Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 31: All Hallow's Poem, Sylvia Plath, "Witch Burning"

And Saint Marty has one last poem for this All Hallow's Night . . .

Witch Burning

by:  Sylvia Plath

In the marketplace they are piling the dry sticks.
A thicket of shadows is a poor coat. I inhabit
The wax image of myself, a doll's body.
Sickness begins here: I am the dartboard for witches.
Only the devil can eat the devil out.
In the month of red leaves I climb to a bed of fire.

It is easy to blame the dark: the mouth of a door,
The cellar's belly. They've blown my sparkler out.
A black-sharded lady keeps me in parrot cage.
What large eyes the dead have!
I am intimate with a hairy spirit.
Smoke wheels from the beak of this empty jar.

If I am a little one, I can do no harm.
If I don't move about, I'll knock nothing over. So I said,
Sitting under a potlid, tiny and inert as a rice grain.
They are turning the burners up, ring after ring.
We are full of starch, my small white fellows. We grow.
It hurts at first. The red tongues will teach the truth.

Mother of beetles, only unclench your hand:
I'll fly through the candle's mouth like a singeless moth.
Give me back my shape. I am ready to construe the days
I coupled with dust in the shadow of a stone.
My ankles brighten. Brightness ascends my thighs.
I am lost, I am lost, in the robes of all this light.

October 31: Bleeding Hearts, Living Dead, Halloween

"Americans have finally heard about Dresden," said Rumfoord, twenty-three years after the raid.  "A lot of them know now how much worse it was than Hiroshima.  So I've got to put something about it in my book.  From the official Air Force standpoint, it'll all be new."

"Why would they keep it a secret so long?" said Lily.

"For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts," said Rumfoord, "might not think it was such a wonderful thing to do."

It was now that Billy Pilgrim spoke up intelligently.  "I was there," he said.

Billy has risen from the dead in his hospital bed.  He feels it necessary to respond to Rumfoord's lecture on the bombing of Dresden.  He is the living dead times two.  He survived Dresden, and he just survived an airplane crash.

Tonight is Halloween.  My kids have their costumes on, and, in an hour, we are heading out into the snowy streets of the Upper Peninsula to join the living dead, vampires, Harry Potters, and Batmans on the prowl for chocolate.

That is my wisdom for this evening.  At the moment, I feel like the living dead, myself.

Saint Marty is thankful for kids and pumpkins and candy.

Monday, October 30, 2017

October 30: I Don't Know, Wife's Brithday, a Lot of Reminders

Professor Rumfoord said frightful things about Billy within Billy's hearing, confident that Billy no longer had any brain at all.  "Why don't they let him die?" he asked Lily.

"I don't know," she said.

"That's not a human being anymore.  Doctors are for human beings.  They should turn him over to a veterinarian or a tree surgeon.  They'd know what to do.  Look at him!  That's life, according to the medical profession.  Isn't life wonderful?"

"I don't know," said Lily.

Rumfoord talked to Lily about the bombing of Dresden one time, and Billy heard it all.  Rumfoord had a problem about Dresden.  His one-volume history of the Army Air Force in World War Two was supposed to be a readable condensation of the twenty-seven-volume Official History of the Army Air Force in World War Two.  The thing was, though, there was almost nothing in the twenty-seven volumes about the Dresden raid, even though it had been such a howling success.  The extent of the success had been kept a secret for many years after the war--a secret from the American people.  It was no secret from the Germans, of course, or from the Russians, who occupied Dresden after the war, who are in Dresden still.

Rumfoord is not a nice guy.  He's cruel to Billy, and he treats his wife like she's a child.  Of course, Rumfoord is used to being in charge--in the military, the classroom, his marriage, and, now, his hospital room.  He's the kind of person who likes to tell everyone what's wrong with the world because he is an expert on just about every subject.  And his young wife's response to his mini-lectures:  "I don't know."

There is obviously not a whole lot of love between Rumfoord and Lily.  If the term "trophy wife" existed when Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse, that is exactly what Lily would be called.  She's like a medal on Rumfoord's uniform.  Something to prove his masculinity and intelligence and desirability.  I hate to say it, but I kind of picture Donald and Melania Trump when I read this passage. 

Today is my wife's birthday.  She never makes a big deal about it.  She doesn't compose present wish lists.  Or draw stars on October 30th on random people's calendars.  Or send out e-mail reminders to her friends and family.  Or insist on wearing a tiara from the moment she wakes up.  She doesn't do anything  to draw attention to herself. 

