Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May 31: Poetry Challenge, Janeen Rastall, "When Asked About My Inner Goddess"

This past weekend, I was approached by an editor of a new anthology of poetry.  He asked me to contribute a couple of poems to a project that he's developing.  It's an exciting opportunity, and, of course, I accepted the offer.

The only issue is that I have to write in some kind of poetic form:  a sonnet or pantoum or tanka or sestina.  I usually write free verse, so this will be a challenge for me.  I have written only one sestina in my life.  I've diddled with sonnets (to greater and lesser degrees of success) and experimented with haiku.  I am a little nervous, but I will give it my best shot.

When faced with a new writing challenge, I turn to poetry for inspiration.  Tonight, that would be Janeen Rastall.

Saint Marty needs to get in touch with his inner poetic goddess tonight.

When Asked About My Inner Goddess

by:  Janeen Rastall

I said I am the goddess of dirt.
I am the loam where seeds burst.
Roots, like old mens’ toes, curl into my side.
I am the keeper of secrets:
lost keys, skeletons and phones.
I dance like a devil with the wind.
I am the place where leaves shred underfoot,
where fallen birds die.
I hold the ice close.

May 31: Pinochle Game, President Obama, Hibakusha

In lieu of a pinochle game, I'll walk a step before bed.  No hesitation about gloves now; I swath myself in wool and down from head to foot, and step into the night.

It is evening, and Dillard is trying to relax, ready herself for a long winter's nap.  She spends her days in active writer mode, exploring Tinker Creek and its surroundings.  She catalogues and contemplates, meditates and composes.  And at night, she must slow down, put her busy brain to bed, so to speak.  So, she plays pinochle or goes for a walk in the brisk gloaming.

Night time is blog time for me.  After a day of medical clerking and professoring and fathering, I allow myself a few hours to pull inward, pretend that I have something profound to say.  These moments that I spend with my laptop are a form of therapy for me, like Dillard's evening walk.  I'm able to unburden myself of anything that is cluttering up my cranial space.

For example, yesterday I had a discussion about President Obama's recent visit to Hiroshima, Japan.  On one side of the discussion, I had people insisting that President Obama had apologized for the United States' bombing of the city.  On the other side of the discussion, I (who had watched the full video of Mr. Obama's remarks at the Hiroshima memorial) stood there, insisting that no apology had been offered.  For a few seconds, the exchange became a little heated.  It ended amicably, though, my final remark something like, "Watch the video."

I can only assume that the conversation was fueled by Sarah Palin's recent comments at a Donald Trump rally in which she, in her folksy, antichrist way, accused the President of the United States of "dissing" the veterans of World War II.  Once again, Palin opened her mouth and spewed untruths like Linda Blair after a dinner of pea soup.  And people pay attention for some reason.  I can only assume it's the same reason thousands show up for Donald Trump campaign rallies.  It's easier to get swept up in falsehoods rather than facts.

President Obama did not apologize for the bombing of Hiroshima.  He spoke about the terrible cost of war.  About humankind's need to embrace peace and diplomacy, or else face nuclear annihilation.  He used the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing as examples of the grace that can emerge from tragedy.  Rather than embrace hatred and anger, the hibakusha turned to love and understanding and moral responsibility.  That was President Obama's message. 

Love and understanding and moral responsibility.  That sounds like a message that a guy from Nazareth delivered over 2,000 years ago.  And that's what Sarah Palin is pissed off about.  Big conflicts begin when ignorance becomes the guiding principle.  I prefer to remain hopeful that the people of the United States will choose love and understanding over ignorance.  Or we may just end up with a President Trump.

There.  Saint Marty feels unburdened. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

May 30: Crossed Paths, Poet of the Week, Janeen Rastall, "Release"

I have know Janeen Rastall for several years.  The first time I met her was at a poetry reading in which we were both participating.  She was coming off a challenge of writing a poem a day for the entire month of April, National Poetry Month.  If I remember correctly, one of her poems was about caring for her elderly mother.  And I also remember thinking, this is a writer I have to watch.

Over the years, our paths have crossed.  She is tireless in her pursuit of the art of poetry.  Every once in a while, I'll receive an e-mail from her.  She's a gracious and lovely person, and she's become a really great poet.

And that's why I have chosen to feature her as Poet of the Week.


by:  Janeen Rastall

The surf lays out featherless wings
and sanded birch limbs,
pieces once bound by ice.
Does a wave batter debris into something better?
A woman goes to the lake.
shorts and t-shirt taunt early May,
faded welts dapple wintered flesh.
She carves the sand with a stick,
draws two names inside a heart.
In an hour the beach will be blank.
She has predicted this end,
tasted it on his menthol tongue,
felt it in each whorl and callus,
every knuckles’ edge.
When waves encroach, she snaps
a photo with her phone.
She will not stay
to see her name sucked back with the sand.

May 30: Shreds of Creation, Memorial Day, Experiment in Freedom

What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flourish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality.  I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible present and visible in my mind.  Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, but grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollins Pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers' barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines.  And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe.  Why not?

Dillard is constantly looking behind names, trying to understand the intricacies of meaning.  It's not enough to be able to say, "This is a sugar maple leaf."  Dillard wants to know its cellular makeup:  cuticle, mesophyll, epidermis, chlorophyll, stoma.  She wants to understand its greenness.  Where it fits in the story of the universe.

It is Memorial Day.  This morning, I went to see a parade and then attended a VFW service at a local cemetery.  I listened to the bands play, bagpiper pipe.  And the speakers talk of sacrifice and freedom.  A pastor got up and spoke about the honor of giving up your life for the sake of another.  I always find these proceedings really moving.  They reinforce the real meaning of this American holiday.  It's not about a three-day weekend and grilling hotdogs and bratwurst.  It's about what's behind all that:  men and women who have given up their freedom for my freedom.  That's Memorial Day's cellular makeup.

I tend to shy away from people who are rabidly patriotic.  Everything done in the name of patriotism is not always a good thing.  Crackpots and fanatics are able to twist the ideas of freedom and democracy to serve any cause, from xenophobia to homophobia.  However, there are just causes, reasons to be patriotic.  The defeat of Adolf Hitler--a just cause, a reason to be gratefully patriotic.  The emancipation of slaves and preservation of the union--another just cause and reason to be patriotic.

