Monday, February 28, 2022

February 28: Feeling Much Better, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Prayer

Santiago finishes his prayers . . .

"Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." Then he added, "Blessed Virgin, pray for the death of this fish. Wonderful though he is."

With his prayers said, and feeling much better, but suffering exactly as much, and perhaps a little more, he leaned against the wood of the bow and began, mechanically, to work the fingers of his left hand.

The sun was hot now although the breeze was rising gently.

Like Santiago, after praying, I often feel better, even if nothing in my life has noticeably changed.  I think it has something to do with unburdening.  I carry around all these worries and fears and irritations all the time, all day long.  That's a lot of alls.  When I pray, I hand these things over to a Higher Power.  Call it what you want--God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (yes, that's actually a deity), or the universe.  Once I perform this great handoff, the next step is the hardest:  trust.  I have to trust that my Flying Spaghetti Monster will take care of me.

Today, I said a little prayer on my way to work.  It sort of went something like this:  Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, please watch over everyone I love today.  Grant me wisdom and strength.  Help me not to fuck up.  In the name of oregano, parmesan, and the holy cheese.  Amen.

And then I trusted.  I sat in my office.  Did my work.  Accomplished a lot.  Came home.  Fed my kids.  Cleaned at church.  Picked my wife up from work.  Got in my pajamas.  Sat down on my couch to type this blog post.

I did not experience any major catastrophes.  Everyone I love is safe.  My puppy sat in my lap for a while this evening, licking my face and then sleeping.  To the best of my knowledge, I did not fuck anything up today.  The Great Flying Spaghetti Monster came through for me.

Prayer is a good practice to get into.  If you don't want to call it prayer, then use a different term.  How about meditation?  Or centering?  Or preparing the pasta?  The term doesn't matter.  What matters are those few minutes of reflection on what you able to do and what is out of your hands.  In twelve-step programs, that's known as the Serenity Prayer:  "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."   

I trust the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, the way that Santiago trusts the sea.  Or Billy Pilgrim trusts Tralfamadorians.  The way writers trust words to take them where they need to go.  That's what prayer is for me.  It's like crossing your hands on your chest, closing your eyes, and falling backward into the spaghetti arms of God.

Saint Marty just hopes those arms aren't too al dente. 

Sunday, February 27, 2022

February 27: Comfortable but Suffering, Helphelphelphelp, Gratitude

Santiago prays . . . 

"Bad news for you, fish," he said and shifted the line over the sacks that covered his shoulders.

He was comfortable but suffering, although he did not admit the suffering at all.

"I am not religious," he said. "But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgen de Cobre if I catch him. That is a promise."

He commenced to say his prayers mechanically. Sometimes he would be so tired that he could not remember the prayer and then he would say them fast so that they would come automatically. Hail Marys are easier to say than Our Fathers, he thought.

I pray all the time.  Sometimes, my prayer is formal.  A Hail Mary or Our Father, like Santiago.  Other times/most times, it's quick and dirty:  God, help me.  Or even quicker and dirtier:  Helphelphelphelp

This habit of prayer has been with me for a while.  I think I learned it as a kid by watching my mother, who was a prayer warrior.  She always had a rosary in her hand.  Often, when she was sitting in her chair with her eyes closed and I thought she was asleep, I would look more closely and see her lips moving.  Prayer was like breath to her.

The last time I found myself really drawn to pray was about two weeks ago, when I got into a car accident.  The instant my car started sliding into the path of an oncoming van, I found myself (as most people in similar circumstances do) uttering the most common prayer spoken by human beings.  It goes something like this:  "Shitshitshit, help!"  Or a similar iteration.

As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in foxholes.  In the face of great distress or peril, humans call out to the universe for help.  We rarely feel compelled to say "thank you" for anything.  For example, I've lived through another day.  All of the people I love and care about are still alive and healthy.  I did a fair bit of driving today and managed to avoid getting killed.  I went grocery shopping and have food to eat for the week.  This evening, I got together with friends for Book Club to discuss Amor Towles' The Lincoln Highway.  These are some of the blessings that I experienced today.

And, until this moment, typing this post, l haven't even given a thought to gratitude.  I say this without pride.  Expressing thankfulness is a healthy exercise.  Not only does it force you to focus on what's good, but it also keeps you humble.  Saying "thanks" acknowledges the assistance of some outside force of goodness in your life, whether it be God, a friend, or the sun rising in the morning.

So, tonight, in this hour, at this minute, within the confines of this very second, I say thanks for all the blessings that I've received today.  (See above list.)  And for all the blessings I had no idea I received today, and they are plentiful, right down to each breath I took and each convulse of my heart.

Yes, the world can be a terrible place, full of terrible people doing terrible things.  (I'm looking at you, Mr. Putin.)  Fire bombings of cities happen.  Car wrecks.  Cancer diagnoses.  Pandemics.  Death.  to quote Kurt Vonnegut, "So it goes."

But, the world is also full of beautiful people doing beautiful things.  Artists making art.  Poets making poetry.  Shelters and food pantries keeping homeless people warm and fed.  Musicians filling the universe with song.

If all you look for is the terrible, that's all you're going to find.  If you go out of your way to find beauty, you'll see it everywhere.  

Saint Marty was blessed with beauty today.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

February 26: Uncramped, Day-to-Day, Pain of Grief

Santiago works through his pain . . . 

He settled comfortably against the wood and took his suffering as it came and the fish swam steadily and the boat moved slowly through the dark water. There was a small sea rising with the wind coming up from the east and at noon the old man's left hand was uncramped.

I understand Santiago here.  He remains focused and resolute, despite the aches and cramps of his protesting body.  So much of life is like that.  Working through all the roadblocks until you reach your destination.  Sometimes, those roadblocks are tiny--a cramp in a hand.  And sometimes, they're huge--the death of a loved one.

Since my sister's funeral at the beginning of the month, I have found myself, at times, struggling with day-to-day obligations.  Yes, I've kept my head above water, but I feel as though I've been treading water a lot of the time.  Often, when I get home, I'm too exhausted to think of doing anything but going to sleep.

I'm not sure how much of this struggle is mental and how much is physical.  Certainly, I'm still working my way through the grieving process.  I can go for days without feeling sad, but then I find myself weeping in my car at a traffic light.  But I've also noticed that, since having COVID back at the beginning of January, my body simply doesn't want to function much past 8:30 p.m.   

So, if you are a friend of mine, and feel as if I've been distant or uncommunicative, I apologize.  If you've sent me a text or email, and it's taken me two days to respond to it, I am not ignoring you.  I just find myself a little . . . paralyzed at times.  Or asleep.

I think there's a perception in society at large that, once the funeral is over and leftovers from the wake are eaten, you must rejoin life fully, without missing a beat.  Doing anything less than that is considered a weakness.  Like you're wallowing in self-pity.  (Think Cher in Moonstruck, slapping Nicolas Cage in the face and shouting, "Snap out of it!")

I am here to tell you that it's not that easy.  On top of that, I'm a poet, and poets tend to obsess.  We do things like write entire books about a single mushroom.  At the moment, my obsession is a little existential.  Doing the tally, since 2014, I have lost three siblings and both of my parents.  Mortality has, more or less, been my constant companion for close to eight years now.

