Monday, September 30, 2013

September 30: Five More Shopping Days

I'm sure you've all got your Saint Marty's Day decorations up at home by this time.  Just last night, I was sitting by the fireplace, enjoying a cup of Saint Marty nog, watching It's A Wonderful Saint Marty on the television.  It's a wonderful time of year.

There's only five more shopping days left.  Still plenty of time to pick up those last minute Saint Marty's Day gifts.  And don't forget the ingredients for the traditional Saint Marty's Day tapioca pudding.  You can't really celebrate the holiday without a huge bowl of fresh, piping hot tapioca.

Last night, I addressed the last of my Saint Marty's Day cards.  I'll be dropping them in the mail tomorrow morning.  Tonight, I'm going to put Celine Dion's Saint Marty's Day CD in the player, turn off the lights, and relax.  There's nothing better than Celine singing "I'll Be Home for Saint Marty's Day" in French.

As Tiny Tony said in Charles Dickens' A Saint Marty's Day Carol, "God bless us, every one!"

Sing it, Celine!

September 30: Poetry Questions, Repeating Myself, Another 8-Ball

I just reread my two posts from this past weekend.  In particular, I reread the poems contained in those posts.  Yesterday, I thought both poems were decent, maybe even good.  Today, I'm not so sure.

I tend to be pretty hard on myself when it comes to my poetry.  I think that's why I don't send my work out for publication more often.  My stuff never seems good enough to me.  In fact, sometimes it seems like I'm writing the same poems over and over and over.  That worked for Walt Whitman.  I don't think it works for me.

I've been following a discussion thread on the World Literature Forum recently.  It concerns possible contenders for the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.  It's a lively little debate that often ranges far off topic, as it does every year.  In particular, I'm always struck by the polarizing quality of certain writers.  Philip Roth has a strong contingent of supporters and detractors; the naysayers mostly sing the same song:  Roth's work is lightweight, always focused on the same themes and ideas, misogynistic.  During the Nobel season, Roth is the literary equivalent of liver and onions.  You either love him or hate him.  Certainly Roth's vision of American life (with its antisemitism and racism and sex) is no less valid than Nadine Gordimer's vision of South Africa under apartheid or Mo Yan's vision of communist China.  They all have their writerly obsessions.

Yes, I repeat myself in my poetry.  That's a part of being a poet, I guess.  That's how collections of poems get written.  Obsession is an undeniable part of any writer's make-up.  One of my friends recently spent two years researching a book about the man who discovered the giant squid.  I, myself, spent 47 days writing a book of 47 psalms.  One psalm per day X 47 days = insanity.  At the time, I didn't think I was obsessed.  I thought I was driven.

Maybe I need to cut myself some slack.  After all, writing about the same obsession over and over has worked well for many writers.  Roth.  Morrison.  Faulkner.  Frost.  That's not bad company to be in.  I wonder if Robert Frost ever thought to himself, "Maybe I should stop writing about trees and snow."  I doubt it.

My question for Salinger is silly, but intriguing:

Will I ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

And the answer to that question is:

...I didn't say anything, though, naturally.  All I said was English was my best subject...

English is my best subject, but I think that little passage is equivalent to the Magic 8-Ball answer "Try again later."  Holden's not talking.

And neither is Saint Marty.  He's waiting for the call from the Swedish Academy.

Roth--always a bridesmaid...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September 29: Being Lazy, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

I'm going to be totally lazy this evening.  I'm just posting a Classic Saint Marty that originally aired on October 21, 2011.  It contains a poem that I'd almost forgotten I'd written.  It's about my son, who turned five on September 26.

Saint Marty wishes all of his disciples a good night.

October 21, 2011:  Boot Prints, Small Steps, New Poem

I've been thinking about my legacy a great deal today.  I know that sounds pretty heavy.  I've been wondering what my daughter and son will have of me when I shuffle off this mortal coil.  I wonder if I'll be able to leave them money or valuable artwork or maybe a nice house.  I wonder if their memories of me will be happy, full of beaches and pizzas and games of Monopoly.  Maybe I've already made my mark.  Maybe my daughter will simply have the memory of me driving her to dance class tonight, and my son will remember me giving him a brownie this afternoon.  Maybe that's it.  Small steps.

I guess each moment we live on this planet is full of small steps.  Each small step hopefully adds up to something lasting.  Significant.  As a writer, of course, I hope, with every poem or story or essay, to make a difference in the world.  I've always thought of writing as one of the ultimate acts of hope.  If you write, you hope to communicate.  If you communicate, you strive to connect with someone.  If you connect with someone, you bring about understanding and compassion.  If you bring about understanding and compassion, you've been a good and faithful servant of the universe.

Saint Marty has a new poem tonight.

One Small Step

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 the 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.

One small step for Armstrong...

Confessions of Saint Marty

September 29: Wrong Kind of Monks, "The Shape of Prayer," New Poem, New Cartoon

"Aah, go back to sleep.  I'm not gonna join one anyway.  The kind of luck I have, I'd probably join one with all the wrong kind of monks in it.  All stupid bastards.  Or just bastards."

Holden talks about religion a few times in Catcher.  Here, he's talking to his schoolmate, Ackley, about joining a monastery.  Holden seems ready to try about anything, as long as he can be around people who are authentic, true.  Like kids.  Or, maybe, the right kind of monks.

Holden can't escape inauthentic people.  They're always present.  At work or school or church, I always meet phonies, as Holden calls them.  Some of the best people I know are agnostics or atheists, and some of the most shallow people I know profess to be Christians.

I try to surround myself with good people, whether they're Christians, atheists, straight, gay, black, white, male, or female.  It's about the quality of character more than anything else.  I have a friend who has no interest in organized religion, and yet I'd describe him as one of the most Christian people I know.  He would give you the coat off his back if you said you were cold.

That's what it's all about.  Being a Christian isn't simply about going to church.  It's about service.  Helping your brothers and sisters.  It's about action.  It's easy to say you're a Christian.  The hard part is putting Christianity into practice.  It's hard work, and it takes a lot of prayer.

