Thursday, June 30, 2016

June 30: Checking in with John Smolens

Forgive me for my absence last night.  I was a little preoccupied with my online course.  Posting lectures.  Putting together a quiz.  I was working until after midnight.

You must also forgive me for not starting with a quote from Annie Dillard.  I am a little too exhausted for deep thinking.  The members of my book club left a little while ago.  It was a special meeting.  My friend and colleague and author, John Smolens, was the guest.

John recently published his ninth novel, Wolf's Mouth.  That was the excuse to get him to attend.  There was ravioli with pesto, some mixed veggies, and a fruit trifle.  It was all good, and John seemed to really enjoy himself..

Tonight was another blessing for Saint Marty.  If you're keeping track, that's three positive posts in a row, sort of.  That's a record.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June 28: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Society of Jesus, Bible Camp

I am once again going to simply open up my fairly beat-up copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and stick my finger on a page:

I was created from a clot and set in proud, free motion:  so were they.  So was this rotifer created, this monostyla with its body like a light bulb in which pale organs hang in loops; so was this paramecium created, with a thousand propulsive hairs jerking in unison, whipping it from here to there across a drop and back.  Ad majorem Dei gloriam?

I love this quote.  All about creation and motion, from Dillard to rotifer to paramecium.  Dillard seems to be saying that we all come from the same place for the same reason:  Ad majorem Dei gloriam.  That is the Latin motto of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) of the Catholic Church.  It translates as, "For the greater glory of God."

That is the reason we are all here, why we are all created from those little clots of cells.  The glory of God.  We get up in the morning for the glory of God.  Eat breakfast, glory.  Go to work, glory.  Do whatever you do during the day--teach or write a poem or play chopsticks on the piano--and it's all about the glory of God.

Tonight, both of my kids are at Bible camp.  My son is there as a camper.  My daughter is there as a counselor.  I had to drive out to the campground this afternoon to drop off my daughter's sleeping bag.  I've been there many times before, and every time I step out of my car, I'm amazed at the serenity of the place.  The lake is blue, and the air smells of sand and pine and fish.  It's really easy to sense the glory of God when you're there.

Pretty soon, I'm going to publish this post for the glory of God.  (Okay, maybe that's pushing it a little bit.)  But, I hope that my two Constant Readers will take a few moments and think about what they're doing.  When I was a kid, I was often told that I needed to be the Jesus in people's lives.  That's what it's all about.  Remembering that no matter what you're doing, it can be a moment of praise and glory. 

I'm watching the news right now.  It's all about a terrorist attack in Turkey, an explosion at a factory, a shooting in an office building.  There's little of God's glory in those events.  Yet, I believe, truly, that somewhere in all that tragedy, God will find a way to bring about goodness and glory again.

Saint Marty just wrote an entirely positive post.  For the glory of God.

Monday, June 27, 2016

June 27: English Sparrow, Strep Throat, Love Letter to the World

Today, I am going to open up my copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to a random passage and write a gratitude post about it: 

On my way home, every bird I saw had something in its mouth.  A male English sparrow, his mouth stuffed, was hopping in and out of an old nest in a bare tree, and sloshing around in its bottom.   A robin on red alert in the grass, trailing half a worm from its bill, bobbed three steps and straightened up, performing unawares the universal robin trick.  A mockingbird flew by with a red berry in its beak, the berry flashed in the sun and glowed like a coal from some forge or cauldron of the gods.

Well, sparrows and robins and mockingbirds.  Nests.  Red berries glowing like embers from some divine Crock Pot.  Each creature in this passage is hopping or bobbing or swooping, mouths filled with food.  It's a passage that's bursting with life and abundance.

You know, I spend a lot of time talking about things I don't have.  Today, I'm going to focus on something that makes my life feel abundant:  writing.  One of the most peaceful moments of my day is when I sit down to type my daily blog post.  Author Anthony Doerr says, "A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world."  That's what a good post should be, too:  a love letter to something or someone.

Tonight, both of my children are packing for Bible camp.  My son is going as a camper.  My daughter is going as a camp counselor.  They're both pretty excited.  There have been a few bumps in the road today (my daughter was diagnosed this afternoon with strep throat--she's on antibiotics; the material for my online class wasn't uploaded properly, and I had to spend two hours figuring out the problem).  But those were minor distractions, and they have been resolved.

So, the abundance of my day is medicine for my daughter's sore throat.  My online class, which is providing extra income for the next month or so.   I have good kids who really love the Lord.  And I have a laptop on which to write this love letter to the world.  And I don't have to pay for said laptop; it's given to me by the university.

And Saint Marty has a comfortable bed that is calling to him.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

June 26: Contingent Professor, Economic Injustice, Classic Saint Marty

Sunday.  12:56 p.m.  85 degrees outside.  Cranky daughter just got out of bed.

I have some work to do today for the online class I'm teaching.  It starts tomorrow, and I think I'm pretty much ready.  I just have some small details to finish up.  A quiz to post.  Lecture notes to work on for next week.  I am feeling much more confident than I was last week at this time.

Which gets me thinking about being a contingent professor at the university.  For the work that I have done/am doing for this class, a full-time professor would be getting paid about four times as much as I am being paid.  I have a terminal degree. I have been teaching at the university longer than most of the full-time, tenure-track/tenured professors in my department.  And the full-timers rule the roost.

Sorry if I'm sounding a little like Bernie Sanders, but it is true that there is a great deal of injustice in the world.  In the academic world, too.

Two years ago, I was saying the same thing:

June 27, 2014:  Going Home, Elitist Intellectuals, Once Upon a Toad

"Charlotte," said Wilbur.  "We're all going home today.  The Fair is almost over.  Won't it be wonderful to be back home in the barn cellar again with the sheep and the geese?  Aren't you anxious to get home?"

E. B. White loved the life he led as a child.  He loved the summers he spent in a cabin on a lake with his family.  He loved the horses his father owned.  Later, he loved his life in farm country.  The barns.  Cows.  Chickens.  The spiders and geese.  In fact, White made a career for himself writing about everything he cherished from his youth.  He was constantly going home.

