Star Dust On My Fingertips: Letter to Cynthia Moe-Lobeda


            —for my brother, Chuck, and his wife, Lena Bodeen

“We, as every other thing, living and nonliving, are offspring of the same parent that flared forth some 13.7 billion years ago in the cosmic event known as the ‘big bang.’”
       —Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological Economic Vocation

1.      The Ministering Women

A little gold dust falls on us all.

This is the medicine of the women.
This is the medicine of the ministering women.
The medicine belongs to the vision quest of Crazy Horse
and the disappearance of his medicine bag.
The women are caring for one of their own.
They have taken on the cancer.
Ministers and distant cousins of the stars, sisters to all,
they know what it is, the cancer.
This is their medicine.
They do not ask how it all turns out.
This, too, is their medicine, their practice.
They ask for no guarantees.

Who will accompany me to the river root
where rivers coalesce,
where fabric takes on texture,
where the singular disappears
in collective beginnings.

Medicine and the earth.
To whom does the earth turn for justice?
She is my sister, too, the dying woman.
This bowl of soup.
This inclusive medicine of the ministering women.
This single portion.
Help the man to the counter, to the stool.
Point to the spoon.

In the emergency room, family gathers around the bed.
This is the portion of the witness.
One of the gathered leaves the huddled talk
and goes to the dying woman,
and whispers, I love you.
The woman whispers back,
I love you, too.
This is the voice in the medicine bag,
confirmation and validation.
This is the understanding witness.
Hearing is the last sense to abandon the dying.

    2.  Healing and Resisting— Moe-Lobeda Books as Bookends

Bookending a decade.
Globalization and God. Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation.
Holding up your new book in the basement room,
the immigrant woman points, hand over her mouth,
and my wife exclaims, Kristen Gilje, the tree woman
on the cross from Holden Village. The painting hanging
in the isolated North Cascade Mountains blesses your words,
makes you an intimate with the women. Subversives
dressed in art to wear. Ben Shahn’s Red Stairway
goes up and down, in and out of Hell
while women carry water in clay pots in cycles of invisibility.
To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter.
Separate fundamentals from irrelevant material.
The mayor says, Water for all.
The women say, Show us the faucets.
Democracy disabled. Be. Know. Do.
What happens when transnational corporations
are more powerful than your government.

The poem is the place where people may speak the unspeakable.

You’re so good with Luther in the broken world.
Christ may be received only after the person
has utterly despaired of ability to justify self.
I’d forgotten your work with Luther and sin—
se incurvatus in se—self turned in upon self—
talk about rusty tools! So sweet to read,
such heat from hot rocks. I carried you
in the blue book back to El Salvador,
carrying too, rural North Dakota roots,
invisible, still connected to the power source.

Hegemony is more Minnesota than North Dakota
as far as language goes, how one talks over coffee,
but we know what you’re talking about
when evils starts dressing up to look good.
I’d have to say, I’m part of that one.
Complicit? I love that part where you quote
Aida Hurtado and the good guys
having the gift of infinite goodness
because they never have to be personally bad.

That image of you at fourteen in Luther League
watching sugar cane workers in the Dominican Republic,
the best. If there’s a thread of greater vision
than America’s young, aghast, horrified,
watching a film, I’ve not seen it.
Sustaining, sustainable.
Here’s one back. A fourteen year-old girl
in our town, takes her laptop computer,
calls Alan Storey in Capetown,
brings him to Yakima two months later.

We have this room in the church basement.
We talk some. A listening place.
I’ve been talking about you for ten years.
The fourteen year-old’s mother says,
Cynthia is coming to Yakima.
Advance invitation, I guess, or warning.

       3. Q&A, Prójimo, Grammar: The Loving Resistors

The young man sits opposite me
writing in his notebook, as I am writing in mine.
Maybe he’s in his 20s, here with questions,
as you wind up your mud-song, earth-chant, economic love vocation,
a program with urgency ,
when his question arrives,
which you ask him to repeat.

            What is repentance?

            Bless your heart, you say, Bless your heart
for that beautiful question. Hold on.

If you’re not suffering it’s difficult to see.
It operates regardless—even when only the good are involved.
This is structural evil.

Love makers—Our God is at play in the world. Making love.