I am not here today to argue over the morality and ethics of war.  I am here to talk about the meaning behind Memorial Day:  there were/are people who put themselves in harm's way so that I can sit here with my laptop and express my ideas freely.  So that I can attend the church I want.  Read the books I want.  Believe whatever I want.  That's what Memorial Day is all about.  Sacrifice for the ideal of freedom, no matter how messy and flawed that freedom may be.

And Saint Marty is deeply grateful to the people who have given their lives to make this experiment in freedom called the United States possible.

On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29: Sunday Afternoon, Reading a Good Book, Classic Saint Marty

Sunday.  The day before Memorial Day.  The afternoon is spreading out before me with little to do, except writing this post.  I am trying not to think of the work week ahead, my last in the cardiology office where I'm currently employed.  If I think about what's ahead, I tend to panic a little bit.  Just a little.

So, instead, I will spend the rest of the day finishing reading a book.  It was written by one of my former writing professors and a good friend.  It's called Wolf's Mouth, and it's by John Smolens.  It's fantastic.  I have a little less than a hundred pages left.  That will keep my mind off the future for a little while.

In church today, I read a poem that I wrote on Memorial Day, five years ago.  My son was two years old, and life was quite a bit simpler (although I probably didn't realize it at the time).  All of my siblings were still alive.  My own family was intact after a few years of real turmoil and struggle.  I had actually forgotten about the poem until about a week ago.

So, I am hoping and wishing that both of my Constant Readers have a relaxing day.  Full of quiet happiness.

Now, a note from a . . . different time:

May 30, 2011:  Memorial Day, New Poem, Dance Party

I just dropped my daughter off at the local Pizza Hut for a party with her dance instructor and fellow students.  I have about an hour until I have to pick her up, plenty of time to get this post done.

It's been a fairly lazy morning and afternoon.  My family and I went to a Memorial Day parade, which lasted all of five minutes.  From what I understand, Memorial Day parades used to be as big a deal as Fourth of July parades around here.  However, over the years, people have forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day and simply think of it as the three-day weekend that kicks off summer.  I want my daughter and son to realize the true significance of Memorial Day.  Therefore, I make them go to the parade, and then I take them to the local cemetery for the service conducted by the VFW.

My daughter is used to this little tradition.  She has learned to pay attention and be respectful.  My son, who is only two-years-old, is another story.  He doesn't get it.  So I spent most of my time at the cemetery walking with him among the headstones, catching bits and pieces of the ceremony over the loudspeakers.  However, he will eventually understand in years to come.

My heart and my thanks go out to all people serving in the military this day, and to their families, as well.  I can sit here, blogging away on my computer without fear of censorship, because of the sacrifices made by soldiers who protect my freedoms.  And to all who have lost loved ones in current and past wars, my deepest gratitude and prayers.

My poem is about this ultimate sacrifice.

Today, Saint Marty humbly salutes people who really understand the meaning of bravery.

Thank you.  Amen.
In Memoriam

I take my two-year-old son
To the cemetery this Memorial Day,
Walk him around gravestones
As local war veterans conduct
A service solemn as evening rain,
As a high school band plays
Stars and Stripes Forever,
As the local Methodist pastor
Talks of ultimate sacrifice.
I remain a respectful distance away
So my son's screams won't
Disrupt the placing of wreaths,
The recognition of the Gold Star mother,
A woman whose son bled
To death in a jungle over 40 years ago.
On this day, in this place,
Her grief is fresh, delicate
As the white rose pinned
To the lapel of her jacket.
I lift my son into my arms
When I see the honor guards
Shoulder their rifles and aim.
I whisper in my son's ear,
Warn him of the noise to follow.
He still flinches, jumps
When the guns crack.
Seven of them.  Three times.
I hold my son close, as if I need
To protect him from some unseen
Enemy.  The trumpet begins
To play for the dead.  My son squirms,
Wants down, wants to run,
Collect fistfuls of dandelions.
I struggle to keep him still
Until the music ends,
Until the horn's last notes fade
In the gray morning.  My son
Kicks, pushes, yells until even
The Gold Star mother turns, looks
At us.  I surrender, put my son down.
I watch him race away from me,
Laughing among the stones,
The rows of waving flags.
Happy.  Free.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

May 28: Gene Autry, Claudia Emerson, "Animal Funerals, 1964"

As I sit here, typing this second post, I am listening to Christmas music,  Gene Autry singing "Up on the Housetop."  I am still at McDonald's, so I tend to get looks from people walking by, as if listening to Christmas music on Memorial Day weekend somehow makes me suspect.  I want to tell an old gentleman who just shuffled by, pushing a walker and staring at me, that I do not suffer from any form of serious mental illness.  That the music just helps me concentrate, makes me feel happy.  Of course, if I try to explain, I might seem even more unstable. 

I also just discovered, while looking for a Claudia Emerson poem to post, that Ms. Emerson passed away in 2014.  She was only 57.  As I read her New York Times obituary, it made me incredibly sad.  So young and talented. 

Now Bing Crosby is singing "I'll Be Home for Christmas."  It's such a melancholy little tune.  Wistful.  Nostalgic.  It sort of increases the feeling of loss over Claudia Emerson.  No, I didn't know her personally, but there's something incredibly intimate about reading a person's poems.  Like you're reading letters from a really close friend.  And now that close friend is gone.

This Memorial Day weekend, where the dead are honored, I am thinking about loss a little bit.  (Don't worry, I'm also thinking about barbecue and bratwurst.)  And now, I'm adding Claudia Emerson to the list of people I've lost this year.  Loss is a big part of living.  I know this.  I'm just not happy about it.

Maybe Saint Marty should do something to brighten his mood, like watch Terms of Endearment while thinking about the music he wants played at his funeral.  Planning ahead is always uplifting.

