Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31: Snow Days, Adonis, "Celebrating Childhood"

It has been snowing for most of the day.  Light, soft snow.  There's going to be shoveling waiting for me when I get home.  As an adult, I have grown to dislike snowstorms, because they create work.  They make driving difficult.  They represent higher heating bills.  All the stuff that big people have to deal with.

As a kid, I used to love snowstorms.  They represented other things.  Days off of school.  Sledding.  Hockey games.  Snow meant freedom from chores and homework.  Snow gave me a reason not to be responsible.

Saint Marty misses those snowy times of childhood.

Celebrating Childhood

by:  Adonis

Even the wind wants
to become a cart
pulled by butterflies.
I remember madness
leaning for the first time
on the mind’s pillow.
I was talking to my body then
and my body was an idea
I wrote in red.
Red is the sun’s most beautiful throne
and all the other colors
worship on red rugs.
Night is another candle.
In every branch, an arm,
a message carried in space
echoed by the body of the wind.
The sun insists on dressing itself in fog
when it meets me:
Am I being scolded by the light?
Oh, my past days—
they used to walk in their sleep
and I used to lean on them.
Love and dreams are two parentheses.
Between them I place my body
and discover the world.
Many times
I saw the air fly with two grass feet
and the road dance with feet made of air.
My wishes are flowers
staining my days.
I was wounded early,
and early I learned
that wounds made me.
I still follow the child
who still walks inside me.
Now he stands at a staircase made of light
searching for a corner to rest in
and to read the face of night again.
If the moon were a house,
my feet would refuse to touch its doorstep.
They are taken by dust
carrying me to the air of seasons.
I walk,
one hand in the air,
the other caressing tresses
that I imagine.
A star is also
a pebble in the field of space.
He alone
who is joined to the horizon
can build new roads.
A moon, an old man,
his seat is night
and light is his walking stick.
What shall I say to the body I abandoned
in the rubble of the house
in which I was born?
No one can narrate my childhood
except those stars that flicker above it
and that leave footprints
on the evening’s path.
My childhood is still
being born in the palms of a light
whose name I do not know
and who names me.
Out of that river he made a mirror
and asked it about his sorrow.
He made rain out of his grief
and imitated the clouds.
Your childhood is a village.
You will never cross its boundaries
no matter how far you go.
His days are lakes,
his memories floating bodies.
You who are descending
from the mountains of the past,
how can you climb them again,
and why?
Time is a door
I cannot open.
My magic is worn,
my chants asleep.
I was born in a village,
small and secretive like a womb.
I never left it.
I love the ocean not the shores.

January 31: Substitute Organist, Lapsed Catholic, Conversion Story

Billy wasn't a Catholic, even though he grew up with a ghastly crucifix on the wall.  His father had no religion.  His mother was a substitute organist for several churches around town.  She took Billy with her whenever she played, taught him to play a little, too.  She said she was going to join a church as soon as she decided which one was right.

She never did decide.  She did develop a terrific hankering for a crucifix, though.  And she bought one from a Santa Fe gift shop during a trip the little family made out West during the Great Depression.  Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.

And the crucifix went up on the wall of Billy Pilgrim.

Yesterday, I wrote about crucifixes in my life.  For Billy, they don't really represent anything, except his mother's taste in souvenirs from gift shops.  Billy wasn't raised in a religious home.  Billy's mom goes to church to make money.  That's it.  There's no soul searching involved.

When I was a teenager, I was well on my way to becoming a lapsed Catholic.  On Sunday mornings, instead of going to Mass, I went to McDonald's for breakfast.  If I did go to Church, I sat in the pew and fell asleep.  A cradle Catholic, I had grown sort of immune to the movement of grace in my life.

It was the pipe organ that brought me back.  I took nine years of piano lessons when I was young.  Although I wasn't a gifted musician, I was a hard worker.  I could play well.  About the time that I entered college, my home church lost an organist, and my parish priest--a kind, benevolent dictator of a man--basically told me that I was going to be the church's new organist.  The next Saturday night, I was sitting in the choir loft, playing the organ.