I have been an adjunct instructor at a university for going on 20 years.  That's a long time.  I've seen professors come and go.  Retire.  Die.  I've taught through the administrations of about five or six English Department Heads and six University Presidents.  I have never been offered more than a one-semester contract.  At the end of each semester, I'm not sure if I'll be teaching one class, two classes, or no classes the next term.  It's a tenuous existence at best.

One of the reasons I've never been offered something more permanent is because of a bias that exists in academia.  The English Department is full of professors who think they're better teachers and scholars because they've studied in such exotic locations as Indiana or Texas or Canada.  They went on a Holy Grail quest for a tenured position at a university and lucked out.  They've made sacrifices for their careers.

These elitist intellectuals are of the opinion that their sacrifices have somehow made them worthier of their privileged lives than others.  They look down on the likes of me, who elected to stay put, raise a family, and pursue an academic career closer to home.  I've sat through department meetings where contingents and adjuncts were treated like inferior children by tenured colleagues.

I think it does take a lot of courage to leave home and pursue a career wherever the academic winds blow.  I admire my colleagues.  They're smart, talented people.  However, I also think it takes a lot of courage to stay home, get married, have children, and roll the academic dice.  In fact, it may take more courage because there are more obstacles in the way of success, not the least of which are the opinions of elitist intellectuals.

Sorry for the rant, folks.  It's something about which I've been thinking quite a bit this summer.  I had to get it off my chest.

Once upon a time, a toad lived in a swamp in the middle of the woods.  The swamp was his home.  The toad was born there, grew up there.  He spent his days sitting on the same rotten log where his father sat his whole life (until a rather cranky snake came along and ate his father).

One day, a lizard from the other side of the forest moved into the swamp.  The lizard said to the toad, "Don't you ever get bored of sitting on this log, eating the same kinds of bugs, day after day?"

The toad just blinked at the lizard.

The lizard cleared his throat.  "I think life is too short to fritter away.  A life without change and adventure isn't a real life.  It's a wasted life."

The toad just blinked at the lizard

The lizard licked his eyes.  "Are you hearing what I'm saying?  You don't deserve this log or this swamp.  You can't appreciate it the way I can."

The toad just blinked at the lizard.

"I deserve this swamp more than you," the lizard said, "because I've been to other places.  I'm worldly and smart."

The toad just blinked at the lizard.

"And, furthermore--" the lizard continued.

Just then, the cranky snake came by and swallowed the lizard.

The toad just blinked.

Moral of the story:  don't fuck with a cranky snake.

And Saint Marty lived happily ever after.

Something like this...

Saturday, June 25, 2016

June 25: Mental Illness, Peter Balakian, "Reading Dickinson / Summer '68"

I used to have a "normal" family, or at least I thought I did.  I have learned that "normal" is a relative thing, especially if your relatives suffer from mental illness.

My life has been touched by mental illness many times.  My wife has bipolar.  I have siblings who struggle with depression and psychosis and bipolar (undiagnosed).  Sometimes, I think that I'm making up for having a relatively quiet childhood.  I was blessed with parents who have a stable marriage.  Five sisters and three brothers who, for the most part, got along.

Mental illness does not discriminate.  I myself have had bouts of depression.  I think it goes with the territory when it comes to being a poet.  Look at Emily Dickinson.  Darkness and death and mental illness.

So here's one for all the "normal" people out there.

Saint Marty has no idea who you are.

Reading Dickinson / Summer '68

by:  Peter Balakian

In the hermetic almost dark
under the fluorescent dizz
I found her broken nerves,
smoke coming off the dashes,
the caps like jolts to the neck,
the pried-open spaces between vowels
where the teeth bit off twine
and the tongue was raw then cool with ice.
The air of the stockroom after lunch
was the marbleized silence of the
small blank pages she stitched into privacy.
Air of paper and faint glue
bond, carbon, graph, yellow pads,
in the stockroom I could read alone—
the confetti of money dissolved on the blank wall.
After work, I slid the numbered poems
on blue mimeo into my playbook,
and felt the open field
the zig-zagging past cornerbacks,
the white lines skewed to heaven.
Excuse my mood—unbridled, chemical,
her scrawled messages smooth to the mind,
excuse my absence, again and yes, then, too—
the cold stone of the Palisades was there
after we split—
alone naked in the Hudson,
the water greasing me in the tepid, chemical mix,
before I returned
to the cement of 9W in my father’s Skylark
the night black and soundless within.

June 25: A Monster, Smaug, Xenophobia

Either this world, my mother, is a monster., or I myself am a freak.

It's a simple statement that Dillard makes.  She has been meditating on death and evolution.  The world is full of examples of animals, insects, plants, and fish that spawn and devour, live and kill.  Our Monster Mother is ruthless in her ability to care for her children.  The strong overcome.  The weak perish and are devoured.  Dillard sees some cruelty in this process.  But cruelty is a human invention.

Survival is a difficult thing.  I think most people will agree with me on this.  In the United States (as in the rest of the world), a privileged few do not have to worry about clothing and shelter and food and warmth on a daily basis.  They see something they like or want, and they acquire it.  For the rest of us, it is not that simple.  If we need a new car, we don't fix a hole in the ceiling.  If we need to pay the water bill, we push off buying groceries for a few days.  Vacations are things you save up for (sometimes for years).  That's the way it is.

I'm not complaining.  These are simple facts.  My two Constant Readers will agree with me.  However, the fact that so few people control the majority of the wealth and resources of this world is sort of an abomination.  Picture Donald Trump sitting on a pile of gold in the bowels of a mountain, like Smaug, protecting it from all us hobbits and dwarfs.

Nothing will change this situation, despite Bernie Sanders' call for political revolution in the United States.  The issue for the upcoming presidential in the United States is whether we want to put Smaug in charge of the whole country.  The recent Brexit vote in the United Kingdom does not bode well for us in U. S.  It seems that xenophobia and exclusion are the current political flavor of the day.