It is Saturday night.  Everyone else in my family is asleep.  I am sitting on the couch in my living room, staring at the lights on my Christmas tree.  (The fact that my Christmas tree is still up is not due to my current state of mind.  I often leave my Christmas decorations up for a long while.  They make me happy.  Remind me of my mom's holiday hams and family gettogethers  at my Grandma Hainley's house.)  I am thinking of my sister Rose.  And my mom and dad.  My sister Sally and brother Kevin.  All gone now.

British psychiatrist Colin Murray Parkes said, "The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love; it is, perhaps, the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment."

Saint Marty will add to that statement:  the price of grief is sometimes exhaustion.

Friday, February 25, 2022

February 25: My Will and My Intelligence, Still Recovering, Leap Tall Buildings

Santiago wishes he was the fish . . . 

The old man had seen many great fish. He had seen many that weighed more than a thousand pounds and he had caught two of that size in his life, but never alone. Now alone, and out of sight of land, he was fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of, and his left hand was still as tight as the gripped claws of an eagle.

It will uncramp though, he thought. Surely it will uncramp to help my right hand. There are three things that are brothers: the fish and my two hands. It must uncramp. It is unworthy of it to be cramped. The fish had slowed again and was going at his usual pace.

I wonder why he jumped, the old man thought. He jumped almost as though to show me how big he was. I know now, anyway, he thought. I wish I could show him what sort of man I am. But then he would see the cramped hand. Let him think I am more man than I am and I will be so. I wish I was the fish, he thought, with everything he has against only my will and my intelligence.

Santiago has a lot of wishes in the world.  Before this moment, he has wished several times the boy was with him in the boat.  Now, he wishes that he was the fish, with all of its strength and size.  The old man, with his cramping hands, is feeling small and a little unworthy.

My body is still recovering from the three-day snowstorm we had earlier this week.  And from the bout of COVID I had at the beginning of January.  My arms are sore, and I tire easily.  At night, I can barely make it past 9 p.m.  I used to be a night owl, staying up 'til one or two o'clock in the morning  and then rising at 5:30 a.m. to go to work.  Now, I can't get up off the sofa without making a noise.

So, I understand why Santiago admires the fish.  Because the fish is powerful and beautiful, even in its old age.  (A fish doesn't get that big without surviving for many years.)

I accept the fact that my body simply can't do some of the things it used to be able to do when I was younger.  It can't function on three hours of sleep.  Or shovel snow all day without needing three gallons of Bengay and a full-body massage.  That's what happens when you get older.

I've also learned that the pleasures in life become much simpler as you advance in age.  For example, tonight, my puppy couldn't get enough of me.  She flopped on the couch beside me, nudged my hand with her snout, and let me rub and pet her for about an hour.  The whole time I did this, she made those canine sounds of contentment.  That cross between a moan and snore.  

Saint Marty might not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound any more, but he can make dogs smile in their sleep.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

February 24: More Noble and More Able, Big Goals, "Just Before Poetry Workshop"

Santiago versus the fish . . . 

"He is two feet longer than the skiff," the old man said. The line was going out fast but steadily and the fish was not panicked. The old man was trying with both hands to keep the line just inside of breaking strength. He knew that if he could not slow the fish with a steady pressure the fish could take out all the line and break it.

He is a great fish and I must convince him, he thought. I must never let him learn his strength nor what he could do if he made his run. If I were him I would put in everything now and go until something broke. But, thank God, they are not as intelligent as we who kill them; although they are more noble and more able.

Santiago, finally seeing what he is up against, knows that the fish could win the battle simply because of its size and strength.  Yet, Santiago has experience and brains on his side.  So, in a way, the narrative is a David and Goliath story, with Santiago in his little boat on a vast, unfriendly ocean.

I've gone after some big fish in my time.  Set myself big goals and tried to accomplish them.  Sometimes, I succeeded (I'm a published writer).  Other times, I've come up short (I still haven't won my Pulitzer Prize).  A person has two choices.  First, to celebrate the victories and be happy.  Second, to wallow in the failures and be miserable.

I do both of these things, depending on the day.

Tonight, I attended a poetry workshop led by a good friend of mine.  The theme of the night was "brevity."  Every piece that we wrote had to be 100 words or less.  This condition was a struggle for me.  My poems tend to be expansive and multi-layered.  I don't write short poems.

However, I did it.  I'm not sure I landed any big fish this evening.  (The whole point of the workshop was landing small fish.)  But I tried.  Perhaps, this time, success is in the attempt, not the product.

Saint Marty is still holding out for his Nobel.

A poem for the Swedish Academy to consider . . . 

Just Before Poetry Workshop

by:  Martin Achatz

I wake from a nap,
hungry but too lazy
to even heat up
leftover pizza.  Instead,
I fill a bowl with pretzels,
find some cheddar cheese
sticks in the fridge, sit
on my couch, grab
a pen, my journal.
Sometimes, poetry tastes
like a Dorito found
under a sofa cushion.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

February 23: Rose Slowly and Steadily, Snowstorm, Possibility

Santiago finally sees the fish . . .

If the boy were here he could rub it for me and loosen it down from the forearm, he thought. But it will loosen up.

Then, with his right hand he felt the difference in the pull of the line before he saw the slant change in the water. Then, as he leaned against the line and slapped his left hand hard and fast against his thigh he saw the line slanting slowly upward.

"He's coming up," he said. "Come on hand. Please come on."

The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright in the sun and his head and back were dark purple and in the sun the stripes on his sides showed wide and a light lavender. His sword was as long as a baseball bat and tapered like a rapier and he rose his full length from the water and then re-entered it, smoothly, like a diver and the old man saw the great scythe-blade of his tail go under and the line commenced to race out.

When something happens that you've been waiting for, it's an amazing moment.  Santiago finally sees the fish.  You receive your first romantic kiss.  Experience sex.  Publish your first poem.  Release your first book.  These are moments that mark a change.  The second before, you are one person.  The second after, you are completely different.  Or feel completely different.

The three-day snowstorm finally ended today.  Over fifteen fresh inches of snow this morning.  This is not the first three-day winter storm I've ever experienced.  And it won't be the last, if I continue to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I am sore tonight from pushing snow.  Not a first, either.  The banks around my house almost as tall as the house itself now.  Again, not a first.  

In fact, nothing about today was new to me.  I don't feel any different tonight than I felt yesterday.  Therefore, the point of this post is simply to say that I survived the storm.  I'm sore as hell.  Tired of winter.  As a Yooper, I am allowed to say this without guilt.  As I said a couple posts ago, only Yoopers are allowed to complain about the weather in the U. P.

Tomorrow, I will get up.  Go to work.  Sit in my library office and dream up programs and events.  Drive home and probably collapse on my sofa for a while.  Maybe take a nap.  Then, I will attend a poetry workshop.  Maybe I will write something that I never dreamed of writing before.  Maybe not.

Here's the thing:  if you treat every day like a gift, then you will be a different person every second of that day.  If you treat every day like a sequel to the prior one, then you will remain frozen in place.  Buried under 15 inches of fresh monotony every morning.

Therefore, tomorrow I will rise.  Unwrap the morning like a Christmas present.  Perhaps, the day will turn out to be a pair of socks.  Or, a new watch.  Underwear.  Who knows?  That's what gifts are all about.  Possibility.