That's what my poem is about today.  Prayer.  I've been thinking about prayer and Christianity a lot this past week.  I guess you might call it soul searching.  It's something I do every once in a while, especially when my life journey becomes a little rocky.  I haven't come to any monumental conclusions.  I've just been asking God a few questions.

Saint Marty's waiting for His answers.

The Shape of Prayer

When Saint Francis prayed,
I wonder if his words rose
like hummingbirds above him,
darted, pulsed in the air,
searching for God's pistil, stamen,
nectar.  When Saint Bernadette prayed,
I bet her words sat like oil
on a puddle, waited for sunlight's
prism to transform mud into
scarlet and gold and emerald.
Joan of Arc's prayers stormed the sky
with arrow, sword, lance, spear.
Mother Teresa carried her prayers,
swaddled like infant gods,
nursing them until they grew strong
enough to lift water to their lips,
feed themselves chicken broth, rice.
I'm not sure about my prayers.
Maybe they're quarters, dimes
in my pants pocket, singing as I walk
across the parking lot to my car.
Or a receipt for a birthday
present I bought last year, a winter
jacket, down pillow, bar of chocolate,
something sweet or warm or soft.
Or maybe, just maybe, they're like
winter's first snow, a confusion
of white on a November afternoon,
falling, rising at the same time,
a snow globe in a dying man's hand.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27: A Good Night Poem, "Kryptonite," Ron Koertge

I've got a poem for you guys tonight.  It's by a poet named Ron Koertge, and I first read it in the anthology Good Poems American Places, edited by Garrison Keillor.

I'm not going to talk much about it.  It's a poem that makes you rethink a familiar story.

Saint Marty is ready for rest now.


Lois liked to see the bullets bounce
off Superman's chest, and of course
she was proud when he leaned into
a locomotive and saved the crippled
orphan who had fallen on the tracks.

Yet on those long nights when he was
readjusting longitude or destroying
a meteor headed right for some nun,
Lois considered carrying just a smidgen
of kryptonite in her purse or at least
making a tincture to dab behind her ears.

She pictured his knees giving way,
the color draining from his cheeks.
He'd lie on the couch like a guy with
the flu, too weak to paint the front
porch or take out the garbage.  She
cold peek down his tights or draw
on his cheek with a ball point.  She
might even muss his hair and slap
him around.

"Hey, what'd I do?" he'd croak just
like a regular boyfriend.  At last.

At last

September 27: Relax, Sort of, Fairy Tale

I began to relax, sort of.  I mean I finally quit worrying about whether they'd catch me at home or not.  I figured the hell with it.  If they did, they did.

Holden is at the point where he doesn't really give a crap what happens to him.  He doesn't care whether his parents find out that he's been kicked out of Pencey Prep.  Basically, he's tired of the stress and worry.  I think he's realized he's not in control of his life.  He's waving a white flag.

I'm waving a white flag tonight, too.  It's been a crazy couple of days, and I am b-e-a-t.  I didn't get a chance to blog yesterday, and today is almost over.  I literally got home about 40 minutes ago.  I left home around noon and spent most of my day attending meetings, running errands, and driving my daughter to a dance lesson.  Oh, and I went to church to practice some pieces on the pipe organ for Sunday.

Tomorrow, my wife's family is coming over for a birthday party for my son.  He turned five yesterday.  My wife is making the cake as I sit here typing this post.  Yes, this is the day that is never going to end.  I want to go to bed.

Which reminds me of a story.

Once upon a time, a lumberjack named Chuck Wood lived in an enchanted forest.  Every day, all day, Chuck chopped wood with a magic ax, selling his lumber at the local farmer's market every Saturday.

One night, Chuck was so tired that he forgot his magic ax in a clearing in the enchanted forest.  When he got back to his cottage, he immediately went to bed, not even realizing his ax was missing.  In the morning, he returned to the clearing to find that his magic ax had been stolen.

Moral of the story:  Without his ax, how much wood can Chuck Wood chuck if Chuck Wood would chuck wood?

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Who cares how much wood gets chucked?  Not this guy.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25: Eleven Days to Go!

Yes, you only have eleven more days to go.  Saint Marty's Day is almost upon us.

Tonight, I read 'Twas the Night Before Saint Marty's Day to my son.  My wife bought a couple Saint Marty's Day cheese balls.  I hate cheese balls, but it's festive.

My kids are asleep, with visions of Milk Duds dancing in their heads.  Mamma in her nightgown and I in my flannels are ready to settle down for a very short nap.

Saint Marty is getting all tingly inside, but that could be the burrito he had for dinner.

cheese should not be round

September 25: Tiny Little Tumor, Perspective, Worries

"It isn't very serious.  I have this tiny little tumor on the brain."

This is just one of Holden's little lies.  He's flirting with a woman on the train to Manhattan who happens to be the mother of one of his classmates, and Holden tells her about the "little tumor" in his head.  It's not the only lie he tells in Catcher, but it's the only lie which is about a terminal disease.

I read the passage above, and I thought about all the worries I've had about my son these last few weeks.  We received another phone call from his teacher this afternoon.  It seems my son was hitting and pushing his classmates on the playground, in the classroom, and at the water fountain.  His teacher had the school counselor talk to him.

I need to put things into perspective.  My son does not have a tiny little tumor in his head.  He has an attitude.  A big attitude.  It's not going to kill him, unless he pushes some kid with his baseball bat.  He's going to be fine.  I know that.

God doesn't ever give you anything He doesn't think you can handle.  I've always hated that saying.  It's the kind of thing you hear in Steel Magnolias.   At the moment, it feels like my son is going to drive me to an early grave.  If I get one more phone call from his teacher, I think a vein in my head is going to explode.

For some reason, God has given me a son who likes to hit people.  I guess He thinks I can handle that.  I don't know how I'm supposed to handle it.  Maybe with a Xanax, a glass of red wine, and some chocolate.  My son will survive kindergarten.  He may have to survive kindergarten twice, but he'll survive it.

Saint Marty thinks it's going to be a really long school year.

