Monday, March 28, 2016

March 28: Eels and Mantises, Pinned Down by Grasshoppers, Possibilites

Had this place always been so, and had I not known it?  There were blowings and flights, tossings and heaves up the air and down to grass.  Why didn't God let the animals in Eden name the man; why didn't I wrestle the grasshopper on my shoulder and pin him down till he called my name?  I was thistledown, and now I seemed to be grass, the receiver of grasshoppers and eels and mantises, grass, the windblown and final receiver.

I love the idea of Dillard pinning that grasshopper down, forcing him to scream out her name.  I don't know why this image appeals to me.  I'm not a big fan of grasshoppers.  Walking across summer fields, I've always been a little creeped out by the grasshoppers arcing into my legs.  But, there's something about the creatures of Eden naming the man--Adam at the mercy of the bear and anteater.

I often feel like I'm at the mercy of the world.  In Genesis, Adam names his world.  Mosquito.  Cougar.  Pigeon.  I'm sure he also named lightning and sagassum, cypress and larkspur.  Yet, it's the world that always calls the shots in my life.  My world.  Snowstorms.  Collapsing ceilings.  Supervisors and Department Heads.  Unlike Dillard, I'm a little tired of being pinned down by the grasshoppers of my life.

I am absolutely beat tonight, but I have work to do.  I used to be able to do schoolwork during my days.  Had Fridays off.  Was able to be more involved in my kids' lives.  Now, I have to miss my daughter's dance competitions, spend hours doing homework for an online class, endure sleepless nights wondering how I'm going to fix the hole in my kitchen ceiling.

I know that the world is complex, full of possibilities.  I can't control those possibilities.  I must submit to the grasshopper, calling out my name, telling me what and who I am.

Saint Marty still hates grasshoppers.

Mantis love

Sunday, March 27, 2016

March 27: Hallelujah, Easter Sunday, Resurrection, Classic Saint Marty

Hallelujah!  Jesus is alive!

Yes, it is Easter Sunday, and,  for Christians all over the world, today is all about light and salvation.  For my non-Christian disciples, I wish you all warmth, sunlight, and peace.  After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

On Easter Sunday last year, I was visiting my sister in a nursing home.  This was before she was diagnosed with lymphoma, when we all thought she would be walking out of that place on her own two legs.  I remember sitting with her, watching TV.  My family and I brought her some Dove chocolate eggs.  She didn't eat them.  She'd been throwing up all day.

I was talking to my wife this morning on the way to church.  I told her that it still seems a little unreal to me--my sister being gone.  I spent so much of my life with her over the last 17 years.  She was my boss.  She was my sister. I worked with her for eight to ten hours a day, five days a week.  On weekends, I went out to eat with her.  Birthday parties.  Baptisms.  First Communions.  Christmases.  Easters.  We were with each other a lot.

My wife, sitting in the car beside me, nodded.  "I know what you mean," she said.

I still look for her car when I go to work.  Every once in a while, I think that I hear her voice singing in church when I'm playing the organ.  Today, I think of her smile when we entered her room in the nursing home last year.  I can still see her looking at my son (who was six at the time) and saying, "Happy Easter, little man!"

Yes, as a Christian, I believe in resurrection and salvation.  I honestly believe that my sister is dancing with Jesus today.  Celebrating with the angels.

That doesn't make me miss her any less.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired around three years ago, on another Easter Sunday.

March 31, 2013:  Easter

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

That was the greeting in church this morning.  I was picking my way across an icy parking lot on my way to the Easter Sunrise service, and a gentleman I know called out to me, "Christ is risen!"  Without missing a beat, I called back, "Christ is risen indeed!"

It's something I learned from the Methodist church.  I don't recall ever hearing anyone using that particular exchange in the Catholic churches I attended as a child.  I think it might sound a little too Pentecostal.  Anything that even hints at arm raising and speaking in tongues is a little suspicious in Catholic circles.  We're more of the candle-lighting, falling-asleep-in-the-pew brand of Christians.

One of my favorite things about Easter is the variety of worship services that take place during the week leading up to today.  There's the dark and solemn (Good Friday).  There's the procession from darkness to light (Easter Vigil).  And then there's raucous and loud (Easter Sunday).  There are many opportunities to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit during Holy Week.

The only problem is that I'm usually pretty tired come Easter Sunday afternoon.  It's all the music and worship, late nights and early mornings.  For instance, I got home from the Easter Vigil at around 11 p.m. last night.  I got to bed around 12:30 a.m., and my alarm went off at 6:30 this morning.  I was at church by 7:15 a.m. to get ready for the Easter Sunrise service at eight o'clock.  This service, which I thought was going to be just left of disaster for various complicated reasons, turned out to be the most beautiful and meaningful.  The readings, music, and message all rocked.

I've had a great Lenten/Easter season.  Lots of surprising God moments.  It's sort of been like today's weather.  Cold and windy sometimes.  Blue sky and sun right now.  That's what it's all about.  Periods of desert and periods of communion.

Christ is risen, Saint Marty.  He's risen indeed.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

March 26: One More, Preparation and Practice, Billy Collins, "Oh, My God!"

Yes, this is my third post of the day.  I just reread this Billy Collins poem, and I couldn't resist using it this Easter weekend.  I mean, it's all about praising God, and we can never have enough of that.

My afternoon is going to be filled with preparation and practice.  I have band practice at 1 p.m.  I have solo practice around 4:30 p.m.  Somewhere in there, I have Easter eggs to dye with my kids and some Gregorian chant to practice. 

Saint Marty is going to be very happy tomorrow, at around noon, when all he has left to do is eat, which he plant to do a lot.  Praise God.

Oh, My God!

by:  Billy Collins

Not only in church
and nightly by their bedsides
do young girls pray these days.

Wherever they go,
prayer is woven into their talk
like a bright thread of aw.

Even at the pedestrian mall
outbursts of praise
spring unbidden from their glossy lips.

Insert ass joke here . . . .

March 26: Easter Vigil Mass, Flickering Candles, Billy Collins, "Catholicism"

I owe my disciples a few Billy Collins poems.  I will offer no excuses for neglecting the former Poet Laureate of the United States.  But, I intend to make up for my negligence today.

Of course, Billy Collins is Irish American, so he has all of the Catholic trappings that I have in my background, as well.  The poem I have chosen to share with you is about guilt and redemption (in a way).  Totally appropriate for Holy Saturday.

Tonight, I will be playing the pipe organ and singing at the Easter Vigil Mass at my church.  Lots of darkness and candles and fire and incense.  Two hours of celebration.  This may not sound like a fun way to spend a Saturday night, but the Easter Vigil is the most beautiful worship service of the year.  It causes me great stress--I have three pages of Gregorian chant to sing.  But there is something about seeing the church filled with the night and then slowly filling with flickering candles that moves me deeply.

Saint Marty is ready for the light.


by:  Billy Collins

There's a possum who appears here at odd times,
often walking up the path to the house
in the middle of the day like a little ghost
with a long tail and a blank expression on his face.

