Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21: Empty Eggshell, Classic Saint Marty, "Waiting for Donald Hall"

I am an empty eggshell right now.  I've been working all day on computer stuff.  I'm tired of staring at my laptop, planning out my students' academic lives for the next six weeks.  Tonight, I see a good book and maybe a drink or two in my future.

My son has been throwing up for most of the day, although he's regaining some of his normal piss and vinegar, as my brother in Grand Rapids would say.  My son's still looking pale, but he's eaten some ice cream and kept it down.  He's already talking about not going to school tomorrow. 

I am ready to be done.  Really ready.  I am going to get my son in bed, and then I'm going to either pass out or disappear into Ann Patchett's Commonwealth.

And now for a flashback.  Seven years ago, I was thinking about winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Some things never change . . .

May 24, 2010:  Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger

A few days ago, I found out that I've been chosen Employee of the Month for the health care system I work for. (Yes, I teach college, as well. Need to pay the bills, people.) This is the same award my coworker and friend won back in February or March. You may remember my jealous rant about the subject some weeks ago. This award came as a complete surprise. Usually, if someone from a department wins Employee of the Month, the rest of the employees are pretty much screwed for a few years. So I wasn't expecting even a nomination until the year 2013.

Winning this award puts me in a bit of a quandary. As most of my readers know, I spend a good deal of my time in this blog complaining about the fact that some idiot has received some kind of award or blessing that he or she does not deserve. Now, I am that undeserving idiot. It sort of takes all of the wind out of my writing sails. How can I be sarcastic and cutting about myself?

Despite the fact that I have a blog and write many witty postings about being unrecognized and unappreciated, I generally feel uncomfortable when people start complimenting me. I prefer to make people laugh. When I start receiving praise, it's my nature to deflect or joke about it. I truly don't go out of my way to draw attention to myself. I like being the funny one, not the one that's held up as an example of excellence. Generally, if you're put on a pedestal, someone's sneaking up behind you to knock you off of it. (Take it from someone who usually does the knocking.)

Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger knows a few things about pedestals. A disciple of a monk named John, Simeon, from the age of five onward, lived a good portion of his life on platforms mounted on top of columns. He did this to avoid distractions in his life of prayer and devotion. (I'm not sure what he did about certain bodily functions, but I can imagine he spent a lot of time yelling "Incoming!" or "Look out below!") When he turned 20, he moved to the mountains, put up another column and platform, climbed to the top of it, and spent the last 45 years of his life on top of that perch.

Nobody ever knocked Simeon off his pedestal. He sat up there, praying, meditating, celebrating mass (the bishop scaled the column to ordain him), eating, sleeping, defecating, urinating, and receiving pilgrims. I sort of picture him as Mel Brooks' 1000-year-old man, dispensing one-liners with a Yiddish accent.

Anyhow, I would prefer to be Mel Brooks than Simeon. Being on a pedestal is too precarious. One false move and you could find yourself at the bottom of the column in a big old pile of saintly shit.

But, since I'm up here for the moment, I might as well make the most of it. Therefore, I've decided to write my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I know Employee of the Month isn't quite in the same league, but I believe in planning ahead, killing two birds with one stone. So, imagine, if you will, a lavish hall, long tables set with royal china and crystal. The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy announces my name. I stand up, check to make sure my fly is zipped, and then make my way to the podium amid a fanfare of trumpets. (Honest to God, that's how they do it every year, more or less.)

Then I speak:

NOTE: I have included two versions of my speech. The first is humorous; the second, more serious. If you prefer a chuckle, read Version 1. If you want something a little more somber, read Version 2.


Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ever since I won Employee of the Month several years ago at my place of work, I've dreamed of winning this prize. Every writer secretly does. We might say we write for truth or art or grace or understanding. But really, it's all about moments like this, when you stand before the world and are acknowledged as the very best, all your peers looking up to you with blood in their eyes, an envy so intense it causes constipation in a generation of writers. That is when you know you have reached the pinnacle, as I have. I am, at this moment, Saint Simeon on his mountain perch, evacuating myself on the less-talented masses below.

I want to thank the members of the Swedish Academy for finally coming to their senses, recognizing a talent that is unparalleled, a talent Biblical in power and truth. I am humbled by the company I am now a part of: Hemingway, Faulkner, Heaney, Shaw, Lessing, Yeats, and all of those foreigners whose names I can't pronounce. I know, in years to come, younger writers will compare their works to mine and realize how much they fall short. That is as it should be.

The world applauds the wisdom of your decision that culminates in this great hall tonight. I applaud your good taste. Thank you.


Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have had much grace in my life. I have been graced by a beautiful wife. I have been graced by beautiful children. I have been graced by family and friends who have supported me, carried me through difficult times, danced with me in joyful times. And I have been graced with a love of words, of language, of the transformative and healing power of poetry.

The Catholic saint Simeon Stylites the Younger spent almost 60 years of his life sitting on top of a platform balanced on a column. He put himself in this dizzying position to eliminate worldly distractions, to bring himself closer to creation and the Creator. I find myself balanced on a similar pinnacle tonight, gazing down from this prestigious vantage into the faces of people I cherish and admire.

I am humbled by the company you have placed me in, and I am humbled by the faith you have placed in my palms. I will eventually come down from this height, either gracefully or violently, but I will be sustained, lifted up by this faith.

Thank you to the members of the Swedish Academy. Toni Morrison, upon receiving this award, asked everyone present "to share what is for me a moment of grace." Like Simeon, I feel as though I have been lifted up to touch the face of the eternal. Thank you.

And a poem from Saint Marty, just for fun.

Waiting for Donald Hall

by:  Martin Achatz

Is like looking out the kitchen window
     at fists of clouds,
Wondering when those fingers
     will relax,
When bullets of water will spill
     from that palm
Of sky, sail down to black soil
     in the pumpkin patch
Where two leaves have sprouted,
     green as swamp, with promise
Of orange in their tender
     stems, a wide orange,
Full of mulch and hay, vines
     of frost on morning panes,
Candle grin of jack-o-lantern
     on All Hallow's Eve,
When souls wander all night
     in search of an open gate.

He appears in the doorway, hunched
     over his walker, shuffles
To his chair, sits, lifts his beadle
     eyes to the gathered crowd,
Clears his throat, ushers words
     to his tongue, and makes a sound

Like driftwood in Lake Superior surf.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

May 20: Two Tons of Marmalade, Breathless Moment, Kurt Vonnegut

These lusty, ruddy vocalists were among the first English-speaking prisoners to be taken in the Second World War.  Now they were singing to nearly the last.  They had not seen a woman or a child for four years or more.  They hadn't seen any birds, either.  Not even sparrows would come into the camp.

The Englishmen were officers.  Each of them had attempted to escape from another prison at least once.  Now they were here, dead-center in a sea of dying Russians.

They could tunnel all they pleased.  They would inevitably surface within a rectangle of barbed wire, would find themselves greeted listlessly by dying Russians who spoke no English, who had no food or useful information or escape plans of their own.  They could scheme all they pleased to hide aboard a vehicle or steal one, but no vehicle ever came into their compound.  They could feign illness, if they liked, but that wouldn't earn them a trip anywhere, either.  The only hospital in the camp was a six-bed affair in the British compound itself.

The Englishmen were clean and enthusiastic and decent and strong.  They sang boomingly well.  They had been singing together every night for years. 

The Englishmen had also been lifting weights and chinning themselves for years.  Their bellies were like washboards.  The muscles of their calves and upper arms were like cannonballs.  They were all masters of checkers and chess and bridge and cribbage and dominoes and anagrams and charades and Ping-Pong and billiards, as well.

They were among the wealthiest people in Europe, in terms of food.  A clerical error early in the war, when food was still getting through to prisoners, had caused the Red Cross to ship them five hundred parcels every month instead of fifty.  The Englishmen had hoarded these so cunningly that now, as the war was ending, they had three tons of sugar, one ton of coffee, eleven hundred pounds of chocolate, seven hundred pounds of tobacco, seventeen hundred pounds of tea, two tons of flour, one ton of canned beef, twelve hundred pounds of canned butter, sixteen hundred pounds of canned cheese, eight hundred pounds of powdered milk, and two tons of orange marmalade.

They kept all this in a room without windows.  They had ratproofed it by lining it with flattened tin cans.

Okay, I know that is a really long passage.  Usually, Vonnegut's sections are fairly short.  Like little prose poems or flash fictions, strung together for cumulative effect.  This particular one, however, is very prosy, although it has the building momentum of a poem, especially when it comes to the unbelievable list of food hoarded by the Englishmen.  It goes on and on, becoming more and more incredible, right up to the two tons of marmalade at the end.

I love great writing, and Vonnegut is a great writer.  Each time I type a section from Slaughterhouse, I wonder how it came into being.  Vonnegut once wrote, "Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages."  That was one of his eight basic rules for creative writing.  Of course, at the end of his list, he said Flannery O'Connor broke every one of his rules.  So it goes.

