Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16: My World, Denise Levertov, "Making Peace"

Well, I don't have a lot of energy to talk about what's going on the world.  My world has been a little chaotic these last 24 hours.

I'm trying to find some quiet tonight.  Maybe I'll read.  Maybe I'll have a glass of wine.  Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Saint Marty needs some peace.

Making Peace

by:  Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.



August 16: Silver Boots, Unstuck in Time, My Dad

The temperature climbed startlingly that day.  The noontime was balmy.  The Germans brought soup and bread in two-wheeled carts which were pulled by Russians.  The Englishman sent over real coffee and sugar and marmalade and cigarettes and cigars, and the doors of the theater were left open, so the warmth could get in.

The Americans began to feel much better.  They were able to hold their food.  and then it was time to go to Dresden.  The Americans marched fairly stylishly out of the British compound.  Billy Pilgrim again led the parade.  He had silver boots now, and a muff, and a piece of azure curtain which he wore like a toga.  Billy still had a beard.  So did poor old Edgar Derby, who was beside him.  Derby was imagining letters to home, his lips working tremulously:

Dear Margaret--We are leaving for Dresden today.  Don't worry.  It will never be bombed.  It is an open city.  There was an election at noon, and guess what?  And so on.

They came to the prison railroad yard again.  They had arrived on only two cars.  They would depart far more comfortably on four.  They saw the dead hobo again.  He was frozen stiff in the weeds beside the track.  He was in a fetal position, trying even in death to nestle like a spoon with others.  There were no others now.  He was nestling with thin air and cinders.  Somebody had taken his boots.  His bare feet were blue and ivory.  It was all right, somehow, his being dead.  So it goes.

Billy is on his way to Dresden with the other Americans.  He knows what's going to happen.  Edgar Derby facing the firing squad.  The firebombing of the city.  All the death that he will witness. So it goes, as Vonnegut says over and over.

Sometimes I wish I could become a little unstuck in time.  It would make my life simpler.  At the moment, my 90-year-old father is in the hospital.  One of my sisters took him to the ER this morning.  I'm not going to get into details, but he's going to there for a while.  Tomorrow, he will be transferred to another facility.  Most likely downstate in Alpena. 

He's angry about his situation.  My dad has always been a difficult man.  He can be belligerent.  Sometimes physical.  A couple times today, he tried to walk out of the hospital on his own, only to be escorted back.  He's resting now, after a really bad couple of days. 

If I were Billy Pilgrim, I would know how all this is going to turn out.  I would be able to jump back to family vacations in Gay, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior, when I was a kid.  Or the time my dad came to see me play the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder's Our Town in high school.  Or a few months into the future, so that I would know how all this is going to turn out. 

Unfortunately, I am not unstuck in time.  I have to take it one day at a time, just like everybody else, and hope and pray for the best.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for compassionate nurses and doctors.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15: Paul Lazzaro, Racism, KKK Ideology

Somewhere in there, old Edgar Derby was elected head American.  The Englishman called for nominations from the floor, and there weren't any.  So he nominated Derby, praising him for his maturity and long experience in dealing with people.  There were no further nominations, so the nominations were closed.

"All in favor?"

Two or three people said, "Aye."

Then poor old Derby made a speech.  He thanked the Englishman for his good advice, said he meant to follow it exactly.  He said he was sure that all the other Americans would do the same.  He said that his primary responsibility now was to make damn well sure that everybody got home safely.

"Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut," murmured Paul Lazzaro in his azure nest.  "Go take a flying fuck at the moon."

If you haven't already noticed, Paul Lazzaro is a pretty nasty character.  Petty.  Angry.  Mean.  Eventually, he will murder Billy Pilgrim, more than twenty years after the conclusion of World War II.  Lazzaro is an example of the kind of person who lives to hate.  Hate and revenge are his only reasons for being alive.

