Monday, July 31, 2017

July 31: Poet of the Week, Keith Taylor, "Sign"

A couple weeks ago, I went to hear poet Keith Taylor talk about poetry.  It was a great night.  A few years ago, I had the privilege of doing a poetry reading with Keith.  He was funny and insightful and humble that day, and he hasn't changed at all.

Keith Taylor is the Poet of the Week, and tonight's poem comes from my new favorite poetry collection, The Bird-while.  I spent most of today traveling through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, along Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.  Saw some cranes.  Lots of spruce and jack pine.  Water.  Waves and waves and waves.

As I was driving, Saint Marty thought a lot about Keith Taylor's poems.


by:  Keith Taylor

After long walks down sandy power-line cuts
for wolf tracks

I hear
of a pile of scat on a trail to the bog
and find

turd-shaped clumps of deer fur
with ragged pieces of bone.

July 31: Innocent Bystander, Traveling All Day, a Little Drunk

When Dresden was destroyed later on, incidentally, Lazzaro did not exult.  He didn't have anything against the Germans, he said.  Also, he said he liked to take his enemies one at a time.  He was proud of never having hurt an innocent bystander.  "Nobody ever got it from Lazzaro," he said, "who didn't have it coming."

Okay, I have had a little bit to drink.  After traveling all day, I had a drink.  Then I went to the water park with my kids.  Then I had a couple more drinks.  Now, I'm faced with the task of writing a couple of blog posts.  Lazzaro says that he's never hurt an innocent bystander.  I'm afraid that, because of my alcohol consumption, a couple innocent bystanders may suffer collateral damage.  Thank God I have my wife to eliminate anything offensive or damaging.

I plan to sleep in tomorrow morning.  I'm not going to set an alarm.  When I wake up, I'm not going to have a set plan for the day.  I may go back to the water park.  I may go for a hike.  I may find a quiet corner and read all day.  Or I may find a clearing in the woods, sit down with my journal, and write some poems.  I have kept the next few days completely free.

Okay, that may be a little bit of a lie.  I do have a poetry workshop to lead on Thursday evening, so I will probably spend a couple hours planning out what I'm going to do.  But that really doesn't count as work.  I enjoy doing stuff like that.  In fact, if I could find a full-time job planning and conducting poetry workshops, I would feel like I'd won the lottery.  (Sorry for relying on cliches.  It's the alcohol.)

So, that will be the extent of my wisdom tonight.  I'm a little drunk and a little tired and totally relaxed.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for gin and tonic.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 30: Book Club, Fannie Flagg, Classic Saint Marty, "Mysteries of Light"

It has been a good day.  Church in the morning.  Then Book Club in the evening.  This month, we read Fannie Flagg's newest novel--The Whole Town's Talking.  It was a good read.  I finished it last night.

We met at my best friend Lydia's house.  We barbecued hot dogs and brats.  Had a good salad and some berry trifle.  Oh, we also talked about the book.  We sat in Lydia's backyard, surrounded by flowers and running fountains.  My son went in the hot tub.  The discussion ranged far and wide--from karma to immigrants.  We were there about four hours.

Tonight, we are packing for our trip tomorrow.  We are headed downstate to Boyne Mountain for a few days of relaxation.  I am really looking forward to getting away, disconnecting. 

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired two years ago, when my life was in turmoil . . .

July 30, 2015:  Red Pajamas, Wormhole Existence, Sharon Olds, "The Present Moment"

The night before, on Christmas Eve, after spending the evening with Luis and the family in his living room after a lamb dinner and after making toasts to friendship and love; after Luis had left (around midnight) and Ives had finished talking to his daughter and his sister, Katherine, about the next day's plans (dinner at his daughter's and son-in-law's apartment at three), he got into bed beside his wife; after carrying on to Annie about the cruel and selfish changes in the political climate of the country in regard to the poor and disadvantaged (unfairly condemned in Ives' words to "a hopeless future") and after kissing his wife, Ives slept through the night serenely.  That morning he awoke in his bedroom to find his son, Robert, about six years old, in red pajamas and thick black stockings, alive again and playing quietly in the corner of the room with his toy soldiers, jousting horsemen, black knights versus white, moving them across the floor.  And even though Ives knew that his son had been dead for nearly thirty years, he now saw the boy looking out the bedroom window of their old apartment on Claremont into the courtyard, which was glaring white with falling snow...