He likes to slip behind the woodpile,
but sometimes he gets so close to the window
where I am standing with a glass in my hand
that I start to review my sins, systematically

going from one commandment to the next.
What is it about him that causes me
to begin an examination of conscience,
calling to mind my failings in this time of reflection?

It could just be the twitching of the tail
and that white face, but his slow priestly pace
also makes a contribution, as do the tiny paws,
more like hands, really, with opposable thumbs

able to carry a nut or dig a hole in the earth
of lift a chalice above his head
or even deliver a document,
I am thinking as he nears the back door,

not merely a subpoena but an order
of excommunication with my name and a date
written in fine Italian ink
and signed with a flourish of the papal sash.

March 26: Julian of Norwich, Giant Water Bug, Holy Saturday

Julian of Norwich, the great English anchorite and theologian, cited, in the manner of the prophets, these words from God:  "See, I am God:  see, I am in all things:  see, I never lift my hands off my works, nor ever shall, without end. . . . How should anything be amiss?"  But now not even the simplest and best of us sees things the way Julian did.  It seems to us that plenty is amiss.  So much is amiss that I must consider the second fork in the road, that creation itself is blamelessly, benevolently askew by its very free nature, and that it is only human feeling that is freakishly amiss.  The frog that the giant water bug sucked had, presumably, a rush of pure feeling for about a second, before its brain turned to broth.  I, however, have been sapped by various strong feelings about the incident almost daily for several years.

Dillard is writing about a scene she witnessed that becomes a central image in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  Near the beginning of the book, Dillard, staring at a frog in the shallows of Tinker Creek, sees a little frog literally dissolve into a balloon of skin.  The life of the frog drains before her eyes, skull and muscles turning into broth.  The culprit of this apocalypse?  The Giant water bug (that's its real name).  This insect attaches itself to creatures like frogs, injects enzymes and poisons into its victim, and, basically, liquefies it.

These kinds of things happen in nature all the time.  There is no bad or good.  There is simply survival and oblivion.  Humans are the ones that struggle with emotions over episodes like this (Dillard keeps returning to it through her entire book).  Of course, humans are a little more complex than insects and amphibians.  Built into our very beings are conscience and empathy.  That's why Dillard feels bad for the little frog deflating before her.  She assigns human feelings to an event that has been occurring, probably, for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.

So, where is God in all this?  I'm not sure about the answer to that question.  Like Julian of Norwich, I believe that God is in all things.  Nothing is amiss when God is in control.  The frog becomes soup for the water bug because that's God's plan for it.  However, it becomes more difficult to see God's plan in things like the Brussels terrorist attacks of this past week or my sister's death from lymphoma of the brain last August.  Those kinds of things seem, to us little blobs of protein and plasma, without meaning or direction.  They seem to indicate a universe without divine guidance or control.

As I've said before in this blog, the world is a broken place.  God didn't break it.  We did.  God does not make bombs that explode in subways or plant mutating cancer cells in a person's head.  Those things are the result of the human experiment gone awry.  It's what we do with events like this, how we respond to them, that fills the God-shaped hole left behind.

It's unfortunate that, for a lot of people, it takes tragedy to tear the curtain enough for God to peek through.  On this Holy Saturday, I'm going to keep my eyes open, look for God in all things, like Julian of Norwich.  In the yellow grass of my lawn.  In the wind on my face.  My wife's laugh.  Pizza sauce on my son's face.  My daughter's eye rolls.  It's all blessing.

The darkness is ending, folks.  Easter is on the way.

Saint Marty just hopes he doesn't end up on the wrong end of a Giant water bug.

March 25: Fecundity, Carl Sagan, Good Friday

I don't know what it is about fecundity that so appalls.  I suppose it is the teeming evidence that birth and growth, which we value, are ubiquitous and blind, that life itself is so astonishingly cheap, that nature is as careless as it is bountiful, and that with extravagance goes a crushing waste that will one day include our own cheap lives, Henle's loops and all.  Every glistening egg is a memento mori.

Fecundity.  Teeming life.  Flocks of birds.  Swarms of bugs.  Forests.  Oceans.  The world is full of extravagance, what Dillard says is a reminder of how "astonishingly cheap" life is.  The universe has been all about expansion ever since the Big Bang (yes, you can be a Christian and believe in the Big Bang--those two beliefs are not mutually exclusive).  Billions and billions of stars and planets, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, rolling out to the edges of time.  Creation is all about fecundity.

Now, I have to admit that I rarely stop to admire all of the universe's extravagances.  I get too wrapped up in my own life.  I spent three hours tonight finishing up the work for the online class I've been taking.  Three hours.  I told my wife that I was putting way too much time doing the homework.  "But I can't help myself," I said.  "I'm a grade whore."  So, instead of enjoying all of God's blessings, I was punching keys on a keyboard.

The good news is that I am done with the class.  I took the final exam this evening and reached 80% on it, which is enough for me to not have to repeat the course, and I am now able to teach my online class this summer.  A blessing.

Today is Good Friday.  Lots of church this afternoon and evening.  I went to Walmart to pick up some last minute Easter Bunny supplies.  The store was full of people on the same mission--get that last peanut butter bunny or Cadbury Creme Egg.  And that is the true meaning of Easter--chocolate fecundity.

Oh, yeah, and salvation.  Forgiveness.  But mostly, it's the chocolate.  Saint Marty needs a little Hershey extravagance.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

March 24: Fair Weather Cometh, Maundy Thursday, Unconditional Love

"Fair weather cometh out of the north:  with God is terrible majesty."

Yes, fair weather has cometh upon my section of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  While to the south, a snowstorm has pounded the areas along the shores of Lake Michigan, here in the central U. P., our weather was blessedly calm.  Sunny even.  And for that, I thank God's terrible majesty.

As always, I apologize for my recent absence.  Tuesdays and Wednesdays are big teaching days for me, and I find myself exhausted by the end of these days.  I simply cannot even contemplate sitting down to piece together any reflection of substance.  As it stands, it is Thursday night, a little after 11 p.m., and I am just sitting down to post.

I went to a Maundy Thursday service at my wife's church this evening.  It was a simple affair consisting of a gospel reading of Christ's Passion divided into 14 sections.  At the conclusion of each section, a candle was extinguished.  By the end of the readings, darkness prevailed in the sanctuary.

Frankly, I thought I was too tired to be affected in any way by this service.  However, as I sat, listening to the readings, I found myself profoundly moved to the point of tears.  I could barely sing the last hymn, "Were You There?"  It was the whole narrative and sacrifice and unconditional love that did me in.

So, tonight, I want to say that Easter is almost upon us.  If you are a Christian, I pray that, in the next few days, you may experience the deep sense of gratitude I felt at this evening's worship service.  If you are not a Christian, I wish that, in the next few days, you may experience a deep sense of love in your life--unconditional, limitless love.

