Friday, June 30, 2017

June 30: Dinner, Judith Minty, "Section 16 from Fall"

I'm really hungry.  Since I got home from work this afternoon, I've been grading assignments for my students.  Now, I've written two blog posts.  Pretty soon, I will sit down and eat dinner.  I don't know what it's going to be.  Something warm and filling hopefully, washed down with a bottle of cold water.

That sounds like a paradise to me at the moment.  Tonight, the beginning of a holiday weekend, I will stay up late and write some more or read a good book or watch a favorite movie.  A reward for the work I have completed today.

Saint Marty is ready for some food.

Section 16 from "Fall" in Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

This good French bread
from the Negaunee bakery
has lasted almost a week.
I tear off a piece, then lather it
with butter.  I remember
she apologized it wasn't a long loaf.
No doubt, hearing my downstate accent,
she thought I meant to cut it with a knife.
How could she know my tongue
ached to thank her in the northland gutteral,
that I would kiss the bread before I ate.

June 30: Coming Up in the World, Choices in My Life, Living Proof

Billy made a noise like a small, rusty hinge.  He had just emptied his seminal vesicles into Valencia, had contributed his share of the Green Beret.  According to the Tralfamadorians, of course, the Green Beret would have seven parents in all.

Now he rolled off his huge wife, whose rapt expression did not change when he departed.  He lay with the buttons of his spine along the edge of the mattress, folded his hands behind his head.  He was rich now.  He had been rewarded for marrying a girl nobody in his right mind would have married.  His father-in-law had given him a new Buick Roadmaster, an all-electric home, and had made him manager of his most prosperous office, his Ilium office, where Billy could expect to make at least thirty thousand dollars a year.  That was good.  His father had been only a barber.

As his mother said, "The Pilgrims are coming up in the world."

Thirty thousand dollars doesn't seem like a whole lot of money these days, especially when you consider what Billy had to do for that money--enter into a loveless marriage.  A marriage of convenience for him.  However, when you adjust that amount for inflation, Billy Pilgrim would have been making over $200,000 per year.  That's a pretty good chunk of change.  Again, he has to give up a lot for that money, including happiness.

I have to say that I've made choices in my life that have impacted my ability to earn a decent living.  When I first started college, I studied computer science and math.  I was pretty good at it, too.  But, after four years, I was pretty miserable.  I didn't like sitting in front of a computer, unless it was to write a paper for an English class I was taking.  I knew that a lifetime of fiddling with computer code would make me wealthy, but not very happy.

So, I abandoned computers and went to graduate school to study creative writing and English, at which I excelled.  Over twenty years after making that decision, I am not rich or famous.  I work two jobs, live in a tiny house.  Most days, I worry about money.  This morning, I stopped by the gas station to fill up my car.  I wasn't sure that I had enough money to pay for a tank of gas.  I crossed my fingers, said a prayer, and filled up.  The debit card worked.

The thing that I do have is a beautiful family, and I've been able to achieve a certain amount of success as a writer.  That's more than a lot of people can say.  It's more than Billy Pilgrim can say, that's for sure.

So, the point of this post is simple:  I am living proof that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight that he's a struggling poet.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

June 29: Simplest Things in Life, Judith Minty, "Section 23 from Spring"

Sometimes, the simplest things in life are the best.  I know that is a cliche, but it's true.


I was sitting at my dining room table, writing a blog post this afternoon.  I heard music outside my door.  I went to the window and saw the ice cream truck parked on the corner of my street.  What did I do?  Like a little kid, I went flying through the house, searching for dollar bills.  I found three.  I ran across the street, right in front of an approaching car, and bought myself an M&M ice cream cookie sandwich.  It was heaven.

Simple things bring light to your life.

Saint Marty is just a kid at heart.  His wife would have looked at me this afternoon and said, "What, are you five years old?"

Section 23 from "Spring" in Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

As darkness settles,
only trillium blossoms
and the bark of birch trees
hold the light.

June 29: Concentrate on the Good Ones, Book Club, Praise Be

"So--" said Billy gropingly, "I suppose that the idea of preventing war on Earth is stupid, too."

"Of course."

"But you do have a peaceful planet here."

"Today we do.  On other days we have wars as horrible as any you've ever seen or read about.  There isn't anything we can do about them, so we simply don't look at them.  We ignore them.  We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments--like today at the zoo.  Isn't this a nice moment?"


"That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough.  Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones."

"Um," said Billy Pilgrim.