Saint Marty likes the idea of living in possibility.  Even if it comes with over thirty inches of snow.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

February 22: Better Weather for Me, Snowstorm that Never Ends, Raging Outside

Santiago is humiliated by the limitations of his body . . .

"Light brisa," he said. "Better weather for me than for you, fish."

His left hand was still cramped, but he was unknotting it slowly.

I hate a cramp, he thought. It is a treachery of one's own body. It is humiliating before others to have a diarrhea from ptomaine poisoning or to vomit from it. But a cramp, he thought of it as a calambre, humiliates oneself especially when one is alone.

The body never gets a break.  Even a furnace in the dead of January in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gets to sleep every once in a while.  Not so for these skin machines we all inhabit.  The lungs keep lunging.  The heart keeps hearting.  The brain keeps braining.  Until those machines begin to have little breakdowns.  That's what's happening to Santiago in the above passage.

I'm sore tonight because of this snowstorm that never ends.  It's still raging outside.  Another twelve to 15 inches tonight.  Schools are falling one-by-one to closure this evening.  If the university where I teach closes, it will be the last domino to fall, claimed some time early tomorrow morning before the sun washes darkness out of the sky.  

My soreness is the result of shoveling my car and house out this morning at 5:30.  My wife had to work at 7 a.m.  She was hired last month for a job at the front desk of a hotel on the shores of Lake Superior.  We are grateful for the paycheck, as our existence is often hand to mouth.  However, having to get on the highway at 6 a.m. in the middle of a blizzard is insanity.

My wife did text her boss last night, saying that, depending on the weather, she may not be able to make it to work in the morning.  Her boss's response:  "The absence will be unexcused and will go in your employee file."  Translation:  Get your ass to work!  Or else!

I don't understand bosses like this.  With rules chiseled in stone that have no relation to human need.  I have been lucky for most of my working life.  My bosses have all been homo sapiens with beating hearts and compassionate dispositions.  They didn't expect me to risk my life to get to the office on days of whiteouts and thirty-below-zero wind chills.  

However, my wife and I busted it out this morning--dug and shoveled and cleared.  We were on the road by 6:35, and my wife was exactly five minutes late for work this morning.  That's all.

And now, my arms are sore.  My neck is aching a little.  And I am bone tired.

Thank you, mindless, heartless capitalism.  The beat goes on.  Until it doesn't.

Saint Marty isn't looking forward to the drifts of tomorrow morning.

Monday, February 21, 2022

February 21: No Hurricane Coming Now, Still Snowing, Yoopers

Santiago reflects on weather . . .

He looked across the sea and knew how alone he was now. But he could see the prisms in the deep dark water and the line stretching ahead and the strange undulation of the calm. The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea.

He thought of how some men feared being out of sight of land in a small boat and knew they were right in the months of sudden bad weather. But now they were in hurricane months and, when there are no hurricanes, the weather of hurricane months is the best of all the year.

If there is a hurricane you always see the signs of it in the sky for days ahead, if you are at sea. They do not see it ashore because they do not know what to look for, he thought. The land must make a difference too, in the shape of the clouds. But we have no hurricane coming now.

He looked at the sky and saw the white cumulus built like friendly piles of ice cream and high above were the thin feathers of the cirrus against the high September sky.

Santiago's livelihood depends on the weather.  He must know what the sea and clouds hold for him every day.  If he can't look at the sky and predict what it has in store for him, he might very well die.  Or lose a good day of fishing.  The watch of Santiago's life is set to the second hand of weather.

Today, it snowed.  A lot.  At least six or seven inches.  It's still snowing.  By the time I wake up tomorrow morning, there will probably be another foot of snow on the ground.  And it will still be snowing.  There's a line in Thornton Wilder's Our Town that goes like this:  "If it ain't rain, it's a three-day blow."  That's pretty much what we have right now.  The snow and wind aren't supposed to stop until Wednesday morning.

I've lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for most of my life, except for a short stint in a PhD program at a university downstate.  I know winter and snow and wind.  We Yoopers take pride in our ability to endure this kind of weather.  Six inches of fresh snow won't even slow a Yooper down.  We will still go to school and work and church and movies.  We are a hardy group.  

If you haven't lived here for more than 20 years, don't complain aloud about all the snow in the U. P.  You will get stink-eyed from Yoopers, and the thought you will see scrolling across our faces will be something like, "Stupid troll" (the term we use for anyone who lives anywhere but  above the Mackinac Bridge).  Yoopers are allowed to complain about snow and wind.  We have earned that right through the tens of thousands of inches of white precipitation we have shoveled and moved in our lifespans.  

Being one of those lifelong U. P. residents, I can say, without any Yooper shame, that I am tired of snow today.  I'm running out of places to push it on my property.  My puppy wakes up every morning, goes outside for her constitutional, and finds a fresh new landscape, her familiar scents and holes buried again.  

Yet, tomorrow morning, my alarm clock will be set for 5 a.m.  My wife needs to be at work by 7 a.m.  We will roll out of bed, bleary and exhausted.  I will prod myself awake with toothpaste and shaving cream, do my normal ablutions.  And then, I will pull on my boots, put on my coat-hat-gloves, grab a shovel, and head into the snow to shovel out my car.

This is the life of a Yooper, from about October to May (sometimes June).  A series of snowstorms interrupted by sleep.

Saint Marty has this to say, "If it ain't sun, it's a three-day snow."

Sunday, February 20, 2022

February 21: Stays Down Forever, Facing Adversity, Deep Breath

Santiago tries to get his cramped hand working . . . 

But he seems calm, he thought, and following his plan. But what is his plan, he thought. And what is mine? Mine I must improvise to his because of his great size. If he will jump I can kill him. But he stays down forever. Then I will stay down with him forever.

He rubbed the cramped hand against his trousers and tried to gentle the fingers. But it would not open. Maybe it will open with the sun, he thought. Maybe it will open when the strong raw tuna is digested. If I have to have it, I will open it, cost whatever it costs. But I do not want to open it now by force. Let it open by itself and come back of its own accord. After all I abused it much in the night when it was necessary to free and unite the various lines.

Sometimes, life doesn't cooperate with you.  Santiago knows he has a huge fish on his line.  He understands the physical needs of catching that fish.  Yet, things aren't going his way.  He hand is cramping.  He's alone in the middle of the sea, without a whole lot of food or water to sustain him.  If the title of this book was The Old Saint Marty and the Sea, Saint Marty would have cut the line about twelve hours before and paddled his way home.

But there is something to be said for sticking it out.  Facing adversity and staring it down. Adversity comes in two varieties.  First, there's the kind over which you have no control--the death of family members, natural disasters, health crises.  Then there's the kind over which you have a little power--bad jobs, relationships, habits.  

Today, there was little adversity in my life.  I went to church this morning, and then I was on my couch most of the day, doing computer work and binging the series Normal People on Hulu.  (It's based on the novel of the same title by Sally Rooney, and it is one of my favorite books of the last few years.)  Sure, I got a little tired of staring at my laptop for hours, but that really isn't adversity.  More like a necessary evil in my life.

After five or so hours, I was hungry and tired.  So I made dinner for my son and myself.  Pizza for him.  Leftover chicken for me.  In the evening, I led a poetry workshop on odes.  Lots of my poet friends showed up, and it was a lovely time of laughter and love.