Ives frequently dreams about his son in the years following his son's death.  Sometimes, Robert is an adult, serving as a parish priest in a church.  Sometimes, he's still a teenager, getting up early in the morning to deliver newspapers.  And, sometimes, he's a little boy, playing with toy soldiers in Ives' bedroom on Christmas morning.  Memories and dreams and visions of Robert haunt Ives for the rest of his life.

This afternoon, I went to have lunch at the surgery center where I worked for my sister for 17 years.  Many of my friends still work there, including one of my very best friends.  All the people there know my sister.  As I sat at my old desk, eating, I looked down the hall, to the door of my sister's old office.  I could see a sliver of light under the door, on the floor.

For several strange moments, I actually thought that the door was going to open and my sister was going to come out of the office, calling out to me the way she always did, "Hey, Mart."  She would be dressed in her blue scrubs, the surgical bonnet on her head and her shoes covered in blue booties.  It was as if I had somehow stepped back about four or five years.  I could actually hear her voice.

Of course, that version of my sister is gone.  I know that, just like Ives knows Robert has been dead thirty years in the above passage.  But, where I work, I'm surrounded by reminders of my sister every day.  Walking through the medical center parking lot some mornings, I still catch myself looking for my sister's van.  I'm living a wormhole existence, in the past and present simultaneously.  I think it's because, out of everybody in my family, I spent the most time with my sister over the last 20 years.  Ten hours a day, five days a week, not counting weekends.

It was literally painful this afternoon when I realized that her office door wasn't going to open, that she wasn't going to come out.

Saint Marty needs to have lunch somewhere else tomorrow.

The Present Moment

by:  Sharon Olds

Now that he cannot sit up,
now that he just lies there
looking at the wall, I forget the one
who sat up and put on his reading glasses
and the lights in the room multiplied in the lenses.
Once he entered the hospital
I forgot the man who lay full length
on the couch with the blanket folded around him,
that huge, crushed bud, and I have
long forgotten the man who ate food--
not dense, earthen food, like liver, but
things like pineapple, wedges of light,
the skeiny nature of light made visible.
It's as if I abandoned that ruddy man
with the swollen puckered mouth of a sweet-eater,
the torso packed with extra matter
like a planet a handful of which weighs as much as the earth, I have
left behind forever that young man my father,
that smooth-skinned, dark-haired boy,
and my father long before I knew him, when he could
only sleep, or drink from a woman's
body, a baby who stared with a steady
gaze the way he lies there, now, with his
eyes open, then the lids start down
and the milky crescent of the other world
shines, in there, for a moment, before sleep.
I stay beside him, like someone in a rowboat
staying abreast of a Channel swimmer,
you are not allowed to touch them, their limbs
glow, faintly, in the night water.

And now some love poems on the eve of vacation . . .

Mysteries of Light

by:  Martin Achatz

1.  Baptism
She bathes
With cherry blossom soap
Pure milk

2.  First Miracle
I eat strawberries
Their tender flesh, their seeds
Wedding night

3.  Proclamation
I, Neruda at dusk
Whisper in my wife's ear
Holy sin

4.  Transfiguration
Kiss her fingers
Feel her breath
Chrysalis touch

5.  Eucharist
Her body
Given up for me
Sweet, seismic bread

Saturday, July 29, 2017

July 29: Pimping WiFi, Meth Addict, Francisco X. Alarcon, "Prayer"

Welcome to Saturday morning at McDonald's.  That's right, I'm at McDonald's right now, pimping off the free WiFi, having breakfast, and being poetic.  I'm surrounded by the normal Saturday morning crowd--old, retired men sitting together and talking politics (they don't have President Obama to kick around anymore, so they are much quieter); travelers dropping in to buy coffee and make use of the restrooms; divorced fathers with their kids, trying to create quality time; beleaguered mothers with packs of young children, looking for a break.  You get the idea.

As a child, I was taught that everyone I meet is a reflection of Jesus.  Jesus is the middle school teacher and the homeless person on the corner.  Jesus is the meth addict and the atheist.  Yes, Jesus is even Donald Trump, although I have a real problem with that one.  The Jesus in Trump is buried pretty deeply somewhere under all that orange hair.

That's my vision of Jesus.  Human.  Embracing all the flaws of humankind.

Even Saint Marty has a little Jesus in him.  Hard to believe, right?


by:  Francisco X. Alarcon
translated by:  Francisco Aragon

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike

July 29: Sweetest Thing In Life, Good Catholic Boy, Turn the Other Cheek

The Blue Fairy Godmother left, amused and patronizing.  When he was gone, Lazzaro promised Billy and poor old Edgar Derby that he was going to have revenge, and that revenge was sweet.