She is so unlike me.

I'm not saying that I'm like Rumfoord or Donald Trump.  Or that my wife is Lily of Melania Trump.  I'm saying that my wife is beautiful and humble.  She didn't even want me to remind our sixteen-year-old daughter about her birthday.  I told my wife that the only way a sixteen-year-old teenager remembers any occasion is through reminders.  A LOT of reminders.

So, happy birthday to my partner in life.  She is a wonderful wife, loving mother, good editor, and, most of all, a kind and gentle human being.  Unless I do something to piss her off.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his wife.

October 30: Satanic Pope, Jack Prelutsky, "A Wolf is at the Laundromat"

Well, I survived reading my poem at the Halloween Spectacle.  I even enjoyed myself, despite the cold.

Now, I am preparing for All Hallow's Eve tomorrow.  I'm attending my son's costume parade in the morning.  He's dressing as a Satanic pope.  (I wasn't with him when he picked his costume.  Therefore, I wash my hands of any permanent psychological or spiritual damage my son may acquire as a result.)

Tonight, I have a Halloween poem from one of my favorite children's poets--Jack Prelutsky.  I used to read his poetry to my son and daughter at bedtime.  Now, they sort of snub their noses at such childishness, which makes me a little sad.

Saint Marty has to read Jack Prelutsky alone these days.

A Wolf is at the Laundromat

by:  Jack Prelutsky

A wolf is at the Laundromat,
it's not a wary stare-wolf,
it's short and fat, it tips its hat,
unlike a scary glare-wolf.

It combs its hair, it clips its toes,
it is a fairly rare wolf,
that's only there to clean its clothes—
it is a wash-and-wear-wolf.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October 29: Crazy With Work, Classic Saint Marty, "All Hallow's Snow"

I am going crazy with work today.  I've been preparing lessons and assignments for my mythology class.  Worked on another project that is due on Wednesday.  Tonight, I'm reading at a Halloween show in Marquette.  I have to do my makeup soon and get in costume.  I'm feeling a little exhausted right now.

A Classic Saint Marty from two years ago, when my life was still complicated . . .

October 30, 2015:  Eternal Afterlife, Cremation Stone, Edgar Allan Poe, "The Sleeper"

Lost in a kind of delirium and frightened by the prospect of an eternal afterlife in such a world, Ives would begin to doze, and finally sleep, or nearly so, soon let out a shout, waking everyone in the apartment.

After his mystical vision, Ives spends a great deal of time thinking about life after death.  Even though he is a devout Catholic, brought up to believe in Heaven and angels and salvation, Ives is uneasy about the afterlife.  His vision of colored winds and spinning suns simply confuses him even further, since it doesn't fit into the Christian paradigm of eternity.  Ives simply doesn't know what to think.

It has been a little over two months since my sister died.  My family has been waiting this whole time for her interment.  We haven't done it yet because we ordered a cremation stone.  My sister never wanted to be buried, so, instead, her cremains are going to be placed in a sculpted boulder.  It's a beautiful object, but it takes a long time to be delivered and placed.

The goal was to have the interment by about mid-October, before the snow started flying.  It is now two days away from Halloween.  No snow yet.  No stone yet.  I feel as though during these last couple of months we've all been in a kind of limbo, waiting for the final step in letting go of my sister's physical being.  When it does happen, which will be soon (I hope), it will be like tearing the scab off of a wound that's sort of healing.

This afternoon, on my way home from work, I drove by the cemetery where my sister will be laid to rest.  I stared down the road, at the place where her cremation stone will be placed.  For just a moment, I thought I saw my sister standing there.  It was a vision that came and went so fast that I'm not sure I actually saw anything at all.  However, it just reminded me of what remains unfinished.

Forgive my lachrymose mood.  I think it's the time of year.  The cold setting in.  All Souls' Day approaching.  Winter on the doorstep.

Saint Marty needs some kind of closure.  He's having a hard time moving forward.

The Sleeper

by:  Edgar Allan Poe

At midnight, in the month of June,
I stand beneath the mystic moon.
An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,
Exhales from out her golden rim,
And, softly dripping, drop by drop,
Upon the quiet mountain top,
Steals drowsily and musically
Into the universal valley.
The rosemary nods upon the grave;
The lily lolls upon the wave;
Wrapping the fog about its breast,
The ruin molders into rest;
Looking like Lethe, see! the lake
A conscious slumber seems to take,
And would not, for the world, awake.
All Beauty sleeps!- and lo! where lies
Irene, with her Destinies!