When I go to readings of any kind--poetry, fiction, non-fiction--I always wait for one moment to occur.  It's a breathless moment, where the author reads something that just knocks the wind right out of me.  I can always tell when it's happening.  The audience becomes as still as a group of cloistered monks.  Everybody sort of leans forward in their seats, as if their lives depend on the next word spoken.  And then, when it's over, there's a sort-of gasp or intake of oxygen from every person in the room.  It's like Houdini has just appeared mid-stage in a flash of light.

That's great writing.  I heard Kurt Vonnegut read once.  The whole reading was a breathless moment, because we all knew we were in the presence of a god.  And Vonnegut sort of sucked up all of the air in the room.  It was amazing.  (In a side note, Maya Angelou did the same thing when I saw her read.)

I am planning to go to a poetry reading tonight.  Several poets who are releasing books together.  It's at the top of a beautiful hotel, with a view of Lake Superior.  I am hoping to be breathless for most of the evening.

Saint Marty is thankful today for great writers.

May 20: Poet Marty, Shel Silverstein, "Skin Stealer"

Believe it or not, I think of myself as a introvert.  Social situations, especially around groups or strangers, are difficult for me.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't feel the urge to flee when confronted with the necessity of small talk.  I don't have that kind of social anxiety.  It just sometimes takes a great deal of effort for me to be friendly.

When I give a reading, it's almost like I have to zip myself into the skin of a different person.  Let's call him Poet Marty.  Poet Marty is funny and articulate and personable.  He's the life of the party.  And when it's all over, I go home, hang Poet Marty in the closet, and don't talk a lot for the rest of the night.

And then there's Saint Marty, who's sort of like a blogging version of Poet Marty.

Skin Stealer

by:  Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin
And carefully unscrewed my head,
Exactly as I always do
When I prepare myself for bed.
And while I slept a coo-coo came
As naked as could be
And put on the skin
And screwed on the head
That once belonged to me.
Now wearing my feet
He runs through the street
In a most disgraceful way.
Doin' things and sayin' things
I'd never do or say,
Ticklin' the children
And kickin' the men
And Dancin' the ladies away.
So if he makes your bright eyes cry
Or makes your poor head spin,
That scoundrel you see
Is not really me
He's the coo-coo
Who's wearing my skin.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19: Bounce Houses, Shel Silverstein, "Dirty Face"

My son is at a party right now.  Bounce houses.  Pizza.  Bowling.  He's going to return sweaty and dirty.  His hair will be plastered to his skull.  His shirt will be wringing wet.  And he will have had, in his words, "The best time EVER!"

I remember days like that from my childhood, when my biggest worry was whether I had to take a bath or not.

Saint Marty is ready for some adult fun this evening, involving alcohol and maybe breaded mushrooms.

Dirty Face

by:  Shel Silverstein

Where did you get such a dirty face,
My darling dirty-faced child?
I got it from crawling along in the dirt
And biting two buttons off Jeremy's shirt.
I got it from chewing the roots of a rose
And digging for clams in the yard with my nose.
I got it from peeking into a dark cave
And painting myself like a Navajo brave.
I got it from playing with coal in the bin
And signing my name in cement with my chin.
I got if from rolling around on the rug
And giving the horrible dog a big hug.
I got it from finding a lost silver mine
And eating sweet blackberries right off the vine.
I got it from ice cream and wrestling and tears
And from having more fun than you've had in years.

May 19: Constellations of Sparks, Cole Porter, Date Night

Properly enrolled and tagged, the Americans were led through gate after gate again.  In two days' time now their families would learn from the International Red Cross that they were alive.

Next to Billy was little Paul Lazzaro, who had promised to avenge Roland Weary.  Lazzaro wasn't thinking about vengeance.  He was thinking about his terrible bellyache.  His stomach had shrunk to the size of a walnut.  That dry, shriveled pouch was as sore as a boil.

Next to Lazzaro was poor, doomed old Edgar Derby, with his American and German dogs displayed like a necklace, on the outside of his clothes.  He had expected to become a captain, a company commander, because of his wisdom and age.  Now here he was on the Czechoslovakian border at midnight.

"Halt," said a guard.

The Americans halted.  They stood there quietly in the cold.  The sheds they were among were outwardly like thousands of other sheds they had passed.  There was this difference, though:  the sheds had tin chimneys, and out of the chimneys whirled constellations of sparks.

A guard knocked on a door.

The door was flung open from inside.  Light leaped out through the door, escaped from prison at 186,000 miles per second.  Out marched fifty middle-aged Englishmen.  They were singing "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here" from the Pirates of Penzance.

