Friday, July 31, 2015

July 31: Something Beautiful, George Burns, A Frank Fairy Tale, Sharon Olds, "The Struggle"

On his back, Robert must have had time to see something beautiful, and not just the ugliness of a city street at the end of life.  Even with the tremendous pain in his badly gutted belly he would have looked up beyond the fire escapes and the windows with their glittery trees and television glows, to the sky above the rooftops.  A sky shimmery with the possibilities of death; light exaggerated, the heavens peeled back--a swirling haze of nebulae and comets--in some distant place, intimations of the new beginning into which he would soon journey.  He would have seen a few pale stars, maybe a planet or two, Jupiter or Venus. Remembering his Catholic schoolboy's mythology he might have imagined Apollo and his chariot, somewhere "out there."  And he would have seen the moon and its sad expression and imagined in its pocked luminous surface the faces of his mother and father and sister . . . The moon?  Was it out that night?  Ives tried to remember.

Ives is trying to picture his son's last moments of life, on the sidewalk, bleeding, struggling for breath, staring up at the starry night.  He imagines that Robert saw something beautiful and comforting--meteors and stars and planets, clouds of cosmic gases, a Greek god.  Above all, Ives wants to believe that Robert wasn't alone, that, in the bright face of the moon, he saw his family smiling down on him.

As a Christian, I believe that death is an entry into something better.  That's what I've been taught my whole life.  When I was younger, I really liked the image of God as George Burns, smoking cigars and telling jokes.  Vaudeville.  I imagined God performing in the Catskills.  "Did you hear the one about the snake and the naked woman?" He would say.

Something better.  That's what Heaven is supposed to be.  The other day, one of my best friends said this about my sister:  "She's only 54.  She's not ready to die yet."  I guess my friend is right.  My sister had the same Catholic upbringing I had.  The Virgin Mary and the manger and Jesus and all.  Every night when I was a kid, my family would get down on its knees and pray the rosary.  Clouds and angels and harp music.  We all believed in God's goodness and mercy.

My sister isn't ready to be measured for her wings just yet.  Even in her diminished state, she's been pretty adamant about that.  The doctors have asked her if she wants to be kept alive by any means possible, and my sister has answered very clearly, "Yes."  So George Burns is going to have to wait for a little bit, if my sister has her way.

I saw a picture of my sister this evening.  She was sitting on the side of her hospital bed, a nurse kneeling in front of her, in case she should fall.  I haven't seen my sister out of bed for over six or seven months.  She's thin, having lost close to 120 pounds over the last half year.  She looked pretty exhausted to me.  When my sister goes to the bathroom, there's blood in her stool.  That's to be expected with the chemo.  She's probably going to need a transfusion.

She's weak but determined to stick around.

Once upon a time, a little angel named Frank was put in charge of sweeping Heaven every night.  Frank had to clean up after all the archangels and cherubim and seraphim.  After choir practices, he spent hours putting away sheet music and musical instruments.  Frank never got a day off.

The day Jesus was born, Frank dusted all the stars.  He polished the angel harps and trumpets.  He counted all the halos.  Fluffed all the wings.  Frank made sure that first Christmas was perfect.

After all the shepherd and star and magi crap was done, Frank sat down to rest a little.

But God, who looked a little like George Burns, said, "Nice work, Frank.  I like this Christmas stuff.  We should do this every year."

Frank looked at God and said, "I don't think it'll catch on.  But let me tell You about a little thing I cooked up called an iPhone."

Moral of the story:  Heaven is just an app away.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

The Struggle

by:  Sharon Olds

When the minister would come into the hospital room
my father would try to sit up, he would cry out
Up!  Up! for us to raise his bed-head, then
silently he would wrestle himself
up, sweating, he would end up
leaning on the pillows, panting, a man, erect.
The minister would kiss him, they would pray, then chat,
he would hold his eyes open unblinking,
rigid adherent to the protocol of the living,
he would sit for the whole visit, and then,
the minute the man was out the door, cry
out Down!  Down! and we would lower him
down, and he would pass out.
Later the doctor wold pay a call and as
soon as my father saw that white coat
he would start to labor up, desperate
to honor the coat, at a glimpse of it he would
start to stir like a dog who could not
not obey.  He would lurch, pause,
then thrust up slowly, and unevenly, like a
camel, a half-born animal--the way,
they say, his soul will pull itself up
out of his dead body and wobblingly
walk.  And then, one day, he tried,
his brain ordered his body to heave up,
the sweat rose in his pores but he was not
moving, he cast up his eyes as the minister
leaned to kiss him, he lay and stared, it was
nothing like the nights he had lain on the couch passed
out, nothing.  Now he was alive,
awake, the raw boy of his heart stood
up each time a grown man
entered his death room.

God bless you all!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

July 30: Red Pajamas, Wormhole Existence, Sharon Olds, "The Present Moment"

The night before, on Christmas Eve, after spending the evening with Luis and the family in his living room after a lamb dinner and after making toasts to friendship and love; after Luis had left (around midnight) and Ives had finished talking to his daughter and his sister, Katherine, about the next day's plans (dinner at his daughter's and son-in-law's apartment at three), he got into bed beside his wife; after carrying on to Annie about the cruel and selfish changes in the political climate of the country in regard to the poor and disadvantaged (unfairly condemned in Ives' words to "a hopeless future") and after kissing his wife, Ives slept through the night serenely.  That morning he awoke in his bedroom to find his son, Robert, about six years old, in red pajamas and thick black stockings, alive again and playing quietly in the corner of the room with his toy soldiers, jousting horsemen, black knights versus white, moving them across the floor.  And even though Ives knew that his son had been dead for nearly thirty years, he now saw the boy looking out the bedroom window of their old apartment on Claremont into the courtyard, which was glaring white with falling snow...

Ives frequently dreams about his son in the years following his son's death.  Sometimes, Robert is an adult, serving as a parish priest in a church.  Sometimes, he's still a teenager, getting up early in the morning to deliver newspapers.  And, sometimes, he's a little boy, playing with toy soldiers in Ives' bedroom on Christmas morning.  Memories and dreams and visions of Robert haunt Ives for the rest of his life.

This afternoon, I went to have lunch at the surgery center where I worked for my sister for 17 years.  Many of my friends still work there, including one of my very best friends.  All the people there know my sister.  As I sat at my old desk, eating, I looked down the hall, to the door of my sister's old office.  I could see a sliver of light under the door, on the floor.

For several strange moments, I actually thought that the door was going to open and my sister was going to come out of the office, calling out to me the way she always did, "Hey, Mart."  She would be dressed in her blue scrubs, the surgical bonnet on her head and her shoes covered in blue booties.  It was as if I had somehow stepped back about four or five years.  I could actually hear her voice.

Of course, that version of my sister is gone.  I know that, just like Ives knows Robert has been dead thirty years in the above passage.  But, where I work, I'm surrounded by reminders of my sister every day.  Walking through the medical center parking lot some mornings, I still catch myself looking for my sister's van.  I'm living a wormhole existence, in the past and present simultaneously.  I think it's because, out of everybody in my family, I spent the most time with my sister over the last 20 years.  Ten hours a day, five days a week, not counting weekends.

It was literally painful this afternoon when I realized that her office door wasn't going to open, that she wasn't going to come out.

Saint Marty needs to have lunch somewhere else tomorrow.

The Present Moment

by:  Sharon Olds

Now that he cannot sit up,
now that he just lies there
looking at the wall, I forget the one
who sat up and put on his reading glasses
and the lights in the room multiplied in the lenses.
Once he entered the hospital
I forgot the man who lay full length
on the couch with the blanket folded around him,
that huge, crushed bud, and I have
long forgotten the man who ate food--
nor dense, earthen food, liked liver, but
things like pineapple, wedges of light,
the skeiny nature of light made visible.
It's as if I abandoned that ruddy man
with the swollen puckered mouth of a sweet-eater,
the torso packed with extra matter
like a planet a handful of which weighs as much as the earth, I have
left behind forever that young man my father,
that smooth-skinned, dark-haired boy,
and my father long before I knew him, when he could
only sleep, or drink from a woman's
body, a baby who stared with a steady
gaze the way he lies there, now, with his
eyes open, then the lids start down
and the milky crescent of the other world
shines, in there, for a moment, before sleep.
I stay beside him, like someone in a rowboat
staying abreast of a Channel swimmer,
you are not allowed to touch them, their limbs
glow, faintly, in the night water.

