Tuesday, May 31, 2022

May 31: Sleep Well, Lipps Inc., Bigfoot Poet

The boy talks about great fishermen with Santiago . . . 

"The great Sisler's father was never poor and he, the father, was playing in the big leagues when he was my age."

"When I was your age I was before the mast on a square rigged ship that ran to Africa and I have seen lions on the beaches in the evening."

"I know. You told me."

"Should we talk about Africa or about baseball?"

"Baseball I think," the boy said. "Tell me about the great John J. McGraw." He said Jota for J.

"He used to come to the Terrace sometimes too in the older days. But he was rough and harsh-spoken and difficult when he was drinking. His mind was on horses as well as baseball. At least he carried lists of horses at all times in his pocket and frequently spoke the names of horses on the telephone."

"He was a great manager," the boy said. "My father thinks he was the greatest."

"Because he came here the most times," the old man said. "If Durocher had continued to come here each year your father would think him the greatest manager."

"Who is the greatest manager, really, Luque or Mike Gonzalez?"

"I think they are equal."

"And the best fisherman is you."

"No. I know others better."

"Qué va," the boy said. "There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you."

"Thank you. You make me happy. I hope no fish will come along so great that he will prove us wrong."

"There is no such fish if you are still strong as you say."

"I may not be as strong as I think," the old man said. "But I know many tricks and I have resolution."

"You ought to go to bed now so that you will be fresh in the morning. I will take the things back to the Terrace."

"Good night then. I will wake you in the morning."

"You're my alarm clock," the boy said.

"Age is my alarm clock," the old man said. "Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?"

"I don't know," the boy said. "All I know is that young boys sleep late and hard."

"I can remember it," the old man said. "I'll waken you in time."

"I do not like for him to waken me. It is as though I were inferior."

"I know."

"Sleep well, old man."

The boy went out. They had eaten with no light on the table and the old man took off his trousers and went to bed in the dark. He rolled his trousers up to make a pillow, putting the newspaper inside them. He rolled himself in the blanket and slept on the other old newspapers that covered the springs of the bed.

Santiago doesn't feel comfortable with the boy's praise.  He accepts the compliment, but he knows that he's only as good as the next fish he catches.  Resting on your past is like Lipps Inc. going on Jimmy Fallon to sing "Funkytown."  Again.  And again.  And Again.

As a poet, I know the danger of always pulling out the poems people expect you to read.  When I first started publishing, my one-hit wonder was a poem about a dead squirrel.  Everyone knew me for it.  And I read it.  A lot.  Even though I had written much better stuff.  The squirrel poem was eventually replaced by another audience favorite.  A poem about about the ugliest fish in North America.  And, eventually that one was replaced.  It might have been the one about my grandfather and Robert Frost.  Or the one about my sister who, at the time, was suffering with a serious illness.  I read a poem titled "Orange Day" about my son so much, people started referring to him as my orange child.

Nowadays, it's Bigfoot all the way.  If I do a poetry reading without including a Bigfoot poem or two, I feel like I've let the audience down.  At my last public reading, I read a ton of new, non-Bigfoot poems.  Really good stuff, in my estimation.  But, it was only when I dragged Bigfoot out of the poetic forest that I saw everyone in the room smile.  Literally everyone.  Bigfoot is my "Funkytown."

And I don't mind right now that I'm known as the Bigfoot poet.  It could be worse.  I could known for writing serial killer poems.  Or poems from the mind of Marjorie Taylor Greene (what little of it she has).  Eventually, I WILL move on to another obsession.  After I get my Bigfoot manuscript out in the world.

For now, however, Bigfoot is always looking over my shoulder.  He's my muse.  I call on him when I need strength or courage.  And he opens doors for me, to spoken-word albums and documentary films and podcasts.  Plus, Bigfoot makes me cool with my 13-year-old son.  A difficult feat.

So, at this time, Saint Marty sleeps well knowing Bigfoot is watching over him.

Monday, May 30, 2022

May 30: DiMaggio Is Himself, Memorial Day, True Meaning

Santiago talks about baseball . . . 

"Your stew is excellent," the old man said.

"Tell me about the baseball," the boy asked him.

"In the American League it is the Yankees as I said," the old man said happily.

"They lost today," the boy told him.

"That means nothing. The great DiMaggio is himself again."

"They have other men on the team."

"Naturally. But he makes the difference. In the other league, between Brooklyn and Philadelphia I must take Brooklyn. But then I think of Dick Sisler and those great drives in the old park."

"There was nothing ever like them. He hits the longest ball I have ever seen."

"Do you remember when he used to come to the Terrace? I wanted to take him fishing but I was too timid to ask him. Then I asked you to ask him and you were too timid."

"I know. It was a great mistake. He might have gone with us. Then we would have that for all of our lives."

"I would like to take the great DiMaggio fishing," the old man said. "They say his father was a fisherman. Maybe he was as poor as we are and would understand."

Nothing more American than baseball.  Even though Santiago and the boy are Cuban, they follow the Yankees and idolize Joe DiMaggio.  If they were wearing red, white, and blue tee shirts and MAGA hats, they'd fit into almost any small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

On this day, the citizens of my country celebrate Memorial Day.  It's a time meant to honor men and women in the United States' armed forces who lost their lives in conflict.  Parades are held.  Solemn ceremonies conducted at cemeteries.  And then, everyone goes off to camp or the beach, barbecues hotdogs and hamburgers, cooks corn on the cob, and slices up some watermelon.   

That's pretty much what we did today.  A parade that lasted all of three minutes in the morning.  Followed by cemetery service.  A tour of relatives' graves.  A nap.  Watching Saving Private Ryan.  Family barbecue.  Then an episode of the new season of Stranger Things.  

I have tried most of my adult life to honor the true meaning of this day and teach my children to do the same.  I'm not particularly jingoistic in my patriotism, but I do recognize and honor the sacrifices people have made for the freedoms I enjoy every day of my life.  Heroes who gave their lives so I can write my blog posts and poems.  So my kids can love whomever they want (for now).  And so that everyone I care about can live their lives the way they want without fear or discrimination.

That's what Saint Marty celebrates tonight.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

May 29: Shoes and Another Blanket, My Niece, Tom Cruise, "Bigfoot Valediction"

The boy worries about the old man . . . 

The boy had brought them in a two-decker metal container from the Terrace. The two sets of knives and forks and spoons were in his pocket with a paper napkin wrapped around each set.