Saint Marty is ready for Good Friday.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March 21: Poet of the Week, Billy Collins, "Man in Space"

I almost forgot to announce the Poet of the Week.  I'm going back to a favorite of mine:  Billy Collins.

The poem below is about gender differences, and why my daughter should never date.

Saint Marty needs to send his daughter to Mars.

Man in Space

by:  Billy Collins

All you have to do is listen to the way a man
sometimes talks to his wife at a table of people
and notice how intent he is on making his point
even though her lower lip is beginning to quiver,

and you will know why the women in science
fiction movies who inhabit a planet of their own
are not pictured making a salad or reading a magazine
when the men from earth arrive in their rocket,

why they are always standing in a semicircle
with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart,
their breasts protected by hard metal disks.

March 21: African Hercules Beetle, Health Care, My Daughter

Take, for instance, the African Hercules beetle, which is so big, according to Edwin Way Teale, "it drones over the countryside at evening with a sound like an approaching airplane."  Or, better, take to hear Teale's description of South American honey ants.  These ants have abdomens that can stretch to enormous proportions.  "Certain members of the colony act as storage vessels for the honeydew gathered by the workers.  They never leave the nest.  With abdomens so swollen they cannot walk, they cling to the roof of their underground chamber, regurgitating food to the workers when it is needed."  I read these things, and those ants are as present to me as if they hung from my kitchen ceiling, or down the vaults of my skull, pulsing live jars, engorged vats, teats, with an eyed animal at the head thinking--what?

Another passage from Dillard about insect miracles.  Beetles as loud as B-29s.  Ants with stomachs the size of melons.  Weird alien mutant insects.  Except they are not mutants.  They are adaptations, products of an evolutionary process hell-bent on survival.  The roar of the beetle frightens away hungry hawks.  The honey ants pregnant with food enough for squadrons, platoons, or workers.

My daughter told me tonight that she is planning on taking vocational classes in the health care field when she's a junior and senior in high school.  It's the first time I've heard her express interest in medicine.  I know that she always looked up to my sister who was a surgical nurse.  I know that she likes watching those reality shows onTV, like True Stories of the ER and Blood and Vomit.  "I just think it would be really cool to be an ER doctor," she said to me as she was doing her homework.

I have not had a great experience as an employee for health care systems.  I've watched a slow erosion of medicine.  It's no longer about getting people better.  It's all about money now.  That corporate mentality has been in the driver's seat for a long time.  The reality is that people can't afford health care these days.  Pharmaceutical drugs are too expensive.  Medical treatments lead to bankruptcy.

Medicine is simply big business (higher education is not far behind).  Say what you want about President Obama, but he got one thing right:  health care is not a privilege; health care is a right.  Of course, my daughter doesn't understand all this yet.  She's simply floundering around, trying to find her own path in life.  I'm not going to try to discourage her interest in medicine.  I may simply suggest viable alternatives:  teacher, artist, poet, Las Vegas showgirl.

I am trying to be one of those African Hercules beetles or South American honey ants.  Adaptable to all of life's challenges.

At least Saint Marty's kids think Donald Trump is a flaming asshole.  Saint Marty is doing something right.

It's all about the money

Sunday, March 20, 2016

March 20: Palm Sunday, Christ's Passion, Classic Saint Marty

Palm Sunday.

In the morning, it was church.  Lots of church.  There was choir practice, praise band practice, morning worship.  My son had practice for a living Way of the Cross that he's got a part in tonight.  As I said, lots of church.  And it ain't over yet:  in a few minutes we will be leaving for the Way of the Cross program. 

It's the end of the weekend.  Holy Week has started.  The holiest week of the church year.  Maunday Thursday.  Good Friday.  Holy Saturday.  Easter Sunday.  Church, church, and more church.  I have been a liturgical musician for over 30 years.  This time always leaves me a little exhausted.

It's more than all the church services.  It's the whole playing out of Christ's Passion.  It drains me emotionally.

Today's Classic Saint Marty first aired four years ago.  We were in the middle of a heat wave. 

March 20, 2012:  Fairy Tales and Elementary School Concerts

Spent most of the day correcting mythology midterms and reading Grimm fairy tales.  Lots of lovers turning into snakes and evil sorcerers chopping up young virgins.  You know, children's stories.  When I went to teach, it was almost 80 degrees outside.  Sunny with a beautiful warm wind.  I couldn't stay inside.  It was a perfect day to sit on the grass and talk about wicked stepmothers.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who's the most bitter one of all?
I've learned something about fairy tales this semester.  Aside from the fact that almost all evil stepmothers or uncles end up boiled in oil or torn apart by oxen, I've learned that the characters most like children (the simpletons, the virgins, the pure and chaste daughters) are going to end up wealthy and happy, usually married to handsome princes, beautiful princesses, or kindly kings.  These characters don't seek out royalty or power.  They're happy with eating shit like cabbage and peas for dinner and sleeping in one-room cottages with diminutive diamond miners in the deep forest.  But, of course, they also have fairy godmothers and magical birds to help them out.  Some even get to live with the Virgin Mary in heaven as children.  They have all the luck.

Perhaps there's a lesson to learn in there somewhere.  Something about being satisfied with the simple things in life, not wanting more than you need, accepting with grace the things God gives you...

Naaahh, I don't think so.

Saint Marty has to go to his daughter's chorus concert tonight.  Did he mention it's 80 degrees outside?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

March 19: Forgiveness, Sherman Alexie, "The Powwow at the End of the World"

Yes, this is my third post of the day.  I didn't want to short-change Sherman Alexie, the Poet of the Week.  He's such a fantastic writer.

This poem is all about forgiveness.  As my two Constant Readers know, forgiveness is something I struggle with.  I still haven't forgiven this kid named Tim who threw a snowball at my head in the sixth grade.

Of course, I know that holding grudges isn't healthy.  I know it only harms me in the long run.

But, dammit, Saint Marty still would like to pound the shit out of that little bastard Tim.

The Powwow at the End of the World

by:  Sherman Alexie

I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam   
and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam   
downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you   
that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find   
their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific   
and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive   
and so I shall after the first drop of floodwater is swallowed by that salmon   
waiting in the Pacific. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims upstream, through the mouth of the Columbia   
and then past the flooded cities, broken dams and abandoned reactors   
of Hanford. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after that salmon swims through the mouth of the Spokane River   
as it meets the Columbia, then upstream, until it arrives   
in the shallows of a secret bay on the reservation where I wait alone.   
I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after   
that salmon leaps into the night air above the water, throws   
a lightning bolt at the brush near my feet, and starts the fire   
which will lead all of the lost Indians home. I am told   
by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall   
after we Indians have gathered around the fire with that salmon   
who has three stories it must tell before sunrise: one story will teach us   
how to pray; another story will make us laugh for hours;   
the third story will give us reason to dance. I am told by many   
of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing   
with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world.

March 19: Grief, Sherman Alexie, "Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World"

I have become aware of something recently in my life.