Care to follow me through the looking glass?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

July 29: Abideth Forever, Annual Evaluation, Sharon Olds, "His Stillness"

And now, he [Ives] thought, his boy was dead, and even if he were to rise, to be reincarnated in some other form, their lives would not be the same.  What was that little quotation from the New Testament that had once impressed him when he was a boy?  A quotation he'd at one time always taken to heart, from 1 John 2:17:  ". . . The world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."  Was that so?  Or was it that the world, their life, the familiar, the comfortable would not ever occur again?

A tough passage.  Ives coming to terms with the death of his son.  Ives has no idea how to return to his life.  Everything has changed, and he starts questioning if he'll ever know a "normal" day.  He walks down the street and can't look people in the face.  He wears sunglasses all the time, so nobody can see the caverns of loss in his eyes.  Always a gentle and caring soul by nature, Ives now has to work to be gentle, to scrape up compassion from the wounded chambers of his heart.

Today, I had my annual evaluation at work.  It was good.  The one comment my supervisor made that stuck in my head was, "You're always so positive, no matter what."  I try not to bring my problems to work.  I don't talk about the hole in my kitchen ceiling or the shingles falling off my roof.  My car was out of commission for three weeks in June, and hardly anybody in the office knew that I was begging for rides from friends and family.

And, of course, there's my sister's illness.  I'm sure most of my coworkers know about her condition.  However, I don't speak about it much.  Part of being a professional is not letting problems affect job performance.  For the eight hours I'm at the medical office, I'm positive.  All the time.  At 4:30 in the afternoon, I'm exhausted.

I think it's because, like Ives, I have to work at being normal, and normal for me is happy, joking, compassionate, and kind, according to my supervisor.  It used to be easy, because, in general, I like almost everybody I meet.  It isn't easy any more.  It's a performance.  A part in a play.  A long and unending play.  And it's incredibly taxing.

I don't smile much at home right now.  In fact, I'm sort of cranky.  By the time I walk through my front door in the evening, I'm tired of being happy and positive.  I just want to be myself, and myself is sad and angry and tired and a little confused. 

My sister is going to have a third round of chemo this week.  Then the doctor is going to order an MRI.  Depending on the results of that test, my sister will either continue with the treatment, or she will come home to be kept comfortable.  That's the reality of my life at the moment.  My normal.

Saint Marty is positive tonight.  Positive he's going to go home and have some of his son's chocolate milk mixed with Bailey's Irish Cream.

His Stillness

by:  Sharon Olds

The doctor said to my father, "You asked me
to tell you when nothing more could be done.
That's what I'm telling you now."  My father
sat quite still, as he always did,
especially not moving his eyes.  I had thought
he would rave if he understood he would die,
wave his arms and cry out.  He sat up,
thin, and clean, in his clean gown,
like a holy man.  The doctor said,
"There are things we can do which might give you time,
but we cannot cure you."  My father said,
"Thank you."  And he sat, motionless, alone,
with the dignity of a foreign leader.
I sat beside him.  This was my father.
He had known he was mortal.  I had feared they would have
to tie him down.  I had not remembered
he had always held still and kept silent to bear things,
the liquor a way to keep still.  I had not
known him.  My father had dignity.  At the
end of his life his life began
to wake in me.

Which fish are you?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28: Dallied at the Office Party, Making Her Comfortable, Sharon Olds, "His Terror"

So, Ives wold remember, he and Annie had dallied at the office party just long enough for her to wolf down a quick plate of food, to say hello to some of his fellow employees, before heading downtown along Fifth Avenue.  They passed the remainder of the afternoon making their way through crowds and going in and out of department stores, before ending up in Macy's.

It is a few days before Christmas.  Ives and Annie are attending parties, going shopping for presents, visiting old friends.  All the stuff everybody does at the holidays.  They have no idea that, in a few hours, their lives are going to change drastically.  Robert will soon be dead, and, suddenly, the world is going to shift seismically for them.

It's amazing how quickly life can change.  This time last summer, I was looking forward to a week's vacation, worrying about how I was going to afford a few days at a resort downstate.  Money was tight, as always.  By August, we were living paycheck-to-paycheck, hoping no unforeseen catastrophe would strike.

Fast forward twelve months.  Next week is my week's vacation.  I'm taking my family on a small trip that will probably be too expensive.  Money is tight.  Again.  Yet, all of these worries seem . . . insignificant.  Stupid, even.  My sister is not doing well.  Her doctors are not painting pictures of rainbows and recovery.  They are talking about "making her comfortable."

I am reevaluating my life right now.  Every time I start feeling sorry for myself because my house is too small or my job is too mind-numbing, I think of my sister, whose life choices have become, literally, life and death.  And I feel ashamed of myself.

So, tonight, I'm urging everybody who reads this post to think about their lives.  I thought I was going to have pizza tonight with a friend.  I didn't.  I thought I was going to be able to stay out late.  I can't (my wife got called to work).  I thought I was going to spend my summer writing.  I haven't.

And that's all okay.

Saint Marty is not hungry, not sick, not homeless, and not alone.  He's a very lucky guy.

His Terror

by: Sharon Olds

He loves the portable altar the minister
brings to the hospital, its tiny cruets and
phials, its cross that stands up
when the lid opens, like the ballerina who un-
bent, when I opened my jewelry box, she
rose and twirled like the dead.  Then the lid
folded her down, bowing, in the dark,
the way I would wait, under my bed,
for morning.  My father has forgotten that,
he opens his mouth for the porous disc
to be laid on his tongue, he loves to call the minister Father.
And yet, somewhere in his body, is there terror?
The lumps of the cancer are everywhere now,
he can lay his palm where they swell his skin, he can
finger the holes where the surgeon has been in him.
He asks me to touch them.
Maybe his terror is not of dying,
or even of death, but of some cry
he has kept inside him all his life
and there are weeks left.

Be blessed by small blessings

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27: Nothing Harder, Chalice of His Hands, Poet of the Week, Sharon Olds, "The Waiting"

I had drinks with an old school friend after work today.  We talked about our daughters, families, struggles.  I told him about my sister's health problems, and, when I was done, we sat in silence for a couple of moments.  Then my friend said something like, "There's nothing harder than love."

The night ended with bad news, however.  Dr Junk (I'm not joking--that's his name), my sister's oncologist at the University of Michigan, told my other sister that Sally "isn't responding to the treatment as well as he hoped."  He said, "Maybe it's time to take her home and make her comfortable."  Of course, my other siblings are upset.  They think Dr. Junk isn't giving Sally enough time to respond, that she is improving a little.  "How can he say that?" another of my sisters asked.

I tried to be a voice of reason.  I told them to ask for a second opinion.  I also told them to ask Dr. Junk on what evidence he's basing his assessment.  "But," I said, "we need to think long and hard about this."  I told them that, if the doctor who's consulted for a second opinion agrees with Dr. Junk, then we have a difficult decision to make.  "What's going to be better for her?" I said.  "I don't want my sister dying in a nursing home downstate, surrounded by strangers."

It's the first time I've voiced that thought to members of my family.  Both of my sisters nodded grimly and walked away from me.

I felt horrible saying what I said.  It feels like I'm giving up on my sister.  If I had some kind of divine Magic 8-Ball to help me, I would be shaking it like crazy right now.  But I don't.  I'm not going to do an Ives dip tonight.  I just can't.  Sorry.  This is the passage of which I keep thinking:

At a quarter to two in the morning, he allowed his face to slowly lower into the chalice of his hands, and he wept until he could not see.