Let's hope we only have to do this two or three times

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 24: Twelve Days of Saint Marty

Yes, only twelve days left until Saint Marty's Day.  There's a song in there somewhere, I think.  Something like,

 On the first day of Saint Marty, my true love gave to me, a one-week trip to London.

On the second day of Saint Marty, my true love gave to me, two Holiday gas cards,
and a one-week trip to London.

On the third day of Saint Marty, my true love gave to me, three Moleskine journals,
two Holiday gas cards,
and a one-week trip to London.

On the fourth day of Saint Marty, my true love gave to me, four Walmart gift cards,
three Moleskine journals,
two Holiday gift cards,
and a one-week trip to London.

On the fifth day of Saint Marty, my true love gave to me, five golden Candyfreaks...
Four Walmart gift cards,
three Moleskine journals,
two Holiday gift cards,
and a one-week trip to London.

Well, you get the idea.

Saint Marty has to go make some Saint Marty nog now.
Just add Saint Marty's nut...meg

September 24: Still Pretty Early, My Son Holden, a Prayer

It was still pretty early.  I'm not sure what time it was, but it wasn't too late.  The one thing I hate to do is go to bed when I'm not tired...

Holden sounds a lot like my four-year-old son in the passage above.  My son hates bedtime.  He will stall sleep any way he can.  He asks for a cookie, a piece of string cheese, a drink of water.  He gets up and goes to the bathroom.  He says he's not feeling well or that the bed is moving by itself.  Even if my son is exhausted, bed is the last place he wants to be.

I think my son is Holden Caulfield.  My son told me this evening that he "wants to be bad" to everyone in kindergarten.  I could almost hear him saying that his teacher is a big phoney.  He's being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.  And he's only in kindergarten.  He can be a good student.  He was a good student for the last two years.  A leader, even.  Suddenly, he's the Holden Caulfield of his class.  Picking fights.  Calling people names.  Getting closer and closer to expulsion.

I pray every night and morning my son will behave.  The problem is that, once he's on that bus, he's on his own.  He makes the choices all day, and the choices he's been making have been pretty poor.  I don't expect or want him to be a conformist, but, for God's sake, I'd like him to at least not commit any felonies when he's out on the playground.

And that's what my prayer is about today.

Dear God,

Hi.  It's me again.  How's Your Son?  I hope He's doing well.  That whole crucifixion thing was a real shame.

Speaking of sons, I'd like to ask You a little favor.  Tomorrow morning, when my son goes off to school, could You please help him stay on the straight and narrow?  I don't expect him to be perfect.  That's impossible.  Well, maybe not for Your Son, but You know what I mean.  I just want him to maybe listen, follow directions, not kick the girl at the desk next to him.  I don't think that's too much to ask, is it?

I'm giving my son up to You tomorrow.  Watch out for him, please.  He's a good kid.  He really is.  And he has a good heart.  Help him.  Guide him.  Keep him safe and happy.

Let go.  Let God.  That's going to be my motto.  He's all Yours tomorrow.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

My son's motto

Monday, September 23, 2013

September 23: Saint Marty's Day in 13 Days

Yes, it's that time of year again.  Time to bring the Saint Marty's Day tree down from the attic or up from the basement.  Time to string the eaves of the house with Saint Marty's Day lights.  Time to start baking Saint Marty's Day cookies.

Just last night, I was thinking, "When are they going to show How the Grinch Stole Saint Marty's Day and A Charlie Brown Saint Marty's Day on TV?"

I know, I know.  It sneaks up on you.  But you still have 13 more shopping days until Saint Marty's Day.  That's plenty of time to get something from Amazon or Walmart.  I understand that the Post Office is staying open late so people can get their Saint Marty's Day cards in the mail on time.

Don't think of this post as a piece of shameless self-promotion.  Think of it as a friendly reminder that October 5 is fast approaching, and I don't want anyone to be caught by surprise.

In case you are wondering what you can buy Saint Marty for Saint Marty's Day, here is a partial gift list for your edification:
  1. Lizzie Borden in Love:  Poems in Women's Voices by Julianna Baggott
  2. The Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
  3. The Nobel Prize in Literature
  4. Marbles, Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me:  A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney
  5. New Pens
I will be publishing more gift suggestions in the days to come, but I don't want to keep you any longer from decorating your Saint Marty's Day tree right now.

Sing with Saint Marty, "Oh, Saint Marty's tree, Oh, Saint Marty's tree.  How lovely are thy branches!"

The Rockefeller Center 2013 Saint Marty's Day tree

September 23: Wrong Side of the Bed, Bribing My Son, Magic 8-Ball

I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.  For those of my disciples unfamiliar with that expression, it simply means that I woke up in a foul mood.  I was annoyed when my alarm clock sounded.  It didn't get any better as I was performing my morning grooming.  And I've had a dark cloud hovering above my head for most of the day.

I can't explain the source of my irritation.  It's just there, like the moon or Neil Patrick Harris at an awards show.  I know I didn't get enough sleep last night.  I watched the broadcast of the Emmy Awards until the very last trophy was given away.  I also know I didn't want to be at the medical office this morning.  My heart wasn't in the work.

I'll tell you where my heart is right now, though.  It's with my son.  We sent him off to school today with the same encouragement we give him every day:  "You're going to be a good listener today, right?  Eyes and ears open.  Mouth closed.  We keep our hands to ourselves, right?  No hitting or punching or pushing.  We're going to stay green today."  Green is the color that kindergartners receive if they follow instructions and haven't bitten anyone to the point of drawing blood by day's end.

My wife and I have resorted to bribing our son.  If he stays green every day for the whole week, we will buy him a new toy.  We even obtained green stickers for my son to put on the calendar at home.  I'm not convinced this strategy is going to work.  My son is a stubborn kid.  He doesn't like grownups telling him what to do.  That's why he ended up with two red slips on Friday.  He didn't want to listen to the playground aides.  I believe he even called one of them a not very nice name which I won't repeat here.  Use your imagination.  So I'm not sure a little toy car is going to dissuade my son from calling the principal a "stinky poo-poo head."

