The Japanese Art of Miniature Landscape Stones


Walking in the Sculpture Park
after leaving the museum,
the child asks,

Grandpa, when
are we going to go someplace,
like the Space Needle?

Jim Bodeen
26-29 July 2014


We’re going to explore these stones
under running water. The artist
is the one who finds the stone.
Do you believe that?
You don’t have to believe it.
Will you think about it?
You’re the explorer.
So you’re not going to make a thing now.
Start by walking in water.

What you see makes you the one
who decides. You’re looking
for pretty stones, yes.

But not just pretty ones.

Part of it is color, yes.
When you see something you like,
pick it up. Look at all sides.
Look for interesting shapes, too.
Can you see a mountain in that stone?
Is there a trail on the stone
where you could hike?
Cliffs are good, yes, and caves.
You’ve skied on mountains.

Find a mountain in the river rock.

Explorers and artists.
Every time you take a stone
out of water you change the river.
You’re suiseki artists. Say, suiseki.
When you put the stone
in the garden you make a creek bed.
Yesterday this creek was dry.
Rain brought the water.
When you wash these stones
listen to your fingers.
What do your fingers tell you?
Look at all sides
before you put anything
in your bucket.

Jim Bodeen
29 July 2014



Practicalities of the daily interior
Adjacent, against, upon
Practicalities of the day

Jim Bodeen
27 July 2014



Jim Bodeen
27 July 2014

One of Life's Pleasures


cutting fruit.
Confident, sharp blade
of the chef,
his clean, ironed apron—
so admired by women.

The easiness of it all.
His swift slice through the earth
opening the cantaloupe.

Watermelon, quartered and hollowed,
tipped, already sliced into a plastic bag.
No mess, no fuss. No cleanup.

I have mine, too.
Triangles of melon.
Long, slim fingers of liquid sugar, iced.
Hand-to-mouth succulents.
Coffee-table elegant, triggers.
The Mouth’s first Ah.

I, too, have had teachers.

The campesina is the first.
At the tourist beach, la playa at Mazatlán.
Holding the pineapple with one hand,
machete in the other, two slices, top and bottom.
Followed by a succession of blades
faster than eye can follow.
Fruit delivered
with the urgency and nonchalance of money.
Delicacy by which she hands the rind
holding still-chewable fruit
to the mother and child, hungry behind her.
The country priest in El Salvador, the other:
We need to find the language, he said,
to convince your wives and daughters
to slip their gold rings from their fingers
by themselves and share them
so we all might have enough.
We want you to help them too.
Fingers taken only by necessity.

Jim Bodeen
25 July 2014


Cantaloupe, watermelon
Sharp, confident blade
Sweet, receiving flesh

Jim Bodeen
24 July 2014



D      Days of making leaves
l             Looking into Bashō's pines
   Shading each other

Jim Bodeen
18 July 2014



—for Tim

This rock from the Naches River
has been calling for two years.
I run into it wherever I camp.
I sat on it first in water, and later
when the river went down. I turned it, 

edges softened by water and rock
and 50,000 years, maybe a million,
character ridged and deepened
by modesty and its way of sitting up
in water moving around it. Last year,

before winter, I thought
I’d let it go. Why did an old man
need another rock, after a lifetime
of wilderness witness? A kind of patriarch,
this stone, I could see family members,

mostly smaller survivors,
within a half mile of river walks.
That rock’s in the garden now,
an altar capable again,
of standing alone or complementing

others, which might be trees
afterall. Afterfall? When the river
went down in high summer,
I rolled it, carefully around
and between rocks that might scrape

and disfigure part of its skin-shine
adding to its beauty. I found myself
driving to it, inching it along
river bank, ever closer to my Sisyphusian
task which would stop me. And I left it,

my body broken again. I left it
in shrubs, propped but hidden,
14-feet from, and two body lengths
down, from the road. Not a good place
to leave heavenly light blown

from exploding stars. My son
at this time found himself walking home
over mountains where I would pick him up
coming to me on foot hiking the side of the road.
I couldn’t get it, and need your help