Somehow, my priest knew that it was exactly what I needed.  (It also didn't hurt that he paid me very well.  Back then, it was all under-the-table.  No taxes and W-2s.  Just handfuls of twenty dollar bills, which I promptly spent on things like new clothes, gas for my car, and, occasionally, alcohol.)  Gradually, though, I started paying attention to what was going on during Mass.  Listening to the readings and homilies.  I started appreciating Christ's message of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, friending the friendless.  It started to sink in.

Over thirty years later, I'm still sitting at the same organ every Saturday night, and I still enjoy it.

It's not an exciting conversion story, like Saint Paul's.  I wasn't blinded by God or cast into a cave with hungry lions.  It happened gradually, like peeling away the layers of an onion, if I may borrow the metaphor from Shrek.

Tonight, Saint Marty is grateful for pipe organs.

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 30: Poet of the Week, Adonis, "The Wound"

The news this weekend of President Trump's ban on immigrants/refugees/travelers from predominantly Muslim countries has bothered me a great deal.  Pope Francis has said that to "call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee" is hypocritical. 

I have chosen Syrian poet Adonis as Poet of the Week, even though the White House probably wouldn't let him enter the country right now.

Saint Marty is tired of mean people and mean politicians and mean Executive Orders.

The Wound

by:  Adonis

The leaves asleep under the wind
are the wounds’ ship,
and the ages collapsed on top of each other
are the wound’s glory,
and the trees rising out of our eyelashes
are the wound’s lake.
The wound is to be found on bridges
where the grave lengthens
and patience goes on to no end
between the shores of our love and death.
The wound is a sign,
and the wound is a crossing too.
To the language choked by tolling bells
I offer the voice of the wound.
To the stone coming from afar
to the dried-up world crumbling to dust
to the time ferried on creaky sleighs
I light up the fire of the wound.
And when history burns inside my clothes
and when blue nails grow inside my books,
I cry out to the day,
“Who are you, who tosses you
into my virgin land?”
And inside my book and on my virgin land
I stare into a pair of eyes made of dust.
I hear someone saying,
“I am the wound that is born
and grows as your history grows.”
I named you cloud,
wound of the parting dove.
I named you book and quill
and here I begin the dialogue
between me and the ancient tongue
in the island of tomes
in the archipelago of the ancient fall.
And here I teach these words
to the wind and the palms,
O wound of the parting dove.
If I had a harbor in the land
of dreams and mirrors, if I had a ship,
if I had the remains
of a city, if I had a city
in the land of children and weeping,
I would have written all this down for the wound’s sake,
a song like a spear
that penetrates trees, stone, and sky,
soft like water
unbridled, startling like conquest.
Rain down on our desert
O world adorned with dream and longing.
Pour down, and shake us, we, the palms of the wound,
tear out branches from trees that love the silence of the wound,
that lie awake staring at its pointed eyelashes and soft hands.
World adorned with dream and longing
world that falls on my brow
like the lash of a wound,
don’t come close—the wound is closer—
don’t tempt me—the wound is more beautiful.
That magic that your eyes had flung
on the last kingdoms—
the wound has passed over it,
passed and did not leave a single sail
to tempt toward salvation, did not leave
a single island behind.

January 30: Gruesome Crucifix, Suffering Without Hope, Unending Happiness

"Joe College,: said Weary scathingly.

Billy shrugged.

"There's more to life than what you read in books," said Weary.  "You'll find that out."

Billy made no reply to this, either, there in the ditch, since he didn't want the conversation to go on any longer than necessary.  He was dimly tempted to say, though, that he knew a thing or two about gore.  Billy, after all, had contemplated torture and hideous wounds at the beginning and the end of nearly every day of his childhood.  Billy had an extremely gruesome crucifix hanging on the wall of his little bedroom in Ilium.  A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist's rendition of all Christ's wounds--the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes.  Billy's Christ died horribly.  He was pitiful.

