Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30: Saint Marty's Day, Book Club, Classic Saint Marty

Most of my loyal disciples are probably wondering why I haven't been speaking of the big, upcoming holiday.  Well, it's because I've been too busy to give it even one thought.  Today, however, I intend to start my holiday preparations:  dragging out the decorations, putting up the tree, playing traditional carols, baking cookies, buying and wrapping presents. 

That's right.  Saint Marty's Day is almost upon us.  As of this moment, there are exactly four days, eight hours, and 21 minutes shopping days left.  So, it's time to deck the Saint Marty's Day halls.  And don't forget the traditional dessert for Saint Marty's Day:  tapioca pudding. 

I know what you're all thinking right now:  I forgot to send out my Saint Marty's Day cards.  That's alright.  You still have a couple days left.  Saint Marty's Day is Friday, so, if you get your cards in the mail by Tuesday, they should reach their destinations in plenty of time.

In case you are a Saint Marty's Day atheist, let me share a few pictures from Saint Marty's Day celebrations around the world.





North Korea:

As you can tell, everybody from all 'round the world is getting in the Saint Marty's Day spirit. 

Tonight, I'm hosting my book club.  It's our annual Saint Marty's Day meeting.  That's right, Saint Marty's Day nog will be consumed this evening.  At the end of the night, we will hold hands, stand in a circle, and sing old Saint Marty's Day carols like "We Wish You a Merry Saint Marty's Day" and the old English "In the Bleak Saint Marty's Day."  It will be a lovely time.

A year ago, I was contemplating time and Saint Marty's Day as well . . .

September 30, 2017:  Standing on Thin Air, Randazzo's Fruit Market, 50th Saint Marty's Day

Billy now moved about the party--outwardly normal.  Kilgore Trout was shadowing him, keen to know what Billy had suspected or seen.  Most of Trout's novels, after all, dealt with time warps and extrasensory perception and other unexpected things.  Trout believed in things like that, was greedy to have their existence proved.

"You ever put a full-length mirror on the floor, and then have a dog stand on it?" Trout asked Billy.


"The dog will look down, and all of a sudden he'll realize there's nothing under him.  He thinks he's standing on thin air.  He'll jump a mile."

"He will?"

"That's how you looked--as though you all of a sudden realized you were standing on thin air."

Standing on thin air.  I frequently experience that feeling.  I can be walking along, smell something like an orange or banana, and suddenly I'm walking through Randazzo's Fruit Market in Detroit with my mother when I was five or six.  I shell a peanut, put it in my mouth, and I'm sitting at the Shrine Circus, watching the tigers jump through a flaming hoop.  I'm in thin air, between now and then.

Billy knows a few things about becoming unstuck in time.  This week, as I approach my 50th Saint Marty's Day, I'm going to be a little unstuck, too.  You're going to have to forgive me if I wax nostalgic about my past.  I'm standing on a mirror, looking down and up on myself.

I have a daughter who's a junior in high school.  She was born in the first year of the new millennium.  She never knew the twentieth century.  Can't remember a time when iPods and iPhones didn't exist.  I have a son in the fourth grade.  He thinks that Barack Obama was and should have been President of the United States forever.  (He and I agree on this little point.)

I will be cleaning my house this afternoon.  Then I will go to church and play the pipe organ.  For dinner, pizza from Pizza Hut.  These are things that I have done on Saturdays, without too much variation, for years.  Not exactly traditions.  More like comfortable routines.  That's what I see in the mirror I'm standing on today.

Saint Marty is thankful for routines.

I feel all warm and fuzzy now.  Don't you? 

Saint Marty's Day is on the way!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

September 29: The Deck Toward the End of the First Night Watch, Job Interview, Brett Kavanaugh

Ahab standing by the helm. Starbuck approaching him.

"We must send down the main-top-sail yard, sir. The band is working loose and the lee lift is half-stranded. Shall I strike it, sir?"

"Strike nothing; lash it. If I had sky-sail poles, I'd sway them up now."

"Sir!- in God's name!- sir?"


"The anchors are working, sir. Shall I get them inboard?"

"Strike nothing, and stir nothing but lash everything. The wind rises, but it has not got up to my table-hands yet. Quick, and see to it.- By masts and keels! he takes me for the hunchbacked skipper of some coasting smack. Send down my main-top-sail yard! Ho, gluepots! Loftiest trucks were made for wildest winds, and this brain-truck of mine now sails amid the cloud-scud. Shall I strike that? Oh, none but cowards send down their brain-trucks in tempest time. What a hooroosh aloft there! I would e'en take it for sublime, did I not know that the colic is a noisy malady. Oh, take medicine, take medicine!"

Starbuck, ever even-minded and cautious, tries to convince Ahab on a safer course of action--pulling down the sails, anchoring the ship in the storm.  Ahab, Moby Dick-crazed and unhinged, refuses to see reason.  Full steam ahead, even into the eye of a hurricane or mouth of a typhoon.  Reason plays no part in his decisions.

Over the last few days, I have watched the Brett Kavanaugh hurricane in Washington, D. C.  I'm not going to get political here.  I'm going to try to be like Starbuck--discuss the best course of action for safety and sanity.  I believe that the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is one of the most important decisions that occurs in the United States, more so than the election of a President of the United States.  This is a lifetime job that affects the lives of everyone who lives in this country.

Brett Kavanaugh is interviewing for a job.  A really, really important job.  I don't know about you, but, when I've gone into job interviews, the prospective employer takes everything into consideration--my past job performance, personality, police record, community involvement, education.  Sure, I try to put forth the best picture of myself as I can.  I WANT the job.

If, during the course of an interview, my prospective employer discovers that I have accusations of sexual assault or misconduct leveled against me, I'm sure my application and resume will go into the rejection pile, especially if there are tons of other people qualified for the position.  Plain and simple.  The decision is easy.  Safe and sane.

What happened this week in Congress was the strangest job interview I have every witnessed.  Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault, by more than one credible person.  If he's innocent, he should have agreed to a polygraph test, as his accuser did.  He didn't do that.  (By the way, Dr. Ford passed that polygraph with flying colors.)  The employers interviewing Judge Kavanaugh, instead of asking him the hard questions, spent their time DEFENDING him.  Again, I don't know about you, but, if I admit to taking illegal drugs during a job interview, I don't think the person interviewing me is going to defend my character.  It's not going to happen.

So, again, let me be Starbuck in this moment:  Brett Kavanaugh is interviewing for a job.  He's a prospective employee, who will be working for me and everyone else in the United States.  He has proven this week, over and over, that he is terrible under pressure, cannot control his temper, and is unable to be fair and impartial.

Bretty Kavanaugh's resume and application should go into the rejection pile.  I would say this whether he was Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal.

Saint Marty is thankful this afternoon for sanity and reason.  Things that seem greatly lacking in the capital of the United States right now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

September 26: James Weldon Johnson, "A Poet to His Baby Son," Son's 10th Birthday

A Poet to His Baby Son

by:  James Weldon Johnson

Tiny bit of humanity,
Blessed with your mother’s face,   
And cursed with your father’s mind.

I say cursed with your father’s mind,
Because you can lie so long and so quietly on your back,   
Playing with the dimpled big toe of your left foot,   
And looking away,
Through the ceiling of the room, and beyond.
Can it be that already you are thinking of being a poet?