I said, after dispensing pleasantries.
More practical than I, with experiences
making transportation available
to those burdened as I am, limited
in external lifting, he knows how hard

those like me can make things.
He makes his life accordingly.
He lives on a mountain
and calls it a mountain.
He calls me his father, knowing

I could see this stone
crossing drainage and mountain range,
its thousand mile slide and tumble,
but couldn’t get it up the road. Knowing
I had no word for what to be done—

leverage foreign as tool or medicine.
I had asked to be useless.
Make me useless, Lord, in all things.
And so I was. My son did lift the stone
from its hidden place to the road,

and onto the truck bed. I can
take it from here, I said, grateful,
asking only, Do you like it? I do,
he said, both of us knowing
star power and invisibility.

Jim Bodeen
16 July 2014



       --for Marty

reflected in the calipers. Calipers,
you call them? What you used in high school
geometry, or was it science?

          Four rectangular compartments,
carefully constructed. Three with measuring devices
all of the sort used by school children.

     In the odd one, under glass, a stick
laid out in cotton, it appears to be a coffin.
A coffin! A torn piece of paper on the right side.

Is it a zero, or a capital P with a missing seraph?

One can’t tell. The maps on the back side,
beautiful, and easy to see, but only one
hanging the gallery show
or taking art down from a wall would see them.

Crazy Horse never recognized South Dakota.

There is no pattern to the maps
but beauty that I can see.

              I wasn’t looking elsewhere
myself, only to photograph the piece
when I discovered the undersides of the shelves.
Dictionary pages have been put down with an overlay
of gauze rendering definitions unreadable.

This is where the birds are located. On the underside
of two of the shelves. One under a layer of gauze,
one over the gauze.

The beehive in the top quadrant, empty.

Jim Bodeen
8-14 July 2014


Maybe when I get home
I’ll ask myself
why I carried this stone

all this way, sore back
and all. I’ll bring
my response from the river

We’ll sit and talk

Jim Bodeen
14 July 2014


Elegant in quiet wires
Hands obedient to breath
Sun bends needles bright

Jim Bodeen
12 July 2014



Slow this day down. Slow it down.

Like you did yesterday.

Then read, or write (a bit),
towards that slowing


Small trees shadow
against a white fence
in July morning sun

the natural practice

I’ll tell you this:
the sound’s off
and the music’s on

I’ll tell you this:
the notebook’s more interesting
than any poem

This is not the notebook.

Work the patina
rubbing the stone.

Jim Bodeen
9 July 2014


     for Marty 

Oh, I say, my friend is writing titles
for his assemblages. Yes, we made him,
the curator says. My grand daughter says,
Look Grandpa, They hung all these cds

from the ceiling and twisted them up.
The curator comes around the corner
and asks, Do you know what these are?
My granddaughter looks at her, unsure

of what to say now. They’re cds,
like you listen to music on, the curator
says. Isn’t that cool? As we look
at art left to be picked up

my granddaughter exclaims, Grandpa,
there’s a beehive in Marty’s art.
I’m going to get the lady. Look,
she says, there’s a beehive in there.

The curator looks until she finds it.
There is. I missed it the first time
around. He put it too high.
He should move it down so people could see.

Jim Bodeen
8 July 2014



One piece of sunlight
on the fence,
shows two days of wiring
on the dwarf Spruce bonsai.
Next spring it gets a pot from Japan.

My old Indiana friend
walks me through a forest
he planted himself
surrounding a 200-year
red oak that fell this spring.

His neighbor, driving by
wanted to cut it up
for firewood.
What are you going to do with it?
he asked. Nothing,

Nothing, my friend said.
Fence rows take up our talk,
much of it. Each of us
with a Gingko. Each with a path
to China and the ancestors.