Shorty after he went to sleep that night, Billy traveled in time to another moment which was quite nice, his wedding night with the former Valencia Merble.  He had been out of the veterans' hospital for six months.  He was all well.  He had graduated from the Ilium School of Optometry--third in his class of forty-seven.

Now he was in bed with Valencia in a delightful studio apartment which was built on the end of a wharf on Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  Across the water were the lights of Gloucester.  Billy was on top of Valencia, making love to her.  One result of this act would be the birth of Robert Pilgrim, who would become a problem in high school, but who would then straighten out as a member of the famous Green Berets.

Valencia wasn't a time-traveler, but she did have a lively imagination.  While Billy was making love to her, she imagined that she was a famous woman in history.  She was being Queen Elizabeth the First of England, and Billy was supposedly Christopher Columbus.

Did Columbus and Queen Elizabeth the First ever meet?  I'm not sure, but that's beside the point.  The Tralfamadorian solution to things like war and genocide is simply not to focus on them.  Instead, they focus on good things, like days at the zoo or, in Billy's case, the conception of his first child with his new bride, Valencia.  Good moments, that will make everything alright.

I'm not sure I agree with this advice.  However, I do believe that dwelling on some past tragedy is not very healthy.  I have a had a lot of bad things happen in my life, as has everybody reading this post, I'm sure.  If I went around all day thinking about the death of my sister or my wife's mental illness or the election of Donald Trump, I wouldn't be able to function.  I would curl up on my bed, under the covers, in a fetal position, and just not live. 

Ignoring traumas from the past isn't a good practice, either.  That creates issues like depression, PTSD, and other forms of mental illness.  No, bad things must be dealt with, through talk therapy and group therapy and medical therapy and chocolate.  That's the only way to overcome bad shit.  I'm speaking from experience.

Tonight, however, I am going to have a good moment, one that Tralfamadorians would probably return to in times of war.  My book club is meeting tonight at my house.  This month's book is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  When I'm done typing my posts, I'm going to cut up some cheese for a little tray.  Then, I'll set the tables with dishes and cups, because Book Club is really just an excuse to eat.

It will be a lovely moment with lovely people whom I love.  Is there enough love in that sentence?  It will be a good night, filled with laughter and conversation. No war.  No end of the universe.  Just cheese and crackers and brownie trifle.  As the characters in The Handmaid's Tale say, "Praise be."

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for good friends.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June 28: Feeling Old, Judith Minty, Section 9 from "Fall"

I'm feeling a little old tonight for some reason.

I didn't sleep well last night.  It was a combination of a mind that wouldn't stop thinking and a really high blood sugar.  I was up and down all night long.  I woke up more tired than when I went to sleep.  When I looked in the mirror in the bathroom, I saw an old person.  It was a little depressing.

That feeling has stayed with me for most of the day into the evening.  As I sit typing this post, I'm still feeling slightly ancient.

Saint Marty needs a good night's sleep and a drink.

Section 9 from "Fall" in Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

The stories that stay with you.
Like Sally's, about the bear
that looked in at her while she was looking out.

This cabin has no curtains.
What's the point,
there are no people here.
But tonight fur rises on my neck
when the bear bawls for Mother and all I see is
an aging woman at my window.

June 28: Pressing the Button, Stephen King, Making a Choice

"If you know this," said Billy, "isn't there some way you can prevent it?  Can't you keep the pilot from pressing the button?"

"He has always pressed it, and he always will.  We always let him and we always will let him.  The moment is structured that way."

Tralfamadorian logic.  You really can't argue with it.  It has already happened, is happening, will happen.  There's no reason to change the moment.  It's simply another link in an M. C. Escher universe.  One hand draws the other, if you get what I mean.  There's really no beginning or end.

Of course, that's a fairly interesting dilemma that has played out in most science fiction/time travel narratives.  Given the opportunity to stop something really catastrophic from happening, what would you do?  Stephen King has written about this a couple of times.  In The Dead Zone, the main character tries to stop the villain from starting a nuclear war in the future.  In 11/22/63, the protagonist is attempting to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  These kinds of stories never end well.

I think about the gift of foresight in my own life.  For example, if I could travel back in time about five years, I could possibly save my sister's life, get her to the right doctor to get an early diagnosis.  If I could go back ten years, I could help my brother avoid the stroke that eventually killed him.  Would I do these things, given the opportunity?  Of course.  Anybody would to save the life of a loved one.

Unfortunately, I don't live in a science fiction, time-traveling universe.  I have to live with the past.  I don't have the Tralfamadorian personality, though.  I can't accept the bad things that happened in my life so cavalierly.  They're still painful.

Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse to somehow deal with his experiences in World War II, and, in particular, the bombing of Dresden.  To do so, he creates Billy Pilgrim, a person unstuck in time.  By doing this, he is able to somehow gain some perspective on a really horrific personal experience.  Perhaps Vonnegut sort of feels like an alien because of this experience, both human and nonhuman.  He has no other way to deal with such tragedy than to become a tentacular visitor to the Earth.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say tonight.  Pain and tragedy will always be a part of life on this planet because human beings are inherently flawed.  We live in a broken world, filled with broken people.  Sometimes there seems to be no meaning when bad things happen.  Maybe there is no meaning.

Or maybe the meaning isn't in the experience, but in the way that we deal with it.  I could let the death of my sister from brain lymphoma ruin my life,  Sink into a pit of grief and disappear.  Or I can create my own meaning.  Help other families who are dealing with loss.  Raise money for cancer research.  It's my choice.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for that ability to choose.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

June 27: Nightmares about Rodents, Judith Minty, "Section 27 from Spring"

I hate mice.  I hate bats.  I understand where Judith Minty is coming from in the poem below.  The only thing I don't understand is the guilt at the end.  I can't.  I have nightmares about rodents (with feet or wings).  It all stems back to childhood exposure to the movie Willard.  (If you have never seen the film, don't bother.  It's a hideous film about a boy who can control rats.)

But, putting that aside, I will say that Minty's poem is beautiful, despite its subject matter.

Saint Marty does not feel guilty about this post.  At all.

Section 27 from "Spring" in Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

Since I have been here, I have killed
two mice in traps and one bat
I beat to death in the outhouse.
Last night my dreams were colorless.
I think I missed the whir of wings,
the sound of tiny nails on the floor,
fur skimming close to my face.  Something
gnaws inside my head.  It asks forgiveness.

June 27: Tralfamadorian Test Pilot, Margaret Atwood, Happy in This Moment

"Would--would you mind telling me--" he said to the guide, much deflated, "what was so stupid about that?"

"We know how the Universe ends--" said the guide, "and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too."

"How--how does the Universe end?" said Billy.

"We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers.  A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears."  So it goes.

So, the Tralfamadorians know how it all ends, and they're doing nothing to stop it.  Because it has already happened, is happening, and will happen again.  They're not upset about it because time is a fluid thing.  That's how Billy can be a zoo exhibit on Tralfamadore, an optometrist in Ilium, and a prisoner in Germany.

It's kind of a comforting thought, existing at all times.  Death isn't an end.  Pain isn't so painful.  Sadness is just a rest stop between moments of happiness.  That kind of outlook would save a whole lot of people a lot of trouble.  I know I would sleep better at night if I took a few lessons from the Tralfamadorians.

Instead, I spend my life worrying.  This morning, I woke up worried about grading some research papers this afternoon.  This afternoon, I worried about getting all of my work done at the office.  Tonight, I'm a little concerned about writing two blog posts and also reading The Handmaid's Tale for my book club meeting on Thursday.  If I was just a little unstuck in time, I wouldn't be stressed at all right now.

But, I am not living in a science fiction novel.  I can't time travel, and I have never ridden in a flying saucer.  I am a human being, living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the continent of North America in the Western Hemisphere on the planet Earth in the galaxy of the Milky Way.  I live in a specific moment.  That's what human beings do.

And I am happy in this moment.  I graded some papers.  I'm almost done writing this blog post.  Pretty soon, I'll have a few hours to read some Margaret Atwood.  That's what I have tonight.  And that's good enough.

Saint Marty is thankful for this moment.

Monday, June 26, 2017

June 26: Poet of the Week, Judith Minty, "Section 13 from Spring"

Sometimes, I return to collections of poetry and poets because I miss them, like old friends.  I have certain books that I've read many times in my life.  Books from which I can quote entire passages.  They have been my companions for years.

Judith Minty is the Poet of the Week, and I'm going to be giving you poems from her collection Yellow Dog Journal because it makes me happy, gives me hope.

Saint Marty needs an old friend this week.

Section 13 from "Spring" in Yellow Dog Journal

by:  Judith Minty

Though nearly midnight,
the sky is dawn's, shadows
of trees balanced against gray.
When I step onto the chill porch
to look for her, the moon
is there.  Nearly full
she forms a cross through the screen:  north, south,
east and west, reaching out
to mark us all in lunacy,
to set us mixing days and nights.