If Paul Lazzaro were alive today, he would have been in Charlottesville this past weekend, marching in a white robe and hood.  I have no doubt about that.  He wouldn't have passed up the opportunity to participate in an event that centered on violence and hatred.  In a way, I think that Paul Lazzaro is sitting in the Oval Office right now.

I have a confession to make:  I come from a background of racism.  I was born in Detroit in the October following the 1967 riots.  I only lived in the city a few years before my parents moved our family to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Therefore, I was spared the kind of rampant racial hatred that seems to pervade a lot of people of my parents' generation from Detroit.

Not that there isn't racism in the U. P.  There is.  One of my neighbors down the street just recently put a "Team Trump" sign back on his lawn.  And nobody has stolen the sign or defaced it with a swastika.  Both of those thoughts have crossed my mind.  So, either the other people in my neighborhood are extremely tolerant liberals, or they are Trump supporters.  Or they don't care, which I think is a little bit worse.

I know, as a white person, that I probably haven't done 99% of what I should do to combat racism and bigotry.  I try to raise my kids to be accepting and loving.  I don't judge people, unless they happen to have Trump signs in their yards.  When I teach, I talk to my students about acceptance and tolerance.  (I have been accused of being too political in my student evaluations on occasion.  Don't really care if I make a few close-minded young people uncomfortable.  That's part of the college experience--being challenged.)  I do my best, but perhaps that isn't good enough.

I have a friend who moved to New Zealand because Donald Trump was elected.  (My friend was probably going to move there anyway, but the election simply accelerated his departure.)  I don't think that abandoning ship is the answer.  It may have solved the problem for my friend, and that's great.  But I'm not sure I can simply walk away from rampant racism.  For me, that solves nothing.

However, I don't have any definitive answers other than telling people that I believe alt-right is simply a synonym for white supremacy.  It's watered down Ku Klux Klan ideology.  The KKK hasn't gone away.  It has rebranded itself and gotten a man elected President of the United States.  I will say that to anybody who cares to have a civil discussion with me.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for Heather Heyer and all the people who stood up for love last weekend in Virginia against the Paul Lazzaros of the world.


August 15: Poems of Protest, Nikki Giovanni, "Rosa Parks"

Instead of picking a Poet of the Week, I've decided to pick Poems of the Week.  In light of the events of this weekend in Charlottesville, and the non-response from the person sitting in the Oval Office, I will be featuring Poems of Protest and Empowerment for the next six or seven days.

You know, I really thought, with the election of President Obama, that my country might have turned a corner.  Unfortunately, the corner it turned was into a really dark alley.  I'm not going to provide a lecture tonight about the evils of racism.  I'm not going to tell you that Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are bad.  I'm not going to do that because every sane and moral person knows that.

What I am going to say is that Martin Luther King's dream died a little bit last Saturday, but it will never disappear.  Not while there are still people like Heather Heyer standing up to men and women in white hoods wearing swastika armbands.  I believe there are more good people in the world than evil people.  And the good people will win.  The Martin Luther Kings and Nelson Mandelas and Mother Teresas and Rosa Parkses.  Good people always win eventually.

This Saint Marty believes.