In my current state of mind, I'm expecting my son to come home tonight with a folder full of red stickers, red notes, and an invitation to speak with the principal printed on red paper.  My son gets on the bus in about an hour.  About a half hour after that, the phone may ring with the latest report from my son's parole officer.

I want Holden to tell me one thing today:

Will my son start behaving himself in kindergarten?

And Holden says:

...She's very good in spelling.  She's very good in all her subjects, but she's best in spelling...

Well, it's not hard to interpret that answer.  Like Holden's sister, Phoebe, my son is going to be good in all his subjects, especially spelling.

All Saint Marty has to say to that is, "Amen!"

I'm not dead.  Yet.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

September 22: Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

It's Sunday, and I'm just about ready to sit down at the dinner table with my family for a meal of homemade chicken noodle soup.  However, I wanted to send off a little post to my loyal disciples before I broke any bread with my loved ones.

I have a Classic Saint Marty selected for today.  This episode of Saint Marty aired originally on July 27, 2011.  Get yourself in the summer mood.  Think hot dogs on a barbecue.  Sun tan lotion.  Sand between your toes.  Insects thrumming in afternoon heat.  Then read on.

Saint Marty will be spending his evening watching shallow people rewarding one another for getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to pretend they have difficult lives.  Yes, the Emmy Awards are on tonight.

July 27, 2011:  Ice Cream, New Poem, Wallace Stevens

For what should have been a very slow day, I have been very busy.  Answering phone calls.  Stomping out small fires.  Working on a new poem.  The time has flown by.  It feels as though I haven't gotten much accomplished, however.  I have a few more hours to go.  Maybe I can finish a few more tasks.

The poem I just finished is inspired by my friend, Matt--one of the people my wife and I shared a Thai pizza with last night.  Since he's moved to Marquette, he's been trying to make whitefish-thimbleberry ice cream.  At least that's what he tells me, and I have no reason to doubt him.  It sounds a little disgusting to me.  Anyway, that detail reminded me of the Wallace Stevens poem, "The Emperor of Ice Cream."  Stevens' poem is about death.  My poem is about the exact opposite, I think.  It's about new life.  Starting over.  Food.  And ice cream.  Writing this poem made me a little hungry.

Whitefish and thimbleberry, anyone?
I've got a busy evening ahead.  I have to practice with the praise band at church.  I'm hoping to go for a run when I get home.  I have to finish the book for my Book Club get-together tomorrow night.  Too much to do, and not enough time to do it.  Time to get back to work.

Saint Marty has to read some Wally Lamb.

The New Emperor of Ice Cream

for M. G. F.

He makes whitefish-thimbleberry
Ice, a new flavor to accompany
The table of his life, set with moose,
Poetry, venison sausage, and snow.
The topography of hunger necessitates
This change of recipe from sherbets
Of his past, from caribou pancake,
From mosquito blood orange, from
All those tastes that quenched his tongue
In Juno and Phoenix, Barolo and Big Sur.
Now under Lake Superior sun, he mixes
Rock salt, fish, milk, rubus parviflorus.
Crushes.  Freezes.  Stirs.  Freezes again.
Until this roller of cigars, this whipper
Of concupiscent curds, finds his days,
His nights embroidered with cream,
With wail and want, with infant scream.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 21: A Royal Pain, Award-Winning Nature Essay, New Cartoon

That's something else that gives me a royal pain.  I mean if you're good at writing compositions and somebody starts talking about commas.  Stradlater was always doing that.  He wanted you to think that the only reason he was lousy at writing compositions was because he stuck all the commas in the wrong place...

I've written before about the fact that Holden is a good writer.  In fact, English is the only subject that Holden isn't flunking at Pencey Prep.  He comes from a literary family.  Holden's brother, D. B., has published a book of short stories and is working in Hollywood as a script writer.  Holden can write well.

Tonight, I'm going to post my award-winning nature essay, since this blog is probably the only place it will ever see the light of day.  I hope you guys like it.  It did receive a First Honorable Mention in a writing contest sponsored by North Country Publishing this summer.  If you don't like nature essays, skip the rest of this post.  If you like reading about nature, press on.

Saint Marty hopes he gets all the commas in the right place.

Fat Kid in a Dark Woods

"In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost."
--Dante Alighieri, Inferno

There's little traffic on the streets of Marquette this time of day.  Along Lincoln, up the hill toward the water reservoir tank, a school bus roars by me.  For a few moments, I'm bathed in diesel.  Then grassy silence returns.  To my left, dark woods.  The dawn hasn't taken hold enough to penetrate the maple, poplar, and pine limbs above, so the forest floor is still in deep shadow.  I usually keep close watch on this side of my route to avoid any close encounters of the skunkish kind.  Over the years, I've been lucky, only coming face-to-face with raccoons, an occasional deer, and one very drunk college student.

This morning, I'm in a state of loamy distraction, enjoying the birdsong and blossoming light.  That's why I don't see her at first.  She looms out of the dark tree line, like a lost puddle of winter, and stands there, skittish.  I stand there, too, afraid to move.


The Presque Isle deer were fenced in when I was in middle school.  They would eat clumps of grass and handfuls of feed corn from summer tourists, who enjoyed the warm tongues on their palms and snapped pictures to commemorate their encounters.  These bucks and does and fawns were as domestic as farm goats.  They crowded the chain link when people approached, like stray dogs at the pound, blasting wet snorts from their noses.  They competed for human attention.

Except for the albino.  He never abandoned his wilder instincts.  While the rest of the herd vied and posed for photos like contestants on America's Next Top Model, the albino kept his distance, staying at the far boundary of the deer area, near the hill.  I imagined Al, as I nicknamed him, was a Sneetch without a star, and his brown kin were Sneetches with stars upon thars.

At eleven years of age, I was the stereotypical fat kid on the playground.  I wasn't interested in sports and spent most gym classes skulking near the back of the crowd to avoid notice.  Invariably, I was the last person chosen for a team and the first sent to the bench.  So I understood Al.  His solitariness.  Not-fitting-in-ness.  I've read somewhere that albino bucks can be more aggressive than their pigmented counterparts.  I understood this behavior, too.  It's a natural defense, like learning how to catch a dodge ball or locking horns with the biggest bully in the deer yard.

