Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 28: Pay the Bills, God's Love Number Eleven, Linda Nemec Foster, "A Sign From God," New Cartoon

[Ives] thought about the last time [his wife] had come home with one of her pep talks in mind, clutching a New York Times:  "Just look at this, Ed.  Look here," and she showed him a page.  A sleek jetliner was pictured flying over the skyline of London, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace prominent, the advertisement declaring:  "It's Never Been Easier.  Or Cheaper!"  And he looked it over and handed it back to her.

"Well, what about it?" he'd asked.

"Don't you think it would be nice for us to go?"

"Yes, yes..."

Then, slapping a book down on the table, a chronic weariness of mind and body hit him.

"Yes, we'll go.  I'll pay for it, and then you tell me who'll pay the bills a year from now if something should happen to me."

Ives is using money as an excuse here.  His wife is trying to force him out of the cave of his depression.  After almost thirty years, Ives has grown used to his constant state of mourning.  Happiness seems like a betrayal to him.  If he goes on a trip with Annie and enjoys himself, I think Ives feels as if he'd be desecrating the memory of his son, Robert.

I understand worrying about finances.  It's something I do on a daily basis.  Hourly, even.  When my daughter brought home the notes about dance competitions from her studio a couple weeks ago, I had a little panic attack.  Competition fees.  Hotel rooms.  Gasoline.  Food.  It's going to be an expensive couple of weekends.  Of course, we're going to go and enjoy ourselves.  And our bills will get paid (eventually).  But March through April will be peanut-butter-and-jelly months.

My daughter has been in dance since she was five years old.  She's been going to competitions and conventions for almost eight years.  Every year, God somehow provides us with enough funds to finance our dance trips.  Through unexpected gifts.  Through the love and help of one of my sisters.  Through paychecks that are (for some reason) larger than expected.  That's God's love number eleven.

Here's a great poem from Linda Nemec Foster to round out her time as Saint Marty's Poet of the Week.

A Sign from God

          ----for Jack Ridl

by:  Linda Nemec Foster

...a 20-pound carp about to be slaughtered...began speaking in Hebrew, shouting apocalyptic warnings...
---The New York Times, March 15, 2003

Now, anything is possible.
Next thing you'll tell me
your dead father speaks
to you through the distinct growl
of your dog, Stafford.  And there's
the clumber spaniel now at the back door
channeling not the famous poet
but Dad, the famous basketball coach:
barking out positions in the locker room,
howling pleasure (or disgust) from the sidelines.
You swear it's him--back from the dead--
but you look down from your morning coffee
and see only the family dog staring
at you with half-open eyes, salivating tongue,
wagging tail.  "Dad, Dad," you almost say
knowing in your head he's not there
panting away on the kitchen floor.  But
in your heart, you want him to be.

To be--like the miracle in New York--
thirty miles from Manhattan.  The talking carp
pleading for his life in a Kosher fish market
ready to be gunked on the head
and made into gefilte fish for Sabbath dinner.
Pleading for his life in Hebrew (what else?)
shouting:  "Tzaruch shemirah, hasof bah."
Translation:  "Get your act together and repent
because the end is near."

And it's not as if the fish is channeling
the troubled soul of a dead rabbi.  Or that 
the two fish-cutters at the New Square Fish Market
are holy men ready to hear the word of God:
one, a devout Gentile; the other,
a middle-aged Hasid with one wife and eleven kids.

It's only that you want to believe the dead
will live again.  In the open mouth 
of a 20-pound carp, in the soft breath
of your klutzy pooch.  The voice of your father
as quirky and ominous as the voice of God.
Telling you to plant the garden now--
now--before the clouds change colors.  Before
it's time for dinner in the evening,
the walk in the morning.  Now--
before you start to fade like rain
evaporating off patio furniture, like dusk
dissolving into night, abandoned attics,
empty garages.  Before you forget the small
movements a mouth makes as it forms
each word around the quiet air.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 27, 2015

February 27: A Quick Poem, Linda Nemec Foster, "Late Winter"

This is going to be a quick post to give you a quick poem by Linda Nemec Foster.

In fact, this post is going to be so quick, it's already over.

Saint Marty's going to go work on a poem of his own now.

Late Winter

by:  Linda Nemec Foster

The tired snow worn-out by city dirt
hardens into gray rock.  The road crews
are out, cleaning the grass and sewers
of the debris left-over from autumn,
the recent past that no one remembers:
crisp brown leaves now turned limp and black;
a torn, red glove; newspaper headlines
whose intensity is muted by the season's amnesia.

The men clean in silence, only the radio
from their pick-up truck blares the lament
of Bonnie Raitt's love letter.  What they dredge up
is left behind for another crew to haul away.
As if they're allowing us one small moment
to see what runs in the drak veins
of our streets, what forgotten half-lives
sleep content under our houses while we
turn restlessly from one dream to the next.

February 27: Thousands of Hours, God's Love Number Nine and Ten, Forgiveness Fairy Tale

[Ives] had wanted to go on with Father Tom about how he really felt.  That forgiveness was something he had struggled with for years.  That he spent thousands of hours in church kneeling until his legs went numb, waiting for his burdens to be lifted.  That he had started to calcify and, if anything, grown more rigid with time.  That for all his prayers he had somehow felt cheated, especially when he thought about how he had allowed himself to become so indifferent to his wife's feelings.  That nothing had come from without and he resented that.

Ives struggles for years after his son's death.  He can't forgive his son's killer.  He can't forgive God for "allowing" his son to be murdered.  And those feelings slowly start to turn him to stone.  He can't respond to his wife and retreats from all of the dreams that used to give him pleasure.  Dreams of traveling to Europe and the Holy Land.  Standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  He becomes an empty, scarred shell.

I have been having a little problem with forgiveness recently.  I work for the same health care system that recently terminated my sister because of an extended illness.  When I'm at my job, I find myself thinking how much I don't believe in my employer.  It's not about helping patients get healthier.  It's about how much money can be charged in order to make patients healthier.  And employees are as disposable as latex gloves.

Those are my feelings right now.  I own them.  I'm not proud of them.  Forgiveness is sort of a big thing for Christians.  I'm a Christian.  Therefore, I should forgive.  I prefer to simmer and fester at this point.  Regardless of the name of this blog, I am not a saint.  I'm an imperfect person, wrestling with imperfect emotions.

So, on this evening of imperfection, I have to talk about God's love for me.  Numbers nine and ten.

Number nine:  I had a great time teaching last night.  We talked about suicidal penguins and semicolons and revenge porn.  Pretty typical for a poetry workshop.  I really felt lucky at the end of the night.  I was able to earn money doing what I love to do.

Number ten:  It was a gorgeous day.  Ten degrees.  Sunny.  No snow.  It's supposed to be even warmer tomorrow.  After a few weeks with high temperatures of around three degrees, it's going to feel like the tropics.

Once upon a time, a lumberjack named Jack cut down the favorite tree of King Leopold the Terrible.  When Leopold found out what Jack had done, he sentenced Jack to death.

As he was being led to the gallows, Jack begged, "Please tell King Leopold that I'm very sorry for cutting down his favorite tree."

