God Is in the House


Gobi-Rattler Room early morning. Sister Sadie Sadie, and music. Thinking of socks, piling up in this room, warm, light, the knee-high socks made for winter sports, made from material so new it’s not in anyone’s vocabulary. Socks from the four directions. For 28 city kids in a country town, going up the mountain on snowboards. Thinking of socks, then, and the poems of Wendell Berry. A letter yesterday from K. A good one. Fear. Faith. Buddha and Jesus. Books. Working on the document for J. Young pastor leaving town. For Pennsylvania. K’s letter talking of the passing of families. The turns each family takes in transfer of roles as individuals age and unfold. I stop here, inside letter and notebook, long enough to get lost. We’re there. Karen and I. Sig and Ethel. Last week. Their five kids. Death of the beloved son. Birth of the special daughter. The four elegant sisters. The aging patriarch. Gobi-Rattler room in low light. Stunningly beautiful.


Holiday songs in dentist office with grandkids. Happy songs. Sitting in a brown leather couch holding Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems Holding his words on what’s domestic and what’s wild, and who, yes, Berry making his case for critter domesticity and the wildness in the human. Berry vowing not to use the words again. These two, and one more word, spirit. Berry unable to see it in conventional use while on his daily walks, hearing the content with matter, spirit winning most of the time. What about matter? Here I sit on the morning of Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Cold in Yakima, cars on 40th Avenue drive by with their lights on, the men and women on their way to work, either in front of, or behind the yellow school bus. This Day, the title of Berry’s poems. He’s the lowdown poet of river lands in the opening poems. The mad farmer of my youth. The contrarian farmer-poet. Obama and the world gathered in Johannesburg. A tree for us all. Afterwards, returning the kids to school, I stop by L’s house, my jeweler, and check on the shield he’s been making in his studio for the past month, the film we’re making of the process. We talk about balsa wood and tissue paper, inexpensive materials. We talk, too, about the mountain, spiritual protection of the shields. The shield of art. He asks me what skiing is. Sticks or animal bones wrapped around the foot with branches? Cave paintings in Russia would suggest animal bones. L notices the tire in my old Subaru going flat. Hurry, he said, hurry.


The friend on Facebook starting it. I had a dream last night and the question everyone was asking was this, What would Jesus wear? haha. It was a fashion question.

Army uniform in a war zone.

Viet Nam and the Evacuation Hospital. 85th Evac. The hat and the mustache. 1968. Tet. Med Evac NCO. Him. Me. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. First Sergeant. All right you fist fuckers get out of bed. Top. Too many stereotypes. Beer belly, beer belly. Clichés. Did First Sergeant ever have a real age? Was he real? And where had that hat come from? The non-issue hat. Where did I get that? It had appeared in his duffel bag?? Appeared? Like a conductor’s cap on the railroad. Aonngside the baseball cap. Like he was being directed. Rolling up the sleeves on the uniform. Only one stripe visible. I did this on my own. How did I do that? You’re out of uniform Sgt. Bodeen. Even then they knew. The psychedelic SP4 taking the hat and painting it competition orange in multiple layers, turning it into a sculpture, freezing it, as he’d worn it on his head. An attitude.  And the accompanying sign painted in the multiple colors and style as the lettering on the Beetles Sergeant Pepper album, hung psychedelically, orange hat over the top, sign reading: Sgt. Bodeen, Medevac/This Way Home. How he loved that sign, that hat. The redemption of me in all of it. It turns up in a box as I pull things from the crawl space in the basement during our move. The orange hat. Part of my uniform. That and the mustache. The Fu Man Chu mustache growing down both sides of the chin. Two full bird colonels running the hospital. One, an administrator, the other, chief of orthopedics. A doctor. In a hospital full of shot-up bones. After Tet the uniform changed for everybody. The hospital overrun with wounded bodies. From all sides. Did we call them sides? In a hospital? There were wards. The NVA were separated from our soldiers and civilians. NVA soldiers hit by so many B52 bombs they disappeared under yards and yards of gauze. 18-year old kids in and out of the country in less than two weeks. I was 22, belonging already to literature. Two days of orientation and dropped from helicopters into Phu Bai, Hue, the next day. Familiarization of the DMZ. Picked up as soon as a medevac chopper could get them out. Short of choppers, they started coming in on C-130s. Out of our place and to Japan or the States as soon as we could locate beds. My job. Get the right diagnosis to the right hospital. Tell the soldier what was happening. If he was conscious. Around the clock. Get the right soldier to the right place. The administrative colonel stopping by the sign, This Way Home, looking at it.We’re trying to get a plane loaded with wounded GIs. Sergeant Bodeen, that mustache is out of uniform. Not to be below the chin. New travels fast even when you’re trying to catch a plane. Colonel of orthopedics running interference. Bodeen, you will not cut that mustache. This is bone wax. What we use to stop the bleeding in bones. It will stand that mustache to your eyeballs until you drop from exhaustion. You will not cut that mustache. You will wear it. Indeed, it did. Curled right around the eyes. Bone wax validating the uniform. Get it from your local orthopedic surgeon.