If none of this sounds very exciting, you are right.  It was a quiet day without any drama.  And I enjoyed every second of it.  Adversity isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Yes, there's the old saying that pressure creates diamonds.  That may be true.  But pressure can also shatter windows and cause your car tire to blowout.

I don't get many days like this.  My life is usually a series of panic attacks interspersed with poetry and music.  Don't get me wrong.  I like being in the thick of things with creative people, planning out ways to bring more beauty and joy into the world.  However, days of deep breath are very healing and restorative for my restless mind and spirit.

Don't worry.  Tomorrow, I will be back to my neurotic rants.

But tonight, Saint Marty is all about getting in touch with his inner nap.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

February 19: Keep Strong, "Dead Poets Society," Sobbing Mess

Santiago regains his mojo . . . 

I wish I could feed the fish, he thought. He is my brother. But I must kill him and keep strong to do it. Slowly and conscientiously he ate all of the wedge-shaped strips of fish.

He straightened up, wiping his hand on his trousers.

"Now," he said. "You can let the cord go, hand, and I will handle him with the right arm alone until you stop that nonsense." He put his left foot on the heavy line that the left hand had held and lay back against the pull against his back.

"God help me to have the cramp go," he said. "Because I do not know what the fish is going to do."

Santiago has a hand that's cramping and an unpredictable fish on his line.  He has no idea what the day has in store for him.  Or if he's going to be able to outlast his brother of the sea.

My son is 13 years old.  Loves writing and poetry.  Has dreams of Pulitzer Prizes and the Nobel Prize.  He also wants to be a primatologist.  I don't think these goals are mutually exclusive.  He could be the first Nobel Prize-winning primatologist poet.  The Jane Goodall of verse.

This evening, I introduced my son to the sweet sadness of Dead Poets Society.  Like Santiago in his boat, my son had no idea what he was in for.  The last time I tried to watch DPS with him, he showed little interest.  Tonight, he was totally invested.  Didn't miss a second.  And, by the time Neil had committed suicide and Ethan Hawke was standing on top of his desk at the end, my son was a sobbing mess.  (This after I watched Il Postino with him last week and reduced him to a puddle of tears.  Perhaps we need to have a Will Ferrell movie marathon soon.)

My son watched DPS all the way to the end of the credits, and, as the bagpipe music faded, he got up, went into his room, and said he needed to be alone.  I gave him his space and then, after a few minutes, checked on him to make sure he was alright.

He had recovered enough to speak to me.

"Are you ever going to watch another movie with me?" I said.

"We'll see," he said.

If you are one of my constant readers, you know the struggles my son has had in the past year or so.  Last February, I didn't even want to leave him alone.  Ever.  I would never have shown him DPS twelve months ago.  Now, he's focused and happy.  Doing well in school.  And he's thrown himself into writing.  And poetry.

I know that my son is young, and tomorrow he could wake up and decide that he's going to be a chef.  Or a Chippendale dancer.  Next weekend, an auto mechanic.  (If he becomes a Trump supporter, I may have to put him in foster care.)  Like Santiago, I have no idea where the fish is going to pull my boat.

But, right now, Saint Marty enjoying his sensitive, poetry-loving son who isn't afraid to cry at the end of sad movies.

Friday, February 18, 2022

February 18: Be Patient, Pep Talks, Kamila Valieva

Santiago talks to his hand.  (Yes, you read that correctly--he TALKS to his hand.) . . . 

"I don't think I can eat an entire one," he said and drew his knife across one of the strips. He could feel the steady hard pull of the line and his left hand was cramped. It drew up tight on the heavy cord and he looked at it in disgust.

"What kind of a hand is that," he said. "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good."

Come on, he thought and looked down into the dark water at the slant of the line. Eat it now and it will strengthen the hand. It is not the hand's fault and you have been many hours with the fish. But you can stay with him forever. Eat the bonito now.

He picked up a piece and put it in his mouth and chewed it slowly. It was not unpleasant.

Chew it well, he thought, and get all the juices. It would not be bad to eat with a little lime or with lemon or with salt.

"How do you feel, hand?" he asked the cramped hand that was almost as stiff as rigor mortis. "I'll eat some more for you."

He ate the other part of the piece that he had cut in two. He chewed it carefully and then spat out the skin.

"How does it go, hand? Or is it too early to know?"

He took another full piece and chewed it.

"It is a strong full-blooded fish," he thought. "I was lucky to get him instead of dolphin. Dolphin is too sweet. This is hardly sweet at all and all the strength is still in it."

There is no sense in being anything but practical though, he thought. I wish I had some salt. And I do not know whether the sun will rot or dry what is left, so I had better eat it all although I am not hungry. The fish is calm and steady. I will eat it all and then I will be ready.

"Be patient, hand," he said. "I do this for you."

Sometimes, I give myself pep talks, too.  Especially when I'm facing something difficult.

At the moment, it is almost 11 p.m.  I am doing what I have been doing for the last couple weeks--watching the Beijing Winter Olympics.  Last night, I watched the train wreck that was the finals of women's figure skating.  In particular, the performance of 15-year-old Kamila Valieva.

Here is what I noticed:  Valieva looked traumatized even before she began skating.  After days of scandal, she had to talk herself into getting on the ice.  And then, when she fell, she had to talk herself into getting up and continuing.  She did this over and over.  By the time it was over, this little girl looked tiny and broken.

Kamila Valieva shouldn't have skated last night.  Not just because she tested positive for banned substances.  She shouldn't have skated because she was a teenage girl with no emotional support system.  The entire world had been watching her every move almost since the start of the Olympics.  Talking about her.  Criticizing her.

Facing all of that, what teenager wouldn't have fallen apart?  When I was 15, I was sitting alone in my bedroom, scribbling in my journal, dreaming of doing something great with my life.  I didn't know who I was.  And I certainly wouldn't have held up if the entire world was reading and tearing my writing apart.

All Saint Marty wanted to do yesterday was give that little girl a hug and tell her everything is going to be alright.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

February 17: Overboard, No Waste, Meaningful

Santiago eats a little breakfast . . . 

"Now," he said, when his hand had dried, "I must eat the small tuna. I can reach him with the gaff and eat him here in comfort."

He knelt down and found the tuna under the stern with the gaff and drew it toward him keeping it clear of the coiled lines. Holding the line with his left shoulder again, and bracing on his left hand and arm, he took the tuna off the gaff hook and put the gaff back in place. He put one knee on the fish and cut strips of dark red meat longitudinally from the back of the head to the tail. They were wedge-shaped strips and he cut them from next to the back bone down to the edge of the belly. When he had cut six strips he spread them out on the wood of the bow, wiped his knife on his trousers, and lifted the carcass of the bonito by the tail and dropped it overboard.

Santiago knows that he has to keep up his strength if he is going to outlast the fish.  He takes what he needs and gives the rest back to the sea.  No waste in anything that he does.

This post will be short.  I spent the day in meetings at the library, with department heads and artists and writers.  Tonight, I attended a virtual open mic, listened to some of my best friends share their beautiful words and painting and film.  Always, these third Thursdays make me excited to belong to this group of artists.

Sometimes, when it is near bedtime, I look back on my day and tally the time I have wasted.  The things I didn't complete.  Not this evening.  I will go to bed knowing that I did the best I could to make every minute of this day meaningful, either working or connecting with friends.