Animal Funerals, 1964

by:  Claudia Emerson

That summer, we did not simply walk through
the valley of the shadow of death; we set up camp there,

orchestrating funerals for the anonymous,
found dead: a drowned mole—its small, naked palms

still pink—a crushed box turtle, green snake, even
a lowly toad. The last and most elaborate

of the burials was for a common jay,
identifiable but light and dry,

its eyes vacant orbits. We built a delicate
lichgate of willow fronds, supple, green—laced

through with chains of clover. Straggling congregation,
we recited what we could of the psalm

about green pastures as we lowered the shoebox
and its wilted pall of dandelions into the shallow

grave one of us had dug with a serving spoon.
That afternoon, just before September and school,

when we would again become children, and blind
to all but the blackboard's chalky lessons, the back

of someone's head, and what was, for a while longer,
the rarer, human death—there, in the heat-shimmered

trees, in the matted grasses where we stood,
even in the slant of humid shade—

we heard wingbeat, slither, buzz, and birdsong—
a green racket rising to fall as though

in a joyous dirge that was real,
and not part of our many, necessary rehearsals

Couldn't find Emerson's gravestone, but this one makes me sad, too

May 28: Wet Pets, Overthinking, Brain Tumor

For this creature, as I said, I paid twenty-five cents.  I had never bought an animal before.  It was very simple; I went to a store in Roanoke called "Wet Pets"; I handed the man a quarter, and he handed me a knotted plastic bag bouncing with water in which a green plant floated and the goldfish swam.  This fish, two bits' worth, has a coiled gut, a spine radiating fine bones, and a brain.  Just before I sprinkle his food flakes into his bowl, I rap three times on the bowl's edge; now he is conditioned, and swims to the surface when I rap.  And, he has a heart.

Dillard buys a goldfish.  Of course, when Annie Dillard buys a goldfish, it's not just about having a little fish on the counter.  It's about buying a living thing with coiled gut, a spine, and fine bones.  A brain and, most importantly, a heart.  She never does anything without considering its implication in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  She overthinks things, which worked out for her.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for overthinking a goldfish.

I tend to overthink things, as well, if you haven't noticed.  It's one of my many rough edges.  Of course, my overthinking has helped me produce close to three thousand blog posts.  And a book of poems.  A couple of CDs of Christmas essays and music.  It has served my creative life well.  Still does.

Overthinking doesn't always make for an easy life.  I'm constantly analyzing (some would say over-analyzing) conversations and situations.  Let me give you an example.  This morning, I am at McDonald's with my family.  At a table adjacent to us, a man in a camouflage shirt and hat is having breakfast.  I just listened to him have a conversation with one of the McDonald's workers about the non-existence of God.  "Why would I believe in somebody who gives cancer to kids?  Where's the good in that?" he said.

I wonder what kind of pain made him develop this obvious anger toward God.  What happened to him?  Maybe he lost a child or brother or sister to a terminal illness.  Perhaps he went to Iran or Afghanistan as a soldier and saw some horrible things.  Perhaps he was abused by a priest or pastor or Boy Scout troop leader.  Or maybe he's just an asshole.

That's what I do.  Overthink.  Try to understand situations at a deeper level.  I don't like feeling unmoored by confusion.  I want to know why things are the way things are.  That's who I am.  (Although, when I've owned goldfish, I've never gone so far as to attempt to train them to feed, like Dillard.)  Of course, overthinking provides opportunity to worry and fret over things that just don't materialize.  A pressure in the chest that turns out to be acid reflux.  A headache that is just a headache and not a brain tumor or aneurysm.  I do not recommend overthinking for people who tend toward hypochondria.

But Saint Marty is a writer/poet.  Overthinking comes with the job.

Just because it's so damn funny . . .

Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27: Daughter's Essay, Claudia Emerson, "Daybook"

My daughter had an assignment for her English class.  She had to write a memoir essay about an important moment in her life.  She chose to write about the death of my sister last summer.  I was surprised.  She's never really opened up to me about it before.

Last night, she asked me to read what she had written.  She'd been working on it for a couple of hours.  "Exactly what do you want me to read it for?" I asked.  "Content?  Grammar?  Spelling?"  She shrugged and said, "Just tell me what you think," and flounced off to bed.

I sat reading her essay.  For a half hour.  By the time I was done, I was crying and ready for bed.  The essay was rough but full of the kind of honesty I try to get my freshman composition students to embrace.  It takes my students an entire semester to get there (if they get there at all).  My daughter had it, and I couldn't have been prouder.

I have a Claudia Emerson poem for tonight that's sort of like an essay on loss and grief.  Warning:  it's not very happy.

Saint Marty never promised you a rose garden.


by:  Claudia Emerson

This is the season of her dying, and you
have kept it, I find, underneath the stairs
in a box filled with photographs--her daybook
of that last year, the calendar a narrative
she did not intend to write.  In the grid
of days, I see her habit had been to record
in pencil what might be erased, moved, saving
the indelible black for what could not change:

your birthday, hers, your anniversary.  And in
that same decisive hand, the disease began
to eclipse this order, but she erased nothing.
Now from beneath the days the hospital claimed,
her first, latent words emerge, faint but certain
as images of ribs cradling milky lungs, the flesh forgotten
as water you can see through to the bottom.

May 27: Muscular Energy, Three-Day Weekend, Opera

There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.  On a sunny day, sun's energy on a square acre of land or pond can equal 4500 horsepower.  These " horses" heave in every direction, like slaves building pyramids, and fashion, from the bottom up, a new and sturdy world.

It is May, and Dillard is basking in sunlight.  Birds riot in the forest canopy.  Fauna and vegetation explode to life like popcorn.  Summer is coming to Tinker Creek, with all its potential energy.  As Dillard points out, in an acre of dirt or water, 4500 sun horsepower gallops.  The world is being rebuilt.

There wasn't a whole lot of sun today in my little square of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Mostly, fog in the morning and a whole lot of gray in the afternoon.  Thunderstorms are forecasted for tonight.  Not a really auspicious beginning for a three-day holiday weekend.  (For my international readers, the last weekend of May celebrates Memorial Day, a time set aside to honor fallen war veterans.  Also, it's sort of the unofficial start of summer.)

That's okay, though.  I didn't have much opportunity for the outdoors, anyway.  It has been a long week.  I'm exhausted.  My whole plan for tonight involves a little PBS and a little reading and a little wine.  I was thinking about going to see a movie with my wife, but it seems that the only things Hollywood has to offer are superhero flicks.  Not my cup of tea.  Since I didn't like The Angry Birds Movie the first time, I have no intention of inflicting that on myself again.  Thus, Plan
B:  opera, a novel, and white wine.

That sounds like a perfect way to start the summer for Saint Marty.  (Saint Marty's wife may not be too excited about the opera.)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 26: Wave Breast, Help Thanks Wow, Book Club

There is the wave breast of thanksgiving--a catching God's eye with the easy motions of praise--and a time for it.  In ancient Israel's rites for a voluntary offering of thanksgiving, the priest comes before the altar in clean linen, empty-handed.  Into his hands is placed the breast of the slain unblemished ram of consecration:  and he waves it as a wave offering before the Lord.  The wind's knife has done its work.  Thanks be to God.