A messenger was dispatched to the castle with Jack's message.  The messenger returned with a message from Leopold.

"Did King Leopold forgive me?" Jack asked as the rope was tightened around his neck.

"Yes," the messenger said.  "His majesty accepts your apology."

"Then, I'm absolved of my offense?" Jack said.

"Yes," the messenger said.

"Did King Leopold say anything else?" Jack said.

"Yes," the messenger nodded.

"What?" Jack said.

"King Leopold says, 'Your ass is mine.'"

The gallows floor opened, and Jack fell through.

Moral of the story:  Jack is a stupid name if you're a lumberjack.

Grudges are my friends right now

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 25: Linda Nemec Foster, "The Shape of Rain"

I am at the end of a very long day.  Eight hours in the medical office.  Another five hours at the university.  I have taught my film class, written two hand-outs for my poetry class, and typed up two blog posts.  I would say that's a pretty productive day.

I'm pretty beat.  I sort of feel like I've just lived through the ending of 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Lots of color and light and music.  I'm not really sure what it all means, but I survived.  Tomorrow night, I get to talk about poetry for three hours.  That's my reward.  I can't wait.

I have another Linda Nemec Foster poem for you.  It's beautiful and heartbreaking.

Which sort of describes most of Saint Marty's day.

The Shape of Rain

by:  Linda Nemec Foster

The shape of rain has nothing
to do with the shape of clouds,
those faces we imagine in the sky.

The shape of rain has everything
to do with the shape of our hands;
but we forget the rumor of this.

The shape of rain is not the opaque
veil of life.  Not the dancer's robe
in a fairy tale on the verge of being spoken.

The shape of rain is the wide, clear
curve of suicide.  Bright and empty
concave of silence.  No echo of regret.

The shape of rain looks straight down,
the long leap that sifts through miles
of dead air to reach the glory of pavement.

Where's Gene Kelly?

February 25: Inherited the Earth, Luck or Grace, God's Love Number Eight

On another day, while heading downtown to get in a little shopping and to meet his friend Father Tom, he could not help but wonder how life could go so badly for some, and so splendidly for others.  "Who inherited the earth?" had become a question he often asked himself; who deserved to prosper, who deserved to suffer?  On the train coming down he had counted seven beggars, who came in through the cars asking for money, one of them, a large black man, his lumberjack shirt open, with purple splotches all over his body, black-and-blue marks on his arms, and with a piece of filthy catheter jammed into his stomach just above his navel.  Ives gave something to every single one of them.

Ives is pondering a question that almost every human being ponders at some point.  Boiling it down, Ives is wondering why bad things happen to good people.  His son, Robert, was planning to enter the priesthood.  Ives attended church, prayed, supported his family, loved his wife and kids.  Ives is better than Ozzie Nelson or Mike Brady.  Yet, Ives suffers.  Horribly.  He is a modern-day Job, right down to the sores that break out on his body.

I often feel envy.  Of friends who teach at the university full-time.  Of family members who don't ever seem to financially struggle.  Of acquaintances who publish books and win awards.  I wonder what all of these people have done to deserve their good fortune.  Me?  I don't buy Diet Mountain Dew in the morning because I'm not sure we can afford it.  I use Amazon gift cards I receive for my birthday to buy birthday and Christmas presents for other people.  In November, I bought a new toilet seat with an Amazon card because I didn't have enough money to buy it at a local store.

A friend of mine flew out to California this morning to give a reading near Sacramento from his new book.  When I spoke with him yesterday, he complained how tired he was, how all he wanted to do was stay home and sleep.  I understood his feelings.  He works hard and has had a really difficult semester of teaching.  But, he's being paid to travel to California.  They're going to take him out to eat.  Put him up at a hotel.  Show up to listen to him read from his book.  In my estimation, that would be a pretty awesome couple of days for me.

I'm not sure if it's luck or grace when good things happen to bad people or vice versa.  As a Christian, I have to say grace.  My friend has been graced with talent and a strong work ethic.  He's in California right now, eating Mexican food.  I have been graced with a talent for writing (I think) and a strong work ethic.  Tomorrow morning, I'll be dragging my ass out of bed at 5:45 to get to work on time, and I will be teaching until 10 p.m.

I am grateful that I teach.  Being in a classroom, talking about movies and poetry, and getting paid for it.  There's nothing better.  That's God's Love Number Eight.  I get to do something that brings me great joy.  I'm certainly not inheriting the earth.  I'm barely inheriting a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner.

 But Saint Marty is prospering this evening.

I wouldn't mind inheriting this...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 24: Worn Down, Helping Others, God's Love Number Seven

For all that, for all her principles, for all her open-mindedness and her belief in social progress, as she got older, whether she wanted to or not, [Annie Ives] began to feel worn down by the daily grind of trying to help others...

Annie has good reason to feel worn down.  She's been a substitute teacher in New York City public schools for years, trying to reach kids who simply seem not to want to be reached.  I think she's also developed a thick scar over the murder of her son.  Shot down in the street by a Hispanic youth, Robert symbolized for Annie everything that was right in the world, and his death symbolizes everything that is wrong.  She's tired of always being good.

I get that.  Especially today.  I spend most of my work day helping people.  Being kind and understanding to patients who are sometimes cranky and rude.  I try to remain positive and happy.  It's tiring.  By lunch, I'm feeling pretty worn down, and by quitting time, I have used up all of my princess points.  I don't want want to help anybody.

When I pulled into my driveway this evening at 9:30 p.m., I was in a foul mood.  If I had opened my mouth, I would have said something mean or angry to my wife or daughter.  So, I decided to shovel for forty minutes.  Snow had been falling all day.

I pushed piles of the white stuff, swearing and muttering.  I was not Mother Teresa.  There were f-bombs flying and lots of muttering.  I probably looked a little deranged.  However, by the time I was done, my foul mood had improved considerably.  I didn't say anything mean to my daughter or wife, and I wasn't contemplating calling in sick to work for the rest of the year.

That's God's love number seven:  Saint Marty didn't go all Jack Torrance on his family.

Block your ears, Mother Teresa.

Monday, February 23, 2015

February 23: Poet of the Week, Linda Nemec Foster, "Climbing Cherry Trees"

Sadly, I am leaving W. Todd Kaneko and the dead wrestlers behind.  I could happily spend the next couple months typing up each elegy in Kaneko's book.  But, there are a lot of other fine poets on which to shine a spotlight.

This week's Poet of the Week is Linda Nemec Foster, Pulitzer Prize nominee and the first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I had the honor of being on a reading panel with Foster a few years ago, and she is a warm and giving person.  And a fantastic poet.

No dead wrestler for Saint Marty tonight.

Climbing Cherry Trees

by:  Linda Nemec Foster

Before you can possess them in your hand--
soft globes of perfect color--
you must climb and hang on:
become the tree scraping your knees,
the bark leaving its stigmata on your hands.
Only then will you be able to taste
the color, not just the fruit,
but the color of the fruit.
Deep red of fragile skin,
cherry red of succulent heart,
mahogany red of stained pit.
Imagine a stone of pure vermillion
dissolving in your mouth.
The color never leaving your throat
as you sit there in the embrace of the tree
not belonging to the heavens,
but not quite belonging to the earth.

