Surprises in his own road
came in the basement
of the church
where he slept with the men
in a small room
breath and wonder mixed,
such a privilege
to be with these men
to make it
through the night
30 December 2015
LETTER TO HARRY MARTINSON
FROM THE HOMELESS SHELTER
IN THE BASEMENT OF A LUTHERAN CHURCH
CREATED BY EMMIGRANTS OUT WEST
“He who walks the roads should be unarmed.”
Harry Martinson, The Road, Nobel Laureate
Self-taught Swede I repeated jokes about you
before I knew your name. Orphan from the Parish
turned seaman, turned nomad, you spoke for tramps
becoming one, and becoming one, emerged singular,
and superior to the sanitized, those who stayed
home. Damning too, the efficient and organized.
I find you late in life by accident, trying to know
Scandinavian homeland through books. Your road
in tramp-time walks the poet’s way
half a century later. Other, outcast,
breaker and challenger of norms and stereotypes,
objective portrayer of the outsider,
tramp real and romantic. What is real,
stubbornness of the human spirit raised
to such heights, delighting where it touches
down, and more, touching what’s tender
and thin in human pretense. “In defiance
of his defiance he opened his mind
and let it be illuminated by his best thoughts
that he could remember, by all the best
of what he had seen and heard.”
Add the cost of defiance:
it takes twice as much out of you.
Your tramp is the poet on the way,
becoming true poet. Your poet,
the tramp on the way of the true road.
It is the poet who sees the back side
of the moon. The urge to witness,
the need to see, and walk and be.
Poet and tramp merge, becoming then,
this: “…like a clock which no longer
believes in its action.” A poet’s image
and the tramp’s reality. You knew,
and know, real, Harry Martinson.
Fear in everyone. What you see of fear
has been recorded, is true. And from
across time, I praise your time
with men you walked with. Fierce call.
“I have been sent to count the grasshoppers.”
“And I promise never to pretend to be somebody.”
“And to be perverse to perversity.”
Discovering truth in silence. Tramping
as a way of life. Embarrassment to America,
then and now, without contrition.
The incurably ill the only ones
embracing openly. Excess exposing
excess, loving humility. Unarmed.
Speaking, wallowing in truth, the big all.
In deep admiration,
20-30 December 2015
Homeless Persons Memorial Day: The first night of winter. The longest night of the year. Sponsored by Yakima Neighborhood Health Services in partnership with the Homeless Network of Yakima County. In memory of the deceased.
SOLSTICE SNOW SHELTER
Joe shows up
with his feet
wrapped in tinfoil
You have a soft spot
in your heart for Joe?
until 9 so
we keep moving
most spend time
looking for snipe.
24 December 2015
BREATHING WITH THE MEN
Enter the shelter room
your first night and take your lead
from the men. Get your gear
into your tote box,
(You can’t keep anything
that won’t fit in your tote),
and mark a mattress on the floor.
Note how the men fit the corners
under the edges, and spread their blankets.
It’s still early, but it’s also late.
It took these guys most of what they had
to get through the day. Perhaps your day,
also, was a bit like theirs. They’re tired.
You’re not one of the homeless, not by definition.
Los desamparados. The homeless.
Living in cars or vehicles. From sofa to sofa.
Places that aren’t adequate for people to live in.
Un individuo sin hogar permanente.
You, yourself, may have never slept on the street,
much less under a bridge.
Maybe though, because of your good fortune
you know that poem of Rilke’s, Autumn.
If so, and you think of it, that might make you
think twice. We all are falling. Or this,
from Autumn Day: Who’s homeless now,
will for long stay alone. You know,
if you know this poem, the poet’s talking
about one who is at home in his body,
one who has completed his poem, if you will.
His house is built. If you don’t know your own soul,
you won’t like this poem, restlessly wandering
from work to store. From store to home
doing chores. Perhaps attending Church on Sunday.
You are not one of the homeless.
You have a home. You made your bed.
Lay down on the mattress now.