I've decided to name Sharon Olds as the Poet of the Week.  I know that Sharon has held the post in the past, but I've been rereading her collection The Father, which is about the death of her father.  It has been speaking to me a great deal.

Saint Marty's friend was right:  there is nothing harder than love.

The Waiting

by:  Sharon Olds 

No matter how early I would get up
and come out of the guest room, and look down the hall,
there between the wings of the wing-back chair
my father would be sitting, his head calm
and dark between the wings.  He sat
unmoving, like something someone has made,
his robe fallen away from his knees,
he sat and stared at the swimming pool
in the dawn.  By then, he knew he was dying,
he seemed to approach it as a job to be done
which he knew how to do.  He got up early
for the graveyard shift.  When he heard me coming down the
hall, he would not turn--he had
a way of holding still to be looked at,
as if a piece of sculpture could sense
the gaze which was running over it--
he would wait with that burnished, looked-at look until
the hem of my nightgown came into view,
then slew his eyes up at me, without
moving his head, and wait, the kiss
came to him, he did not go to it.
Now he would have some company
as he tried to swallow an eighth of a teaspoon
of coffee, he would have his child to give him
the cup to spit into, his child to empty it--
I would be there all day, watch him nap,
be there when he woke, sit with him
until the day ended, and he could get back into
bed with his wife.  Not until the next
dawn would he be alone again, night-
watchman of matter, sitting, facing
the water--the earth without form, and void,
darkness upon the face of it, as if
waiting for his daughter.

Love--hard work even for Jesus

Sunday, July 26, 2015

July 26: Life in Turmoil, Control Issues, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Very warm day.  Close to 90 degrees.  The kind of day that should come with heat warnings for small children, pets, and old people.  Of course, faced with these temperatures, I decided to go for a run around noon.  Two miles.  I didn't run the whole way.  In fact, I walked a lot.  By the time I got home, it looked as though I'd gotten caught in a rainstorm.

It's that time of year, after July 4 and before Labor Day, when the summer already seems over, even though there's still a whole month left.  I have to start thinking about teaching in the fall.  Order my books.  Put together my syllabi.  The fact that so much seems up in the air right now isn't helping.  My sister at the University of Michigan hospital will be undergoing treatments down there for the next six months.  My sister from Washington has extended her stay in the Upper Peninsula to "help out."  She and her kids are now staying until the beginning of January.  My daughter is starting high school, and I'm going to apply for promotion at the college when the semester starts.

If you are a new reader to this blog, I need to explain something:  I don't do well with life in turmoil.  I prefer my days to be predictable:  same meal times, same work hours, same teaching hours, same bedtime.  My life is not going to be like that, at least until January 2.  If you're thinking I have control issues, you would be correct.

In a week's time, I will have my summer vacation.  No work.  No teaching.  For the past couple of years, we've gone to a resort downstate.  Too expensive this year.  Times are tight.  So, we're scaling back.  A night in a hotel with a pool and water slide.  Dinner at a nice restaurant.  Perhaps a boat cruise.  That's it.  I would prefer something a little more...distant.  Removed.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired three years ago, when things were very different in my life.  My sister was healthy.  My brother was still alive.  My daughter wasn't a teenager.  I was still working at my old job.  And I wasn't teaching freshman composition in the fall.  Ah, the good old days.

July 26,  2012:  The Clock, an Icicle, Dislocation of Time

To his great astonishment the heavy bell went on from six to seven, and from seven to eight, and regularly up to twelve; then stopped.  Twelve!  It was past two when he went to bed.  The clock was wrong.  An icicle must have got into the works.  Twelve!

This little paragraph highlights something that has always fascinated me about A Christmas Carol.  There seems to be some sort of dislocation of time that happens throughout the course of the novel.  When Jacob Marley predicts the arrival of the three Ghosts of Christmas to Scrooge, Marley says that the phantoms will appear on three consecutive nights.  The first at one o'clock in the morning on the following night, the second on the next night at one o'clock again, and the third at midnight on the third night.  When Scrooge wakes up for the Ghost of Christmas Past, he becomes completely disoriented with time because it appears he has slept through an entire day into the night.

This time warp never gets that much attention from anybody.  Readers prefer to focus on the more ghostly elements of the story.  Time warps are the thing of science fiction and fantasy.  Scrooge is not Luke Skywalker or James T. Kirk.  He's a Victorian businessman who happens to have fallen into some kind of wormhole of the space/time continuum, past and present and future coexisting in one place.  Even the twelve nights of Christmas are compressed into a single evening by the Ghost of Christmas Present.

This time dislocation happens to most of us.  I have reached that point in the summer where I look at the calendar and say, "Where the hell has the summer gone?"  Time seems to fly by like a hungry bat chasing a mosquito.  Fall is looming, and I haven't even had my summer vacation yet.  I'm not ready for the leaves to start changing color, but in a few weeks, the green maples will start transitioning to yellow.  Time is passing.  Pretty soon, the Christmas holidays will be upon us again.

I'm particularly aware of the passage of time this summer because of my eleven-year-old daughter who seems to have blossomed into this young lady overnight.  She's still goofy.  She still watches cartoons and the Disney Channel, but in the last few months, she has become willowy and beautiful.  She doesn't sit in a chair anymore.  She lounges.  And she has a friend, who's a boy, who follows her around like Lassie followed Timmy.

I'm experiencing a dislocation of time.  I'm still in May, and it's almost the end of July.  In my mind, my daughter is still three-years-old, sitting in my lap while I read Charlotte's Web to her.  She's actually eleven-going-on-twenty and is starting middle school this fall.  I'm still in the 1980s, when I thought Cyndi Lauper was cooler than Madonna and mullets were never going out of style.  That's how behind-the-times I am.

Saint Marty needs to join the present. or he's never going to make it to the future.  Ahead warp factor five, Mr. Sulu.

Not too fast, Mr. Sulu

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, July 25, 2015

July 25: Baby Carriages, Motherhood, Siv Cedering, "Poem for My Mother," New Cartoon

And for weeks she [Annie Ives] thought about what he had said, fear tingeing every hope for happiness.  She saw mothers pushing their baby carriages who seemed wonderfully content, and mothers who were glum and remote.  She had memories of the house in Glen Cove reeking of her brothers' diapers, the safety pins nicking her fingers, their cylinder-shaped washing machine chugging all day, babies crying all night, the young boys running their mother ragged.  But whenever she even came close to making a decision, her thoughts always came close to making a decision, her thoughts always returned to Ives and how he had been a foundling [orphan], and how much it must have hurt him even to consider giving up the child to make her happy, and she felt more in love with him.  With that she thought how having a family would not be so bad a thing to do with this considerate and moral gentleman.  And knowing about his past, she could not imagine giving up the child.  He never raised the subject, maneuvering those waters quietly.  He simply treated her well, and in time, despite her doubts, she let the issue drop.  They married in December, as they had wanted.

At first, Annie Ives isn't sure she wants to be a mother when she gets pregnant for the first time.  As this passage shows, Annie's view of motherhood is colored by her own mother's experiences.  She watched her mother--dead weary, washing diapers and settling disputes and dealing with Annie's alcoholic father--give up everything for her family.  All her hopes and dreams.  Annie isn't sure she's ready to buy a ticket for that train ride.

Motherhood is a hard job.  In the mornings, my wife has to get up with our six-year-old son around 7 a.m., even though her bipolar meds transport her into a Walking Dead state in the early hours of the day.  Yet, she knows that's all part of the job description.  Sacrifice.  Exhaustion.  Hugs.  Band-Aids.  Bug spray.  Worry.  Tears.  That's just what mothers do.

My mother did it for nine kids.  I'm the youngest sibling in my family.  I always joke with my brothers and sisters that my mother was too tired to really be tough with me.  I probably got away with a lot more.  I remember the first time I came home drunk.  I was a junior in high school, I think.  I crawled through the dark house, climbed into my bed, and passed out.  At 7:30 the next morning, my mother was at my bedside, shaking me awake to go to the 8 a.m. service at church.  I sat in the pew, nauseated and dizzy.  Then, after Mass, my mother decided to take me out to breakfast "as a special treat."  It was a long, long morning.  But, my mother made her point.