Poet Laureate and, now, Saint Marty Poet of the Week

February 23: God's Love Number Six, Winning at the Oscar Party, "Ives" Dip

Okay, this post is going to sound extremely shallow.  Maybe even self-indulgent.  Last night, I wrote about the Oscar party I was attending at my family's house.  At this soiree, everyone fills out a ballot and competes for the title of Best Oscar Predictor (or something along those lines).  There's even a traveling, life-size Oscar trophy that accompanies the title.  It's a pretty big deal.  At least to me.

Last night, despite the fact that I did not choose Birdman as Best Picture (Boyhood should have won), I was crowned Best Oscar Predictor and returned home with the trophy at a little after midnight.  It is the first time I've won since The Artist took home Best Picture in 2011.  That's a four-year drought.  So, coming off that little victory, I had a really good day (despite -40 temperatures this morning and about four hours of sleep).

My good fortune is a sign of God's love in my life.  I've been happy for the past twelve or so hours, which, for me, is sort of a record.  Now, I hope I can sustain this karma at least until March 16, when the name of the next U. P. Poet Laureate is revealed.

Which brings me to this week's Ives Dip question:

Will I be named U. P. Poet Laureate on March 16?

And the answer from Oscar Hijuelos is:

...Ives would put some Perry Como or Bing Crosby on the big RCA console with the twenty-one-inch black-and-white TV, radio, and phonograph that his boss had given him as an extra-special bonus one year, and the tree-decorating party wold begin, the adults chatting on the couch, eating, everyone smoking cigarettes and watching the kids at work.

Well, that's one of the happiest passages in Mr. Ives' Christmas, with everyone sitting around, eating and drinking, celebrating the upcoming holiday.  Celebrating.

Saint Marty should probably start working on his acceptance speech.

Thank you, Birdman

Sunday, February 22, 2015

February 22: Oscar Night, God's Love Number Five, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Welcome to Oscar Night, or, as it is known in my house, Shut-Up-and-Watch-the-Friggin'-Show! Night.  It's kind of a big deal in my family, because I make it a big deal.  I haven't missed an Oscar telecast since I was about ten years old.

That's God's Love Number Five tonight.  I'm sitting here with my family, watching Neil Patrick Harris dance and sing and make fun of spoiled movie stars.  It's a good night, filled with crescent weenies and Red Vines and Haribo gummi bears.  Above all, even though we yell at each other and get on each other's nerves, it's a night filled with love.

Tonight's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, on the first day of Lent.

February 22, 2012:  Ash Wednesday, Life Immortal, Paczki Again

Oh cold, cold, rigid Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command:  for this is thy dominion!  But of the loved, revered, and honoured head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious.  It is not that the hand is heavy and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand WAS open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender; and the pulse a man's.  Strike, Shadow, strike!  And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!

Not a passage from A Christmas Carol with which many readers are familiar.  With its King James Bible language and its embodiment of Death, I thought this little excerpt would be quite an appropriate way to begin a post on Ash Wednesday.  The Ghost of the Future has brought Scrooge to his death chamber to gaze upon his neglected body.  The mini-sermon above touches upon the afterlife.  Dickens' words pretty much lay it all out:  to have life immortal, to be remembered after Death comes knocking, Scrooge must perform good deeds in his lifetime.  Otherwise, there will be no honor in his death.  There will be no person mourning his passing.

It's a terrifying little moment in the book, one of those Dickens' moments where he puts it all out there in very clear, unsubtle terms.  I can almost hear Chuck crying out like John the Baptist, "Repent, ye sinners!  For the Kingdom of God is at hand!"

Tonight, I will go to church.  I will sing hymns.  I will listen to the pastor talk about sins and death and penitence and resurrection.  I will get in line and have ashes smudged on my forehead in the shape of a cross.  And I will feel moved to change my ways, to embrace a life of "good deeds."  Ash Wednesday always does this for me.  It inspires me to try to be better than I am.  For my non-Christian disciples, think of Ash Wednesday as a first date with a person you love.  That person puts you on your best behavior, makes you kinder, more generous.  That person makes you want to be the best you can be.  That's Ash Wednesday.  It's a first date with Jesus, in a way.  At least for me.

That's what Charles Dickens is talking about in this passage.  Being the best human being you can be, whether man or woman, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight, dog lover or cat lover, Democrat or Republican (although the Republican thing may be pushing it).

Leftover paczkis don't make you a better person, but I have my eye on one right now.  I know that Ash Wednesday is about self denial and sacrifice, but I'm talking Bavarian cream here.

Saint Marty needs some self-restraint and a big glass of cold milk.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 21, 2015

February 21: Beautiful Landscape, God's Love Number Four, W. Todd Kaneko, "Selected Legends of Andre the Giant," New Cartoon

In 1974, in a kind of compromise, [Ives and his wife] bought a modest ranch-style house with big picture windows set out at the edge of a field near, Hudson, New York.  During the summers on the weekends they would go up to the place upstate, and she would spend her mornings out in the yard gardening, in a big sun hat, white butterflies floating around her, or sit in the shade reading; or else out in the yard with an easel and watercolors, making paintings of the beautiful landscape, often saying little to Ives all day.

Ives is a professional artist.  Annie dabbles in art and literature.  Near the end of the novel, they will rekindle their love, journeying to England and collaborating on a book about Charles Dickens, she doing the writing, he, the illustrations.  Art, music, books are some of the guiding forces of their lives.

This morning, I got up early to shovel my driveway.  It was a beautiful winter morning.  Not too cold.  The sky was a blue so brilliant that it would have made Paul Newman's eyes look like marsh water.  And there were birds singing.  I'm not sure what kind of birds, but, as I scraped up the snow, it almost felt like a morning in May, alive and blossoming.  I actually stopped and said a little thank you prayer.  For the birdsong.  For the sunlight.  For the blue of the sky.  For being alive in the morning cold.

That was around 8:30 this morning.  Like Annie, I wanted to take out an easel and paint a landscape,  Capture the moment, so that any time I questioned God's love for me, all I would have to do is look at that canvas.

That's God's love number four for Saint Marty.

Now, a final Todd Kaneko poem.

Selected Legends of Andre the Giant

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

After the dinosaurs fell
asleep, after those terrible lizards
began their slow decay into mythology,
Andre the Giant was there to cradle
their bodies in his soft hands and weep.

Andre the Giant wrestled the Earth
into a globe, carved his name into the ocean
floor with his pinky to remind the whales
who taught them to sing.

Andre the Giant was a village.
Then he became a dragon.
Then he became an army.
Then he became a king.
Now, he is the wind.

A man can't bodyslam Andre the Giant
unless he's worthy of slaying a monster, unless
the giant decides it's time to lie down.

Andre the Giant stole fire from Heaven,
hid it in his mouth, fed it to monkeys
one lick at a time until they learned
to pronounce his name.

Before there were boys with magic
beanstalks, with slingshots or singing
swords, Andre the Giant brawled
with sooty angels, volcanoes spouting
from where he buried their hearts.