"Who gave this to you?"

"Martin. The owner."

"I must thank him."

"I thanked him already," the boy said. "You don't need to thank him."

"I'll give him the belly meat of a big fish," the old man said. "Has he done this for us more than once?"

"I think so."

"I must give him something more than the belly meat then. He is very thoughtful for us."

"He sent two beers."

"I like the beer in cans best."

"I know. But this is in bottles, Hatuey beer, and I take back the bottles."

"That's very kind of you," the old man said. "Should we eat?"

"I've been asking you to," the boy told him gently. "I have not wished to open the container until you were ready."

"I'm ready now," the old man said. "I only needed time to wash."

Where did you wash? the boy thought. The village water supply was two streets down the road. I must have water here for him, the boy thought, and soap and a good towel. Why am I so thoughtless? I must get him another shirt and a jacket for the winter and some sort of shoes and another blanket.

These past few days, the passages from The Old Man and the Sea have all focused on the boy's kindness and devotion toward Santiago.  It's something you don't hear a lot about these days--the goodness of young people.

Today, I did a few things.  Took my son clothes shopping.  He's graduating from the eighth grade on Wednesday, and he didn't have any nice outfits.  So, we took him to Kohl's and let him choose some shirts and a pair of pants.  He loved every minute of it.  When we left the store, he said, "You know, I really like fashion."

Then I attended the high school graduation party for my niece.  It was a wonderful celebration of her accomplishments.  Lots of food and family and friends.  She is a beautiful, smart young woman and has a really bright future.  Like the boy in The Old Man and the Sea, she's full of kindness and compassion.  Plus, she's funny as heck and loves my Bigfoot poems.  That's why I wrote a new Bigfoot poem, made a broadside, and gave it to her this afternoon as a graduation present.  

After the party, I went to see Top Gun:  Maverick with my wife, son, and wife's cousin and family.  I forced my son to watch the original film with me on Friday, so he was all set.  It was a good,  In fact, I would say it's a little better than the original.  Of course, it had a gratuitous shirtless-football-game-on-the-beach scene with lots of flexing and grunting.  (The female members of my group took exception with my use of the word "gratuitous.")  All in all, a nice way to end a pretty nice day.

Saint Marty gives thanks for clothes shopping with his son, my super-talented niece, and Tom Cruise flying at mach 9.

Bigfoot Valediction

for Brianna, May 27, 2022

by:  Martin Achatz

He is all goodbye, a dark palm
waving from the window of woods
on his way to some other place
where morels blossom like hairs
on his shoulders and porcupines gnaw
birch bark to paste. He is the letting
go of summer into harvest,
harvest into hibernation, the thunder
of his snores splitting cold nights
like a sharp tooth on the tongue
where the names of dead
grandmothers and lost friends
sit. He is the fixed foot
of the compass, solid as mother
or father, and the wandering
foot of child, ever circling
wider and wider to find,
define its own circumference.
As you follow him tonight,
sweet girl, into the swamps
of frog song and mosquito sting,
remember to pause every then
and now, pick up a fallen
branch, and knock hard
on a cypress trunk. To let us
know you are alright. To remind
yourself of that nest of woolly
love you were born to leave.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

May 28: Black Beans and Rice, "Mr. Holland's Opus," Football Versus Poetry

The boy feeds Santiago . . . 

"Wake up old man," the boy said and put his hand on one of the old man's knees.

The old man opened his eyes and for a moment he was coming back from a long way away. Then he smiled.

"What have you got?" he asked.

"Supper," said the boy. "We're going to have supper."

"I'm not very hungry."

"Come on and eat. You can't fish and not eat."

"I have," the old man said getting up and taking the newspaper and folding it. Then he started to fold the blanket.

"Keep the blanket around you," the boy said. "You'll not fish without eating while I'm alive."

"Then live a long time and take care of yourself," the old man said. "What are we eating?"

"Black beans and rice, fried bananas, and some stew."

The boy is kind to Santiago in so many ways.  That kindness is obviously based on deep affection, if not love.  Santiago is at sea (literally and metaphorically) in his life, and the boy seems to be the home port for the old man.  Where he is safe and respected and cared for. 

Perhaps I'm focusing too much on my son in these posts, and you, Constant Reader, are becoming tired on my musings about him and his situation.  If so, kindly move on to your next blog.  You know, the one about vacationing at Walt Disney World or the one where people post pictures of their terrible meals at restaurants and pretend they're Gordon Ramsay (and they're not).  

I began my day finishing a poem I wrote for my niece's graduation.  I've been meditating on this poem for a couple weeks now.  This morning, it just all came together, and I was able to finish writing it and create a nice broadside for her.  It's always a good day when a new poem enters the world.

This evening, my son and I watched Mr. Holland's Opus.  I hadn't watched the movie in years, and my son had never seen it.  When I first told him that he was watching a movie with me, he rolled his eyes and said, "What's it called?"  When I told him the title, he pasted an even worse teenager expression on his face and sighed, "That sounds awful."

By the time the credits were rolling at the end, my son was a weeping mess.  In fact, he cried for practically the last half hour.  He's a really sensitive boy.  Loves the arts.  Music and poetry and painting.  And he got incredibly pissed by the idea of a school not having an arts curriculum.  "How can they do that?" he asked me.

"Well," I said, "not everyone values music and writing and drawing like we do.  Especially when it comes to football versus poetry or basketball versus chorus."

He shook his head, disgusted.

He gets it.  Yes, math and science are important and necessary pursuits.  But he also understands that life is a little more complex than numbers on a page or case studies or frog dissection or computer programs.

Saint Marty is happy that art--in whatever form--can move his son to tears.


Friday, May 27, 2022

May 27: The Boy Came Back, Niece, High School Graduation

The boy is good to the old man . . . 

When the boy came back the old man was asleep in the chair and the sun was down. The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the old man's shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and his head fallen forward. His shirt had been patched so many times that it was like the sail and the patches were faded to many different shades by the sun. The old man's head was very old though and with his eyes closed there was no life in his face. The newspaper lay across his knees and the weight of his arm held it there in the evening breeze. He was barefooted.

The boy left him there and when he came back the old man was still asleep.

The boy takes care of the old man.  He's a good kid.  Full of kindness and empathy.  He's the kind of kid who gives me hope for the future.