"It's the sweetest thing there is," said Lazzaro.  "People fuck with me," he said, "and Jesus Christ are they ever fucking sorry.  I laugh like hell.  I don't care if it's a guy or a dame.  If the President of the United States fucked around with me, I'd fix him good.  You should have seen what I did to a dog one time."

"A dog?" said Billy.

"Son of a bitch bit me.  So I got me some steak, and I got me the spring out of a clock.  I cut that spring up in little pieces.  I put points on the ends of the pieces.  They were sharp as razor blades.  I stuck 'em into the steak--way inside.  And I went past where they had the dog tied up.  He wanted to bite me again.  I said to him, 'Come on, doggie--let's be friends.  Let's not be enemies any more.  I'm not mad.'  He believed me."

"He did?"

"I threw him the steak.  He swallowed it down in one big gulp.  I waited around for ten minutes."  Now Lazzaro's eyes twinkled.  "Blood started coming out of his mouth.  He started crying, and he rolled on the ground, as though the knives were on the outside of him instead of on the inside of him.  Then he tried to bite out his own insides.  I laughed, and I said to him, 'You got the right idea now.  Tear your own guts out, boy.  That's me in there with all those knives.'"  So it goes.

"Anybody ever asks you what the sweetest thing in life is--" said Lazzaro, "it's revenge."

Okay, let's get this out of the way first--Lazzaro is a very sick man.  Also let me says this--no animals were harmed in the writing of this post.

The main point of this little passage is revenge.  Getting even for perceived slights.  Of course, if someone causes me pain or makes me anger, my human response is to want to exact some kind of justice.  I want the person to experience pain and anger, as well.  That's just normal, I think.

Having been raised a good Catholic boy, I was taught to turn the other cheek.  Forgiveness, that's what it's all about.  Love your enemies.  You get the idea.  Revenge isn't one of the Ten Commandments or part of the Beatitudes.  If I seek revenge, then I'm sitting in judgement on a person.  Not my job.

That's not to say that I don't sometimes daydream about divine justice being visited on people who have harmed me or my loved ones.  Of course, I do.  (I have never dreamed of filling a steak with razor blades, however.)  I have wished ill on people.  Fantasized about coming into a large sum of money and using that money to make somebody's life miserable.  Like I said, I'm human.

I have had/do have people in my life who cause me distress.  And I can't do a whole lot about them.  If I spent my life dwelling on hatred, I think I would be a pretty miserable individual.  For the most part, I don't allow these people to even enter the radar of my daily existence.  If I do, then I have handed them the reins to my life.  Can't do that.

I try to pray for people who have caused me pain.  It's not easy.  I try to tell myself that God will take care of them.  Doesn't always happen in the time frame that I would hope.  I want immediate justice and retribution.  God works in His own time.  For example, if it were up to me, Donald Trump and his family would all be sitting in prison right now, awaiting trial for treason and just being assholes.  Obviously, that's not happening at the moment, although I still have hope.

Revenge isn't sweet.  It eats you up, because the seed of revenge is hatred.  Hatred is a terrible burden to carry around.  It can turn a really good day into a really shitty day.  Better to let go.  Turn the other cheek.  Forgive.  I believe some famous Guy in sandals once said that a long time ago.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for the ability to forgive.

Friday, July 28, 2017

July 28: Love Poems, Carl Phillips, "Domestic"

I love love poems.  Reread that sentence.  There are no typographical errors in it.  I'm a sucker for a good poem about love and passion.

I'm not going to belabor my point, defend the need for more love poems in the world.  I don't think anyone is going to argue with me.  Not that there's anything wrong with poems about death or sickness or grief or pain.  Some of my very favorite poems deal with all of those subjects.