Jim Bodeen
8 July 2014



“As I’ve said before, I write in the voice of a child…”
     Kurt Vonnegut, The Last Interviews

returning to the family reunion, our host says, 
“By the way, you’re not a veteran are you?
it's National PTSD Day, all who served

receive a copy of our Armistice Anthology,
and so it goes. In and out of the doors,
going through, it’s the doing that matters,
anecdote beneath the concept, gesture

prompting response. The asterisk on the cover,
Vonnegut Code. The laughter released spontaneously
by Kilgore Trout’s question: What is the purpose
of life? Caught without a pen, he couldn’t say:

“To be/ the eyes/ and ears/ and conscience/
of the Creator of the Universe/ you fool.
To be the poet asking,
You know what I mean by blue?”

And so it goes walking through doors.
I wouldn’t have gotten to
Breakfast of Champions without the question
from the guide at the door.

Persimmon pudding bless us all.

Jim Bodeen
6 July 2014


She had given him this world.
Her mother belonged here,

had married a man from the West Coast,
a fisherman who told her sea stories

and tales of Alaska. This took place
after the Great War.

She gave birth and then she died.
The daughter grew up in Seattle

and that’s where he met her.
The people from here always wondered

what happened to her, that little girl
who was taken from them

when the mother died. Decades
later, the grown up child

returned for a reunion
with her new family.

An aura of light surrounded her.
She was charmed, nevertheless, unaware

of the emanation coming from her.
She thought it was she who had returned,

but everyone talking to her believed
they were talking to her mother.

Jim Bodeen
4 July 2014


They were walking the cemetery.
The man said, I know more people

here than I do in town,
but I think I’m in the wrong row.

Mom and Dad are in the next row over.

Jim Bodeen
4 July 2014


He had been reading Basho all spring
bouncing between translations.

Flying at night across the country
he woke in the altered state of sleeplessness

sometimes found in the dreambody.
He had come from the heartland himself,

knew its cruelties and kindnesses.
His town had disappeared completely

taken back by the grasses
who maintained a quiet and fierce

solidarity with the buffalo.
His wife showed him the genetic code.

He remembered his feet bound
in tennis shoes walking railroad tracks.

Jim Bodeen
4 July 2014

The Kurt Vonnegut Notebook


Before placing time and place,
Before the placing of your years beside ours,
a conversation full of history,
reader and writer, conversation and clues.
What about that Vonnegut hardware store?
And what Vonneguts left in the phonebook?
Connections and disconnections in home,
for all of us, in our eachness.

A quick run to the library to pick up the letters
before coming your way. Museum and library
with your name on it in your home town.
Letters being a big part of the beginnings,
telling myself, Have the Indianapolis librarian
sign this book before returning it to the shelves.
This pilgrimage in letters and notebooks.
This way of being at table with family,
sitting quiet on the friendly porch
with a plate in my lap.My wife’s family
gathers in New Ross, outside Brownsburg,
where her uncle, a quiet man
under influences of fence rows, trees,
and the etymology of words, lives
in wild obedience to all that surrounds him,
listening to trees. This is Indiana
with Gingko and Dawn Redwood, punctuation
for a forest of locust and wild raspberry.
I’ll bet we can get a ride into the city.
Somebody here will want to shop
those big stores in Circle Square.

The famous letters. The published one
and the one never opened, under glass.

The year we have in common,
the 22d year. The high school journalist
does poorly in college, drops out of school,
enlists. Home on Mother’s Day
leave in 1944, his mother commits suicide.