Andre the Giant scaled the Empire
State Building with Marilyn Monroe
in one hand, Cleopatra in the other.
They marveled at how small we are.

Andre the Giant once cracked the sky's ribs.
Then he was thunder churning like trout.
Then he was an avalanche of fists and knees.
Then he was a fire burning through the forest.
Then he was a tidal wave seething offshore.
Now, he will not be a metaphor.

When Andre the Giant pitched a man
over the top rope and out into the crowd,
he aimed at the moon.

A man never tells a lie, always treats a promise
like his mother's name.  Andre the Giant
once threw a silver dollar across the Potomac,
hit a buffalo in the eye and killed it as it grazed.

Andre the Giant drank three bottles of whiskey
and grappled with the Devil in a bingo hall
in Memphis.  Then he invented the blues.

On television, Andre the Giant grinned
with a mouthful of shark's teeth.  He devoured
mortal men ten-at-a-time, laughed and spit
their bones into our living rooms.

Andre the Giant was a Frenchman.
Then he became an ogre.
Then he became a movie star.
Now, he is the constellations.
All of them.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 20, 2015

February 20: Working on Yoda, W. Todd Kaneko, "Every Night, the Super Destroyer"

Hey guys and gals.  I don't have a whole lot of time for poetic reflection this evening.  I am determined to write a Star Wars poem this weekend.  I don't know when or how I will do this, but I am working on Yoda.  Hopefully, the Force will be with me this weekend.

Another dead wrestler poem.  W. Todd Kaneko rules.  Body slams other poets to the ground.

Saint Marty needs to get his geek on soon.

Every Night, the Super Destroyer

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

A body plunges through the main event
to the canvas, hammer locked, choked,
a death twitch, yoked to a mangle of bone.

A wrestling match can be deadly for a man
who believes in pain, who envies cruelty
hidden behind grim faces.  No--I go back
to being a boy with my father in 1979,

watching that sinister mask and a man
struggling in vain against the claw
holding him above the ground.  My father
places his palm in the center of my back,
a tether to the real world where people die
real deaths every night.  It's terrifying,
this battle between puny mortals
and that faceless adversary on the other side
of the ring.  I pull sorrow into my arms at night,
the way a man pulls another close, knowing
one of them must soon be defeated.

When I watch men fight on television,
it is my father in the grip of the masked man,
it is me held aloft by the face and slammed
heavy to the floor.  We are all twisted
into terrible shapes before the final bell.

The Super Destroyer slams a poem

February 20: Few Hours of Service, Meat Auction, God's Love Number Three

During the next several months Ives sent the center several large boxes of art supplies and paper from the office, and every so often on a Sunday afternoon he would go up to run a workshop for the kids, work that Ives much enjoyed, as it got him outside of himself.  He did this, either alone or with his daughter or Annie, on and off, for five years, and with those few hours of service, found an agreeable way of passing his time.

Ives is a good guy.  Even in the face of immense grief, years of depression, he helps people out.  Volunteers his time and talents and resources at a community center.  It brings him some solace to work with underprivileged kids.  Takes his mind off the hole his son's death has left in his life.  And he gets to spend time with his wife and daughter.

My wife and I are going to a meat auction this evening.  It's a fundraiser for my wife's sister, who is raising money for an Avon breast cancer walk in October.  It's a great cause.  I have no idea what happens at a meat auction.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve strippers or thongs.  More like hamburger, steak, and sausage.  For a few dollars, we'll be helping out breast cancer research.  And that's God's love in this world.  Helping out.  Making small changes.  Really small changes.  We'll be lucky if we can afford a hot dog.

I've always enjoyed volunteering.  Some of the best times I've had as a teacher occurred in grade school classrooms, teaching poetry to a bunch of hyped-up second graders.  You don't do stuff like that for money or glory.  You do stuff like that because it's the right thing to do.  It allows you to use the gifts God has given you to make the world a better place.  My sister-in-law raises money to fight the disease that claimed her mother's life.  I help six- and seven-year-olds read and write poetry.

That's God's love working in the world.  Fighting breast cancer.  Bringing art into young people's lives.

Saint Marty has some meat to buy or dollar bills to slip into a g-string.  Whichever.  He's making a difference.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

February 19: Changeling, W. Todd Kaneko, "We Do Not Want to Believe There Is a Place in Hell"

My daughter is sitting in my bedroom, whining about the fact that I'm using my laptop.  She has some serious gaming to do.  It doesn't matter that she's been gaming ALL DAY LONG.  She keeps on coming out of the bedroom, looking at me typing away, and then stomping away.  Last time, she even slammed the door.

My daughter used to be a sweet little thing.  Sure, she had her temper tantrums, but, for the most part, she never argued or complained too much.  She has been replaced by a teenager.  This changeling tests the limits of my patience on a daily basis.  Somewhere inside this 14-year-old creature is the girl who used to let me braid her hair and read Charlotte's Web to her.

So, I need to cut this post short, or my daughter's head will soon explode.

At least Saint Marty still has Todd Kaneko.

We Do Not Want to Believe There Is a Place in Hell

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

ATLANTA, June 2--Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler known as the Canadian Crippler, killed his wife and 7-year-old son in their house in Fayetteville, GA., over the weekend before taking his own life by hanging himself with a cable from a weight machine in his home gym.

We want to stop wondering what makes a man
hurt his family, how we ever cheered
for a monster.  We want to suspend our disbelief
in television violence, in the frailty of animals' bodies.
The wolverine is a sensitive fiend, ravenous 
for bones and back teeth.  Winter cannot know
what the animals sing about as it settles,
drowning the woods in silence.  The cruelest beasts
love their brood, even if only a mouthful.
Imagine a love turned inside out and hung
from the edge of the moon.  Imagine songbirds
broken in Spring, their fiery bodies glittering
like broken beer bottles, like rain puddles.
Somewhere, there is a place for all of us
to figure out what evil things we are
capable of believing.  We want to understand
the distance between love and fury, the damage
a brain can do to a body.  If a man cannot fathom
the sky's brim, we cannot distinguish the sun
from a forest fire, a murder of sinister birds from
the Devil's tongue.  We want to believe 
a wolverine can fly.  We need to believe in men
who are good no matter where they die.

The Canadian Crippler

February 19: A Little Outrageous, Classes Canceled, God's Love Number Two

"The thing about [The Man Who Died], which always amazes me," [Paul] went on, "is that Lawrence wrote about Christ as if he somehow knew him.  I mean it's a believable book, in that sense.  I figure that the only way he could do that, and pull it off, was by having some sense of God.  I mean Lawrence was no atheist, even if he was a little outrageous."

Paul is the son of Ives' best friend.  Eventually, by the end of the book, Paul marries Ives' daughter, Caroline.  Ives is still struggling with the loss of his son.  Everything reminds him of Robert.  Ives goes to see a James Bond movie with his wife, and he remembers a Halloween Robert dressed up as Agent 007.  He watches Bing Crosby in Going My Way and imagines his son as a priest.  Paul can't replace Robert in Ives' heart.  But, like a son, Paul listens to Ives, shares his passions and dreams with Ives.