Billy Pilgrim is an outcast.  He doesn't fit in, ever.  Now, he finds himself greeted in a prison camp by a group of British allies, singing a song of welcome.  It's not the happiest place to finally meet friends.  Yet, there they are.  The gang's all there.

I don't have a whole lot of time this evening.  I am going to a concert with my wife.  No Pirates of Penzance.  Cole Porter.  Not "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here,"  but "Let's Do It."  It's a date with my wife after a long week of late nights on the computer, getting ready for my online class.  After the concert, drinks at a local brewery.

That's what I have tonight.  My mind is tired.  I can't concentrate much longer.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a little diversion.  And alcohol.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 18: Pessimism, Shel Silverstein, "Mr. Grumpledump's Song"

A lot of the time, I am a half-empty-glass person.  Pessimism is a natural state for me.  I don't ever expect things to turn out my way.  When grace falls in my lap, I sit there, stunned.  Not really sure what to do. 

Usually, my bananas have a lot of bruises.  My car door gets dinged in a parking lot.  My computer crashes when I'm paying a bill.

Just call me Saint Grumpledump.

Mr. Grumpledump's Song

by:  Shel Silverstein

Everything's wrong,
Days are too long,
Sunshine's too hot,
Wind is too strong.
Clouds are too fluffy,
Grass is too green,
Ground is too dusty,
Sheets are too clean.
Stars are too twinkly,
Moon is too high,
Water's too drippy,
Sand is too dry.
Rocks are too heavy,
Feathers too light,
Kids are too noisy,
Shoes are too tight.
Folks are too happy,
Singin' their songs.
Why can't they see it?
Everything's wrong!

May 18: Dogtag, Professor Proton, Enjoy Life

When Billy Pilgrim's name was inscribed in the ledger of the prison camp, he was given a number, too, and an iron dogtag in which that number was stamped.  A slave laborer from Poland had done the stamping.  He was dead now.  So it goes.

Billy was told to hang the tag around his neck along with his American dogtags, which he did.  The tag was like a salt cracker, perforated down its middle so that a strong man could snap it in two with his bare hands.  In case Billy died, which he didn't, half of the tag would mark his body and half would mark his grave.  

After poor Edgar Derby, the high school teacher, was shot in Dresden later on, a doctor pronounced him dead and snapped his dogtag in two.  So it goes.

Death is inevitable, without meaning in Vonnegut's universe.  It happens, and life goes on.  The guy from Poland dies.  Edgar Derby dies.  Billy doesn't.  The luck of the draw.  Billy's dogtag remains in tact.  So it doesn't go.

Don't worry.  I am not going to spend this entire blog post contemplating the capriciousness of the Grim Reaper.  I covered that ground last night, and I didn't come to any conclusion, other than the fact that God's plan is pretty mysterious.  And it sucks for us humans sometimes.

I can't go around all day worrying about my brother's inevitable end.  Or mine.  If I did that, I really wouldn't be able to enjoy life at all.  That is not a profound statement.  Pretty much every sitcom, from The Honeymooners to The Big Bang Theory, has an episode dealing with that little nugget of wisdom.  Sheldon had to deal with Professor Proton's death.  Sam Malone had to deal with Coach's death.  I could go on.

I have more immediate worries, though.  Getting a haircut.  Finishing this post.  Adding stuff to my online class.  All these things I need to get done tonight.  I have control over them.  Tomorrow, when my alarm goes off, I will have a whole other set of worries.  Breakfast.  Work.  More online crap.  A dirty bathroom to clean.  More posts.

I don't know when I'm going to die.  Nobody does.  I don't know when my brother is going to die.  Perhaps that's Vonnegut's point.  Do your best.  Enjoy life.  Tomorrow many not come.  Like I said, it's not very deep.  But it's all I've got.

Saint Marty will be thankful for sleep tonight.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17: Thunder and Lightning, Shel Silverstein, "Where the Sidewalk Ends"

I don't have a whole lot of energy.  There is thunder and lightning.  Rain slapping the window behind me.  Darkness in the house.  Thoughts of my brother.

For some reason, there is one poem running through my mind.  A poem that I learned as a kid.  I used to read it over and over.  I always found it really comforting.

Saint Marty shares it tonight.  For his brother.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

by:  Shel Silverstein 

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.


May 17: Vy Anybody, Not-So-Good News, Brother

As the Americans were waiting to move on, an altercation broke out in their rear-most rank.  An American had muttered something which a guard did not like.  The guard knew English, and he hauled the American out of tanks, knocked him down.

The American was astonished.  He stood up shakily, spitting blood.  He'd had two teeth knocked out.  He had meant no harm by what he'd said, evidently, had no idea the guard would hear and understand.