June 26: Being Stupid, Dinosaur Bones, Dehydration

Billy expected the Tralfamadorians to be baffled and alarmed by all the wars and other forms of murder on Earth.  He expected them to fear that the Earthling combination of ferocity and spectacular weaponry might eventually destroy part of maybe all of the innocent Universe.  Science fiction led him to expect that.

But the subject of war never came up until Billy brought it up himself.  Somebody in the zoo crowd asked him through the lecturer what the most valuable thing he had learned on Tralfamdore was so far, and Billy replied, "How the inhabitants of a whole planet can live in peace!  As you know, I am from a planet that has been engaged in senseless slaughter since the beginning of time.  I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time."  This was true.  Billy saw the boiled bodies in Dresden.  "And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of humans who were butchered by the brothers and fathers of those schoolgirls who were boiled.  Earthlings must be the terrors of the Universe!  If other planets aren't now in danger from Earth, they soon will be.  So tell me the secret so I can take it back to Earth and save us all.  How can a planet live at peace?"

Billy felt that he spoken soaringly.  He was baffled when he saw the Tralfamadorians close their little hands on their eyes.  He knew from past experiences what this meant.  He was being stupid.

Billy thinks he's being profound, seeking to end wars and murders and violence on Earth.  He's spurning the destructive nature of the human race and turning toward Tralfamadorian peace.  Billy thinks his zookeepers will applaud his speech, maybe elevate him to the status of star attraction, right next to Spock from Vulcan or Klaatu from The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Of course, as with almost everything else, Billy is wrong.  He's thinking like an Earthling again.  Shortsighted.  Three-dimensional.  He doesn't get the big picture.  Yet.

Of course, Billy's little speech seems pretty good to me, and probably to most inhabitants of Earth.  The human race does have a tendency to kill itself in various and horrific ways.  Wars.  Climate change.  Trumpcare.  We like finding new ways to increase pain and suffering and death.  It's our natural state.

I would like to say that we've gotten a little better since Billy first landed on Tralfamadore, but we really haven't.  We still drop bombs on people.  We still deny the existence of global warming.  And we still think that Google is a verb.  We haven't really gotten much past gnawing on dinosaur bones and fighting over water holes.  (Yes, that is a veiled reference to Kubrick's 2001:  A Space Odyssey.)

Today, my wife ended up in the ER.  She was dehydrated and had to get some IV fluids.  She's feeling much better now, but she spent a good portion of the weekend with a bucket in her lap, dry heaving.  It wasn't pleasant.  She has learned her lesson, however.  Water is our friend.

My wife is not dumb.  She knows how important it is to stay hydrated, especially after her surgery.  She has been on a liquid diet for the past two weeks and got a little over watered, if you get my drift.  So she stopped drinking as much, and she got sick.

That's what humans do.  We do things that harm us.  We go to war.  We back out of climate change accords.  We blow each other up.  And we do it over and over and over and over and over.  We don't learn from our mistakes.  Instead, we just make bigger mistakes.

Okay, I know that was a huge leap from my wife not drinking water to the depletion of the ozone, but you get it.  We will never have world peace or end world hunger or stop making stupid Adam Sandler movies.  Not until everyone on the planet is dehydrated enough to realize that they need to take a drink of water.  Hopefully I didn't push that metaphor too far.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful that his wife is full of water again.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 25: Mother's Birthday, Classic Saint Marty, "Heart to Heart"

Today is my mother's 86th birthday.  We will be celebrating in a few minutes with barbecued hamburgers and bratwurst, with an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen for dessert. 

My mother doesn't have a great memory any more.  Some days, she knows who I am.  Some days, I'm that nice man who stops by for a visit.  Same goes for my kids.  It's difficult for me to think that my mother doesn't know who I am, that I've become one face in a parade of faces. 

Let me tell you a few things about her:

She is a reader.  I can't remember a time when I didn't see her sitting with a book in her hands.  She raised nine kids, cooked dinner for them every night, breakfast every morning.  This year, she will have been married to my father for 64 years.  When I was in high school, she marched into the principal's office on the first day and told him (over his objections), "You will enroll my son in Algebra and Geometry this year."  Afterward, when she got me in the car, she looked at me and said, "You will get A's in both of those classes all year."  I did.

That gives you an idea of who my mother is.  She's one of the strongest people I know.  And she likes ice cream cake.

Five years ago, I had a few questions on my mind . . .

June 25, 2012:  Have You Ever Noticed . . .

Have you ever noticed that I rarely ask questions in my posts?