I would like to think that the world will not have to endure a President Smaug.  However, we in the Shire know that the dragon is stirring in the heart of Lonely Mountain.

Saint Marty may have to get on a boat to Rivendell (or at least Disney World)  come the November election.

This is really funny if you know The Lord of the Rings

Friday, June 24, 2016

June 24: Mother's Birthday, Peter Balakian, "My Mother is a Fish"

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday.  I believe that she is going to be 86.  You must forgive me.  I'm not good with birth dates.  I'm lucky that I remembered the day at all.

My mother's two remaining sisters have driven up from Detroit for the occasion.  It will be the first time in two or three years that they've all been together.  My mother doesn't know hat they're coming.  I'm hoping that she remembers them.

You see, my mother's memory isn't great.  She barely remembers my sister who lives in Washington.  When my sister was visiting last year, my mother kept looking at my sister and saying to me, "Isn't she a nice lady."  However, my mother seems to able to remember things from her childhood quite well.  Sometimes, she sits at the dining room table and tells me stories of when she was a little girl.  It's as if her long term memory is intact, but her short term memory is short circuiting.   I think that the only reason she remembers me is because I see her almost every day.

So, tonight, Saint Marty is honoring his mother with a poem by Peter Balakian.

"My Mother is a Fish"

by:  Peter Balakian

My mother is a fish
and the sky is low and orange,
and the long grass rises   
in the still air.
The mud is black   
and worms turn   
their cold segments   
at my feet.

      I used to walk   
      with an old lady.
      It seemed far from water
      and the ground sank.
      Weeds were higher
      than my head.   
      Slugs slept
      in the mud.

My mother is a fish
and the sky swallows my head.   
A fine rain comes
and softens the ferns.

In March before the crocus   
and the lily,
eggs bunch in the shoal   
of green jelly.
Crabs glide through them.   
A kingfisher is dead
on a rock.

My mother is an eel   
winding a light
around the rock.   
Even without a moon   
the black glows.

The sun grows like an egg
over the bridge,
the first birds are silver
and swoop down for my mother.

      When the lady came
      we jumped—
      She took us to find worms   
      we could squeeze
      in our hands.

      I went with my father
      to the dark water.
      I went with a bucket
      of mud.
      When we doubled the worm   
      on the hook and it coiled,   
      I could hear how a bass
      could thud.

      I grabbed it
      with a wet hand,   
      and watched its eye   
      go black
      as I dropped it
      in a metal bucket.

      Hack it along the gill
      and throw the head to the gulls.

My mother is a fish
and flutters in my bucket.   
The sky is a fleck of stones   
on the night water.
Turns my arms silver.

The wind calls my father   
out to where bigger birds   
call and caw and spin,

where my father goes
and leaves me with the mud   
and gulls on the patchy water.
My mom and dad

June 24: Glass Darkly, Completely Positive, Movie Marathon

People say that a good seat in the backyard affords as accurate and inspiring a vantage point on the planet earth as any observation tower on Alpha Centauri.  They are wrong.  We see through a glass darkly.  We find ourselves in the middle of a movie, or, God help us, a take for a movie, and we don't know what's on the rest of the film.

Dillard is an observer.  She watches the way waters flow and snakes shed skins.  The seasons change.  Ice melts,  Grass sprouts.  Monarchs flock.  Leaves turn gold.  Pumpkins fatten.  Frost thickens.  And snow flies.  And Dillard is there with her pen and journal to capture it all, through a glass darkly.

I am very familiar with that dark glass.  But I have been challenged to write at least one completely positive post a week.  As my two Constant Readers know, I have a tendency to dwell on the darker elements of the universe.  It's who I am.  One of my favorite Christmas gifts last year was a copy of Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome which describes, among other things, the funeral of Pope John Paul II.  Happiness and sorrow.  That's the way things are.

However, I accept this challenge of positivity.  Tonight's post will contain nothing about the death of my Ford Freestyle or my fears of parental inadequacy.  I won't dwell on black mold or my need for a haircut.  Nope, nothing but happiness tonight.

I have a best friend who has been keeping a gratitude journal since January 1st of this year.  Every day, she writes about three things for which she gives thanks.  Recently, she told me that sometimes the only thing she is grateful for is her bed.  Yet, she claims that this little exercise has changed her life.  (A long time ago, my wife did a similar exercise in gratitude, and she, also, says it was a life-changing practice.)

So, tonight, I am an observer, like Dillard.  However, I'm not looking for wreckage and apocalypse.  I'm going to write about a good evening with my daughter.  A few years ago, we had a Harry Potter movie marathon.  For many nights, we spent a few hours at Hogwarts.  It was a really happy time.  Tonight, we have started another movie marathon.  This time, my daughter has chosen The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I'm watching the first film with her right now.  There have been no tears or meltdowns or raised voices tonight.  Instead, it's all about Frodo and Gandalf and the One Ring.

So, that's what Saint Marty is grateful for tonight:  the start of a movie marathon with his daughter.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

June 23: Falling from Airplanes, Absence Yesterday, Blessings

I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door.  Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks.  Divinity is not playful.  The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest.  By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet . . .

A sort of comforting paragraph.  There is praise and gratitude.  However, there is also people hurtling through the air toward rocky ends.  God doesn't mess around, Dillard seems to be saying.  There's nothing casual about the universe.  It is mysterious, sacred, and nimble. 

Hi, I'm back.  Sorry for my absence yesterday.  I have been working on putting together the online class I'm teaching this summer, and last night I had some technical issues.  Actually, after five, frustrating hours, I was ready to take a sledgehammer to my laptop.  I was in no mood to try to be reflective.  I barely wanted to be around my family.

Today, I'm better, and I have a lot to be thankful for.  Good things.  First, yesterday morning I heard from my editor.  He loved my poems and is going to use them in the anthology that he's putting together.  That was blessing number one.

Second, I have found a new car to buy.  It is a Subaru Impreza.  Much smaller than my Ford Freestyle, but it has low mileage and will probably last for about ten years.  I drove it all last night and today, and I'm convinced that it will be a good choice.  And the price is right.  Blessing number two.

Finally, when I got home today, there was a letter waiting for me.  It was from the Dean of the College, congratulating me.  It seems that I have been awarded the promotion for which I applied.  Now, instead of Contingent Assistant Professor Saint Marty, I shall be called Contingent Professor Saint Marty.  It made me really happy, and it also means that I will be able to make more money in the fall when classes start.  Blessing number three.

However, as Dillard points out, as you are soaring through the air, saying "thank you," the rocks are quickly approaching.  My daughter just had a major meltdown in front of me, telling me how miserable she is.  She doesn't have anything to do, and I am one of the main causes of her misery.  Rocks, ahoy.

Blessings or not, Saint Marty always has his daughter to bring him back to reality.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 21: Low Blood Sugar, Peter Balakian, "Baseball Days, '61"

I was at work early on Monday.  It was about 6:45 a.m., and nobody else was around.  I like working in the medical office at this time of the day.  It's quiet and dark.  No phones ringing.  No TV mumbling in the waiting room.  It's easy for me to get centered.

Yesterday, however, I had a low blood sugar.  I have been an insulin-dependent diabetic since I was thirteen, and I've been using an insulin pump for about ten years.  Usually, the pump keeps my blood glucose levels pretty even.  But, every once in a while, I have a little problem.

I started to sweat and get dizzy.  I knew what was wrong.  Now, in the past, when my sister was my boss, I would go into her office and find something to eat.  She always kept her refrigerator well-stocked with juices and cheeses and chocolates.

Whether it was my altered mental state because of the low blood sugar or just plain habit, I got up from my desk and walked to the door of what used to be my sister's office.  I had my hand on the door handle before I realized what I was doing.  I stood there, reminding myself that my sister is gone.  I had to repeat that phrase several times in my head:  "She's gone, she's gone, she's gone."  And then I started crying.

I cried for quite a while.

It was a strange collision of past and present for me.  I was quite temporally disoriented for a few minutes.  Again, I don't know if it was my medical issue or my sister's ghost or nostalgia or a combination of all of these things.

I thought I was doing pretty well in my grieving process.  Holding it together.  Yesterday, it all came crashing down for a little while.  I went back to my desk, found a juice in my lunch bag, and sat at my desk and thought about the past, sort of the way Peter Balakian does in the poem below.  I miss my sister.  A lot.

Saint Marty is still a little sad tonight.  Maybe he needs to eat a brownie.

Baseball Days, '61

by:  Peter Balakian

All summer the patio drifted in and out of light the color of margarine;
days were blue, not always sky blue.
At night the word Algeria circulated among the grown-ups.
A patient of my father had whooping cough, the words drifted into
summer blue. The evenings spun into stadium lights.
Kennedy’s hair blew across the screen. Castro was just a sofa.
I saw James Meredith’s face through a spread of leaves
on the evening news. The fridge sweat with orangeade,
the trees whooped some nights in rain—
a kid down the street kept coughing into his mitt.
Static sounds from Comiskey and Fenway came
though the vinyl, the plastic, the pillow—
So when it left Stallard’s hand, when Roger Maris’s arms whipped
the bat and the bullet-arc carried into the chasm the disaffections
at 344 ft. near the bullpen fence
under the green girder holding up the voices rising into the façade and over the
where a Baptist choir on Lenox Ave. was sending up a variation of Sweet Chariot
into the traffic on the FDR that was jammed at the Triboro
where a derrick was broken and the cables of its arms picked up the star-blast of
     voices coming over the Stadium façade spilling down the black next-game
     sign into the vector
of a tilted Coke bottle on a billboard
at the edge of the river where a cloud of pigeons rose over Roosevelt Island.
It was evening by the time the cars unjammed and the green of the outfield unfroze
and the white arc had faded into skyline before fall came
full of boys throwing themselves onto the turf with inexplicable desire
for the thing promised. The going. Then gone.
My sister, Sally

June 21: Knees in the World, Desi Arnaz, Closed Head Injury

The world has locusts, and the world has grasshoppers.  I was up to my knees in the world.

It's a pretty self-explanatory little passage.  Dillard is knee-deep in the stuff of the world.  She goes on for pages with her discussion of grasshoppers and locusts.  Their origins and habits.  Biblical and scientific references.  Basically, Dillard gives us a lesson in everything grasshoppery.

Speaking of being knee-deep in the world, I wish to speak tonight about being knee-deep in the world.  As Desi Arnaz used to say, "Let me 'splain,'"  I'm working on trying to get my kitchen ceiling and bathroom fixed up.  My attic needs to be emptied and finished so my daughter can have a room to herself.  Tomorrow, I have to go car shopping.  And, in the middle of all this, I have to work and get my online class ready to roll.  I'm knee-deep and sinking fast right now.

My life seems to go this way often.  For a while, the world is all rainbows and lollipops (or at least pizza and wine coolers).  And then, a bump.  At the moment, that bump is my car.  The initial bump starts the downhill slide.  Bills come due.  People get sick.  Bad news arrives.  Pretty soon, it feels like I'm careening down the Matterhorn like Clark Griswold on a sled.  I just have to hold on for the ride and hope that I don't end up with a closed head injury.

Of course, I'm not giving up hope.  Things always work out.  Somehow.  I simply get a little tired of moving from one crisis to another in my life.  I stamp out one fire, and the wind picks up.  Pretty soon, I'm surrounded by tiny blazes.  (Are you getting tired of my disaster metaphors yet?)

I know that I am blessed.  I have jobs.  Health.  Family.  Food.  Friends.  A modicum of writing talent.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Thank you, God, for my blessings.  In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure what's at the bottom of the mountain I'm sliding down.  A lake?  A cliff?  A granite wall?