It's a powerful image that Dillard offers:  a wave offering.  Giving thanks to God for all of the blessings He has showered down upon ancient Israek.  God doesn't need the Mormon Tabernacle Choir breaking into the "Hallelujah Chorus" in order to be praised.  No.  It's all about something small.  A token.  Like taking a photograph of your child out of your wallet and waving it at the heavens, lifting it up, saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

One of my other favorite Christian writers in the world, Anne Lamott, wrote once about boiling down prayer to a few very short phrases.  Wow.  Help.  Thanks.  "Wow" is for those moments when you are overwhelmed by God's goodness--a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, the Grand Canyon, a Godiva chocolate.  "Help" is, obviously, for moments of distress, when you are overwhelmed with need.  Depending upon the urgency of the need, this phrase can be repeated as many times as necessary.  It's about surrender:  help help help help help help help help help help help.  Ego steps aside and lets the divine take over.

And then there's "thanks," the prayer that Dillard is talking about in the above passage.  I have to admit that I don't say "thanks" as often as I should.  It's easy to forget.  When needs are met, crises averted, relief is the major emotion.  Not gratitude.  That's a human thing.  Selfish, but human.

Tonight, believe it or not, I am happy again.  I've had a good day.  It ended with my book club meeting at my house.  We had a great salad and fruit and cheese and crackers.  We talked about the month's selection, The Girl on the Train (not uplifting, but a really good story).  My son even contributed a dessert.  He layered a pan with cinnamon sugar pop tarts, Hershey and Nestle Crunch chocolate bars, a can of vanilla frosting, and sprinkles.  Threw it in the over for 15 minutes until it all melted.  Everyone ate it and told him what a good cook he is.

It was a lovely evening with family and friends.  Something to be grateful for.

So, even though Saint Marty isn't wearing clean linen or waving the breast of an unblemished ram, he wants to say thanks.  Thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks thanks.

It's not always about money . . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 25: Frayed and Nibbled, Potluck, Another Good Day

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...

Dillard is talking about living in a broken place.  A world after the apple.  She speaks of getting old, the planet getting old.  Everything is frayed and nibbled, eaten by time.  Time is starved and ferocious.  It devours without any discrimination.

I needed a passage about eating this evening, because that's pretty much all I've been doing all day.  My coworkers at the cardiology office organized a going-away potluck for me today.  There were pretzels with cheddar beer dip.  A tray of fresh fruit--grapes and blueberries and melon and pineapple.  Grilled cheese sandwiches and pasta salad.  Some Christmas cookies (because of my habit of playing Christmas music on my workstation computer all year long).  My contribution was a brownie trifle.  It's my signature dish.

It was a lovely day.  I know, I know.  Two days in a row I'm sharing a post that is relatively happy.  It's a little unheard of.  But the food was really good, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy.  Like a breathing Hallmark card.  Plus, I worked at my new/old job this morning again.  One of my best friends in the world works there, and we talked a lot about my sister.  It wasn't sad talk.  We shared stories about her and laughed together.

Mark your calendars again:  Saint Marty had another good day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 24: Dirty Lice. Tornadoes, Temporal Disjunction

It's all I can do to stand.  I feel dizzy, drawn, mauled.  Below me the floodwater roils to a violent froth that looks like dirty lice, a lace that continuously explodes before my eyes.  If I look away, the earth moves backwards, rises and swells, from the fixing of my eyes at one spot against the motion of the flood.  All the familiar land looks as though it were not solid and real at all, but painted on a scroll like a backdrop, and that unrolled scroll has been shaken, so the earth sways and the air roars.

Dillard is talking about the effects of Hurricane Agnes on Tinker Creek.  Floodwater, walls of it, driving everything downstream.  Trees.  Bushes.  Chicken coops.  Dead horses.  Dillard finds it disorienting, her familiar landscape turned alien, rolling and unstable.

I had my own mini-version of the Tinker Creek flood this afternoon.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan was assaulted with thunderstorms and tornadoes.  Now, this may not sound like anything unusually noteworthy to my two Constant Readers, but tornadoes are not normal occurrences in the U. P.  Our landscape isn't really conducive to tornadoes, thank goodness.  Blinding blizzards, yes.  Ice storms, certainly.  Twisters, however, belong in Kansas and Missouri.  Not in my little piece of rock jutting into Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.  

Yes, for a few hours, the world was a little disorienting, like Dillard's.  I ran an errand in the basement of the medical center where I work, and I found the entire lower level filled with evacuated patients and employees, waiting out the tornado warning.  Weird.  People were laughing, texting, and emitting funky scents.  I thought to myself, "This isn't an emergency.  It's an unexpected afternoon break."

I had an earlier disorienting experience, as well.  This morning, I worked for the first time at my new/old job for a couple of hours.  I hadn't slept well, was up three or four times during the night.  When I got to the medical center, I did something I hadn't done since my sister died:  I took the back stairs.  This may not sound earth-moving, but it was for me.

You see, my sister walked those stairs every weekday for close to twenty years.  Two flights up to the second floor, dressed in her scrubs, carrying her Diet Coke.  My sister was my boss at the surgery center for 17 years.  She was a creature of habit (like me).  She parked in the same spot every day, took the same route into the building every day.  Opened her office and turned on the light at the same time every day.

So, when I walked the stairs and walked through the doors of the surgery center, I had this moment of disconnection, as if I'd stepped back in time.  For a few seconds, I actually expected my sister to be sitting at her desk, looking over her glasses at me, telling me to get my ass to work.  It was only a few seconds of temporal disjunction, but it made me feel like I was . . . home.

I got to work.  Fell into a rhythm.  Started remembering things.  It was good.

Saint Marty is happy.  Mark this day on your calendar.

May 24: Poet of the Week, Claudia Emerson, "Catfish"

I am finding it harder and harder to choose new Poets of the Week.  I keep wanting to go back to my favorites like Sharon Olds and Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.  They are poets who make me feel good, who inspire me.

However, I have chosen a new Poet of the Week:  Claudia Emerson.  Emerson won the Pulitzer Prize a few years back for her collection Late Wife.  Tonight's poem is about a subject I know nothing about.  That's alright, though.

I am not feeling very reflective tonight about this poem.  It makes me see the world a little differently.  It doesn't make me want to go fishing or fry up some catfish for dinner, but it does make me want to write.

