This Ineffable Thing


So this is my work, undertaker.
Walking with you and my brother,
delivering the spirit body,
soul house, from the land of illusion
to the otherness in the air.
The otherness in soil,
body in a treasure box,
my granddaughter’s language.
Williams said it first,
I will teach you my people,
and I’ve only done it once, well,
only once,
when Mom died, that time.
You were both present,
with work to do yourselves.

So this is my work, too.
Talking like this. This airy talk.
The undertaker, the one 
who rides with the bodies,
is my friend. He says to me,
It’s getting harder and harder.
We talk about the grave diggers
in Hamlet. Try and give him
some encouragement. Hold on now.
My son-in-law remembers
the man in Moxee used to dig graves,
called him Digger. Grandchildren
climb the Japanese Cherry by the grave
where my sister-in-law’s casket rests.
Hamlet’s been gone. Doesn’t 
know his girlfriend
drowned herself in the pond.
Comes in the back way,
finds himself listening to the two digging,
finds himself catching up, stunned
by their irreverence
which in many ways matches his own,
and then the procession comes,
court ceremony and all, Queen Mother
on the King’s arm,
his girl friend’s brother, Laertes,
the one he’s been fighting with,
everybody grieving, his world
collapsing before his eyes.
I’m getting into it, but my friend,
working the ceremony,
gets distracted. And my brother,
with his grief in his hands.
Did you know Our Town?
I say to the undertaker, when he returns.
I’ll get it for you,
we’ll read it together. I’ll order copies,
one for him, one for my brother
whose wife’s body is in the casket
beneath the Japanese Cherry
where the children climb, and the third one
for me, in case they ask me 
to sit with them,
reading graveside. The undertaker’s been
the stage manager most of his adult life,
but never got to read his own lines.
My brother can sit here in Act III
and hear Emily say to Simon Stimson,
Live people don’t understand, do they?
Maybe the three of us 
can drive to Anacortes,
sit on the bench by Ray Carver’s grave
and read together, weeping and laughing.
I’d like that. People with other lives
than in books get cheated this way,
living in the commerce of things,
even in my brother’s case, a baseball game.
The baseball coach and the undertaker
with this play at Ray Carver’s grave.
What we talk about when we talk about love.
What we don’t talk about, you know?
My loneliness comes from those books.
I know that. I’m trying to learn
to be quiet for my wife’s sake.
Once more talking to myself.
A husband’s 50-year grief talk.
But the undertaker, and my brother.
What might connect them
more fully to themselves is my life. What
establishes my solitude is my work.
I’m reading George Seferis’
Journal from 1945-51. The librarian found
it for me in an Oregon Library. June, 1946,
he writes, The mountains, 
each inside the other,
are bodies hugging each other, flowing
into each other; they complete you.
Someone has taken a number #2 pencil
with a sharp point and made a small dot
in the margin crossing time and distance.
On the next page, where Seferis wrote,
But to say what you want to say 
you must create another language 
and nourish it for years
with what you have loved, 
with what you have lost,
with what you will never find again.
And the same dot 
with the same sharp pencil.
This goes on and I begin
writing the passages in my notebook,
The days are stones.
Realizing slowly,
The pencil marks are mine,
from decades ago. Same book,
same library, the exile
still trying to find his way home.
I recall the poet who led me to Seferis,
the many things I learned from him.
I recall ordering this book before.
The way of being a poet. 
And this same book.
Long apprenticeship and ancient way.
What can and cannot be said. This same,
worn and lovely book, warm in my hands.
Seferis himself, reading again, 
The Odyssey from the beginning. 
This ineffable thing—
words barely scratch its surface.
These beautiful children 
climbing this one tree.
The chance of us all being here.
The poet saying, Just being here.
The falling. 
The falling is about to begin.
My brother and the undertaker.
The Stage Manager asking 
himself about marriage.
Hamlet returning to Elsinore 
through the back gate.
All gates open. 

Jim Bodeen 
8 October 2014

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