Tonight, however, at the start of his vacation, Saint Marty is more interested in love and happiness.


by:  Carl Phillips

If, when studying road atlases
while taking, as you call it, your   
morning dump, you shout down to   
me names like Miami City, Franconia,   
Cancún, as places for you to take   
me to from here, can I help it if

all I can think is things that are   
stupid, like he loves me he loves me   
not? I don’t think so. No more
than, some mornings, waking to your   
hands around me, and remembering   
these are the fingers, the hands I’ve

over and over given myself to, I can   
stop myself from wondering does that   
mean they’re the same I’ll grow   
old with. Yesterday, in the café I   
keep meaning to show you, I thought   
this is how I’ll die maybe, alone,

somewhere too far away from wherever   
you are then, my heart racing from   
espresso and too many cigarettes,   
my head down on the table’s cool   
marble, and the ceiling fan turning   
slowly above me, like fortune, the

part of fortune that’s half-wished-
for only—it did not seem the worst   
way. I thought this is another of   
those things I’m always forgetting   
to tell you, or don’t choose to   
tell you, or I tell you but only

in the same way, each morning, I
keep myself from saying too loud I
love you until the moment you flush
the toilet, then I say it, when the
rumble of water running down through
the house could mean anything: flood,

your feet descending the stairs any
moment; any moment the whole world,
all I want of the world, coming down.

July 28: Blue Fairy Godmother, Funeral, Life's Blessings

Billy dozed, awakened in the prison hospital again.  The sun was high.  Outside were Golgotha sounds of strong men digging holes for upright timbers in hard, hard ground.  Englishmen were building themselves a new latrine.  They had abandoned their old latrine to the Americans--and their theater, the place where the feast had been held, too.

Six Englishmen staggered through a hospital with a pool table on which several mattresses were piled.  They were transferring it to living quarters attached to the hospital.  They were followed by an Englishman dragging his mattress and carrying a dartboard.

The man with the dartboard was the Blue Fairy Godmother who had injured little Paul Lazzaro.  He stopped by Lazzaro's bed, asked Lazzaro how he was.

Lazzaro told him he was going to have him killed after the war.  


"You made a big mistake," said Lazzaro.  "Anybody touches me, he better kill me, or I'm gonna have him killed."

The Blue Fairy Godmother knew something about killing.  He gave Lazzaro a careful smile.   "There is still time for me to kill you," he said, "if you really persuade me that it's the sensible thing to do."

"Why don't you go fuck yourself?"

"Don't think I haven't tried," the Blue Fairy Godmother answered.

There's a lot of death talk in this passage.  Lazzaro wants the Blue Fairy Godmother dead.  The Blue Fairy Godmother jokes about killing Lazzaro.  In the middle of a prisoner of war camp, death is inescapable.  On top of it all, Lazzaro is in the hospital, recuperating from injuries inflicted on him by the Blue Fairy Godmother.  Lazzaro and the Blue Fairy are supposed to be allies, fighting Nazis.  Yet, they hate each other.  As Vonnegut often says about death, so it goes.

I went to a funeral this afternoon for the brother of one of my best friends.  The brother was exactly two days older than me.  When I opened the program for the service, that was the first thing I noticed.  The ashes in the urn were just as old as me.

It was a beautiful service, full of music and chanting and funny stories and prayer.  Yes, it was sad at points.  But, for the most part, it was about laughter and gratitude for a life well-lived.  My friend's brother faced many challenges in his life, but he met those challenges head-on.  He didn't let his limitations limit him, and I find that inspiring.

The funeral also reminded me how important it is to celebrate all the blessings of my life.  I am really lucky.  Starting this afternoon, I am on vacation.  I don't go back to work until next Friday.  Next Monday, I head downstate for a few days of swimming and hiking and eating.  I am going to read and write and relax.  That is a great blessing.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for a life of blessings (and six days of vacation).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

July 27: Judgemental People, James Allen Hall, "At Home in the Country"

I get really tired of judgemental people.  And I get REALLY tried of judgemental people who call themselves Christian.  If you are judging people because of the color of their skins or their religions or sexual orientations, you are not being Christian.  You're being a hypocrite.  Jesus didn't preach blame and condemnation and hatred the last time I checked the Gospels.

In light of the current President of the United States' decision to disqualify transgender people from serving in the military, I've decided to feature poems from some great poets who also happen to be members of the LGBTQ community.

Given the choice between hate and love, Saint Marty will choose love every time.

At Home in the Country

by:  James Allen Hall

Down on Comegys Road, two miles
from the Rifle Club that meets Wednesdays,
summer to fall, firing into a blackness
they call night but I know is a body,
in unpaved Kennedyville, not far
from the Bight, on five acres of green
organic farm, next to the algaed pond
that yields the best fishing in all of Kent County
(my neighbor says it is a lingering death I deal
the trout when he sees me throw the small
bodies back), down where the commonest
cars are tractors and hayfetchers, and men
wave as they pass, briefly bowing a gentleman’s
straw hat, you can find the wood cabin
where I live, infested with stink bugs.
Every day, my boyfriend asks the murder count,
making light of my hatred. Even reading I sit,
swatter poised on the couch’s arm,
all the windows closed, fans off, the whole house
listening for the thwat of stink alighting
smartly on sun-warmed glass, their soft-backed
geometric carapaces calling to be stopped.
I did not grow up like this, here
on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but I am most
at home now I live with something inside to kill.