Usually, I'm teaching my poetry class at the university right now, but evening classes were canceled due to dangerously low temperatures.  Thirty below zero with the winds.  So, I got to come home early tonight.  I was able to read Harry Potter to my son before he went to sleep.  Kiss him goodnight.  Now, I get to sit and relax.  Maybe read a book or work on a new poem.

I rarely get a chance to have a normal evening like this one.  Most of the time, I'm working or teaching or sitting in my university office.   By Thursday night, I'm usually so tired I can barely keep my eyes open for the ten o'clock news.  I love what I do.  Love teaching film and poetry.  However, it drains my energy by the end of the week.

I needed this break.  Needed a normal, quiet night.  So, even though this polar express is wreaking havoc across the United States, I'm going to count it as a sign of God's love.  Even though penguins could mate comfortably in my front yard this evening, I'm home, enjoying the company of my wife and kids.  Relaxing.

That's God's Love Number Two for Saint Marty.

Thank God for the Polar Express tonight

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 18: Star Wars Poems, W. Todd Kaneko, "The Missing Link Explains How to be a Monster"

Ever since I expressed the idea of writing a book of poems based on the Star Wars movies last night, I haven't been able to think of a whole lot else.  I think I'm going to give it a try.  I know those films inside-out.  The characters.  Lines.  Settings.  Battles.  It would be so much fun.  Even if it doesn't turn into a book, I might actually enjoy myself, which goes against the suffering artist credo.

I know it's a bad idea.  Nobody's going to want to publish a book written by a Star Wars geek.  But I don't care.

I have another dead wrestler poem for you guys and gals.  At his reading last week, Kaneko said he was attracted to bad ideas, that he couldn't think of a worse idea for a book of poems than elegies for professional wrestlers.

Maybe Saint Marty suffers from the same affliction.

The Missing Link Explains How to be a Monster

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

Do not look at mirrors.  Do not fight
the urge to speak without consonants.
Sharpen your antlers against a coral reef,
fins against an elm tree, hooked teeth
against a fire engine.  Do not grow up.

Loosen the needlepoint that fastens
a man's soul to his bones, his bones
to the names he is called by his children.
Release a man from his skeleton, wrestle him
out of his old skin and let him rise
steaming into the night.  The referee's hand
slapping the canvas three times is the last thing
a man hears before he must reckon
with his body's malfunction.  Be reborn

with a snake's complexion, a caveman's brow.
Terrify the audience with a prehistoric tongue,
words cracking more like a thunderstorm
than a song for the moon.  Don't be afraid

when you awake after a fight, your new body
smeared with blood.  Smash your head
into a redwood, a mountain if you want,
until the whole world lies in pieces at your feet.

Try not to grow up to be like your father.
End up exactly like your father.

My next Halloween Costume

February 18: Most Reliable Companions, Ash Wednesday, God's Love Number One

Gradually, [Annie Ives] found that her most reliable companions were books, and decided that her best friends were people who loved them as much as she did.  Among the gifts that came to their apartment in the outpouring of public sympathy [for their son's death] were four copies of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, which, along with other novels, she donated to the library or gave to Carmen, whom she always helped with her English, and to her son, Pablo.  One of the joys of her life was to take walks with Caroline and Pablo down Broadway to browse in the college bookstores.  Nothing pleased her more than to search for mysterious and new authors from different parts of the world, to find a cart filled with exoticisms recommended in Columbia literature classes...

Annie has to reclaim her happiness after the death of her son.  For a while, she is caught up in the business of grief.  Answering condolence cards and letters sent from relatives, friends, and strangers.  Listening to her son's jazz records over and over.  But then she realizes she needs to rejoin life, and she does it through little joys, like shopping for books with her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend.  That's how she finds herself again.

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I will not be attending a church service this evening.  I have to teach.  However, like Annie, I have to regain a little equilibrium in my life.  For far too long, I have been focusing on the challenges of my life.  Tonight, I am going to take a step in the other direction.  I'm going to talk about a time today that I felt God's love.

I think Annie Ives feels God's love when she's with Caroline and Pablo, browsing through stacks of books.  Today, I felt God's love when I went to start my car this morning in fifteen below zero windchills, and the engine just fired right up.  I am so lucky to have a reliable car and a warm house.  Tonight, after I'm done teaching my film class at the university, I will go out to my car, and it will fire right up again.  I will drive home, put on my pajamas, and enjoy the comfort of my bed.

That is God's love for Saint Marty today.  A running car in my driveway.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

February 17: Another Dead Wrestler, W. Todd Kaneko, "Captain Lou Albano Says He is the Guiding Light"

Yes, I'm giving you another dead wrestler poem from Todd Kaneko tonight.  I think the reason I love these poems so much is because they're about wrestlers, not van Gogh's brushstrokes or Mozart's cello concertos.  Poetry can be about Flash Gordon and Andre the Giant.  I'm actually thinking about writing a book of poems based on Star Wars.  I think the world needs a few Wookie odes and Bantha sestinas.

That's my idea, anyway.  I would enjoy doing something like that.

Saint Marty hopes the Force will be with him.

Captain Lou Albano Says He is the Guiding Light

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

I'm like a snake, baby, I move and groove!  I can be the guiding light!  I can watch, I can look for weaknesses!  I can turn Mr. Saito into a maniac killer!
----Captain Lou Albano, WWF Wrestling Manager

Don't be a hero if you don't have to--
be the snake if you need to hurt
someone, the eagle if I tell you to be
a pair of scissors and a tattered flag.
A man can be a pistol, the tip of a razor
for those chumps up in the cheap seats.
Be the beard, wired with rubber bands
and gristle.  Be roughneck, bareback
so you can learn to talk to a woman,
hijack her telephone number, her name
if she has one.  I am your guiding light

in hours of gloom.  I speak with the bygone
snarl of a carnival barker, that salty tongue
spouting from the lips of an exorcist
drunk on church wine.  I swallow bees
to hone my bluster, wear my shirt open,
the hair on my chest raked with loco
weed and thistles.  A boy is a switchblade
in my pocket, a man a brand new suit
unleashing havoc in the dark.

Listen:  you be sabretooth and supernova,
an El Camino charging blind at oblivion.
Be a young stallion, cocksure and lurid
in a fight.  Bear skin, bulldozer, broken
bottle brandished in a back alley brawl--
it's your choice.  You don't have to 
want to be the killer.  Just be the killer.

February 17: Bring Forgiveness, Fat Tuesday, Prayer for Understanding

He went to church and prayed for guidance, begging God to bring forgiveness into his heart.  He wold kneel before the creche, the crucifix, and wonder how and why all these things had happened.  At night he would dream of black threads twisting in the air and slipping into his body from afar.  Though he bowed his head and trembled at the funeral, though he spoke kindly with the priests and repeated to himself a thousand times that God was good and that the manifestations of evil that come to men are ultimately explicable in some divine way, His wisdom greater than what any of them would ever know, Ives felt a great numbness descending over him.