This last hour or so of the day, I am going to watch some of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which always inspires me.  Seeing people of such physical talent doing what they love is like reading a Sharon Olds poem.  It makes me want to do better.  Write better.  Be better.

Saint Marty will sleep well tonight, dreaming of being head and shoulders above.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

February 16: Braced Himself, Controversy, Billy Collins

Santiago examines his injury . . . 

"He has slowed much," he said.

The old man would have liked to keep his hand in the salt water longer but he was afraid of another sudden lurch by the fish and he stood up and braced himself and held his hand up against the sun. It was only a line burn that had cut his flesh. But it was in the working part of his hand. He knew he would need his hands before this was over and he did not like to be cut before it started.

Since I can't seem to avoid being slightly controversial recently, I've decided to go all in, injuries and detractors be damned.

Here goes . . . 

January 6 was NOT a political protest.  It was an attempt to violently overthrow the government of the United States, encouraged by . . .

Donald Trump, who lost the election, is a dangerous sociopath, and should be in prison.

Black lives matter.

Jesus was not white and blue-eyed.

Billionaires should not pay less in taxes than I do.

Kamila Valieva should not be allowed to skate in the Beijing Olympics.

If you don't support gay marriage, then don't marry a person who is the same gender as you.  And shut the hell up.

I like the poetry of Billy Collins.

Die Hard is NOT a Christmas movie.

And I think the United States should celebrate Boxing Day.

Finally, Saint Marty gives you a controversial picture of his dog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

February 15: Blood Trail, Hallmark Movie, Double Down

Santiago cleans his wound . . . 

Shifting the weight of the line to his left shoulder and kneeling carefully he washed his hand in the ocean and held it there, submerged, for more than a minute watching the blood trail away and the steady movement of the water against his hand as the boat moved.

So, here is Santiago cleaning out the cut he received on his hand from a dumb mistake.

Yesterday, I wrote about Valentine shaming.  The thing that happens on Facebook every February 14 where people post pictures of their perfect loves.  I knew that I might receive some pushback on my words.  I did.  Perhaps yesterday's post was a dumb mistake on my part, and I'm still bleeding a little from some of the responses.

I'm about to double down on my dumb mistake.

I am not jaded or angry or depressed.  I believe in love.  Real love.  On social media, we want everyone to see us at our bests.  That's why we photoshop pictures.  We live in a mediated age, where reality isn't good enough.  We all want to be Hallmark movie stars.  I want to be a Hallmark movie star (although I lack the physique, jawline, and flannel shirts).  But that just isn't what love is.

As I said yesterday, life is messy.  Love is messy.  You can't get around it.  Any person who has been in any kind of long-term relationship will be attest to this fact.  If they don't, they're lying.  There is no way to reflect in a Facebook post the kinds of struggles and joys that occur in lengthy love relationships.

Instead, what we end up seeing on social media are the kinds of posts that make some people insecure and/or depressed about their own love lives.  Or lack thereof.  My Valentine's Day post was my dumb mistake way of trying to tell people that love is not a Hallmark movie.  It's more like Terms of Endearment, hopefully without the terminal cancer.  

I fiercely love the people in my life, with all their faults and downfalls.  I am lucky to have people who fiercely love me, despite all of my failings.  That is what I want to celebrate.  Unconditional love.

There, I said it.  You can all go back to your Hallmark fantasies now.

And Saint Marty is going to go clean up all the cuts and bruises he received after yesterday's post.

Monday, February 14, 2022

February 14: Rougher Where You Are Going, Valentine's Day, Actual Reality

Santiago is injured . . . 

You did not stay long, the man thought. But it is rougher where you are going until you make the shore. How did I let the fish cut me with that one quick pull he made? I must be getting very stupid. Or perhaps I was looking at the small bird and thinking of him. Now I will pay attention to my work and then I must eat the tuna so that I will not have a failure of strength.

"I wish the boy were here and that I had some salt," he said aloud.

Sometimes, I make dumb mistakes.  Just like Santiago.  Do things I know I shouldn't do.  That's often why I remain silent when I get angry.  I prefer not to say or do things in the heat of a moment.  Because words spill out of my mouth that I later regret.  Better just to eat my tongue and not make a stupid mistake.

Today is Valentine's Day.  I have to admit that I didn't do anything very Valentine-ee today.  I worked.  Taught.  Worked some more.  The one Valentine thing I did was host a Valentine's Day concert at the library where I'm the Adult Programming Coordinator.  For one hour, I sat and listened to love songs.

Of course, my Facebook feed was full of Valentine posts.  People proclaiming that their significant others are the best partners in the whole world.  Pictures of flowers and chocolates and steak dinners and weddings.  My favorite this year:  a picture of dog eating a heart-shaped biscuit.  Love is in the air.

If you detected a little bit of sarcasm in that last paragraph, it was intentional.  Here is where I may be making a dumb mistake.  I find posts on holidays like Valentine's Day and Christmas a little difficult.  Like teenage girls looking at pictures of models in magazines, adults see posts featuring rose petals on pillows, boxes of Godiva, candlelit dinners, and they immediately feel shitty about their lives.

So, for everyone experiencing this annual ritual of Valentine shaming, remember that perfect love doesn't exist.  There are always squabbles and differences.  Outright arguments.  Relationships are living things.  They breathe, love, cry, hurt, get depressed.  Sometimes they betray.  Sometimes they buy you chocolate and take you to a movie.  

And, sometimes, it's simply better to be unattached.  In a relationship with yourself, finding out what makes you happy or sad or upset.  The good thing about this arrangement is that you always get what you want for Valentine's Day, even if it's a nap and the next episode of Breaking Bad.  

There.  That's my dumb mistake for today.  I hate Valentine shaming.  Facebook tends to promote a version of reality that is only tangentially related to actual reality.  Because, let's face it, life is messy, difficult, and painful sometimes.  Love is, too.

That's Saint Marty's Valentine's Day wisdom.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

February 13: Liked Him for Company, Alone for Most of the Day, Human Interaction

The fish injures Santiago . . . 

Just then the fish gave a sudden lurch that pulled the old man down onto the bow and would have pulled him overboard if he had not braced himself and given some line.

The bird had flown up when the line jerked and the old man had not even seen him go. He felt the line carefully with his right hand and noticed his hand was bleeding.

"Something hurt him then," he said aloud and pulled back on the line to see if he could turn the fish. But when he was touching the breaking point he held steady and settled back against the strain of the line.

"You're feeling it now, fish," he said. "And so, God knows, am I."

He looked around for the bird now because he would have liked him for company. The bird was gone.

Santiago loses his feathered companion.

I have been working all afternoon and evening.  School stuff.  Writing stuff.  Stuff stuff.  I'm reaching the point of exhaustion.  

And I have been alone for most of the day, watching movies, listening to music, as I tapped away on my laptop.  My wife is at work.  My daughter is at her boyfriend's house.  And my son is playing computer games in his room.  Since about one o'clock this afternoon, I may have said about nine words total.  To my son:  "Are you hungry?"  To my puppy:  "Gotta go out?"  To myself:  "Get it together."

It is Super Bowl Sunday, which doesn't really mean a whole lot to me.  I don't care about football, and I don't really want to sit through six hours of a game for the commercials or half-time show.  Instead, once I'm done typing this blog post, I'm either going to read a book or take a nap.  (I'm leaning toward taking a nap.)