July 27: Tiny Horseshoe, Modern Medicine, Healthcare System


Billy Pilgrim says he went to Dresden, Germany, on the day after his morphine night in the British compound in the center of the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war.  Billy woke up at dawn on that day in January.  There were no windows in the little hospital, and the ghostly candles had gone out.  So the only light came from pinprick holes in the walls, and from a sketchy rectangle that outlined the imperfectly fitted door.  Little Paul Lazzaro, with a broken arm, snored on one bed.  Edgar Derby, the high school teacher who would eventually be shot, snored on another.

Billy sat up in bed.  He had no idea what year it was or what planet he was on.  Whatever the planet's name was, it was cold.  But it wasn't the cold that had awakened Billy.  It was animal magnetism which was making him shiver and itch.  It gave him profound aches in his musculature, as though he had been exercising hard.

The animal magnetism was coming from behind him.  If Billy had had to guess as to the source, he would have said that there was a vampire bat hanging upside down on the wall behind him.

Billy moved down toward the foot of his cot before turning to look at whatever it was.  He didn't want the animal to drop into his face and maybe claw his eyes out or bite off his big nose.  Then he turned.  The source of the magnetism really did resemble a bat.  It was Billy's impresario's coat with the fur collar.  it was hanging from a nail.

Billy now backed toward it again, looking at it over his shoulder, feeling the magnetism increase.  Then he faced it, kneeling on his cot, dared to touch it here and there.  He was seeking the exact source of the radiation.

He found two small sources, two lumps an inch apart and hidden in the lining.  One was shaped like a pea.  The other was shaped like a tiny horseshoe.  Billy received a message carried by the radiations.  He was told not to find out what the lumps were.  He was advised to be content with knowing that they could work miracles for him, provided he did not insist on learning their nature.  That was all right with Billy Pilgrim.  He was grateful.  He was glad.

If I were Billy, I wouldn't investigate the lumps either.  Billy is promised miracles if he doesn't get curious.  His response isn't fear or nagging doubt.  His response is thankfulness and joy.  That's a pretty good reaction to something miraculous.

Of course, the natural human inclination is curiosity.  The need to understand and dissect.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't think there's anything wrong with an inquisitive mind.  If it weren't for curiosity, much of modern medical treatment simply wouldn't exist.  I wouldn't be sitting at my keyboard right now with an insulin pump at my side.  In fact, I probably wouldn't be sitting anywhere at all.  I would have died when I was thirteen and ended up in the hospital in a diabetic coma.

Modern medicine is a miracle, and I give thanks for it.  What the business world has done with modern medicine in the United States does not fill me with gratitude.  Medicine in my country is not about saving people's lives.  It's about generating money.  Yes, it's about saving lives, too, but, after that life is saved, the hospital comes after your home if you can't pay your medical bills.  Compassion comes at a price.

I have worked in the healthcare system of the United States for close to 20 years.  I've seen its inner workings up close.  It isn't pretty at times.  A sick person sometimes has to make a choice between lifesaving treatment and bankruptcy.  Being healthy and homeless.  Living in poverty and not living at all.  Those aren't great choices, and unfortunately there are no magical radiation lumps in impresario coats transmitting cures. 

If I sound a little jaded, I am.  This afternoon, I experienced the failings of our healthcare system personally.  Medicine as big business.  So I am a little cranky this evening.  Hating people again.  I really need to get away from the world for a while.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful that he hasn't killed anybody today.  Can't say the same for the healthcare system.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

July 26: Ecstatic Visions, Beverly Matherne, "The Vision of Madame Brignac"

I have always loved stories of saints and ecstatic visions.  Saint Francis of Assisi seeing an angel and receiving the stigmata.  Saint Teresa of Avila being pierced by a seraph's golden lance.  People levitating, entering altered states of consciousness.

For a while, I thought I would want to experience this kind of ecstatic vision.  But these visions usually are accompanied by a lot of responsibility.  Heavenly directions to minister to lepers.  Things like that.  And pain.  Usually, the visions entail some kind of pain, and I'm not really down with suffering.