Tonight, I attended the high school graduation of my niece.  There's something about being in a gymnasium full of young people who have their eyes on the future that fills me with hope.  A lot of it.  At the end of twelve years of public education, these kids have been through a whole lot, including a global pandemic.  They've had to deal with loss on a scale that I could never even imagine when I was seventeen.

Yet, they were smiling.  Laughing.  Celebrating.  Quoting Kanye West.  (Yes, Kanye West.)  The orchestra played "Pomp and Circumstance."  Mothers and fathers cried.  Diplomas and carnations were handed out.  And pictures were taken.  A lot of pictures.  

That is my takeaway from this evening.  Despite all the crap these kids have been through, they remain excited and wide-eyed about what's next.  That's huge, considering they have lived through four years of Donald Trump and COVID.  If there was ever a group of high school graduates who were candidates for permanent existential crises, my niece and her classmates would be them.  Yet, they aren't.

I love my niece and am excited for her.  She's sweet, compassionate, funny, and amazing in so many ways.  Seeing her take that first big step into the future filled my heart with joy.  Made me believe that the world is in good hands.

For the first time in a while, Saint Marty is going to sleep tonight with hope in his heart.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

May 26: Then You Beg, Not a Gambler, Keep Your Head Down

Santiago thinks about gambling and luck . . . 

"Do you think we should buy a terminal of the lottery with an eighty-five? Tomorrow is the eighty-fifth day."

"We can do that," the boy said. "But what about the eighty-seven of your great record?"

"It could not happen twice. Do you think you can find an eighty-five?"

"I can order one."

"One sheet. That's two dollars and a half. Who can we borrow that from?"

"That's easy. I can always borrow two dollars and a half."

"I think perhaps I can too. But I try not to borrow. First you borrow. Then you beg."

"Keep warm old man," the boy said. "Remember we are in September."

"The month when the great fish come," the old man said. "Anyone can be a fisherman in May."

"I go now for the sardines," the boy said.

I am not a gambler.  Maybe when the Powerball approaches $500 million, I may be tempted to purchase an easy pick, but that's the extent.  I refuse to pin my hopes and dreams on a one in 292,201,338 chance.  If there's anything that I've learned over this last couple weeks, it's this:  you can't depend on the universe always to be good to you.

You can do your homework.  File your taxes on time.  Pay your bills.  Never cheat on your significant other.  Volunteer at homeless shelters.  Love your kids so hard that it's painful.  Say your prayers.  Live as good a life as you can.  And bad things will still happen to you or someone you love.  The chance of happiness can seem more remote than winning the Powerball.

Today, I didn't fight any good fights.  Or bad fights.  I just did my work and didn't breathe until 3 p.m. when I picked my son up from school.  That's my life right now.  Each day is one long held breath.  For my son, too.  Until next week Friday, when the final bell of the school year rings and my son is in my car on his way home.

The safe bet right now would be for me simply to keep my son out of school for the rest of the academic year.  No wild cards in that plan.  But I'm not sure what that would teach my son.  To give up?  To let bullies win?  To cut your losses while you have the chance?  Or just to count the days and keep your head down?

Saint Marty's son has five days left.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

May 25: Study It, Heated Exchange, Close to the Edge

Santiago studies baseball . . . 

"I'll be back when I have the sardines. I'll keep yours and mine together on ice and we can share them in the morning. When I come back you can tell me about the baseball."

"The Yankees cannot lose."

"But I fear the Indians of Cleveland."

"Have faith in the Yankees my son. Think of the great DiMaggio."

"I fear both the Tigers of Detroit and the Indians of Cleveland."

"Be careful or you will fear even the Reds of Cincinnati and the White Sox of Chicago."

"You study it and tell me when I come back."

Santiago and the boy understand each other.  The boy knows that Santiago is a proud old man.  Santiago knows the boy respects and loves him deeply.  Baseball and fishing are their common language.

I have been avoiding the subject of my son's situation at school recently.  Because it's exhausting.  My son walks into that building every morning feeling like nobody is on his side.  He's said this to me.  He has no Santiago to turn to during the day.

It's a difficult thing as a parent to witness.  My son is on guard all day long.  He doesn't want to do or say anything that will get him in trouble.  That may sound like an easy thing to do.  For a child with ADHD and impulse-control issues, it's something of which he has to remind himself every second he's in the school building.

After a very heated exchange with a school official this morning, I understand, a little, of what my son is facing.  I won't get into details, but it was fairly evident, at the end of the conversation, that I was by myself in trying to keep my son safe and out of detention or suspension.

I don't think my son feels he has one person on his side at the school.  No Santiago to turn to, if you will.  Nobody who speaks his baseball language.  That's got to feel pretty lonely.  Like he's floating in a boat by himself in the middle of the sea.

Now, there are some of you reading this post who may think I'm an over-protective father.  That I'm not acknowledging by son's part in everything that's happened.  As I've said in previous posts, I know my son is not an angel.  Nobody is.  However, he's been pushed pretty close to the edge for over five months by a group of his classmates.  And now I will do anything to help him make it to the end of this school year without losing anything else.  Any parent would do the same.

Saint Marty wants his son to know that he is not alone.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

May 24: Robb Elementary School, 19 Kids, Thoughts and Prayers

There will be no reflection on The Old Man and the Sea in this post.

Today, an 18-year-old boy entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 students and two teachers with an automatic AR-15 rifle and a handgun.  He wounded 17 others.  Eventually, the shooter was killed by a United States Border tactical team.

Of course, social media has been flooded with posts about thoughts and prayers.  Almost as soon as it happened, politicians on both sides of the aisle started spewing the same invective they always do, pointing fingers and laying blame.  It's a news story that has become so common in the United States that it's numbing.  

Here's what I want to say tonight:

Prayers and thoughts are useless to dead children.

I'm a Christian.  I believe in the power of prayer.  But there is a solution to gun violence.  A pretty simple one.  Take the guns away.  If you are a Christian, praying for the end of Roe versus Wade in the United States, but you don't support gun control, you aren't pro-life.  There are 19 dead kids tonight who didn't have to die.

When Jesus saw the temple overrun with money changers and graft, he didn't just sit down and pray that it would stop.  He overturned tables.  Took off his belt and whipped people with it.  He screamed that they were making his father's house into a den of robbers.

It's time folks.  Put away your thoughts and prayers.  The temple is overrun with gun lobbyists and NRA supporters.  Jesus wouldn't be praying for these children.  He's be pissed.  Overturning tables.  Whipping politicians with his belt.  Before you worry about saving the children who aren't born yet, how about saving the ones we already have?