I'm alright with being alone.  I crave solitude sometimes.  It comes with the territory of being a poet.  So, I don't need a little bird to keep me company.  This little post is about enough human interaction for me today.  Because tomorrow is going to be a human interaction day for me.  And it will leave me cranky and withdrawn by tomorrow night.

Saint Marty thinks he was a desert monk in a former life.  

Saturday, February 12, 2022

February 12: With a Friend, Endure Rather Than Enjoy, Leftover Pizza

Santiago talks about his friend, the fish . . . 

It encouraged him to talk because his back had stiffened in the night and it hurt truly now.

"Stay at my house if you like, bird," he said. "I am sorry I cannot hoist the sail and take you in with the small breeze that is rising. But I am with a friend."

Santiago seems to be friends with everything.  His boat.  The sea.  The little bird.  Even the fish at the end of his line.

I have to say that seeing the universe, and everything in it, as a friend instead of some hostile enemy is a pretty good way to remain happy.  I think too many people (myself included, at times) think of life as something to endure rather than enjoy.  I know that, every once in a while, I need a reminder that life is pretty darn good.

Tonight, some good friends came over to my house to play board games with my family.  We ate pizza, talked smack to each other, and had a great time.  It didn't really matter who won.  (For the record, it wasn't me.)  It was just a much needed moment of disconnection from the struggles of the last few weeks.  

I'm exhausted, but content.  Plus, there's leftover pizza in my fridge.

Saint Marty feels pretty blessed at the moment.

Friday, February 11, 2022

February 11: A Good Rest, Naps, "Winter Sky, October 28, 2021"

Santiago encounters a little bird . . . 

A small bird came toward the skiff from the north. He was a warbler and flying very low over the water. The old man could see that he was very tired.

The bird made the stern of the boat and rested there. Then he flew around the old man's head and rested on the line where he was more comfortable.

"How old are you?" the old man asked the bird. "Is this your first trip?"

The bird looked at him when he spoke. He was too tired even to examine the line and he teetered on it as his delicate feet gripped it fast.

"It's steady," the old man told him. "It's too steady. You shouldn't be that tired after a windless night. What are birds coming to?"

The hawks, he thought, that come out to sea to meet them. But he said nothing of this to the bird who could not understand him anyway and who would learn about the hawks soon enough.

"Take a good rest, small bird," he said. "Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish.

Sometimes, nature gives us lessons, as Santiago notes here.

It's Friday night, and I am almost as tired as Santiago's little bird after this long week.  It wasn't a momentous week.  Nothing huge happened, thank God.  It just felt . . . long.  

Tonight, I'm ready for a little rest.  In fact, once I'm done typing this post, I am probably going to take a nap that may morph into bedtime.  These last seven or so days, my body has been letting me know when it needs a break.

So, there will be no long philosophical meditation in this evening's post.  Just an observation that naps are almost as good as chocolate.

Here's a little something Saint Marty wrote in a writing workshop a little while ago.  Something with birds and night . . . 

Winter Sky, October 28, 2021
after My Mother's Death

by:  Martin Achatz

The moon cracked open the clouds as I left that place of last 
breath.  I stood there, coated in night, felt the first 
fingers of winter press into my nose, turn the air to ice.
Somewhere nearby, a fire burned dark to sweet.
I kept looking up, searching for a part of you 
above the pines, like an arrow of midnight geese
rising toward the bullseye of heaven.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

February 10: Let Us Hope So, Poetry and Science, Extravagantly Impractical

Santiago's little hope . . . 

There was yellow weed on the line but the old man knew that only made an added drag and he was pleased. It was the yellow Gulf weed that had made so much phosphorescence in the night.

"Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends."

Let us hope so, he thought.

A little phosphorescence in the night, a little hope in the morning for Santiago.  Life is like that.  Even in the darkest of times, there's always little light and hope to hang onto.  

Tonight, I hosted a library presentation by a sociologist from the local university.  The program was part of the Women in Science monthly series.  The presenter is unique for a person from a STEM discipline.  She writes about the marriage of science and poetry, and she has published a collection of poems herself.  Basically, the thrust of her talk was that science allows humankind to gather facts and analyze data.  Poetry allows us to understand the deeper, more significant human side of this data.

There is a divide between science and the humanities, especially in higher education.  The whole push away from Liberal Arts to Gen Ed curricula at the university level is a symptom of that divide.  It's a privileging of science over art, like one is more important than the other.

Here is the truth of this matter:  we really need both science and art in order to survive as a species on this broken world.  Some people in the sciences, like the presenter tonight, get it.  However, most people in the STEM disciplines do not.

I even feel this divide in my job at the library.  I've been told that I need to schedule more "practical" programs--how to prepare taxes, tech help, and things like that.  While these types of skills and subjects are important, I find it difficult to get excited about them.  Perhaps I have my own bias, privileging poetry and music and art over how to file a 1040 EZ form.  

The world is a little too practical, I think.  It's mostly run by people who are more worried about pushing their own political agendas than helping their fellow human beings.  That's where practicality has gotten us.  In the United States, we have a broken healthcare system.  Leaders who describe violent insurrections as political debate.  Billionaires who pay less in taxes than I do.

So why do I have to be practical?  I want to be extravagantly impractical.  Stay up all night writing poetry.  Climb a mountain in the middle of the night to stare at a comet.  Hunt for Bigfoot in the forest.  Dance and sing at midnight in the middle of the street. 

And I will still pay my taxes and vote in elections.  I am fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID.  Wear a mask when I am out in public.

I do all these things because I care about my fellow travelers on this little blue rock orbiting the Sun.  Embrace the idea that it's just as important to know the elements of the periodic table as it is to read Hamlet.  The universe isn't just made up of carbon and helium and oxygen.  It's made of thinking, breathing, feeling humanity, too.

And knowing that others share in this belief gives Sant Marty a little light and hope tonight.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

February 9: Better with the Sun, Short and Sweet, Sunrise

Santiago meets the morning sun . . . 

He tried to increase the tension, but the line had been taut up to the very edge of the breaking point since he had hooked the fish and he felt the harshness as he leaned back to pull and knew he could put no more strain on it. I must not jerk it ever, he thought. Each jerk widens the cut the hook makes and then when he does jump he might throw it. Anyway I feel better with the sun and for once I do not have to look into it.

This post will be short and sweet.  Today, I went back to work after a couple days off following my sister's funeral.  I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to this return.  When the alarm went off, I felt as if I could have slept for another two or three or twelve hours.  Remember, my main preoccupation since my sister's funeral on Saturday has been napping.

Yet, as I drove into the sunrise this morning, I sort of felt like Santiago after a long night on the boat.  I enjoyed watching color leach into the clouds.   When I got to the library, I enjoyed catching up with my office mate.  Ditto for teaching in the afternoon.  Then, beers and pizza and cake with one of my best friends from the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum.  And after that, I hosted a virtual reading given by one of my oldest and dearest writing buddies.  

It was a good easing back into the regular stream of life.  Sure, there is still tension on the fishing line of my life.  A big, dark fish pulling my little dinghy along.  But, the sun was on my back, and I was surrounded by good people who care a great deal about me.

Saint Marty can't ask for much better than that.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

February 8: Go Deep, Sobbing Mess, True Break

Santiago waits for the fish to jump . . . 