There's a part of writing poems that's a little visionary, I think.  Every good poem has a moment that approaches ecstasy.  I sometimes call it the "breathless" moment, when I'm reading a poem and it just sucks the oxygen right out of my lungs.  That's when I know that a poem is really working.

Saint Marty will get his ecstasy from poetry and leave suffering to saints and martyrs. 

The Vision of Madame Brignac

by:  Beverly Matherne

Mme. Brignac stirred white flour into cooking oil for andouille gumbo.  She prepared the dish only once a month.  Sausage cost more than she had.  She though of her dead husband, Emile, glanced at his burial crucifix above her door.  She used to make gumbo every Sunday, in honor of him.

The roux was becoming the color of chocolate when Mme. Brignac heard leaves rustle and twigs snap on the path to the door of her shack.  She rested her cooking spoon in a saucer and slid her pot onto the back burner of her stove.

She looked out the window and saw, walking toward her, a young mother holding her little boy by the hand.  The two, barefoot, wore clothes made of flour sacks.  When they saw Madame Brignac at her window, they raised their open palms for bread.  Mme. Brignac reached for the latch of her door.  At once, blinding light flooded its frame and filled the room.  The two beggars appeared before her.  The mother smiled.  Blood flowed from her son's hands.

"Who hurt him?" asked Mme. Brignac.  "Is your pain bad?" she asked the boy.  The boy didn't answer.  The scent of jasmine rose from his wounds.

Rain fell on her tin roof.  Mme. Brignac heard a strange sound, the rhythm of gourds.  She glanced toward the sound, at the foot of the mother, into the red throat of a rattlesnake.  Mme, Brignac wanted to warn her, but the mother stood motionless.

She shone like ginger lilies, like the moon, like Emile's crucifix at dawn.

July 26: Going Crazy, Too Many People, Fortress of Solitude

While he examined the boy's eyes, Billy told him matter-of-factly about his adventures on Tralfamadore, assured the fatherless boy that his father was very much alive in moments the boy would see again and again.

"Isn't that comforting?" Billy asked.

And somewhere in there, the boy's mother went out and told the receptionist that Billy was evidently going crazy.  Billy was taken home.  His daughter asked him again, "Father, Father, Father--what are we going to do with you?"

Billy is trying to comfort the boy.  The boy has lost his father, who was killed in Vietnam.  Time traveler Billy knows a different kind of reality, not limited by time or space.  Death isn't an ending in Billy's reality.  It's just one moment along a continuum, along with births and weddings and baptisms and graduations.  Billy wants to pass this knowledge along to the boy, so that the boy knows that his father is still alive, and will continue to be alive, forever.

I've written about Vonnegut's concept of time before.  It is quite comforting.  The only problem is that, as a human being, I can't experience all these different moments over and over.  I am on a straight line toward my inevitable end.  I won't ever see my brother or sister again in my lifetime.  Their moments have passed.  I will never hold my infant daughter or son again.  Those moments are gone, as well.  Time takes all things away.

I am not trying to be fatalistic.  I will admit that I'm not in the best of moods.  I've had to deal with too many people today.  I've used up my daily quota of kindness and compassion, and I'm quickly devolving into misanthropy.  I have a couple more days of forced human interaction, and then I will be able to retreat for about a week into the Fortress of Solitude in my mind.  By the end of next week, I'm hoping my batteries will be a little recharged, and I may like people again.  Maybe.

In the meantime, I will try to avoid talking about aliens or time or war or Trump or anything that may require me to be removed forcibly from my place of work.  I will try not to go off the deep end.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the solitude of headphones and music.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

July 25: The Ice Cream Truck, Beverly Matherne, "Tit June Came Back on Christmas Eve"

This afternoon, I went chasing the ice cream truck with my son.  As I watched him running down the street, I remembered chasing the ice cream truck when I was a kid, how I would hear the music playing somewhere, and I would go running with my sisters, tracking it like a hunter tracks a wounded deer.

There my son stood in front of me, in his shorts and tee shirt, waiting for his Sno-Cone.  And I was him, excited with the July heat and freedom, my legs skinned and scabbed.  When he shoved the blue ice in his mouth, I tasted winter raspberry on my tongue.  He was my ghost, and I was happy to be on vacation from grade school, away from pencils and math, digging up dinosaur bones in the backyard.

Saint Marty was a little haunted this afternoon.