O, lady bright! can it be right-
This window open to the night?
The wanton airs, from the tree-top,
Laughingly through the lattice drop-
The bodiless airs, a wizard rout,
Flit through thy chamber in and out,
And wave the curtain canopy
So fitfully- so fearfully-
Above the closed and fringed lid
'Neath which thy slumb'ring soul lies hid,
That, o'er the floor and down the wall,
Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall!
Oh, lady dear, hast thou no fear?
Why and what art thou dreaming here?
Sure thou art come O'er far-off seas,
A wonder to these garden trees!
Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress,
Strange, above all, thy length of tress,
And this all solemn silentness!

The lady sleeps! Oh, may her sleep,
Which is enduring, so be deep!
Heaven have her in its sacred keep!
This chamber changed for one more holy,
This bed for one more melancholy,
I pray to God that she may lie
For ever with unopened eye,
While the pale sheeted ghosts go by!

My love, she sleeps! Oh, may her sleep
As it is lasting, so be deep!
Soft may the worms about her creep!
Far in the forest, dim and old,
For her may some tall vault unfold-
Some vault that oft has flung its black
And winged panels fluttering back,
Triumphant, o'er the crested palls,
Of her grand family funerals-
Some sepulchre, remote, alone,
Against whose portal she hath thrown,
In childhood, many an idle stone-
Some tomb from out whose sounding door
She ne'er shall force an echo more,
Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!
It was the dead who groaned within.

And a poem from myself this evening of the Halloween Spectacle . . .

All Hallow's Snow

by:  Martin Achatz

for the victims of Hurricane Sandy
October 30, 2012

All Hallow's Eve, the snow falls
Like volcanic ash on Pompeii,
Where parents curled around children,
Cocooned them against that instant
Of God unhinged, writing in magma
A poem of dinners uneaten,
Naps unfinished, men and women
Uncoupled, frozen in need,
Bodies joined forever under
The bright trumpet of disaster.

My son and daughter, in costume, greedy
For Milky Way and candy corn, don't pay
Attention to the snow this night,
Don't know we stand in a comma,
A punctuation of ocean and arctic.
Don't know that, last night, this wind drove
The Atlantic between mother and son and daughter,
Revised with wave and darkness, created
An elegy of salt and sea and ruin.
Here is what my children know:
They go to a door, hold out their bags
To strangers, receive sweetness.
I stand behind them
In the cold, listen for Vesuvius
To open its mouth,
To sing again.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Octrober 28: Wife's Funeral, Backs on God, Stages of Grief

Billy had to miss his wife's funeral because he was still so sick.  He was conscious, though, while Valencia was being put into the ground in Ilium.  Billy hadn't said much since regaining consciousness, hadn't responded very elaborately to the news of Valencia's death and Robert's coming home from the war and so on--so it was generally believed that he was a vegetable.  There was talk of performing an operation on him later, one which might improve the circulation of blood to his brain.

Actually, Billy's outward listlessness was a screen.  The listlessness concealed a mind which was fizzing and flashing thrillingly.  It was preparing letters and lectures about the flying saucers, the negligibility of death, and the true nature of time.

Billy isn't too upset about the death of his wife, Valencia, because he knew it was coming.  He also knows that, because of the "true nature of time," he will soon see her alive and well again.  Will make love to her on their wedding night.  Will give her a beautiful ring on their wedding anniversary.  Will say "I do" to her again.  Her funeral is not the end.  Billy will see her again, because time is not a straight line.  It's an M. C. Escher painting, curving back into itself, one hand drawing another hand drawing a hand.

I wish that my concept of time was more like Billy's.  That would make loss much easier.  However, I am stuck in chronology, as is almost every human being, except, maybe, schizophrenics and saints.  So, when a person dies, it's a permanent thing.  Now, if you are a follower of any major religion, death is simply a transition into something, hopefully, better.  More joyful.  Free of the pain and troubles of everyday life.

Two of my sisters have turned their backs on God and religion because of my other sister's death.  They say they are angry at God for letting it happen.  So, they don't want to have anything to do with Him.  Of course, this is just an excuse to not deal with their grief in any way.  They are looking for someone to blame, and God has pretty big shoulders to carry that burden.

