Holy Week on the Mountain

Big room cold, cots small,
shivering, and kids asleep.
When I crawl in with you, Karen,
your body wraps me warm
with a half century of recognition.
Jim Bodeen
9 April 2013

We are in the mountains during the time of melting snow
and it is Easter; we are settling into bunk beds
in a single room with grandchildren, brought here
to see our son, their uncle, caretaker of this lodge,
to ski with him, too, on this mountain near the grand park
where he makes his home. We carry clothes and supplies
on a large sled over a snow field at night
holding flashlights, mysterious and romantic
for my wife and I, as well as the children.
After turning off the lights in the room,
I am writing in my notebook lit by a flashlight
installed as a new app on my telephone,
all of this is as new to me as this mountain.
The old notebook lit up in the dark room like a tent
accommodates me to the new and the strange,
as my granddaughter asks the question
that will keep me awake for some time,“
Grandpa, why do you write with your left hand?”
There are seven of us, my wife and I,
three children, plus my son and his friend.
It is Easter, and before leaving home, we worship together
in Yakima, on the other side of the mountains.
Our family, when together, takes up several pews,
and we stand out, not in piety, but in a kind of wondrous
transparency, multigenerational brokenness.
That this is so makes us oddly visible
in the Lutheran congregation, where we are also
identified with the small immigrant community,
where my wife’s path, has brought us together
with women and children. We were in the mountains
with them, too, for a decade. Kids in diapers
while I was trying to be important. One day
I woke up and we were backpacking
and setting up tents. Ten of these kids
have taken my piece of mind. I have put
them on skis, but they don’t have full access
to what a wilderness school could give.              
The Mexican pastor thinks I’m a Communist.
He was brought here by an innocent and guilty church.
His visa is about to expire, R1, Religious,
and he could be sent back to where
he no longer belongs. I am looking for him
in the church basement before Easter service,
waiting for the immigration attorney
who will walk us through an expensive dual path
that may circumvent church bureaucracy
allowing he and his wife to remain in this country,
even if he’s cut loose by the church.
We have spent the winter, he and I,
reading Luke’s Gospel, San Lucas,
in a bilingual edition. When I talk about
reading the Bible with campesinos
in El Salvador, he talks about guns in Chiapas.
We put on skis together, and I misunderstand
his verb for turning. All day
I conjugate what I hear as sorpear,
a word that doesn’t exist,
showing him how to turn. He can’t turn left,
Que uecesitas es mas confianza en su pierna comunista,
I tell him, You need to trust your Communist leg,
in order to navigate the mountain.
But let me tell you about this family of women,
a mother and four girls, charged with the light of God.
Waiting for the attorney, I find myself greeting them,
giving them besos de aire on the cheek, all five of them,
as if we’d known ourselves as family all our lives.
They arrive one morning this year during coffee
in the church basement. They stand out
in their We’ve come-from-here awkwardness,
like immigrants, recién llegados themselves,
no one even slightly like them in the community,
and so full of God one can’t quit looking at them,
carrying their loss as joy, exotic in their blessing.
This morning I think the pastor meant Sortear,
for turning on skis. La suerte decida cómo hacerlo
y empleando diversion medios fortuidos,
so some luck is involved, as with riesgo,
dificultad, evitarlo, o astucia.
Danger. Trust that left leg, peligroso,
the Communist one. Later he gives me
his verb again, laughing,
surfear, to surf, over water, surfeamos.
But these women-girls,
these mother-led girl-women,
surrounded and protected by God
in their laughter and language,
bright giggles surfacing from an ancient root
as their mother walks them on right past
her own bright story fearless of the uncertainty calling her.
Exotic in their beauty. Why,
I ask myself, would anyone leave
the Church in the basement
for any word coming from a pulpit?
Surprised by words, I am, upstairs,
arriving late to join my family,
grandson asking, What’s the difference
between peace and piece? only one spelling
available to a 7-year old. I draw a picture
of a heart and a slice of pie,
writing the words in my hymnal
and passing it to him, finding a bit
of satisfaction myself, in both words.
And my own pastor, the young man
and my friend, too, is good
with that impossible task,
a sermon on Easter morning.
From the East, Ohio, where elections
are decided, it’s as though he’s stumbled
onto William Stafford, walking in the woods,
overhearing the passing remark,
In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don’t like much to happen.
My friend says, walking into us
like Christ in Luke on the sermon on the plain,
Lower your standards.
I’m writing in my notebook now,
not paying attention to what he’s saying,
a kind of Sunday morning bell choir.
The Easter sermon. Jim Harrison imagines
Jesus eating fried potatoes with his friend
who drives an old Dodge. It’s a grim poem.
My friend begins with the kids, bringing them
before the congregation, looking into the box
where they buried the word Alleluia
40 days ago. Children carrying the word
turned into banners to strangers in the pew.
He tells the congregation, If you have high expectations,
Lower them with me—some of you have heard 50 Easter sermons.
No one expects resurrection—it’s like forgiveness.
Pastor has my attention.
What if God doesn’t care how we believe?
We aren’t called to believe the resurrection,
we’re called to live the resurrection.
Bowing my head, still in wonder, I ask myself,
What if God doesn’t care what we believe about anything?
Three years ago saying goodbye to each other
in El Salvador, this young preacher
hands me Wendell Berry’s poem.
Practice resurrection, Berry says.
The pastor's voice is now his own. The door
to our questions has been opened.
The young man’s voice is an old one.
This Easter sermon—brought to you
by a man building a home with the word.
"Why do you write with your left hand, Grandpa?"
my granddaughter asks? The flashlight
inside the telephone goes off. In the dark
I fall asleep remembering the year before she was born.
Standing in a patch of weeds outside an apartment
without flowers, our family holding hands
talking about things going on inside us
we cannot see. Tomorrow
and tomorrow after that, the little ones
will ski with their uncle. It’s spring,
the sun will shine and we’ll put on sunscreen.
We won’t talk about any of this,
and we’ll take 500 snapshots.
I'll call my son a lovely man
and a wonderful son. We'll talk
of how cool we are and all that we do on snow.
Jim Bodeen
31 March 2013—6 April 2013
Crystal Mountain/Yakima, Washington


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