My mother's memory isn't so great any more.  She repeats herself all the time, asking the same questions over and over.  "Is it warm outside?" and "Boy, it gets dark fast, doesn't it?"  She can't see very well, either, due to macular degeneration.  She can't read anymore.  Or watch TV.  She plays gin with my father, but she has a hard time seeing the cards in her hands.

It's hard to see my mother diminished like this.  She was always the person in charge.  Everyone listened to her, including my dad.  She cooked dinners, attended parent-teacher conferences, sent out the bills for my dad's plumbing business.  And she pushed us kids to be the best people we could be.  She wanted to see her children succeed, even my sister with Down Syndrome.  My mother never settled for mediocre.

So, today, I just want to acknowledge the mothers in my life.  My wife.  My own mother.  Through all the struggles in life, they never give up.  My mother believes my sister with lymphoma of the brain is going to get better.  My wife watches my daughter dance and cries.  Because that's what mothers do.

By the way, Saint Marty never came home drunk again when he was in high school.

Poem for My Mother

by:  Siv Cedering

Remember when I draped
The ruffled cotton cape
Around your shoulders,
Turned off the lights
And stood behind your chair,
Brushing, brushing your hair.

The friction of the brush
In the dry air
Of that small inland town
Created stars that flew
As if God himself was there
In the small space
Between my hands and your hair.

Now we live on separate coasts
Of a foreign country.
A continent stretches between us.
You write of your illness,
Your fear of blindness.
You say you wake afraid
To open your eyes.

Mother, if some morning
You open your eyes to see
Daylight as a dark room around you,
I will drape a ruffled cotton cape
Around your shoulders
And stand behind your chair,
Brushing the stars out of your hair.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, July 24, 2015

July 24: Funeral, Dave Memorial Service, Dave Fairy Tail, Siv Cedering, "The Angel of Death"

They buried his son on Christmas Eve morning, 1967, out in Long Island, his marker a simple Celtic cross.  The burial was covered by the press, despite efforts to maintain privacy.  A lot of important people came, few whom Ives knew.  Zoom-lensed cameras captured the scene, and, in an unfortunate gaffe, they published a picture of Celeste, Robert's former girlfriend, who had fallen apart and kept her distance from the family until the funeral, being held in Ives' arms, and identified her as his daughter.

Funerals are strange occasions.  Ives is surrounded by strangers, political figures and local celebrities who attend the service because of the circumstances of Robert's death--young man, soon to enter the seminary, gunned down by a Hispanic youth on the steps of a church.  Sort of like governors, senators, and U. S. Presidents showing up for memorial services for victims of school shootings or terrorist bombings or hurricanes.  Funerals are a mixture of grief and celebration, tears and laughter, story-telling and preaching.

This afternoon, I went to the memorial service of a friend of mine.  Dave died from pancreatic cancer in November in Las Vegas, but his family decided to have his funeral this summer, when the days are long and green in the Upper Peninsula.  Dave was a musician, among other things.  He could play any instrument and harmonize on any song.

I've known Dave for a long time.  He was my daughter's piano teacher, and, for the last few years, he played bass guitar in the church band with me.  Before that, I acted in plays with Dave.  A recovering alcoholic, Dave was 21 years sober when he died.  He attended AA meetings daily, sometimes more.  He had a deep love of God.  A lot of people call God their friend.  I think Dave had breakfast with God every morning, surrendering his will to His will.

I am proud to be able to have called Dave my friend.

Once upon a time, a minstrel named Dave traveled the kingdom, spreading music and love everywhere he went.  When they heard Dave strumming his guitar, people flocked to the town square to listen to him sing and joke.

One day, Dave got really sick.  He knew he didn't have long to live.  So he decided to perform one last time.  On the appointed day, crowds gathered to hear Dave's final concert.  But Dave didn't make it to the stage.

The night before, Dave got on a boat and sailed for the South Pacific, where he died under a palm tree, watching the locals harvest breadfruit and roast pig.

Moral of the story:  always leave 'em wanting more.  That's what Dave did.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

The Angel of Death

by:  Siv Cedering

Because she wanted me, I slipped out of my skin.  I thought it would fall like unnecessary clothing in the corner, by the chair, but it was my skin that went to her, like a beige trench coat flying through the air. 

Somewhere near the flue of the fireplace or beside the open window, she waited, calling me, and the hairs of my arms lifted their small antennas and listened.  Tired of holding the body in place all these years, the skin loose, my empty hands flapping like gloves.  Death must be something to hold on to.

In my nakedness, I stood there, white like a sprout is white before it reaches the air.  Small white breasts, short white hair, white fringes of lashes around my colorless eyes.  And skinless I could perceive all the small angels in things:  dancing on the head of a pin, in the leg of a table, in the arm of the chair.  Even in the air there were tiny galaxies spinning, as if it were Midsummer, and the dance had started.  Then something stirred at the base of my spine.  A warm coating started to spread, licking its long tongue over my surfaces, the elbow, the hip, the raspberry of my nipple, until each pore, mole, curve and mark was covered.  Colors came back.  The earlobes hung like drops from my ears, asleep, not listening.

But the angel of death is somewhere, watering my flowers, reading over my shoulder, counting the days of the moon.  She tells me that invisible things exist:  angels, molecules, the green horses of the grass.

Dave and his beloved granddaughter

Thursday, July 23, 2015

July 23: Art Students League, Van Gogh, Siv Cedering, "Sunflowers"

Thinking about Robert, Ives would always fondly remember those evenings he spent in 1948, at the Art Students League on West Fifty-seventh Street, where he took classes several nights a week.  After a day freelancing, he'd walk in and sit in the back, his sketchbook, charcoals, and pencils set out before him...

Aside from his wife and kids, Ives' passion is art.  From a very young age, Ives draws.  Cartoons.  Christmas cards.  Portraits.  He is never without his sketchbook.  After Robert's death, Ives finds solace in his drawing.  He volunteers to teach art classes for at-risk youths at a local community center.  He designs the menu for his best friend's new restaurant.  Art gives Ives a livelihood, and art gives Ives an escape at times.

As most of my loyal disciples know, I dabble in art.  Besides my writing journal, I always carry around an art journal, too.  I sketch and doodle.  Of course, if you're a frequent visitor to Saint Marty, you know that I have a weekend comic strip.  At work, I draw cartoons every day for my coworkers on the assignment board.  I enjoy making people laugh.

I am not a tortured artist.  I'm not going to cut off my ear and mail it to a poetry editor.  Rather, I post my drawings to amuse and inspire, hopefully.  Which brings me to my announcement.

At the beginning of August, I will be launching a new cartoon strip titled The Adventures of Stickman.  It's an idea I've been toying with for a few weeks.  It will be a daily comic, Monday through Friday.  I'm not sure if I have the artistic stamina for it, but I'm going to give it a shot.

Saint Marty van Gogh.  Has a nice ring, doesn't it?


by:  Siv Cedering

gave me a copy of
Van Gogh's

It's a picture
women can relate to
feeling kin to a man
who could see many suns
each whirling and wild.
There are thousands
of reproductions.

But a woman, she said,
doesn't have to cut off an ear
in order to bleed.

Not bad for a one-eared guy

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

July 22: No Disasters, Losing a Child, Siv Cedering, "Figure Eights"

Prepared for the worst and having heard even more stories--everyone he knew seemed to have a story about a baby falling out of a window--Ives was truly amazed that no disasters had struck.

Ives is a worrier.  All his life, Ives worries about the birth parents he never met.  When he becomes a father, he shifts his concerns to his kids.  As a baby, his son has a heart murmur.  Ives spends countless nights next to Robert's crib, watching him breathe, waiting for disaster to strike.  Of course, disaster eventually does pay a visit to the Ives family.  Robert is killed just before graduating from high school, and Ives' worries shift again.  It takes him decades to recover from the grief of losing his son.