Why don’t you kick and howl,   
And make the neighbors talk about   
“That damned baby next door,”   
And make up your mind forthwith   
To grow up and be a banker
Or a politician or some other sort of go-getter   
Or—?—whatever you decide upon,   
Rid yourself of these incipient thoughts   
About being a poet.

For poets no longer are makers of songs,   
Chanters of the gold and purple harvest,   
Sayers of the glories of earth and sky,   
Of the sweet pain of love
And the keen joy of living;
No longer dreamers of the essential dreams,   
And interpreters of the eternal truth,   
Through the eternal beauty.
Poets these days are unfortunate fellows.   
Baffled in trying to say old things in a new way   
Or new things in an old language,   
They talk abracadabra
In an unknown tongue,
Each one fashioning for himself
A wordy world of shadow problems,
And as a self-imagined Atlas,
Struggling under it with puny legs and arms,   
Groaning out incoherent complaints at his load.

My son, this is no time nor place for a poet;   
Grow up and join the big, busy crowd   
That scrambles for what it thinks it wants   
Out of this old world which is—as it is—
And, probably, always will be.

Take the advice of a father who knows:   
You cannot begin too young   
Not to be a poet.


My son turned ten years old today.

So, in celebration of his decade of life, I present you a list of things I love about my son:

  • His unpredictability:  I never know what is going to come out of his mouth--a joke about sharks, a Roger Miller song, or "go to hell."
  • His kindness:  At Christmas time one year, his class had a Secret Santa gift exchange.  My son insisted on buying three extra presents, so that "nobody got left out."
  • His laugh:  When I'm in the darkest of moods, the foulest of tempers, his laugh can move mountains inside me.
  • His curiosity:  He once hopped in a car with me to see a snapping turtle slowly ambling across the street, making sure it safely made the woods on the other side.
  • His energy:  The poor child has inherited my ADD.  He moves from television to computer to scooter back to television.  Sometimes in the space of five minutes.
  • His spirituality:  I watch him pray.  He doesn't do the "kid thing"--bowing his head until the adults stop talking.  He is having some deep conversation with the Big Guy upstairs.
  • His love:  He hurts easily.  Forgives easily.  Hugs me every night.  Isn't ashamed to give me kisses in public.
  • His acceptance:  He doesn't see people in terms of skin color or gender or sexual orientation.  He sees people as playmates.
  • His feelings about Donald Trump:  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  He's not a big fan of "President Dump."
  • His Bigfoot love:  He has almost as many Bigfoot tee shirts as I do.
  • His patience:  He still loves me, despite all the times I've fucked up as a father.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the gift of his son.

Monday, September 24, 2018

September 24: The Candles, College Applications, Academic Chess Game

Warmest climes but nurse the cruellest fangs: the tiger of Bengal crouches in spaced groves of ceaseless verdure. Skies the most effulgent but basket the deadliest thunders: gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern lands. So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of all storms, the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless sky, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.

Towards evening of that day, the Pequod was torn of her canvas, and bare-poled was left to fight a Typhoon which had struck her directly ahead. When darkness came on, sky and sea roared and split with the thunder, and blazed with the lightning, that showed the disabled mast fluttering here and there with the rags which the first fury of the tempest had left for its after sport.

Holding by a shroud, Starbuck was standing on the quarter-deck; at every flash of the lightning glancing aloft, to see what additional disaster might have befallen the intricate hamper there; while Stubb and Flask were directing the men in the higher hoisting and firmer lashing of the boats. But all their pains seemed naught. Though lifted to the very top of the cranes, the windward quarter boat (Ahab's) did not escape. A great rolling sea, dashing high up against the reeling ship's high teetering side, stove in the boat's bottom at the stern, and left it again, all dripping through like a sieve.

"Bad work, bad work! Mr. Starbuck," said Stubb, regarding the wreck, "but the sea will have its way. Stubb, for one, can't fight it. You see, Mr. Starbuck, a wave has such a great long start before it leaps, all round the world it runs, and then comes the spring! But as for me, all the start I have to meet it, is just across the deck here. But never mind; it's all in fun: so the old song says;"- (sings.)

Oh! jolly is the gale, And a joker is the whale, A' flourishin' his tail,- Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh! The scud all a flyin', That's his flip only foamin'; When he stirs in the spicin',- Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh! Thunder splits the ships, But he only smacks his lips, A tastin' of this flip,- Such a funny, sporty, gamy, jesty, joky, hoky-poky lad, is the Ocean, oh!

"Avast Stubb," cried Starbuck, "let the Typhoon sing, and strike his harp here in our rigging; but if thou art a brave man thou wilt hold thy peace."

"But I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man; I am a coward; and I sing to keep up my spirits. And I tell you what it is, Mr. Starbuck, there's no way to stop my singing in this world but to cut my throat. And when that's done, ten to one I sing ye the doxology for a wind-up."

"Madman! look through my eyes if thou hast none of thine own."

"What! how can you see better of a dark night than anybody else, never mind how foolish?"

"Here!" cried Starbuck, seizing Stubb by the shoulder, and pointing his hand towards the weather bow, "markest thou not that the gale comes from the eastward, the very course Ahab is to run for Moby Dick? the very course he swung to this day noon? now mark his boat there; where is that stove? In the stern-sheets, man; where he is wont to stand- his stand-point is stove, man! Now jump overboard, and sing away, if thou must!

"I don't half understand ye: what's in the wind?"

"Yes, yes, round the Cape of Good Hope is the shortest way to Nantucket," soliloquized Starbuck suddenly, heedless of Stubb's question. "The gale that now hammers at us to stave us, we can turn it into a fair wind that will drive us towards home. Yonder, to windward, all is blackness of doom; but to leeward, homeward- I see it lightens up there; but not with the lightning."

At that moment in one of the intervals of profound darkness, following the flashes, a voice was heard at his side; and almost at the same instant a volley of thunder peals rolled overhead.

"Who's there?"

"Old Thunder!" said Ahab, groping his way along the bulwarks to his pivot-hole; but suddenly finding his path made plain to him by elbowed lances of fire.

Now, as the lightning rod to a spire on shore is intended to carry off the perilous fluid into the soil; so the kindred rod which at sea some ships carry to each mast, is intended to conduct it into the water. But as this conductor must descend to considerable depth, that its end may avoid all contact with the hull; and as moreover, if kept constantly towing there, it would be liable to many mishaps, besides interfering not a little with some of the rigging, and more or less impeding the vessel's way in the water; because of all this, the lower parts of a ship's lightning-rods are not always overboard; but are generally made in long slender links, so as to be the more readily hauled up into the chains outside, or thrown down into the sea, as occasion may require.

"The rods! the rods!" cried Starbuck to the crew, suddenly admonished to vigilance by the vivid lightning that had just been darting flambeaux, to light Ahab to his post. "Are they overboard? drop them over, fore and aft. Quick!"

"Avast!" cried Ahab; "let's have fair play here, though we be the weaker side. Yet I'll contribute to raise rods on the Himmalehs and Andes, that all the world may be secured; but out on privileges! Let them be, sir."

"Look aloft!" cried Starbuck. "The corpusants! the corpusants!

All the yard-arms were tipped with a pallid fire; and touched at each tri-pointed lightning-rod-end with three tapering white flames, each of the three tall masts was silently burning in that sulphurous air, like three gigantic wax tapers before an altar.