Saint Marty forgot to put on his bike helmet.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Jne 20: A Few Facts, Poet of the Week, Peter Balakian, "Ellis Island"

I have found out a few facts about Fred Trump, the father of the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States.  (These facts were not difficult to locate.  Simply type "Donald Trump parents" into Google.)

First, Fred Trump was the son of German immigrants.  (That's right.  Donald is only second generation American.  His grandparents came through Ellis Island.)  Fred built a real estate empire in New York, building low income housing.  In 1927, Fred was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally, but he was released without being charged.  Much later in his life, he was investigated and cited by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations.  It seems Mr. Trump didn't like renting apartments to people of color.  (He instructed his rental agents not to rent to African Americans and also to encourage African American tenants to vacate his properties.)  Folk singer Woody Guthrie, who once rented one of Fred's apartments, wrote lyrics about Fred Trump, accusing him of stirring up racial hatred "in the bloodpot of human hearts."

That's where Donald Trump came from.  German immigrants.  Ellis Island.  A self-made real estate tycoon who had more than a little problem with African Americans, just like his son has problems with Muslim Americans.

This week, I have chosen Peter Balakian as Poet of the Week.  Peter is the son of Armenian immigrants and grew up in New Jersey, not far from Fred and Donald Trump's stomping grounds.  He recently won the Pulitzer Prize for his poetry collection Ozone Journal.

Saint Marty thinks we should all celebrate immigrants this week.

Ellis Island

by:  Peter Balakian

The tide’s a Bach cantata.
The beach is the swollen neck of Isaac.

The tide’s a lamentation of white opals.
The beach is free. The Coke machine rusted out.

Here is everything you’ll never need:

hemp-cords, curry-combs, jade and musk,   
a porcelain cup blown into the desert—

stockings that walked to Syria in 1915.

On the rocks some ewes and rams   
graze in the outer dark.

The manes of the shoreline undo your hair.   
A sapphire ring is fingerless.

The weed and algae are floating like a bed,   
and the bloodless gulls—

whose breaths would stink of all of us   
if we could kiss them on the beaks—

are gnawing on the dead.
The immigrant hospital on Ellis Island

June 20: Earth Sways, Parabolas, Attacking Orcs

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 lace, 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 feels off kilter.  Floodwaters have rearranged her familiar landscape.  Everything is movement.  The earth recedes and sways.  All that was bedrock has become liquid and air, and Dillard is unmoored from her beloved Tinker Creek.

I have sort of felt like Dillard for most of today.  I don't know why.  As I was walking into work this morning, the winds were violent.  I was literally leaning into them, trying to keep my footing.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  My path from my car to the medical center was a parabola.

And I have sort of kept on that trajectory all day, trying to accomplish tasks but constantly veering off course a little.  This post is a little parabolic for me, as well.  I intended to write about the tension I feel as I wait to hear back from my editor about the poems I submitted.  Instead, I'm writing about floods and winds and shifting worlds.

I find myself in a tempest of self-doubt at the moment.  I've read and reread my poems.  At times, the sonnet seems sound and fresh.  Other times, it strikes me as, pardon my French (why French?  I've never understood that phrase), a piece of shit.  It has been slightly torturous.  I keep checking my e-mail to see if I've gotten a response from the editor.  Each time I checked, nothing.  And the winds kept blowing, and the earth kept shifting.

Tonight, I have to dig in and plan out the online film class I'm teaching this summer.  Lots of busy work.  Quizzes and lectures and final exams.  Choices to make.  That will keep me quite occupied for most of the evening.  (My daughter is quite happy about this development.  I'm interfering with her gaming.  Others will have to defeat the evil horde of attacking orcs tonight.)  I'm panicking a little about this, as well, since I have never taught on online course in my life.  Winds.  Floods.  Parabolas.

At this moment, I am going to check again to see if the editor has responded.  This will only take a moment . . . Nope.

Looks like Saint Marty's going to have a stormy night.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

June 19: Father's Day, Sonnet Stress, Classic Saint Marty

Happy Father's Day!

Currently, my lovely teenage daughter is waiting impatiently to get her hands on my laptop.  It is almost 10:15 p.m., and I have been working on a few writing projects for a while.  My laptop is the only computer in the house, so my daughter seems to think it belongs to her.  Ah, the joys of being a parent--disappointing your children.

My assignment for today was finishing up a sonnet that an editor requested from me about a month ago.  It has taken me a long time.  I am at the point where I'm not sure what's good and not good.  I've been working on it for far too long.  So, I just typed up the poem and e-mailed it to the editor with a request for mercy and kindness.  We shall see what he says.

I do have an episode of Classic Saint Marty for my two Constant Readers this evening.  It first aired about a year ago, when my life had just started to unravel a little bit: 

June 23, 2015:  Read Aloud, Novels and Poetry, Louise Gluck, "A Work of Fiction"

In the way that the inn, set up on a slight incline, was surrounded by woods, so were Mrs. Parsons' guests, gathered in the sitting room, surrounded by a fine and very old library of books.  Because there was not much else to do in the evenings, except to sip brandies and watch the fire, Mrs. Parsons, in the tradition in which she had been raised, would hobble over to a stately chair and, in a voice that was remarkably strong and in a manner that was theatrical, read aloud selections from certain volumes.

Ives and Annie take a trip to the British Isles in their old age.  They stay at an inn near Sherwood Forest.  It is a time of healing for them.  Reconnection.  Ives and Annie rediscover their passions, for art, literature, and each other.  One of the great pleasures of their sojourn is the innkeeper reading to them from Charles Dickens' novels.

I love hearing people read aloud to me.  I also love reading aloud.  I think that's why I became a poet.  It's the oral/aural part that appeals to me most.  Novel reading is a solitary endeavor for the most part.  One person sitting in a comfortable chair, building a relationship with the author, page-by-page.  Poetry, on the other hand, is more immediate, sort of begs for something more communal.