The numbness that descends upon Ives after the murder of his son, Robert, lasts a very long time.  Not weeks or months or years.  It lasts decades.  Faced with the senseless death of his good, pious son, Ives struggles with God, wanting to hate Him for his loss.  Ives doesn't turn his back on his faith, but he spends his time questioning and doubting.

I find myself in much the same state as Ives at the moment.  I don't know why God has allowed my sister to become so sick, to lose a job to which she's dedicated so much of her life.  It doesn't make sense to me.  My sister is no saint, but she's a good person.  Generous.  Loving.  I want to believe that she's going to be better off, that this whole mess is some kind of strange blessing.  But I can't get there right now.  I'm angry.

It's Fat Tuesday.  Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Lenten season.  Ash Wednesday.  I haven't even given any thought to my Lenten sacrifices this year.  I've been too busy, too tired, too worried, too pissed.  I can't see through this weird fog of confusion.  I don't necessarily see God right now as benevolent and loving.  He seems a little distant.  I know that's not true, but it's where I am spiritually at the moment.

I started 2015 with all kinds of hope.  I knew it was going to be better than 2014.  Well, my sister's in the hospital, soon to be fired from her job.  My other sister totaled her car at the beginning of January.  My hopes of getting a full-time teaching job at the university are slowly evaporating.  I'm struggling.  I can't be Job, thanking God in the face of tragedy.

Maybe that's what I need to do this Lent.  I need to pray for understanding.  Meditate on what all this means.  I know God loves me in ways I will never comprehend.  I think I should start focusing on God's love.  That may help me.  I'll try to find one example of God's love in my life every day of Lent.  That will be difficult for me, as I'm a natural fatalist.

Saint Marty has his work cut out for him these next 47 days.

If you can't read the caption, it says, "Job!  I hear you've got a book out!"

Monday, February 16, 2015

February 16: Poet of the Week, W. Todd Kaneko, "It All Began With Strangler Lewis"

Well, I promised that I was going to make W. Todd Kaneko the featured Poet of the Week on Saint Marty.  So, tonight I'm going to start with one of the first poems in his book, The Dead Wrestler Elegies.

Kaneko started writing poems about dead wrestlers as a challenge with some of his friends.  The challenge was to write a poem a day for a month.  Kaneko wrote a poem about a dead wrestler.  Then he wrote another.  And another.  Eventually, he had enough dead wrestler poems for a book.

The Dead Wrestler Elegies is stunning.  It weaves together victory and heartbreak and love and death.  These elements meet in the ring.  Grapple.  Body slam.  Headlock.  The result is a brutal ballet of words that somehow cuts to the soul and sets it free.

Saint Marty is in love with this book.

It All Began With Strangler Lewis

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

He started it all, the Strangler
choking men out with that yoke
of wrist and elbow.  My father said
Ed Lewis was the greatest wrestler
of all time, that I was too young
to understand what that meant.
Don't trust a woman, he said,
until you know how it feels to lose
your breath.  His mouth drooped
open, words flitting into dark
before I cold identify those
shapes of their wings.

On television, Jake the Snake
posed with his enormous constrictor,
Doink the Clown sprayed Brooklyn
Brawler with seltzer.  It's a circus,
he said.  No one appreciates men
like the Strangler anymore.
Outside, I imagined the world waiting
for my father to wrap it in his arms,
break it into three parts--one for me,
one for him, and a knife curved
like my mother.

The Strangler

February 16: Bouncing Baby, Motivation, "Ives" Dip

My wife took my car to a garage to have its battery checked.  I was hoping for a diagnosis like, "Yeah, it was just a cold weekend, but your battery's fine."  That was my hope.  Unfortunately, the prognosis was pretty grim:  "You have zero reserve in the battery.  If you're not going to get a new one right now, you should park it in the garage every night."  I have no idea what that actually means, but I knew it wasn't good.

So, I am the proud honor of a brand new, bouncing baby battery.  I'm not happy about it, but it beats being stranded somewhere in the dead of winter with a car that sort of groans when you turn the key in the ignition.  It's one of those surprise necessary expenses.  Like a new water heater or toilet paper.  (Admit it, you've run out of toilet paper at least once in your life and had to substitute Kleenex or something even less delicate.)

Of course, that puts our household in a little bit of a pinch until next payday.  I can't remember the last time I haven't lived paycheck to paycheck.  I haven't really made the best life choices when it comes to jobs.  I've been part-timing for most of my life.  Part-time medical records clerk.  Part-time English professor.  Sometimes, because I've had so many jobs, I've felt like a part-time husband and part-time father.

Up until a couple days ago, I actually harbored the hope that the university was going to provide a mechanism for me to transition into a full-time teaching position.  That was the rumor surrounding the new contract negotiations.  However, it seems like the full-timers (translation:  tenured, elitist bullies) have another idea.  Their plan:  eliminate as many part-timers as possible and continue to treat those who are left like the red-headed, bastard stepchildren of academia.

Living a part-time life taxes my motivation and energy.  I live for the nights when I can just change into my pajamas, lock the front door, and pretend I'm making a difference in the world somehow.  Of course, I usually fall asleep before I get to the pretending part.  Like right now.  I just drifted off for a couple of minutes mid-sentence.

My Ives Dip question for tonight is this:

Will I ever get a full-time teaching job at the university?

And the answer from Oscar Hijuelos is:

Ives wanly smiled.  "I'm sending some magazines and books off to that boy Danny Gomez.  He's trying to learn how to read," Ives said matter-of-factly.  Pablo nodded and he then asked, "That's really nice, Mr. Ives, but why are you going out of your way for this fellow?"

Ives is a good guy.  Danny Gomez is the person who murdered Ives' son, and Ives is trying to help him better his life.  It's difficult to understand.  Maybe it's out of a sense of Christian charity.  Maybe Ives enjoys prolonging his sadness and grief by staying in contact with Robert's killer.  Or maybe, just maybe, it's about hope in the face of great struggle.

That's the answer Saint Marty's going with tonight:  hope for a better world.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February 15: Dead Battery, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

It has been a wild couple of days, weather-wise.  I spent this morning digging out after yesterday's blizzard.  It took quite a few hours.  It didn't help that the battery on my car decided to die overnight.  That ate up at least a couple of hours this a.m.  And now I have to get my car to a garage to see if I need to purchase a new battery, which is an expense I can ill afford.

So, going into a new work week, I'm a little tired and a little broke.  Same story, different week.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, in the middle of a presidential race.

February 15, 2012:  Apology, Liberality, Scrooge-ality

Before I get into the meat of my thoughts this morning, I would like to issue an apology for the typos in the blog I posted last night.  I was tired.  I was in a hurry.  Bed was calling to me.  Generally, I read, reread, and reread again anything I'm thinking of posting.  Last night, I didn't do that.  Therefore, several glaring mistakes made it online.  I have corrected those typos.  I go apeshit on my students for typos.  Typos are sloppy and stupid.  I have corrected those errors this morning.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can move on with A Christmas Carol:

"We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.

It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits.  At the ominous word "liberality," Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.

