The Monk Reading My Face



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
Performative prayer

Rabbi Amnon, Mainz.
Security is veneer,
Un’taneh Tokef.
Listen unknowing

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
impersonal principles,
we were talking
about otherness.

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.
Absolute other—
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.

Jim Bodeen
2 November—10 December 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment