beautiful surfaces.  Today, I felt pretty lousy all day long.  Hot then cold.  Stuffed up nose then runny nose.  Full of energy then exhausted.  Right now, I feel like I could crawl under the covers and take a Rip Van Winkle nap.  And there is snow and snow and snow.

I'm looking for poetry tonight.  Having a hard time.  Perhaps if I I take some Nyquil, I will find poetry.  Neruda once wrote, "And it was at that age . . . Poetry arrived / in search of me.  I don't know, I don't know where / it came from, from winter or a river."  I have an idea for a poem I want to write for the poetry reading I'm giving this coming Tuesday.  I haven't had the energy to put pen to journal.  Still don't.  I'm waiting for poetry to arrive.

Tomorrow, my son has a wrestling tournament.  Maybe poetry will be there, cheering in the crowd.  In the afternoon, my daughter has a dance rehearsal.  Maybe poetry will be there in a leotard.  In the evening, church.  Poetry may be there, saying a few prayers.

I'm saying that I don't know when poetry is going to arrive.  I just have to keep an eye out.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for . . .the possibility of meeting poetry at the concession stand.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

February 22: Anxiety and Fear, Self-Doubt, "Fear Not"

I have to admit that, over the last couple of days, I've been experiencing a little anxiety about being Poet Laureate.  It's a silly, unfounded anxiety, rooted in self-doubt and mixed with a little what-the-hell-do-I-do-now panic.

I simply have to take things one day at a time.  See what unfolds.  I wrote a poem once about fear.  I found it tonight, and it gave me a little peace of mind.

Saint Marty is going to do the best job he can. 

Fear Not

by:  Martin Achatz

My sister Rose spoke with the Virgin
One night when lightning laced
The sky and thunder rolled
Like a wailing ambulance.
Rose, with black hair, eyes dark
As baker's chocolate.  Rose, who listened
To the rain drill the ground, felt terror
In her chest, blooming like a mushroom.
Rose, with Down's Syndrome,
Her speech thick,
Weighing on her tongue like rust.

She knew nothing of atmospheres,
Weather fronts, lightning that traveled
From the ground to the heavens
Like a white hot soul.  She knew
Nothing of raining frogs,
Hailstones the size of peach pits.
Hers was a child's fear, as simple
As shadow in a closet.
When she knelt at the foot of her bed,
Folded small fingers,
Her prayers opened like sunflowers
In the still air.

Mother found Rose that night,
Speaking with the darkness.
She looked like moonlight, her words
Agates, smooth, round, polished.
Rose, imperfect since birth,
Slower than summer heat,
Filled the room with light.

Anne came upon her daughter
Like that, too, Mary in the dark,
Her childhood fears sitting
On the windowsill like empty bowls
Waiting for rain.

Mary spread her arms,
Wrapped them around the angel,
Pressing her mouth to his neck.
She tasted lightning and shadow
On his bright skin, swallowed them,
Felt them take root
In her belly.  She opened
Her robe, guided his lips
To her boy chest,
Motherhood swelling
In her rose nipple.

February 22: Toothless as Carp, Catching a Cold, Nyquil

The Germans and the dog were engaged in a military operation which had an amusingly self-explanatory name, a human enterprise which is seldom described in detail, whose name alone, when reported as news or history, gives many war enthusiasts a sort of post-coital satisfaction.  It is, in the imagination of combat's fans, the divinely listless loveplay that follows the orgasm of victory.  It is called "mopping up."

The dog, who had sounded so ferocious in the winter distances, was a female German shepherd.  She was shivering.  Her tail was between her legs.  She had been borrowed that morning from a farmer.  She had never been to war before.  She had no idea what game was being played.  Her name was Princess. 

Two of the Germans were boys in their early teens.  Two were ramshackle old men--droolers as toothless as carp.  They were irregulars, armed and clothed fragmentarily with junk taken from real soldiers who were newly dead.  So it goes.  They were farmers from just across the German border, not far away.

The Germans and dog that Billy and Roland encounter sound like they're barely soldiers, drafted into service despite their obvious military deficiencies.  They're too old.  Too young.  Too cold.  In the case of the dog, too domesticated.  And they are tired of war.

I am sitting in my office at the university, killing time before I have to pick up my daughter from her dance studio.  I sort of feel like the Germans that Vonnegut describes--tired and cold, ready to go home.  This morning, I started sneezing.  The sneezing progressed to an alternating runny nose/stuffed-up nose.  Now, my head feels like it's about to explode.

My whole family has been battling this virus.  My wife had strep throat a couple weeks ago.  My daughter was home sick for three days last week.  The previous week, my son was home for a couple of days.  I guess it's my turn.  I thought that I had dodged this particular snotty bullet.  It appears that I have not.

That has not stopped me, however, from being fairly productive, work-wise, today.  These two blog posts are the last things that I have to accomplish.  Then, I can just sit, read my book, and leak mucus from my nose.  I have not done anything Poet Laureate-ish today.  Yesterday, I had an interview with a reporter from the local newspaper.