OK, I know I've talked about "liberality" and the bad rap the word "liberal" has received, but coming across this passage today actually made me laugh out loud.  Charles Dickens isn't using the word "liberality" in a negative manner here.  He's using the word to show what a son of a bitch Scrooge really is.  These two guys show up in Scrooge's office to collect money for the poor, and Scrooge wants nothing to do with their "liberal" cause.  In Dickens' book, Scrooge is the one who has his head up his ass.  Scrooge is the one who's going to end up with a one way ticket to Marley damnation.

I find this passage funny because, in a presidential election year in the United States, the word "liberal" always gets thrown at candidates as some kind of insult.  I don't understand it.  "Liberal," in my lexicon, is a synonym for "generous" and "charitable" and "kind."  If you go to a party, and the host is liberal with the food and drinks, you come away full and happy (and maybe a little drunk).  You want a liberal host.  It's a good thing.  Why wouldn't you want the same character trait in the leader of the United States?

On the flip side, the word "conservative" somehow has become a badge of honor in most election years.  Being conservative has come to mean moral, ethical, and Christian.  I don't know how that happened.  If my memory is correct, Jesus didn't have a beatitude that said, "Blessed are the conservative in spirit, for they shall keep all their money and be upstanding citizens."  In the Dickens universe, Scrooge, who is, by all accounts, an ultra-conservative, isn't the one with whom we should sympathize.  Old Chuck would roll over in his grave in Westminster Abbey if he thought we agreed with Scrooge.  Conservative means frugal, stingy, cheap, maybe even a little greedy.  That's Scrooge.  I don't want to go to a party thrown by a conservative host.  I'd probably have to bring a dish to pass. 

Want this guy in charge of things?
When I hear Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Sarah Palin refer to "good, conservative values," I cringe.  I don't want my president to have good, conservative values.  This past weekend, Mitt Romney gave a speech where he used the phrase "we conservatives" about a thousand times.  Every time Romney said "we conservatives," I heard "we Scrooges."  Basically, all of these Republicans are a bunch of Scrooges, wanting to keep health care as a privilege and not a right.  Wanting to keep the poor poor and hungry.  If someone asked Newt about the plight of the impoverished, I could actually hear him saying, "Are there no prisons?"

Therefore, I will not be voting for any presidential candidate who calls him/herself "conservative."  I want liberality, not Scrooge-ality.

Saint Marty, liberal and proud.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 14: Stealing Kisses, St. Valentine's Day, New Cartoon

Leavng Macy's, they spent an hour walking uptown and lingered by the Rockefeller Center ice-skating rink, on the promenade, directly across from the bronze statue of Prometheus reclining, the great tree, a Maine pine, some fifty feet high and as wide as a house, covered with thousands of lights, towering cheerfully over the scene.  Down below, a hundred skaters, of all ages, circled the ice, some gracefully as professionals, others clumsily, their faces and twisting bodies in colored caps and suits, vivid in the surrounding floodlights.  Leaning against the railing, Annie and Ives were caught up, as were so many others, by the romance of the setting, and, ever so happy, held each other tightly, nudging one another with their chilled noses and stealing kisses, until laughing, she said, "Oh, Eddie, you make me feel like a kid again."

Ives and Annie love each other. Deeply.  In just a couple of pages, their son, Robert, will be dead, and they will be thrown into an entirely new universe.  Grief will be their guiding star for years.  Ives will wallow in sadness, and, eventually, Annie will contemplate leaving him.  But she doesn't.  Her love is too strong for Ives.  She holds on, praying and hoping that her husband will make her feel like a kid again.

It is St. Valentine's Day.  A blizzard has been tearing through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan all day long.  The civil authorities issued a warning, telling people to stay off the roads.  I've lived here most of my life, except for a brief sojourn in Kalamazoo, and I can't remember that ever happening before.

Of course, that did not stop my wife and I from having a lunch date this afternoon.  We went to a local restaurant and ordered cheese soup and cheesy pretzels and hot chocolate spiked with peppermint schnapps.  And we talked.  We hardly ever get a chance to sit across from each other and just talk.  I'm not sure it made us feel like kids again, but it felt really good.

We've been through a lot together.  This year will be our twentieth anniversary.  It hasn't all been roses and chocolates, as long-time disciples of this blog know.  We've had separations and close encounters with divorce.  But, through it all, I've always held on to this:  the young girl I met over 25 years ago.  How I looked at her and immediately felt like I'd never be the same again.

Saint Marty wishes all his disciples a happy Valentine's Day.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, February 13, 2015

February 13: Another Flash Gordon Poem, W. Todd Kaneko, "Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture Soundtrack)"

Okay, I'm giving you another Flash Gordon poem from my current poet-crush, W. Todd Kaneko.  I saw him give a reading last night.  He was fantastic.  So fantastic I've decided to make next week Kaneko Week on Saint Marty.

You're probably going to get a little sick of me talking about him.  Sorry.  My blog.  My rules.

And tonight, Saint Marty wants a little Flash Gordon fix.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture Soundtrack)

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

The only words a song needs:
a man’s name in five-part harmony.
A radio signal, cosmic wind rushing
through the caverns of his heart
before erupting into wicked laughter.
Flash—a crash of cymbals, piano
pulsating like a woman’s heart
after starcrash, after that electric guitar
shrieking a man’s name in quasar
and quicksilver. Not a woman,
but a rogue planet searching for orbit,
then a machine gun vibrato slashing
through space, tremolo quivering,
a canticle for manhood. A burst
of swagger and bombast, then one note
vibrating into a man’s name: Flash
ringing against a downy falsetto
explaining what the universe needs
a man to be. Not a musical astronaut,
not champion of the asteroid belts, not
a celestial body hovering over a woman
as she lay in the grass at night watching
for hot Jupiters or Mars crossers.
All a man has is a song until it’s over,
then just his name, a cigarette lighter
sparking in an alley, a supernova,
the erratic blink of a motel sign
on a lonesome stretch of highway.

I can hear Queen singing...

February 13: A Heartless Society, Sister's Job, Heartless Fairy Tale

"[Charles Dickens] had a kind heart," [Annie Ives] said to one class in East Harlem.  "He believed that only a heartless society would leave its unfortunate poor to its sad fortune."

Annie loves Charles Dickens.  More than anything, she loves how Dickens tried to make people aware of the less fortunate.  People who lived in London slums, begged for food, died of things like cholera and starvation.  All this in one of the wealthiest cities on the planet.

My sister works for a large health care organization.  A company that owns dozens of hospitals in several states.  Over the past year, my sister has suffered a series of medical crises.  A broken wrist that required major surgery.  Back surgery that developed into an infected wound that developed into sepsis.  Twice.  Currently, my sister is in the hospital again, on her way into physical rehab.  She can't even walk across a room without a wheelchair or walker.

Two days ago, that large health care organization--a company that sells itself as caring, compassionate, and community-minded--sent my sister a certified letter, terminating her employment.  After more than 17 years of dedicated service, she is being fired because she got sick.  Because of the treatment she received at its hospital.

I'm sitting here, wondering where is Charles Dickens when you need him.  My sister is one of the smartest people I know, but she can't even get out of bed by herself right now.  She's been incredibly depressed (understandably), and now she has to worry about money and health insurance and disability.  If I'm sounding a little pissed off, it's because I am.  I've been pissed off for three days.