"God let him jump," the old man said. "I have enough line to handle him."

Maybe if I can increase the tension just a little it will hurt him and he will jump, he thought. Now that it is daylight let him jump so that he'll fill the sacks along his backbone with air and then he cannot go deep to die.

I am not going to go deep with this post.  I'm tired, and it's late.  I've spent the day meeting up with friends.  Had some beers.  Shared some stories.  And then, tonight, I watched Il Postino with my son, which left him a sobbing mess at the end.

It was a good day, with only a few moments of sadness.  Tomorrow morning, I return to work at the library.  I feel much more rested than I did last week.  These last few days, I've taken frequent long naps and avoided checking my e-mails.  I wanted a true break from everything.

Even as I return to my "normal" schedule, I don't think it will actually feel normal.  My life has changed permanently.  So, I'm going to try to give myself a little grace tomorrow.  Hit the ground walking really fast instead of running.

Saint Marty is going to miss his naps.

Monday, February 7, 2022

February 7: First Edge of the Sun, Imagine the Future, Second Helpings

Santiago makes it through the night . . . 

He'll stay with me too, I suppose, the old man thought and he waited for it to be light. It was cold now in the time before daylight and he pushed against the wood to be warm. I can do it as long as he can, he thought. And in the first light the line extended out and down into the water. The boat moved steadily and when the first edge of the sun rose it was on the old man's right shoulder.

"He's headed north," the old man said. The current will have set us far to the eastward, he thought. I wish he would turn with the current. That would show that he was tiring.

When the sun had risen further the old man realized that the fish was not tiring. There was only one favorable sign. The slant of the line showed he was swimming at a lesser depth. That did not necessarily mean that he would jump. But he might.

Santiago doesn't know what the day has in store for him.  Doesn't know if or when the fish will show itself.  All he can do is sit in his little boat and wait to see what happens, which way the fish will pull him.  North.  South.  East.  West.  

It is difficult to imagine the future.  No matter how much you plan or prepare, the future pulls you in whatever direction it wants.  A month ago, my sister was alive.  My daughter's car was still on the road.  A year ago, my mother was still alive.  A year-and-a-half ago, I was working in a cardiology office.  A little over two years ago, the pandemic was a rumor, barely taking up enough space in the public consciousness to interrupt a nap.  

Now, here we are.  COVID-19.  Alpha.  Beta.  Gamma.  Delta.  Omicron.  Almost six million people dead of the virus.  My mother gone.  Sister gone.  I'm working for a library.  In the past year, I've spoken with two U. S. Poets Laureate and released two spoken-word CDs of my poetry.  

I never imagined, when I was sitting down to Christmas dinner with my family in 2019, that this is where I would be.  When my brother died eight years ago, I never thought that death would become such a familiar face at my dining room table.  Or that I would have the cell phone numbers of Natasha Trethewey and Joy Harjo in my iPhone contacts.  

I've lost some big fish these last few years, but I've landed some, as well.  And it seems as though I've been working through the stages of grief forever.  Here's the thing:  grief really isn't about stages.  You don't move from denial to anger like you're changing airplanes to get to your final destination.  Grief is more like a house you live in, moving from one room to another and back.  Some days, you sit on the couch in denial, and then spend the evening soaking in the anger bathtub before going to bed in the depression suite.  When you wake up in the morning, you go to the bargaining breakfast nook.  

That's the way grief is.  Wildly shuttling between all kinds of different emotions.  I think, about a week ago, I went through all five stages of grief in one morning and then went back for second helpings of each.  

I wish I knew exactly when the big fish of my life will show itself.  I don't.  Instead, I just sit in my little boat and watch the water. 

Saint Marty is getting a little seasick of this trip.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

February 6: Until I am Dead, a Process, Naps

Santiago makes a vow . . . 

I wonder what he made that lurch for, he thought. The wire must have slipped on the great hill of his back. Certainly his back cannot feel as badly as mine does. But he cannot pull this skiff forever, no matter how great he is. Now everything is cleared away that might make trouble and I have a big reserve of line; all that a man can ask.

"Fish," he said softly, aloud, "I'll stay with you until I am dead."

Nothing is going to come between the old man and the fish.  Santiago has seen to that.  Either the fish will die, or he will.  It's a life and death struggle.

I think there is a false belief that, once a funeral is over, everything goes back to normal.  After a couple of days, you go back to work and get on with life.  The struggle is over.

Of course, that belief is false.  Grief is a process, not something that punches a time clock.  My sister, Sally, died almost seven years ago.  Still working through that loss.  Time doesn't heal.  It dulls.  All it takes is an old song on the radio, and suddenly the wound opens up again and starts to bleed.

I have spent a good portion of this weekend sleeping.  After the funeral yesterday, I took over a two hour nap.  This morning, after playing keyboard for a church service, I fell asleep on my couch again for almost three hours.  I think everything is finally catching up with me--my sister's death, the low blood sugar last Friday, the car accident on Sunday.  My body is telling me it needs a break.

This evening, I led a Zoom poetry workshop.  Some of my best friends showed up, and we wrote prompts based on poems by Galway Kinnell, one of my favorite poets of all time.  It was a good way to end a really long, difficult weekend.  

Tomorrow, I will teach.  Get together with a friend to work on a poetry project.  Take it as easy as I can.  I'm trying to give myself a little time to recover from the struggles of the last couple weeks.  Not completely recover.  As I said earlier, grief is a process, not a recipe.

Saint Marty is looking forward to a few more naps these next two days.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

February 5: Difficult in the Dark, Sister's Funeral, "Ascension"

In the middle of the night, Santiago does a difficult thing . . . 

So he did it. It was difficult in the dark and once the fish made a surge that pulled him down on his face and made a cut below his eye. The blood ran down his cheek a little way. But it coagulated and dried before it reached his chin and he worked his way back to the bow and rested against the wood. He adjusted the sack and carefully worked the line so that it came across a new part of his shoulders and, holding it anchored with his shoulders, he carefully felt the pull of the fish and then felt with his hand the progress of the skiff through the water.

Today was my sister's funeral.  A difficult thing.  Most of my remaining siblings were there.  Some of my best friends were there.  Two of those best friends sang songs to honor my sister, and, in the process, reduced me to a puddle.  My son read a poem he wrote, again reducing me to a puddle.  I read a poem the I wrote for my sister and ended up being reduced to a puddle by the last line.  I barely choked it out of my mouth.

I've been thinking about/working on the poem for over two weeks.  I spent six hours working on it last night.  Got up this morning at 5:30, worked on it for another three hours.  My favorite poems by my favorite poets all seem so . . . effortless.  I'm not sure if the poem I wrote and read at my sister's funeral this afternoon seemed effortless.  Because it was actually really . . . difficult.  One of the most difficult poems I've ever written.

So, on one of the most difficult days of my life, I read one of the most difficult poems I've ever written.  

And then Saint Marty went home, ate some pizza, played some games with his family, and took a nap.  None of that was difficult.