The men are already asleep.
Six of them tonight. You’re the seventh son.
You’re with five of the six from last night.
One is new. You haven’t met him.
It did take everything they had to get here.
To get through the day.
You don’t ask them where they’ve been.
What they did. You’re on your back,
hands behind your head on the pillow.
There’s no pillow case. Cool, like rubber.
Breathe yourself. Breathe with the men,
and listen to them breathe. Listen
to the men breathing. You are practiced in this.
You listen to your wife breathing. It comforts you.
This is different. That’s true, too.
They’re breathing hard now.
Breathing, farting, rolling on the mattresses.
All of these mattresses on the floor
in an unused room in the church.
You are breathing and farting yourself.
Breathing and farting with the men.
Rolling now, trying to find a fit on the mattress.
Now your arms crossing over your chest. How odd.
You don’t do that at home. Home?
Aren’t you home where you’re at?
There was heat in the room when you entered,
but it’s been turned off. It’s cold outside
and getting colder. The floor is cold
and the mattress is cold. You get up
and go to your tote. You’re still in your jeans
and you go to get your coat. Sleeping in your Levis?
You put your coat over your chest, underneath the blanket.
You close your eyes and listen.
You don’t think about a thing.
You have come to this evening, a finished man.
You don’t know what to say.
You try not to name it.
16-18 December 2015
FOUR COUNT THURSDAY
Table club athletes
Waiting for Karen on stairs
Work we do in snow
Sleeping homeless on mattress
Toes hike boots dry
What day is day
And where you do joy in walk
Why each precious step
Through snow walking
Footprints quieting bullshit
17 December 2015
Living from sofa to sofa
the man didn’t know
he was without a home,
neither did the man
who owned the sofa.
16 December 2015
TASKS BEFORE THE DAY
My friend outlines
the day’s chores,
adding, After 2
I’ll write some poems.
15 December 2015
REMEMBERING HYMNS OF A NORTH DAKOTA CHILDHOOD
STAR OF WONDER, STAR OF LIGHT, WHILE AT MY GRAND DAUGHTER’S
PIANO RECITAL 60-SOME YEARS LATER,
I LEAN TOWARDS MY WIFE WITH THE FOUND POEM
I’VE BEEN CARRYING ACROSS TIME WITH THIS CONFESSION
We three kings of orient are,
tried to smoke a rubber cigar,
it was loaded, it exploded,
following yonder star.
14 December 2015
“The heroic singer of tradition is blind. The NEW singer in this present must be sighted.”
Allen Grossman How To Do Things With Tears
“…for he had re-cast within himself all that people understand by losing their bearings.”
Harry Martinson, The Road
Highway 12, washed out, flooded,
keeps me from the mountains
and off skis, waxed with an old iron
and set behind this chair.
You can tell a teacher anything
and I’m writing my fourth grade teacher.
the small 2-winged fly
that swarms near water. They come up
in the Harry Martinson novel, The Road,
that came from interlibrary loan. Hand-made
crafted cigars have just been replaced
by those made by machine—women
make extra money with snuff recipes,
and cigarettes are on their way in.
This is a book about a tramp,
tramping, a vagabond Swede
telling about the America boat.
A million Swedes emigrating
between 1850 and 1913, those years
when prairie towns where I come from
got their start with the railroad.
In that neck of the plains, now,
frakking and diaspora—while in woods
out West everybody’s buying guns.
North Dakotans cradle guns
in pickups because badgers eat grain
bagged but not collected. My children
in marriage fight over owning assault weapons.
You know by now, midges bring
no cause for tears, or rage.
These automatic weapons aren’t on tv news.
Go into the gun shop and put down your money
no questions asked assault rifle placed in your hands
but you can’t walk out with the .45
until you show your concealed weapon permit.
Martinson’s tramp’s name is Bolle.