As a father myself, I understand Ives' worries.  Right now, my daughter is at Bible camp.  She's surrounded by responsible adults, pretty much supervising her every waking moment.  Yet, I worry about her.  Last night, my son decided to go searching for his 14-year-old cousin in the woods.  For several panicked minutes, my wife had no idea where he was.  Worrying is part of the parental job description.  And the ultimate fear is losing a child.

My parents have already faced this fear with my brother's death last year.  Tonight, we celebrated my father's birthday with apple pie, his favorite.  When my sister said "make a wish and blow out the candle," I know what my father wished:  he wished for my sister's recovery from lymphoma.

I worry all the time about my kids.  I worry for their safety.  Their health.  Their happiness.  Their success.  I try to make my kids' lives better than mine.  Of course, I can't buy them a five-bedroom house with three bathrooms and a swimming pool.  I can't get my daughter the newest iPhone.  I can't get my son the motorized four-wheeler he wants so he can ride around the neighborhood.  But I think my daughter and son are, for the most part, happy.

Childhood is so short.  One day, a kid is learning to ice skate at the local rink.  The next day, she's packing her stuff in a car and moving into an apartment with friends, finally free from the worries of her father and mother.  That's a normal part of life.  It's also terrifying, for parents at least.

I know I can't protect my kids from all things bad.  They will have car accidents.  They will have their hearts broken.  They will get fired from jobs.  They may quit college.  I just hope that they can avoid major problems, like teenage pregnancy and drug/alcohol addiction and Republicans. 

Saint Marty has one big worry right now:  should he have Pringles or ravioli for a snack?

Figure Eights

by:  Siv Cedering

My back toward the circle, I skate,
shift my weight, turn toward the center.

The skill is in the balance, the ability
to choose an edge, and let it cut

its smooth line.  The moon is trapped
in the ice.  My body flows

across it.  The evening's cold.  The space
limited.  There is not much room

for hesitation.  But I have learned a lot
about grace, in my thirty-third year.

I lean the cutting edge:  two circles
interlock, number eight drawn

by a child, a mathematician's

I've made a decision--one last worry

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

July 21: Hard Work, Honorable Mention, Siv Cedering, "A Raccoon"

She [Annie Ives] gave a talk about what hard work would get someone, and the kids either responded by clapping or they shouted insults, the most common being, "Oh yea, if education is so good for you, then what are you doing here?"  Because to some of them being there was the worst thing in the world.  And sometimes the kids laughed at her and cursed, or they stared at her blankly and she'd realized that many of them did not speak or understand English.

Annie Ives is an idealist, at least at this point in her life, before her son is murdered.  She still believes that she can make a difference in the world.  That's why she substitute teaches high school English for inner-city schools in New York.  She wants the kids to understand that there is something better for them.  Something that can be attained through hard work and perseverance.

It has been a long day.  Work kind of sucked, and now I'm sitting in my office at the university, typing this blog post.  When I checked my e-mail, I found a message from the nature writing contest I entered earlier this summer.  It seems I received honorable mention.  That means I came in third.

I'm happy that I placed, but I could have really used that prize money right now.  I knew that the essay wasn't my best work, so I'm not surprised at the outcome of the contest.  Yet, I'm still disappointed.  Tonight, I think that I would fall into the group of students who curse and laugh at Annie Ives when she talks about hard work being the key to success.  I've been working hard all my life--two jobs, blogging, parenting, writing--and I don't seem to be climbing any ladder of professional happiness.  Still on the bottom rung, one step away from "starting over" or "giving up completely."

Sorry, I'm feeling a little sorry for myself this evening.  I didn't sleep well last night, and I had to deal with a lot of difficult people in the medical office today.  In about a half hour, I'm going to be at a meeting of the contingent faculty at the university.  I don't think that I'm going to receive any news of monumental importance.  What I'm looking forward to:  the food and the alcohol.

So, to sum up Saint Marty's day:  crabby patients at work, third place in a writing contest, and shrimp quesadillas with Mike's Hard Lemonade for dinner.

And the Poet of the Week with roadkill. 

A Raccoon

by:  Siv Cedering

A raccoon lies broken
On the broken lines of a road.
Like the car that killed it.

I speed by.  I have seen the pain
In the small and pointed face
And blinked at the pink entrails

That trail from its belly.
But it is the paw that makes me
Stare.  What is there that makes the paw

Reach up? and the five fingers
At the end of the reach, bend
Like a hand?  They say

That animals are our innocence,
What we were before Eden
And the Fall.  Though I cannot

Understand it all, I stay on my side
Of the broken line that divides
The going from the coming.

How about a raccoon quesadilla?

Monday, July 20, 2015

July 20: "Ives" Dip, Unfeeling Bastard, Poet of the Week, Siv Cedering, "In the Planetarium"

I'm going to change things up a little bit tonight.  I'm going to start with the Poet of the Week.  This time, I've chosen a poet I met about ten years ago when she gave a reading at the university.  Her name is Siv Cedering.  I should say "was."  Siv died eight years ago, at the age of 68.  Siv was born in Sweden.  An accomplished poet and novelist, she also won awards for her screenplays.  The screen adaptation of her novel Oxen won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Siv was a fantastic writer and a very gracious woman.  She is now Saint Marty's Poet of the Week.

In the Planetarium

by:  Siv Cedering

And I lean back into the chair
as my mother must have
leaned back under the space
of my father's body.
A small light, a comet
approaches the sun.
My father's seed
my mother's.  A soft laugh,
and I begin

to inhabit the space that grows
to hold me.  Cells divide,
atoms spin
solar systems around me.
The comet's tail
is blown away from the sun.
My tail shrinks
in my mother's sea.
I grow fingers, toes.  The arm
of the galaxy
will hold me

When I leave one space
for another

This poem makes me think of my parents.  They raised nine kids.  Made tons of sacrifices, every day of their lives.  One of my sisters has Down Syndrome.  I nearly died when I was thirteen and I lapsed into a diabetic coma with a blood glucose of close to 1000; I was in that coma for two or three days.  My brother had a stroke about five or six years ago; he died last year.  And, of course, right now, another of my sisters is battling lymphoma of the brain.  My parents have been through a lot.

I talked to a really smart friend this afternoon about my sister's illness.  I told my friend how I'm so conflicted in my feelings.  I want my sister to get well and come home, but I don't want my sister to live a life of continuing diminishment.  A few years ago, my sister brought me into her office at work.  She asked me to sign an Advanced Directive, named me as her advocate.  In the time we worked together, my sister and I talked about our wishes in the event of life-limiting circumstances.  My sister never wanted any kind of extraordinary measures used to sustain her life.

My friend asked me how I felt about my sister's current treatment.  I told her that, if the chemo is successful, one of the blessings would be that my parents wouldn't have to bury another child in their lifetimes.  That would be grace for my parents.  However, I'm not a believer in trying to keep someone alive by any means necessary, which is what most doctors try to do.  If treatment itself makes my sister's life an exercise in misery, I don't think my sister would want that.  My sister's life is going to be shortened by this illness.  I want my sister to have a life of dignity, no matter how long she lives.

I'm trying to put myself in my parents' shoes.  If my daughter was ill, I would want the doctors to do everything in their powers to save her.  That's the truth.  Maybe that's why my sister talked to me about her wishes, because she knew my parents wouldn't be able to make the hard decisions.  I just hope my other siblings are able to make those difficult choices, if need be.

My question this Ives dip Monday is this:

Am I a horrible person for having these thoughts?

And the answer from Edward Ives:

And then Ives blinked and found himself standing on the sidewalk beside his wife, across the street from the Church of the Ascension.  On the pavement, just by his feet, was a large piece of canvas, and under it a body, stretched out.  Then the officer lifted off the canvas and shined a flashlight onto the face to reveal the shocked and bewildered expressions of his son.

That's it.  Saint Marty is going to die and go to hell for being a cold, unfeeling bastard.