There's something to be said for being the fat kid.  It kindles a kind of compassion in a person.  As an adolescent, I watched Al, grazing on Presque Isle, and knew he spent most of his time avoiding whitetail kickball games, focused simply on survival.  As an adult, I'm a sucker for people bullied by tornadoes or famines or homelessness.  I never pass a Salvation Army bell ringer at Christmas time without digging in my pockets for change.

When the deer fences came down on Presque Isle and the herd was set free, I worried about Al.  I wondered how he would fare in the dark woods, where he stuck out like Charlie Chaplin in an MGM musical.  In my hikes around the island over the ensuing years, I saw him only once, a fleeting patch of mist threading through the trees.  I heard tales of white fawns and does wandering through backyards, and once, in 2011, an eight-point albino buck was shot during hunting season.  Al had survived, even thrived, in the wild.


The white doe's ears twitch and swivel as she regards me from the edge of the trees on Lincoln.  Her muscles tense like a ballet dancer's legs, preparing for whatever leap or pirouette she may need to perform.  I remain still.  I stare into the doe's pale eyes.  They are as light and pink as my four-year-old son's skin after a bath.  I search for recognition, something familiar.  I know this can't be Al, but I want to find the fat kid in this creature, in her angles glowing in the darkness.

After several seconds, she turns her long neck, as if she's heard a dodge ball hurtling through the pines and maples.  She begins to edge her way back into the forest, delicately, each step measured and cautious.  Her progress is slow, and I'm unwilling to take my eyes off her.  It's like watching an eight millimeter film of my young self, flickering deeper and deeper into the woods.  Every once in a while, she disappears, then reappears a few seconds later, smaller and less distinct.

I begin to walk again.  I watch the doe to my left as she winks in and out of focus, like a wounded soul searching for a safe place to hide in a dark playground.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20: Ready for Bed

This post is my fourth of the day.  I'm pooped.  I will also finally  be caught up with my blogging after I publish this little meditation.

I'm tired.  It's been a really long day, and I'm ready for bed.  Really ready for bed.  I wasn't going to type a second post for tonight, but my good Catholic guilt kicked in.  I hate disappointing people, and I've convinced myself that there are people out there who really care about my blog.  Perhaps it's a false belief, but it keeps me going.

Except for now.  I have used up all my wit and sarcasm.  I'm a dry well.    I'm going to work on a new poem tomorrow.  No promises.

Good night, sweet saint.

I know how they feel

September 20: Psychoanalyst Guy, Counselor Friend, Fairy Tale Therapy

A lot of people, especially this one psychoanalyst guy they have here, keeps asking me if I'm going to apply myself when I go back to school next September...

Holden has little faith in his psychoanalyst guy, even though he's recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown.  He's in a hospital, and it isn't because he's just had his appendix removed.  All of the grief and worry of Holden's life has finally overwhelmed him, and he's trying to put his young life back together.

Unlike Holden, I have a great deal of faith in psychoanalyst guys.  In fact, some of my favorite people are psychologists and counselors.  This morning, I had a little visit with a good friend of mine, who also happens to be a licensed counselor.  She's seen me through a lot of tough spots in my life, and I contacted her a couple days ago.  Yes, my visit with her was more business than pleasure.  

It's nothing I haven't been posting about for the last month or so.  Money.  Job.  Insecurity.  Insomnia.  I needed to talk to someone, candidly.  Someone who could offer me some objective, clear advice.  My friend is really good at that.  After our visit, I honestly felt better.  Like I had a little power over my life.  Options.

I've had a fairly good day.  Cleaned the house.  Worked with a poet colleague on poems for the literary magazine I help edit.  Brought my daughter to dance team practice.  Read a little.  Took a nap.  I'm relaxed.  I'm sitting here watching Annie Hall now.

It's time for a fairy tale.

Once upon a time there was a little cobbler named Woody.  He hated his job.  He hated touching people's feet.

One day, into his shop strolled the palace psychiatrist, Lord Sigmund.  Sigmund said to Woody, "Do you think can fix my riding boots?  The heel broke off."

Woody took a step back from Sigmund.  "I'm sorry," Woody said.  "I can't touch your boots.  They've been on your feet."

"But, you're a cobbler, " Sigmund said.

"Yeah," Woody said.  "Exactly."

Sigmund took out his card and handed it to Woody.  "You know," Sigmund said, "I'm a royal therapist.  I may be able to help you with the little phobia of yours."

Woody shook his head.  "No, no," he said.  "I have a problem with intimacy, couches, doctor's offices, privacy, and doctors as well.  It just wouldn't work out."

Sigmund shrugged.  "What about my boots?" he said.

Woody nodded.  "I suggest chopping off the heel off the other boot.  Either that or give up riding horses.  They're big animals with yellow teeth anyway.  Don't trust them."

Sigmund picked up his boots from the counter.  "In my professional opinion, Mr. Woody," he said, "you're crazy."

"And in my professional opinion," Woody said, "your feet are incredibly ugly."

Moral of the story:  Watch out for foot fungus.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Is this guy's name Frodo?

Septmber 19 Make-Up 2: Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore Night

So, I spent yesterday evening in Munising, Michigan, at the Falling Rock Cafe and Bookstore.  It was an event celebrating nature writing and, more particularly, the Nature Writing Essay Contest I entered this summer.  You may remember that I took First Honorable Mention.

I have to thank my good friend, Lon Emerick, and his wife, Lynn, for organizing the event.  They are warm and wonderful people who love writers and good writing.  I also have to thank Nancy Dwyer, co-owner of the Falling Rock, for hosting the event (and giving me a $20 gift certificate to her fine establishment).

The citizens of Munising showed up in big numbers for a bunch of writers reading essays about lakes and trees and cabins and albino deer.  I had my doubts about attendance as I was driving to the event.  I thought we'd end up with five or ten people, if we were lucky.  By the time we started reading, there were over 20 people there.