Of course, it's a lot easier to blame God for the bad things that happen in life than to accept any responsibility for them.  I'm not saying that my two angry sisters are to blame for our sister's death.  They're not.  My sister died of lymphoma of the brain.  But my sisters are compounding their anger and sadness by not seeking any kind of peace with what happened.  They are stuck in stages three and four of grief (Anger/Bargaining and Depression/Loneliness).  They cling to these emotions like they're some kind of life preserver.  They're drowning.  Happy in their misery.

They are sad, angry, lost people right now.  I hope, some day, that they can somehow return some light into their lives.  Right now, however, they have big, God-sized holes that they're trying to fill with pain, grief, and fury.  It's not working for them, but they don't see it.

Today, Saint Marty is thankful for having hope in his life.

October 28: Hermione Granger, Louise Gluck, "All Hallows"

A good friend of mine has really liked my Halloween poems, but she has been troubled that one particular Halloween denizen has not received attention:  the witch.

This omission is not due to any kind of hetero-normative male agenda on my part.  I fully support feminist causes.  My best friends are female.  My favorite Harry Potter character is Hermione Granger.  I voted for Hillary.  My wife often tells me that I'm practically a woman.

Saint Marty gives the witch her due today.

All Hallows

by:  Louise Gluck

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Friday, October 27, 2017

October 27: Leader of Men, Beyond Hope, Flawed Saint

Billy Pilgrim opened his eyes in the hospital in Vermont, did not know where he was.  Watching him was his son Robert.  Robert was wearing the uniform of the famous Green Berets.  Robert's hair was short, was wheat-colored bristles.  Robert was clean and neat.  He was decorated with a Purple Heart and a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with two clusters.

This was a boy who had flunked out of high school, who had been an alcoholic at sixteen, who had run with a rotten bunch of kids, who had been arrested for tipping over hundreds of tombstones in a Catholic cemetery one time.  He was all straightened out now.  His posture was wonderful and his shoes were shined and his trousers were pressed, and he was a leader of men.


Billy Pilgrim closed his eyes again.

Nobody is beyond hope.  That's what I get out of this passage.  Robert is on the fast-track to a pretty bleak life.  Alcoholic.  Delinquent.  Criminal.  His story could have easily turned out like the end of Leaving Las Vegas, Robert portrayed drinking himself to death at the end of a terrible life.  That could have happened.

Instead, Robert has become a military hero in a very unpopular war.  He's a leader, someone to whom people look up to.  Pretty good for a guy who probably spent most of his teenage years stealing beer and booze from supermarkets.  As I said at the start--nobody is beyond hope.

I firmly believe that statement.  I try to understand people rather than judge them.  Everyone wrestles with demons in some way.  I know that I've done and said things that I'm not too proud of.  That's what being human is all about.  Making mistakes and hopefully learning from those mistakes.

I know what you're waiting for now.  You're waiting for me to go into the details of some huge mistake I've made in the past.  Something that still haunts me and embarrasses me.  I have plenty of stories like that.  But I'm not going to do that.

The things I do when I seriously fuck up are to (1) fix the fuck up, (2) learn how never to fuck up like that again, and (3) forgive myself and let it go.  Number three on that list is very important.  If you don't forgive yourself, if you dwell on past mistakes all the time, you are going to have a pretty miserable life.

So, let me just say that the flawed saint who writes this blog is a patchwork of scars and healings.  I wouldn't be a teacher or poet or laureate or husband or father if I hadn't fucked up majorly at times.  Now, I know that you're intrigued by all this talk about my past.  If you're that interested, there are close to four thousand old posts in this blog.  Go back to day one and start reading.  I'm pretty much an open book.  Or open blog.

This post isn't about mistakes.  It's about hope.  It's about how every person deserves a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chance.  That belief saved my marriage and life quite a few times.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the mistakes he's made.

October 27: Halloween Poetry Reading, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, "Dirge"

Let me apologize for my absence yesterday.  I was giving a Halloween poetry reading at my local library.  Then I was drinking beer at a local microbrewery.  By the time I got home, I was in no shape to compose anything.  I barely made it past ten o'clock without falling asleep on the couch.

The reading went well.  There were many people--family, friends, and a few strangers.  Those strangers became friends after a few drinks.