I had intentions of getting more done, but my mind is a little fogged tonight.  I may shoot a couple of e-mails to publicize a reading that I'm doing next Tuesday evening.  That's about all that I have the energy for.  Aside from that, I'm curling up with a bottle of Nyquil when I get home.

Saint Marty is thankful for Kleenex.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 21: Maya Angelou, Empire State Building, "The Tin Man's Heart"

I am sitting in my living room, watching a documentary on the life of Maya Angelou.  My daughter is sitting next to me, and she just said, "I love her voice."

I saw Maya Angelou read twice.  She was a presence.  Tall as the Empire State Building, even in advanced age.  I remember sitting about forty feet away from the stage, and she stood there and started singing a spiritual.  It was electric, and she had the entire stadium in her palm.  I wish my daughter could have been there, seen her, heard her.

I have a poem tonight that may have made Dr. Angelou laugh, if she'd have the opportunity to read it.  At least, that's what I hope.

Saint Marty loves Dr. Angelou's voice, too.

The Tin Man's Heart

by:  Martin Achatz

The Wizard gave the Tin Man
A heart with a clock
That unwound after sundown,
Hands slowing at midnight
In the dark bed of his chest,
Each second an immense field of poppies,
Fragrant as Dorothy's thick braids.

In the forest under the stars,
The Tin Man listened to his heart tick,
Like the sound of lovers kissing,
Waiting for his spring to uncoil,
Praying for that moment:
He and Dorothy in the poppies,
The sun on their gleaming bodies.

February 21: Tragic Wrath, Tell It Slant, Tear Down Walls

Weary was filled with a tragic wrath.  He had been ditched again.  He stuffed his pistol into its holster.  He slipped his knife into its scabbard.  Its triangular blade and blood gutters on all three faces.  And then he shook Billy hard, rattled his skeleton, slammed him against the bank.

Weary barked and whimpered through his layers of scarf from home.  He spoke unintelligibly of the sacrifices he had made on Billy's behalf.  He dilated upon the piety and heroism of "The Three Musketeers," portrayed, in the most glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves, and the great services they rendered for Christianity.

It was entirely Billy's fault that his fighting organization no longer existed, Weary felt, and Billy was going to pay.  Weary socked Billy a good one on the side of his jaw, knocked Billy away from the bank and onto the snow-covered ice of the creek.  Billy was down on all fours on the ice, and Weary kicked him in the ribs, rolled him over on his side.  Billy tried to form himself into a ball.

"You shouldn't even be in the Army," said Weary.

Billy was involuntarily making convulsive sounds that were a lot like laughter.  "You think it's funny, huh?" Weary inquired.  He walked around to Billy's back.  Billy's jacket and shirt and undershirt had been hauled up around his shoulders by the violence, so his back was naked.  There, inches from the tips of Weary's combat boots, were the pitiful buttons of Billy's spine.

Weary drew back his right boot, aimed a kick at the spine, at the tube which had so many of Billy's important wires in it.  Weary was going to break that tube.

But then Weary saw that he had an audience.  Five German soldiers and a police dog on a leash were looking down into the bed of the creek.  The soldiers' blue eyes were filled with bleary civilian curiosity as to why one American would try to murder another one so far from home, and why the victim should laugh.

Whew!  That is a a long passage.  Weary beating the shit out of Billy after they are both abandoned behind enemy lines.  Weary blames Billy for their predicament, even though Roland's war fantasies are equally to blame.  Weary just doesn't understand how recklessly foolish he really is.  He's worse than a bully.  He's a former bully victim who preys on the weak.  Billy is the weak in Roland's eyes.

In the Untied States (typo intentional) right now, the Roland Wearys seem to be in charge.  Bullies abound, and the weak are huddling in the dark, waiting to be dragged into the light.  I try to avoid reading the news every 15 minutes, which is about how quickly new Executive Orders are signed and new violations of the U. S. Constitution are made.  I don't think I would be able to function if I read about everything happening in Washington D. C.

Poetry has become even more important since Donald Trump became President of the United States.  There's a reason why writers and poets have been imprisoned, exiled, and murdered in places like Russia and Chile.  Writers and poets speak the truth, and dictators and would-be dictators are threatened by the truth.  But poets keeps writing poems, despite some Roland Weary threatening to break their spines.

Poets talk about truth, but, as Emily Dickinson advised, they "tell it slant."  That's what makes poetry important in times of distress.  The stock and trade of poets is truth.  Emotional truth.  Intellectual truth.  Spiritual truth.  When I read a good poem, I have this feeling when I'm done that I have learned something important about myself or my life or my world. 

So, I think poetry is really important.  It's a way to shed light in dark places.  Give voice to the voiceless.  Tear down walls that are being built. 

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for poetry.

Monday, February 20, 2017

February 20: Poet of the Week, Me, "Place in the Forest"

I have decided to feature of few of my poems this week.  I won't say that I'm the Poet of the Week.  I'm just revisiting stuff that I wrote a while ago. 