Nineteen kids.  Nineteen kids.  Nineteen kids.

Here's Saint Marty's thoughts and prayers for politicians and people who think the solution to guns is thoughts and prayers:  "Fuck" and "you."

Monday, May 23, 2022

May 23: Read the Baseball, "Hidden Pictures," Stigma of Mental Illness

Santiago talks luck and baseball . . . 

"Eighty-five is a lucky number," the old man said. "How would you like to see me bring one in that dressed out over a thousand pounds?"

"I'll get the cast net and go for sardines. Will you sit in the sun in the doorway?"

"Yes. I have yesterday's paper and I will read the baseball."

The boy did not know whether yesterday's paper was a fiction too. But the old man brought it out from under the bed.

"Perico gave it to me at the bodega," he explained.

I don't really believe in luck.  Bad things happen.  Not because of bad karma or planet alignment.  They just happen.  Santiago is a good guy.  He works hard every day.  Loves the boy.  Prays.  Yet, he hasn't caught a fish in almost three months.  

Tonight, I screened a film called Hidden Pictures:  The Underexposed World of Global Mental Health.  There weren't many people there.  Besides my wife and son, there were just two other attendees.  The film is about the stigma of mental illness throughout the world.  The filmmaker travels to India, South Africa, China, and France.  She also talks about her father's schizophrenia and suicide.  It's an eye-opening documentary.

After the movie was over, one of the audience members wanted to have a conversation about its content.  My son was sitting in the back of the room, listening.  I talked about my personal experiences with mental illness in a close family member.  The rollercoaster of medication adjustments.  The power of guilt and shame and secrecy.  And the need to drag mental illness out of the back of the family closet.

Then my son walked to the front of the room and sat next to me.  He started talking about his own experiences with ADHD and depression.  He spoke his truth without embarrassment.  Eloquently.  I sat next to him, marveling at his composure and ability to speak in front of complete strangers. 

I'm always proud of my kids.  That's my job as their father.  Tonight, however, listening to my son talk about his mental health struggles, I experienced a moment of grace.  After having a full week of what many people would call bad luck in school. my son tried to help this woman understand mental illness.  I don't know too many thirteen-year-olds who would do that.  

Saint Marty wishes his son's entire school could have seen him tonight.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

May 22: This Fiction, Storytelling, Power in Voice

Santiago and the boy indulge in some fiction . . . 

"What do you have to eat?" the boy asked.

"A pot of yellow rice with fish. Do you want some?"

"No. I will eat at home. Do you want me to make the fire?"

"No. I will make it later on. Or I may eat the rice cold."

"May I take the cast net?"

"Of course."

There was no cast net and the boy remembered when they had sold it. But they went through this fiction every day. There was no pot of yellow rice and fish and the boy knew this too.

I think we all do this sometimes.  When reality is a little too painful, we engage in a little storytelling to make life a easier.

Think about it.  When you're on a new diet, you try to convince yourself that the shredded cauliflower flakes taste like mashed potatoes.  When you're performing a mindless task at work, you listen to music and suddenly you're back in the high school gym, dancing with your friends.  You lose people you love, and you swear you hear their voices calling you from another room.

Stories can be vehicles of healing.  At times in my life, I have dealt with incredibly difficult personal issues.  I walked around for months holding these troubles close, not talking about them, putting them in a drawer, closing the drawer, and pretending they didn't exist.  Not the healthiest coping strategy.  It was only after I started talking, sharing my story (with family, friends, therapists), that things got better.

Today was sane.  I hosted my book club this afternoon.  We talked about Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land and ate a lot of good food.  Then, in the evening, I led a poetry workshop.  My son and wife attended, along with some other poet friends.  I got to write and speak my truth.

My son isn't going back to school tomorrow because of the threat of a possible fight.  He's got one more day of not worrying, of being himself, before he heads back into the war zone of his school life.  Over the last five or six days, I tried to give him ways to deal with bullies and negative impulses.  Of course, it would be so much easier to keep him home for the next two weeks.  But I'm not going to make that choice for him. 

On Tuesday when he gets to school, he will meet with the school superintendent, and my son will tell the man his story.  There will be power in that for him, hopefully.  Perhaps a sense of relief.  In the big picture, it will make no difference.  The school has already taken away experiences that my son will never regain.  I can't change that.

BI know things are going to get better.  Not tomorrow.  Not the next day.  But I'm going to keep telling my story, and my son's story.  Because there is power in narrative.  In voice.

Say it with Saint Marty:  "Once upon a time . . . "

Saturday, May 21, 2022

May 21: Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Life of Faith, Baby Shower

Santiago's home . . . 

They walked up the road together to the old man's shack and went in through its open door. The old man leaned the mast with its wrapped sail against the wall and the boy put the box and the other gear beside it. The mast was nearly as long as the one room of the shack. The shack was made of the tough bud-shields of the royal palm which are called guano and in it there was a bed, a table, one chair, and a place on the dirt floor to cook with charcoal. On the brown walls of the flattened, overlapping leaves of the sturdy fibered guano there was a picture in color of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and another of the Virgin of Cobre. These were relics of his wife. Once there had been a tinted photograph of his wife on the wall but he had taken it down because it made him too lonely to see it and it was on the shelf in the corner under his clean shirt.

I was raised in a devoutly Catholic home.  A picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was always on the wall, right beside a picture of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  I have clear memories of those two images always being present in my life.  They were like guardians of our home, watching over us.

Of course, just because you are devoutly religious doesn't mean that your life is going to be smooth sailing.  In fact, in my experience, life is more like The Poseidon Adventure, with everyone trying to make it to the hull of the ship to escape to sunlight and fresh air.  Faith doesn't guarantee a life without catastrophe or sorrow.

In the past five or six years in my family, I've lost a brother, two sisters, and both my parents.  There have been other challenges in my life, as well, including mental illness and addiction in close family members.  When I go to church every weekend (and I often attend several services--Catholic, Methodist, and/or Lutheran), I listen to the gospels.  A good portion of them are not really happy stories.  There's leprosy, illness, death, betrayal, and torture.  The Jesus narratives are not easy, in any way.  A life of faith doesn't mean a life without battles and trials.

Today, I went to a baby shower for my nephew and his wife.  It was a wonderful celebration in anticipation of new life.  A baby boy.  There were tacos and burritos and nachos and cookies.  Lots of gifts.  And there was happiness.  Anticipation.  That's all part of faith, too.