I know grief is a process, that it takes time to adjust to a great loss.  Days, months, years.  Yet, I never realized how sneaky grief can be.  It sits quietly in a corner until you forget about it, and then it makes its move.

One night last summer, I was sitting on my couch.  The TV wasn't on.  My kids were not home, and my wife was at work.  As I sat there in the silence, reading a book, I started to hear something.  A scratching sound.  It was quiet at first, but, over the course of about an hour, it got louder and louder.  The scratching became a chewing sound.  I finally realized that I was hearing a mouse somewhere behind the couch.

Now, I am not a fan of rodents.  The next day, I went out and bought a couple mouse traps.  Within two days, I had rid my house of the source of that sound.  But, when I'm sitting on my couch and it's quiet in the house, I remember that night last summer.  I sort of sit and listen for that sound.  The pulpy gnawing.

That's the way grief sneaks up on you, I think.  Like a mouse in the wall, nibbling away until you become aware of it.

Yesterday, driving home from work, I went by the cemetery where my sister was laid to rest.  I pulled into the entrance and drove to her grave.  I sat and just stared at her headstone, and I thought about how different my life is now because of her absence.  Slowly but surely, my family is stitching itself back together, but there are still large holes that remain unmended.

My son is going to be making his First Communion this year at church.  My sister was his godmother.  It's strange to think that she won't be there, sitting in the pew with us, watching and smiling.

Saint Marty wishes he could go out and buy a grief trap.  Something quick and painless to remove the sadness clawing apart the walls of his house.

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World

by:  Sherman Alexie

The morning air is all awash with angels—Richard Wilbur, “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World”

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is blessed among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He’s astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. “Hey, Ma,”

I say, “Can I talk to Poppa?” She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. “Shit, Mom,”
I say. “I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?” “It’s okay,” she says.
“I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn’t realize my mistake
Until this afternoon.” My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days

And sing our praise to forgetfulness
Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.

Those angels burden and unbalance us.
Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.

Those angels, forever falling, snare us
And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.

March 19: Exhausted Butterfly, Focus on the Present, God Things

It is easy to coax a dying or exhausted butterfly onto your finger.  I saw a monarch walking across a gas station lot; it was walking south.  I placed my index finger in its path, and it clambered aboard and let me lift it to my face.  Its wings were faded but unmarked by hazard; a veneer of velvet caught the light and hinted at the frailest depth of lapped scales.  It was a male; his legs clutching my finger were short and atrophied; they clasped my finger with a spread fragility, a fineness as of some low note of emotion or pure strain of spirit, scarcely perceived.  And I knew that those feet were actually tasting me, sipping with sensitive organs the vapor of my finger's skin:  butterflies taste with their feet.  All the time he held me, he opened and closed his glorious wings senselessly, as if sighing.

I love this image of Dillard holding the dying monarch.  The slow flutter of its wings.  Orange.  Black.  Sun.  Orange again.  Like breathing or sipping water.  Slowly.  As if the butterfly is contemplating its life, the quality of light and air and wind.  Whatever fills butterfly senses with happiness or sadness, if butterflies experience those kinds of emotions.  Perhaps it's just about pleasure and non-pleasure.  I don't know.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the quality of my life.  Maybe an unhealthy amount of time.  Certainly, as a Christian, I'm supposed to focus on the present.  Like the butterfly, I should accept the blessing of warmth or sunlight or a good meal.  All the pleasures of a day.  The future is something I have little control over.  That's where God comes in.  Sure, I can apply for a promotion or hope for a salary raise or submit a packet of poems for publication.  But, the promotion or raise or publication--those are beyond my control.  Those are God things.

Perhaps I'm naive in believing that things always happen for a purpose.  That I'm in my current job because that's where God wants me to work.  That I'm living in my neighborhood because that's where God wants me to live.  It gets a little harder when it comes to things like my sister's death.  I have to believe there's a reason why that happened.  Now, will I ever understand the "why"?  Maybe.  More likely, though, is that I will never understand.

Living in the moment.  That's what it's all about.  The past can't be changed.  The future is beyond my control.  So, I'm just going to climb on God's hand, cling to His finger, and taste.  Breathe.  Sigh.  Enjoy myself.

Saint Marty is spreading his wings.

March 18: Terribly Bitter, Adventure, Sherman Alexie, "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel"

Monarchs have always been assumed to taste terribly bitter, because of the acrid milkweed on which the caterpillars feed...

Yes, Dillard is writing about eating monarch butterflies.  A little later, she talks about an entomologist who put the above statement to the test.  He ate several monarchs and concluded that they tasted like "dried toast."  Imagine that.  During the annual monarch migration, when they are flying in great swarms over Lake Superior, they are, basically, winged loaves of bread.  It kind of kills the beauty of the image.  Turns it into a sort of Alice in Wonderland scene.

I love the idea of seeing a scientist munching on butterfly wings smeared with orange marmalade or peanut butter.  I have a writer friend who wouldn't have a problem with this.  He's tried a lot of foods that I would never let close to my lips.  Grasshoppers, deep fried into popcorn.  Pig brains on some sort of homemade tortilla served by a shriveled Mexican peasant woman. 

I am not like my friend.  I'm not adventurous when it comes to food . . . or anything.  This weekend, about the only adventurous thing I may do is sleep in a little tomorrow morning.  I have too much crap to get done over the next two days.  Grading.  Cleaning.  Reading.  I don't have time for adventure.  Ever. 

The only adventure Saint Marty will have this weekend is waking his daughter up for church on Sunday morning.

How to Write the Great American Indian Novel

by:  Sherman Alexie

All of the Indians must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms.
Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.

The hero must be a half-breed, half white and half Indian, preferably
from a horse culture. He should often weep alone. That is mandatory.

If the hero is an Indian woman, she is beautiful. She must be slender
and in love with a white man. But if she loves an Indian man

then he must be a half-breed, preferably from a horse culture.
If the Indian woman loves a white man, then he has to be so white

that we can see the blue veins running through his skin like rivers.
When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps

at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature:
brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.

If she is compared to murky water, however, then she must have a secret.
Indians always have secrets, which are carefully and slowly revealed.

Yet Indian secrets can be disclosed suddenly, like a storm.
Indian men, of course, are storms. They should destroy the lives

of any white women who choose to love them. All white women love
Indian men. That is always the case. White women feign disgust

at the savage in blue jeans and T-shirt, but secretly lust after him.
White women dream about half-breed Indian men from horse cultures.

Indian men are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian man
unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.

There must be one murder, one suicide, one attempted rape.
Alcohol should be consumed. Cars must be driven at high speeds.

Indians must see visions. White people can have the same visions
if they are in love with Indians. If a white person loves an Indian

then the white person is Indian by proximity. White people must carry
an Indian deep inside themselves. Those interior Indians are half-breed

and obviously from horse cultures. If the interior Indian is male
then he must be a warrior, especially if he is inside a white man.

If the interior Indian is female, then she must be a healer, especially if she is inside
a white woman. Sometimes there are complications.