Rosa Parks

by:  Nikki Giovanni

This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said
they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago
Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would
know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who
helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight
the fight that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education because
even though Kansas is west and even though Topeka is the birth-
place of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote the powerful “The
Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” it was the
Pullman Porters who whispered to the traveling men both
the Blues Men and the “Race” Men so that they both would
know what was going on. This is for the Pullman Porters who
smiled as if they were happy and laughed like they were tickled
when some folks were around and who silently rejoiced in 1954
when the Supreme Court announced its 9—0 decision that “sepa-
rate is inherently unequal.” This is for the Pullman Porters who
smiled and welcomed a fourteen-year-old boy onto their train in
1955. They noticed his slight limp that he tried to disguise with a
doo-wop walk; they noticed his stutter and probably understood
why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer
when school was out. Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps
and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways
when mothers aren’t around to look after them. So this is for the
Pullman Porters who looked over that fourteen-year-old while
the train rolled the reverse of the Blues Highway from Chicago to
St. Louis to Memphis to Mississippi. This is for the men who kept
him safe; and if Emmett Till had been able to stay on a train all
summer he would have maybe grown a bit of a paunch, certainly
lost his hair, probably have worn bifocals and bounced his grand-
children on his knee telling them about his summer riding the
rails. But he had to get off the train. And ended up in Money,
Mississippi. And was horribly, brutally, inexcusably, and unac-
ceptably murdered. This is for the Pullman Porters who, when the
sheriff was trying to get the body secretly buried, got Emmett’s
body on the northbound train, got his body home to Chicago,
where his mother said: I want the world to see what they did
to my boy. And this is for all the mothers who cried. And this is
for all the people who said Never Again. And this is about Rosa
Parks whose feet were not so tired, it had been, after all, an ordi-
nary day, until the bus driver gave her the opportunity to make
history. This is about Mrs. Rosa Parks from Tuskegee, Alabama,
who was also the field secretary of the NAACP. This is about the
moment Rosa Parks shouldered her cross, put her worldly goods
aside, was willing to sacrifice her life, so that that young man in
Money, Mississippi, who had been so well protected by the
Pullman Porters, would not have died in vain. When Mrs. Parks
said “NO” a passionate movement was begun. No longer would
there be a reliance on the law; there was a higher law. When Mrs.
Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system,
the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and
the light of truth. Others would follow Mrs. Parks. Four young
men in Greensboro, North Carolina, would also say No. Great
voices would be raised singing the praises of God and exhorting
us “to forgive those who trespass against us.” But it was the
Pullman Porters who safely got Emmett to his granduncle and it
was Mrs. Rosa Parks who could not stand that death. And in not
being able to stand it. She sat back down.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 13: "Dunkirk," Charlottesville, Classic Saint Marty, "One Small Step"

I took my daughter and her boyfriend to see the film Dunkirk this afternoon.  It's a great movie about the triumph of the human will in the face of tremendous darkness.  It's the second time that I've seen it.  However, today--after the events in Virginia yesterday--I found the entire experience much more immediate.  As we were leaving the theater, I turned to my daughter and said, "Remember, the world fought a war against Nazis.  The world won.  Those people in Virginia can't say they're fighting for America.  White supremacists and Nazis aren't Americans.  They're terrorists."

I try to avoid those kind of sledge hammer lessons with my kids.  However, I want my daughter to know that the United States is better than this.  Donald Trump is not making America great.  And this weekend has just enforced that fact for me.

There are a lot of people mourning today.  I prayed for them in church this morning.  I've been thinking about them all day.  I firmly believe that goodness always defeats evil.  That light will extinguish darkness.  That is my hope this afternoon.  Goodness.  Light.  Peace.

An episode of Classic Saint Marty from a couple years ago . . .

August 13, 2015:  Michael David Madonick, "Iris," King Kong, Terrible Darkness

Iris

by:  Michael David Madonick

About the lip
there is an edge.  More
to the point, an edginess,
not so nervous as to be
construed as shy, but an
inclination, nevertheless,
toward the ascetic.  The clam
belly's undulant scallop, or
Jessica Lange that instant before
Kong came raging
through the wood.  Tied up
in beauty and in rope, it never
wants to give what it seems
to show.  And he, however
soft his hairy hand, is bound
by her music, to fall
asleep, then
dead.

Yes, I'm changing things up a little bit.  I wanted to start with Mike Madonick's poem, simply because it sort of captures the kind of day I've had.  The poem is about being on the edge.  The trees of the jungle trembling, hiding the giant ape about to burst through.  The lip of the flower hiding something pink and beautiful.  Or deadly.

Tonight, I went to the funeral home to make some preliminary arrangements for my sister's funeral.  It wasn't half as difficult as I anticipated.  The two sisters who accompanied me actually stuck to the plan we decided upon last night.  There wasn't bickering, raised voices, or name calling.  It took about 45 minutes.