Am I the only blogger who avoids questions?  Am I the only person who read a criticism in a print magazine (TimeNewsweekThe New Yorker?) of how bloggers tend to ask tons of questions in their blogs?  Why is that a bad thing?  Does it make the writing weak?  Trite?  Precious?  Is it some kind of pathetic ploy to get readers to respond to posts?  Are all bloggers that desperate for attention?  Are we all kids who got picked last for teams in gym class?  Did we all go through high school yearning to be the popular basketball player or class president or star of the school's production of Our Town?

Can we ever overcome adolescent need for acceptance and validation?  Am I still just a pathetic teenager inside, still too insecure to ask the girl in chemistry class to go to prom?  Isn't that the question all writers want answered:  "Will you go to the dance with me?"  Don't we write our poems or stories or blog posts or novels to get the thrill of having the pretty cheerleader or handsome cross country runner talk to us, laugh with us, make us feel cool?  (Is there any way to make that last sentence parallel in grammatical structure?  Does anyone care if it's in parallel grammatical structure?)

Am I just a blogger in search of recognition?  Will I just keep asking questions until somebody, anybody actually responds to my pathetic pleas for human connection?  Am I being too open?  Too honest?  Should I conceal this nervous, monkey-side of my personality?  Or should I continue to eat my bananas, scratch my balls, fling my shit into the cyberspace zoo for all to see?  Am I just Bobo, the well-hung chimpanzee blogger, wagging my hairy goods in the faces of all my readers?

Will Saint Marty ever be able to answer any of these questions?  Is anybody out there?

Is this cartoon funny or what?

And a poem in honor of my mother's birthday  . . .

Heart to Heart

by:  Martin Achatz

Luke says Mary kept every-
thing—angels roaring in
the night, shepherds crawling
through dung and hay, camels,
comets—all these things,
gospels and gospels, stored in
the four chambers of her heart.
I wonder if Einstein’s mother
had room enough in her
ventricles for quanta and
atoms, light’s slow passage
through the eye of the universe.
Or Darwin’s mother enough
space in her atria for
all the creatures of the Galapagos—
tortoises and iguanas, butter-
flies and cormorants.  Lincoln’s
mother died before she had
to squeeze Gettysburg and
emancipation under her ribs,
and I believe Shakespeare’s
mother departed this mortal
coil without Romeo or
the Globe nestled beneath
her breast.  My mother is
still packing things in
the attic of her chest.  Just
yesterday, she asked me if
I still write poems.  Yes, I told
Her.  I’m writing a poem
about you right now,
I said.  She nodded, looked away.
I imagined her opening a box
with my name on it, wrapping
this poem in newspaper, placing
it beside the lanyard I made
for her in third grade, closing
the box again, putting it
back on the shelf in her bosom.
When she gets to heaven,
my mother will meet Mary
on a street corner,
and they’ll unpack their
hearts.  This, mother will
say, is a poem my son wrote
for me for Mother’s Day.  Mary
will hold out her hand, show
my mother the first tooth
her son lost, a tiny grain
of enamel in her palm.  They
will find a diner to have
coffee together.  They will sit
in a booth, brag about how
their kids changed the world.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

June 24: Don't Like Christians, Arthur Rimbaud, "People in Church"

I have a confession:  sometimes, I don't like Christians very much.

There are people who walk around, claim to be devout Christians, go to church every Sunday, and make a great show of praying.  That's not enough.  Those things aren't the test of a real Christian.  A real Christian does things that make the world a better place.  If a person is hurting, a real Christian stops and listens to that person, hugs her, offers something more than prayer (although prayer is important--don't get me wrong).

Don't tell me you're a Christian if you haven't done something nice for another human being this week.  Don't tell me you're a Christian if you saw somebody begging on a street corner and walked right by, eyes down.  Don't tell me you're a Christian if you're in favor of people not having decent healthcare.  You're not a Christian then.  I think Jesus called people like that a "brood of vipers."

If this post makes you angry, maybe you need to go and volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Saint Marty isn't a perfect Christian, but at least he tries, dammit.

People in Church

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

Penned between oaken pews,
in corners of the church which their breath stinkingly warms,
all their eyes on the chancel dripping with gold,
and the choir with its twenty pairs of jaws bawling pious hymns;

Sniffing the odour of wax if it were the odour of bread,
happy, ad humbled like beaten dogs,
the Poor offer up to God, the Lord and Master,
their ridiculous stubborn oremuses.

For the women it is very pleasant to wear the benches smooth;
after the six black days on which God has made them suffer.
They nurse, swaddled in strange-looking shawls,
creatures like children who weep as if they would die.

Their unwashed breasts hanging out, these eaters of soup,
with a prayer in their eyes, but never praying,
watch a group of hoydens wickedly
showing off with hats all out of shape.