Other uniforms, too. So many of them. Army chaplains with captain’s bars. Good morning, Captain, Sir. Call me chaplain. Sir, yes sir. Captain. Those captain bars were one more trigger. That Lutheran captain during Basic Training where he went each week, where he made his confession, I can’t do this. The Lutheran chaplain listening each week, nodding, telling him that last week, We believe in this war. We’re Lutheran. Being thrown in with the medics saved him, but it didn’t resolve his guilt. The question was never resolved. He wore it every day of his life. Part skin. Part clothing. Like the Spiderman poem he found in the little magazine years later. Spiderman as Tweety Bird. He memorized it to the last line. Comedy in his head. Maybe none of us can burn our suits.

What would Jesus wear?

He missed Jody. When Jody was on the earth, she used epigraphs as sign posts, much like early Spaniards walking north to Aztlán walking up the llano into North America with rope and stakes. El llano estacado. So they wouldn’t lose their way walking into a landscape with no markers. The visiting poet says her work is about emotional courage. Jody Aliesan. Jody who changed her name. Aliesan…to loosen. Jody who left the empire and went to Canada.  Jody was a visiting poet. Jody came from another world. Jody embodied emotional courage. Leave it at that. Jody used epigraphs, not as decoration, or a way into the poem, but as the poem, serving poem and poet at the same time. Now there was this book. Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp. And Jody wasn’t here to talk to. She had moved on. He was in the doctor’s office waiting to get his leg wound washed out and the dressing changed. He had been gardening at the home he was putting on the market, trying to attract a family and not an investor for a rental house. Sweeping through the yard as he had done for four decades, he picked up the hose to move the sprinkler, and running to the bulkhead, as he had been doing for nearly as long, he jumped, and his body didn’t jump with him, resulting in the bodily fall against the concrete corner, his shin absorbing the shock, tearing flesh to the bone. Sitting in the waiting room like this, he was trying to write to Jody. The nurse says to him, “You just sit there a minute, writing in your little diary.” Jennifer Percy:

“Historically hysteria was considered a distinctly female problem.”

“No one wanted to imagine a world in which male soldiers were vulnerable to hysteria.”

“What does America give you?”
“America gives you pain killers.”

“God’s going on in there.”