So it goes.

Like Billy Pilgrim, I grew up with similar images of crucifixion.  It's sort of hard to avoid them in a Catholic household.  There was a crucifix hanging in my bedroom.  It was my baptismal crucifix, made of blue wood with a gold-plated cruciform.  Then there was the crucifix hanging in the family room, which was more traditional.  A dark wood and bronze cruciform.  I remember the details on the family room crucifix more clearly.  The spear wound with gaping bronze muscle, dripping bronze blood.  So it goes.

I don't think I was necessarily scarred by these images.  Quite the opposite.  I sort of sought out images of the crucifixion.  When I read narratives of saints' lives, I wanted pictures of horrific martyrdom.  Stoning.  Decapitation.  Burning at the stake.  It's what boys dig.  But the thing that always struck me about the images--and a lot of the images of Christ on the cross--was the face.  Jesus and the saints all looked so peaceful, almost happy, even as their skins were flayed and hands spiked.  There wasn't a whole lot of agony on display.

I know this is artistic license.  When you set somebody on fire, there's bound to be a little pain involved.  But, as a kid, I reasoned that the saints and Christ, despite immense suffering, also maintained a degree of solace and serenity because of their faiths in a loving God.

That may sound a bit naive to cynical readers.  Suffering is suffering, no matter what.  But suffering without hope, I believe, is even worse.  A friend of mine who worked as a hospice nurse has told me that the worst deaths she's seen have been the deaths of people who have no kind of belief or hope.  People who stare into the void of death and simply see the void. 

My sister had a good death.  She was a strong Catholic, believed in the idea of salvation and redemption.  Yes, she struggled with pain and despair during the last months of her life.  But, on the morning she died, she didn't look fearful or tortured.  When she breathed her last breath, my sister really looked at peace.  Like she'd found something better.

That gives me a great deal of comfort, just like the crucifixes and portraits of the saints when I was a kid.  It gives me hope that all the crap of this life really sloughs away in the end, and what we're left with is real joy, unending happiness.

Tonight, Saint Marty is grateful for crucifixes.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29: A Poem for the Outcast, Busy Work, Hell Days, Classic Saint Marty

I find myself preoccupied with thoughts of refugees from war-torn countries at the moment.  Innocent people caught in the middle of political violence.  A while ago, I wrote a poem about this subject:

Surviving the Bomb

by:  Martin Achatz

At 2 a.m., I wake from dreams, nauseous,
Sweaty as my daughter’s breaking fever,
Convinced I was in Hiroshima just after
Little Boy detonated in resurrection light,
The air, wave after wave of heat, took
Breath and buildings away, left
Skeletons, black fingers pointing
Heavenward, at the ascended Jesus,
At God, accusations blasted into skin,
Kimono flowers, leaves,
Fat keloid blossoms across spine, shoulder.
I rise, stumble to kitchen, sit on floor,
Remind myself of date, year, time.
Over and over.  August 6.  1945.  8:15 a.m.
A prayer.  A chant.  To bring me back.
My fridge.  My table.  My house.
My life.  I swim, kick to surface,
The cells of my body not weak
With charged atom, not in process
Of firestorm, decay.  I breathe
Breaths, hear my son cry out
In his crib.  My son.  My daughter.
My wife.  I remain in darkness, aware
Of winter air on my arms and legs.
Grateful.  I think of how Hiroshima,
One month after, cracked, opened
With goosefoot, morning glories, sesame,
Spanish bayonets and day lilies,
How ash and bones grew green,
Everywhere, grass, bean, weed.
Green, green, green.  Everywhere.  Green.

It has been another day of busy work.  School work.  Grading.  Lesson planning.  Now, blogging--the most pleasant part of my afternoon.  Time to be a little creative, feel connected with somebody beside myself.