Busy weekend ahead.  Writing.  Reading at a Halloween show.  Working on a teaching narrative (yes, that is as awful as it sounds).  Tonight, however, I plan to relax and watch a couple episodes of the second season of Stranger Things.

Saint Marty has a nice Halloween poem about ghosts and graves for tonight . . .


by:  Thomas Lovell Beddoes

We do lie beneath the grass
          In the moonlight, in the shade
     Of the yew-tree.  They that pass
          Hear us not.  We are afraid
               They would envy our delight,
               In our graves by glow-worm night.
Come follow us, and smile as we;
          We sail to the rock in the ancient waves,
Where the snow falls by thousands in the sea,
          And the drown'd and the shipwreck'd have happy graves.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October 25: Getting Old, Mountain Dew, Lemony Snicket

And then Billy traveled in time to when he was sixteen years old, in the waiting room of a doctor.  Billy had an infected thumb.  There was only one other patient waiting--an old, old man.  The old man was in agony because of gas.  He farted tremendously, and then he belched.  

"Excuse me," he said to Billy.  Then he did it again.  "Oh God--" he said, "I knew it was going to be bad getting old."   He shook his head.  "I didn't know it was going to be this bad."

All I can say about the old man in the waiting room with sixteen-year-old Billy is:  Amen.

I can recall when I didn't have to worry about what I ate or drank.  Mountain Dew for breakfast.  Hostess Ding Dongs for lunch.  Then something healthy for dinner--like pizza.  My before bed snack, more Mountain Dew.  And I didn't gain weight.

I ran two or three miles every day, and I didn't feel like I was going to die after the first half mile.  I could shop at Old Navy and not have to venture into the old man section of jeans and Polo shirts.  My feet didn't hurt at the end of the day, and I didn't fall asleep watching the ten o'clock news.  In fact, I could stay up all night, sleep for a half hour, and then go to school.

Things have changed.  Tonight, I'm going to hear Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) talk at the university.  I'm taking my daughter, because he was one of her favorite writers when she was younger.  The presentation starts at 8 p.m.  I'm a little concerned that I might fall asleep during it.  I'm going to get home well past my bedtime.

Saint Marty agrees with Vonnegut's old man:  "I didn't know it was going to be this bad."

October 25: Scariest Ghost, Lizette Woodworth Reese, "All Hallows Night"

I am a believer is ghosts.  I can't say that I have ever seen one, but I can't rule out the possibility of their possibility, just like Bigfoot or an intelligent Trump child.

Of course, the scariest ghosts are always from the past.  Looking back at the mistakes you've made, the decisions that affected your entire life, for good or bad.

Saint Marty is thankful that he's not feeling too haunted tonight.

All Hallows Night

by:  Lizette Woodworth Reese

Two things I did on Hallows Night:--
Make my house April clear;
Left open wide my door
To the ghosts of the year.

Then one came in.  Across the room,
It stood up long and fair--
The ghost that was myself--
And gave me stare for stare.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October 24: Mongolian Idiot, Rights of the Intellectually Challenged, My Sister

Billy's daughter Barbara came in later that day.  She was all doped up, had the same glassy-eyed look that poor old Edgar Derby wore just before he was shot in Dresden.  Doctors had given her pills so she could continue to function, even though her father was broken and her mother was dead.

So it goes.

She was accompanied by a doctor and a nurse.  Her brother Robert was flying home from a battlefield in Vietnam.  "Daddy--" she said tentatively.  "Daddy--?"

But Billy was ten years away, back in 1958.  He was examining the eyes of a young male Mongolian idiot in order to prescribe corrective lenses.  The idiot's mother was there, acting as an interpreter.

"How many dots do you see?" Billy Pilgrim asked him.

This passage pisses me off.  I know that the term "Mongolian idiot" was once acceptable, even common.  "Down syndrome" didn't come into use until the early 1970s.  Slaughterhouse was first published in March of 1969.  Kurt Vonnegut was a product of his time.  That's why he calls the young Down syndrome boy an "idiot."  I notice that  Vonnegut even depersonalizes the character even more by using the term "male" instead of boy.  Suddenly, instead of a living, breathing human being, Billy is treating a specimen:  the Mongolian idiot male.