An Indian man can be hidden inside a white woman. An Indian woman
can be hidden inside a white man. In these rare instances,

everybody is a half-breed struggling to learn more about his or her horse culture.
There must be redemption, of course, and sins must be forgiven.

For this, we need children. A white child and an Indian child, gender
not important, should express deep affection in a childlike way.

In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written,
all of the white people will be Indians and all of the Indians will be ghosts.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

March 17: His Host, Prolonged Absence, Relief, Go To Bed

I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door...

Don't ask me why I chose this passage.  Perhaps it's because I'm dead tired.  Perhaps I'm trying to be thankful for my crazy, hectic, exhausting life.  Or perhaps I just opened up Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to a random page, and that's where my eyes came to rest. 

I have been absent for a couple of days from this blog.  I have been sick.  The bug which has been slowly claiming victims in my house finally claimed me.  I will not go into all the ugly details, but I did miss some work yesterday, and I almost canceled my classes.  Almost.

Today I was feeling about 70 percent better, despite having to get up at 5 a.m. to dig myself out from a St. Patrick's Day snowstorm.  My kids got the day off from school.  My wife got to stay home from work because my kids had a snow day.  And I slogged through the slush and wind in order be a model employee.

And then, tonight, I spent four hours working on assignments for my online class on teaching online classes.  I am getting a little frustrated with my life at the moment.  I'm sick.  I'm tired.  And I see very little relief in sight.

Saint Marty just wants to go to bed and sleep until his life is simpler.

Monday, March 14, 2016

March 14: Taproot, Dog Tired, Sherman Alexie, "On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City"

And under the cicadas, deeper down than the longest taproot, between and beneath the rounded black rocks and slanting slabs of sandstone in the earth, ground water is creeping.  Ground water seeps and slides, across and down, across and down, leaking from here to there minutely, at the rate of a mile a year.  What a tug of waters goes on!  There are flings and pulls in every direction at every moment.  The world is a wild wrestle under the grass:  earth shall be moved.

Yes, the ground water is moving, shifting ground and stone.  Everywhere Dillard looks, she senses the battle going on beneath her feet.  She knows, even though she's in a state of stasis, the world is still rockin' and rollin'.  At a rate of a mile a year. 

I am dog tired.  After yesterday's marathon grading session, all I want to do tonight is hibernate.  My eyes hurt.  I don't even know if I will be able to rise from my couch after I'm done typing this post.  I may simply fluff up my laptop and take a nap.  Even though this little planet we is spinning at a rate of approximately 1,037 miles per hour, the ground is shifting at a rate of a mile a year, I am ready to surrender.

I am hoping this state is not the start of an illness.  My daughter has had it (throwing up and diarrhea).  Ditto my son.  My wife is currently in its throes.  Today, I have felt this torpor creeping up on me.  I had plans to grade more papers.  Maybe do some work in my online class.  I have changed my plans.

I now intend to, as my college students say, crash.  Big time.  Let the earth spin through the cosmos as I study the inside of my eyelids.

But, before I do this, I must name the new Poet of the Week.  It is Sherman Alexie.  I first encountered Alexie when he came to the university where I teach to give a reading many years ago.  A really nice guy.  Great writer.  Enjoy.

Saint Marty is waving his white flag.

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

by:  Sherman Alexie

The white woman across the aisle from me says 'Look,
look at all the history, that house
on the hill there is over two hundred years old, '
as she points out the window past me

into what she has been taught. I have learned
little more about American history during my few days
back East than what I expected and far less
of what we should all know of the tribal stories

whose architecture is 15,000 years older
than the corners of the house that sits
museumed on the hill. 'Walden Pond, '
the woman on the train asks, 'Did you see Walden Pond? '

and I don't have a cruel enough heart to break
her own by telling her there are five Walden Ponds
on my little reservation out West
and at least a hundred more surrounding Spokane,

the city I pretended to call my home. 'Listen, '
I could have told her. 'I don't give a shit
about Walden. I know the Indians were living stories
around that pond before Walden's grandparents were born

and before his grandparents' grandparents were born.
I'm tired of hearing about Don-fucking-Henley saving it, too,
because that's redundant. If Don Henley's brothers and sisters
and mothers and father hadn't come here in the first place

then nothing would need to be saved.'
But I didn't say a word to the woman about Walden
Pond because she smiled so much and seemed delighted
that I thought to bring her an orange juice

back from the food car. I respect elders
of every color. All I really did was eat
my tasteless sandwich, drink my Diet Pepsi
and nod my head whenever the woman pointed out

another little piece of her country's history
while I, as all Indians have done
since this war began, made plans
for what I would do and say the next time

somebody from the enemy thought I was one of their own.

Felt like this all week . . .

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March 14: Grading, Epiphany, Classic Saint Marty

For the two people out there who have been waiting all day for me to post, I offer my apologies.  I have been grading all day and night.  Literally.  I just finished.

Well, tomorrow, my family will be returning from the Wisconsin Dells.  My daughter did well this weekend in the dance competition.  For her solo tap dance performance, she took gold and was first in her age group.  Today, she danced twice, with two different groups.  The first group were given a platinum trophy, and the second group took gold and placed seventh in its category.  So, overall, a successful weekend.

For those of you who could care less about dance or the Wisconsin Dells or grading, I again apologize.  I am a proud father and a tired professor.  After I am done typing this post, I am going to brush my teeth, eat a brownie, and go to bed.

I have had an epiphany about myself this weekend.  I really love my family.  I never want to be in this situation again.  From this point forward, I will NEVER miss one of my daughter's dance weekends.  It has been, to put it mildly, hideously depressing.

And now for an episode of Classic Saint Marty from a happier time . . .

March 13, 2014:  Torn Web, "Confessions," Saint Augustine

...Wilbur often thought of Charlotte.  A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway.  Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat.  No one had ever had such a friend--so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.

I think this passage highlights something very significant about Charlotte's Web:  it's a beautifully written book.  White's prose is sparse and simple, and yet, with simple imagery (a torn web), he can conjure the deepest of emotions.  Charlotte's absence is a palpable ache in those few sentences.

Today is when I'm supposed to reach into my book bag, take out a book I'm carrying around, and talk about it.  Well, get ready.  The tome I pulled out is a copy of Saint Augustine's Confessions.  I had it in my possession for a while, and, every now and then, I read a few pages.

I'll be honest.  Sometimes it's not easy reading.  Augustine's writing, unlike E. B. White's, is dense.  He packs a lot into each paragraph.  But there's much beauty in his language, as well:

...So I was welcomed by the consolations of human milk, but it was not my mother or my nurses who made any decision to fill their breasts, but you who through them gave me infant food, in accordance with your ordinance and the riches which are distributed deep in the natural order.  You also granted me not to wish for more than you were giving, and to my nurses the desire to give me what you gave them...

A gorgeous little passage about God's generosity.  Yet, it also touches upon greed.  Augustine, in the image of the suckling infant, rejoices in the idea of having just enough.  It's a warning to be satisfied with the gifts God has provided.  Just enough milk.  Just enough desire.