Tit June Came Back on Christmas Eve

by:  Beverly Matherne

Twenty years after Junior died, he came back.  He'd been gone so long nobody knew where he'd been or what he'd been up to, and nobody dared ask.

He had this air about him, sitting at the big table, Mama spooning rice, dipping gumbo, putting the bowl in front of him.

The boys, they told stories:  the one about Tit June ringing the church bell at four in the morning for six o'clock Mass, how everybody showed up a whole hour early, and Father Chauve, him, he thought he'd done wrong and we were protesting.  And that one about Doux-Doux splitting open his foot with a cane knife and all those stitches.  And, oh yeah, those pissing contests behind the levee.

I told my sister Rita sitting next to me, "Well, Tit June's dead, I know that," but she wouldn't admit it, and nobody paid me any mind; they all went along with the show.  Tit June, he just drank his cherry bounce, kept carrying on like he'd never been gone at all.

Soon as Christmas morning came, Tit June packed his bag and left.  Nobody knew where he was going or when he'd be back.  He didn't tell.  He knew something we didn't know yet.

July 25: Back to Work, Divided Life, Perfect Job

On the morning after that wet dream, Billy decided to go back to work in his office in the shopping plaza.  Business was booming as usual.  His assistants were keeping up with it nicely.  They were startled to see him.  They had been told by his daughter that he might never practice again.

But Billy went into his examining room briskly, asked that the first patient be sent in.  So they sent him one--a twelve-year-old boy who was accompanied by his widowed mother.  They were strangers, new in town.  Billy asked them a little about themselves, learned that the boy's father had been killed in Vietnam--in the famous five-day battle for Hill 875 near Dakto.  So it goes.

Billy's daughter thinks that Billy is losing his mind.  He's living in a house without heat or food, talking about alien abduction and time travel.  If I were in his daughter's shoes, I would probably be checking into nursing homes and psychiatric medications for Daddy, too.  Yet, Billy goes back to work, because that's what he always does.  It's his life.

I have to say that I've never really had a job that I was excited about every day.  In fact, I've never had a job that really excited me at all.  I like the people I work with at the medical office, for the most part.  I find some satisfaction in making patients laugh and relax.  I like teaching young people at the university, opening minds up to new ideas and experiences.  For a while, I was the poetry editor of the university's literary magazine.  That excited me.  However, for the most part, job satisfaction is kind of illusive.

I think my problem is that my life has always been divided.  I work in the medical office for the health insurance.  I teach at the university for the money and creative outlet.  It's like I'm two separate people, using two different skill sets for the jobs I hold.  My dream has always been to have one job that allowed me to have free time and disposable income to pursue some of my interests.  Instead, I get up before the sun, every day, work all day, sometimes into the night, and return home tired.  Dead tired.

If you can't tell, I'm feeling a little down on myself this evening for some reason.  Nothing really triggered this attack of self pity, aside from this little passage from Slaughterhouse.  I guess I'm tired of being tired.  I'm sure, after I take my vacation next week, I'll be in a better frame of mind.  Four days away from all of my daily worries and cares.  I'm hoping it will exorcise all of these negative thoughts from my mind.

There are very few people, probably, who have their dream jobs.  It just doesn't happen that often.  Maybe for Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King, and Tiffany Trump.  That's about it.  The rest of us go through the motions, punch the time clock, and hopefully have a few laughs during the course of the day.

I stay sane by writing these blog posts, working on poems, reading books that make me believe in beauty and goodness.  It's not a perfect life, but I am able to go to bed every night feeling good about myself, for the most part.  That's something.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful for his upcoming vacation.

Monday, July 24, 2017

July 24: The Good Old Days, Beverly Matherne, "I Remember Louisiana"

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about my childhood recently.  I guess it's inevitable when you age, thinking back on "the good old days."  Of course, the problem with the gold old days is that you don't realize you're living through them.

For example, two years ago, I was working in the office of a cardiology practice.  I didn't want to be working there.  It was not a move of my own choosing.  But, now that I look back on it, it has become the good old days, because I was working with people who have become really good friends.  My sister was still alive.  My daughter was still in middle school, and I was still her knight in shining armor in a lot of ways.

All that is gone now.  I'm sure, in two years' time, I'll be reflecting on this time right now.  It may have become part of the good old days.  I don't know.  The one thing that's certain about the good old days is that you don't know they're good until they're over.  That's how it works.

Saint Marty tries to make every day a good old day.