"Blast the boat! let it go!" cried Stubb at this instant, as a swashing sea heaved up under his own little craft so that its gunwale violently jammed his hand, as he was passing a lashing. "Blast it!"- but slipping backward on the deck, his uplifted eyes caught the flames; and immediately shifting his tone he cried- "The corpusants have mercy on us all!"

To sailors, oaths are household words; they will swear in the trance of the calm, and in the teeth of the tempest; they will imprecate curses from the topsail-yard-arms, when most they teeter over to a seething sea; but in all my voyagings, seldom have I heard a common oath when God's burning finger has been laid on the ship; when His "Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin" has been woven into the shrouds and the cordage.

While this pallidness was burning aloft, few words were heard from the enchanted crew; who in one thick cluster stood on the forecastle, all their eyes gleaming in that pale phosphorescence, like a faraway constellation of stars. Relieved against the ghostly light, the gigantic jet negro, Daggoo, loomed up to thrice his real stature, and seemed the black cloud from which the thunder had come. The parted mouth of Tashtego revealed his shark-white teeth, which strangely gleamed as if they too had been tipped by corpusants; while lit up by the preternatural light, Queequeg's tattooing burned like Satanic blue flames on his body.

The tableau all waned at last with the pallidness aloft; and once more the Pequod and every soul on her decks were wrapped in a pall. A moment or two passed, when Starbuck, going forward, pushed against some one. It was Stubb. "What thinkest thou now, man; I heard thy cry; it was not the same in the song."

"No, no, it wasn't; I said the corpusants have mercy on us all; and I hope they will, still. But do they only have mercy on long faces?- have they no bowels for a laugh? And look ye, Mr. Starbuck- but it's too dark to look. Hear me, then; I take that mast-head flame we saw for a sign of good luck; for those masts are rooted in a hold that is going to be chock a' block with sperm-oil, d'ye see; and so, all that sperm will work up into the masts, like sap in a tree. Yes, our three masts will yet be as three spermaceti candles- that's the good promise we saw."

At that moment Starbuck caught sight of Stubb's face slowly beginning to glimmer into sight. Glancing upwards, he cried: "See! see!" and once more the high tapering flames were beheld with what seemed redoubled supernaturalness in their pallor.

"The corpusants have mercy on us all," cried Stubb, again.

At the base of the main-mast, full beneath the doubloon and the flame, the Parsee was kneeling in Ahab's front, but with his head bowed away from him; while near by, from the arched and overhanging rigging, where they had just been engaged securing a spar, a number of the seamen, arrested by the glare, now cohered together, and hung pendulous, like a knot of numbed wasps from a drooping, orchard twig. In various enchanted attitudes like the standing, or stepping, or running skeletons in Herculaneum, others remained rooted to the deck; but all their eyes upcast.

"Aye, aye, men!" cried Ahab. "Look up at it; mark it well; the white flame but lights the way to the White Whale! Hand me those mainmast links there; I would fain feel this pulse, and let mine beat against it; blood against fire! So."

Then turning- the last link held fast in his left hand, he put his foot upon the Parsee; and with fixed upward eve, and high-flung right arm, he stood erect before the lofty tri-pointed trinity of flames.
"Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire, whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship, till in the sacramental act so burned by thee, that to this hour I bear the scar; I now know thee, thou clear spirit, and I now know that thy right worship is defiance. To neither love nor reverence wilt thou be kind; and e'en for hate thou canst but kill; and all are killed. No fearless fool now fronts thee. I own thy speechless, placeless power; but to the last gasp of my earthquake life will dispute unconditional, unintegral mastery in me. In the midst of the personified impersonal, a personality stands here. Though but a point at best; whenceso'er I came; whereso'er I go; yet while I earthly live, the queenly personality lives in me, and feels her royal rights. But war is pain, and hate is woe. Come in thy lowest form of love, and I will kneel and kiss thee; but at thy highest, come as mere supernal power; and though thou launchest navies of full-freighted worlds, there's that in here that still remains indifferent. Oh, thou clear spirit, of thy fire thou madest me, and like a true child of fire, I breathe it back to thee."

[Sudden, repeated flashes of lightning; the nine flames leap lengthwise to thrice their previous height; Ahab, with the rest, closes his eyes, his right hand pressed hard upon them.]

"I own thy speechless, placeless power; said I not so? Nor was it wrung from me; nor do I now drop these links. Thou canst blind; but I can then grope. Thou canst consume; but I can then be ashes. Take the homage of these poor eyes, and shutter-hands. I would not take it. The lightning flashes through my skull; mine eyeballs ache and ache; my whole beaten brain seems as beheaded, and rolling in some stunning ground. Oh, oh! Yet blindfold, yet will I talk to thee. Light though thou be, thou leapest out of darkness; but I am darkness leaping out of light, leaping out of thee! The javelins cease; open eyes; see, or not? There burn the flames! Oh, thou magnanimous! now I do glory in my genealogy. But thou art but my fiery father; my sweet mother, I know not. Oh, cruel! what hast thou done with her? There lies my puzzle; but thine is greater. Thou knowest not how came ye, hence callest thyself unbegotten; certainly knowest not thy beginning, hence callest thyself unbegun. I know that of me, which thou knowest not of thyself, oh, thou omnipotent. There is some unsuffusing thing beyond thee, thou clear spirit, to whom all thy eternity is but time, all thy creativeness mechanical. Through thee, thy flaming self, my scorched eyes do dimly see it. Oh, thou foundling fire, thou hermit immemorial, thou too hast thy incommunicable riddle, thy unparticipated grief. Here again with haughty agony, I read my sire. Leap! leap up, and lick the sky! I leap with thee; I burn with thee; would fain be welded with thee; defyingly I worship thee!"

"The boat! the boat!" cried Starbuck, "look at thy boat, old man!"

Ahab's harpoon, the one forged at Perth's fire, remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch, so that it projected beyond his whale-boat's bow; but the sea that had stove its bottom had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire. As the silent harpoon burned there like a serpent's tongue, Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm- "God, God is against thee, old man; forbear! 't is an ill voyage! ill begun, ill continued; let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better voyage than this."

Overhearing Starbuck, the panic-stricken crew instantly ran to the braces- though not a sail was left aloft. For the moment all the aghast mate's thoughts seemed theirs; they raised a half mutinous cry. But dashing the rattling lightning links to the deck, and snatching the burning harpoon, Ahab waved it like a torch among them; swearing to transfix with it the first sailor that but cast loose a rope's end. Petrified by his aspect, and still more shrinking from the fiery dart that he held, the men fell back in dismay, and Ahab again spoke:-

"All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is bound. And that ye may know to what tune this heart beats: look ye here; thus I blow out the last fear!" And with one blast of his breath he extinguished the flame.

As in the hurricane that sweeps the plain, men fly the neighborhood of some lone, gigantic elm, whose very height and strength but render it so much the more unsafe, because so much the more a mark for thunderbolts; so at those last words of Ahab's many of the mariners did run from him in a terror of dismay.

Okay, everything is on fire in this chapter.  Lightning is flashing.  The Pequod is glowing.  Ahab is speaking fire.  Stubb and Starbuck are cursing the light.  The rest of crew is scrambling away from the bolts and forks.  And somewhere, out in the deep, Moby Dick is swimming under it all.