The difficult poem.  Hoping it seems effortless . . .


by:  Martin Achatz

for Rose, February 5, 2022

I wonder what Jesus did as he ascended
on that elevator of cloud. Did he wave
to the disciples as he rose and rose
like some kite broken free of its string,
becoming smaller, smaller until he
was swallowed by the great blue
throat of heaven? And did the disciples
keep their eyes trained on him,
unblinking, until tears transformed
that mountaintop into the Sea of Galilee?
After he was gone, did the disciples stand
there, look at each other dumbly, try
to recall his last word? Was it
earth or dirt or air or mother?
They didn’t have phones to take
pictures or videos. Weren’t able to
scroll through their albums
to remind themselves how dark
his skin and eyes were or how
laughing made him blaze
like Pentecost. Instead, they gospelled
each other, tried to recall with letters
God’s whiskered face.
          Today, we gather
in this church for you, dear sister, two
weeks after the metronome of your lungs
ceased and you ascended on that cold
morning. I stood by your bed, held
your hand, mapped its pulse
with my fingertips. I don’t remember
the last word you spoke to me,
or even second to last. It may
have been my name or mother
or ham or simply yes. Like the disciples
now, I’m greedy for every
last scrap of you, your crooked
smile, how you cackled even
when you didn’t get the joke. I
spent my entire life knowing
you, but not really knowing.
Until the end, when you were
rising and rising away from me,
getting smaller, smaller. I
watched until you vanished
from sight, taken back
to that place you came
from, that infinity between zero
and one. Only then did I realize
how lucky I’d been. To have
you with me every day, drinking
Diet Cokes, listening to ABBA
songs, begging me to wrap
my arms around your
shoulders. I could spend the rest
of my days writing gospels and gospels
about how much you loved me.

Friday, February 4, 2022

January 4: Get Rid of Him, Sky Turn, Rose Morning

Santiago makes some difficult decisions . . . 

After it is light, he thought, I will work back to the forty-fathom bait and cut it away too and link up the reserve coils. I will have lost two hundred fathoms of good Catalan cordel and the hooks and leaders. That can be replaced. But who replaces this fish if I hook some fish and it cuts him off? I don't know what that fish was that took the bait just now. It could have been a marlin or a broadbill or a shark. I never felt him. I had to get rid of him too fast.

Aloud he said, "I wish I had the boy."

But you haven't got the boy, he thought. You have only yourself and you had better work back to the last line now, in the dark or not in the dark, and cut it away and hook up the two reserve coils.

The old man knows what he has to do to make sure he lands this big fish.  He has to make some sacrifices.  

This morning, as I was driving to work at around 8 a.m., I noticed the sun rising above Lake Superior.  A thin, pink scar of light along the horizon.  I could tell it was going to be spectacular.

As soon as I got to the library, I dropped my bookbag in my office and climbed the steps to the roof of the building.  It was cold and clear.  And I stood near the edge of the roof, watched the sky turn into a Monet painting.

A friend of mine sent me a photo of the sunrise the morning that my sister died.  My friend said it was a rose morning.  Today was another rose morning.

Saint Marty is so glad he sacrificed a few minutes to see his sister in the sky.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

February 3: Cut the Line, Poetry Workshop, "Meditations on Goodbyes Before a Funeral"

Santiago has to lose some of his fishing lines . . . 

Some time before daylight something took one of the baits that were behind him. He heard the stick break and the line begin to rush out over the gunwale of the skiff. In the darkness he loosened his sheath knife and taking all the strain of the fish on his left shoulder he leaned back and cut the line against the wood of the gunwale. Then he cut the other line closest to him and in the dark made the loose ends of the reserve coils fast. He worked skillfully with the one hand and put his foot on the coils to hold them as he drew his knots tight. Now he had six reserve coils of line. There were two from each bait he had severed and the two from the bait the fish had taken and they were all connected.

Sometimes you have to let things go in life.  Santiago makes the choice to cut one of his fishing lines in order to land the big fish.

This evening, I led a poetry workshop with some wonderful writers.  I found myself writing a lot about loss and letting go.  No surprise there.  Those two subjects have been on my mind a lot recently.

Here's something Saint Marty wrote tonight about saying "goodbye."

Three Meditations on Goodbyes Before a Funeral

by:  Martin Achatz

This morning, I dropped my son off at school, watched the parade of cars and trucks and buses, backpacked kids stumble out into the morning like smoke from chimneys.  And I imagined myself surrounded by all the goodbyes that were flying out of mouths at that very moment.  I could almost see them, beating against the windshield of my car like a swarm of hungry grasshoppers.

This afternoon, as my coworker left for the weekend, she stood in our office door, tried to find words that might be salve or cool water.  She couldn't say anything that hinted at happiness.  Instead, she nodded goodbye.  I nodded back.  That was enough.  Like the last scrap of bacon on the breakfast table.

Saturday morning, it will all be about goodbyes as I sit in church with her ashes.  I know this is natural and right.  Goodbyes are just a part of the order of the universe, like molecular bonds or orbits of comets.  Yet, I can't seem to say it.  Those two syllables.  They stick in my teeth.  I will be working on them for weeks with my tongue, trying to dislodge them like stubborn seeds.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

February 2: I Was Born For, a Calling, Poetry

Santiago engages in a little self reflection . . . 

"I wish the boy was here," he said aloud and settled himself against the rounded planks of the bow and felt the strength of the great fish through the line he held across his shoulders moving steadily toward whatever he had chosen.

When once, through my treachery, it had been necessary to him to make a choice, the old man thought.

His choice had been to stay in the deep dark water far out beyond all snares and traps and treacheries. My choice was to go there to find him beyond all people. Beyond all people in the world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either one of us.

Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for. I must surely remember to eat the tuna after it gets light.

My favorite part of this passage?  That final paragraph, where Santiago questions being a fisherman and then makes that statement:  "But that was the thing that I was born for."  He is so sure in his belief.  There's no regrets about lost opportunities.  No old loves or stalled ambitions.  Santiago is doing what he was intended to do with his life.

I don't think a lot of people can say that about themselves.  I know I can't.  It has taken me a long time to get to the place I'm at right now.  Along the way, I've been a busboy, hospital housekeeper, painter, and bookseller.  I worked for over 25 years in the healthcare industry.  Through most of my adult life, I've taught university-level English courses, even when I was scraping blood off the floors of surgical rooms.  Aside from teaching, I can't say that I felt a calling to do any of those other occupations.  They were simply a means to an end--a way to pay the bills and support my family.

Now, I find myself working for the largest public library in the Upper Peninsula, scheduling readings and concerts and workshops.  Submitting grants to the National Endowment for the Arts.  Talking with doctors and art historians and United States Poets Laureate.  Some days, I sit in my office, wondering at my dumb luck.  To be able to do something you love and get paid for it, that's a true blessing.

Don't get me wrong.  I still struggle and stress.  Get angry and depressed.  That's all part of being a broken human in a very broken world.  My posts from the last few weeks have been a chronicle of pain and loss.  (Health crises.  A car accident thrown in for good measure.)  Every time I've faced challenges these last 14 or so days, I didn't fall on my knees and give thanks to my risen savior and Lord.  Nope.  I pretty much did what Santiago does in the passage above--question my actions and life choices.  

I am a poet.  I understand the world through words.  When I face difficulties in life, I turn to language.  Tomorrow night, I am leading a poetry workshop.  These past two weeks, I have been working on a poem that I will read at my sister's funeral this Saturday.  Poetry helps me make sense of senselessness.  I have been gifted with this ability.

Some people are fisherman.  Some are doctors.  Cooks.  Nurses.  Mechanics.

Saint Marty was born for poetry.  And chocolate.