Back at my parents' house, our parish priest came.  Father Larry brought a stole used by Frederic Baraga, first bishop of Marquette, who died in 1868.  Bishop Baraga is on the road to sainthood.  Currently, he has been given the title "Venerable," which is the first step toward canonization.

Father Larry wrapped Bishop Baraga's stole around my sister's head and chest.  We prayed over her.  Every person in the room (12 in all) laid hands on her.  Then Father Larry anointed her with chrism.  Finally, we recited a rosary. When I looked over at my dad, he was weeping.  It broke my heart to see him.

It was strange to go from planning my sister's funeral to praying for her recovery.  Like in Mike Madonick's poem, I feel like something's approaching.  Something huge.  But I can't see it in the trees.  It might be a miracle--my sister sitting up in her bed and saying that she's hungry.  Or it might be death--a phone ringing in the middle of the night in a dark room.

Ives and Annie experience something similar the night that their son dies:

As they happily walked to the subway, they were looking forward to spending a lot of time together at home during the holiday, in the company of family and friends.  Ives and Annie had stopped to peer into a window display of French linen when, just like that, a terrible darkness entered them, and they could not move and stood looking at one another stupidly, on the crowded and busy sidewalk.

Ives and Annie have no idea what the darkness means.  One minute, they're doing a little Christmas window shopping.  The next, they're filled with inexplicable dread.  Something big is approaching, and the trees are shaking.

Saint Marty is praying for a miracle, but he's preparing for something darker.  Heavier. King Kong-sized.

I think I'll end with something a little more hopeful.  Something I wrote for my son quite a few years ago:

One Small Step

by:  Martin Achatz



I think of Armstrong’s track.   Still perfect, forty years later.  Ribbed, full of shadow and lunar dust.  I think of him on that July day, on the ladder, as he practiced in his head what he would say as his foot descended.  Mouthing the words over and over until they seemed as natural as bats chasing mosquitoes.  Mist at Niagara.  Yesterday, as I drove home, I stared at the knuckle of moon.  Half in shadow.  I wondered if that giant leap was in darkness.  Or if it blazed under the sun’s light, the way my son’s hand print blazed on my windshield when headlights struck the glass.  Thumb.  Index.  Middle.  Ring.  Pinky.  Palm.  A smudge he made one night when he tried to scoop the moon from the heavens.  I hope he keeps reaching, leaves constellations of himself across the sky.  Small boot prints on the cosmos.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

August 12: A Good Place, Walt Whitman, "A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown"

It is the weekend--days when I try to set aside the worries and pressures of the week for a little while.  Breakfast with my family.  Church tonight.  Pizza for dinner.  I love the pace of these days, when I don't have to rush and the hours spread out in front of me like lawns of August dandelions.

I try to avoid newspapers and news shows, in general, on Saturdays and Sundays.  Give myself a break from politics and disasters and wars.  I'm not sticking my head in the sand.  I'm simply allowing my brain to relax a little bit.  I know that, on Monday, Donald Trump will still be President of the United States, and that he will have said something that will leave me dumbfounded or insanely angry.  I know that the threat of nuclear war will be a mushroom cloud on the horizon.

However, Saint Marty will take the next two days to pretend that the world is a good place.  A kind place.  A place that doesn't need armies and poverty has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.  A place that's safe for my kids and my kids' kids.

A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown

by:  Walt Whitman

A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown,
A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness,
Our army foil’d with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating,
Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building,
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building,
’Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital
Entering but for a minute I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made,
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch stationary with wild red flame and clouds of smoke,
By these, crowds, groups of forms vaguely I see on the floor, some in the pews laid down,
At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen,)
I stanch the blood temporarily, (the youngster’s face is white as a lily,)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o’er the scene fain to absorb it all,
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead,
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood,
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill’d,
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating,
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor’s shouted orders or calls,
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches,
These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor,
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.