It has been quite the evening. I went to a college application workshop with my daughter.  Her high school counselor threw all kinds of dates and deadlines at us.  Talked about how expensive higher education is (which was not news to us).  FAFSAs and scholarships and internships and work studies.  By the end of the session, I sort of felt like I was in the middle of a lightning-laced typhoon.

I'm trying to embrace the changes this year is bringing.  I helped my daughter fill out two applications.  Talked to her about the academic chess game.  I hope I looked excited for her, because inside I was dying a little.  She's worked so hard for this.  I don't want to hold her back in any way.  On the flip side, I want to tie her up in her room and never let her go.

I'm not Ahab tonight, full-steam ahead, typhoon and lightning be damned.  I can't do that.  However, I can share what I know about college and academic success.  Give her my advice about how to win scholarships and influence professors.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for his smart, beautiful daughter, who will always be his little girl.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

September 23: Foggy Day, VR Birthday Party, Almost Ten

It is the end of a busy weekend and start of a busy week.

This Wednesday, my son will celebrate his tenth birthday.  So, my daughter is graduating from high school this year, and my son is no longer a little boy.  As a person who doesn't deal with change that well, the next eight or nine months are going to be very rough.

This afternoon, we had a birthday party for my son, some of his friends, and family at a Virtual Reality Arcade.  It was a great time.  However, I did learn one thing:  I cannot do VR games.  I put on a head seat, and, within 30 seconds, I felt like I'd been on a roller coaster for about four hours.  Cold sweat, nauseated, dizzy.  That feeling pretty much hung on for the rest of the party.

There is a thick fog hugging the air right now.  If the temperature drops a few degrees, I would say that snow was on the way.  Instead, it's simply bone-drilling damp.  It looks like the scene when Father Merrin arrives in The Exorcist.  Cue the scary music.

I'm pretty exhausted.  So's my wife.  My son won't admit it, but he looks pretty whipped, as well.  I have a feeling that we're all going to be crashing fairly early this evening.  When I get home, I plan on getting in my pajamas, making myself a special hot chocolate, and preparing a lesson plan.  Then maybe work on a new poem.  A Halloween poem.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for butterscotch schnapps.

A poem for my son's birthday party . . .

Rite of Passage

by:  Sharon Olds

As the guests arrive at our son’s party   
they gather in the living room—
short men, men in first grade
with smooth jaws and chins.
Hands in pockets, they stand around
jostling, jockeying for place, small fights
breaking out and calming. One says to another
How old are you? —Six. —I’m seven. —So?
They eye each other, seeing themselves   
tiny in the other’s pupils. They clear their   
throats a lot, a room of small bankers,
they fold their arms and frown. I could beat you
up, a seven says to a six,
the midnight cake, round and heavy as a
turret behind them on the table. My son,
freckles like specks of nutmeg on his cheeks,   
chest narrow as the balsa keel of a   
model boat, long hands
cool and thin as the day they guided him   
out of me, speaks up as a host
for the sake of the group.
We could easily kill a two-year-old,
he says in his clear voice. The other   
men agree, they clear their throats
like Generals, they relax and get down to   
playing war, celebrating my son’s life.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

September 22: The Quadrant, First Day of Autumn, Obsession and Bigfoot

The season for the Line at length drew near; and every day when Ahab, coming from his cabin cast his eyes aloft, the vigilant helmsman would ostentatiously handle his spokes, and the eager mariners quickly run to the braces, and would stand there with all their eyes centrally fixed on the nailed doubloon; impatient for the order to point the ship's prow for the equator. In good time the order came. It was hard upon high noon; and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-hoisted boat, was about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun to determine his latitude.

Now, in that Japanese sea, the days in summer are as freshets of effulgences. That unblinkingly vivid 
Japanese sun seems the blazing focus of the glassy ocean's immeasurable burning-glass. The sky looks lacquered; clouds there are none; the horizon floats; and this nakedness of unrelieved radiance is as the insufferable splendors of God's throne. Well that Ahab's quadrant was furnished with colored glasses, through which to take sight of that solar fire. So, swinging his seated form to the roll of the ship, and with his astrological-looking instrument placed to his eye, he remained in that posture for some moments to catch the precise instant when the sun should gain its precise meridian. Meantime while his whole attention was absorbed, the Parsee was kneeling beneath him on the ship's deck, and with face thrown up like Ahab's, was eyeing the same sun with him; only the lids of his eyes half hooded their orbs, and his wild face was subdued to an earthly passionlessness. At length the desired observation was taken; and with his pencil upon his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his latitude must be at that precise instant. Then falling into a moment's revery, he again looked up towards the sun and murmured to himself: "Thou seamark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I am- but canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby Dick? This instant thou must be eyeing him. These eyes of mine look into the very eye that is even now beholding him; aye, and into the eye that is even now equally beholding the objects on the unknown, thither side of thee, thou sun!"

Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other, its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again, and muttered: "Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals, and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven, whose live vividness but scorches him, as these old eyes are even now scorched with thy light, O sun! Level by nature to this earth's horizon are the glances of man's eyes; not shot from the crown of his head, as if God had meant him to gaze on his firmament. Curse thee, thou quadrant!" dashing it to the deck, "no longer will I guide my earthly way by thee; the level ship's compass, and the level deadreckoning, by log and by line; these shall conduct me, and show me my place on the sea. Aye," lighting from the boat to the deck, "thus I trample on thee, thou paltry thing that feebly pointest on high; thus I split and destroy thee!"

As the frantic old man thus spoke and thus trampled with his live and dead feet, a sneering triumph that seemed meant for Ahab, and a fatalistic despair that seemed meant for himself- these passed over the mute, motionless Parsee's face. Unobserved he rose and glided away; while, awestruck by the aspect of their commander, the seamen clustered together on the forecastle, till Ahab, troubledly pacing the deck, shouted out- "To the braces! Up helm!- square in!"

In an instant the yards swung round; and as the ship half-wheeled upon her heel, her three firm-seated graceful masts erectly poised upon her long, ribbed hull, seemed as the three Horatii pirouetting on one sufficient steed.

Standing between the knight-heads, Starbuck watched the Pequod's tumultuous way, and Ahab's also, as he went lurching along the deck.

"I have sat before the dense coal fire and watched it all aglow, full of its tormented flaming life; and I have seen it wane at last, down, down, to dumbest dust. Old man of oceans! of all this fiery life of thine, what will at length remain but one little heap of ashes!"

"Aye," cried Stubb, "but sea-coal ashes- mind ye that, Mr. Starbuck- sea-coal, not your common charcoal. Well, well! I heard Ahab mutter, 'Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them, and no others.' And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!"

Well, nothing is going to sway Ahab from the course he set for the Pequod at the beginning of the novel.  The White Whale is in his sights, and it's full steam ahead.  Until he sees Moby Dick's white belly facing the sun, Ahab isn't going to be happy.

In a small way, I understand this kind of obsession.  For the last couple of years, it's been Bigfoot for me.  I've been chasing the hairy guy poetically for quite a while.  I own about 12 Bigfoot tee shirts.  Some Bigfoot socks, as well.  A friend gave me a Bigfoot lapel pin this summer.  Every once in a while, I get a Bigfoot Snapchat from someone.