The letter to Kurt Vonnegut, then,
from Yakima, after the afternoon at
Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library and Museum
in downtown Indianapols. Dear Kurt Vonnegut:
The letter from your dad, returned to sender,
remains under glass at your library.
There’s a scholarship for students, they write letters
to you in your Dad’s voice. Anna Bennington
and Zachary Bradby this year’s winners.
A thousand bucks for each for school. Bennington
writes as the father with regrets:
…I distanced myself from you,
Bradby’s letter describes the father’s dream,
worst things that can happen to a son in war,
confined in a concrete cavern…
people not people at all, but corpses…
Letters published in So It Goes,
the Literary Journal of the KV Memorial Library,
An Armistice Day Anthology.
Armistace, not Veteran’s Day.
Your earlier call carries the day.
It’s National PTSD Day in the country
every veteran walking through your door
gets a complimentary copy. And so it goes.
How you showed Dresden to the world,
taking us in, bringing us out, giving us your code,
So it goes, asterisk for the asshole on the cover.
A nreakfast of champions.
They’ve re-created your office
with your chair, and typewriter.
I pretended my short body was your big frame
hunched over the typewriter on the coffee table below.
No ashtray, but the pack of Pall Mall’s
locked up behind glass. You started those at 14?
There’s a photo of your dad behind your chair
smoking one, posed by the professional photographer
of the day imagining immortality. Artists
render you in pigments of light,
and body language that makes one wince,
as if time travel cooks the breath
until tears can be released as laughter.
Your quotes all over the walls in elegant typeface.
In this letter they all change,
each person’s favorites emerging unique
in digital wonder. One piece of art, yours—
The New Beatitude for Dan Wakefield
turned Christian: Blessed are the happy boys and girls.
Great grandfather Clemons Vonnegut
having the word on Jesus:
If what he said was good, what does it matter
if he was God or not? My favorite kernel
coming from Mary O’Hare blowing her stack,
lifted out of context from Slaughterhouse:
You were nothing but babies then.
The museum in your name makes this happen.
The trigger lifted out for all to see.
And this is true of soldiers.
They are in fact babies. They are not movie stars.
And realizing that was the key,
I was finally free to tell the truth,
and the subtitle…became the Children’s Crusade.
Re-reading Slaughterhouse on the plane home,
your title page becomes its own document,
worthy of study. Your letter to the family,
May 29, 1945, published prominently twice—
Appendix B, Modern Library edition of Vonnegut,
Novels and Stories 1963-73, alongside Slaughterhouse;
and again in Kurt Vonnegut Letters,
edited by Dan Wakefield. What else?
Your photo after basic training,
its innocence, and I hold it for the camera
having one of my own—How close you are to
Vietnam in Slaughterhouse!—and the photo
of you and your fellow GIs in the horse cart
just released from the POW camp. That’s you
with your back to the headboard? Your description
of the horse. Re-reading on the plane
holds me in solitary, I have no one to read to.
I’m in altered space, flying at night
with no sleep. The numbers and the years.
1945. I do some research on the battle.
Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge.
You on a ship in October, 1944. Three weeks
of training in England and shipped out fresh.
Captured with your other scouts days later.

The details in your letter. You’re 22.
Life script given to you in the first six months
of 1945. Discharged before the bombs
on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My birthdate:
Auust 9, 1945. Born between the times.
Bombs folded into both our brains.
I was your age in Viet Nam working Med Evac
after Tet. You carrying signs to bring us home.
And your birth. 1922. My friend’s mother
shares the same year. I see her enough
to know what the year looks like.
It helps. Finally, the rejected thesis
from Chicago, and the most satisfying teacher,
Robert Redfield, his thesis, human beings
hardwired for living in a folk-society
where everyone knew everybody well,
and associations made for life, what one man
believes what all men believe,
…every man part of a larger, coherent whole—
your world view. Where I’m coming from
with my wife’s Indiana family, her gift to me,
an Indiana story. I’ll close with your good title
from your anthropology thesis in Chicago,
On the Fluctuations Between Good and Evil in Simple Tales.
Peace to all of us, in your name.

Jim Bodeen
2 June 2014—3July 2014
Yakima-New Ross-Indianapolis-Yakima



So deeply beloved.
“And I don’t understand.”
They knew your story before you did,
and you gave them the gift
of returning. They could see for themselves
how the story turned out.


When you come back
they get to go out with their cousin.
They get to see their aunt.
They talk with your mother--
her face, her voice, in you.


Every breath is telling
All showing, showing all

Jim Bodeen
New Ross, Indiana
28 June 2014