Outside is the cold, and hunger - and a man on the booze.
All right. There's another hour to go; afterwards, nameless ills! -
Meanwhile all around an assortment of old
dewlapped women whimpers, snuffles, and whispers:

These are distracted persons and the epileptics from whom,
yesterday, you turned away at street crossings;
there too are the blind who are led by a dog into courtyards,
poring their noses into old-fashioned missals. -

And all of them, dribbling a stupid groveling faith,
recite their unending complaint to Jesus who is dreaming up there,
yellow from the livid stained glass window,
far above thin rascals and wicked potbellies,
far from the smell of meat and mouldy fabric,
and the exhausted somber farce of repulsive gestures -
and as the prayer flowers in choice expressions,
and the mysteries take on more emphatic tones, from the aisles,
where the sun is dying, trite folds of silk and green smiles,
the ladies of the better quarters of the town - oh Jesus! -
the sufferers from complaints of the liver,
make their long yellow fingers kiss the holy water in the stoups.

June 24: That's Life, Keys to the Front Door, Dragonfly

There was a lot that Billy said that was gibberish to the Tralfamadorians, too.  They couldn't imagine what time looked like to him.  Billy had given up on explaining that.  The guide outside had to explain as best he could.  

The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear.  They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them.  But among them was this poor Earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off.  There was only one eyehole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole were six feet of a pipe.

This was only the beginning of Billy's miseries in the metaphor.  He was also strapped to a steel lattice which was bolted to a flatcar on rails, and there was no way he could turn his head or touch the pipe.  The far end of the pipe rested on a bi-pod which was also bolted to the flatcar.  All Billy could see was the little dot at the end of the pipe.  He didn't know he was on a flatcar, didn't even know there was anything peculiar about his situation.

The flatcar sometimes crept, sometimes went extremely fast, often stopped--went uphill, downhill, around curves, along straightaways.  Whatever poor Billy saw through the pipe, he had no choice but to say to himself, "That's life."

That's a fairly frightening description of the human understanding of time.  Limited.  Narrow.  Choked.  But Vonnegut's point is pretty clear:  we don't see the big picture here on Earth.  The future is a distant mountain.  The past falls behind the tracks of the flatcar without notice.  We just stare up at our little pinpoint of sky, oblivious.

That's a fairly pessimistic description of the human race, I have to say.  But, at this moment in the United States, it seems pretty apt.  Myopic doesn't even come close to describing the situation.  I grew up believing that one of my main jobs as a traveler on this little rock of a planet was to leave it in a little better shape than when I arrived.  Sort of like borrowing someone's house for the weekend.  When you leave, you make the beds, do the laundry, clean the bathroom, and maybe buy a gallon of milk for the fridge and a bouquet of roses for the kitchen table.  You leave a note of thanks.  That's what good guests do.

That's what we all are.  Guests.  We don't own this place.  God simply gave us the keys to the front door and told us to make ourselves at home.  When I look at my kids, I want them to have a better life than I had.  I want them to know that it's their responsibility to take care of our little corner of the world, for the kids that come after them.  I don't want them going through life strapped to a flatcar, staring at a tiny speck of sky through six feet of pipe.  I want them to see the mountains and canyons.

For the most part, I think my son and daughter get that.  The other day, I took my son to a playground.  He was playing with another little boy, and that little boy caught a dragonfly by the wings.  My son had a meltdown, yelling, "Let it go!  Dragonflies are GOOD!  They're GOOD for the planet!"  Eventually, the little boy relented and let it go.

Saint Marty is thankful today for a son who cares about dragonflies.

Friday, June 23, 2017

June 23: In Defense of Poor People, Arthur Rimbaud, "The Poor Man Dreams"

Well, I want to say something in defense of poor people tonight.

Poor people deserve the right to be happy and healthy.  Those two commodities should not be reserved for people with money and power.  If I'm sick, I should receive care.  If I'm hungry, I should be fed.  If I'm naked, I should be clothed.  If I'm grieving, I should be comforted.  Sound familiar?

Saint Marty is just giving you some beattitude tonight.

The Poor Man Dreams

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

Perhaps an Evening awaits me
when I shall drink in peace in some old Town,
and die the happier: since I am patient!
If my pain submits, if I ever have any gold,
shall I choose the North or the Country of Vines? …
- Oh! It is shameful to dream - since it is pure loss!
And if I become once more the old traveler,
never can the green inn be open to me again.