As many of my disciples already know, I have a sister with Down syndrome.  So, I have been exposed to all sorts of cruelties.  My mother fought hard for my sister all her life.  Fought to get her in school.  Fought to keep her in school.  Fought for classroom funding.  Took on principals, school superintendents, and instructors who saw my sister as hopelessly unteachable.  When my sister was born, the doctor told my parents to put her in an institution and forget about her.

This all happened right around the time that Vonnegut was writing Slaughterhouse, which explains a lot about the passage.  Doctors, educators, and brilliant writers all saw people with Down syndrome as idiots, oddities, sideshow attractions.  I don't blame Vonnegut for his ignorance.  I understand it, in the social context.  Vonnegut was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement, the anti-nuke movement.  Most of his books are thinly veiled social commentary.  Yet, at the time of Slaughterhouse, he wasn't aware of the incredible insensitivity of calling someone a "Mongolian idiot."

We have come a long way since the publication of Slaughterhouse.  It's now legislated that public schools must provide educations for children with mental and physical impairments (for now--the current Education Secretary, Betsy Devos, is trying to change that).  However, just like the battle for Civil Rights continues, so does the battle for the rights of the intellectually challenged.

I'm ashamed to say that I don't think of this cause every day now, despite how personal it is for me.  My sister has been out of the education system for over 30 years.  Her current issues are health and memory.  Like most older people with Down syndrome, she is developing symptoms that could be the beginning of Alzheimer's or dementia.  That is her daily struggle now.

Vonnegut is not a bad person for calling his character a "Mongolian idiot."  He is the product of his culture, as we all are.  And, sometimes, culture needs to change.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his sister, who is not an idiot.

October 24: Halloween Kind of Day, Rainer Maria Rilke, "Black Cat"

It has been a Halloween kind of day.  Rain.  Winds that's tearing shingles off roofs.  Groaning and creaking buildings.  Power blackouts. This afternoon, I saw a little bit of snow falling, too.

The only thing that was missing was a witch on a broom and a black cat.

Saint Marty will provide the black cat.  Anybody know a witch?

Black Cat

by:  Rainer Maria Rilke

A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:

just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.

She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once

as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

October 23: Glowing Pumpkins, Nate Pritts, "Forever War"

My daughter now has her driver's license.  I will go pick her up from dance class in a few minutes, and I will let her drive home.  Then I will let her take my car to go to her boyfriend's house, tell her to be home by ten o'clock.

It's hard letting go.  There's another aspect of parental control that is simply slipping through my fingers.  I know that I will stand on my front porch and watch her disappear down the street.  I will be surrounded by Halloween decorations.  Glowing pumpkins and skulls.  Spiderwebs.  Strings of colored maple leafs.

My daughter and I have been putting up those same decorations since she was a little girl.

Saint Marty isn't ready to see his daughter drive away.

Forever War

by: Nate Pritts

In studying the anomaly
it was determined that holiday decorations
look sad out of season,
that there's no excuse for the mistakes
of my people.  Red paper hearts
on the front door into April,
a cauldron that doubles as a planter
in summer.  Always the starscape
to help keep me honest, to remind me
that distance is easy to cross.
The analytic belt I'm equipped with
reminds me of an indescribable autumn
from one hundred generations ago
though even last year
I was someone else.
I was faced with a choice.
Proceed with the same core
or blow it up to restart
& maybe go further.  Most of my programming
has survived into this new battle.
I can smell faint ocean
salt on the breeze & I have different
reactions for its presence or absence.
Now is the time to overcome problems.
I debate the finer points of being desperate,
of wanting things to remain
as they are, though they can't.
I'd rather not go into details
since specifics make me queasy,
like in pictures when people put their heads
too close together.  How can they stand
such forced intimacy?
I take off in search of my home planet.
My resolve is stronger than ever.

October 23: 135,000 People, Warfare, John Wayne Movie

One of the books that Lily had brought Rumfoord was The Destruction of Dresden, by an Englishman named David Irving.  It was an American edition by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1964.  What Rumfoord wanted from it were portions of the forewords by his friends Ira C. Eaker, Lieutenant General, U. S. A. F., retired, and British Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby, K. C. B., K. B. E. M. C., D. F. C., A. F. C.
I find it difficult to understand Englishmen or Americans who weep about enemy civilians who were killed but who have not shed a tear for our gallant crews lost in combat with a cruel enemy, wrote his friend General Eaker in part.  I think it would have been well for Mr. Irving to have remembered, when he was drawing the frightful picture of the civilians killed at Dresden, that V-1's and V-2's were at the very time falling on England, killing civilian men, women, and children indiscriminately, as they were designed and launched to do.  It might be well to remember Buchenwald and Conventry, too.

Eaker's foreword ended this way:

I deeply regret that British and U. S. bombers killed 135,000 people in the attack on Dresden, but I remember who started the last war and I regret even more the loss of more than 5,000,000 Allied lives in the necessary effort to completely defeat and utterly destroy nazism.

So it goes.

What Air Marshal Saundby said, among other things, was this:

That the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny.  That it was really a military necessity few, after reading this book, will believe.  It was one of those terrible things that sometimes happen in wartime, brought about by an unfortunate combination of circumstances.  Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel, though it may well be that they were too remote from the harsh realities of war to understand fully the appalling destructive power of air bombardment in the spring of 1945.

The advocates of nuclear disarmament seem to believe that, if they could achieve their aim, war would become tolerable and decent.  They would do well to read this book and ponder the fate of Dresden, where 135,000 people died as the result of an air attack with conventional weapons.  On the night of March 9th, 1945, an air attack on Tokyo by American heavy bombers, using incendiary and high explosive bombs, caused the death of 83,793 people.  The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 71,379 people. 

So it goes.

"If you're ever in Cody, Wyoming," said Billy Pilgrim behind his white linen screens, "just ask for Wild Bob."

Lily Rumfoord shuddered, went on pretending to read the Harry Truman things.

I'm not quite sure what Rumfoord is trying to prove with these forewords.  All that really sticks out from the quoted passages are the numbers:  135,00 dead in Dresden; 5,000,000 Allied soldiers dead; 83,793 dead in Tokyo; and 71,379 dead in Hiroshima.  The numbers are staggering.  So many people killed in the name of warfare.

Again, don't misunderstand me.  There are just reasons for going to war, including the destruction of the Nazi regime.  Adolf Hitler had to be stopped, at any cost.  That is not something to be disputed.  That does not, however, negate the human price for stopping the spread of nazism, which was considerable.

I don't think Vonnegut is arguing here that Hitler should have been left alone.  What Vonnegut is doing is pointing out that warfare is horrible, on every side.  That innocent men. women, and children die.  That is Vonnegut's true mission.  He wants his readers to understand, in a very personal way, what happens when humans fight other humans.

War should not be whitewashed or glorified.  It's not a John Wayne movie, where patriotic music plays are soldiers return home from battle into the loving arms of their mothers and wives and girlfriends.  War is about bodies.  Lots of them.

Would I give up my life to stop another Adolf Hitler?  Yes, I would.  I believe in the greater good.

But I also believe that the greater good involves compassion, love, understanding, and acceptance between all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, or social class.  Every person is a child of God, and every person deserves happiness.

Saint Marty is thankful today that his family is safe from war.  Who knows about tomorrow?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October 22: Daughter's Driving Test, Classic Saint Marty, "Without Words"

It has been quite the day.

I took my daughter for her driving test this afternoon.  She has been sick to her stomach all weekend long over it.  Cranky.  Short-tempered.  I understand.  She's been driving for many months now.  Most of her friends already have their licenses.  She did not want to fail the test.

And she didn't.  It was a tense half hour of parallel parking and driving, but she did well.  Tomorrow, she goes to the Secretary of State office, and tomorrow night, she will be asking me for the keys to my car.  I have entered a new stage in fathering.

Seven years ago, I was thinking about how my daughter was going to remember me . . .

October 27, 2010:  Saint Namatius

I often wonder what kind of legacy I'm going to leave behind.  As a writer, of course, I want to leave behind a few books that people are still reading fifty or a hundred years after I die.  As a father, I want to be remembered by my daughter and son as a presence of love and support.  I want my daughter to remember the nights I read Charlotte's Web to her, doing character voices, making her imagine the manure pile in Wilbur's barn.  I want my son to remember the nights I sang him to sleep, rubbing his head and back like I was polishing a delicate flute of Waterford crystal.  As a teacher, I want my students to remember me as a person who taught them how to live better lives (and hopefully avoid comma splices).  As a Christian, I honestly don't know what my legacy is going to be.  It may be this blog, floating out in cyberspace like a note floating in a bottle in the Pacific.  Forever unread.