Wilbur is learning this lesson at the end of Charlotte's Web.  Sure, he misses his spider friend, but he also rejoices in the gifts Charlotte has given him.  His first autumn.  First snow.  First Christmas.  He doesn't spend his days lamenting his loss.  Rather, he gives thanks for the friendship he had.  Just enough friendship.

That's something Saint Marty has to learn and relearn every day:  being happy with his "just enough."

Think of the web as half full...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

March 12: Rootless Weekend, Jonathan Johnson, "She of Tioga Creek"

One of the things that always strikes me when I am separated from my family for any length of time is how much I depend upon them to keep me sane.  Particularly my wife.

Yes, our marriage has had its share of struggles, but what marriage doesn't?  After two decades, we are still together, despite a year of separation and one court hearing.  Yes, we were that close to not being together.  Yet, here we are.  Two beautiful kids.  A house that is in need of serious repair and remodeling.  And each other.

I miss her this weekend.  A lot.  There's something about her that sort of makes me feel . . . rooted.  She's not going to see this post, unless she's using my daughter iPhone to read my blog this weekend, which I highly doubt.

Poet Jonathan Johnson is a lot like me.  I've known him for years.  I've known his wife for almost as long.  They have a teenage daughter around the same age as our daughter.  I went to grad school with Jonathan.  Shared two offices with him at two different universities.  Jonathan's wife and daughter root him, too.

Saint Marty is having a rootless weekend.

She of Tioga Creek

by:  Jonathan Johnson

Marsh went mostly unnoticed then,
and the sun's tremolo through spruce shadows
was just the context our desire used for
your feet on the dash, and the outpost houses
with their dead Chevys were mere residences
for the dusk behind what we decided to say,
and we were never the land we imagined ourselves,
so there's nothing of us to notice now, as I pass.
Not even in the roadside park where we pulled off
and walked the creek up to a dark we used
to unfasten each other from weeks of expectation
in so many other grasses under your back
and where I held the source of your true voice
that, soft, almost mourning, was also the delicate water
inches from your hair where I don't stop
but drive by, past more bleached, dead cedars
we must have passed when we got back on the road
but wouldn't have seen in the night beyond our headlights'

March 12: Mental Ramble, Being a Pilgrim, Jonathan Johnson, "To Whoever May Care for me Dying"

I am sitting under a sycamore by Tinker Creek.  It is early spring, the day after I patted the puppy.  I have come to the creek--the backyard stretch of the creek--in the middle of the day, to feel the delicate gathering of heat, real sun's heat, in the air, and to watch new water come down the creek.  Don't expect more than this, and a mental ramble.  I'm in the market for some present tense; I'm on the lookout, shopping around, more so every year.  It's a seller's market--do you think I won't sell all that I have to buy it?  Thomas Merton wrote, in a light passage in one of his Gethsemane journals:  "Suggested emendation in the Lord's Prayer:  Take out 'Thy Kingdom come' and substitute "Give us time!'"  But time is the one thing we have been given, and we have been given to time.  Time gives us a whirl.  We keep waking from a dream we can't recall, looking around in surprise, and lapsing back, for years on end.  All I want to do is stay awake, keep my head up, prop my eyes open, with toothpicks, with trees.  (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp. 85-86)

I love that Annie Dillard simply warns in this paragraph "[d]on't expect more than this, and a mental ramble."  In some ways, I view her book as a pre-blog blog.  It is her, writing about her daily life at Tinker Creek.  A year-in-the-life of a pilgrim.  And I love that she calls herself a pilgrim, as if she is heading toward some holy shrine, is on her way to Canterbury.  And, along the way, she tells stories, lets her mind wander and ramble, like the creek.

I have nothing earth-shattering to discuss this morning.  My family is gone for a few days.  I am living a solitary existence, like Dillard.  Unlike Dillard, however, I don't expect to come to any epiphanies about myself or the world.  Epiphanies take time, journeys across deserts on camels.  I still have shit I have to get done.  Papers to grade.  Bathrooms to clean.  Pipe organs to play for church.  I am a pilgrim, but I'm not on my way to any particular shrine. 

It is almost 60 degrees today in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula.  An unheard-of temperature for this time of the year.  Usually, we don't get this warm until around May.  This whole winter, aside from a few strange snowstorms and polar vortexes, has been incredibly temperate.  You can't convince me that global warming is not a real phenomenon, despite what Donald Trump or any Republicans want me to believe.

But, I will enjoy the sun of this day.  Daylight Savings Time begins tonight.  That means that I lose an hour of sleep.  It also means that the days remain brighter longer.  The world is tilting toward light instead of darkness.  And I welcome that.  I will enjoy the smell of the mud, the drip of the melt.  The Earth doing its spring cleaning.

I have spoken about fifteen words total this morning.  Five to order my breakfast, a "thanks" to the person at the cash register, and then nine more to my sister when she called my cell phone.  Silence is not a bad state to be in.  Silence allows us to see things, like Dillard propping her eyes open with trees.  For instance, I just noticed that there's a light fixture beside me, a fairly large one.  And it is vibrating, shaking gently, as if in a mild, barely-felt earthquake.  It's strange.  I have no explanation for it.

I have time today that I normally do not have.  In that time, I see things, hear things, like Dillard.  Because I am not feeling rushed, my thoughts seem clearer, easier to communicate.  It's kind of amazing.  I basically started typing this post, and my fingers have not stopped, have not had to rely on the backspace key at all.

This is my mental ramble, my present tense, my gathering of the sun's heat.  I have no idea what other surprises this day holds for me, what other light fixtures quaking like aspen leaves I will see.  I just need to prop my eyes open and watch.

Saint Marty needs to find some evergreens for his eyelids.

And now, a poem from a poet who knows a thing or two about time, the present tense . . .

To Whoever May Care for Me Dying

by:  Jonathan Johnson

Do what you must.
Swab the raw places
as delicately as you can,
but go on and swab them.
If I wince, I would be clean.
Such work befits those
who can see so little left
between skull and skin
and not think them.
You needn’t imagine
if I say I lived once
on the sea, in the wind
and sun. You’re not yet born,
I hope, so what’s this world?
If there’s nothing for the pain
there’s nothing. Thank you
anyway for the morphine
dripped from the eyedropper
onto my tongue like communion,
for the pink, wet sponge
small on its plastic stick
and dabbed on my lips,
if that’s where we’re at.
Thank you for the clean cotton,
for the comb and buttons
for as long as that was possible.
Step outside when you can
to look at light on things.
From this far I don’t know
what else may be required
but if there’s a rose
somewhere in the room
won’t you bring it to me?
Press its deep, open folds
right up to my nose.
And whatever song you might sing,
please, sing to me.

I'm the center of my universe, for the time being . . .

Friday, March 11, 2016

March 11: Abba Moses, Projectile Vomit, Kalahari Resort

I have been reading the apophthegmata, the sayings of fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian desert hermits.  Abba Moses said to a disciple, "Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything."