Saint Marty is leaving profound to Claudia Emerson.


by:  Claudia Emerson

It nuzzles oblivion, confuses
             itself with mud. A creature

of familiar taste, it ambushes
               from its nest of ooze the pond's

brighter fish, clears its palate
              with their eggs, lumbers fat

and stagnant into winter, lulled
              into dreams of light sinking until

light drowns, and all is as before.

Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23: Mad Beams, Existential, Mistakes

All right then.  Pull yourself together.  Is this where I'm spending my life, in the "reptile brain," this lamp at the top of the spine like a lighthouse flipping mad beams indiscriminately into the darkness, into the furred thoraxes of moths, onto the backs of leaping fishes and the wrecks of schooners?  Come up a level; surface.

Dillard is giving herself a little pep talk, trying to talk herself back from her "reptile brain."  There's something crazed, wild in her current state.  She's dwelling with insect and fish, diving into the wreck, as Adrienne Rich would say.  She wants to pull away, kick her way to air, to sky.  To the stars.

I've been feeling a little existential these last couple days.  Questioning the meaning of my life.  Like Dillard, it's not a state in which I want to remain very long.  I would prefer to surface right now, but I can't.  Instead, I'm dwelling on the choices I've made.  Over and over.

I wake up in the morning and think, "What the hell am I doing?"  I didn't dream of being a clinic office clerk when I was a kid.  When I'm sitting at my desk for eight hours, registering patients and answering phones, I sometimes want to get up, walk away, find a quiet corner, and read a book or write a poem.  And when I'm in a classroom teaching, I feel like I'm . . . home (sorry if that sounds corny, but that's the only way I can say it).

Of course, I know I've made mistakes.  Every day, I make mistakes.  Tomorrow morning, I'm going to be working for a little while at my new job, registering patients for about an hour.  I have no clue what I'm doing.  I'm going to need help.  A lot of help.  And I'm going to make mistakes.  A lot of them.  (I'm not entirely sure that this new job is the right choice for me.  It may be another mistake.)

Being human means being flawed.  I'm a jigsaw puzzle of failures.  So is everybody else.  One of the hardest things as a parent is seeing your kids make bad choices and not being able to do a thing to stop them.  Yet, I've learned more from my mistakes than my successes.  That's the irony.  My mistakes have made me a better person.

So, here I sit on my couch at home, in the dark, feeling existential while watching Antiques Roadshow.  I don't know what the meaning of my life is.  I am a husband.  A father.  Teacher, writer, blogger.  And I have failed (sometimes miserably) in each of those roles at one point or another.

Marty is probably failing at being a saint, as well.  He hasn't performed any miracles in a really long time.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

May 22: My Pessimism, Chicken Noodle Soup, Classic Saint Marty

If you haven't noticed yet, I tend to focus on the negative aspects of my life.  Bad days at work.  Bills I can't pay.  Flat tires.  Sick kids.  That's sort of been the underlying theme of this blog since its very inception.  Of course, I try to use humor to deflect my pessimism.

I come by this pessimism naturally.  It's a genetic thing.  If you were ever part of one of my family get-togethers, you would see it quickly devolve into a litany of old and new gripes.  That's how we express our love for each other, it seems.  (NOTE:  I also tend to employ hyperbole a lot in these posts, so take everything you read with a few grains of salt.) 

For example, my father (who is a child of the Great Depression) tends to buy great quantities of very cheap canned goods.  Currently, the object of his obsession is an IGA brand of chicken noodle soup.  He currently has about 36 cans of the stuff.  This afternoon, I overheard my sister saying to my father, "You need to stop buying this shit.  Nobody likes it, and I can't see anything else on the shelves."  Of course, she said it with great love.  My dad:  "Fine!  I'll just stop shopping for anything!!"  My sister:  "Just stop buying the cheap crap!!"  (Sometimes, I think I'm a member of George's family from Seinfeld.)

That is a normal conversation in my family.  Exchanges like this have kept me grounded my whole life.  I've learned to never take myself too seriously, because somebody will come along and knock me right off whatever pedestal I happen to be standing on.

That's what today's episode of Classic Saint Marty is all about.  Pedestals and remaining humble.  I've gone way back this time.  This episode first aired about six years ago, right at the start of this blog.  Some things simply don't change.

May 24, 2010:  Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger

A few days ago, I found out that I've been chosen Employee of the Month for the health care system I work for. (Yes, I teach college, as well. Need to pay the bills, people.) This is the same award my coworker and friend won back in February or March. You may remember my jealous rant about the subject some weeks ago. This award came as a complete surprise. Usually, if someone from a department wins Employee of the Month, the rest of the employees are pretty much screwed for a few years. So I wasn't expecting even a nomination until the year 2013.

Winning this award puts me in a bit of a quandary. As most of my readers know, I spend a good deal of my time in this blog complaining about the fact that some idiot has received some kind of award or blessing that he or she does not deserve. Now, I am that undeserving idiot. It sort of takes all of the wind out of my writing sails. How can I be sarcastic and cutting about myself?

Despite the fact that I have a blog and write many witty postings about being unrecognized and unappreciated, I generally feel uncomfortable when people start complimenting me. I prefer to make people laugh. When I start receiving praise, it's my nature to deflect or joke about it. I truly don't go out of my way to draw attention to myself. I like being the funny one, not the one that's held up as an example of excellence. Generally, if you're put on a pedestal, someone's sneaking up behind you to knock you off of it. (Take it from someone who usually does the knocking.)

Saint Simeon Stylites the Younger knows a few things about pedestals. A disciple of a monk named John, Simeon, from the age of five onward, lived a good portion of his life on platforms mounted on top of columns. He did this to avoid distractions in his life of prayer and devotion. (I'm not sure what he did about certain bodily functions, but I can imagine he spent a lot of time yelling "Incoming!" or "Look out below!") When he turned 20, he moved to the mountains, put up another column and platform, climbed to the top of it, and spent the last 45 years of his life on top of that perch.

Nobody ever knocked Simeon off his pedestal. He sat up there, praying, meditating, celebrating mass (the bishop scaled the column to ordain him), eating, sleeping, defecating, urinating, and receiving pilgrims. I sort of picture him as Mel Brooks' 1000-year-old man, dispensing one-liners with a Yiddish accent.

Anyhow, I would prefer to be Mel Brooks than Simeon. Being on a pedestal is too precarious. One false move and you could find yourself at the bottom of the column in a big old pile of saintly shit.

