Highway12 West Monologues, Down from January Mountain



I remember my old teacher
talking about In Memoriam
saying, There’s a poem
we could talk about
after we’ve lived with it
for twenty years. Then,
I think, that’s a long time
to live with a poem, even a poem
with these lines:
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee...
Forty years later, it doesn’t seem
so long at all. Now there’s
an urgency to sit with poems,
in accompaniment
through the morning
knowing they’ll bring
some of that time into the river.

I begin emerging from the dream
early, thinking about Ed’s poem
and Union Creek, before it runs
into the American River—that
elegant first stanza, and the colossal
finalé, staying inside the poem’s banks,
until my awareness of reading
right through those middle stanzas
embarrasses me. I’ll return there
before sunrise I say to myself,
and I do and they are beautiful.
How long can one stay in a poem
on Facebook? This leads me to Kora players
in Ed’s poem, between Dylan and Hummingbirds,
and now I’m with Williams and Kora in Hell,
but not now, and backing out,
I look for Toumani. He would be
the kora player in Ed’s poem,
in accompaniment
through the morning,
Our wills are ours, we know not how...
knowing they’ll bring
some of that time into the running river.

Emerging from the dream
early, thinking about Ed’s poem
and Union Creek, before it runs
into the American River.

How would Bonny proceed in Germany
with her cello? Phoebe in Seattle praying
for the elephants? Or Irene, up the street,
what does she hear? Karen dreaming,
and Jane on Sunflower Hill? Who
would travel to Toumani in West Africa
to read him Ed’s poem beginning
in Union Creek before it enters the American River?
Toumani would be the Kora player in Ed's poem.
Kora, the mandinka harp built from a calabash
cut in half and covered with cow skin
to make a resonator with a hardwood neck.
Traditionally from griot families, historians
and storytellers. Jali, bard, oral historian.
SidikiDiabaté was the father of Toumani Diabaté.
New ancient strings, a tribute to fathers.

How would Lacy Dreamwalker hear the water strings
after making the swift journey to the Pacific?
We don’t stay with poems very long anywhere.
Their loyalty to us left out of our conscious lives,
this, the grace of the sustaining poem
on its way to the ocean. the way

of Ed's poem in that water-running
way to everything we would love and keep
if we could, its rivers, its ice, its bitterroot, its winter wrens,
its green and orange lichens, its Dylan,
its kora players, its humming birds, you,
me, and our Muslim neighbor, Maya, alive.

Who would travel to Toumani in West Africa
to read him Ed’s poem beginning
in Union Creek before it enters the American River?
How would Lacy Dreamwalker hear the water strings
after making the swift journey to the Pacific?
We don’t stay with poems very long anywhere.
Their loyalty to us left out of our conscious lives,
this, the grace of the sustaining poem
on its way to the ocean.

Jim Bodeen
24 January 2017--7 February 2017


I wish I was funnier. I do. News blackout here today too. Waiting on a phone call from Mary at Lutheran world mission on accompaniment program for immigrant children. Mary's an attorney who adopted an el Salvadoran child some fifteen years ago. She took me to the living Jesuit liberation theologians and to the poorest of the surviving FMLN refugees. She took me to the repopulated communities. She was in El Salvador practicing law during peace accords. I was sitting close to Fr, Jon Sobrino when he said, Take the people down from the cross. Take the crucified people down from the cross.

I was naked in the sauna yesterday when the naked white men entered intoxicated by the times. I failed at politeness and defaulted to an automatic "fuck you" as I left. I had just read page 20 of Thich Nhat Hahn's your true home. This: it is not only your love that is organic; your hate is too. Then I re-entered the locker room, and sat naked on my stool. Who comes around the corner but my naked Jungian dream therapist, who I returned to after returning from El Salvador a few years back. We talked about the sauna I had just left, and I showed him Karen's quilt work on Terry's poems. Jane's snow covered birds on muslin. Pictures on telephones. He said he will be at the Saturday march. I still wish I was funnier. I think the funny poem, if it can be found, is closer to hate than love. What thinkest thou? Be there truly, the monk says on the back cover of his book. I am so grateful for my ability to curse the motherfuckers in total joy in the credible voice of a poor NoDak--of a Vietnam vet, and my mother's son, my mother who said to me, and still visits, saying still, Jimmy, you've gone too far this time, and remembering all this, I gave a rant at Starbucks in Safeway in Spanish yesterday buying Casi Cielo, about the Trumperos, sending the chicana baristas into laughter because they kept slipping back into English. Casi Cielo, Los perdido Trumperos! Alas, I was not arrested, and at 71 have still never been to jail. Thank G-d for continued opportunities. How did all of these Bobby Marley songs get in my head? I only wanted my grandkids to hear him sing, One Love. Rasta Man, get up, get up, get up, now. Be well sister. Help relieve me of all my seriousness.
Thinkest. Thinkest, g-d dammit. Don't correct me. What thinkest thou? I'm a naked man walking down the middle of a snow-filled street, howling Tom McGrath's poem, Start the Poetry Now, weeping William Blake tears, Sweep, sweep, sweep. I used to tell my children, If you're going to be funny, make me laugh.