The saints who intrigue me the most are the ones whose biographies start out something like this:  "Not much is known about Saint Joe Schmo..."  It's as if their entire lives are empty chalkboards, and, yet, they're regarded holy enough to be saints.  That's astounding to me.  That would be like me winning the Nobel Prize in Literature because the members of the Swedish Academy heard from a friend's cousin that I'm a good writer.  It just doesn't work that way.

Last night, I started teaching a spiritual journaling workshop.  It was a good first night, with a lot of sharing of stories and backgrounds.  The focus of the session was trying to define what our "present periods" are and how we all go about trying to preserve our histories and pasts.  At one point in the evening, we discussed cemeteries  and how visiting one gives you a sense of clarity and peace.  I have been a cemetery stalker for a long time (not in the Ouija board, chicken blood sense).  I find strolling among headstones, reading names, noting birth and death dates, grounds me.  It reminds me of how trivial most of the things that occupy my days really are.  And it also reminds me that, when I'm long gone from this little rock of a planet, the only physical reminder that I've walked, breathed, spoken, took craps, loved my wife and children, or wrote poetry is going to be a piece of marble with my name chiseled into it.  That's it.  For a majority of the residents of cemeteries, that's the sum total of their legacies.  A slab of cold stone.

That's not a very comforting thought.  To be honest, it scares the shit out of me.  I guess I haven't quite left behind the ten-year-old boy who wanted to be the next Stephen King.  I can't shake the fantasy that, one day, some huge literary agent is going to stumble across my blog and send me an e-mail with these words in the subject line:  "YOU ARE THE BE$T WRITER I'VE EVER READ!  PLEA$E LET ME REPRE$ENT YOU!"  Or something like that.  I'm not sure if this scenario is a reflection of my stubborn refusal to accept reality or a genuine possibility for a lucrative, successful writing career.  I just don't want to give up my dream, because, without my dream, I'm just one step away from being Al Bundy in my own version of Married With Children.

Which brings me back to my original question of what  my legacy is going to be, the thing or things for which I'm going to be remembered.  If I'm remembered at all.  I'm not a saint.  I will never be a saint.  I can't imagine doing anything for a sustained period that even remotely resembles being saintly.  Let me give you an example:  today's feast is for Namatius, a man who was the Bishop of Clermont, France, in the 400s.  Namatius and his wife (yes, Catholic bishops were allowed to marry at one time) are best known for building cathedrals filled with beautiful artwork.  His wife created the Bible of the Poor--"sacred images figuratively transcribed from the revealed texts."  Basically, she created picture book Bibles on church walls for the illiterate poor.  By the way, none of this information is first-hand.  This stuff comes from stories told by Saint Gregory of Tours about Namatius and his wife, which, in my book, is like being nominated for sainthood by a nephew of the chief saint-maker committee guy.  (There's an actual title, I believe, but you get the idea.)  The point is:  legacy is tied to memory, and memory is subject to human failings (like too many Jell-O shots at a Halloween party).  I'm not saying Saint Gregory got it wrong on Namatius.  He probably didn't.  But who's to know?

So, I'm just going to keep writing my posts, taking care of my family, and dreaming.  Who knows what could happen?  I don't think there's a patron saint for bloggers yet.  Now I just have to find someone to nominate me after I'm gone.

You know, the nephew of that chief saint-maker committee guy.

And a poem for this evening about broken dreams . . .

Without Words

by:  Martin Achatz

Some things leave me without words.
Clouds the color of spawning salmon.
A wolf spider as fat as my thumb.
Thunder in the comma of lake-effect snow.
I struggle for adequate verbs and nouns
When faced with grasshopper borealis
Or the scream of peacock at midnight.
It’s a fault line of language, deep
As hieroglyph or rune, untranslatable
By alphabet into the raw meat
Of what you feel this morning. 
When your baby’s heartbeat ceases. 
When joy evaporates like frost
From a windshield.  What can I give you
This day of ash and sackcloth?
I open my arms to you, try
To wrap them around the universe
Of your shoulders.
God blinded Saul to peel the scales
From his eyes, make him embrace
Love.  God makes me mute.
Please, take my silence.
Turn it into what you need most.
Tuna casserole.  Jim Beam.  Lasagna.
Fluke of whale.  Minaret of Taj Mahal.
I try to shape my tongue
Into a gift of gold or myrrh to leave
At your empty crib.

first published in "The MacGuffin"