But, since I'm up here for the moment, I might as well make the most of it. Therefore, I've decided to write my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature. I know Employee of the Month isn't quite in the same league, but I believe in planning ahead, killing two birds with one stone. So, imagine, if you will, a lavish hall, long tables set with royal china and crystal. The Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy announces my name. I stand up, check to make sure my fly is zipped, and then make my way to the podium amid a fanfare of trumpets. (Honest to God, that's how they do it every year, more or less.)

Then I speak:

NOTE: I have included two versions of my speech. The first is humorous; the second, more serious. If you prefer a chuckle, read Version 1. If you want something a little more somber, read Version 2.


Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ever since I won Employee of the Month several years ago at my place of work, I've dreamed of winning this prize. Every writer secretly does. We might say we write for truth or art or grace or understanding. But really, it's all about moments like this, when you stand before the world and are acknowledged as the very best, all your peers looking up to you with blood in their eyes, an envy so intense it causes constipation in a generation of writers. That is when you know you have reached the pinnacle, as I have. I am, at this moment, Saint Simeon on his mountain perch, evacuating myself on the less-talented masses below.

I want to thank the members of the Swedish Academy for finally coming to their senses, recognizing a talent that is unparalleled, a talent Biblical in power and truth. I am humbled by the company I am now a part of: Hemingway, Faulkner, Heaney, Shaw, Lessing, Yeats, and all of those foreigners whose names I can't pronounce. I know, in years to come, younger writers will compare their works to mine and realize how much they fall short. That is as it should be.

The world applauds the wisdom of your decision that culminates in this great hall tonight. I applaud your good taste. Thank you.


Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have had much grace in my life. I have been graced by a beautiful wife. I have been graced by beautiful children. I have been graced by family and friends who have supported me, carried me through difficult times, danced with me in joyful times. And I have been graced with a love of words, of language, of the transformative and healing power of poetry.

The Catholic saint Simeon Stylites the Younger spent almost 60 years of his life sitting on top of a platform balanced on a column. He put himself in this dizzying position to eliminate worldly distractions, to bring himself closer to creation and the Creator. I find myself balanced on a similar pinnacle tonight, gazing down from this prestigious vantage into the faces of people I cherish and admire.

I am humbled by the company you have placed me in, and I am humbled by the faith you have placed in my palms. I will eventually come down from this height, either gracefully or violently, but I will be sustained, lifted up by this faith.

Thank you to the members of the Swedish Academy. Toni Morrison, upon receiving this award, asked everyone present "to share what is for me a moment of grace." Like Simeon, I feel as though I have been lifted up to touch the face of the eternal. Thank you.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 21: Love Poems, Aimee Nez, "First Anniversary, With Monkeys"

Good love poems are difficult to write.  In fact, I once had a poetry teacher tell me that there are certain words that shouldn't be used in poems because of all the sentimental baggage that they bring.  "Love" was one of those words.

Of course, I've never been much of a rule follower.  I have used "love" in poems.  It's not about the word itself; it's about how it is used.  These days, a poet couldn't use a phrase such as "My love is like a red, red rose," unless he was being ironic, tongue-in-cheek.  On the other hand, if I wrote something like "Love is the garter snake in my shoe"--that's alright.  You'll never find that in a Hallmark card.

Really, there are no hard and fast rules for poetry.  One of my favorite collections of poems from the last few years (The Dead Wrestler Elegies) sounds like one of the worst ideas in the world:  poems about dead professional wrestlers.  Yet, it works.  It's beautiful, moving, and funny.  It really proves that poetry can be found in anything.

Saint Marty often finds poetry at McDonald's.  It's the fries that do it for him.

Aimee Nez finds poetry in . . .

First Anniversary, With Monkeys

by:  Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Periyar Nature Preserve

There is no crumbly frozen cake to thaw.
Today, we are in the jungle. I mean mosquito. I mean
tigers and elephants sludging their way
to the lake for a drink and Don’t make sudden moves
or snakes startled from an afternoon nap
will greet you fang first. I think we are lost. Too hot
for any cold confection to survive. Even my tube
of sunblock is as warm as a baby’s bottle. You get
to those places I can’t reach, those places I dared
not even whisper before I walked down the aisle
in white. You never worried if our families
would clash, if they would clang like the clutch
of pale monkeys clanging the thin branches of the treetops,
begging for our trail mix. You never worried
about my relatives staring at your pale, muscled calves—
things not usually seen outside of the bedroom. You wore
hiking shorts anyway. And still, they lavished ladle-fuls
of food on your plate. I think we are lost. My eyes are dark
and wet as that wild deer that walked right past us,
a little off the trail. I think we are lost, but for once
I don't mind. Eventually you turn us back to a place
not on any map, but I know I can trace it back with my finger
if we ever need it again. We made it one year
without a compass and we’re not about to start now.
Just because it's so damn funny . . .

May 21: Heron, "The Angry Birds Movie," Cartoon Universe

The heron was in calm shallows; the deepest water it walked in went two inches up its orange legs.  It would go and get something from the cattails on the side, and, when it had eaten it--tossing up its beak and contracting its throat in great gulps--it would plod back to a dry sandbar in the center of the creek which seemed to serve as its observation tower.  It wagged its stubby tail up and down; its tail was so short it did not extend beyond its folded wings.

Dillard does this a lot at Tinker Creek--watching things.  She watches muskrats and ice melting.  The moon rising above stands of trees.  She takes things home, like snake skins, and puzzles over shape and form.  In short, she does everything that a writer/poet does when she doesn't have to worry about money or teaching or taking care of kids.  So, on a warm summer day, Dillard interrupts the dinner of a heron, watches it wade through the water and slime.

The reason I chose to focus on a passage about a bird is that I went to see The Angry Birds Movie last night with my son, wife, and sister.  The best thing I can say about the movie is that the buttered popcorn was pretty good.  There's nothing like movie theater popcorn.  As for the film itself . . . well, to be quite honest, I dozed off during a portion of it. 

Now, let me say here that I am not a person who hates animated feature films.  I love animated films.  When I teach Intro to Film, I always include Toy Story or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the syllabus.  Walt Disney is one of my heroes (overlooking the rumored antisemitism and cooperation with Joseph McCarthy and HUAC in the 1950s).  In fact, one of the few movies I will pay to see this summer will be Pixar's Finding Dory.  (Not being a superhero fanboy, I couldn't care less whether Batman kicked Superman's ass or Captain America and Iron Man work out their relationship issues.)