I've been getting rides to work from a friend every day since my car's been out of commission.  This afternoon, on the way home, I opened up a collection of poems by Billy Collins and started reading to her.  It was a great ride home.  She was laughing.  I was laughing.  When we got to my driveway, we sat there while I finished reading Collins' poem about 9-11, "The Names."  By the time I was done, I was crying.  My friend looked at me and said, "Isn't that a great thing?  That a person can use words and create something that moves you so much."

All Saint Marty could do was nod and smile.

A Work of Fiction

by:  Louise Gluck

As I turned over the last page, after many nights, a wave of sorrow enveloped me.  Where had they all gone, these people who had seemed so real?  To distract myself, I walked out into the night; instinctively, I lit a cigarette.  In the dark, the cigarette glowed, like a fire lit by a survivor.  But who would see this light, this small dot among the infinite stars?  I stood awhile in the dark, the cigarette glowing and growing small, each breath patiently destroying me.  How small it was, how brief.  Brief, brief, but inside me now, which the stars could never be.

Dickens made a butt load of money giving public readings

Saturday, June 18, 2016

June 18: Charles Dickens, Adonis, "New Testament"

Emily Dickinson only published a few poems during her lifetime.  In fact, I've published more poetry in my life right now than Dickinson ever did while she was alive.  Walt Whitman just kept on revising the same book over and over and over.  It worked for him. 

I'm always fascinated by the lives of writers.  One of my favorite things to do is read biographies of famous authors.  Peter Ackroyd wrote a 1200-page biography of Charles Dickens.  I've read that book six or seven times.  I've read about Flannery O'Connor, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, James Joyce, and e. e. cummings.

It's kind of a sickness, I think.  I like learning about the struggles these artists faced.   Alcoholism and mental illness and drug addiction.  Flannery O'Connor's battle with lupus.  Robert Frost's lifelong bouts of depression.  Hemingway and bipolar.  All of these great writers faced incredible life challenges, and, through those challenges, they created amazing things.

I suppose it has to do with facing human failings.  Every great writer that I've read about has dealt with some incredible hurdle.  I find that a little comforting.  These great poets and novelists and short story writers are incredibly flawed human beings, and they transform these flaws into works that shed a little light into the dark places of the universe.  Each of these people created their own testaments for the world to read.

That gives Saint Marty a great deal of hope.

New Testament

by:  Adonis

He doesn’t speak this language.
He doesn’t know the voices of the wastes—
a soothsayer in stony sleep,
he is burdened with distant languages.

Here he comes from under the ruins
in the climate of new words,

offering his poems to grieving winds
unpolished but bewitching like brass.

He is a language glistening between the masts,
the knight of strange words.

Everybody's a critic . . .

June 18: Sleeping Bag, Picking Up Daughter, Bible Camp

I made a sandwich, filled a canteen, and slipped a palm-sized flashlight into my pocket.  Then all I had to do was grab a thin foam pad and my sleeping bag, walk down the road, over the eroded clay hill where the mantis laid her eggs, along the creek downstream to the motorbike woods, and through the woods' bike trail to the dam.

Dillard is going camping.  She's got everything she needs to spend a night in the wild--water, sleeping bag and mat, flashlight.  In her list of camping necessities, she doesn't mention Cheetos or Hershey bars or even beef jerky.  Just water.  Obviously, Dillard's idea of roughing it is very different from my idea of roughing it.  My idea of rustic camping is staying at a hotel without room service.

I mention these facts because, in a few hours, I will be picking my daughter up from Bible camp.  She has been there almost a full week.  The accommodations at this camp are not quite as bare bones as Dillard's.  There are cabins and flush toilets and showers.  Oh, and a chapel for worship.  It's a great place in the middle of the woods, right by a beautiful little lake.

I'm not sure which daughter I will be picking up:  the moody, tired teenager or the funny, happy-go-lucky girl who sings along with the radio.  I'm betting on the former, simply because she has probably not had a whole lot of sleep these last six days.  Usually, the conversation when I pick her up from Bible camp goes something like this:

Me:  So how was your week?

Her:  Fine.

Me:  Make any new friends?

Her:  (incomprehensible mumble)

Me:  What?

Her:  NO!!  GOD!!

Me:  Did you go swimming?

Her:  No.

Me:  Why not?

Her:  (incomprehensible mumble)

Me:  What?

Her:  Could you just please NOT?!!!

You get the idea.  After spending a week with her friends, reading the Bible, going to worship, inviting Jesus into her life, my daughter will be tired, in need of a shower, and demonically possessed.

Saint Marty can't wait to see her. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

June 17: Road Crew, Construction, Moving a Tree Trunk

Women are bringing coffee in mugs to the road crew.  They've barely made a dent in the tree trunk, and they're giving up.  It's a job for power tools; the water's going down anyway, and the danger is past.  Some kid starts doing tricks on a skateboard; I head home.

Dillard joins a crowd of people watching a road crew at work.  Tinker Creek is flooding, and a tree has washed up against a bridge.  The tree has to be removed, or property may be damaged.  And, as with any situation that promises potential disaster, it attracts a crowd of onlookers.  Sort of like when residents of Washington D.C. rode out into the countryside in carriages and on horseback to watch one of the first battles of the Civil War.  As if it was a three-ring service. 

There's a lot of construction going on in my hometown right now.  Streets are torn up and blocked off.  Traffic is slow.  When I go to work in the morning, I never know what I'm going to encounter.  New potholes.  New closures.  Sometimes traffic barrels smashed and in the road.  And the road crew moving tractors and trucks into place.

I don't have time to stop and watch the work.  I simply catch the before and after each day.  Before the work begins and after it ends.  I'm always amazed by work crews.  For months, these guys and gals look as if they're accomplishing nothing.  They simply push piles of gravel and dirt from one place to another.  Then, near the end of construction season, suddenly miracles happen.  Buildings sprout up overnight.  Paved roads and roundabouts appear.  Two lanes become four lanes. 