As I drive through towns, I spot Bigfoot statues outside of bookstores and restaurants and bars.  When I visited Mackinaw City this summer, every store I visited had something large and hairy.  I can't get away from him, not that I want to.

I wonder if Ahab experienced the same thing.  He would go to a pub, and the special of the day was the Moby burger with Dick fries.  At the corner store, Wonder white whale bread.  When he went to a bar, he probably ordered something like a Moby margarita.  At least that's what I imagine, if my Bigfoot experience is anything like Ahab's.

It is the first day of autumn, and I have been away from this blog for several days.  Mostly because of illness.  Last night was the first time that I've felt human since Monday.  And this morning, I taught poetry to a group of kindergartners and first graders.  When the audience is that young, you pretty much have to be a circus performer.  I did everything I could to keep them entertained.  I read a poem about burping, scared the crap out of them with a poem about the color black.

Now, my goal was to have them compose a poem about the colors green and gold, since those are the school colors and it is homecoming weekend at the university where I teach.  That was my goal.  Of course, most of the kids could barely write their letters, let alone spell, so it took a lot of one-on-one time with each child.

And then, near the end of the workshop, I said that I was writing a collection of Bigfoot poems, and one little boy just lit up.  He started talking so fast that I could barely understand him.  His mother laughed and said, "He loooooves Bigfoot.  Bigfoot was really popular in the little Ohio town we came from."

My obsession once again made a surprise appearance.  This time, in a group of little kids who couldn't spell "broccoli"  but knew who Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin were.  (For non-Bigfoot fans, those are the names of the two guys who captured Bigfoot on film about fifty years ago near Bluff Creek in California.  The most famous image--Bigfoot walking, loping along, arms swinging, looking directly at the camera.)

It was the best part of the workshop this morning, seeing that little boy totally geek out on Bigfoot.  When I left the building, into the crisp autumn air, the little boy was walking beside me, still talking about Bigfoot--"Have you ever seen Bigfoot?  Did you know what size shoe Bigfoot would wear?  I'm going to write a children's book about Bigfoot when I grow up."

Saint Marty is thankful today for a first-day-of-autumn Bigfoot encounter.

September 22: Richard Wilbur, "The Beautiful Changes," Fall Equinox

The Beautiful Changes

by:  Richard Wilbur

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you   
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.


It is the first official day of autumn.  September 22.

Went to Meijer this morning and stood by the crates of pumpkins.  It really feels like autumn.  The air is cooler, and the trees are finally beginning to change from green to mustard and ketchup.  I hate to say it, but I think the dog days of summer have departed with the flock of geese I saw honking its way south.

Autumn used to be my favorite season.  The colors.  Ghost stories.  Scary movies.  Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Now, it simply represents the time between mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.  I think I'm officially old.

However, Saint Marty bought a bag of candy corn to celebrate the fall equinox.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

September 19: The Whale Watch, Autumn Cold Again, Poetry Workshop

The four whales slain that evening had died wide apart; one, far to windward; one less distant, to leeward; one ahead; one astern. These last three were brought alongside ere nightfall; but the windward one could not be reached till morning; and the boat that had killed it lay by its side all night; and that boat was Ahab's.

The waif-pole was thrust upright into the dead whale's spout-hole; and the lantern hanging from its top, cast a troubled flickering glare upon the black, glossy back, and far out upon the midnight waves, which gently chafed the whale's broad flank, like soft surf upon a beach.

Ahab and all his boat's crew seemed asleep but the Parsee; who crouching in the bow, sat watching the sharks, that spectrally played round the whale, and tapped the light cedar planks with their tails. A sound like the moaning in squadrons over Asphaltites of unforgiven ghosts of Gomorrah, ran shuddering through the air.

Started from his slumbers, Ahab, face to face, saw the Parsee; and hooped round by the gloom of the night they seemed the last men in a flooded world. "I have dreamed it again," said he.

"Of the hearses? Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse nor coffin can be thine?"

"And who are hearsed that die on the sea?"

"But I said, old man, that ere thou couldst die on this voyage, two hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in America."

"Aye, aye! a strange sight that, Parsee!- a hearse and its plumes floating over the ocean with the waves for the pall-bearers. Ha! Such a sight we shall not soon see."

"Believe it or not, thou canst not die till it be seen, old man."

"And what was that saying about thyself?"

"Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot."

"And when thou art so gone before- if that ever befall- then ere I can follow, thou must still appear to me, to pilot me still?- Was it not so? Well, then, did I believe all ye say, oh my pilot! I have here two pledges that I shall yet slay Moby Dick and survive it."

"Take another pledge, old man," said the Parsee, as his eyes lighted up like fire-flies in the gloom- "Hemp only can kill thee."

"The gallows, ye mean.- I am immortal then, on land and on sea," cried Ahab, with a laugh of derision;- "Immortal on land and on sea!"

Both were silent again, as one man. The grey dawn came on, and the slumbering crew arose from the boat's bottom, and ere noon the dead whale was brought to the ship.

Another uplifting little chapter about the promise of death.  In particular, Ahab is contemplating his own demise and what form it will take.  Of course, he believes that he will live long enough to see the death of Moby Dick.  In fact, Ahab intends to administer the killing blow himself.  The Parsee makes a different prediction:  "Hemp only can kill thee [Ahab]."

Day two of an autumn cold, and I'm still feeling like that dead whale.  Last night, after a two-hour nap and a dose of Claritin, I was feeling much better.  However, today, I've been pushing through tar.  I've already worked eight hours and taught one class.  Now, I'm trying to muster enough energy for three hours of composition tonight.  I'm not being very successful. 

I don't know how long I'm going to last this evening.  Maybe the full three hours.  I'm thinking less probably.  There are things I must accomplish:  1) collect an essay; 2) listen to group presentations; 3) hand out the next writing assignment; and 4) maybe talk about a chapter in the textbook.  If I get through all of that, it will be a miracle.

Frankly, I'm less concerned about teaching tonight than about a poetry class I'm leading this weekend.  For one hour on Saturday morning, I have to guide kids through the writing of a poem.  It's for the homecoming festivities at the university where I teach.  I'm looking forward to it, but I don't want to look like a refugee from The Walking Dead

So, after tonight, it's all about rest and recuperation. 

Saint Marty will be thankful tonight for his bed and Nyquil.

Monday, September 17, 2018

September 17: The Dying Whale, Friggin' Cold, Nyquil

Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favorites sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat of the rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out. So seemed it with the Pequod. For next day after encountering the gay Bachelor, whales were seen and four were slain; and one of them by Ahab.

It was far down the afternoon; and when all the spearings of the crimson fight were done; and floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky, sun and whale both stilly died together; then, such a sweetness and such plaintiveness, such inwreathing orisons curled up in that rosy air, that it almost seemed as if far over from the deep green convent valleys of the Manilla isles, the Spanish land-breeze, wantonly turned sailor, had gone to sea, freighted with these vesper hymns.

Soothed again, but only soothed to deeper gloom, Ahab, who had sterned off from the whale, sat intently watching his final wanings from the now tranquil boat. For that strange spectacle observable in all sperm whales dying- the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring- that strange spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab conveyed a wondrousness unknown before.

"He turns and turns him to it,- how slowly, but how steadfastly, his homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions. He too worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!- Oh that these too-favoring eyes should see these too-favoring sights. Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe; in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon the Niger's unknown source; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith, but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it heads some other way.

"Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of nature, who of drowned bones hast builded thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas; thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm. Nor has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone round again, without a lesson to me.

"Oh, trebly hooped and welded hip of power! Oh, high aspiring, rainbowed jet!- that one strivest, this one jettest all in vain! In vain, oh whale, dost thou seek intercedings with yon all-quickening sun, that only calls forth life, but gives it not again. Yet dost thou darker half, rock me with a prouder, if a darker faith. All thy unnamable imminglings float beneath me here; I am buoyed by breaths of once living things, exhaled as air, but water now.

"Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild fowl finds his only rest. Born of earth, yet suckled by the sea; though hill and valley mothered me, ye billows are my foster-brothers!"

So, this chapter is about Captain Ahab meditating on the death of a whale.  Tonight, my head is full of mucous; my nose is plugged; I'm sneezing like crazy; and my partner in bed tonight is going to be a bottle of Nyquil. 

That's what I have tonight.  I've been battling this friggin' cold all day long, and, currently, I'm losing the battle.  There's half a box of used Kleenexes sitting on the couch cushion beside me.  If all these details are disgusting you, I apologize.  The feeling is mutual.

I'm ready to turn my belly up to the sun and call it a day.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for Claritin.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

September 16: Sunday Afternoon, Classic Saint Marty, "Song of Ourself"

Welcome to Sunday afternoon.

It has been a warm and lazy day.  Church in the morning, followed by a potluck.  When I got back from church, I went on a bike ride because it was such a beautiful day.  I've made a vow to do some form of exercise every day, if I can.  Yesterday, I went for a walk with my wife and son.  Today, a four-mile bike ride.  Hopefully, come Thanksgiving day, I will be in some kind of shape for the annual Turkey Trot.

This evening, I'm attending a pipe organ concert at my church.  The organ recently underwent a 70-thousand-dollar restoration, so this is the culmination of that project.  I've been playing this instrument for close to 35 years, and I've never heard it sound better.  However, after the bike ride, I'd rather stay at home, read, and get my lesson plan ready for tomorrow.  My motivation for human interaction is at low ebb.  But I will go and play nice with other people.

Two years ago, I was at the start of a weekend, not the end . . .

September 16, 2016:  Migration of Caribou, Box of Kleenex, Road to Hell

In autumn the winding passage of ravens from the north heralds the great fall migration of caribou...

It is autumn, although I have seen no ravens from the north.  And I certainly didn't see any caribou tonight, although I did see a whole lot of football players running up and down a soggy field.  So, it was sort of like watching the fall migration of caribou.  Don't ask me if the home team won.  My daughter plays in the pep band, and we always leave after she plays during half-time.

Speaking of autumn, the annual fall illness has descended upon my household.  My daughter was out of school for two days this week, and she's still taking antibiotics.  My wife just crawled into bed with a box of Kleenex.  Me?  I'm attempting, for the second time, to watch The Wonder Boys with my daughter.  (For details on my first attempt, refer to last night's second post.)

It's Friday night, if you haven't guessed by the whole football thing.  After nine o'clock, and I still have papers to grade and poems to write.  Hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to get some major work accomplished.  That's my goal, anyway.  Of course, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I always have a lot of good intentions at the beginning of a weekend.  Tonight is like an apple, high on a branch, just waiting to be plucked.  I love Friday nights.  The potential of them.  The whole weekend stretching out before me.  It's one of my favorite times of the week.

Of course, come Sunday, I will have accomplished only half (if I'm lucky) of what I intended to do, and I will be feeling like a failure.

Tonight, however, Saint Marty is an unlit candle.  An uneaten Milky Way.  A pepperoni pizza waiting to be delivered.

And a little art and poetry for a Sunday afternoon . . .

Saturday, September 15, 2018

September 15: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor, My Mother, Dementia

And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.

It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches; and now, in glad holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat vain-gloriously, sailing round among the widely-separated ships on the ground, previous to pointing her prow for home.

The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red bunting at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended, bottom down; and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long lower jaw of the last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns, and jacks of all colors were flying from her rigging, on every side. Sideways lashed in each of her three basketed tops were two barrels of sperm; above which, in her top-mast cross-trees, you saw slender breakers of the same precious fluid; and nailed to her main truck was a brazen lamp.

As was afterwards learned, the Bachelor had met with the most surprising success; all the more wonderful, for that while cruising in the same seas numerous other vessels had gone entire months without securing a single fish. Not only had barrels of beef and bread been given away to make room for the far more valuable sperm, but additional supplemental casks had been bartered for, from the ships she had met; and these were stowed along the deck, and in the captain's and officers' state-rooms. Even the cabin table itself had been knocked into kindling-wood; and the cabin mess dined off the broad head of an oil-butt, lashed down to the floor for a centerpiece. In the forecastle, the sailors had actually caulked and pitched their chests, and filled them; it was humorously added, that the cook had clapped a head on his largest boiler, and filled it; that the steward had plugged his spare coffee-pot and filled it; that the harpooneers had headed the sockets of their irons and filled them; that indeed everything was filled with sperm, except the captain's pantaloons pockets, and those he reserved to thrust his hands into, in self-complacent testimony of his entire satisfaction.

As this glad ship of good luck bore down upon the moody Pequod, the barbarian sound of enormous drums came from her forecastle; and drawing still nearer, a crowd of her men were seen standing round her huge try-pots, which, covered with the parchment-like poke or stomach skin of the black fish, gave forth a loud roar to every stroke of the clenched hands of the crew. On the quarter-deck, the mates and harpooneers were dancing with the olive-hued girls who had eloped with them from the Polynesian Isles; while suspended in an ornamental boat, firmly secured aloft between the foremast and mainmast, three Long Island negroes, with glittering fiddle-bows of whale ivory, were presiding over the hilarious jig. Meanwhile, others of the ship's company were tumultuously busy at the masonry of the try-works, from which the huge pots had been removed. You would have almost thought they were pulling down the cursed Bastille, such wild cries they raised, as the now useless brick and mortar were being hurled into the sea.

Lord and master over all this scene, the captain stood erect on the ship's elevated quarter-deck, so that the whole rejoicing drama was full before him, and seemed merely contrived for his own individual diversion.

And Ahab, he too was standing on his quarter-deck, shaggy and black, with a stubborn gloom; and as the two ships crossed each other's wakes- one all jubilations for things passed, the other all forebodings as to things to come- their two captains in themselves impersonated the whole striking contrast of the scene.

"Come aboard, come aboard!" cried the gay Bachelor's commander, lifting a glass and a bottle in the air.

"Hast seen the White Whale?" gritted Ahab in reply.

"No; only heard of him; but don't believe in him at all," said the other good-humoredly. "Come aboard!"

"Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?"

"Not enough to speak of- two islanders, that's all;- but come aboard, old hearty, come along. I'll soon take that black from your brow. Come along, will ye (merry's the play); a full ship and homeward-bound."

"How wondrous familiar is a fool!" muttered Ahab; then aloud, "Thou art a full ship and homeward bound, thou sayst; well, then, call me an empty ship, and outward-bound. So go thy ways, and I will mine. Forward there! Set all sail, and keep her to the wind!"