I'm going to hit the ground running tomorrow.  Mondays are my hell days this semester.  I work, teach in the afternoon and evening.  Three hours of second semester composition.  I love the class and students, but, by 9 p.m., my brain has been converted into pea soup.

However, I'm grateful for the classes that I'm teaching.  There are quite a few contingent professors in the English Department who did not get teaching assignments.

Four years ago, I was focusing on the Feast of the Presentation, which occurs on February 2 in the Catholic liturgical year.  It's all about celebrating light and joy,  The Prince of the poor and outcast.  Pretty apt for our current times in the United States . . .

January 29, 2013:  Jesus, the Kettle Drum, Simeon

...The thing Jesus really would've liked would be the guy that plays the kettle drums in the orchestra.  I've watched that guy since I was about eight years old.  My brother Allie and I, if we were with our parents and all, we used to move our seats and go way down so we could watch him.  He's the best drummer I ever saw.  He only gets a chance to bang them a couple of times during a whole piece, but he never looked bored when he isn't doing it.  Then when he does bang them, he does it so nice and sweet, with this nervous expression on his face.  One time when we went to Washington with my father, Allie sent him a postcard, but I'll bet he never got it.  We weren't too sure how to address it.

Holden has ended up at Radio City Music Hall.  He watches the Rockettes kicking their way through the Christmas show, and, of course, he thinks it's a load of crap.  He doesn't buy into all the "Come All Ye Faithful!" holiness.  In fact, Holden is sure it would make Jesus puke if He saw it.  Instead, Holden finds inspiration in something a lot simpler--the guy who plays the kettle drums in the orchestra.  As the passage shows, both Allie and Holden find this drummer completely authentic.  When he isn't playing the drums, he's focused and serious, and when he does get to play, he makes a sound "nice and sweet."  He doesn't show off.  He just creates a beautiful noise.

February 2, this Saturday, is the feast of the Presentation.  That's the day Mary and Joseph brought the infant Christ to the Temple in Jerusalem for purification and dedication.  As a sacrifice, they brought the standard offering of poor people--two turtledoves.  Of course, the Holy Family are met by Simeon in the Temple, and Simeon recognizes the Baby as the Messiah.  He takes Jesus in his arms and declares Him to be "the Savior, the Light of the Gentiles and the Glory of Israel."

The thing that amazes about the Presentation is that it isn't someone rich and important who knows the Christ Child.  It's an old man, nobody of consequence.  Like the shepherds of the Christmas narrative, Simeon sings the praises of the Baby.  It's always the humble and poor who first know the Son of God.  I think that's what Holden appreciates about the kettle drummer, as well.  His nervous humility.  As Holden might say, he's not "show-offy."  I agree with Holden.  Show-offy people make Jesus want to puke.  Simeon is not show-offy, either.

On the feast of the Presentation, candles are blessed in the Catholic Church and carried in a procession.  My Lives of Saints explains, "[t]he blessed beeswax candles typify the humanity that God the Son assumed, and signify that Jesus Christ is the True Light of the world..."  The True Light, born in a stable, praised by shepherds and old men.  King of Humility.  Prince of the Poor.

Saint Marty thinks that's something to beat the kettle drum for.

Time to make a joyful noise

Saturday, January 28, 2017

January 28: Just Enough, Henry Lawson, "When Your Pants Begin to Go"

I like the poem below, even if it doesn't reach the heights of Shakespeare.  It makes me laugh, but also touches upon a simple human fact:  it's difficult to focus on the "big things" in life when the "small things" (like shabby clothes or a hole in your kitchen ceiling) preoccupy your mind.

I try to go through my days with my eyes focused on things like common decency.  Trying to make the world a better place.  However, when there are the constant specters of past-due bills, holes in your pants, taxes, and car troubles, I can become a little distracted.

I have heard the phrase that God gives you exactly what you need.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  I believe that.  God will patch your pants, if you need it.