August 12: A Beautiful City, Terrible Events, Good at Heart

The Englishman said that he, when captured, had made and kept the following vows to himself:  To brush his teeth twice a day, to shave once a day, to wash his face and hands before every meal and after going to the latrine, to polish his shoes once a day, to exercise for at least half an hour each morning, and then move his bowels, and to look into a mirror frequently, frankly evaluating his appearance with respect to posture.

Billy Pilgrim heard all this while lying in his nest.  He looked not at the Englishman's face but his ankles.

"I envy you lads," said the Englishman.

Somebody laughed.  Billy wondered what the joke was.

"You lads are leaving this afternoon for Dresden--a beautiful city, I'm told.  You won't  be cooped up like us.  You'll be out where the life is, and the food is certain to be more plentiful than here.  If I may inject a personal note:  It has been five years since I have seen a tree or flower or woman or child--or a dog or a cat or a place of entertainment, or a human being doing useful work of any kind.

"You needn't worry about bombs, by the way.  Dresden is an open city.  It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance."

The Englishman is correct.  Dresden was a center of culture in Germany.  It wasn't a military target at all.  The firebombing of the city has been compared to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed.  The entire city was leveled.  The Allies did this at the end of the war, to break the morale of the German people.  It's still a controversial moment in the history of World War II.

I'm not here to argue whether this attack was right or wrong.  You can decide that for yourself.  Certainly, the war in Europe ended shortly after Dresden was destroyed.  It was horrific for the people who were there at the time and survived, like Kurt Vonnegut.  The cost of war on innocent lives is always huge.  There is no way to avoid it, unless it's simply to not engage in warfare at all.

I'm not completely sure that all the current world leaders can put military decisions in any kind of historical context.  (One leader, in particular, has never even read a history book, I'm certain.)  And without that historical context, I don't know how any head of state can make a military decision that puts innocent civilians in harm's way. 

What I'm saying is not a profound insight.  This post is just me grappling with things that are going on in my country and the world right now.  I'm not going to change anything with a blog post about an attack that occurred over 70 years ago.  I just want to express a hope that somebody in power somewhere will step back and say, "What the fuck are we doing here?"

Of course, history is full of terrible events--tragedies committed against humans by other humans.  The enslavement of the Jewish people by the Egyptians.  The Crusades.  The Spanish Inquisition.  The enslavement of African Americans in the United States.  The use of mustard gas in World War I.  The Holocaust.  The Armenian and Cambodian and Rwandan genocides.  The firebombing of Dresden. I could go on.  And these kinds of tragedies keep happening.  Just ask the people of Syria.

Like Anne Frank, I want to believe that, in spite of everything, people are still good at heart.  And I want to believe that those good-hearted people will prevail in the end.

Saint Marty is thankful today for soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity.  For Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders.  Animal shelters and cancer research.  For goodness and kindness.


Friday, August 11, 2017

August 11: Unusually Tired, Cost of War, Walt Whitman, "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night"

It has been a long week, and I find myself unusually tired this evening.  Usually, on Friday nights, I have a lot of energy, am excited by the prospect of having a few days off.  When I got home from work this afternoon, however, I sat down on my couch, put my head back, and promptly fell asleep.

Yes, I had a lot going on these last five days.  A reading, an open mic, a workshop.  Plus, 40 hours of work, and the stress of listening to Donald Trump goading North Korea toward nuclear war.  I wouldn't be surprised if everyone in the United States is sleeping on their couches.

A friend of mine posted pictures of the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings on Facebook this evening.  Terrifying, horrific pictures.  I think that anyone who supports the idea of nuclear war with North Korea should be forced to look at these pictures.  Sleep with them.  Have them taped to their bathroom mirrors.

Saint Marty thinks people need to be reminded of the costs of war.  Constantly.