June 23: Sex on Earth, Labels, Leaving Things in Better Shape

There were five sexes on Tralfamadore, each of them performing a step necessary in the creation of a new individual.  They looked identical to Billy--because their sex differences were all in the fourth dimension.

One of the biggest moral bombshells handed to Billy by the Tralfamadorians, incidentally had to do with sex on Earth.  They said their flying-saucer crews had identified no fewer than seven sexes on Earth, each essential to reproduction.  Again:  Billy couldn't possibly imagine what five of those seven sexes had to do with the making of a baby, since they were sexually active only in the fourth dimension.

The Tralfamadorians tried to give Billy clues that would help him imagine sex in the invisible dimension.  They told him that there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals.  There could be babies without female homosexuals.  There couldn't be babies without women over sixty-five years old.  There could be babies without men over sixty-five.  There couldn't be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth.  And so on.

It was gibberish to Billy.

Vonnegut really was ahead of his time with this discussion of sexes on Earth.  Back in the 1960s, he was talking about homosexuality, and not in any pejorative way.  Homosexuality is necessary for survival in the universe of Slaughterhouse.  Sex and sexuality are very fluid things.  That's a pretty amazing thing for Vonnegut to say.

In our country where the rights of all people who aren't white, male, heterosexual, Christian, and healthy are under attack by white, heterosexual, Christian, healthy men, perhaps every person in Congress needs to pick up a copy of Slaughterhouse Five to read.  Or maybe everyone in Congress needs to spend some time in a Tralfamadorian zoo.

I am not going to write about the Senate's version of Trumpcare in this post.  Not climbing up on a soapbox tonight.  I simply want to say that it really doesn't matter whether a person is gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, black, white, or blue.  Defining someone by any kind of label is dangerous.  I am more than a man or Christian or heterosexual or father or husband or poet or blogger.  I am a fellow traveler on this third rock from the Sun, trying to leave things in better shape than I found them when I arrived.

Every person is important.  I think that's Vonnegut's point in this little passage.  Everyone has something to contribute from the day that they're born to the day they die.  So it goes.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the chance to make the world a better place.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22: Really Tired, Arthur Rimbaud, "Evening Prayer"

I am really tired this evening after a long week of grading and writing and planning.

I tend to stay up very late at night, and I always get up early in the morning.  That's my life.  Now, getting to bed close to midnight and rising at 4:45 a.m. tends to wear a person down after a while.  After a few weeks, I usually have to just go to bed and sleep for a very long time.

I'm reaching that point, I think.  Maybe not tonight or tomorrow.  Soon.

Saint Marty has a little prayer from Rimbaud for tonight.

Evening Prayer

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

I spend my life sitting - like an angel
in the hands of a barber - a deeply fluted beer mug
in my fist, belly and neck curved,
a Gambier pipe in my teeth, under the air
swelling with impalpable veils of smoke.

Like the warm excrements in an old dovecote,
a thousand dreams burn softly inside me,
and at times my sad heart is like sap-wood bled
on by the dark yellow gold of its sweats.

Then, when I have carefully swallowed my dreams,
I turn, having drunk thirty or forty tankards,
and gather myself together to relieve bitter need:
As sweetly as the Saviour of Hyssops
and of Cedar I piss towards dark skies,
very high and very far;
and receive the approval of the great heliotropes.

June 22: Splendid Specimen, Poetry Reading, Brad Pitt and George Clooney

Billy ate a good breakfast from cans. He washed his cup and plate and knife and fork and spoon and saucepan, put them away.  Then he did exercises he had learned in the Army--straddle jumps, deep knee bends, sit-ups and push-ups.  Most Tralfamadorians had no way of knowing Billy's body and face were not beautiful.  They supposed that he was a splendid specimen.  This had a pleasant effect on Billy, who began to enjoy his body for the first time.

He showered after his exercises and trimmed his toenails.  He shaved, and sprayed deodorant under his arms, while a zoo guide on a raised platform outside explained what Billy was doing--and why.  The guide was lecturing telepathically, simply standing there, sending out thought waves to the crowd.  On the platform with him was the little keyboard instrument with which he would relay questions to Billy from the crowd.

Now the first question came--from the speaker on the television set:  "Are you happy here?"

"About as happy as I was on Earth," said Billy Pilgrim, which was true.

Billy is a star on Tralfamadore just for being Billy.  He eats breakfast and exercises and bathes and cuts his toenails.  As an encore, he shaves and puts on deodorant.  I do almost all of that stuff every morning, but Billy is special.  He is a unicorn or Bigfoot on this alien planet.  The Tralfamadorians don't know any better.  To them, Billy is Brad Pitt and George Clooney and James Dean, all rolled into one lumpy human form.  Billy is myth and monster, specimen and superstar, and he starts liking the attention.