Saint Marty just wishes that, sometimes, God would give him a little more than just enough to get by.

When Your Pants Begin to Go

by:  Henry Lawson

When you wear a cloudy collar and a shirt that isn't white,
And you cannot sleep for thinking how you'll reach to-morrow night,
You may be a man of sorrows, and on speaking terms with Care,
And as yet be unacquainted with the Demon of Despair;
For I rather think that nothing heaps the trouble on your mind
Like the knowledge that your trousers badly need a patch behind.

I have noticed when misfortune strikes the hero of the play,
That his clothes are worn and tattered in a most unlikely way;
And the gods applaud and cheer him while he whines and loafs around,
And they never seem to notice that his pants are mostly sound;
But, of course, he cannot help it, for our mirth would mock his care,
If the ceiling of his trousers showed the patches of repair.

You are none the less a hero if you elevate your chin
When you feel the pavement wearing through the leather, sock, and skin;
You are rather more heroic than are ordinary folk
If you scorn to fish for pity under cover of a joke;
You will face the doubtful glances of the people that you know;
But — of course, you're bound to face them when your pants begin to go.

If, when flush, you took your pleasures — failed to make a god of Pelf,
Some will say that for your troubles you can only thank yourself —
Some will swear you'll die a beggar, but you only laugh at that,
While your garments hand together and you wear a decent hat;
You may laugh at their predictions while your soles are wearing low,
But — a man's an awful coward when his pants begin to go.

Though the present and the future may be anything but bright,
It is best to tell the fellows that you're getting on all right,
And a man prefers to say it — 'Tis a manly lie to tell,
For the folks may be persuaded that you're doing very well;
But it's hard to be a hero, and it's hard to wear a grin,
When your most important garment is in places very thin.

Get some sympathy and comfort from the chum who knows you best,
That your sorrows won't run over in the presence of the rest;
There's a chum that you can go to when you feel inclined to whine,
He'll declare your coat is tidy, and he'll say: 'Just look at mine!'
Though you may be patched all over he will say it doesn't show,
And he'll swear it can't be noticed when your pants begin to go.

Brother mine, and of misfortune, times are hard, but do not fret,
Keep your courage up and struggle, and we'll laugh at these things yet,
Though there is no corn in Egypt, surely Africa has some —
Keep your smile in working order for the better days to come!
We shall often laugh together at the hard times that we know,
And get measured by the tailor when our pants begin to go.

Now the lady of refinement, in the lap of comfort rocked,
Chancing on these rugged verses, will pretend that she is shocked.
Leave her to her smelling-bottle; 'tis the wealthy who decide
That the world should hide its patches 'neath the cruel look of pride;
And I think there's something noble, and I swear there's nothing low,
In the pride of Human Nature when its pants begin to go.

January 28: Affectionate Restraint, Killing Things, Second Amendment

Now, lying in the ditch with Billy and the scouts after having been shot at, Weary made Billy take a very close look at his trench knife.  It wasn't government issue.  It was a present from his father.  It had a ten-inch blade that was triangular in cross section.  Its grip consisted of brass knuckles, was a chain of rings through which Weary slipped his stubby fingers.  The rings weren't simple.  They bristled with spikes.

Weary laid the spikes along Billy's cheek, roweled the cheek with savagely affectionate restraint.  "How'd you like to be hit with this--hm?  Hmmmmmmmmm?" he wanted to know.

"I wouldn't," said Billy.

"Know why the blade's triangular?"


"Makes a wound that won't close up."


"Makes a three-sided hole in a guy.  You stick an ordinary knife in a guy--makes a slit.  Right?  A slit closes right up.  Right?"


"Shit.  What do you know?  What the hell they teach in college?"

"I wasn't there very long," said Billy, which was true.  He had had only six months of college, and the college hadn't been a regular college, either.  It had been the night school of the Ilium School of Optometry.