Cradling the inexpensive binding
with yellowed pages, he speaks across time,
Fear was the world’s greatest problem,
and the tramp’s greatest problem
was the fear of fear. My brother who grew up
in Alabama playing ball, returns in pilgrimage,
tells of two stops—the 16th Avenue Baptist Church,
where Jesus Christ is the Main Attraction,
Birmingham, where the bomb exploded, Sunday,
September 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m.
killing four young girls in Sunday School,
and the Muscle Shoals Sound Museum
on the Tennessee River, where Rick Hall
recorded Jimmy Hughes singing Steal Away
and Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman.
I was 18 years old when that Church was bombed.
This year, 2015, there’s been a mass murder
in these United States of America
every day of the year. Wilson Pickett
recorded the Beatles singing, Hey Jew,
and nobody noticed. Divine some of this
when you throw your I Ching coins.
That teacher in 4th grade. Teacher turned
farmer’s wife—poet who knows small town
sadness and grief, I’ve read her poems,
lines for those who stayed, and the ones who left,
and I’m writing her letters, inspired
in part by that Swedish emigration,
the one going on now, in Syria,
Martinson says Sweden abandoned entire towns.
My teacher, she’s in her 80s now,
Her student, this old man writing,
is nine years old again, bawling
at the teacher’s desk fact-full, delirious
in front of classmates, un-ashamed.
12 December 2015
THIS IS WHAT THE CIGAR MAKERS SAY
It is as though they have been consulting the I Ching.
Whose way is it? Yours? David Hinton’s?
Nothing doing that way. Uh uhh.
Waiting in the Kmart parking lot
for my daughter to drop off my grand daughter
sick with a cold, Grandpa day.
December sun comes up
through Union Gap,
while Leonard Cohen sings,
I’ll be yours for a song.
11 December 2015
Artist Jill Ross is a Lutheran pastor whose ministry cuts across traditional pastoral roles. Bilingual and multicultural, her art reflects her interdisciplinary calling. Her vocation has placed her in the studio as well as Hospice; with an Anglican community as vicar, as well as with a Lutheran community in rural Central Washington following a decade of ministry in Mexico City.
There was a street between us,
and a fence in our yard. God
was across the street
where I was baptized,
but I talked to him
from inside our yard
where my pony, Spot
ran wild, and my father
cried inside the kitchen
with his feet in hot water.
My father cursed, crying out,
and I called his cursing
prayer. Behind our house,
beside a barn, I kept camp,
sat cross-legged, with a pipe
from a souvenir store
purchased in the Badlands.
Call this play or persona.
Call the smoke signals
that came back, messengers
from the Mandan spirit world.
Explain them away any way you’d like.
I go through the coulee dream field
straight to an omniscient God
who grants me audience.
Sixty years later, when I return,
both houses are gone,
ours, and the house of God,
both rebuilt. I find a wall
of photographs in the church
with images of the pastors,
and the years of their call,
seeing the face and the name
of the man in the collar
who must have been the one
who helped shape this story.
Out west in store-bought clothes
for the first time, in a new house,
the pastor saw something
he never talked about with me,
and wrote in my New Testament
upon Confirmation, I hope
God calls you into the ministry—
you’ll fit. and signed his name.
would have been a disaster.
But I applied to that religious school.
Right before it became time to leave,
I bought a car and went to work
to pay for it.
That word, fit,
arrived all loaded up
and rearing to be explored.
This was fate
arriving as shiny as that car.
Word of God
in smoke signals
but I would have to live it out now.
Black Elk showed up over and over.
Thumbless, he walked me through.
They say you must refuse
the call in order for it to be one.
They say, too,
God will get your attention when it’s time.
He kicked my ass good.
Whupped me up side of the head.
Paralyzed and blind in one eye.
Fit to be tied, sober, couldn’t move.
Woke up in Southern Chile
in the machi’s hut full of smoke,
machi reading my urine
sitting beside the blond woman
in his blue soccer jacket.
Urine more important than the girl.
Well, ok, maybe.
He wanted her by his side. Who was she?