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night

by:  Walt Whitman

Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
One look I but gave which your dear eyes return’d with a look I shall never forget,
One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach’d up as you lay on the ground,
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested battle,
Till late in the night reliev’d to the place at last again I made my way,
Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body son of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool blew the moderate night-wind,
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me the battle-field spreading,
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant silent night,
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long, long I gazed,
Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side leaning my chin in my hands,
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you dearest comrade—not a tear, not a word,
Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole,
Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you, swift was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think we shall surely meet again,)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the dawn appear’d,
My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop’d well his form,
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head and carefully under feet,
And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and battle-field dim,
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth responding,)
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget, how as day brighten’d,
I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well in his blanket,
And buried him where he fell.

August 11: Easy and Painless, Meaning in Life, Hot Showers

What the Englishman said about survival was this:  "If you stop taking pride in your appearance, you will very soon die."  He said that he had seen several men die in the following way:  "They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died.  There is this much to be said for it:  it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go."  So it goes.

Death by uncleanliness.  That's what the Englishman is talking about.  Giving up, surrendering.  If you don't care about what you look or smell like, you might as well just dig a hole in the backyard, crawl into it, and pull the dirt over yourself.  It's an easy way to kill yourself.

There's some truth to this passage.  You have to have something to care about in life, or else life loses its meaning.  For example, if all I did was work in a medical office--registering patients, assembling medical charts, entering charges--I don't think that I'd want to get out of bed every morning.  That work does not motivate me in any way, except for the money and health insurance it provides.  It is not my passion.

The meaning in my life comes from what happens outside the medical office.  My wife and kids.  The books I read.  Poems I write.  Students I teach.  Music I play.  These things give me a reason to get up in the morning.  My life really starts after I leave the medical office in the afternoon.

Don't get me wrong.  I do enjoy talking to patients.  Putting them at ease.  Making them laugh.  There's something rewarding in that.  In the medical office, I meet people who are often frightened, anxious, or angry.  If I alleviate these feelings even a fraction, I think I've made the world a better place.  That is a rewarding feeling. 

I suppose it all depends on attitude.  Wherever I am, whatever I do, I try to find meaning.  And I usually do.  It might be something small--a smile or laugh.  It might be something big--seeing a patient who has been given the news that he's cancer free.  That's how I make it through my days.  Trying to make the world a better place, one small act of kindness at a time.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a bed that's made.  Dishes that are washed.  And hot showers.

`

Thursday, August 10, 2017

August 10: Poetry Reading, Walt Whitman, "Long, too long America"

Tonight, I'm giving a poetry reading at Peter White Public Library, in Marquette, Michigan.  My musician friend, Linda, is going to be performing with me.  It's going to be a great event.  Not sure how many people are going to show up.  It's billed as a "Meet the U. P.'s New Poet Laureate."  I'm not sure if that's really going to draw a huge crowd.  If I get five people, I'll be happy.  If I get ten people, I'll feel like a rock star.

And really, now is the time for poetry.  I keep turning to poets as a remedy for all of the Donald Trump news.  Right now, he's having a pissing contest with North Korea, threatening "fire and fury."  The sad thing is that there are people in the United States who think a nuclear war would be a good thing.  That concerns me.  A LOT.

So, tonight, I am going to provide the remedy for anybody who shows up to listen.  I am not going to stop a nuclear war with anything I say or read tonight.  But maybe I'll calm a few troubled minds and hearts.

That's the best Saint Marty can do.

Long, too long America

by:  Walt Whitman

Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn'd from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv'd what your children en-masse really are?)


August 10: Your Attention, Greatest Fears, Musician Friend

Somewhere in there was a lecture on personal hygiene by the head Englishman, and then a free election.  At least half the Americans went on snoozing through it all.  The Englishman got up on the stage, and he rapped on the arm of a throne with a swagger stick, called, "Lads, lads, lads--can I have your attention, please?"  And so on.