It was a wonderful night, and I met a lot of really nice people and made some really good connections.  I may even be invited back for a poetry reading.

That's why Saint Marty didn't blog last night.  He was just pooped.  Period.

Thanks to the Falling Rock...

September 19 Make-Up: Knock a Guy Out, Son Again, Keeping the Piece

NOTE:  This post was started yesterday, but, by the end of the day, I was too tired to finish it.  I spent yesterday evening at a Nature Writing Event as one of the invited writers.  More information to come on that night.

Then he really let one go at me, and the next thing I knew I was on the goddam floor again.  I don't remember if he knocked me out or not, but I don't think so.  It's pretty hard to knock a guy out, except in the goddam movies.  But my nose was bleeding all over the place...

Holden gets into a fight with his dorm mate, Stradlater, and the results are not very good.  Holden ends up getting the snot beat out of him.  That doesn't stop Holden from talking smack to Stradlater.  Holden doesn't really know when to keep his mouth shut.

Holden is a pretty typical boy in a lot of ways.  He gets in fights with other boys.  He obsesses about sex.  He swears and drinks and smokes.  He's atypical in other ways.  He reads.  He likes to write.  He knows poetry.  I understand Holden's atypical side.  I am Holden's atypical side.  His typical side is pretty foreign to me.

My four-year-old son is a typical boy.  He likes to play with toy cars.  Sitting and listening to me read a book is "not my favorite," as he likes to tell me.  He hates baths and loves to stare at things like dead squirrels.  And he plays rough, like most boys his age.

Unfortunately, my typical son gets in trouble for being typical.  Since he started kindergarten two weeks ago, we have received four phones calls from his teacher, one phone call from the principal, and an official letter from the school district's director of transportation.  None of those communications were commendations for good behavior.

I understand being very aware of students' behaviors at school.  I understand the need for hypersensitivity to physical and verbal altercations.  We all want a safe environment for our children to learn in.  I understand and agree with that.  Bullying is something that should never be tolerated.

However, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.  Little boys, most of whom are naturally physical creatures, can't be little boys any more.  Shoving matches on the playground between kindergartners becomes preludes to dententions and suspensions.  My son is not a bully.  He loves to play, and his play involves normal boy things:  jumping, shouting, tagging, maybe a little pushing.  Playground supervisors seem to get very nervous around this kind of play.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not condoning school bullying in any way.  If my son hits or harms one of his classmates, he should be punished.  I believe that with all my heart.  However, there should be some understanding that a four-year-old is going to act like, well, a four-year-old.  He shouldn't be penalized and punished for being a typical four-year-old boy.

Again, I am not arguing for or condoning bullying.  That's not my point.  My point is that educators need to use some common sense these days.  Remember that they are dealing with children, not short versions of Charles Manson.  Keeping the peace on the playground doesn't require the United Nations Security Council.

And that's Saint Marty, giving you a piece of his mind.

This is not my son...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 18: A Funny Video

Saint Marty has a really funny video to share with you tonight.

September 18: Tiny Kids, Daughter and Son, All Worry

I passed by this playground and stopped and watched a couple of very tiny kids on a seesaw.  One of them was sort of fat, and I put my hand on the skinny kid's end, to sort of even up the weight, but you could tell they didn't want me around, so I let them alone.

Holden has a soft spot for kids.  Any kids.  He simply wants to protect them from the adult world.  The adult world forces kids to worry about grades and college and sex and popularity.  Holden just wants kids to be kids.  Playgrounds.  Seesaws.  Singing songs in the rye field.  Kid things.

My daughter is on a class trip until Friday.  She's totally out of my control range.  I can't protect her or help her if anything goes wrong.  My son started kindergarten last week.  He's having trouble in his classroom.  He punched a kid on the bus, and we got a phone call from the principal.  All that in the first two weeks.  Two weeks.  My wife and I are in so much trouble.

I worry about my kids.  When my son crosses my mind during the course of my waking hours, I pray.  God and I have been talking a lot these last 14 days.  My daughter causes me a little less stress.  My worries for her are holdovers from my own middle school years.  I believe I already listed them above:  grades, college, sex, popularity.  Let me add to that weight, body image, and wardrobe.  (Sometimes it feels like I never left middle school.)

I wish I could let go of these concerns.  I wish I could be like my daughter who can sit on the couch, watching videos on the iPad, seemingly not a worry in her pretty little head.  I wish I could be like my son, whose main stress is, "Can I go to grandma's house today?"  For the last few days, he's been riding the birthday wave, telling me last night at bedtime, "I so excited.  My birfday is two Thursdays in a week."

But I can't do that.  I've been out of the rye field for quite some time.  I fell off that cliff 25 plus years ago.  Worry is my constant companion.  And I'm afraid I'm going to pass my insecurities on to my progeny, like brown eyes or baldness or diabetes.

Saint Marty's kids don't stand a chance.

Please, God, no...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 17: Done, Done, and Done

I wrote my first post.  Done.

I packed my daughter for her seventh grade class trip.  Done.

I put together my son's lunch for school.  Done.

I watched the finals of America's Got Talent.  Almost done.

I picked out my outfit for work tomorrow.  Done.

All Saint Marty has left to do is write his second post.  Done.

I done it

September 17: Get a Job, No Answer, Praying

"It isn't fantastic.  I'd get a job.  Don't worry about that.  You don't have to worry about that.  What's the matter?  Don't you want to go with me?  Say so, if you don't."

Yes, Holden fantasizes about running away from home, finding a job, and leading a bucolic life in the woods as a pretend mute.  Obviously, he never follows through on this fantasy.  He has a breakdown instead.

Speaking of breakdowns, you're probably wondering whether I'm still employed by the church.  Yes, the church board met last night.  Yes, the church board had a very long discussion about the subject.  Yes, a decision was made.  The decision was to eliminate my current position and come up with a job description/pay scale for another position I currently hold in the church.  (If you didn't follow the logic of that statement, don't try too hard.  There isn't much logic in it.)  Not only that, but I will also have to apply and interview for said job.  That I currently already have.