You can go through life thinking that the human race is on a collision course with disaster and potential extinction.  Or you can go through life thinking the human race will do the right thing--work to end climate change, gun violence, institutional racism, homophobia, and bullying.  That list could go on and on.  And we are on a pretty terrible trajectory at the moment, with the war in Ukraine, hunger, melting polar ice cap, and school shootings.  (Don't even get me started on the Supreme Court of the United States.)  To lose all hope, however, isn't a viable option.

At their present ages, my kids are smarter than I ever was.  That is where my faith in humanity lies--with the children.  They don't want to end up living in a Wall-E world of pollution and devastation and loss.  And really, that's what a baby shower is--a gathering of hope for a brighter tomorrow.  Not a tomorrow without struggle.  That's unrealistic.  

But a tomorrow that's brighter than the one Saint Marty inherited from his parents.

Friday, May 20, 2022

May 20: Needless Temptations, Bad Bigfoot Movie, Howard Beale

Santiago and temptation . . . 

"It is strange," the old man said. "He never went turtle-ing. That is what kills the eyes."

"But you went turtle-ing for years off the Mosquito Coast and your eyes are good."

"I am a strange old man."

"But are you strong enough now for a truly big fish?"

"I think so. And there are many tricks."

"Let us take the stuff home," the boy said. "So I can get the cast net and go after the sardines."

They picked up the gear from the boat. The old man carried the mast on his shoulder and the boy carried the wooden box with the coiled, hard-braided brown lines, the gaff and the harpoon with its shaft. The box with the baits was under the stern of the skiff along with the club that was used to subdue the big fish when they were brought alongside. No one would steal from the old man but it was better to take the sail and the heavy lines home as the dew was bad for them and, though he was quite sure no local people would steal from him, the old man thought that a gaff and a harpoon were needless temptations to leave in a boat.

Temptations are a strange thing.  They're always present.  Perhaps, if there's some cold pizza in the fridge, you are tempted to get up in the middle of the night to have a slice.  Or if someone's gossiping, you may feel the impulse to stop and listen and participate.  Temptations can be small (a frozen Hershey bar in the freezer) or huge (Internet porn).

It was day three being at home with my son.  He's in a better place than he was on Tuesday, when I was ready to hide the knives and medications in the house.  I think he actually had a good day.  We watched a bad Bigfoot movie in the morning, and, this evening, we went to an escape room with some family and friends.  He laughed.  A lot.

As I said a couple days ago, I know my son is not perfect.  He's a 13-year-old boy with 13-year-old boy temptations.  He also has ADHD and impulse issues.  Perhaps, if you've been reading my last few posts, you think that I'm a parent who's being fooled by my son.  That he's a kid who manipulates and lies.  All teenagers do that.  I did.  If you're any distance from teenagehood, you did, too.

However, this situation with my son was not handled properly, from beginning to end.  He wasn't given the opportunity to tell his side of the story.  Instead, classmates who have been bullying him for over five months were interviewed, and my son was punished solely on their version of events.  That may work in countries like North Korea.  It doesn't quite work like that in the United States.  In fact, there's a little thing called the Constitution that kind of insures things like that don't happen.

Nothing I do from here on out will reclaim for my son the experience of his last middle school chorus concert with his favorite teacher (who's retiring).  Or his eighth grade school trip to Great America.  The temptation now is simply to try to ride out the rest of the school year, get my son to his eighth grade graduation ceremony, and then breathe a sigh of relief when he walks out the school doors on the last day.

But here's the thing that bothers me:  if this happened to my son, it has probably happened to other kids, as well.  And it will continue to happen, unless enough people stand up and raise their voices, Howard Beale-style, and say, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

That's what Saint Marty is going to do.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

May 19: Almost Blind, Lon, Great Light

Santiago muses on old eyes and blindness . . . 

"He does not like to work too far out."

"No," the boy said. "But I will see something that he cannot see such as a bird working and get him to come out after dolphin."

"Are his eyes that bad?"

"He is almost blind."

There is blindness because of damaged or aging eyes.  Then there is blindness by choice--where a person refuses to see things that contradict his/her version of reality.

The saga of my son's situation continued today by phone with the school superintendent.  It was a circular conversation in which I felt a little patronized.  It became very evident that the man has already accepted a certain version of what happened with my son on Tuesday.  And it feels as if the superintendent, who admitted that he has never even spoken to my son, has made his final judgement about him, based on the word of some kids who've made his life miserable for over five months, if not longer.

But I don't want this post to focus on a person who doesn't know my son.  I want to write about a man who knew my children and cared about them.  His name was Lon, and he looked after the people in his life.  He loved nature.  Had a laugh that could melt a glacier.  I met him over 25 years ago, and he adopted my daughter as an honorary granddaughter.  When she started dating, he volunteered to sit on my front porch, cleaning a gun, when boys came calling.  And Lon loved my son--his independent spirit and sense of humor.  

Lon had great disdain for fools in positions of power.  Detested injustice and cruelty.  Tried to make the world a better place every day of his life.  Through jokes.  Blueberry muffins and cheesecake.  And hugs.

Lon passed away today.  And the world, which already seemed a little dark to me, got even darker.  I will miss how he would often call me at work to tell me jokes and check up on my wife and kids.  He struggled quite a bit the last few years of his life, so this news is not surprising.  But it's difficult when a great light in the world winks out.  I loved the man deeply, and wish his wife and daughters all kinds of comfort and peace.

Saint Marty wishes there were more Lons in the world and less bullies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

May 18: With This Current, Stigma, Really Shitty School Year

Santiago hopes for a good day . . . 

"Tomorrow is going to be a good day with this current," he said.

"Where are you going?" the boy asked.

"Far out to come in when the wind shifts. I want to be out before it is light."

"I'll try to get him to work far out," the boy said. "Then if you hook something truly big we can come to your aid."

Santiago never gives up hope, but he also knows that hope sometimes takes hard work.

Let me say something about hope and the post I wrote yesterday.

There are details that I left out of the post about my son's situation yesterday.  Those details (which have to do with mental illness and its effects on my family) were too personal to share, but they play an important part in the whole story.  Society, the world over, does not get mental illness.  That stigma is huge, and the children bullying my son are cruel symptoms of that stigma.