Thank you, Lord, Marley sings, for what you've done for me. Thank you, so much, but my gratitude contains a petition, too. Lord, in addition to making me funnier, could you help me to see the humor? I didn't get the genetic base. Thank you, Lord, for what you're doing now. And getting back to those naked white men, how that all came down, it was right after the election and I walked into the fitness center. I'd been looking at people driving their cars. Every time I saw a white man in a car, I said to myself, I know how you voted. I walked downstairs at the fitness center and there they were, naked white men. I laughed. I said to myself, All you naked white men, you just elected Donald Trump President of the United States.

I had my notebook with me. Before I could forget it, I wrote it down. I wrote it as a poem in four lines, and then I wrote it into a longer poem, too. and it was published in Letters to America. People wrote back, Nice joke, Jim. I gave myself a pat on the back myself. Hey that's pretty good. All that happened inside of two months. And yesterday after stretching, I walked naked into that empty sauna, wash rag full of water for the hot rocks. As rocks steamed, the first man walks in, says, with a question, Meditating? I nod. He says, I pray. That sounded funny. Not funny ha-ha, but funny odd. Even then, I knew, he just told me he had a better way. Christians voted for him, too. And even the women. It wasn't completely true about the naked white man. When his friend entered the sauna there was no beating around the bush. America was great again, already, and he was feeling it. He was letting us know. He was telling it, how it was going to be, beginning tomorrow.

This attempt at humor. OK. That's what it is. It began with an email of a friend with cancer. She was urging love on this day. January 20. I wanted to respond with my heart. I wanted to say something funny. I wanted to laugh at myself. And all this did happen. Like the joke from the man in El Salvador. The man who said, The mayor says we all have running water. Show me the faucets. I get that. I wanted to make myself the butt of the joke. But I did get it. And gave it. Finding that speech in the Safeway store. Inventing the word, Trumpero. I thought that was good in the moment. I thought it could beat cancer. Maybe humor could help that mayor lay pipe. Put water in them. Curse moral humor. Jesus. Take the crucified people down from the cross. No water can put out this fire.

Historic, he said again and again. Historic. We're already back. It brought back not quite memories, but alcoholic euphoria. Post soccer-game violence. Three naked white men in the sauna, that's what it looked like. That's what he thought. He hadn't considered the possibilities of who I might be. Not stranger. Not other. Not even white. He didn't understand the world he was living in, or my reminder of what a sauna is. I tried the second time without the same good will, and when the Fuck you came out it came out like it was supposed to. Fuck you.
On my way out the door, again like that. Fuck you.

Jim Bodeen
20 January 2017


    --for J. and all pastors who bring a social gospel

The man in the gray t-shirt, long-sleeved.
Sleeved pulled to the elbows, leather necklace.
Arms out over the backs of both pews.
His son sitting beside him, but outside
of his arms, His eyes don't follow the pastor,
locked straight ahead, but on the cross?
I can't tell, and I don't see his face.
What does he hear? His son moves.
It's a long sermon for his son
in the blue sweatshirt. It's longer
for the man in the gray t-shirt. Sermons
are supposed to be long for children.
I like helping people, the pastor says.

The pastor, a friend, my former pastor,
half my age, younger than my son, my peer,
and deeper friend,
recently installed in a new church
on the east coast in a state that flipped red.
We cannot remain looking at each other as others,
the pastor says. My friend says. Because
he videotaped his sermon, I am sitting in the pew
with his congregation. I am sitting
in the pew two rows behind the man
with the fidgeting son in the gray shirt.
The man with his sleeves pushed up.
The one with his arms stretched out
across the back of the pew,
eyes straight ahead. This uncomfortable man.
The camera has placed me here.
If his eyes are on the cross, they are so
abstractly. The man could be
on the cross himself, but for my belief
that his body has rejected this just truth of Jesus.
His body is rejecting the Sermon on the Mount.
Don't have a discussion. Sit with them,
the pastor says. I am watching all of this
on YouTube, three thousand miles away.
I have been that man.
I'm not judging anyone.
I'm in this sermon, too.
The pastor also suffers.

Jim Bodeen
1 February 2017

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