And thus, while the one ship went cheerily before the breeze, the other stubbornly fought against it; and so the two vessels parted; the crew of the Pequod looking with grave, lingering glances towards the receding Bachelor; but the Bachelor's men never heeding their gaze for the lively revelry they were in. And as Ahab, leaning over the taffrail, eyed the homewardbound craft, he took from his pocket a small vial of sand, and then looking from the ship to the vial, seemed thereby bringing two remote associations together, for that vial was filled with Nantucket soundings.

The contrast is pretty stark in this chapter.  The Bachelor, joyous and buoyant and homeward bound.  The Pequod, dark and heavy and White Whale bound.  It's the difference between wedding and funeral.  Reception and wake.  The crew of the Bachelor is sailing toward the future.  The crew of the Pequod, toward imminent, albino-fluked doom.

Today, I'm going to write about a subject that is difficult for me.  My mother has been struggling with dementia for several years now.  My father passed away in February.  They were married for 65 years, raised nine children.  Buried two of them.  They were partners for a very long time.  As my father lay dying in the hospital, my mother was holding his hand, saying over and over, "You were a good husband.  You were a good father."

Sometimes, I think my mother's dementia has been a blessing for her in the last seven months.  It has allowed her to go through her days without feeling my father's absence constantly.  Every once in a while, she will ask where he is.  For the most part, however, she's been not exactly happy, but blessed with only small bouts of grief.

Recently, however, my mother has been focused on my father's death, asking my sisters how he died, what the funeral was like, whether she needs to sell her house, where her car is.  Very recently, she's been repeating one thought:  "I should just die and get it over with."

It seems as though she's giving up.  Instead of sailing into the future, she's headed out into deeper, darker waters.  Perhaps this is natural, but it is difficult to hear and witness.  Her dementia allows her to focus and obsess on certain thoughts and actions.  Right now, she's obsessed with death.

My mother has always been a huge force in my life, even more so than my father.  She was the one who pushed me to excel in school, supported me through some of the most difficult times of my life.  She never judged any of the decisions I made, even if she thought they were wrong-headed.  No, her one wish was simply for me to be happy.

I want my mother to be happy, to be celebrating something instead of mourning my father.  I'm not sure I can do anything to make that possible.  There's a big piece of her puzzle missing now.  A 65-year-shaped piece.  And she's spending her days looking for that piece.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for having a mother who has loved him.  Unconditionally.

September 15: Langston Hughes, "Mother to Son," My Mom

Mother to Son

by:  Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.


Been thinking a lot about my mother these past few weeks.  How much she has been through these last few years.  Since 2014, she has lost a son, daughter, and husband.  She suffers from dementia, so grief and grieving is complicated for her.  Some days, these deaths are fresh and new, like dandelions springing up overnight on a lawn.

My mom has always been a resilient person.  The kind of person who gets knocked down, gets back up, and keeps moving.  I think I got that quality from her.

Saint Marty has always been a mama's boy.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

September 13: The Gilder, Out Loud, Connection

Penetrating further and further into the heart of the Japanese cruising ground the Pequod was soon all astir in the fishery. Often, in mild, pleasant weather, for twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and twenty hours on the stretch, they were engaged in the boats, steadily pulling, or sailing, or paddling after the whales, or for an interlude of sixty or seventy minutes calmly awaiting their uprising; though with but small success for their pains.

At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth, slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.

These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants' horses only show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure.

The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked. And all this mixes with your most mystic mood; so that fact and fancy, half-way meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless whole.

Nor did such soothing scenes, however temporary, fail of at least as temporary an effect on Ahab. But if these secret golden keys did seem to open in him his own secret golden treasuries, yet did his breath upon them prove but tarnishing.

Oh, grassy glades! oh ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye,- though long parched by the dead drought of the earthly life,- in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:- through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it. And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat's side into that same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured:-

"Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young bride's eyes!- Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe."

And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scale, leaped up in that same golden light:-

"I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly!"

Here, Melville writes of golden times--rest between labor.  Stretches in which the sailors of the Pequod are able to regard the sea in all its dangerous beauty.  As Starbuck says, "Loveliness unfathomable . . ."  The White Whale is far from anybody's mind in these reflective interludes.  This chapter is not about danger or revenge or obsession or control.  I think it's simply about being a part of something larger than yourself.

It has been a long week.  I've been saying that since Monday.  Finally, I have reached Thursday evening, and I can sort of sit back and relax a little bit.  Appreciate the world without having to make any kind of mark on it.  Picture me sitting in the middle of a beach.  There aren't any footsteps in the sand around me.  It looks as if God has simply reached down a placed me there.  And I'm just sitting, listening to the wind and water and insects.

That's what I'm feeling right now.  Tonight, I'm going to an event called Out Loud.  It's like an open mic, except people sometimes tell stories or sing songs or make confessions.  Sometimes people talk about their grandchildren or read elegies about wolves.  Sometimes, it's a series of failed poems that inspire gales of laughter.  Essays.  Artwork.  Short stories and excerpts from novels in progress.  It's never boring.  Always nourishing.

Another thing that happens every time is that some sort of theme always develops.  Everyone shows up with something to read or say.  I, myself, randomly go through poems and essays I've written, and I start choosing by instinct.  I select pieces that resonate with me for some unconscious reason.  This afternoon, as I was going through this process, I was aware of a visceral response when I came upon a poem.  Like an inner pull.  At one point, I even felt my face flush.

I know I sound a little crazy, but I really believe there's something more than random selection at work.  I say this because I've witnessed this phenomenon over and over.  The day after my father died this past February, I attended Out Loud.  That night, someone got up and told a story about her relationship with her father.  A total stranger sang a song about coming together and parting.  It happened over and over that evening.

I'm not a believer in coincidence.  Everything happens for a reason.  I have no idea who's going to show up tonight for Out Loud.  No idea what's going to be read or said.  But I do know this:  I will feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself.  Connected.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for creativity ad friendship.

September 13: Diane Glancy, "Indian Summer," Warm-to-Hot

Indian Summer

by:  Diane Glancy

There’s a farm auction up the road.
Wind has its bid in for the leaves.
Already bugs flurry the headlights
between cornfields at night.
If this world were permanent,
I could dance full as the squaw dress
on the clothesline.
I would not see winter
in the square of white yard-light on the wall.
But something tugs at me.
The world is at a loss and I am part of it
migrating daily.
Everything is up for grabs
like a box of farm tools broken open.
I hear the spirits often in the garden
and along the shore of corn.
I know this place is not mine.
I hear them up the road again.
This world is a horizon, an open sea.
Behind the house, the white iceberg of the barn.


It has been a beautiful week in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It doesn't feel like mid-September.  More like mid-August.  Yes, the leaves are changing color, but the air is warm-to-hot, and the sun has been holding on in the sky until close to 9 p.m.

It's difficult to let go of summer.  This week is making it even more difficult. 

Saint Marty is going for a walk now.

From my backyard

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

September 12: The Forge, Jesus Narrative, Billy Collins

With matted beard, and swathed in a bristling shark-skin apron, about mid-day, Perth was standing between his forge and anvil, the latter placed upon an iron-wood log, with one hand holding a pike-head in the coals, and with the other at his forge's lungs, when Captain Ahab came along, carrying in his hand a small rusty-looking leathern bag. While yet a little distance from the forge, moody Ahab paused; till at last, Perth, withdrawing his iron from the fire, began hammering it upon the anvil- the red mass sending off the sparks in thick hovering flights, some of which flew close to Ahab.