My frustration and hurt with the school's handling of this situation are huge.  But please know that I have the utmost respect for educators.  I am an educator myself.  Going into a classroom every day is hard, hard work.  Dealing with developing youths is hard, hard work.  I've made mistakes during my teaching career.  I know that.  I own that.  I've made assumptions about struggling students in the past, and I've been proven wrong.  It's a humbling experience when that happens.  But I've admitted my mistakes, and I've tried (as best I could) to correct them.

My son is part of a school district that has faced incredible challenges in the last month or so.  Teachers and administrators are stretched to their limits.  They're tired.  Uber on guard.  Uber sensitive.  And they're human.  Humans make mistakes.

What happened to my son was a mistake.  I spent all day on the phone.  I spoke with the school superintendent.  Two principals.  I asked difficult questions, and I didn't receive any real, substantive answers.  I am not a parent making excuses for a spoiled child.  I am the parent of a child who is being taunted, teased, and bullied about something he literally has no control over.  Take my word on that.

I will speak to the superintendent again tomorrow.  If I have to, I will speak to the principals again tomorrow.  Because there are parts of this puzzle that simply make no sense to me as a rational, thinking person.  And I want the school administrators to help them make sense or admit that they made a mistake.  I have little hope for either of those outcomes at this point.

In the mean time, I have a son who spent a good portion of today in bed.  He missed his school concert this evening.  Will miss his eighth grade class trip on Friday.  At the end of a really shitty school year, he has been handed more shit.

Saint Marty feels like he's been fighting a war all day.  In the meantime, the trilliums are blooming in his backyard.  Fragile and beautiful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

May 17: Loss of True Pride, Bullies, Heartbroken

Santiago accepts the help of the boy . . . 

"If you were my boy I'd take you out and gamble," he said. "But you are your father's and your mother's and you are in a lucky boat."

"May I get the sardines? I know where I can get four baits too."

"I have mine left from today. I put them in salt in the box."

"Let me get four fresh ones."

"One," the old man said. His hope and his confidence had never gone. But now they were freshening as when the breeze rises.

"Two," the boy said.

"Two," the old man agreed. "You didn't steal them?"

"I would," the boy said. "But I bought these."

"Thank you," the old man said. He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.

The boy is good to Santiago.  Kind.  It's a kindness that seems innate.  It just is who the boy is.

This post is difficult for me to write.  I am dealing with a school situation involving my son that has hurt him more deeply than anything that's happened in the past.  I have kept a lot of my son's struggles private over the last couple years.  I will do the same tonight, despite all my impulses to go on a tirade about bullies, the stigma of mental illness, and school officials.

There were two things my son was looking forward to at the end of a school year that has been incredibly difficult:  his final school chorus concert and his eighth grade trip to Great America.  Both of those things were taken away from him today.  It was done without my son even knowing that it was going to happen.  Swiftly.  Based on the word of a group of children who have been tormenting my son for over five months.

We live in a society right now where bullying has become the norm.  Almost acceptable.  Cruelty and injustice are what define today, and it happens at all levels, from the Presidency of the United States down to an eighth grade lunchroom or playground.  I have always believed that, in the end, good always prevails over evil.  Perhaps that isn't the case anymore.

For the next two days, I'm working from home because I don't want to leave my son alone.  He has struggled with depression and thoughts of self-harm over the last two years.  At one point, he even acted on those impulses.  I have never seen my son as broken as he was today.  Because of meanness.  Cruelty.  Impulsive short-sightedness.  Lack of insight.

I realize, without context, none of what I'm writing makes much sense.  Just know that my son is a good, kind, sensitive kid.  He's not an angel.  I will be the first to admit that.  But he deserves better than this, if not from his classmates, than from the adults I trust to care care of him.

Saint Marty is heartbroken for his son tonight.

Monday, May 16, 2022

May 16: Confident Loving Eyes, My Daughter, Unconditionally

Santiago loves the boy . . . 

When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbour from the shark factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odour because the wind had backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the Terrace.

"Santiago," the boy said.

"Yes," the old man said. He was holding his glass and thinking of many years ago.

"Can I go out to get sardines for you for tomorrow?"

"No. Go and play baseball. I can still row and Rogelio will throw the net."

"I would like to go. If I cannot fish with you, I would like to serve in some way."

"You bought me a beer," the old man said. "You are already a man."

"How old was I when you first took me in a boat?"

"Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?"

"I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. I can remember you throwing me into the bow where the wet coiled lines were and feeling the whole boat shiver and the noise of you clubbing him like chopping a tree down and the sweet blood smell all over me."

"Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?"

"I remember everything from when we first went together."

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

Santiago loves the boy like his own child.  That much is obvious in this short passage.

My daughter called me a little while ago to share some good news she'd just received.  She applied for some donor scholarships from the university she's attending (the same one at which I teach as a contingent professor), and today she found out that she's been awarded three of them.  It's enough money that she won't have to worry next year too much about how she's going to pay for school or books.  She was so excited, and she wanted to share that excitement with me.

Sometimes, I wonder how good of a father I've been to my kids.  I know I've made some wrong choices in my life.  Made a ton of mistakes.  All parents do.  Kids don't come with manuals.  I wish they did.  It would make things so much easier.  

Instead, I've had to rely on the example of my mother and father.  My parents weren't perfect people, either.  However, the one thing I knew through my whole life was that I was loved.  Unconditionally.  They didn't always agree with my life choices.  (Not many parents would dream of the children growing up to be poets.)  But they loved me.  No matter what.

I love my kids.  Would do anything for them.  I hope they know that.  Perhaps my daughter's phone call this afternoon was proof that she does.  She had good news, and she wanted to share it with her old man.  I don't think she realizes how much that meant to me.

Despite all of Saint Marty's failings as a father, he's managed to raise some loving, caring children.  

Sunday, May 15, 2022

May 15: Made Fun, Loved Everyone, "Ascension"

Santiago faces polite ridicule from the other fishermen . . .

"Why not?" the old man said. "Between fishermen."

They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad. But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their marlin out and carried them laid full length across two planks, with two men staggering at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out and their flesh cut into strips for salting.

There's some cruelty in this little passage, but Santiago doesn't take it to heart.  Either he's too old or too wise.  Probably both.  He's lived a long life and has seen a lot, suffered a lot.  Perhaps he's developed a callous around his heart to protect him from petty slights and injuries.  Like a hermit crab retreating into its shell until danger passes.