I don't understand it, either.  It all boils down to the fact that I really got no answer last night.  So, I'm pretty much in the same place I was last night.  Limbo.  And there's no better way to get out of limbo than through prayer.

Dear God,

I know that You know that I know You know, ya know?  You know what's in my heart.  You know what's best for me.  You also know I have a very difficult time letting go of the reins of my life.  Tonight, I'm reluctantly stepping off the driver's seat of the stagecoach.  You are in charge, and I guess I'll accept whatever You send my way.  I don't really have a choice.

All I'm asking is that You watch out for my kids and my wife.  I don't want to see them struggle or suffer.  I will do whatever You ask of me, as long as it doesn't involve any kind of rodent.  Please keep my family safe.

Your loving child,

Saint Marty

Don't ask me to do it, God

Monday, September 16, 2013

September 16: Meditation on Control

I like to pretend that I'm in control of my life.  I decide when to get up in the morning, what to wear, how to teach my class, whether to complete a project at the medical office.  I decide on sausage or eggs for breakfast, cheese or turkey for lunch, maybe a hot dog for dinner.  All these things seem like they're in my realm of control.

I have a confession to make:  I am not in control of anything.

I'm certainly not in control of my jobs.  I could show up tomorrow at the medical office and find it locked and dark.  I may have classes to teach this semester, but that doesn't mean I'm going to be offered a contract next semester.  Any number of fortunes or misfortunes could come my way.

Control is an illusion.  A human construct.  Control is why the Egyptians built the pyramids.  Control is why the world has the Great Wall of China.  Those two things are monuments to humankind's desperate hunger for control.

Funny thing is, control makes me miserable, because nothing turns out the way I plan.  All the illusion of control does is give me headaches, low blood sugars, and acid reflux.

Saint Marty has control of only one thing at this moment:  how to end this

Someone had control issues in China...

September 16: Tipping of the World, the Future, Magic 8-Ball

It's a tipping-of-the-world day.  One of those days when my comfortable life may change permanently.  The air is cool; the sun, bright.  It's like the afternoon is a pane of glass that could shatter into pieces.  That fragile.  One tossed stone and everything is gone.

There is a meeting tonight at church, and, at that meeting, a group of people will decide whether to keep paying my salary or eliminate it from the 2014 church budget.  If the vote goes my way, I keep my job and can pay my mortgage/bills.  If the vote doesn't go my way, I'm out of a job I've had for close to 15 years and five pastors.  I will have to start looking for weekend employment, and eventually, quit doing a lot of things that give me a great deal of satisfaction.

That's what I mean by a tipping-of-the world day.  The axis of my planet is about to shift, and all I can do is sit back and watch the storm clouds roll in.  The future is uncertain.

I hesitate to ask my Magic 8-Ball question because I think the answer I'm going to receive will simply confirm the way I think the vote is going to go tonight.  However, I have nothing to lose, metaphorically:

Will the church board vote to maintain my salary tonight?

And Holden's answer is:

I left the Lavender Room pretty soon after they did.  They were closing it up anyway, and the band had quit a long time ago...

I should have known.  Leaving.  Closing.  Quitting.  Catcher in the Rye isn't exactly the happiest book ever written.

Saint Marty should have picked a more uplifting book for 2013.  Like Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Maybe next year

Sunday, September 15, 2013

September 15: Classic Saint Marty, Better Day, October 12, New Cartoons

First, you will be happy to note the inclusion of two new Confessions of Saint Marty cartoons.  Sorry I didn't get a cartoon to you yesterday.  My daughter had my iPad, and my wife was working on my laptop until quite late in the evening.  I was lucky to get my poem posted last night.

I do owe you guys a Classic Saint Marty today.  This particular episode originally aired on October 12, 2011.  To be honest, I'd almost forgotten the poem in this post.  However, the reason I chose to rebroadcast this post is that it's about life getting better, unexpected blessings.  I need a little of that right now.

Saint Marty hopes you enjoy this little rerun.

October 12, 2011:  Better Day, New Poem, Comments

My day has steadily improved.  I saw several good friends unexpectedly today.  Blessings.  I had a really good teaching day.  Blessing.  Yesterday, a friend loaned me a book of poems by Sarah Vap titled Faulkner's Rosary.  It's amazingly good.  Blessing.  I got another poem written today that I think is satisfactory.  Another blessing.  Yes, that's right.  I'm doing the Oprah thing:  I'm counting my blessings today, cuz tallying up my problems ain't been workin' so good lately.

I have also solved the whole dilemma of some people not being able to leave comments on my blog.  Here's what you have to do if you're having problems commenting on any blog:  enable third party cookies.  Having said that, I don't know what the hell third party cookies are, but I told my friend Keith to try it this morning.  He left a comment for me this afternoon.  Yeah for technology.  Another blessing, although I still don't know what a cookie is, unless it's got chocolate chips or oatmeal in it.

As I said above, I do have a new poem for today.  It is inspired by the catastrophes of yesterday.  I've also used Greek mythology again.  Get used to it.  I'm teaching mythology this semester, so it's going to creep into my work.  I would actually venture to say that it is enriching my already rich output of poetry.  Alright, I may have taken that a little too far.  But I do enjoy having the myths to play around with.

Tonight, it's choir practice and band practice.  The usual.  I'm not sure if I'm sticking around for band practice, though.  It depends on whether or not we're going to practice anything for two Sundays hence, since I will be Wisconsin Delling it this weekend.  We'll see.

Saint Marty is going to go read some more Sarah Vap now.

Time Between

I love this time between cloud and rain,
My student says as he walks with me,
Talks about Hades and the Greek dead.

We’ve had this discussion before, how
The underworld of Athens and Sparta
Wasn’t filled with lakes of sewage or

Infinite planes of ice.  No, Hades
Was simply a place to go
After hard childbirth or fatal sword thrust,

A place of not life, the shadows of was.
All these people, accustomed to wine and grain,
Orgy and oracle, reduced to divine breath

And waiting, just waiting, like corn in a silo.
I drive home tonight with medicine on the seat
Beside me for my daughter’s eardrum.

