Meditation on Violence: Karen's Chief Joseph Vest


Dheezus wasn’t quite over her virus
spending the day with Grandma,
as Karen sat with her vision before the sewing machine
with only button holes to cut and sew
before  her celestial vest
would be ready for children in Heaven.
Grandma, can you make a dress for Tygee?
she says from the carpet
where she sits with her stuffed tyger.
Grandma’s response is already in Heaven
as she begins to cut material for a dress
that will never quite satisfy Dheezus.
I’m in the room to watch for button holes
while Dheezus has already moved on to plans
for Tygee’s hoody and halter top.
By now Dheezus has moved on to Grandma’s lap
and cutting ribbons. Karen cuts holes
in the new scarf for Tygee’s ears. She’s discovered, too,
how to turn the light on and off
for the quilter’s finer stitches.
It doesn’t quite fit, Grandma.
It doesn’t look like a dress. Tygee’s
going to need a coat. As I said,
This is Tygee’s lucky day.
She’s getting an outfit. Between the time
of the dress and scarf, Dheezus dresses
Tygee, fitting and refitting the new clothes.
Karen works with stitching two small quilts
with poems of Blake and Yeats ironed
on to muslin and stitched to the back
of the Pendleton wool. The tiny quilts
will fit into two pockets of the vest.
The Blake poem from the Songs of Innocence
fits into the front pocket, folded over
so that the poem remains unseen,
while the Chief Joseph pattern adds
texture and pattern to the elegant promise
of peace through refusing to engage forever
in genocide. As Dheezus dresses Tygee
on the floor she watches a movie
on the small computer screen promising
another vision of nonviolence.
But as I said, this is not the best day
for Dheezus—she’s five, recovering from an illness
that’s knocked out her energy—she has Grandma
alone in her sewing room and she wants
a new suit of clothes for Tygee.
Dheezus is tough and she likes her way.
Because I need to feel Karen’s energy
in her Chief Joseph vision for children
I’m standing behind her, invisible to the keen
advocating eyes of Dheezus dressing Tygee.
The inside pocket contains the quilted poem of Yeats
taken from the song of Mike Scott of the Waterboys.
They shall be alive for ever.
They shall be speaking for ever.
This quilt will be placed inside the pocket
where Karen has sewn these words,
For the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Our twin daughters both teach kindergarten,
and four of our six grandchildren are between the ages
of 5 and 7. The ages of the 20 children whose names
Karen has sewn onto the inside of the Chief Joseph Memorial Vest.
Karen asks Dheezus to help put Tygee’s arms
into the sleeve of the coat. The sleeves are tight
and this frustrates Dheezus as she tugs.
I’ll tell you, though, Tygee is looking quite good.
Spectacular now in her new outfit.
Dress, halter top, scarf with cut-outs for the ears,
and this blue coat fitting her for any child’s bedroom,
any store-front window, any child cry wail for dream justice.
The lining of the vest is a rich sheen
and as Karen turns it inside out and hangs it on the wall,
she tells me, it’s really reversible, too.
That might be too much, I say to myself
as I read the names to myself, catching my breath
saying, Dylan, Jack, Benjamin.
Allison, Caroline, Charlotte.
This vest of 20 names.
Dheezus, home-sick from preschool,
remains oblivious to all going on before her.
Karen’s cut buttonholes retain a precise beauty
and her hand-sewn stitching guarantee 
a tight hold on the beautiful silver buttons.
Dheezus’  recovery from this virus  is going to be slow
and that’s the way she wants it. Her attention,
laser-like, fixed on Grandma and Tygee,
and what she might get grandma to make next.
Days like this don’t just come along every day,
and Tygee? Well, Tygee, now. Tygee is looking good.
And this vest—this vest makes us all look good.
It’s the kind of thing we wear walking with angels.
Karen’s hands take our breath away looking at what she’s done.
We’re silent before her quiet work.
Before all this beauty we don’t know what to do. How to act.
We’re closest to the world of Dheezus and Tygee.
We’re waiting for instructions.
After the silence, listening.

Jim Bodeen
4 April—16 April 2013


We were in the mountains
with immigrant families
when we got a call about
a family illness. Waiting
for a phone connection
the news came across the wire
of the latest school massacre.
Both of our daughters
teach kindergarten.

Let’s melt some guns
and make a baptismal font,
my pastor friend says.
I went looking.
Young cowboy in a pawn shop
shows me a High Point 45.
Big bullets. Tears you up, he says.
He’s been shot three times.
Kids have these, he says,
They think they’re Glocks.
There are no Glocks in town now.
After Christmas sale. All sold out.
The young cowboy listens.
Yes, I carry, he says, I’m carrying now.
He slips his hand in his jeans pocket,
showing me the small pistol.
I've got 13. All expensive.
Jewelry for the last day.

I put money down on the 45.
My wife got madder’n hell.
We’ve never had a gun in our house.
In the end, I didn’t pick it up.
Lost the money to the pawn shop.
The .45 is most likely back on the street.
I wrote the pastor a check, though.
We’re going to get a baptismal font
if we have to make it out of clay.
We’ll get it to those families.
My wife is a quilter and a fabric artist.
She makes art to wear.
She’s making vests for children
to wear in heaven.
Names of the children are sewn into the lining.
Pockets for poems like this one.
Small things to stop the bleeding.

Jim Bodeen
9 March 2013

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