Another lesson in pain and death from Roland Weary.  Granted, Billy and Weary are fighting in a war.  It's kind of hard to avoid pain and death when people are trying to kill you and vice versa.  It goes along with the territory.  Roland's problem is that he actually seems to enjoy the mechanics.  The gruesome facts of inflicting pain and eventual fatality.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is crowded with hunters and fishermen/women.  Practically every home in this little shark-shaped piece of land contains some kind of firearm.  Some schools actually close for opening day of whitetail deer season, as if it's a federal holiday akin to Martin Luther King Day or Thanksgiving.  Killing things is a part of everyday life in the U. P.

I am not against hunting.  I come from a family of hunters.  Venison was a frequent component of meals when I was a kid.  (I'm not a big fan of deer meat, even when it's disguised in spaghetti sauce or sausage.)  We ate what we killed, as does everybody in the U. P.

So, what is my point?  My point is that, despite being a supporter of stricter gun control measures in the United States, I am not opposed to gun ownership.  I am not against the second amendment to the Constitution.  I'm against people who use the second amendment to validate ownership of weapons that have nothing to do with sport.  A hunter does not need an automatic weapon in order to kill a deer or bear.  (If s/he does, then s/he shouldn't be hunting.)

Of course, there's the argument that people own guns to protect themselves.  Not buying that one, either.  If somebody stands up in a movie theater with a gun and starts shooting, I'm not sure having another person standing up and shooting back will save all that many lives.  Quite the opposite.

My daughter asked me the other day, "What's wrong with more background checks?  What's the big deal with having to wait an extra day or so to buy a gun?  If a person wants a gun that badly, maybe he shouldn't have it in the first place."

I couldn't argue with her logic.

Today, Saint Marty is grateful for having a smart, independent thinker for a daughter.

Friday, January 27, 2017

January 27: Intolerance and Distrust, Naomi Shihab Nye, "Kindness"

Tonight, I've been thinking a lot about kindness.

I think that kindness is in short supply in the world today.  Instead, people seem to embracing anything but kindness.  Intolerance.  Anger.  Distrust.  Violence.  From all sides.  That's what I see on the news every day.  It's more than disheartening.

So, tonight, Saint Marty has a poem about kindness.


by:  Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Janaury 27: Blood Gutter, Torture, Martin Niemoller

Weary scornfully bet Billy one time that he didn't even know what a blood gutter was.  Billy guessed that it was the drain in the bottom of the Iron Maiden, but that was wrong.  A blood gutter, Billy learned, was the shallow groove in the side of the blade of a sword or bayonet.

Weary told Billy about neat tortures he'd read about or seen in the movies or heard on the radio--about other neat tortures he himself had invented.  One of the inventions was sticking a dentist's drill into a guy's ear.  He asked Billy what he thought the worst from of execution was.  Billy had no opinion.  The correct answer turned out to be this:  "You stake a guy out on an anthill in the desert--see?  He's facing upward, and you put honey all over his balls and pecker, and you cut off his eyelids so he has to stare at the sun till he dies."  So it goes.

Yes, Billy Pilgrim's friend, Roland Weary, is morbidly obsessed with torture and death.  Roland seems to revel in Billy's naivete.  He senses Billy's weakness--his lack of worldly experience--and exploits it.  At this point in the Slaughterhouse, Weary needs somebody to bully, and Billy is the easy target.

Torture has been in the news a great deal these last few days, thanks to President Trump's recent comments about waterboarding as an effective method of interrogation, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Soldiers don't want to do it.  Military commanders are against it.  The Geneva Convention outlaws it.  Yet, torture is again up for debate.

I am not going to go on an anti-Trump rant.  I am simply going to speak up for compassion and decency.  Yes, ISIL militants have beheaded innocent civilians, broadcasting grisly videos over the Internet.  Yes, these militants seem without human decency or morals.  I am not defending them.

However, I also do not believe in fighting evil acts with evil acts.  That is antithetical to my core values.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs don't make a right.  Fighting torture with torture only begets more torture.  We become just as culpable in the cycle of violence.