Writing sometimes goes like that for me.  I struggle and push words around, day after day.  Sentences are put in place, moved, taken apart, put back together.  I get up in the morning, and there's a blank page.  At the end of the day, there may be a new paragraph or stanza.  If I'm really lucky, a poem or essay or story will eventually emerge.

That's where I am this weekend.  Like the road crew, I've been moving dirt around for a few weeks.  Laying down gravel and asphalt.  Tomorrow or Sunday, I'm hoping to be done with my current writing project.  It would be a nice Father's Day gift to myself.

I haven't been feeling like much of a writer recently.  Aside from these blog posts (which don't really count), I haven't produced a whole lot of written work recently.  I'm hoping that all the pieces are going to fall into place somehow.

That's Saint Marty's hope--he needs to move a tree trunk, as Dillard says.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

June 16: 2% Inspiration, Adonis, "Song"

I am working on a sonnet right now.  I've been working on it for a couple of weeks.  It's been a difficult task for me for some reason.  I haven't felt particularly inspired.  But, if I always waited to be inspired in order to write something, I would probably never compose another poem or story or essay.

Poetry, for me, is about 2% inspiration and 98% hard work.  I've had my short moment of inspiration, so now I'm in the work-your-ass-off phase.  I need to have the poem done by the end of the weekend.  That's when the editor needs to submit it to the publisher.  Tomorrow night, I plan to have a finished rough draft.  Saturday, a revised draft.  Sunday, final draft.

That's my plan, anyway.

Saint Marty may need a little more inspiration tonight.  There's some Bailey's Irish Cream in the cupboard.


by:  Adonis

Bells on our eyelashes
and the death throes of words,
and I among fields of speech,
a knight on a horse made of dirt.
My lungs are my poetry, my eyes a book,
and I, under the skin of words,
on the beaming banks of foam,
a poet who sang and died
leaving this singed elegy
before the faces of poets,
for birds at the edge of sky.

June 16: Shoots Like a Tree, Stuck in a Moment, Car Problems

I am not here yet; I can't shake that day on the interstate.  My mind branches and shoots like a tree.

Dillard is stuck in a moment when she was driving along the interstate.  She stopped at a gas station.  Petted a puppy.  As she did this, she watched sun and shadows pass over a ridge of mountains.  And she feels really alive, smaller and bigger than herself.  Metaphysically, she is Emerson's transparent eyeball, absorbing everything around her.

I'm sort of stuck in a moment today, as well.  I wasn't petting a puppy.  I wasn't watching the sun rise over Lake Superior.  I was on the phone with my wife, and she was telling me what the mechanic told her about my car. 

I have owned my Ford Freestyle for eight years.  My son grew up riding in it.  It has brought my daughter back and forth to dance class about 5,763 times.  I drove it to my brother's funeral.  I drove it to my sister's funeral.  I was going to give it to my daughter when she got her license.  I love this car.

Well, the mechanic's diagnosis is not promising.  Somewhere around two thousand dollars worth of repairs are needed.  The Freestyle is only worth about $2,500.  I face a difficult but necessary decision.  I have to get a new car.  This bothers me on several levels.  First, I have many memories attached to the vehicle.  Second, I just finished paying off the car loan about a year ago.  Third, I can't really afford to take on another monthly payment of any substantial amount.

That's the moment I'm stuck in.  By the way my wife and I figure it, we will be able to afford a small, four-door car.  Considering how much winter driving I do for work, I am not looking forward to downsizing.  I've owned a Geo Metro before.  It was a good car.  However, I didn't have two children at the time.

So, in a week or so, I will probably be saying goodbye to my Freestyle, trading it in for a vehicle that I will probably hate driving simply because it is not my Freestyle.  I try not to write about money problems and car problems because I know that I'm better off than probably 99% of the world's population.  I have two good jobs.  A home with a brand new roof (for which I'm still paying).  Food and clothing.  Good health.  I'm very blessed.

Saint Marty just wishes his car was a little more blessed.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 15: Willy Wonka, Adonis, "The Beginning of Speech"

I often wonder what I would say to my younger self.  As a kid, I knew I wanted to be a writer.  Of course, I also wanted to be a movie director, Willy Wonka, and Doug Henning (don't laugh--he was a really cool magician).  However, the main dream has never changed.  Publish books.  Maybe win a prize here and there.  An occasional Pulitzer Prize.  I wouldn't turn down the Nobel, either.

I've published a book of poems.  I've been the poetry editor of a national literary journal.  I've been nominated for the Pushcart Prize a couple of times.  No Pulitzer.  No Nobel.  Yet.  I suppose, if I could say something to my younger self, it would be, "Watch out for skunks!"  (I have had a couple very close encounters with skunks that have cost me a good pair of running shoes and an expensive book bag.)

Saint Marty is still dreaming.

The Beginning of Speech

by:  Adonis

The child I was came to me
a strange face
                He said nothing              We walked
each of us glancing at the other in silence, our steps
a strange river running in between
We were brought together by good manners
and these sheets now flying in the wind
then we split,
a forest written by earth
watered by the seasons’ change.
Child who once was, come forth—
What brings us together now,
and what do we have to say?

June 15: Fork in the Road, Difficult Choices, Speckled and Twining

I don't want to cut this too short.  Let me pull the camera back and look at that fork in the road from a distance, in the larger context of the speckled and twining world.  It could be that the fork will disappear,. or that I will see it to be but one of many interstices in a network, so that it is impossible to say which line is the main part and which is the fork.

Dillard is talking about choices, those times in life when you stand at a crossroads.  Now, we all know what Robert Frost did when he faced a fork in the road:  he took the road less traveled. Dillard, on the other hand, takes several steps back, to try to get a wider view of her situation.  Instead of a crossroads, she sees a network.  Everything connected to everything else.

Choices are not easy.  Especially choices that have profound repercussions.  Recently, I changed jobs.  Even though I was returning to a job that I knew well (I'd done it for close to 17 years), I was still unsure about my decision.  Like Dillard, I wish I'd had the ability to step back to see the wider picture.  Instead, I just saw that less traveled road, full of rocks and leaves and skittering mice.

