All Our Brown-Skinned Angels and the Day of the Dead with Raul Sanchez (...

Raul Sanchez combines two spirit rivers, poetry and altars, while making  his own spirit quest as a seeker.  Born in Mexico City, living there until the age of 12, his path has taken him to a year in India, and a deep river devotion to the poem. He is one of the liberators for brown angels everywhere.

When Light Entered the Room


Taller de Poesía en el Día de los muertos, para Raúl Sánchez

The best reading of the day came
after everyone had left and gone home.
Parents were tired and children had school in the morning.
One young couple sat through the first set
as if they were intrigued. My friend stayed
as long as she could and read a Levertov poem
filled with marigolds and set in Viet Nam
during the time of the American war. She read
for the Vietnamese poet in Japan
undergoing radiation treatment.

When everyone left, Rául stepped onto the stage
and as I looked up at him in the room
empty but for sweepers, light filled the side of his face.
The ancestors had arrived. Light stormed the entrance.
Raúl found his voice feeling their presence
and he read that poem before his father entering
to hear his son read. Raúl’s voice soars
recalling the bracero of the 1940s enrolling his son
in a private school so he won’t have to go north
as a seasonal worker, leaving his family.

Everyone had left. We could feel them inch closer,
sitting before us, ignoring the table set for them,
and Raúl reading his fine poem of his father’s vision,
his father nodding, bien hecho, you couldn’t hear him,
you had to see it through the light in the room.

Jim Bodeen
29 October 2013


If I have it just so I can go to coffee,
but who’s to say?
                                    First, I must write
about Kierkegaard’s refusal.

Only from a layman, he said.
Only from a layman.

Wouldn’t you like to take communion?
the bishop asks.

Yes, but only from a layman.

He knows that’s against the law, Kierkegaard does.
He’s dying. He knows that too.
Not from his pastor brother.
Not from his pastor friend.

No. He will refuse it, Kierkegaard will,
saying no to anyone with a Lutheran state collar.

Jim Bodeen
29 October 2013

Days of Nothing but Time


He has not looked inside the hope chest
since his wife died a dozen years ago
and now he is an old man himself.
Take it with you, will you, he tells my wife.
Here’s where she got married, he says.
Didn’t you get married at the same time, she says.
I guess I did, he says.
We only had that one argument.
I wish I had done more.
Look at that, somebody’s hair,
he says, opening the envelope.
Does it say? No, it doesn’t.

The black and white photos.
Black carbon paper.
His daughter’s report card.
The one who died early.
The silences recorded by the video camera.
The invisibility of the other.
I’ve never looked at some of this stuff, he says.
I’m not going to take this, she says,
but I’ll pull out a few pictures.
Look at these baby shoes, she says.
They’re your kids’ shoes.
Are they?
My wife holds up a snapshot for the camera.
The hope chest is a forest of cedar.
Time was different before the skies opened.
Now there is nothing but time and sky.

Jim Bodeen
26 October 2013

"Not for Itching Ears" Pastor Ron Marshall's Soren Kierkegaard

Ron Marshall's life-work as a pastor includes his personal walk with Soren Kierkegaard. His commitment to Kierkegaard includes strong images for men and women in congregations...who also "have wings and imaginations." Wings and the imagination soar with Marshall, and contend with torpor in the pew and in the pulpit.



Born to an earlier tradition
in an isolated land, and orphaned,
he was raised by those following Christ,
Jesus people, really, if that could be said,
those who were isolated and exiled themselves.
They did not know the child.
They did not know his earlier life,
or the tradition of the people
he came from. He felt at ease
in belonging to remnants.

He attached himself to the discipline of the poem.
He apprenticed himself to a life with scripture.
With words brought forth from the world.
He believed Jesus to be his brother
and he believed Jesus understood.
He didn’t think he was Jesus believing this.
Neither was he at odds over what they said about Jesus.
The poem, too, was immortal,
and he could not hide his otherness.

Jim Bodeen
24 October 2013


When they surround themselves with God
the door opens for the poem.
When they surround themselves with poems
the door opens for God.

Jim Bodeen
17 October 2013


Reading the poets, their lives
as well as their poems. Reading
back to front as well as front to back.
I am humbled by witness and way.
The discipline humbles me.
I am drawn, too, by its requisite
lack of discipline. Again and again.
Side by side with the wild.
I bow before the great refusal.
I bow to its silent way.
Silent before its great no.
Silent before the great refusal.