I Remember Louisiana

by:  Beverly Matherne

I remember pole vaulting
over cane reeds
onto soft, black dirt,
running hurdles the whole
length of your yard,
then clinging fast to long vines
that swept us up and across the swamp.
I remember wild irises and egrets
and dogwood and sweet mulberries.
I remember miles of sugar cane, how
I ran through rows, sliced my legs;
miles of tobacco, lace from hurricane hail.
I remember shrimp boiled in Zatarain,
the file and cayenne in andouille gumbo.
I remember Atchafalaya, Catahoula, Coushatta,
Natchitoches, Opelousas, Tickfaw.
I remember starched lace in the tabernacle,
the smell of Johnson's Wax on the linoleum floor.
I remember feeling faint before communion,
the crisp host on my tongue, Dominus vobiscum
and Pater noster, qui es in coelis . . .
I remember chicken manure and honeysuckle
after rain, ostrich feathers
and tasseled breasts at Mardi Gras,
taut loins cavorting to Zulu drums,
the whips tearing at Jesus' flesh,
and how longing can thrust, combust,
and burn a hole through my chest.

July 24: Wet Dream, Going for a Run, Transitions

In time, Montana came to love and trust Billy Pilgrim.  He did not touch her until she made it clear that she wanted him to.  After she had been on Tralfamadore for what would have been an Earthling week, she asked him shyly if he wouldn't sleep with her.  Which he did.  It was heavenly.

And Billy traveled in time from that delightful bed to a bed in 1968.  It was his bed in Ilium, and the electric blanket was turned up high.  He was drenched in sweat, remembered groggily that his daughter had put him to bed, had told him to stay there until the oil burner was repaired.

Somebody was knocking on his bedroom door.

"Yes?" said Billy.

"Oil-burner man."


"It's running good now.  Heat's coming up."


"Mouse ate through a wire from the thermostat."

"I'll be darned."

Billy sniffled.  His hot bed smelled like a mushroom cellar.  He had had a wet dream about Montana Wildhack.

You may be wondering where I'm going to go with this post.  There are many possibilities.  I could write about my first sexual experience, since this passage is about the first time Billy and Montana have sex.  I could write about wet dreams, since Billy has had one.  Or I could write about sexual violence against women, since Montana has been kidnapped and brought to Tralfamadore for the purpose of mating with Billy.  So many possibilities.

Vonnegut was a science fiction writer.  He wrote speculative fiction and literary fiction.  If you can't tell, there is always a underpinning of social commentary, as well.  Slaughterhouse is about aliens and time travel.  But it's also about war and human tragedy and politics and death.  Vonnegut, like any great writer, is working on many levels.

I just went for a run.  I haven't been running much this summer at all.  I got out of the habit.  It's so much easier, when I get home, to simply sit down on the couch and close my eyes versus putting on my running clothes and shoes and heading back out the door.  I know myself.  If I don't exercise as soon as I get home, I'm not going to exercise at all.  This afternoon, I decided to find out how out-of-shape I really am.

Answer:  not as bad as I thought.

One of the benefits of running is that it clears my head.  Shakes out all of the cobwebs from my workday.  Now, sitting here, reflecting on this little passage from Vonnegut, I'm able to think a little more clearly.  I'm not worrying about the work I've done the past eight hours, or the work I have to do tomorrow.  It's all about the work that's in front of me right now.  Writing this blog post.

That's sort of what Billy does through this whole book.  As he becomes unstuck in time, over and over, he has to shake off one present as he enters another present.  He leaves Montana behind for his bed in Ilium.  Trades one kind of heat for another kind of heat.  One kind of sexual experience for another.  Billy masters the ability to adjust quickly to his alternating realities.

Me?  I need a little time.  I ran for about a half hour this afternoon.  Now, after I'm done typing this post, I'll probably put my head back for a little while and take a nap.  Maybe read a book.  I haven't decided yet.  Maybe I'll time travel back to when I first met my wife or to our wedding night or to the mornings my daughter or son were born.  It's not difficult.  Just a matter of dredging up some specific, concrete detail from those moments.  A smell or sound.  A word or song.

This post is working on many levels, if you haven't noticed.  I have successfully avoided writing about anything potentially embarrassing, although I'm not opposed to those kinds of disclosures.  I have shifted subjects pretty quickly from sexual encounters and wet dreams to running and work and time travel.  I'm not quite as skillful as Vonnegut at these kinds of transitions.  So it goes.

Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful that he didn't injure himself running.