That is one of my greatest fears--getting up to speak in front of a crowd of people, and nobody giving a damn what I say.  I've been teaching at the university for over 20 years, and, every time I walk into a classroom, I'm gripped by that anxiety.  I feel it when I go to work.  When I go to church.  When I lead poetry workshops.  When I give poetry readings.

Tonight, I am doing a poetry reading with a musician friend.  I'm not sure how many people are going to show up.  I'm not sure IF people are going to show up.  I have poems picked out.  My friend has songs picked out.  Other than that, I'm not sure what shape the evening is going to take.  Maybe there will be questions after the reading.  Maybe I will be so inspiring that everyone will want to buy a book from me.  Or maybe I'll be so bad that people will start sneaking out the door ten minutes into the reading.  And so on.

In a few minutes, I'm going to get changed into my poet outfit for the night.  Jeans and a dress shirt.  I'll pack up my poems and books and broadsides, and I will drive to my friend's house to pick up her and her guitar.  Then I will drive to the library where the reading is scheduled.  Those are all certainties.  Beyond that, it's all chance.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the company of his friend and her music.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9: Dead Poet Friends, Walt Whitman, "O Me! O Life!"

Before I knew I was a poet, I loved Dead Poets Society.  I wanted to be Ethan Hawke in that movie.  I wanted a teacher like Robin Williams' Mr. Keating.  And I wanted a group of Dead Poet friends, sitting together in a cave, smoking, looking at dirty pictures, and reading poetry to each other.  (On a side note, a cousin who went to see the movie with me thought that I was more like Robert Sean Leonard than Ethan Hawke.  The suicidal actor instead of the poet.  I was a little dark as a teenager.)

Anyway, I think there was a part of me, even back then, that knew I was a poet.

That is my contribution to the powerful play of the world.

Saint Marty has been contributing his verse ever since.

O Me!  O Life!

by:  Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.



August 9: Airman's Boots, Fairy Tales, Twue Wove

Billy closed it, took a hand from his muff, touched a stove.  It was as cold as ice.  The stage was still set for Cinderella.  Azure curtains hung from arches which were shocking pink.  There were golden thrones and the dummy clock, whose hands were set at midnight.  Cinderella's slippers, which were airman's boots painted silver, were capsized side by side under a golden throne.

Billy and poor old Edgar Derby and Lazzaro had been in the hospital when the British passed out blankets and mattresses, so they had none.  They had to improvise.  The only space open to them was up on the stage, and they went up there, pulled the azure curtains down, made nests.

Billy, curled in his azure nest, found himself staring at Cinderella's silver boots under a throne.  And then he remembered that his shoes were ruined, that he needed boots.  He hated to get out of his nest, but he forced himself to do it.  He crawled to the boots on all fours, sat, tried them on.

The boots fit perfectly.  Billy Pilgrim was Cinderella, and Cinderella was Billy Pilgrim.

I'm not sure how to respond to this little passage from Slaughterhouse.  Pretty soon, Billy is going to be on his way to Dresden.  Lazzaro will keep planning his revenges.  And poor old Edgar Derby will be standing in front of a firing squad.  So it goes.  No Blue Fairy Godmother is going to appear to save any of them from their fates.  Billy isn't living a fairy tale.  He's a character in a science fiction story.  Aliens and flying saucers and time travel, not glass slippers and wicked stepsisters.

If a Blue Fairy Godmother appeared to me this evening, I'm not sure what my wish would be.  Maybe a new house.  A Nobel Prize.  Enough money so I don't have to worry about paying bills.  A book on the bestseller lists.  The new season of Stranger Things.  That's what anybody with fairy godmother wishes would think about.  Happiness through things.