When I woke this morning in my hotel room in Calumet, there was a memory from two years ago in my Facebook feed.  It was from the beginning of the pandemic, and my wife, kids, and I had walked down to my parents' house to sing "Happy Birthday" to my sister, Rose.  We put our gifts for her on the front stoop, plus a cupcake with a lit candle, and then rang the doorbell.  The video shows Rose standing in the doorway, smiling and singing along with us, raising her arms and cheering.

Rose endured a lot of cruelty in her life.  Kids in school who made fun of her because she had Down syndrome.  Because kids are stupid and cruel at times.  Strangers who stared at her in restaurants.  Because she looked and acted differently.  Here's the thing:  Rose loved everyone she met.  Everyone was her friend.  She handwrote letters to people most of her life.  Hundreds and hundreds of letters. Labored over latch hook rugs for months and then gave them away freely.  Rose never developed callouses.  Never retreated into her shell.

This morning, watching that video, the joy on her face, I found myself breaking a little bit.  She was a great gift in my life.  I don't think I fully realized that until the day she died.  The world was a better place with her in it.  A kinder place.  If you ever had the chance to meet Rose, you know what I'm talking about.  If you never met Rose, know that she would have loved you.  Unconditionally.  Because that's what she did.  What she was.

Marty celebrates a true saint today on her birthday.  Saint Rose.  Patron of latch hook rugs and Diet Coke. 

A psalm for my sister . . .


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.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

May 14: Much Faith, Almost Full, Tilting Toward Summer

The boy believes in Santiago . . . 

"Santiago," the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff was hauled up. "I could go with you again. We've made some money."

The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.

"No," the old man said. "You're with a lucky boat. Stay with them."

"But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we caught big ones every day for three weeks."

"I remember," the old man said. "I know you did not leave me because you doubted."

"It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him."

"I know," the old man said. "It is quite normal."

"He hasn't much faith."

"No," the old man said. "But we have. Haven't we?"

"Yes," the boy said. "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then we'll take the stuff home."

If you can't tell, I've gone back to the beginning of The Old Man and the Sea, the night before Santiago heads out by himself for his encounter with the big fish.  The boy is there, helping the old man.  They talk about keeping faith, even in the face of almost three months of bad luck.  

That's a pretty tall order.  It's difficult to remain hopeful when it seems like the world has turned against you.  I'm in Calumet, Michigan, at the moment.  Tomorrow night, I'm performing in a radio variety show.  Reading some poems.  Acting in some skits.  Sometimes, I sing  songs.  It's a nice break from the stress of these last couple weeks.

Looking out the window of my hotel room just now, I can see the moon.  It's full.  Or almost full.  It's one of those moons that is just about as round and bright as can be.  Tomorrow night, there's going to be a full lunar eclipse.  A blood moon.  By the time the eclipse begins, I'll be done performing and back at the hotel, probably soaking in the hot tub.

The world, at the moment, is tilting toward summer.  These last couple days, the temperatures have been hitting close to 90 degrees.  For mid-May in the U. P., that's pretty unusual.  Everything is turning green, and, when I step out my front door at night, I can hear the peepers screaming down by Lake Bacon a few blocks away.  Yes, even the frogs can sense the shift.

At the start of every summer, I make big plans.  Lists of books I'm going to read.  Writing projects I'm going to complete.  Places I'm going to visit.  This year isn't any different.  I have plans.  However, I'm not going to detail those plans here.  If I do that, I'm setting myself up for failure.  

Instead, I'll just revel tonight in the possibilities of summer this evening.  The long days.  Moony nights.  That end-of-schoolyear fever.  Something ending.  Something beginning.  I remember that anticipation.  Like standing in line in 1977 to see Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time.

That's enough for Saint Marty tonight.

Friday, May 13, 2022

May 13: Flag of Permanent Defeat, Having a Stroke, Friday the 13th

Santiago and luck . . . 

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert.

Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.

So, you're all probably wondering, on this Friday the 13th evening, how my son fared on his first day back at school.  On a day notoriously and superstitiously unlucky, I dropped him off at 8 a.m. and watched him, looking very small, hobble into the building.  (He took a spill on his scooter last night and hurt his knee.)  It was difficult to let him go.  In a weird way, it felt like I was sending him into battle.

I waited all day for my phone to ring.  Each time it did, my stomach knotted.  At 2 p.m., I started relaxing.  At 3 p.m., I let out the breath that I didn't realize I'd been holding all day.  When I finally got home, I felt like hugging him for a very long time.  I didn't.  Because he's a 13-year-old boy, and he would have thought I was having a stroke.

I celebrated last night with my son.  Got him Taco Bell.  Watched a terrible Bigfoot movie with him.  (We have gotten into the habit of looking for films with less than two-stars ratings, and then pulling a Mystery Science Theater 3000 on them.)  We laughed really hard.  Ate some popcorn.  Let go of a lot of stress that's built up over the last seven days.

Friday the 13th.  No Jason bloodbath.  No Santiago bad luck.  Just some chicken quesadillas and really awful acting (including guys running around in a terrible, store-bought gorilla costume).  And a son full of joy.

Saint Marty couldn't have asked for a better unlucky day.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

May 12: Santiago and the Fish, "My Friend Dahmer," Empowerment

Since I finished The Old Man and the Sea yesterday, I'm taking a break from Santiago and the fish for a night.

I'm sitting on my couch right now, after an evening of writing some comedy sketches for the show I'm in this weekend.  I also watched the movie My Friend Dahmer with my son.  (Not sure if that was a good parenting move, but we bonded over the backstory of one of the country's most notorious serial killers.) 

Speaking of bad parenting, my son did NOT go back to school today.  He asked to have another day off.  To study for some tests he missed while on suspension.  To prepare for returning to the foxhole of middle school.  And I agreed.

Here's my thinking:  he was told by the principal that he couldn't come back to school for five days.  Going back today would have been on the school's terms.  Tomorrow, he will choose to return.  On his terms.  Perhaps that's a load of crap.  But I know, if I were in his shoes, it would give me a little sense of empowerment.  And, after seeing how broken he looked in the school office last week, I don't mind giving him that.

Here endeth Saint Marty's parenting lesson for the evening.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

May 11: Dreaming About the Lions, Sonya Sones, Tools for Hope

Santiago rests . . . 

Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions.

That is the end.  Santiago caught the fish and lost the fish.  He fought sharks, and the sharks won.  Now, he's back in his own bed.  Sleeping.  Dreaming about lions.  The old man is safe and on his way to becoming legend in his village.