On our first date, I took my wife-to-be to see The Jungle Book, which had just been re-released.  I sat with her in the back row of the theater full of rugrats.  I sang along to all the songs.  Loudly.  (We did make out a little bit, too, much to the chagrin of some soccer moms.)  Surprisingly, she still married me.

One of my earliest memories of going to the movies is Mary Poppins, especially where Mary takes everybody into the chalk painting.  As a kid, I dreamed of being able to do that--jumping into an animated world.  Of course, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? sort of showed how dangerous being a real person in a cartoon universe can be.  But I still thought it would be cool.  Actually, I wouldn't mind spending a little time with Woody and Buzz or Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.

Now, as for being in a world where little bird balls battle green pigs--I don't think I'd sign up for passage on that boat.  Nothing really magical about that for me.

However, Marty wouldn't mind being a Lego saint.

Confessions of Saint Marty

Friday, May 20, 2016

May 20: Calmly Sipping Tea, Edward Herman, Lilac Bushes

Tulips had cast their leaves on my path, flat and bright as doubloons.  I passed under a sugar maple that stunned me by its elegant unself-consciousness:  it was as if a man on fire were to continue calmly sipping tea.

It is October.  Dillard is wandering through the woods where birds are rioting in the colored leaves.  She moves and watches, finds herself under this sugar maple.  Stopped in her tracks.  The maple can't call attention to itself.  It's simply on fire with beauty.

It is warm tonight.  Summer warm.  When I left work, I took off the coat I was wearing, threw it in the back seat of my car.  I rolled down the windows, turned on my CD player.  I'm listening to an audio recording of the book The Boys on the Boat.  I'm on disk 10, and the boys are on an ocean liner, headed to the Berlin Olympics.  It's a good book, and it was a good evening to be cruising down the highway, wind whistling through the car, listening to Edward Herman's baritone voice describing the art of crew rowing.

For me this weekend is blessedly clear of obligations.  There is no daughter's boyfriend spending the weekend on the couch.  No Saturday morning church retreats.  No reason to rush for anything these next two days.  I plan to avoid any kind of stress.  (My two Constant Readers know that I will probably fail miserably with this plan.)

So, it's Friday evening.  The verge of summer.  My lilac bushes are starting to green up, finally.  Soon, I'll be able to look out my back window and see them blazing purple.  A man on fire.  Purple fire.  (I know, I know.  I'm really stretching for a connection.  It's the best I got tonight.)

Saint Marty now has to go to see The Angry Birds Movie with his son.  Can't avoid all stress.

I never like playing Angry Birds

Thursday, May 19, 2016

May 19: Teenage-Hood, Aimee Nez, "Twelve Twelve Twelve"

My daughter just went to bed (although I think she's probably talking to her boyfriend on her phone).  She worked all night on her homework because she's missed a couple days of school.

I often forget how difficult it is to be a young person.  My daughter is 15, and she's struggling with all the things that teenage-hood brings.  Sometimes she's funny and relaxed around me.  Other times, I'm a supreme embarrassment, and she walks at least 25 feet ahead of me.  Things like blemishes and cold sores can be catastrophic.  Like I said, it's difficult being a young person.

That's what today's poem from Aimee Nez is about:  the trials of growing up.

Thank goodness Saint Marty grew up.

Twelve Twelve Twelve

by:  Aimee Nezhukumatathil

a.) When I was twelve, I lived
on the grounds of a mental asylum.
b). My Filipino mother was a psychiatrist,
so that meant we lived
in the doctor’s quarters—
one of the three big brick houses
that edged the institute.
c). My younger sister and I practiced Herkies—
our favorite cheerleading jumps—
off the patients’ bleachers near the softball field.
d). When I was twelve, I aced
the experiments
with celery and food coloring;
they let me skip a whole grade
and get right to The Dissections.
e). I secretly wished my supply
of grape Bubble Yum would never run out
but I couldn’t figure out how to blow bubbles
and snap the lavender gum like Sara could.
f). We sold gift wrap and crystals
for a junior high fund-raiser and my mom still asks
Where are all the crystals I bought?
Why don’t you display them in your house?
g). When I was twelve, I worried about
the darkening hair on my legs.
My mother bought me my first training bra—
no cup, just little triangle pieces stitched together—
and then a slice of New York-style cheesecake
to bring home.
h). Home.
i). When I was twelve, our house
always smelled of fried lumpia
or ginger.
j). We had zinnias
as wide as my outstretched hand
nodding at us in our garden.
k). My school had to create
a whole new bus stop
just for my sister and me,
and everyone stopped talking and stared
when we stepped onto the bus each morning,
smelling of grape gum and ginger roots.
l.) Just who are these girls?

May 19: Swarms of Locusts, My New Job, Grashopper State

In 1921 a Russian naturalist named Uvarov solved the mystery.  Locusts are grasshoppers:  they are the same animal.  Swarms of locusts are ordinary grasshoppers gone berserk.

That's right.  The hordes of locusts you read about in the Bible--the eighth plague that Moses calls down on the Egyptians--and the black clouds of insects that chew their way across huge swathes of land, those hordes are grasshoppers in migration mode.  They change under certain extreme conditions, such as drought.  Wings elongate and darken.  Bodies change to "hysterical" yellows and pinks.  It's an insectile Jekyll and Hyde show.

In a couple of weeks, I will be starting my new job.  Five weeks ago, when I accepted the position, I said a prayer of thanks.  I'm returning to a place I worked at for 17 years.  One of my best friends still works there.  I was really happy.

Now that my migration is approaching, I'm panicking a little.  There are things that I simply don't know how to do any more.  Registering patients.  Creating patient charts.  Accepting payments.  Posting said payments.  And scanning medical records.  While I remember some of the basics, I am terrified that I'm going to drown.  I'm approaching locust mode.

I know things are going to be fine.  I will learn/relearn my new/old job.  It is going to be stressful for a little while.  I may have to buy a few bottles of wine to see me through.  I may chew through a few acres of Hershey chocolate bars.  Eventually, though, in a month or so, I will begin to relax.  Feel at home.

Saint Marty will return to his grasshopper state.

No grasshoppers here . . .

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 18: Superhero Movies, Aimee Nez, "What I Learned from the Incredible Hulk"

Well, summer is almost upon us, and with summer comes the usual onslaught of superhero movies.  I believe Captain America and Iron Man are the current box office champs.