Yes, Dillard talks about the necessity for silence.  For going to your cell, sitting there, and listening.  In silence, that's when you can hear the answers you need.  The what Dillard says.  When Abba Moses says.  What the Bible says.  That's what Jesus did in the Bible every once in a while.  He had to go away by Himself.

I am sitting in my house.  Alone.  My wife and kids are at the Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells.  It has been a very long day.  I didn't sleep last night at all.

At about midnight, my son came into our bedroom and threw up all over the floor.  I'm not talking a little urp.  I'm talking projectile vomit.  It's wasn't pretty.  And, for the rest of the night, he kept on throwing up.

I felt horrible for him, because I thought he wasn't going to be able to go on the trip.  In the morning, he kept throwing up until I gave him a dose of Motrin.  Between heaving his guts up, he kept crying.  No, actually, weeping.  Eventually, he stopped throwing up.  And, eventually, he got into the car with them and left.

I am quite lonely tonight.  I like solitude.  However, this is three days of solitude, interrupted by short moments of interaction.  I don't like being alone that much.  Work today was difficult.  Coming home to an empty house was difficult.  Writing this post hasn't been easy, either.  With all due respect to Abba Moses, my cell isn't teaching me anything this evening.

Maybe Saint Marty should just crack open the bottle of Bailey's in the cupboard.

Been there, done that . . .

Thursday, March 10, 2016

March 10: Make-up Post, Jonathan Johnson, "Soliloquy of the Presque Isle Sasquatch"

Yes, I owe you a couple of make-up posts.  Tuesday I was doing my lesson plans for Wednesday.  Wednesday, I was too tired from staying up late on Tuesday.  But, I didn't want to shortchange the Poet of the Week, Jonathan Johnson..

Tonight's poem combines two of my favorite things:  poetry and Sasquatch.  It also has a streak of melancholy running through its center, and that appeals to me tonight.  I am proud to say that I had a hand in publishing this poem last year.

So, without further adieu, Saint Marty presents . . .

Soliloquy of the Presque Isle Sasquatch

by:  Jonathan Johnson

                              for Sam and Avalyn Billman

Mostly, it's not so bad, you in your houses,
me in these bowers deep from your road and trails.
When the grass and fern grow high in the sun
that comes down for an hour through the gap
high in the cover of beech and maple, pine,
hemlock and oak, I lie, doubly hidden.
I listen to your cars idling the narrow
tunnel though forest and slowly out again,
where the asphalt curves back with the coast.
I hear your babble from where you walk by,
cries of your young at play in the clearing,
though your voices most often come soft, smooth
as the grass and fern.  You do not know your grace,
here.  For company at night I watch your lights
pulse and quiet and pulse, the red, the white
far down shore and out where the water's dark
horizon ends in stars.  Back out of the wind,
just into the sheltering woods, from my cliff top
I consider you in your town, a constellation
that seems to fit the palm of my extended hand.
Winter's no problem either.  All this fur.
It goes white.  And though I don't hibernate,
I snooze a lot, grow thin on stashed pine nuts
and the occasional squirrel that stashed them.
I make precious few footprints and keep to caves
you don't know, hidden far down sheer faces
at frozen water's edge, and watch the snow
outside the thin entrance snake over the ice.
In spring among  trillium I remember;
I wasn't always alone.  My fur darkens.
So if you think you glimpse me dash between trees
at the shady far end of sight, know I'm happy
enough, living like this.  Mostly it's good.
Only in hard rain (like today), sheltered in my cave
where waves push in and rattle the pebbles back out,
do I sometimes wish otherwise, wish myself
among you, and think of your warm houses.

March 10: Aurora Borealis, Wisconsin Dells, Bailey's Irish Cream

Before the aurora borealis appears, the sensitive needles of compasses all over the world are restless for hours, agitating on their pins in airplanes and ships, trembling in desk drawers, in attics, in boxes on shelves.

I never knew this about the aurora borealis before, how it's presaged by this strange phenomenon.  Obviously, it has something to do with magnetism and the poles.  I have read explanations of the aurora.  I once sat through a planetarium show that explained the mysteries of the aurora, coupled with a beautiful display of snaking green lights in the domed sky.  The program lasted two hours.  At the end of the night, I still couldn't explain why the Northern Lights light.

It is Thursday night.  Tomorrow morning, my family leaves for the Wisconsin Dells where my daughter has a dance competition.  Since I couldn't get the time off, I will be going to work, coming home, drinking Bailey's Irish Cream, and going to bed.

I've known this weekend has been coming for quite some time.  I thought I would be prepared, but, like a compass needle before the appearance of the aurora, I've been feeling a little jittery and anxious all day.  Leaving for work tomorrow morning is going to be incredibly difficult.  Not to mention being at work and coming home to an empty house.

I haven't missed one of my daughter's dance competitions since she took her first ballet class in kindergarten.  That's ten years' worth of tutus and sequins.  Now, I'm going to have to be satisfied with texts and photos.  I feel as though I'm failing the daddy test this weekend.

Anyway, that's Saint Marty this evening:  a compass without direction, twirling under ribbons of green light.

And the Bailey's . . .

Monday, March 7, 2016

March 7: Restless as Birds, Spring, Poet of the Week, Jonathan Johnson, "Thirty"

The woods were as restless as birds...

Yes, that's it.  One sentence.  One beautiful sentence.  I can almost see the ashes, maples, sourwood, sassafras, locusts, catalpas, and oaks jittering in the wind and sun.  That's what Dillard is describing with those seven words.  It's a line that makes me think of warmth and mud. 

Today was all light and melt.  When I stepped outside this afternoon, I could hear water.  Dripping from buildings and trees.  Running down the streets in rivers.  I love days like today.  It made me believe in spring and summer again.  There's a time in an Upper Peninsula winter when it seems like the world will be like Narnia under the White Witch's spell.  Eternal snow and ice and cold.  And then, a thaw.  A hibernation-ending day.

That's what I want to say this evening.  That's it.  Short and simple.  Spring is on the way.  It's just around the corner. 

I'm going to pick someone familiar to me as Poet of the Week.  I want to feel comfortable, at home.  So, it's Jonathan Johnson--a friend of mine.  I went to school with him. have known him for over 25 years.  He's a great guy, a fantastic poet.

Saint Marty is ready for spring and poetry.


by:  Jonathan Johnson

Give me a moment, sun gone to shapeless
cloud at evening and wall of trees where field
is done and the unspeakable questions begin,
birch, oak, beech, poplar, hemlock, black bark spruce,
fence of wrought iron companions and stone block
corners, stone, grass, leaves, and tear the moment
down the middle. A mower has shaved the lawn.
Thin, tip broken sabres of grass are softer
than air, by which I mean absence, and cold.
Tear the moment open, the sentence of
your life falling in two, a space wood ducks
on the pond swim into. One Moment. One.
And another. Incidentally, a Jeep
Cherokee is parked on the mini-road,
feet from headstones, owners absent since before
I got here. It’s a Grand. Gold trimmed forest.
Green of starting over, a deeper green
than the new grass growing from the cut ends
of the old. Don’t give it another thought.