Speaking of cold, unfeeling bastards...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

July 19: My Daughter at Bible Camp, Feeling Unneeded, Classic Saint Marty, New Cartoon

Just got back from dropping off my 14-year-old daughter at Bible camp.  She will be there for a full week, slapping bugs, swimming, making friends, and, hopefully, learning a few things about God along the way.

She's been going to this camp for almost six years now.  It's always one of the highlights of the summer for her.  Yet, I always get a little melancholy when I drop her off.  I think it has something to do with letting go.  I'm not great at letting go of anything.  Books.  Shirts that haven't fit me for five years.  Past copies of Entertainment Weekly (I recently cleared out the magazine holder in the bathroom and found almost a year's worth of back issues).

I'm proud that my daughter is so independent.  She can make friends with anyone, and, when I pick her up next Saturday, I'm sure every person in the camp is going to be hugging her, entering her contact information in their phones, and taking selfies with her.  That's just the kind of kid she is.

However, driving home this afternoon, I started thinking about things I will never experience again, like picking out cute little dresses for her or braiding her hair after a bath or those hugs and kisses she used to give me so freely.  My daughter is officially a teenager.  No longer my little princess, wearing tiaras and letting me read her Charlotte's Web or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My days of experiencing those little daughter things are gone.

Of course, my son in only six, so I have a lot of little boy things to look forward to.  In a couple of years, I'll be dropping him off at the same place for elementary Bible camp.  And I will probably have just as difficult a time letting go of him.  Pretty soon, he's going to be asking to borrow my car.

I'm feeling incredibly old and, in some ways, unneeded.  I have raised my daughter well, I think.  Given her everything she needs to succeed.  She knows that she is smart, kind, and important (yes, I stole that from The Help).  Now that she is spreading her wings, I want to tether her to the ground for a little while longer.  Being a parent is a strange occupation.  Just when you think you've figured out how to do the job well, you're out of a job.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty, from three years ago, focuses on another perennial parental concern:  summer vacation.

July 19, 2012:  Tremendous Family to Provide For, Tight Times, Cheapness

"You have never seen the like of me before!" exclaimed the Spirit.

"Never," Scrooge made answer to it.

"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.

"I don't think I have," said Scrooge.  "I am afraid I have not.  Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"

"More than eighteen hundred," said the Ghost.

"A tremendous family to provide for!" muttered Scrooge.

This little exchange between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present seems pretty trivial, an offhand joke to lighten up the proceedings.  After all, the previous stave had ended on a pretty serious note with Scrooge basically smothering the Ghost of Christmas Past.  The current Phantom is decidedly more jovial, resembling the Victorian version of Santa Claus.  Yet, this Ghost also touches upon one of the weightier themes of the novel:  the plight of the poor and working class.  Bob Cratchit has a tremendous family to provide for, and he does it on the measly salary Scrooge pays him.

In election years, I get a little annoyed with all the rhetoric that's thrown around.  For instance, this year, one of the hot button issues in the United States is unemployment.  The tactic that annoys me the most is blaming the unemployed for being unemployed.  For the most part, people who are unemployed aren't lazy freeloaders, looking to live off welfare and unemployment checks and federal assistance.  No, most unemployed people want to work to provide for their tremendous families (as Bob Cratchit does).

You may be wondering where I'm going with this discussion.  Times are pretty tight for my family right now.  I don't teach during the summer at the university, and I depend on a lot of overtime at my other job to make it through June, July, and August.  My wife isn't employed at the moment (not from lack of trying to find a job), so these twelve-hour work days are making me really cranky.

The hardest part, for me, about not having money is disappointing my wife and kids.  I have a vacation coming up the first week of August.  We're not going anywhere.  We're not doing anything.  My daughter thinks I'm cheap.  She doesn't get that it has nothing to do with cheapness and everything to do with her mother's unemployment checks running out.  And no checks coming from the university.  And the checks from my other job barely paying the summer bills.

I don't need a millionaire President of the United States telling me how he's going to make my life better.  I don't need millionaire senators and representatives telling me how they're going to provides jobs for everyone.  I don't need a millionaire governor telling me how he's going to control state labor unions.  I don't care about any of that shit.

Here's what I need:  a job, one job, that pays my bills.  That pays for my daughter's dance lessons.  That maybe buys me a good book every once in a while.  That allows me to spend time with my family--good, quality time.  That lets me write without feeling like I should be doing something else, something more productive.  That allows me to sleep in past 4 a.m. every once in a while.  That makes me feel good about myself.

That helps Saint Marty provide for his tremendous family.

Does anybody out in blog world really care?

Confessions of Saint Marty

Saturday, July 18, 2015

July 18: Great Numbness, Situational Depression, Adrienne Su, "Elegy," New Cartoon

He [Ives] went to church and prayed for guidance, begging God to bring forgiveness into his heart.  He would 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.

Yeah, I get what Ives is going through in this passage.  In the face of incredible loss, Ives has to remind himself of God's goodness.  It is the beginning of Ives' decade-long battle with depression, that great numbness that takes over his being.  Ives holds onto his belief in God's wisdom and goodness, despite the ever-present darkness of mental illness.

I have been waging a little battle myself this summer with the great numbness.  It's easier to see God's wisdom and goodness when I'm busy, around other people.  When I'm working or worshiping or cleaning my house, the dark thoughts are held in check.  When I'm by myself, trying to read or pray or write, they come charging back like a pack of feral dogs.

My therapist would probably call this situational depression.  I'm not sure when situational depression transitions into full-blown depression.  It's not like I'm curled up on my couch under a blanket, crying uncontrollably.  Unless I become a completely nonfunctional piece of clay, I won't worry.

I actually think I'm going to try to write a poem for my sister.  Sometimes, when I'm dealing with difficult emotional situations, I find sitting down with my journal and pen cathartic.  When my brother passed away last year, writing his elegy really helped me deal with the loss.  Tonight, after I help my daughter pack for Bible camp, I may sit down on my couch and have a night of poetry.

When I was writing my brother's elegy, I struggled for days.  I couldn't come up with a way to communicate my emotions, which were all over the place.  I'm sort of in the same spot with my sister right now.  Hope mixed with sadness mixed with anger mixed with grief.  I'm not sure what kind of poem is going to come out of me.

Or maybe Saint Marty will just pick up some wine coolers, sit on my couch, watch The Lawrence Welk Show, and drink himself into a different kind of numbness.


by:  Adrienne Su

You said the last word with your last
breath and I was not there to bury
it.  You spent your life writing
the note and intended
to go alone; you knew what
to say but poof! you were out

of breath--the night went out,
the chills passed, the last
gesture stopped.  What
took a little longer was to bury
you.  Everyone thought you intended
to stay; you were writing

me letters and though I wasn't writing
back, you said you had risen out
of despair and intended
to forget the last
ten years, in which you had buried
so many skeletons you didn't know what

you were born for.  Anyway.  What
you didn't count on was writing
the note, dying, and no one coming to bury
you.  The police didn't check out
the shed until the last
of the month; they intended

to go home by dark, then opened your untended
grave at dinnertime.  What
gets me is not that I was your last
woman, not that I was off writing
term papers when you walked yourself out
of the world, not even that they'd bury

you and not invite me, but that you buried
your body where you intended
to be found and were sniffed out
belatedly, faceless, unmanly.  What-
ever threw that wrench, I'm writing
you out of my memory as fast

as I can.  That last word's been buried
but it's in your handwriting.  You intended
to get what you got.  Now get out.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, July 17, 2015

July 17: Kind of Magnificence, Diamonds on the Soles, Gnomish Fairy Tail, Adrienne Su, "Under the Window"

Annie could not help but hide behind a car like a child, red-faced and laughing, trying her best to smack Ives on the head.  Ives received her shots with joy and mounted his own assault.  Raising his portfolio like a shield, he shouted at the top of his lungs, and, charging toward her, pulled her down into a drift of snow, where they briefly kissed and he felt the first fleeting heat of her tongue.  Then they rested, side by side, on the frigid pavement like dummies, wistfully looking upward at nature's swirling activity.  A kind of magnificence, heaven, as it were, coming down on them.