So many voices against our vanishing.
So many thresholds in our ordinariness.
Our clumsy left hands not knowing
which way the key goes in,
our awkwardness with chop sticks
sitting at our host’s table.
How are we gonna get the noodles
up to our mouths if not in the left hand?
Leonard Cohen’s song
Who by high ordeal?
Somehow linked to God
Rabbi Amnon, Mainz.
Security is veneer,
30-year seed song
Built around opposing pairs
Who shall I say is calling?
A call anointing—
Not despair, recast.
Sanctified your name.
Look who thinks he is nothing!
Record all living beings!
Stored up for those who love you:
that very piyyut.
Let holiness rise.
This day’s holiness.
It is full of awe.
Speech part of story
God is talking attendance
And the child never gives up
Each return cancels
Lost in divine all
Forget self. Worship.
Reach by common trial.
The practice of monks
Gatekeeper reading my face
Yours with the face
of the eschaton.
With just a few words
the man told him to lighten up,
and his hands took the pressure off
the writing of the poem. With no
pressure, there was nothing
to hold words bound to page,
and the exact nature of pain
had a location to land.
We were talking
we were talking
Consider the stone
in the river. The artist
is the one who finds it
after these millions of years,
older than any tree, or thing,
among the oldest of the ancestors.
towards that. The voice says,
Before putting your hand
into the river, take off
your wedding ring.
You might scratch the stone.
Another so different
from oneself, one could
never imagine making it
as part of oneself. The shield
from the jeweler pinned
to vest, part of the protection
of a failed mask recognizing
vocation come to show dance.
2 November—10 December 2015
SUNDAY CHURCH SERVICE IN BOWBELLS HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM
WITH ALL-CHURCH COMMUNITY CHOIR, SITTING WITH MOM & KAREN
Before the Service
During half time at basketball games I shot baskets
in stocking feet before the community in this gym.
This place was a promise. We had an all-school assembly
with a man selling virtues of canned rattlesnake meat.
I played Frosty the Snowman on this stage in first grade. My cousin
Sharon, three years my senior, played French Horn in the band,
became class valedictorian. Walking through the school before
the service, the library opens to questions. These books on shelves:
31 Letters & 13 Dreams by poet Richard Hugo. Diving into the Wreck,
by Adrienne Rich, beside E. A. Robinson. Small enough, too,
to hold me, take me back. I’ve been gone 51 years.
The school was hooked up to Internet Access in 1999
“…to squirm among this difficult magnificence
where we are most our own,” Hugo writes
in “Camping the Divide.” Bill Jenson, from another
place, too, comes up to me in the library.
Class of ’62, a pilot in
Viet Nam in 1968-69.
“Tomorrow this town will be a ghost town,” he says.
I pull a book from the shelf, and ask Mom to sit at the round
table here in the library to help me read Act III of Our Town.
I give Mom the part of Emily, just buried, at her funeral
among the dead. Karen reads Mrs. Gibbs,
Howie Newsome, and Simon Stimson.
I take the part of the Stage Manager.
“Live people don’t understand, do they Mama,” Mom reads.
Most of what Emily says is daily news for me.
The All-Community Choir is practicing before the service,
And I am in my seat, good boy at last.
Wandering between gymnasium, library, and classrooms,
makes it easy to get lost. I’m walking through time, standing
in front of a clean old chalk blackboard—old school—
washed for summer, I search the teacher’s desk for chalk,
writing The Red Wheelbarrow side by side with lines
from some lines about Crazy Horse of mine. I write our names,
William Carlos Williams, Jim Bodeen, adding
American poet under each name. Back in the gym
I watch two middle-age women to whom I gave May Day Baskets
And Valentines. Women whose names I named in poems
As a man, wondering if they had enough love for me.
These two women, along with Karen, all three in this small
town gymnasium, became the three women of my adult life.
I remember a photo of my father in a basketball uniform
in the library. It is his face, not mine. But I’m in the gym,
sitting on a folding chair, listening to the choir.