My wife tells me how the nurse
At school looked in my Celeste’s ear,
Saw something like a cloud, a bright rib

Or jar, formed, ready to unleash
Rain and wind.  But not yet. 
Not yet.  I drive

Toward the coming storm, stare at the sky
As it darkens, the way my father’s face
Darkened before he shoved my sister

Into a wall.  I move through this time
Between work and home,
A wreck of clouds and bullets of rain.

The mutter of water.  I stand
On the shores of Styx, watch, wait
As Charon paddles across the waves toward

My unthreshed stalk.
Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September 14: Missing Everybody, Rosebud, New Poem

...About all I know is, I sort of miss everybody I told about.  Even old Stradlater and Ackley, for instance.  I think I even miss that goddam Maurice.  It's funny.  Don't ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you start missing everybody.

Yes, those are Holden's famous last words.  He's on the mend in the hospital, and, with some distance from the events of the book, Holden is becoming nostalgic for the people he's left behind in his life.  Even the people who irritated the crap out of him.

I have a new poem for you guys tonight.  It's about being nostalgic and wistful for the past.  It was inspired by my recent screening of the movie Citizen Kane to my Intro to Film class at the university.  I've been thinking about this subject for quite some time.

That's about all I have to say tonight.  I'm tired, and I have a long day of church tomorrow.  We are having worship and then the annual Fall Back Festival.

If you're in Negaunee, Michigan, tomorrow, stop by Mitchell United Methodist Church, have a hotdog, and listen to Saint Marty playing with the church's praise band.

P. S.  Two new Confessions of Saint Marty cartoons tomorrow.


Maybe I'll whisper Jiminy,
think of long grass in August
when clouds of grasshoppers
erupted from nowhere, arced
through the air, sang a song
of wing and leg against my shins.
Or maybe I'll mutter Obi,
see a garden of carrots, peas, peppers,
a turtle small as my five-year-old
hand, moving, digging in mud,
hungry for worm or cricket or grub.
Or maybe it will be Omni,
lemon verbena on her dark skin
beside me in the lecture hall, weeks
of wanting to reach out, touch her
in places beyond my study notes,
know every glossary and index of her.
It may be Maria or Screwtape,
nicotine fingers, white hair,
a ribbon of appendix scar, dog bite.
What will travel down the Amazon
of memory to my tongue
those last seconds?  What
sled or bicycle or book?
Something small, no doubt.
A stuffed giraffe.  Chewed-up quilt.
Angel fish.  Yeah, my angel fish.
Think her name was Athena.
Maybe.  Athena, that sounds right.
God, she was beautiful.

Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13: Father Solanus Casey, Designs, a Sign

So last night I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  I started cleaning my house.  I scrubbed the toilet, mopped the bathroom floor.  All the time, I was thinking, "God, I need a sign here that there's a reason for all of the crap that's happened this week, cuz I don't get it."  By this time, I was on the front porch with the vacuum cleaner.  Right before I started vacuuming, I saw the pile of mail sitting on the floor below the mail slot.

I picked up the stack of envelopes and started flipping through them.  I came across a letter from the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit.  The center is a Capuchin monastery, and it was named after Solanus Casey, a priest and holy man whose cause for sainthood is currently under consideration by the Vatican.

Inside the letter was a little holy card with a picture of Solanus Casey on it and this prayer:  "Thank you God ahead of time for all your designs on my life!"

OK, God, Saint Marty got Your message.

A sign from God...

September 13: Pretty Loaded, TGIF, Fairy Tale Friday the 13th

After I got all packed, I sort of counted my dough.  I don't remember exactly how much I had, but I was pretty loaded...

No, my financial situation has not changed.  I have not suddenly come into an inheritance from a distant, wealthy relative.  I am simply not going to obsess about money today.  I'm tired of it.  Instead, I'm going to pretend that I, like Holden, am pretty loaded.

I am so glad this week is over.  TGIF.  It has been a week of disaster followed by catastrophe.  I am looking for happiness followed by bliss this weekend.  Don't know if I'm gonna get it, but that's my goal.  When I get home tonight, I'm going for a long run, and I'll follow that up with a evening of Shark Tank.  Perhaps I'll get really crazy and have a bowl of Rice Krispies with a banana.  At this point, I'm not looking for excitement.  I'm looking for unbroken, untroubled relaxation.  Maybe even a nap.

On this Friday the 13th, I want to tell you the tale of a lumberjack named Jason.

Once upon a time, a lumberjack named Jason lived in a peaceful kingdom near an enchanted lake.  Jason had plenty of trees to cut down, and the lake provided him plenty of fish to eat and fresh water to drink.  His life was pretty darn good.

One winter evening, Jason received an e-scroll from the king that informed him all of the trees of the kingdom were enchanted and Jason could no longer cut them down.  Jason was despondent.  "How am I supposed to make a living?" he said to himself.

Suddenly, there was a knock on his cottage door.  When Jason opened the door, Jason's neighbor, a dwarf named Grumpy, was standing there.  "Hey, Jason," Grumpy said, "you wanna be the goalie on our hockey team?  Dopey took a stick to the head last night."  When Jason didn't say anything, Grump added, "You get to wear a really cool mask."

Jason didn't have anything better to do, so he joined the dwarves' hockey team.  All winter long, he practiced with the little guys, and their team was undefeated.  They beat the Lost Boys from Neverland.  They beat the Mad Hatters from Wonderland.  They even beat the previous year's undefeated team, the Winged Monkeys from Oz.  Jason became the most famous goalie in all the kingdoms.

In the spring, when hockey season was over, Jason returned to his cottage.  He was a little sad that he wouldn't be playing hockey any more.  But he got an idea.  Maybe he would go to Hollywood with his goalie mask and try to break into the movie business.

So Jason left his cottage by the beautiful lake and was never heard from again.

Moral of the story:  even if you're a little Grumpy, keep your eye upon your goalies.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

I ain't afraid of you.