A really joyful passage from the book.  A young Ives and Annie, just getting to know each other.  They let go of all their cares and worries and simply behave like kids, throwing snowballs at each other, tackling each other in the wintery night.  It's one of those rare life moments:  complete and total happiness.  All their future pain and sadness not even a shadow on the radar of their lives.

Driving home from work this afternoon, I had a moment like that with a friend.  We had the windows of my car rolled down, and Paul Simon's album, Graceland, cranked on my CD player.  The wind was cool.  The sun was bright.  We cruised along and sang at the top of our lungs:  "She's got diamonds on the soles of her shoes....Diamonds on the soles of her shoes...."  It felt so good.

Tonight, I will not focus on my sister's illness.  It's her birthday.  Instead of talking about her chemotherapy or inability to speak, I choose to think of her in better times.  Camping in her trailer on a July weekend.  Swimming in the pool or lounging by the hot tub.  At night, listening to Garrison Keillor on the radio around the campfire.  Those are the memories I am going to celebrate.

We had cake tonight for my sister.  Called and sang to her.  The cake was yellow and chocolate, covered with chocolate frosting and a thick layer of sprinkles.  It was really good.  I know she would have enjoyed it.  A lot.

Tonight, when I get home, I'm going to continue the happiness.  After I clean the bathroom, listening to ABBA music (my sister's favorite), I will sit on the couch and read a good book.  Maybe I'll put on an episode of Kolchak the Night Stalker, one of her favorite TV shows when we were kids.  The only rule for the evening:  no sadness invited.

Once upon a time, in a dark forest, lived a dark little gnome named Marvin.  Marvin was known far and wide as the saddest person in the gnome kingdom.  While the other gnomes got naked and danced in the moonlight, Marvin sat in his burrow and worried about the color of the mole on his stomach.

One day, a beautiful little gnome name Bertha knocked on Marvin's door.  When he answered, Bertha said, "Marvin, I love you.  Would you take my hand and dance the dance of wedlock in the daffodils with me?"

Marvin shook his head.  "I can't dance.  Bad ankles."

Bertha persisted.  "Would you go down to the waterfall and swim in Love Lake with me?"

Marvin shook his head.  "I don't know how to swim."

Bertha tried again.  "Would you come out of your burrow and sit in the pines with me?"

"I can't," Marvin said.  "I'm allergic to bug bites and tree sap."

Bertha tried one more time.  "Marvin, will you kiss me in the gnomish way right now?"

Marvin said, "I don't have any gnomedems for protection."

Bertha went away, and Marvin closed his door and lived the rest of his life in complete darkness, never knowing a single minute of joy.

Moral of the story:  Girl gnomes are tramps.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Under the Window

by:  Adrienne Su

Day and night in the green hospital
the woman whose name means Fortunate Jade
grows smaller.  Her son forgets

more Chinese with every visit.
He sits by the bed and cries tearlessly.
He is fifteen and remembers his birthplace

as the sputter of its two taxis,
chickens in a wire box, deep-fried
oysters, and guttural speech.

Even in health, his mother looked
small in the supermarket aisles.

She hated the food; she said the people
were dumb as animals.  For the last

year, her flesh has been slowly
making its way back to China.

Her son does not tell her
she is still beautiful
even though he knows the words.

He rearranges the camellias,
asks her if she wants TV.
He jumps up, sits down, changes

the water in her glass.  He is in love
for the first time and can't talk
about it in any language.

This is the boy she prayed for,
implored all the gods,
even the foreign one, to deliver.

He arrived with a clear cry,
the first son of his generation.
The house filled with blessings

and fat red envelopes.  Her husband
found work in America, where
they learned to drive cars--

and now this.  Perhaps it was ill luck,
a bad ancestor, the nameless daughter
she had prayed out of existence.

It cold be the water
from the strange pipes
or the foul teas she'd sipped

to turn the not-yet child
into a boy.  It could be
the songs she had crooned

to her belly, not thinking
of the unblessed rice paddies,
the slighted earth, the moon

that now glared into her window
through each night, saying,
You will not sleep.  You will not sleep.

Bertha, you ignorant slut!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

July 16: Two Homes, Plan of Treatment, Adrienne Su, "Home"

He [Ives] would watch his son nod and think and think and think, contemplating the things he'd heard and looking around the church as if he were waiting for the statues to move, for the Christ to come down off the Cross.  He'd remember how the boy had always loved all of that from the very beginning, that he had, in some sense, two homes:  their apartment and the church.

Ives lived the first years of his life in a foundling home.  If Mr. Ives' Christmas had been written by Charles Dickens, Ives would have been Oliver Twist, begging for gruel in an orphanage, dreaming of having a mother and father.  A home.  Robert, Ive's son, is luckier than his father was.  Robert knows the safety and comfort of loving parents, a stable family, and a nurturing spiritual faith.  Robert is always home, wherever he happens to be.

My sister's doctors outlined a plan of treatment yesterday for her.  It involves a lengthy course of chemotherapy.  The problem is that the treatment is only available at the University of Michigan and another hospital in the lower peninsula.  She will have to live in a long-term care facility downstate for over a year.  There are quite a few other "ifs" involved.  If the chemo doesn't kill her.  If she responds well to the treatment.  If she doesn't develop other life-threatening infections (she's had a lot of them over the past year).  If the tumors in her head shrink and/or disappear.

If all of these ifs happen, my sister may be able to return to a nursing home in the Upper Peninsula, closer to home.  She is never going to be the person she was.  More than once, doctors have said that the atrophy in her brain is permanent.  She will never work again.  Or drive a car.  Or boss me around.  Or bake her Christmas pizelle cookies.  Or play Zombie Dice on my iPad.  She may never even speak again.

Last night, as I listened to my other sister outline the treatment plan, someone asked her, "Does Sally understand what's happening?"  My sister said, "All she wants is to come home."

That's incredibly difficult for me to hear, because I know she will never come home the way she wants to.  Her life, however long that life will be, is going to be spent in nursing homes.  That is a fact.  A difficult fact.

I'm really conflicted tonight.  I want my sister to live, but I don't want my sister to spend the rest of her time on this planet yearning for something she will never have again:  a home where she can walk and talk and laugh and watch TV and blow out birthday candles.

Saint Marty's home might need a roof and a kitchen ceiling and new front steps and an extra bedroom.  But Saint Marty has a home.


by:  Adrienne Su

It is a long way back,
more than a drive
from dawn to the black
hours.  It is five

thousand days to a sky-blue
summer of swelling
and pain, in which two
sisters stopped telling

their secrets.  It means
restoring a dead man
to his office to dream
and tally, and a woman

to a classroom full
of girls, whom she orders
into the hall
and orders

to stop crying.
It's not just that,
either; a dying
uncle must come back

to his bed in the city,
Chinese be forgotten,
and four pretty
faces erased.  Often

I wake under the high
ceiling and can't
remember why
I'm here, and want

to die.  Then years
of memory revive
noisily, in clear
focus, but my life

isn't mine.  One
of the girls in the hall
has stopped and undone
her hair, which falls

generously down
her back all the way
to the floor.  Her round
shoulders are bare.  A

moment later, so is
her back.  Her legs
are bare.  She is
laughing, and the next

instant there's no girl
to speak of,
just the door and the hall
she's walked out of.

WWMTD--What would Mother Teresa do?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

July 15: Of the Spirit, Lost, Adrienne Su, "An Afternoon in the Park"

Later on, Ives spent the evening playing bridge with a few neighbors from his building but he was not concentrating well and angered his partner, Ramirez, by making careless choices, his heart and mind elsewhere.  "What's wrong with you?" Ramirez chided him.  And Ives shrugged and continued to go over certain thoughts that had nothing to do with the game:  that He was of the Spirit and He did not interfere in human affairs; that He provided a light toward which to aspire . . . .