"Why me?" he asked the guard.

The guard shoved him back into ranks.  "Vy you?  Vy anybody?" he said.

The guard asks a good question:  "Vy anybody?"  It's fairly existential, confronting the chaos of the universe.  Why do bad things happen?  Why does the guard knock the American down?  Why is Billy in a German prisoner of war camp?  Why do children get cancer?  Of course, Billy doesn't have any of the answers.  Neither does Vonnegut.  So it goes.

Just got some not-so-good news about my brother.  Without going into too much detail. I will simply say that he is much worse than the doctors originally thought.  He will be down in Grand Rapids for at least another week.  Possibly longer, depending on his care plan.  No matter when he is able to come home, he will be very limited, and his life will be drastically shortened.

That's really difficult for me to write.  Seeing it on the screen of my laptop makes it much more concrete.  Of course, after having already lost two of my siblings in the last three years, I find myself repeating the German guard's questions:  "Vy you?  Vy anybody?"

A lot of the time, life doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  This is one of those times.  Bad things happen, and I, in my very limited human understanding, can't comprehend why.  My brother is a complex person.  Stubborn as a brick wall.  Now, he's facing the consequences of his life choices.  And I'm sure he's in his hospital room right now, asking, "Why me?"

I have no easy answers tonight.  I want to say that God has a plan.  He does.  At the moment, however, it seems to me that His plan kind of sucks.  I will have to pray for some kind of wisdom about this situation.  Some peace and acceptance and grace.

Saint Marty is thankful for his own good health tonight.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May 16: Ready for a Nap, Shel Silverstein, "Hey Nelly Nelly"

It has been a long day.  Really long.  I still have miles to go before I sleep.  Miles to go . . . Well, you get the idea.

I am ready for a nap.  I spent about four hours this afternoon working on the online class that I start teaching next week.  Got my syllabus done, sat back, and thought, "Holy shit, this is going to be a lot of work!"  My life for the next month-and-a-half.

I am not complaining.  I am fairly educated.  A published poet.  A father of two great kids.  Husband to a pretty great lady.  Healthy.  Employed. 

Saint Marty has to remind himself every once in a while that his life is pretty good, compared to other people.

Hey Nelly Nelly

by:  Shel Silverstein

Hey Nelly Nelly, come to the window
Hey Nelly Nelly look at what I see
He's riding into town on a sway back mule
Got a tall black hat and he looks like a fool
He sure is talkin' like he's been to school
And it's 1853

Hey Nelly Nelly, listen what he's sayin'
Hey Nelly Nelly, he says it's gettin' late
And he says them black folks should all be free
To walk around the same as you and me
He's talkin' 'bout a thing he calls democracy
And it's 1858

Hey Nelly Nelly hear the band a playing
Hey Nelly Nelly, hand me down my gun
'Cause the men are cheerin' and the boys are too

They're all puttin' on their coats of blue
I can't sit around here and talk to you
'Cause it's 1861

Hey Nelly Nelly, Come to the window
Hey Nelly Nelly, I've come back alive
My coat of blue is stained with red
And the man in the tall black hat is dead
We sure will remember all the things he said
In 1865

Hey Nelly Nelly, come to the window
Hey Nelly Nelly, look at what I see
I see white folks and colored walkin' side by side
They're walkin' in a column that's a century wide
It's still a long and a hard and a bloody ride
In 1963

May 16: Missing in Action, My Gravestone, Immortality

And the Germans told everybody else to form in ranks of five, with Billy as their pivot.  Then out of doors went the parade, and through gate after gate again.  There were more starving Russians with faces like radium dials.  The Americans were livelier than before.  The jazzing with hot water had cheered them up.  And they came to a shed where a corporal with only one arm and one eye wrote the name and serial number of each prisoner in a big, red ledger.  Everybody was legally alive now.  Before they got their names and numbers in that book, they were missing in action and probably dead.

So it goes.

Billy--and the rest of the Americans--were the walking dead before the German corporal recorded their names in his red ledger.  Billy could have easily died and disappeared on the train ride to the prison camp.  His name and serial number would have simply evaporated into history.  A name on a monument somewhere.  So it goes.

I think that everybody wants to be remembered in some way.  I don't want to evaporate when the name on my gravestone is too worn out to read.  Maybe that's why I became a writer.  From the time I was four or five (I'm not exaggerating), I've wanted to be an author.  (I did have a brief lapse from ages eight to ten when I wanted to be a movie director, but I came to my senses.  Bestselling author is a much more attainable goal.)  There's something very real and permanent about a book.  Something that can't be erased.