I am home after a long day.  I've been working and writing and planning for the past 13 hours.  The last thing I did at the library was host a virtual reading by poet/novelist Sonya Sones.  I booked her a couple months ago for National Mental Health Awareness Month.  Her book, Stop Pretending:  What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy, is a novel in verse about the experience of her 13-year-old self watching her older sister have a nervous breakdown and all the family trauma that results.

It's a book that I read many years ago, around the time that my wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Later, I shared the book with my young daughter, to help her sort out her feelings about her mother's illness.  It's a book that's profoundly heartbreaking and profoundly hopeful, as well.  It was one of my life's greatest thrills to be able to speak with Sonya tonight.  To ask her questions.  Tell her how much of an impact she has had on my life.

That is the end of my long day at sea.  Soon, I will put my head down on a pillow, close my eyes.  Maybe I'll dream about lions.  I doubt it.  But maybe.  More than likely, however, I will dream about my son, who heads back to school tomorrow morning.  I'll dream my worries for him.

Sonya Sones gave me hope in a dark time of my life.  

Over the past week, Saint Marty has tried to give his son the tools for hope, as well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

May 10: Eshark, Spirit Animal, Some Advice

Santiago is on his way to becoming legend . . . 

"Tiburon," the waiter said, "Eshark." He was meaning to explain what had happened.

"I didn't know sharks had such handsome, beautifully formed tails."

"I didn't either," her male companion said.

A day in the office.  Literally all day.  I arrived around 8 a.m. and didn't leave until about 8:30 p.m.  One of my best friends gave a felting workshop this evening at the library, and my son came to participate.  This friend is my son's spirit animal.  They are so much alike.  And one of her careers was helping at-risk youths.

Before the program started, my friend spoke with my son.  Gave him some advice.  Practical ways to avoid getting in trouble.  Told him that she'd be checking up on him.  He had a really good evening.

Saint Marty's koan for tonight:  beauty is in the eye of the shark beholder. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

May 9: Backbone of the Great Fish, Crazy Day of Wind, Morel Hunting

A tourist sees the remains of Santiago's fish . . .

"What's that?" she asked a waiter and pointed to the long backbone of the great fish that was now just garbage waiting to go out with the tide.

A crazy day of wind in my little corner of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The wind was so strong, it knocked out the power of the library where I work.  We had to shut the building down.  I moved a morel hunting program I had scheduled for the evening to the local children's museum.  Surprisingly, 25 people still showed up.

Saint Marty's koan for the night:  even garbage has a good story.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

May 8: Long White Spine, Mother's Day, "Heart to Heart"

Santiago's fish gets admired . . . 

That afternoon there was a party of tourists at the Terrace and looking down in the water among the empty beer cans and dead barracudas a woman saw a great long white spine with a huge tail at the end that lifted and swung with the tide while the east wind blew a heavy steady sea outside the entrance to the harbour.

Mother's Day.  We went to church in the morning.  Our son went with us.  Then, we drove to a couple cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of my wife's mother and grandmother, my mother, and my sister.  First Mother's Day since my mother died at the end of October.  It was tougher than I thought it would be.

Had lunch with our kids.  KFC.  Played some games.  I made loaded baked potatoes for dinner.  Then I led a poetry workshop.  My wife loved every minute of her day.

Saint Marty's koan for tonight:  never judge a day by the size of a fish's skeleton.

Heart to Heart

by:  Martin Achatz

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

Saturday, May 7, 2022

May 7: Crying Again, Church Services, Nicolas Cage

Santiago admits his suffering . . . 

"Bring any of the papers of the time that I was gone," the old man said.

"You must get well fast for there is much that I can learn and you can teach me everything. How much did you suffer?"

"Plenty," the old man said.

"I'll bring the food and the papers," the boy said. "Rest well, old man. I will bring stuff from the drug-store for your hands."

"Don't forget to tell Pedrico the head is his."

"No. I will remember."

As the boy went out the door and down the worn coral rock road he was crying again.

A day of distraction.  Spent a lazy morning putting together music for church.  Practicing.  Then I drove my wife to work.  Played two church services this evening--Catholic and Lutheran.  

This evening, I went to a movie with my kids and some friends.  The new Nicolas Cage--The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.  It was Nicolas Cage good--intensely funny.  Plus, the popcorn was really, really tasty.

After a shitty end-of-week, my son had a good day.

Saint Marty's koan for tonight:  a good day is only a walk down a coral rock road.

Friday, May 6, 2022

May 6: Your Clean Shirt, Suspensions, Each Other's Company

Santiago talks about getting well . . . 

"We must get a good killing lance and always have it on board. You can make the blade from a spring leaf from an old Ford. We can grind it in Guanabacoa. It should be sharp and not tempered so it will break. My knife broke."

"I'll get another knife and have the spring ground. How many days of heavy brisa have we?"

"Maybe three. Maybe more."

"I will have everything in order," the boy said. "You get your hands well old man."

"I know how to care for them. In the night I spat something strange and felt something in my chest was broken."

"Get that well too," the boy said. "Lie down, old man, and I will bring you your clean shirt. And something to eat."

I don't know how to heal my son's heart right now.  He came to work with me today.  I wrote reports and compiled statistics.  He played on his laptop.  At lunch, we streamed an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?  We didn't talk about suspensions or appropriate behaviors or language.  We just basked in each other's company.

Saint Marty's koan for today:  a good day is a clean shirt.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

May 5: Much to Learn, Rough Day, Meanest Creatures

Santiago knows he is loved . . . 

"Now we fish together again."

"No. I am not lucky. I am not lucky anymore."

"The hell with luck," the boy said. "I'll bring the luck with me."

"What will your family say?"

"I do not care. I caught two yesterday. But we will fish together now for I still have much to learn."

A rough day.  My son, who has been struggling in school since the pandemic began, got a five-day suspension this afternoon.  I won't go into details, but my wife and I had a meeting with the principal and the special education coordinator.  My son cried through most of it.  His first words when he saw us were, "I don't want to be expelled."  

Now I am struggling with my feelings toward the school, administrators, and my son's classmates.  My son is not perfect by any means.  But, without getting into any personal details, I will only say that middle school and middle schoolers suck on many levels.  And kids can be the meanest creatures on the planet.

In the evening, I led a poetry workshop.  My son attended.  He's a really good poet.

Saint Marty's koan for the day:  the hardest life lessons involve hungry, eighth grade sharks.