Ives is distracted with thoughts of his dead son and the work of God in the universe.  Ives is lost, not sure where he fits into God's plan.  He's not even sure God has a plan.  His faith is being tested, and Ives is floundering.  God has always been the compass in his life, and that compass isn't pointing north any more.

I've felt a little lost today.  I spoke with my wife on my lunch break, and she told me about hearing my sister FaceTiming with my parents.  My wife said that my sister wasn't really talking; she was sort of grunting, and my sister that's with her was translating.  My wife said my dad was sitting at the table, crying.

I'm not really sure how I feel right now.  Of course I want my sister to get better.  However, I don't want her to undergo treatments that are simply going to be long exercises in pain.  I can't really imagine losing my sister, but I don't want her remaining time to be months of suffering and struggle.  Even typing these words fills me with guilt, like I'm hoping she'll die quickly.

I'm not sure what I should be hoping or praying for.  I'm standing at a crossroads, and I don't want to take either branch.  Both are dark and full of shadows.  Unlike Robert Frost's road not taken, neither path will make my life better or happier.

Somewhere ages and ages hence, Saint Marty shall be telling this with a sigh:  both roads pretty much sucked swamp water.

An Afternoon in the Park

by:  Adrienne Su

Below my window, a man is being ordered
to hand over cash.  In all my months in the heart
of the city, I've been lost only once, in Central Park
among the trees.  I walked perplexed three quarters

of an hour, from path to bridge to other path
I didn't know, Sunday morning to Sunday
afternoon.  I'd always known that someday
I'd be found, that the light, pines, grass

and I would meet here.  I wasn't thinking these
thoughts, but the start of them receded when
I reached a clearing where a hundred men
were sunning.  They were facing into the breeze

and didn't see me.  I thought I recognized one,
then remembered where he was:  he'd followed
a vision to New York, had loved, lost, and hollowed
out.  He left for the South and didn't come

back.  In the bright clearing I watched for a sign,
didn't get one, and slipped back into the woods.
I found Fifth Avenue in minutes but could
not sleep for weeks.  Now wherever I go I find

two hundred closed eyes, grass bleached
by light, bare chests burning.  Since that day
I've asked about the sun, the men, the Sunday
I got lost; I've inquired at work, school, each

home I enter, at parties, but no one tells
me.  Everywhere I go I meet anxious women
with money and beautiful faces, and men
with ashes on their brows.  I'm lonely as hell.

This pretty much says it all...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July 14: Eerie Shadows, Teeth Grinding, Adrienne Su, "Antidepressant"

...One night, while working late, Ives, in his fatigue, staggered out to Madison Avenue:  for as far as he could see, the office buildings were casting eerie shadows, and he felt the world a lonely and dreadful place.  He often awoke with a gasp in the middle of the night, his heartbeat accelerated, his breathing shallow, his heart filled with sadness, his head with memory.

After his son is killed, Ives has trouble sleeping.  Nightmares.  Scratching his arms and legs bloody.  And sadness, tremendous sadness.  Ives feels cheated.  His son, his good and devout son, has been taken away from him.  God hasn't played fair.

Some news from the University of Michigan this morning:  the brain biopsy has confirmed that my sister has lymphoma of the brain.  The neurologist and oncologist are discussing treatment options, including chemotherapy and radiation.  The question is whether or not my sister can survive the treatments.

Recently, I've been having trouble sleeping.  I wake up in the morning, and my jaw hurts.  I've never been a teeth grinder before.  This summer, I'm worried that I'm going to fracture my molars or bicuspids or canines.  I went to the dentist a little over a month-and-a-half ago.  He confirmed the grinding and told me to take ibuprofen and not chew with my back teeth.  For a while, that did the trick.  The last couple of weeks, however, have been a test, and my mouth is failing.

Of course, it's all about stress, and I feel stupid complaining about sore teeth when my sister is fighting for her life.  Like Ives, I don't think God is playing fair.  My sister deserves better.  I will put up with some cracked teeth if my sister will live to see my son graduate from high school.

Saint Marty doesn't need Zoloft.  He needs a miracle for his sister.


by:  Adrienne Su

The purple pill rattles
out of its bottle,

makes my hands therefore my pen
shake, cloaks me in thirteen

layers of delusionary fur,
stunts my walk, and blurs

each stark moment so it won't
be so stark.  At last I don't

know what time it is
sometimes.  I like this

effect all right, although
I'm still sad.  Night goes

too fast, bringing sun,
whose brash light comes

unwanted into each crevice
of the apartment.  This

could be a matter of life
circumstance and pills might

be the wrong fix, but I know
things won't change if I go

to Spain or take up fencing.
I'd be the same wincing

Adrienne, only armed
or in Spain.  What harm

in staying by the window
to think, wish, swallow

pellets of hope, and not eat?
I'm not unrequited, don't need

company, haven't lost friend
or family.  I just tend

to be a sick plant,
and no antidepressant

can shield me from the sun's
burning; leaves drop one

by one to the sill.  I'll win
my war yet.  My angel isn't

dead, just lost on the moon
or snowed in, gone but soon

to come, nudged out of sight
by another sleep's night.

I like it sprinkled on my Cheerios in the morning

Monday, July 13, 2015

July 13: Writing Contests, Possibility, "Ives" Dip, Poet of the Week, Adrienne Su, "The Word Was My First Companion"

My mind is a blank page at the moment.  I'm still very tired from the events of the weekend.  After I'm done typing this post, I have to go through my binder of poems and put together a packet to submit to a contest.  After that, I am going to try to catch up on some sleep.

Sometimes, I wonder why I enter writing contests.  The last time I won a big prize was when I was a freshman in high school.  I wrote an essay for a contest sponsored by the VFW.  I went to the local radio station, recorded the essay, and didn't think about it again until I won first place on the local level.  Then I won first place on the district level.  Then, at a huge banquet in Lansing, I won first place in the state.  For the next year, I read that essay across the Upper Peninsula, appeared on TV, and got used to being a local celebrity.

That's it.  My fifteen minutes of fame.  Since that time, I have placed second or third in every contest I've entered.  This weekend, I placed fourth in my age group for the race I ran.  That's about the best I can do.  Yet, I'm still going to enter that poetry contest tonight.  Not because I think I'm going to win.  I'm entering because I choose to live in hope instead of defeat.  By entering the contest, I am saying that I believe in myself.  I believe in possibility.

I believe I might win the poetry contest.  I believe I might get a full-time teaching job at the university.  I believe my sister might get better at the University of Michigan hospital.  I believe in mights.

My question for Ives dip Monday is this:

Might I win the poetry contest I'm going to enter tonight?

And the answer from Edward Ives is:

In one slip of a second, anything seemed possible--had the moon risen and started to sing, had pyramids appeared over the Chrysler building weeping, Ives would have been no more surprised.

There you have it.  Anything is possible.  Singing moons.  Weeping pyramids.  Me winning first place in a prestigious poetry contest.

Adrienne Su is the featured Poet of the Week on Saint Marty.  Her collection, Middle Kingdom, has been on my shelf for quite a few years.  Every once in a while, I take it down, open it up, and find myself in its pages.  No, I'm not a young, talented Asian American woman poet.  I'm saying that I live in the possibility I could be a young, talented Asian American woman poet.

Hey, Saint Marty can dream, right?

The Word Was My First Companion

by:  Adrienne Su

In the flickering suburban night,
Not yet acquainted with the name of the feeling,
I did not dream, but commonly imagined

My future as a teacher or journalist
Not thinking to address
Whether there would be a man.

My family would always speak the same language,
In no way turn alien to one another,
And there would never be a poisonous city

Where people demanded psychic space.
There would be no violations,
Only the rules.  There would be no urge

To walk into an unknown cathedral & disappear.
We'd stick tight as a cocoon,
And there being more books in the world

Than I could read in a lifetime
(And no such thing as the slow
Silent robbery of that lifetime),

It would always be like this moment,
Me and the blank page, hugged by night,
Planning the grammatical future.

My famous cousin, Grant.  His picture pops up when I Google my name.  I'm almost famous.