Of course, that's not the reason I am a poet.  I'm also in it for the money.  The dozens and dozens of dollars that I have earned from my verse have made my life so much more comfortable.  The problem is that the most famous poets really don't become famous until after they've died.  That means that my children will be the subject of interviews where the interviewer will ask questions like, "What was it like growing up with a genius?" and "Can you describe your dad's writing habits?" and "When did you become aware that your father was truly touched by God?"

That is true immortality.  William Shakespeare.  John Milton.  Dante Alighieri.  Emily Dickinson.  Robert Frost.  Saint Marty.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for the gift of words.

Another option.

Monday, May 15, 2017

May 15: Poet of the Week, Shel Silverstein, "Hungry Mungry"

It's late, but I have a poem from Shel Silverstein, the Poet of the Week.  I remember reading this poem when I was a kid, and it terrified me for some reason.  Had nightmares about being eaten by Hungry Mungry.

Now, we have President Hungry Mungry, eating away at the world.

Saint Marty is tired . . . and hungry.

Hungry Mungry

by:  Shel Silverstein

Hungry Mungry sat at supper,
Took his knife and spoon and fork,
Ate a bowl of mushroom soup, ate a slice of roasted pork,
Ate a dozen stewed tomatoes, twenty-seven deviled eggs,
Fifteen shrimps, nine bakes potatoes,
Thirty-two fried chicken legs,
A shank of lamb, a boiled ham,
Two bowls of grits, some black-eye peas,
Four chocolate shakes, eight angel cakes,
Nine custard pies with Muenster cheese,
Ten pots of tea, and after he,
Had eaten all that he was able,
He poured some broth on the tablecloth
And ate the kitchen table.
His parents said, 'Oh Hungry Mungry, stop these silly jokes.'
Mungry opened up his mouth, and 'Gulp,' he ate his folks.
And then he went and ate his house, all the bricks and wood,
And then he ate up all the people in the neighborhood.
Up came twenty angry policeman shouting, 'Stop and cease.'
Mungry opened his mouth and 'Gulp,' he ate the police.
Soldiers came with tanks and guns.
Said Mungry, 'They can't harm me.'
He just smiled and licked his lips and ate the U.S. Army.

The President sent all his bombers- Mungry still was calm,
Put his head back, gulped the planes, and gobbled up the bomb.
He ate his town and ate the city- ate and ate and-
And then he said, 'I think I'll eat the whole United States.'

And so he ate Chicago first and munched the Water Tower,
And then he chewed on Pittsburgh but he found it rather sour.
He ate New York and Tennessee, and all of Boston town,
Then drank the Mississippi River just to wash it down.
And when he'd eaten every state, each puppy, boy and girl
He wiped his mouth upon his sleeve and went to eat the world.

He ate the Egypt pyramids and every church in Rome,
And all the grass in Africa and all in ice in Nome.
He ate each hill in green Brazil and then to make things worse
He decided for dessert he'd eat the universe.

He started with the moon and stars and soon as he was done
He gulped the clouds, he sipped the wind and gobbled up the sun.
Then sitting there in the cold dark air,
He started to nibble his feet,
Then his legs, then his hips
Then his neck, then his lips
Till he sat there just gnashin' his teeth
'Cause nothin' was nothin' was
Nothin' was nothin' was
Nothin' was left to eat.

May 15: Total Dark to Total Light, Transitions, Daughter's Awards

Billy went from total dark to total light, found himself back in the war, back in the delousing station again.  The shower was over.  An unseen hand had turned the water off.

When Billy got his clothes back, they weren't any cleaner, but all the little animals that had been living in them were dead.  So it goes.  And his new overcoat was thawed out and limp now.  It was much too small for Billy.  It had a fur collar and a lining of crimson silk, and had apparently been made for an impresario about as big as an organ-grinder's monkey.  It was full of bullet holes.

Billy Pilgrim dressed himself.  He put on the little overcoat, too.  It split up the back, and, at the shoulders, the sleeves came entirely free.  So the coat became a fur-collared vest.  It was meant to flare at its owner's waist, but the flaring took place at Billy's armpits.  The Germans found him to be one of the most screamingly funny things they had seen in all of World War Two.  They laughed and laughed.

Dark to light.  Childhood to adulthood.  Peace to war.  There are a lot of transitions in this short passage.  Billy's time warps seem to happen arbitrarily, although Vonnegut certainly has arranged the scenes in Slaughterhouse for cumulative effect.  The question is why he chose to place Billy's experience in Carlsbad Caverns directly before this moment in the German delousing shower.  The only answer I have is that both scenes are filled with a certain kind of terror for Billy.  In Carlsbad Caverns, Billy's fear is phobic and unfounded.  In the shower, his fear is real and legitimate.