Today's poem used to be one that I was most known for.  People called it "the squirrel poem."  It's from my collection.  When my book first came out, I read this poem so much that I got sick of it.  I haven't even looked at it for about ten years.

Saint Marty thinks it holds up, although it's a little dark.

Place in the Forest

by:  Martin Achatz

With one B-B, Paul took the squirrel down.
When it hit the ground, it screamed
A squirrel scream, high and long
Like a train whistle raised five octaves.
It scratched the earth
Like it was trying to dig its own grave,
A bead of blood flowering on its back.
Paul and I watched it spasm and slow,
A wind-up toy uncoiling its tense spring.
It raced breaths in-out-in-out-in-out-in-out.

In school, we read about Vlad the Impaler
Who feasted on roasted pig in a field of people
On spikes.  The wood-cut illustration showed
Vlad sipping wine from a chalice
As a pregnant woman slithered down
A pointed pole, her mouth a black leech of pain.
Paul found a stick, skewered the squirrel,
Which writhed, scratched at the bark.
He lifted the stick, raised the squirrel
To the sky.  Its tail snaked and batted
The clouds.  Paul flung the squirrel
Into the woods, its scream cleaving the air.

Ten years later, he died of AIDS.
I thought of that squirrel when I heard
Stories of the red sarcoma blossoms
On his face.  I imagined him
In his hospital bed, his chest heaving,
His eyes seeing that place in the forest
Where squirrels wail and claw.

February 20: So It Goes, Craziness, Poetry Presentations

So it goes.

I forgot my copy of Slaughterhouse at home, so I cannot continue with the story this evening.  Instead, I quote one of the refrains of the novel--"So it goes."  Vonnegut usually uses the phrase after something ridiculous or catastrophic happens in Billy Pilgrim's life.  Billy's father dies in a hunting accident.  So it goes.  Billy's wife dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.  So it goes.  Billy becomes unstuck in time.  So it goes.  To me, the phrase is slightly fatalistic, as if the world is simply a series of unfortunate events (to borrow a phrase from Lemony Snicket).

My day has sort of been a "so it goes" day.  I found out I had to replace the battery on the car I bought last July.  So it goes.  I lost my I.D. badge in the medical office where I work.  So it goes.  As I was driving back to work, I got interviewed on my iPhone by a reporter about being Poet Laureate, nearly causing me to hit a parked car.  So it goes.  I found my badge under an envelope on my desk.  So it goes.  I have three hours of poetry presentations to listen to in my night class this evening.  So it goes.

I feel like I have been tightrope walking all day, craziness just one misstep away.  But, I have retained my good mood amid bouts of panic and anger and panic again.  That's just how my week days are.  By about nine o'clock tonight, I will be ready to become unstuck in time myself.

I have no idea what I said during my interview this afternoon.  I can only hope that the interviewer is kind and makes me sound somewhat intelligent, instead of a babbling idiot.  (If you can't tell, I have self esteem issues to go along with my lost I.D. and reckless driving.)

Saint Marty is thankful that the day is almost over.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 19: Poet Laureate of the U. P., Donald Hall, "Final"

In case you missed the announcement last night, Donald Hall, former U. S. Poet Laureate, announced the name on the next Poet Laureate of the U. P.  It was an out-of-body experience.  I sat in the television studio with my fellow nominee, Kathleen Heideman.  He congratulated both Kathleen and myself, and then he cleared his throat and said, "And now the name of 2017-2018 U. P. Poet Laureate is . . ." 

His voice was like stones in a washing machine, spinning and rumbling.  That moment in between "is" and the name took a couple of decades.  Finally, he said . . . my name.

I felt like Charlton Heston on the mountain in The Ten Commandments, listening to the voice of God.  Donald Hall said my name.

I never win anything, so I had prepared myself for Kathleen to be crowned.  She would have been fantastic.  Articulate and passionate.

So, I have a lot of thank yous to say tonight.  A lot of people who voted for me.  A lot of people who put up with my craziness over the last few months.  My wife and kids.  My sisters and parents.  My friends who asked their friends who asked their friends.  And my readers.

Thank you all.

Saint Marty is the Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula.


by:  Martin Achatz

I watch this student take
His final exam, hunched over
His desk, Ticonderoga No. 2 moving
Like a Geiger counter needle
Across the page as he answers
My essay question.  I want
To tell him it doesn't matter,
This hour-long effort to earn
An "A" in my course called
Good Books.  Whether he makes
The Dean's List or not, he won't
Win back the friendship
Of the boy he loved in high school
Who broke my student's nose
When my student confessed
His feelings.  He won't bring
His mother back from Florida,
Where she ran after her psych meds
Failed and she saw Hitler
Buying cabbage at Walmart.
I'm lonely, my student wrote
In his journal.  I have no
Friends.  My family's shit.
My test will not change
Any of these things.  Yet,
My student writes and writes,
In search of acceptance,
Praise, the perfect 4.0 life.
The final question I ask him
Is simple:  What have you learned
About hope in this class?