Four from Jennifer Percy’s Demon Camp:  A Soldier’s Exorcism. Percy’s courage matched Jody’s. Jody left the country for Canada in 2004. Percy moved into the demon itself. Of PTSD: this. General George C. Marshall blamed it on the American educational system. She notes that more than 80 names have been given for PTSD in the past 100 years alone. Four of my favorites: hysteria, soldier’s heart and disorderly conduct of the heart (a tie), Vietnam Syndrome (from my war), and, from Napolean’s warring, nostalgia. We have read the same books and filed them in nearly the same places on our book shelves: Phillip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers, (see the essay on Momism), Julian Jayne’s Origin of Consciousness in the Bi-Cameral Mind, and Jonathan Shay’s two books, Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America. And Tim O’Brien who called evil evil, and madness madness. The others, historians and journalists among them, distorted war, as George Packer writes, making it more intelligible than it really is. Our grandfather, William Stafford, meanwhile, never gets the credit he deserves for his no during the good war. Ask Stafford why anyone would leave the mountain when the answers are there. Ask him about rivers. If there are any rules they come through the practice.

We were on a panel together in 1981. Jody and I. Didn’t know each other. Literature of Conscience, Seattle. Bumbershoot. Jody took notes. Kept them. Later, in her book, True North/Nord Vrai, I published them. She had gone to Canada by then. She went to etymology and ethics. She quotes an old Irish fragment. The fragment: The poet is the wick in the lamp of the community. Not the oil, and not the flame, but the simple piece of cloth connecting them so the people can see their own light.

Jody from an early poem: …there is something beneath the cloth/ it is what you hide from yourself/ you know what it is// it is time to uncover it

Jody quoting Yeats: When did we ever promise safety?


In the lift line at the Great White, a helmeted man on a snowboard, hops in front of us, cutting across my granddaughter’s ski. One leg attached to his board, the other free, awkwardly aggressive, I watch, trying to figure out if he’s cutting in front of the children in line, or trying to catch up with companions. In between states myself,  two grandkids looking up at me for direction, I ask if he’s alone or would like to ride the lift with us. “Sir?” he asks, looking back at me, “Are you addressing me, Sir?” The double, sir, I recognize, but again, it takes me a moment to recognize. He’s a soldier, I say to myself. Present to me for the past decade. The soldier of our modern wars. Trained to be on duty even when on leave, addressing every person he sees in the civilian world as a commanding officer. Respect with an edge. Misplaced formality. The veteran following orders, deferring to the civilian world that disgusts him as it betrays him, an awareness I find difficult to argue with. The new soldier. Betrayed in new ways just like the old ways. Privatization of war. Jody had shown him this. Corporations. Corporate civilians paying men and women like themselves. Former soldiers. Paying them buckets full of money for the replaced MOS. Replaced patriotism too. This was greed. Halliburton and the 10,000 others like them. The new security industry of private companies moving large quantities of weapons and military equipment. Mercenaries as we understand the word. Getting around the technicality of language and national agreements. Carrying and using weapons, interrogating prisoners, loading bombs, driving military trucks and fulfilling essential military functions. Those who are arms switching roles as the moment calls for it, shadow dancers, commiting human rights violations and destabilizing governments. The civilian world with their yellow ribbons on the trunks of their cars blind and ignorant, their gas tanks full, angry only at the price of gas, and isn’t that the government’s fault?

Call everybody Sir. He carried those images himself, even standing in a lift line on a mountain with grandchildren. The phoniness of it all. Those young Mormons singing to them in Basic Training. Up, up with people. People wherever you go. Smiling. Dancing. Bright futures. No problems. If more people like your people…the uplifting seminar before being sent to Viet Nam. Song stuck in his head for half a century. He remembered the former student, back from Iraq, a marine. Good writer. He’d tried to talk to him about PTSD. What the Viet Nam writers had discovered, “…Tim O’Brien…anyone who’s been divorced knows about PTSD…” and the laughter he’d received in response to military training. New ways of cover-up. The new writers of war. Veterans. The poet Kevin Powers, “…everyone wants to slap you on the back and you start to want to burn the whole god-damned country down.” “Sir?” “Did you say something, Sir?” Nobody could say it like an enlisted man. I remember my own every time I hear the word. “Yes. I asked if you wanted to ride the chairlift with me and the kids.”

The answer is yes.
The answer is no.

Jim Bodeen
December, 2013—23 April 2014

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