I just arrived home a couple hours ago after a day of driving.  Grand Rapids was wonderful.  My daughter did really well in her dance competition.  For her solo, she received a High Gold Award, a Judge's Choice Award, and an invitation to Nationals.  I am so proud of my little girl.  She didn't stop smiling until she fell asleep last night.  Generally, my daughter doesn't like me to make a big deal out of her accomplishments.  Yesterday, she texted everyone with the news.  She was very excited.

Now comes the transition back to real life tomorrow morning.  My daughter goes back to school.  I go back to work.  Life goes back to normal.  In a way, it will feel like a time warp.  The relaxation and excitement of this past weekend butting up against the obligations and pressures of tomorrow.  I have to get my online class ready for next week.  My daughter has to read Of Mice and Men for tomorrow. 

I am feeling a little unprepared, and that makes me very uncomfortable.  Fearful even.  I need to get a whole lot of stuff done in the next 24 hours.  Complete freedom to complete drudgery.  Work and work and work.  That is the price of a few days of relaxation.  But it was worth it.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for his talented, beautiful daughter.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14: Mother's Day, Classic Saint Marty, "Heart to Heart"

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there--mothers and aunts and sisters and neighbors and friends.  All the women who nurture and care for people.

My daughter danced this morning.  Pretty soon, we will be heading to Olive Garden for lunch--my wife's choice.  I have to say that she is the most patient and loving and understanding mother.  When I am ready to go medieval on my kids for something, she is the person who takes the chains and whips out of my hands.  Every day, she demonstrates how much she loves our children through small sacrifices.  She is amazing.

On this Mother's Day, I have an episode of Classic Saint Marty that aired about two years ago, when I was dealing with my daughter's first step toward independence . . .

May 14, 2015:  Vague Depression, Daughter's Trip, Little Princess

Although he had confided in his father about his decision regarding the seminary and it was hardly a secret in their household, Robert could not bring himself to tell his mother about his doubts, for the young man truly believed that one of his jobs in life was to seem independent.  So even though he suffered through many a bad day, even after talking it over with his father, when a vague depression came over him, as if he already knew about his true future, and wanted to rest his head upon his mother's lap, to feel her reassuring hand on his head, he kept his feeling bottled up inside--at least around her.

Robert Ives is a young man struggling with very adult issues for the first time in his life.  He is not going to college.  Or getting married.  Or starting a new job.  Robert has decided to devote his life to God.  He's terrified and confused, and, even though he craves his mother's attention, he can't bring himself to admit it.  He's growing up.

My daughter is going on a class trip tomorrow morning.  In sixth grade, it was a day trip to Mackinac Island.  Seventh grade, a couple of days at a survival camp.  This year, it's Great America.  Tomorrow, I will drop her off at 4:45 a.m., and she will climb on a bus and head off to Chicago.  Without me or my wife.  Wearing a tee-shirt that says "Class of '19."

Yes, I know I'm being melodramatic.  My daughter will be back in the bosom of her family around 3 a.m. on Saturday.  She will be crabby and tired, and she won't want to tell me about what she did over the past 24 hours.  She will get home, climb into bed, and proceed to sleep for the next 12 hours.  Maybe she'll get up to go to the bathroom.  I may slide a pizza under her bedroom door about noon.

My daughter is a good kid.  She studies hard, gets straight A's, and reads all the time.  On weekends, she goes to church on Saturday and Sunday (sometimes with a little grumbling, if not outright hostility).  And she's going to be a high school freshman next fall.  She's already talking about getting her driver's license.

Yes, I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the times my daughter would lean against my chest and let me be her daddy.  These days, when I wake her up in the morning, I have to announce to my wife, "I have released the Kraken." 

Saint Marty isn't ready for his little princess to turn into a prom queen.

Not this kind of prom queen

And a poem for Mother's Day . . . 