“It’s so sad,” the woman sitting next to Mom says,
“Someone so young.” Karen read that line minutes ago.
These necessary things my family does for me. All I do is listen.
Then last fall we moved to
, about 60 miles… Park River
It was time for us to move off the farm. We wanted
to be closer to the kids. We didn’t want to go to the city.
Mom talks to Elton Peterson, in his 80’s. “I have a son
who helps me in the store, a daughter in Mohall
who won’t talk to me, and a daughter who teaches
in the university who’s too smart for her own good.”
And this: …and her husband passed away,
and her and I are about the same. We can do anything,
but not everything, and not fast. I ask Karen,
What did you think of reading Our Town?
“It sounds like your mother talking.” I ask,
“Are you somebody I’m supposed to know?”
The Bowbells All Faith Worship Service
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Be our dwelling place this morning. We flourish and wither.
To see as Moses did,” the pastor reads. Even at worship
I’m other, writing in a notebook, homework for no school.
Pastor Todd Erickson, graduate class of 1994,
from Bowbells, living in Kenmare, begins with a joke.
“Living in Kenmare, I’m sorry. I root for Honkers.”
His 4-month old son killed two years ago in an accident.
We praise God, he says. He makes a joke through tears.
“Hey mom, how come you look forward to seeing
old ladies you said you can’t stand?”
His reading is from I Kings. 1-13. Elijah. Glory days.
Altars at Bael. 400 prophets of Bael, building an altar.
“Don’t you wish we could go back to glory days?”
After the fire came a whisper, What are you doing here,
Elijah? Observation. Interpretation. Application.
The valley experience follows the mountain experience.
No fear. And here. Here’s fear. “I nicknamed her Hillary.”
Ooh. I wince. But then this. God came only in the silence.
God is only in nothingness, void. God on his own terms.
Are you listening? Taken away by circumstances.
Forever precious. Glory days with the word.
And until then, celebrate every day.
The Jepson girls from Bowbells say,
“Take a look around. What do you see?”
After the service
See through it as a picture, or a mirror.
Gordy Everson, from my mom’s side of family.
Ron Swanson. Joyce Ekstrom. Names from dreams.
Doris Haxton Cron. Class of ’50. Married to Clarence.
“Joyce, there’s someone I want you to meet,” I say.
“This is my wife, Karen. Karen, this is Joyce Ekstrom.
Joyce and I exchanged Valentine’s.
I left May Day Baskets on her porch.”
I needed to make a gift exchange after 50 years—
To name the beginning myth, lost arrow head.
Valentine in public view. Fire seed.
To show Karen the fidelity inside my poem
and the journey of the story. This controlling truth
Pursues me. I do the best I can. At best, it’s awful,
not. Not.—Mom comes from the other side.
Joyce sees the Everson between Lucille and Bodeen.
Joyce is interested in this name that means nothing to me.
We meet her mom who is 93 years old. Mom tells
a story of her husband. Family stories safer than valentines.
Walking to the Jeep, Mom says, “Joyce is the girl
who Jim liked when he was a boy.”
And I feel that I’m the boy being talked about
In bathrooms. We sit in silence.
Eating with Karen and Mom, I say,
“I don’t think I’m the only one who was interested.”
Joyce was valedictorian of the class of 1963.
The man she married wasn’t from Bowbells.
She married outside the gene pool. Why did Karen choose me?
I don’t think her marriage went unnoticed.” I want Karen
to know however I understood her beauty,
it connects to story. A story in charge of my life, directing me.
Whatever my life is, there was no equivocation.
I went straight from here to you. This is all
there ever was of me, all I ever had to give.
In a notebook, in times like these, I’m beyond failure
or arrival, inside charged conditions. All that can be done,
will be done here, on the page, and it will live.
It will live beyond one’s life if one
has strength and courage to let it happen.
Karen marries into story, too. Unfettered poetry.
Including finalities in goodbye. Unfinished lives.