The main problem is when health care becomes focused on money instead of healing.  That's a symptom of a heartless society.  One that leaves its unfortunate poor to struggle and sink.

Once upon a time, Duke Ed lived on a wealthy estate.  Ed owned over three thousand serfs.  These serfs plowed his fields, cooked his meals, tended his livestock, and did his laundry.  One day, he was walking through his flower garden and came across the old gardener.

The gardener had worked on the estate his entire life.  And the gardener's father had worked for Duke Ed's father.  The gardener was old and feeble and almost blind.  He couldn't tell the difference between chrysanthemum or tulip.

Duke Ed stopped and looked at the gardener.  He said, "Sir, how long have you been working in my gardens."

The gardener smiled at him.  "My whole life, Duke Ed."

Ed nodded.  "You have been a good and faithful servant," he said.

The gardener nodded.

"Now, pack up your belongings and get off my land," Duke Ed said.  "You're of no use to me now."  Duke Ed turned and began walking away.

The gardener picked up his hoe and clobbered Ed with it.  Ed dropped to the ground and fell face-first in the dirt.  Dead.

Moral of the story:  don't fuck with a man holding a hoe.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Where are you when we need you, Chuck?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

February 11: New Favorite Poet, W. Todd Kaneko, "Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture, 1980)"

Tomorrow night, W. Todd Kaneko is doing a poetry reading at the university.  He is the author of the collection The Dead Wrestler Elegies, and he's one of my new favorite poets.  He's a poet, artist, musician, and, by the looks of the poem below, a science fiction fan.

Every time I read one of his poems, I sit back and say to myself, "I wish I'd written that."  His stuff makes me want to write.  I want to pick up my journal and pen, sit down, and start scribbling.

Plus, Saint Marty loves Flash Gordon.

Self Portrait as Flash Gordon (Motion Picture, 1980)

by:  W. Todd Kaneko

There is always that spacecraft careening
through the vortex: Flash Gordon—reluctant
astronaut and quarterback scrapping
through alien quagmire, through rocket
launch and starfall to save every one of us
from the Emperor of Planet Mongo.
Flash—his boyish smile delights earthgirls,
makes alien princesses quiver for beefcake
bursting through that offensive line
of robots to protect our Earth.

A boy dreams of soaring with hawkmen,
crashing through lightning fields
for true love—he brandishes his name
on his chest like it was another word
for miracle, for courage. There is no thought
about the velocity of a perfect spiral
thrown on second down near the manhole
marking the fifty-yard line, just Dale Arden
cheering Go, Flash! Go! No thought about
that high school girl wincing as a boy crashes
and burns on a hard tackle in front
of her driveway. He lays in the street
and imagines Freddie Mercury singing

his name: Flash—king of the impossible,
savior of the universe
, feathered hair and square
jawed as Dale Arden pleads, Flash! I love you
but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!

He will stand up, dust himself off, refusing
to recognize that pain in his hip until later
that night—in the dark he will press his palm
against the bruise and think about how
he should have caught that pass and dashed
for the end zone, how that girl will look
at him as he waits for the school bus
or a spaceship to any distant solar system.

Go, Flash!  Go!

February 10: Predicted Snowfall, Bad Weather, Moment of Happiness

At around eleven that night, a predicted snowfall had come.  [Ives] and Annie looked out about midnight before pulling the plug on the tree lights and going to bed, and mutually agreed how peaceful and clean the streets of New York seemed in such weather.

It's an evening close to December 25 for Ives and Annie.  They have just hosted their annual tree decorating party.  Their kids are in bed; Christmas is just around the corner; and their lives seem perfect.  In less than 24 hours, their son will be dead, and they will take on new roles:  grieving parents.

There is snow predicted tonight for the Upper Peninsula.  Several inches, with 45 mile per hour winds.  It has been snowing, off and on, all day.  As I was walking to my university office this evening, the winds were a little brutal.  By the time I head home after class, the storm will, undoubtedly, be in full swing.  I hate driving in this kind of bad weather.  Especially after sunset.  It's like driving in a tunnel of white and black.

I have had a few close calls over the years.  Anybody who lives in the U. P. of Michigan has a story or two about swerving around cars, spinning into a ditch, narrowly escaping some kind of vehicular catastrophe.  I have been extremely lucky.  But I know my luck could run out tonight or tomorrow or the next day.  Ives and Annie learn this difficult lesson.  One day, their son is planning to enter the priesthood.  The next, he's lying on the sidewalk underneath a bloody sheet.

The snow has started now.  It's coming down sideways.  Big, fat, heavy flakes.  I have three hours of teaching ahead of me.  Then, a drive.  A long, harried drive.  It's not going to be fun.  My daughter will be with me.  Maybe the storm will let up for an hour or so.  Long enough for us to get home without incident.  Maybe.  Probably not.

I know my life can change in an instant.  Stormy weather or clear weather.  Christmas Day or Independence Day.  Winter or Fall.  Every moment of happiness is a blessing.  Grace.

Saint Marty's hoping for grace on his drive home tonight.

Preach, Leo!

Monday, February 9, 2015

February 9: Sick Son, Night Terror, "Ives" Dip

It has been quite a long day, following a very long night.  About 2 a.m. this morning, my six-year-old son started screaming in his bed.  When I got to him, he was still screaming, cowering in the dark.  I couldn't wake him up.  I picked him up, kept saying, "It's OK, buddy.  You're safe."  He kept screaming for five minutes, his limbs twitching and jerking, eyes wide and white.  His head was slick with sweat.

I knew what was going on.  My daughter had night terrors a couple times when she was young.  When I would try to wake her up, she would scramble away from me to a corner of her bed.  And she would keep screaming.  It would go on and on.

My son is really sick.  He was burning up with fever this morning.  He has a fever tonight.  I just went in and touched him.  He's so hot that he's practically glowing.  If his fever doesn't break tonight, my wife is going to take him to see the doctor tomorrow.  I'm hoping he at least sleeps through the night.  I'm operating on about three hours of sleep (I had to get up early to shovel out my driveway after the snowplows went by).  My daughter was so tired from the night's excitement that I let her stay home from school today, too.

Currently, my son is sleeping in my bed.  He was too scared to go to his own room.

It's Monday.  Time for an Ives dip:

Will my son have a restful night?

And the answer is:

Another Christmas was approaching, and although the holiday did not mean as much to Ives as it once did, Ives took a deep joy in his grandchildren.  And he was happy to see that despite some rough times his daughter and Paul had a good marriage.  They lived in the old neighborhood, in a rent-controlled apartment that Paul had found years before.  Their domestic happiness was something he could not have predicted, because, way back when, Ives, deep down inside, never thought Paul would make it, so many different things pulling on him at the same time.

There's a whole lot of happiness in that paragraph.  Ives is happy.  Caroline (Ives' daughter) and Paul (her husband) are happy.  Happiness is in abundance.  Looks like no night terrors for my son this evening.

Saint Marty's going to sleep like a baby tonight.

Praying for my son tonight