Jim Bodeen
16 October 2013

Capabilities of Water


He wants a quiet divorce
and then he has that dream.
…y le pondrás su nombre Jesús.
Any dream makes a mess, no?

¿Cada sueño hace un fracaso?
Joseph brings it out slow
in his dream/breath.
He says yes to what can’t be seen.

Jim Bodeen
12 October 2013


Jesus can ride with us
but no special treatment.
He’d be insulted. Like
anybody else, ok? Pero

también esto está en la Biblia
y tenemos que reconocerlo.
So says el Cubano
Justo Gonzalez,

one of our guides. Karen says
it’s more believable this way.
Nothing unbelievable, I say back.
It’s only unbelievable

because it’s all believable.
Reclaiming reality is theology’s job.
What it is. Jesus,
what say you of the imagination?

This is a basement church.
Ten of us. Two languages.
The poet of late coffee and oranges
talking two ways—

Consciousness and imagination.
He chose imagination.
Wouldn’t I cash in my travel miles
for lyric and wonder.

Jim Bodeen
11-12 October 2013


The left hand makes all the difference for me, every day of my life.
True, it’s awkward in China, and we’re drawn to the Tao,
and the ancient Chinese poets.
But when you put the chopsticks in your left hand
the only thing those around you will see is toilet paper,
and you wiping yourself with your left hand.
Karen and I fight over can openers.
But all Karen’s boy friends were left-handed. And I’m left-handed!
My President and John McCain are both lefties.
There are more left-handers in Alaska than in any other state.
I vote left. I sit on the left side in Church.
I confess to watching right-handers with knives and forks.
It’s so precious. And complicated.
I never quite know what to say about their poems.
And I love left-overs, and the bi-cameral brain.

Roofers say they’ll never get on a roof with ones like us.

International –Left-Hander’s Day. Imagine that.
Isn’t that a bit like poetry month in April?
I was half-way through my life when I discovered this stuff.
It wasn’t as though I didn’t know I was a lefty.
I got to play first base because I was closer to the ball coming my way
from across the infield. Even my glove was special.
So I was picking up things.
It’s true about my penmanship,
my hand coming through wet ink smearing it.
Even as a child I wanted my words on the page to soar.
Somehow I knew. The left hand was to be part of my medicine.

After my dad died and I found the reflexologist,
she asked about Dad wondering about me, 
What’s wrong with your right side?
By now I was discovering left-handed friends.
We wanted one of two things, poetry or God.
It no longer seemed important that I couldn’t replace
the lint filter in the drier without putting it in backwards.
Or keys in locks.
All of Karen’s boyfriends, left-handed.
I was a left-handed lover.
Karen chose me.
Chance and destiny breaking my way.
What we don’t talk about when we talk of the left hand.
All of my inadequacies as blessings.

Jim Bodeen
18 September-7 October 2013


        Suiseki Stone by Bob Carlson


That is the seclusion of sunrise
Before it shines on any house.
—Wallace Stevens,

Because he was making way, bringing way,
the voice comes from the river carrying water
along with river stone. Water stone itself
in recognition of its rule: it’s not enough to like a stone.

Add the horticulturist from the university
subjecting trees to everything trees encounter
in nature, amplified: wind, drought, deluge,
to find principles involving development

of the lead branch. Crossing time
in jet planes, young Americans apprentice
themselves to the sensei teaching them
to wash out cups and cut roots, surviving empire.


Reality is spirit’s center, the poet says.
Every poem is a poem within a poem.
Into this matrix, I enter the room,
a man too old to enter a monastery,

holding a tiny tree in a shallow tray.
beginning again.
The young teacher says, Sensei
pointed at the tree. I didn’t speak Japanese,

he didn’t speak English. He pointed
at a branch, and touching it,
holding it flat, straight out,
exclaiming, Pffft—wire it like that,

while turning his arms into tree limbs,
straight, at right angles to the trunk.
Pffft, I said, nodding in recognition
to my teacher, turned into a tree,

my arms as branches angled
at 90 degrees. Mr. Kamamura
looked at my tree, branches like this,
Pffft. Turning away in disgust,

he told his assistant, The worst
wiring of any tree in the garden.
That’s how I learned to wire
branches with movement.


I hold the scissors in my left hand.
Forty years ago a Ficus tree
died on the kitchen table before me.
Two years ago I entered this room

with a small bush, Pyracantha,
cutting the roots, wiring it
to a shallow pot, past lives
before me a running narrative—

a half-century with Karen,
seven decades spent
surrounding myself with the poem.
Each thing returning to its root.