Now, after I've made my choice and walked down that road for a little while, I know that I made the right decision.  I'm happier.  Less stressed.  Since I started, I haven't had a bad day.  I've had busy days, but nothing that made me want to go home and open my liquor cabinet.  I stood down my fears, and I'm in a better situation because of it.

I don't want to get all philosophical here.  Not gonna give a lecture on difficult choices and roads.  If I had the choice to go back in time and somehow change all of the painful moments in my life, I would.  Difficult life experiences just plain suck.  Deaths of loved ones.  Marital strife.  Addictions.  I don't think any of my disciples reading this post would argue that these things are enriching or necessary.

However, the shitty times in my life have given me some perspective.  I appreciate my wife and kids more because, at one point, my family was on the road to being not a family.  When one of my siblings piss me off, I forgive a little easier, because loss may be just around the bend.  I am a stronger, better person because of these challenges I have faced.

So, there will always be forks in the road, choices to make, hurdles to overcome.  That's life.  As Dillard says, it's a speckled and twining world.

Saint Marty hopes there aren't too many forks in his near future, unless they are coupled with cheesecake.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

June 14: Weary Heads, Girls and Sex, Getting Older

But it gets harder.  The courage of children and beasts is a function of innocence  We let our bodies go the way of our fears.  A teen-aged boy, king of the world, will spend weeks in front of a mirror perfecting some difficult trick with a lighter, a muscle, a tennis ball, a coin. Why do we lose interest in physical mastery?  If I feel like turning cartwheels--and I do--why don't I learns to turn cartwheels, instead of regretting that I never learned as a child?  We could all be aerialists like squirrels, divers like seals; we could be purely patient, perfectly fleet, walking on our hands even, if our living stature required it.  We can't even sit straight, or support our weary heads.

Dillard is talking about getting old.  When we're young, we worry about physical mastery.  That's why, in high school, the athletes are the kings and queens of the school, for better or worse.  We live in a world that prizes extraordinary feats of the body.  That's why we get so excited about events like the World Cup, Super Bowl, and the Olympics.  However, when we get old, our priorities shift.  By ten o'clock, most adults with jobs and family are ready for bed.

When I was a young guy, I was pretty normal.  All I thought about was girls and sex.  I wasn't much of an athlete.  I ran on the cross country team for one year in high school.  I wasn't great.  Didn't break any records.  Didn't place in any race.  I don't even know what I did with the JV letter I earned.  But I was determined to be the best I could be.  It just so happens that the best I could be was mediocre.

As I've gotten older, I have continued to run.  I've gotten slower and thicker.  Given the choice between sex or a nap, I would have a difficult time making a decision.  As Dillard says, my living stature does not require me to be able to outrun things.  I do not live in a place populated by packs of wolves, killer bears, or dinosaurs.  Therefore, speed is not a requirement in my life.

This afternoon, I ran one mile and then played in a swimming pool with my son for a couple of hours.  By the time I got dressed after swimming, I was b-e-a-t.  Beat.  I had a hard time keeping my eyes open.  Right now, at 9:50 p.m., at the end of America's Got Talent, I am beyond beat.  And it's only Tuesday.  I'm in for a long week.

So, I am not Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  No world records will by broken by this wannabe saint.  I am old, getting older.  I still run.  Swim.  Every once in a great while, I may go for a bike ride.  I don't dance, unless I have had several drinks.  In short, I am a normal middle-aged man.

Perhaps I should try to master something physical.  Something that tests my agility or speed or strength.  Something amazing.

Saint Marty will have to sleep on it.  It's after ten o'clock, after all. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

June 13: Muslims, Poet of the Week, Adonis, "The New Noah"

As Donald Trump rails against the Muslim community tonight, I have decided to choose Arab poet Adonis as the Poet of the Week.  Adonis was born in 1930 in Syria, and his name is always on the list of possible winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. 

Yes, I am featuring Adonis to make a point to all the Donald Trump supporters out there:  all Muslims are not terrorists.  Muslims are neighbors and coworkers and artists and business owners.  And poets.  Sure, there are Muslim extremists who do terrible things, but Muslims do not have a monopoly on extremism.  Extremists come in all shapes, sizes, and genders.  And all religions have their share of dark moments.  (Ever hear of the Spanish Inquisition?  The Crusades?) 

If Adonis is a terrorist, so is Saint Marty

The New Noah

by:  Adonis


We travel upon the Ark, in mud and rain,
Our oars promises from God.   
We live—and the rest of Humanity dies.   
We travel upon the waves, fastening
Our lives to the ropes of corpses filling the skies.
But between Heaven and us is an opening,
A porthole for a supplication.

"Why, Lord, have you saved us alone
From among all the people and creatures?
And where are you casting us now?
To your other Land, to our First Home?
Into the leaves of Death, into the wind of Life?
In us, in our arteries, flows a fear of the Sun.
We despair of the Light,
We despair, Lord, of a tomorrow
In which to start Life anew.

If only we were not that seedling of Creation,
Of Earth and its generations,
If only we had remained simple Clay or Ember,
Or something in between,
Then we would not have to see   
This World, its Lord, and its Hell, twice over."


If time started anew,
and waters submerged the face of life,
and the earth convulsed, and that god
rushed to me, beseeching, "Noah, save the living!"
I would not concern myself with his request.
I would travel upon my ark, removing   
clay and pebbles from the eyes of the dead.
I would open the depths of their being to the flood,
and whisper in their veins   
that we have returned from the wilderness,   
that we have emerged from the cave,
that we have changed the sky of years,
that we sail without giving in to our fears—
that we do not heed the word of that god.
Our appointment is with death.   
Our shores are a familiar and pleasing despair,
a gelid sea of iron water that we ford   
to its very ends, undeterred,
heedless of that god and his word,
longing for a different, a new, lord.