I hate Mondays . . .

Sunday, March 6, 2016

March 6: Cartoon Hiatus, End of Spring Break, Classic Saint Marty

My two Constant Readers may have noticed the absence of original cartoons lately.  No Stickman.  No Saint Marty.  Yes, I am taking a cartoon hiatus for a few weeks.  I have gotten a little burned out recently, with school and work.  Frankly, I'm a little surprised that I've been able to keep up with this blog.  Not to worry.  I will soon be putting my cartooning skills back to work.

I just finished putting together a midterm exam for my Good Books class. That took a few hours this afternoon.  After I'm done with this blog, I will go on to correct some response papers.  I may check to see if I have any new assignments in the online class I'm taking.  It's just going to be a working day.  All day.  Possibly all night, as well.

Sundays have never been my favorite day of the week.  Despite being the Sabbath, dedicated to worship and rest, Sundays make me sad.  They don't feel like the beginning of something new.  They feel like an ending.  Of freedom.  Of being my own boss.  For the next five days, I am not in charge of myself.  I remember, as a kid, hearing the church bells tolling on Sunday afternoons and being overwhelmed with melancholy.  That's when I was five and six years old.  My dislike of this day has only strengthened over time.

It's the end of the weekend.  End of spring break.  Beginning of a work week.  Beginning of five days of labor.  Plus, next weekend, my family is going to the Wisconsin Dells for my daughter's dance competition.  Without me.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired four years ago, on a day of sunshine and happiness.  Four years later, well . . .

March 6, 2012:  Light Low Upon My Brow, Happiness

Anybody got a snuffer?
 "What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give?  Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!"

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a little put out with Scrooge here.  Scrooge has asked the Ghost to put on his cap.  There is a bright light issuing from the Spirit's head, and Scrooge has a "special desire to see the Spirit in his cap..."  Of course, the light has something to do with the light of Christmas, and the Ghost chides Scrooge for his request to dampen the light.

I kind of understand where Scrooge is coming from.  Yesterday morning, I was in a great mood, looking forward to a busy, productive day.  This morning, I just wanted to crawl back into bed and pull the pillow over my head, and it had nothing to do with feeling tired.  The energy and happiness I experienced yesterday just aren't there for me today.  If the Ghost of Christmas Present showed up at my front desk right now, I'd probably ask him to put on the cap, too, or at least wear it low upon his brow.  (I'm generally a person who keeps windows closed and curtains drawn.  I'm not a vampire.  I just don't like being that open and free with myself all the time, literally and figuratively.  Believe it or not, I don't blog about every detail of my life.)

Don't tell me all I need is a positive attitude.  I've heard all the lectures.  I've even taught a Sunday School class using a book titled something like Attitude Is Your Paintbrush or Attitude Makes You Paint Better or Brush Up Your Bad Attitude.  It was all about choosing to be happy and positive.  It was a stretch for me.

My former former coworker comes back to work today.  There's a potluck.  I made brownies.  It's going to be over forty degrees by this afternoon.  My wife has a new job.  Things are looking up.  Really up.  Although the first thing my former former coworker is going to do when she shows up is open the blinds to the office.  She likes sunshine.  In fact, my Ghost of Christmas Past would probably look a lot like her.

Saint Marty needs to find a good cap for his Ghost of Christmas Past.

Okay, it has nothing to do with my post, but it's really funny . . .

Saturday, March 5, 2016

March 5: A Pact, Ted, Matthew Gavin Frank, "Antebellum"

The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to.  It is a covenant to which every thing, even every hydrogen atom, is bound.  The terms are clear:  if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man.  The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death.  The world came into being with the signing of the contract.  A scientist calls it the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  A poet says, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age."  This is what we know.  The rest is gravy.

The world is a tough place.  As Dillard says, this little piece of rock we live on signed a deal with the devil.  From the day we are born, we are dying.  Freedom.  Time.  Death.  These are our constant companions.  And in the time we have on this planet, we must struggle, relax, mourn, rejoice.  That's what our green age is all about.

I have a friend right now who is in the struggle phase of his green age.  "Ted" has recently admitted to his physician that he has an addiction to prescription narcotics.  As expected, Ted's doctor will not prescribe Ted any more painkillers, and Ted is hurting, psychologically (mainly) and physically.  He's convinced himself that the only thing that will relieve his condition is a narcotic.

I know that Ted is hurting.  Addiction is a terrible thing.  It's debilitating, affecting work and family and health.  It's something that literally controls every waking moment of every day.  I feel terrible for Ted.  Yet, Ted has taken the first step to recovery:  admitting that he has a problem.  Now, he needs to follow through.  Get the help he needs.

I wish that life wasn't full of struggle.  I wish that Ted didn't have any pain.  That his back didn't hurt.  That he didn't have family problems and finance problems and work problems.  Aside from the back problems, I could be Ted.  We all could be Ted.  That's Dillard's point, I think.  The world is all about entropy, the gradual decline into disorder.  That's Ted's story right now.  That's all our story.

When you read this post, think about Ted.  About yourself.  About the world.  We've all signed on the dotted line.  I like to think, however, that the contract is with God instead of the devil.  There is the blind man, Freedom or Time, and his faithful dog, Death.  But God sends us other companions, as well.  Joy.  Relaxation.  Surprise.  Love.

Saint Marty and Ted need to party with those dudes a little more, and maybe have a steak dinner every once in a while with Matt Gavin Frank . . .


by:  Matthew Gavin Frank

The tornado inside Adromeda laid seeds
of clover in the sky.  We took the stubble
and dissolved it in the red wine, went into
the basement of the Genome Biology Building
for asylum.

Helene had gone to a funeral that Sunday--
the body of her first lover covered
in tobacco.  She said
that in burial
the screws of the corpse meet a pressure
of any blood not cleaned out,
they shoot into dirt like seeds.  The arms
quickly flare like a chicken's,
and in the downdraft of soil
the teeth clench as if to keep
the earth out.  He was finally rhetorical, she said.

Ernie spat on the floor, unwrapped the stolen corn
from the napkin, saying, "You saw
no such thing, Helene.,"  When I was small,
Helene said, I stood with my father
at Mount Hope Cemetery.  He was fresh
with mind and antebellum.  The crops
were rotting because of the windy season,
we pricked out fingers and let them drip
onto newspaper.  Alice, in a complicated

white dress, with the tornado dropping,
feigned a seizure and wiped
her cheek through the blood.
The rows of clay idols watched

and started to tip in the wind.  Over us,
these shuddering memorials:
A rooster smothering a swallow
and behind us, two dogs

tugging-of-war with a chrysalis,
and an angel cradling a squirrel
between her breasts.  She watched
the rooster tie the swallow in a knot
and in the quake, began
to step over the wind like a plot.

Because I could not stop for Death . . .