Look at all of the fronts of your tree.
Which ones are the most interesting?
The black pine loves sun and heat.
It gives up strength for its lovely bark.

Don’t cut too many roots
and no excessive bending.
Let’s do a quick one-minute sketch.
OK, I know what your idea is,

I’m trying to follow your narrative
into this branch. What does
Wabi Sabi mean to you?
To me it’s time passing, shortness

of life. It’s a subdued all, low key.
We want the tree to come towards us.
To lean towards us, as in embracing.
Take out what absolutely can’t be used.

Yes. Cleaner. Increasingly sparse.
A little older. We’ll put some wire on
these guys so we can see
what’s going on inside. These

are the tools of length and space.
This branch helps this branch grow.
They all help each other.
A bonsai spends most of its life

being wired. The cost of beauty?
The freedom in discipline?
Shallow and long containers add height.
Shallow pots need to be wide.

Like a rubber band.
Deeper pots need to be wide.
Nitrogen for what’s green.
Potassium for roots.

Nobody actually knows how moisture moves
through trees. Only theories.
Especially with redwoods.
Monterrey Pines are totally fog dependent

with weak roots. As focused
as we are on the apex, we forget
how important it is to set that first branch.
The apex. It’s gone as far as it can go.

The tree exhausts itself to get here.


Handing me keys to our first house
45 years ago, the banker says,
This is a good starter house.

There are many words
for beginners, most of them disparaging,
all of them current, common in usage.

We knew something about humble roots,
setting out to make a house.
The house, the stone, and the tree.

Three children. And we had three children.
The Black Pine stands before me as my life
I will leave without seeing a finish.

Each of the words for beginner
belonging to me. How many stones
have I carried from the river to the garden.

The integrity in stones come from the stars.
I hold a mountain range in my two hands.
The stone is a six-sided temple.


Just as it was literature that brought me here,
it is literature asking the question of inheritance.
Three children, each of them beloved.
Literature is the house where we live.
A house, a stone, and a tree.
The two thousand year old Sequioia
stands, green peace grand.
The stone shows us the gold dust
from a dark star in our fingers.

This is the treasure for the children.
House, stone, and tree.
A portion for each.

Jim Bodeen
7 September—5 October 2013


The man who slips in water
wearing his rubber boots
finds out how long it takes
to fill the boot with water.
The imagination can work
with the fact of a wet sock
in a boot. The fire beside me
does not come from the fire place
or a campfire. Yet I am warmed
by Stevens as I put Kierkegaard
by my elbow. The poet says,
God and the imaginer is one.
I suppose the imaginer is God.
Poetry hands me the books
to see what might happen.
Switching languages every so often
because they’re here with coffee.
The left hander can put the hearing aid
in his right ear, but he always turns
the speaker for the left ear
to the world. He can’t do it
any other way. It’s part
of the deal he was given.
The lines are as real as the allergies
causing the old dog to scratch,
scraping away all of her fur.

Jim Bodeen
5 October 2013

Water Falls Straight Down


Brown and black, this is a winter-time stone
coming out of the water, coming out of the clouds.
Until it finds its way to go
we need to look at it lots.

Color and shape, rather than absolute
reference place. Clean it up,
because the color is so much of what it is.
Enjoy it and find a story to match.

Push yourself to look for something else.
Rain works so well, because it has so far to fall.
Take the stone. Go from end to end.
See what rises up.

Buddha goes into a rock
to get out of the hypnotic rain
and is delivered into enlightenment.
This stone is just too wild.
It’s like the ocean itself.

There’s the human and the nonhuman.
We’re looking for an edge
that’s right between those worlds.
Gravity takes water straight down.

Jim Bodeen

3 October 2013


Water after rain on White River
ran high over the one-man log bridge
and we couldn’t cross. My granddaughter,
disappointed, slept with her one-sided vision,
asking in the morning if the water
might have gone down.
It was the bridge gone,
and water running high
as we walked up river over stones
wrapping us in storm’s aftermath.
We carried our lunch in backpacks
until we found shelter among boulders
large enough to protect us from wind.
Both of us knew the storm’s terror,
and I envied her courage.
Storm had called on her early
to walk through danger.
What I folded into my sandwich
beside the river emerging
from the snout of the mountain’s glacier
comes up this morning from music
after a night-long confrontation
with grace, anger fully present,
holding back its bile.

Jim Bodeen
1 October 2013