"Are these thy Mother Carey's chickens, Perth? they are always flying in thy wake; birds of good omen, too, but not to all;- look here, they burn; but thou- thou liv'st among them without a scorch."

"Because I am scorched all over, Captain Ahab," answered Perth, resting for a moment on his hammer; "I am past scorching-, not easily can'st thou scorch a scar."

"Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?- What wert thou making there?"

"Welding an old pike-head, sir; there were seams and dents in it."

"And can'st thou make it all smooth again, blacksmith, after such hard usage as it had?"

"I think so, sir."

"And I suppose thou can'st smoothe almost any seams and dents; never mind how hard the metal, blacksmith?"

"Aye, sir, I think I can; all seams and dents but one."

"Look ye here then," cried Ahab, passionately advancing, and leaning with both hands on Perth's shoulders; "look ye here- here- can ye smoothe out a seam like this, blacksmith," sweeping one hand across his ribbed brow; "if thou could'st, blacksmith, glad enough would I lay my head upon thy anvil, and feel thy heaviest hammer between my eyes. Answer! Can'st thou smoothe this seam?"

"Oh! that is the one, sir! Said I not all seams and dents but one?"

"Aye, blacksmith, it is the one; aye, man, it is unsmoothable; for though thou only see'st it here in my flesh, it has worked down into the bone of my skull- that is all wrinkles! But, away with child's play; no more gaffs and pikes to-day. Look ye here!" jingling the leathern bag, as if it were full of gold coins. "I, too, want a harpoon made; one that a thousand yoke of fiends could not part, Perth; something that will stick in a whale like his own fin-bone. There's the stuff," flinging the pouch upon the anvil. "Look ye, blacksmith, these are the gathered nail-stubbs of the steel shoes of racing horses."

"Horse-shoe stubbs, sir? Why, Captain Ahab, thou hast here, then, the best and stubbornest stuff we blacksmiths ever work."

"I know it, old man; these stubbs will weld together like glue from the melted bones of murderers. Quick! forge me the harpoon. And forge me first, twelve rods for its shank; then wind, and twist, and hammer these twelve together like the yarns and strands of a tow-line. Quick! I'll blow the fire."

When at last the twelve rods were made, Ahab tried them, one by one, by spiralling them, with his own hand, round a long, heavy iron bolt. "A flaw!" rejecting the last one. "Work that over again, Perth."

This done, Perth was about to begin welding the twelve into one, when Ahab stayed his hand, and said he would weld his own iron. As, then, regular, gasping hems, he hammered on the anvil, Perth passing to him the glowing rods, after the other, and the hard pressed forge shooting up its intense straight flame, the Parsee passed silently, and bowing over his head towards the fire, seemed invoking some curse or some blessing on the toil. But, as Ahab looked up, he slid aside.

"What's that bunch of lucifers dodging about there for?" muttered Stubb, looking on from the forecastle. "That Parsee smells fire like a fusee; and smells of it himself, like a hot musket's powder-pan."

At last the shank, in one complete rod, received its final heat; and as Perth, to temper it, plunged it all hissing into the cask of water near by, the scalding steam shot up into Ahab's bent face.

"Would'st thou brand me, Perth?" wincing for a moment with the pain; "have I been but forging my own branding-iron, then?"

"Pray God, not that; yet I fear something, Captain Ahab. Is not this harpoon for the White Whale?"

"For the white fiend! But now for the barbs; thou must make them thyself, man. Here are my razors- the best of steel; here, and make the barbs sharp as the needle-sleet of the Icy Sea."

For a moment, the old blacksmith eyed the razors as though he would fain not use them.

"Take them, man, I have no need for them; for I now neither shave, sup, nor pray till- but here- to work!"

Fashioned at last into an arrowy shape, and welded by Perth to the shank, the steel soon pointed the end of the iron; and as the blacksmith was about giving the barbs their final heat, prior to tempering them, he cried to Ahab to place the water-cask near.

"No, no- no water for that; I want it of the true death-temper. Ahoy, there! Tashtego, Queequeg, Daggoo! What say ye, pagans! Will ye give me as much blood as will cover this barb?" holding it high up. A cluster of dark nods replied, Yes. Three punctures were made in the heathen flesh, and the White Whale's barbs were then tempered.

"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!" deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly devoured the baptismal blood.

Now, mustering the spare poles from below, and selecting one of hickory, with the bark still investing it, Ahab fitted the end to the socket of the iron. A coil of new tow-line was then unwound, and some fathoms of it taken to the windlass, and stretched to a great tension. Pressing his foot upon it, till the rope hummed like a harp-string, then eagerly bending over it, and seeing no strandings, Ahab exclaimed, "Good! and now for the seizings."

At one extremity the rope was unstranded, and the separate spread yarns were all braided and woven round the socket of the harpoon; the pole was then driven hard up into the socket; from the lower end the rope was traced halfway along the pole's length, and firmly secured so, with inter-twistings of twine. This done, pole, iron, and rope- like the Three Fates- remained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon; the sound of his ivory leg, and the sound of the hickory pole, both hollowly ringing along every plank. But ere he entered his cabin, light, unnatural, half-bantering, yet most piteous sound was heard. Oh! Pip, thy wretched laugh, thy idle but unresting eye; all thy strange mummeries not unmeaningly blended with the black tragedy of the melancholy ship, and mocked it!

Ahab is preparing for battle.  Like Vulcan, he labors over the forge with Perth, creates a harpoon, baptizes it in blood.  It's invested with special metals and fire.  Inspired by obsession and revenge.  In some way, the harpoon becomes Ahab.  Ahab, the harpoon.

Today is my long day.  Work from 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.  Teaching from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Break.  Teaching from 6 p.m. to 9:20 p.m.  Drive home.  Collapse.

It takes something like inspiration for me to make it through these hours.  I always go into my classroom with detailed lesson plans.  Things I want or have to accomplish.  Sometimes, I follow those plan religiously, right down to the last punctuation on the page.  Other times, my students or my mind take me in unexpected directions.

This afternoon, I did not follow the lesson plan for my mythology class.  I was planning on a question-and-answer dialogue--my students asking pertinent questions, me trying to answer in some kind of intelligent or wise way.  I did that for the first half of the class.  When we hit the second hour, I felt the forge kick in, things heat up.  I spent the second half of the class talking about hero myths and, more specifically, how the Jesus narrative in the Bible follows the pattern of the hero myth.  The energy in the room shifted.  Hands were rising.  Heads were at attention.  At the end of our time together, I felt like a real teacher.

It was a fantastic class.  Fun.  All because I decided to throw something else on the fire.  I was planning to make a spoon.  Instead, I made a crucifix, with Hercules as the cruciform.  Inspiration.

Now, I don't expect lightning to strike twice today.  I have to teach composition this evening.  I have a complicated lesson plan, with a long list of things that I need to get done.  Writing workshop.  Group presentation.  But, at the beginning of class, I am leaving room for a little lightning to enter in.  I'm showing a video of Billy Collins reading his 9-11 poem "The Names."  Then we're all going to write about it, talk about it.  Remember.

Don't know if it's going to work or not.  Frankly, I don't care.  I am excited about the poem and the writing.  That is enough.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for inspiration.