Ed Cline says, “You’re Jim, Wayne Bodeen’s boy.
I sold grain to him. They’ve got 17 guys
doing it over here now.” More people from Bowbells,
than living here, now. Coming here you better
come in an RV or have a place. No places to stay here.
Later, on the way home, in a Pizza Hut in
, Shelby, Montana
on Highway 2, I write, We lived between railroad tracks
, train whistles woke me, I
dreamed Indian graves. Canada
31 July 2006-19 October 2006
Revised January, 2007
Featuring Lucille Bodeen, this video recreates Lucille's return to the Bowbells Centennial in 2006, from her own photo album. Part biography, part pilgrimage, Lucille opens the way for her son and daughter-in-law, who accompany her on the journey. Bowbells, North Dakota is situated in the NW corner of the state, and is the county seat of Burke County.
Mom raised me to carry the North Dakota story after we left in 1956. I 10. I became mom's biographer. This video explores the 2006 return with eyes from 2015. Mom's been gone four years. What remains from 2006 surfaces clear, opening the way for the poems which have been locked up for nearly a decade. And Mom is pure gold.
LOOKING AT PHOTOS FROM THE BOWBELLS CENTENNIAL
Crossing time, time traveling,
Karen holding the camera on the book
opening to take me by surprise.
No prepping for this exercise,
you take what comes up.
Mom looks so good
and there’s so much trouble inside of me.
Oh, she’s so surrounded by love
she attracts it, it comes to her.
Mom with her hand on Coupie’s knee.
If that doesn’t get you, I don’t know what…
and that morning driving with Mom
out to Papa’s farm. These photos
are just about ten years old now.
Now I’m an old man. I wasn’t then.
I’d forgotten about that morning
in the library with Karen and Mom,
pulling that copy of Our Town
off the shelves, reading Act III together.
I can’t remember who took what part.
Karen had Simon Stimson, and a couple of others.
Simon had died. All that alcohol in him.
Alcohol in the family story, too.
I did walk those railroad tracks again.
Shit Creek, meadowlarks and the bb gun
return me to my roots. That hour
with Alvin Hass when he told that story
of Dad pulling Coupie from the lake,
remembering that for me
when the present moment was gone,
that’s enough right there, isn’t it,
to validate a person’s entire life.
Bowbells, North Dakota.
Tucked up there in the corner of the state.
Oil country. Dry land farming.
Country churches and country schools.
That library with a copy of Richard Hugo’s Letter Poems.
Somebody doing their job with those books.
Gave me the chills. Gives me the chills again this
Mrs. Gibbs not letting Simon Stimson have the last word.
Emily’s voice every day of our lives.
We don’t have time to look at one another.
It all goes so fast. Do any human beings
ever realize life while they live it?
The three of us in that library.
Everybody who’s ever read that play.
Gone through these classrooms.
Mom in that photograph.
She was the Stage Manager all along.
3 December 20150
USHERING THE OTHER INTO STUDIO SPACE
Hyper ethereal lives under the open sky
into exile through windblown mountain passes
Shih-shu, rock and bark poetry,
idle drowning, poems with a breath of pine wood.
If it all seems ordinary to you, well, it should.
The push-knock school of revision.
Chia Tao, a wandering Immortal.
Typing the titles of Gary Snyder's poems,
fingers slip to the wrong keys
and I've arrived at a new Bodhi ritual.
Hyper ethereal lives under an open sky.
Windblown mountain passes present themselves
as gateways to stories. Images
of Lord Krishna and Jesus accompany
childhood narratives. Everything feels like
call and re-call in ceremonial time,
ancestral. Becoming aware of the self as a walker,
constantly walking was the revelation of knowing
the stranger in the living room. Was he, then,
a stranger to himself? Perhaps
that's the wrong question. Allowing
the other into studio space being the real work,
the man is all right with his routines. He
knows he'll soon be found out in small talk,
that yucca gate with no fence blow down.
1 December 2015