I'm not looking to make enemies or friends.  I'm just reminded of what Pastor Martin Niemoller said about Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Thus, I have to say that torture is wrong, no matter how justified it may seem.  It demeans and dehumanizes every person involved--victims and those doing the victimizing.

Saint Marty is grateful to live in a country where he can still speak out for common decency (for now).

Martin Niemoller

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26: Celebrating, Lucille Clifton, "won't you celebrate with me"

I am celebrating tonight.  Friends are coming to my house to eat and talk.  The soup is simmering on the stove, and the table is set.  Even in dark times, there are always blessings to count, thankfulness to raise up.

That's what tonight's poem of hope is about--being thankful in difficult times.

Saint Marty is thankful for his friends tonight.

won't you celebrate with me

 by:  Lucille Clifton

won't you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

January 26: Bull Bat, Soup Potluck, Book Club

Weary told Billy Pilgrim about the Iron Maiden, about the drain in her bottom--and what that was for.  He talked to Billy about dum-dums.  He told him about his father's Derringer pistol, which could be carried in a vest pocket, which was yet capable of making a hole in a man "which a bull bat could fly through without touching either wing." 

Weary likes to brag, to tell Billy stories, to try to prove how naive and stupid Billy is.  As with all stories, there's a certain amount of exaggeration that's included in the telling.  A mixture of reals facts and alternative facts (to borrow Kellyanne Conway's Orwellian nomenclature).

Tonight, my book club meets at my house.  We'll sit around, eat, and discuss Emma Cline's The Girls.  It's a great story, better than Roland Weary's little tales about the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg and his dad's Derringer.  Cline's book is a fictional retelling of the Charles Manson killings from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl.  It's a brilliant novel.

Because it's January, we are having a soup potluck this evening, to stave off the cold night.  Every person is supposed to bring a different kind of soup.  We made Wisconsin cheese and beer.  My sister made chicken noodle.  I think that there's a potato soup and a chicken dumpling soup making an appearance, as well.  Throw in some chocolate, a big caramel apple, and some crackers, and you have the makings of a book lover's wet dream.

There's something very comforting about book club nights for me.  I think it's because I'm surrounded by like-minded people.  Readers who get excited about the idea of talking about a novel.  It doesn't hurt that most of the members also share my political leanings, too.  With the food and literature, book club discussions take many digressions.  I'm sure our new Commander-in-Chief will come up a few times this evening.

So, Saint Marty is looking forward to a night of good stories and good soup, with some homemade biscuits thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January 25: Small Happinesses, Shared Moments, James Wright, "Northern Pike"

I am not a fisherman, but the poem below makes me happy.

Right now, I have to hold on to the happiness of small moments.  Sharing fries with my son at McDonald's.  Getting a text from a friend that I haven't heard from in a long time.  Watching an episode of American Horror Story with my daughter.  Making my wife really laugh, so long it makes her breathless.

That's what I'm concentrating on tonight.  Small happinesses.  Yes, there's a whole lot that's wrong with the world right now.  Stuff that really frightens me.  But, there are always chances for shared fries and laughter.  Small blessings.

Saint Marty is going to share hot chocolate with his daughter tonight.

Northern Pike

by:  James Wright

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can't imagine and a pain
I don't know. We had
To go on living. We
Untangled the net, we slit
The body of this fish
Open from the hinge of the tail
To a place beneath the chin
I wish I could sing of.
I would just as soon we let
The living go on living.
An old poet whom we believe in
Said the same thing, and so
We paused among the dark cattails and prayed
For the muskrats,
For the ripples below their tails,
For the little movements that we knew the crawdads were making
        under water,
For the right-hand wrist of my cousin who is a policeman.
We prayed for the game warden's blindness.
We prayed for the road home.
We ate the fish.
There must be something very beautiful in my body,
I am so happy.