 Heart to Heart

by:  Martin Achatz

Luke says Mary kept every-
thing—angels roaring in
the night, shepherds crawling
through dung and hay, camels,
comets—all these things,
gospels and gospels, stored in
the four chambers of her heart.
I wonder if Einstein’s mother
had room enough in her
ventricles for quanta and
atoms, light’s slow passage
through the eye of the universe.
Or Darwin’s mother enough
space in her atria for
all the creatures of the Galapagos—
tortoises and iguanas, butter-
flies and cormorants.  Lincoln’s
mother died before she had
to squeeze Gettysburg and
emancipation under her ribs,
and I believe Shakespeare’s
mother departed this mortal
coil without Romeo or
the Globe nestled beneath
her breast.  My mother is
still packing things in
the attic of her chest.  Just
yesterday, she asked me if
I still write poems.  Yes, I told
her.  I’m writing a poem
about you right now,
I said.  She nodded, looked away.
I imagined her opening a box
with my name on it, wrapping
this poem in newspaper, placing
it beside the lanyard I made
for her in third grade, closing
the box again, putting it
back on the shelf in her bosom.
When she gets to heaven,
my mother will meet Mary
on a street corner,
and they’ll unpack their
hearts.  This, mother will
say, is a poem my son wrote
for me for Mother’s Day.  Mary
will hold out her hand, show
my mother the first tooth
her son lost, a tiny grain
of enamel in her palm.  They
will find a diner to have
coffee together.  They will sit
in a booth, brag about how
their kids changed the world.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

May 13: James Scannell McCormick, "Prayer to St. Drogo of Sebourg"

I have a sonnet from Scannell tonight, a beautiful reflection on loss and sacrifice. 

Tomorrow is Mother's Day.  This poem does touch upon motherhood.  St. Drogo's mother died in childbirth.  She made the ultimate sacrifice for her baby.  I'm not sure if many people would consider this poem appropriate for a celebration of mothers, but I do.  It reminds me of everything noble about motherhood.

Saint Marty salutes all mothers this evening, in prelude to tomorrow.

Prayer to St. Drogo of Sebourg

by:  James Scannell McCormick

You: no sooner come to a life folden
And fine as a psalter's roundel (lovers, say,
In April -- blue cloaked, posed and poised on a lawn
Of pinks) -- unmothered. She died in birthing you.

In the west, the Channel heaved, mussel-indigo:
What is having to loss? Forgone of your
Belongings, you, sinful pilgrim, walked to
Rome in penitence. Again. Again. We are

Sinners, all. And yet who gave any thanks
Or help -- a cup of warmth, a free inglenook-
Seat? When sickness blistered your face to flanks
Of skinned hares, and no one would bear to look

At you, you sealed yourself in a hermit's cell --
So smallest comfort serves to preserve our souls.

May 13: Radium Dial, Visting Brother, Good Day

And Billy took a very short trip through time, made a peewee jump of only ten days, so he was still twelve, still touring the West with his family.  Now they were down in Carlsbad Caverns, and Billy was praying to God to get him out of there before the ceiling fell in.

A ranger was explaining that the Caverns had been discovered by a cowboy who saw a huge cloud of  bats come out of a hole in the ground.  And then he said that he was going to turn out all the lights, and that it would probably be the first time in the lives of most people there that they had ever been in darkness that was total.

Out went the lights.  Billy didn't even know whether he was still alive or not.  And then something ghostly floated in air to his left.  It had numbers on it.  His father had taken out his pocket watch.  The watch had a radium dial.

Billy is still on his family vacation, this time in the depths of Carlsbad Caverns.  He is still twelve and still very anxious.  This time, instead of worrying about falling off a cliff into the Grand Canyon, he is waiting for a ceiling of rock to collapse on top of him.  There are also clouds of bats and total darkness to fuel his fears.  Basically, it sounds like the entire trip has been an exercise in phobias and self-doubt for him.

Unlike Billy Pilgrim, my family trip has been quite positive.  I spent today shopping with my kids and wife.  Toys "R" Us, Barnes and Noble, and Journeys Footware.  Chuck E. Cheese for lunch.  It was a really relaxing morning and afternoon.  No crises.  No bloodshed between siblings.  In fact, my daughter and son acted as though they really liked each other.  Remarkable.

This afternoon, we drove to the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center to visit my brother.  It only took about 15 minutes to get there.  My brother was in really good spirits, sitting up in bed, laughing and joking around with my son.  We stayed for about two hours, and I don't think my son stopped talking the entire time.  I may be wrong, but I think my son's visit was really good medicine for my brother.

My brother has lost a lot of weight.  He's cold all the time.  I assume that is due to poor circulation because of his damaged heart.  He told me that he walked a quarter mile today--three laps around the hospital ward.  To me, he appears much stronger, and that buoyed my spirits, as well.

So, tonight is not about total darkness.  Tonight, I see some light for my brother, a radium dial of hope.  He will be coming home, after his doctors adjust his medications and determine his best course of treatment.  Yes, he won't be able to carry water heaters out of basements anymore, but he may be able to live independently.  Take care of himself.

Saint Marty is thankful for a day filled with happiness and possibility.