We're all obsessed with the things we have and don't have.  We all want more money.  A better job.  A nicer house.  A castle in Scotland.  Of course, as most fairy tales teach us, things don't bring happiness.  Cinderella gets Prince Charming when she's dressed in rags and covered in ashes.  The Beast wins the heart of Belle when he looks like a reject from The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The point is not being rich or royal or beautiful or handsome.  Happiness is about filling a void, finding the thing that makes you whole.  In most fairy tales, to quote a line from The Princess Bride, that thing is "wove, twue wove."  Prince Charming and Cinderella.  Prince Charming and Snow White.  Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty.  (Prince Charming is kind of a slut.  All the princes look the same.)  You get the idea.

I have met my twue wove.  I have great kids and great friends.  I'm living my fairy tale.  Of course, I would love to have a full-time job at the university.  A five-bedroom, three-bathroom house with a swimming pool and library.  A couple thousand shares of Apple.

But I'm happy.  Tonight, when I go to bed, I won't feel empty or unsatisfied.

Saint Marty doesn't need any airman's boots painted silver.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August 8: Voting Day, Walt Whitman, "For You O Democracy"

Today is voting day.  After work, I drove over to my precinct, presented my driver's license, and was handed my ballot.  It was the first time I have voted since the presidential election, when I stood in line to vote for Hillary Clinton.  At the time, I was confident that I would wake up on November 9 to the news that my country had elected a woman as President of the United States.  I was sure.

Now, my confidence in our electoral process is a little shaken.  Not that I think Russia cares about millage issues and state primaries.  But I lost a little faith in my fellow citizens on that November morning.  I lost faith in the American experiment started over 225 years ago by a bunch of dead white guys.

I still have hope in democracy.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have voted today.  I believe that wrongs are eventually made right, lies are exposed, criminals are brought to justice.

Saint Marty believes that democracy will endure in the United States.  Somehow.

For You O Democracy

by:  Walt Whitman

Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
                   With the love of comrades,
                      With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
                   By the love of comrades,
                      By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.

August 8: Guts Fluttering, My Wife, Courage and Strength

The theater was paved with American bodies that nestled like spoons.  Most of the Americans were in stupors or asleep.  Their guts fluttering, dry.

"Close the fucking door," somebody said to Billy.  "Were you born in a barn?"

The English prisoners of war don't have a high opinion of the Americans.  Of course, the Americans haven't given the Englishmen to regard them with anything but disdain.  They've been rude, sick, and violent.  Billy lost his mind in the middle of a theatrical performance, and the rest of the Americans spent the night shitting their guts out in the prison latrine, swearing and groaning.  Like I said, the Americans don't come off very well.

Of course, that sets me up for an entire post about the reputation of the United Sates in the global community since Donald Trump took over in the Oval Office.  (For those of you who haven't been keeping up with current events:  America has gone from world leader to world laughingstock.  You know it's bad when Canada is offering asylum to citizens of the United States.)

However, I'm not going to go down that path.  Too easy.  Instead, I'm going to write about something that makes me proud--my wife.  Today, she went to a doctor's appointment, and she has lost another six pounds.  That means she is closing in on 60 pounds of weight loss since her surgery in June.  Amazing.

She's had struggles over the last couple months.  Vomiting and such.  As Vonnegut writes, her guts have been fluttering, dry at times.  But she's feeling much better, and she's excited about the fact that she weighs less than 300 pounds now.  All of her hard work is paying off, and I love her for her courage and strength.

Yes, I am bragging about my wife, but she deserves a little bragging.  She's one of the bravest people I know.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his beautiful wife. 


Monday, August 7, 2017

August 7: Robert Mueller, Poet of the Week, Walt Whitman, "America"

As Robert Mueller impanels grand juries and the current President of the United States tweets and golfs, I find myself in need of the voice of someone who really understood what my country was, is, and should be.

Walt Whitman is the Poet of the Week, because he is exactly what the United States requires at the moment:  a gay, white-bearded, former Civil War army nurse poet who speaks for everyone--man, woman, child, African American, Native American, Hispanic American, Arab American, Christian, Muslim, atheist, Republican, Democrat, socialist, communist, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, or lesbian.

Saint Marty sings Walt's body electric.

America

by:  Walt Whitman

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.