Janauary 25: Iron Maiden, Alternative Facts, Chocolate Chip Cookies

It was a patter.  It was a crazy, sexy, murderous relationship Weary entered into with people he eventually beat up.  He told them about his father's collection of guns and swords and torture instruments and leg irons and so on.  Weary's father, who was a plumber, actually did collect such things, and his collection was insured for four thousand dollars.  He wasn't alone.  He belonged to a big club composed of people who collected things like that.

Weary's father once gave Weary's mother a Spanish thumbscrew in working condition--for a kitchen paperweight.  Another time he gave her a table lamp whose base was a model one foot high of the famous "Iron Maiden of Nuremberg."  The real Iron Maiden was a medieval torture instrument, a sort of boiler which was shaped like a woman on the outside--and lined with spikes.  The front of the woman was composed of two hinged doors.  The idea was to put a criminal inside and then close the doors slowly.  There were two special spikes where his eyes would be.  There was a drain in the bottom to let out all the blood.  

So it goes.

Medieval torture devices.  Thumbscrews and leg irons.  Iron Maidens.  I am not going to take this opportunity to point out that, in less than a week, Donald Trump has turned into the Dictator in Chief.  I am trying not to dwell on the dismal news reports.  I will say that Roland Weary's father and the President of the United States seem to have a lot in common.

I am trying to remain positive, to maintain a small sense of hope.  It's difficult with Kellyanne Conway talking on Meet the Press about "alternative facts," as if facts are something mutable or debatable.  Although I have been enjoying the idea of alternative facts, picking and choosing truth.

Here are some of my alternative facts:
  • I am often mistaken for George Clooney.
  • I won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry last year.
  • Bob Dylan gave his Nobel Prize money to me.
  • Hillary Clinton won the popular vote last November.  (Oh, wait, that one is true.)
  • Barack Obama was unanimously voted President of the United States for life.
  • I have six-pack abs.
  • Chocolate chip cookies have zero calories.
That was fun.

Saint Marty is grateful tonight that he is not an immigrant from Syria or Mexico.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24: Announcement about Poet Laureate of the U. P., Billy Collins, "Madmen"

I just found out last night that some kind of media event to announce the next Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula is being planned for Valentine's Day.  I'm not sure what form this media event will take.  Maybe an announcement on the radio.  A public reading.  An airplane flying over Marquette, Michigan, writing the winner's name in pink smoke. 

I hold low expectations of my chances.  There were a lot of other really good and worthy poets nominated along with me.  Whatever happens, I still am really thankful for all of my friends and family who voted for me and kept my hope alive.

Saint Marty has another poem about hope for tonight.  It may not at first seem like it's about hope, but it is.  Wait for it.  It comes at the end, tiny and illusive. 


by:  Billy Collins

They say you can jinx a poem
if you talk about it before it is done.
If you let it out too early, they warn,
your poem will fly away,
and this time they are absolutely right.

Take the night I mentioned to you
I wanted to write about the madmen,
as the newspapers so blithely call them,
who attack art, not in reviews,
but with breadknives and hammers
in the quiet museums of Prague and Amsterdam.

Actually, they are the real artists,
you said, spinning the ice in your glass.
The screwdriver is their brush.
The real vandals are the restorers,
you went on, slowly turning me upside-down,
the ones in the white doctor's smocks
who close the wound in the landscape,
and thus ruin the true art of the mad.

I watched my poem fly down to the front
of the bar and hover there
until the next customer walked in—
then I watched it fly out the open door into the night
and sail away, I could only imagine,
over the dark tenements of the city.

All I had wished to say
was that art was also short,
as a razor can teach with a slash or two,
that it only seems long compared to life,
but that night, I drove home alone
with nothing swinging in the cage of my heart
except the faint hope that I might
catch a glimpse of the thing
in the fan of my headlights,
maybe perched on a road sign or a street lamp,
poor unwritten bird, its wings folded,
staring down at me with tiny illuminated eyes.