I gave a poetry reading this afternoon at the medical center where I work.  Not too many people showed up, but that really doesn't matter.  I got to read some of my work, tell some stories, and entertain a small audience.  For an hour, I was Brad Pitt and George Clooney and James Dean all rolled into one.  And the Tralfamadorians really enjoyed the show I put on.

I will admit to being quite nervous last night as I was planning what I was going to read today.  Usually, I do readings with musician friends, so I'm not the center of attention all the time.  My musician friends weren't available today.  That means I had 60 minutes to fill by myself.  That's a long poetry reading.

I had about twenty poems chosen.  Once I was introduced, I did what I always do:  I winged it.  Some things I had planned to read went out the window.  Other things, that I hadn't planned to read, suddenly became centerpieces, with ten minute introductions.  It went really well, I think.  Everybody was laughing and crying in the right places.  Plus, there were really good cookies to eat.

That always happens when I give readings.  I plan and organize and prepare, and it all goes out the window when I start talking.  It's not nerves.  I don't ever feel anxious when I give a reading.  It's something else.  I just sort of let myself go, and that's when I start having fun.  I figure that if I'm having fun, so are the people sitting in the chairs.

Tonight, I am going to relax.  Maybe do a little writing.  Maybe watch a movie.  Maybe read.  I'm going to do something I haven't really done all week:  I'm going to relax.

Saint Marty is thankful today for really good chocolate chip cookies and poems.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21: Summer Solstice, Arthur Rimbaud, "The Sun Has Wept Rose"

So, it is the summer solstice in the Western Hemisphere.  The longest day of the year.  I went for a walk with my wife this afternoon.  It was gorgeous and blue, with clouds that looked like they belonged in an oil landscape.

I love this day.  The promise of light until late in the evening.  It makes me want to stay awake forever.  Write.  Sing.  Draw.  Go for a run.  When I was younger, I used to call winter my favorite season of the year.  Now, it's summer.  I think that transition happens with age.

Saint Marty has a poem tonight that makes him think of the summer solstice.

The Sun Has Wept Rose

by:  Arthur Rimbaud

The sun has wept rose in the shell of your ears,
The world has rolled white from your back,
Your thighs:
The sea has stained rust at the crimson of your breasts,
And Man had bled black at your sovereign side.

June 21: Gay Nineties Couple, Inspiration, Hard Work

Billy brushed his teeth on Tralfamadore, put in his partial denture, and went into his kitchen.  His bottled-gas range and his refrigerator and his dishwasher were mint green, too.  There was a picture painted on the door of the refrigerator.  The refrigerator had come that way.  It was a picture of a Gay Nineties couple on a bicycle built for two.

Billy looked at the picture now, tried to think something about the couple.  Nothing came to him.  There didn't seem to be anything to think about those two people.

I understand Billy's predicament today.  He can't conjure up any thoughts regarding the couple on the bicycle built for two.  I'm not really inspired to write anything about this particular passage from Slaughterhouse.  Usually, when I type a section from the book, some thought immediately pops into my head.  Free association.  Today, nothing's popping.

Inspiration is a strange thing.  I would say that I've read a lot of writing that I would call inspired.  I've seen a lot of performances--on stage and screen--that I would categorize as inspired, as well.  The same is true for most of the arts.  Music.  Painting.  Sketching.  Photography.  All inspired.  (Not mimes.  Never mimes.)

However, as a working poet and writer, I will say that waiting until I feel inspired to write wouldn't really work.  I would never sit down to write anything.  Instead, I would be constantly out in search of inspiration.  Sunrises or sunsets or poems or chocolate cake or Janis Joplin playing on the radio.  Inspiration is like lightning.  It doesn't strike the same place twice.

No, tonight, I'm going to sit down with my journal and force myself to work on a couple of writing projects I have going.  There will be no Muse dictating in my ear.  I will simply write and write and write until I come up with something that's not embarrassing.  That pretty much describes my process.  As Natalie Goldberg advises, I give myself permission to write shit, in hopes that something beautiful might flower out of it.

Now I won't completely discount the possibility of  being inspired tonight.  It might happen.  However, I'm not going to wait for it.  I have work to get done.  That's what writers do.  They work, and that work is hard.  But it's also the best thing in the world when I come up with one perfect word, one great image, one elegant sentence.  That's what it's all about.  String letters together, hoping for a miracle.

Saint Marty is thankful for the ability to write this evening.