I have a confession:  I don't watch superhero movies.  Could care less who won the battle between Batman and Superman.  It's just not my thing.

Saint Marty can get into poems about super heroes:

What I Learned from the Incredible Hulk

by:  Aimee Nezhukumatathil

When it comes to clothes, make
an allowance for the unexpected.
Be sure the spare in the trunk
of your station wagon with wood paneling
isn’t in need of repair. A simple jean jacket
says Hey, if you aren’t trying to smuggle
rare Incan coins through this peaceful
little town and kidnap the local orphan,
I can be one heck of a mellow kinda guy.
But no matter how angry a man gets, a smile
and a soft stroke on his bicep can work
wonders. I learned that male chests
also have nipples, warm and established—
green doesn’t always mean envy.
It’s the meadows full of clover
and chicory the Hulk seeks for rest, a return
to normal. And sometimes, a woman
gets to go with him, her tiny hands
correcting his rumpled hair, the cuts
in his hand. Green is the space between
water and sun, cover for a quiet man,
each rib shuttling drops of liquid light.

May 18: Invisible Electron, Lime Popsicle, School Concert

Catch it if you can.  The present is an invisible electron; its lightning path traced faintly on a blackened screen is fleet, and fleeing, and gone.

The present is something ephemeral, a lime popsicle on a July afternoon.  It melts quickly and is gone, leaving behind sticky fingers and a green tongue.  There is evidence of the present left behind, an afterimage on a dark television screen, as Dillard says.  It's here, moves forward, and leaves like a car on a highway.

I just got back from my daughter's final school concert of the year.  It was, as most school concerts are, a little uneven.  Some really amazing performances mixed with the elementary school chorus singing "This Little Light of Mine."  Everything was wildly entertaining.

As I sat in the gym, watching and listening, I found myself becoming quite emotional.  There were some girls who were seniors singing their last solos.  Some musicians who were seniors playing their last Chopin etude.  I watched my daughter play her flute, sing with the chorus, and I couldn't help but think of how close my daughter is to graduation herself.  In three years, she will be an invisible electron.  Fleet, fleeing, gone, as Dillard describes the present.

It made me appreciate the concert a little more.  Pay closer attention to each ensemble and drum solo.  I didn't want to forget anything.  Of course, when my wife and I met up with our daughter after the concert, she was in complete teenager mode.  A little sulky, walking fast so her friends wouldn't see her walking with us.  And the moment was over.

Saint Marty used to be cool.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

May 17: Poet of the Week, Aimee Nez, "The Rolling Saint"

Sorry I didn't post last night.  I had a computer issue, which I rectified this morning.

The Poet of the Week is Aimee Nezhukumatahil.  She read once at the university where I teach, and she shortened her name to Aimee Nez.

I chose a poem this evening that seemed appropriate for this blog for obvious reasons.  The thing I remember most from her reading, aside from the fantastic brownies at the refreshments table, is how accessible her work was.

Saint Marty will let you be the judge.

The Rolling Saint

by:  Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Lotan Baba, a holy man from India, rolled on his side for
            four thousand kilometers across the country in his quest for
            world peace and eternal salvation.
He started small: fasting here and there,
days, then weeks. Once, he stood under
a banyan tree for a full seven years, sitting
            for nothing—not even to sleep. It came
            to him in a dream: You must roll
            on this earth, spin your heart in rain,
                        desert, dust. At sunrise he’d stretch, swab
                        any cuts from the day before, and lay prone
                        on the road while his twelve men swept
            the ground in front of him with sisal brooms.
            Even monkeys stopped and stared at this man
            rolling through puddles, past storefronts
where children would throw him pieces
of butter candy he’d try and catch
in his mouth at each rotation. His men
            swept and sang, swept and sang
            of jasmine-throated angels
            and pineapple slices in kulfi cream.
                        He rolled and rolled. Sometimes
                        in his dizzying spins, he thought
                        he heard God. A whisper, but still.
Rolling Lotan

May 17: Dream of Fecundity, Id Monsters, Humphrey Bogart

I wakened myself last night with my own shouting.  It must have been that terrible yellow plant I saw pushing through the flood-damp soil near the log by Tinker Creek, the plant as fleshy and featureless as a slug, that erupted through the floor of my brain as I slept, and burgeoned into the dream of fecundity that woke me up.

Dillard has nightmares about some alien-looking mushroom sprouting by Tinker Creek.  She dreams of mating luna moths with furry antennae.  Eggs hatching in her bed, filling the sheets with a slimy pool of fish.  Squirming and multiplying.  She wakes herself up with her own screams.

I rarely remember dreams.  In fact, I don't think I do dream.  I've never kept dream journals.  If I wake up in the middle of the night, it's because my bladder needs to be taken out for a walk.  I do have the occasional nightmare (after all, I have advanced degrees in worry and guilt), but those nightmares are usually fading by the time I'm fully conscious.  Cold sweats and night terrors are not part of my nocturnal vocabulary.

I had a recurring dream when I was a kid.  I would find myself in a long, empty van that was hurtling down a highway.  Nobody was in the vehicle with me.  There was no driver.  The van just kept driving itself through a foreign landscape.  I didn't know where I was.  Didn't know where I was going.  Couldn't stop the van.  I remember being overwhelmed with fear and loneliness by this dream, every time I had it.

No, I don't need any couch Sigmund Freuds telling me that I have a pathological fear of the future.  Or being alone.  I'm not looking for analysis.  By my estimation, I have undergone exactly 1,567 hours of therapy (and that is a conservative estimate).  I am not disparaging the field of psychiatry.  I value all of the mental health professionals who have treated me.

This post isn't about therapy.  It's about dreams, and the fact that I don't dream.  Some people may think that's sad.  Perhaps I do dream, but I forget them as I swim up from my unconscious.  I leave them behind, like forgotten pool toys.  Or perhaps my mind simply chooses to block them from my memory because they are too frightening.  Great id monsters that belong in a Japanese monster movie, demolishing Tokyo, instead of in my waking life.

As I said, I do dream.  You know, the normal stuff.  Writing poems.  Publishing books.  Being awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant and the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Yesterday, I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about three writers who received two million dollar advances from publishers for their debut novels.  As Humphrey Bogart said in The Maltese Falcon--"The stuff that dreams are made of."

At least, the stuff the Saint Marty's dreams are made of.

"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."--Bogart