There are 25 million climate refugees in the world.

What does it mean for the people here gathered?
Heeding our call to love requires high stakes.
Step with me in courage.
Through climate change we are doing un-creating.
We are a dangerous species.
Resistance is one of the doorways to moral power.
Failure to repent is our failure to see.
Repentance is the other doorway.

[At this point the question arrives.]

            What is repentance?

Beautiful, beautiful question.

A reduced understanding of sin means a truncated vision of salvation.
It’s ability to hide confirms its wickedness.
Repentance calls for fields of literacy in that sin.
Lifestyle changes in housing and eating and travel.
Responsible buying and investing.
Alternative sources for news.
Whose vision of the world is to be told?

These are some of the tools of the unraveling.

None of us is primarily an I.
We are, in fact, first, we.
Thank all of those who enable you to be here now.
All of those living inside your tear ducts.
We are a cloud of witnesses,
wide-spread, burgeoning.  A movement.
These, your forms of action, loving resistors.

Thirty years ago I sat with a young man on my porch.
Usted es mi prójimo, he said.
Mi prójimo.
Para nosotros, para los mexicanos no hay palabra más grande,
más fuerte, más importante. Prójimo.

His description and eloquence,
the openness and depth of his heart
made it too large for me to see.
I was his teacher at the time.
A young man, too.
He was a wrestler, a luchador,
another word he taught me to see and to know.
He would teach me about the asparagus fields.
Already a teacher cutting asparagus.
He put the asparagus knife in my hand.
He would exceed his own dreams
stepping out of strawberry fields
into multiple worlds of many languages.
But that day he walked me next door,
and knocked. When my neighbor came to the door,
he said, Aquí, Él es su prójimo.
Here is your neighbor.

The beautiful question stands before two doorways.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda will say all is neighbor, including otherkind.
Sort that one out for yourself.

One can’t know what the young man heard.
What went into his notebook.
Because the question is mine, too,
I don’t get it all.
The surprise seeds itself—into the indicative,
away from the imperative. No world of shoulds
in the mouth of Jesus.

You write in the coffee shop,
one of the ministering women.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Agapao.
Finishing like this:
You have the power. You’re not being told to.
Already part of your divinity.

Jim Bodeen
25 September—21 October 2014
Pacific Lutheran University/Yakima, WA



“I do not say loveable or admirable. 
I say sympathetic, sentimental, mediocre, 
wasted….He symbolized those to whom 
we refer in daily conversation 
with the expression, ‘the poor devil.’ 
However let us not forget that these guileless 
men, exactly because they are ‘easy’, 
are often the best carriers of an evil 
which has its source elsewhere.” 
    --George Seferis on Elpenor.

[Elpenor, drunk from wine, fell from roof and broke his neck. Young and foolish, first among the dead, and first one Odysseus sees in Hades.]

This is a room in a house nobody knows,
so how could they take it? This afternoon
I must return your books to libraries
where they’ve found homes; California
and Oregon, inter-library loans.
Your diaries quicken my heart; Lines

from your poems fill my notebooks.
The first thing God made, the long journey.
Memory hurts wherever you touch it.
Like that, over and over. Front to back,
and then back to front. So many guides
Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard,

lovely Anvil edition. A Poet’s Journal:
1945-51, Athan Anagnostopoulos,
my favorite, and over time
Sam Hamill opens doors three decades past.
So I come to know Stratis Thalassinos,
How can you walk with the dead?

Flowers are in heaven, Chris Smart says.
And you? We are the seed that dies.
And I entered my empty house. Now?
Blessed be your inability to see. 
Exiled arms witness against torpor 
in tattooed words. Your Banquet Speech

for the Nobel, Poetry has its roots
in human breath – and what would we be
if our breath were diminished?  
You speak for the sailor in our souls,
unearthing us, scouring words new.
Poetry is an act of confidence,

and who knows,..our unease
…not due to a lack of confidence?
Images in ocean waves clear out
careerist collars clinging neck-tight,
false calls secure in abstract dis-belief.
You’ll get used to it, little by little.

Coming home. They don’t live in the poem.
What Neruda called La muerte pequeña.
The little death. Both of you, Mr. Seferis,
humble at the banquet table, Neruda,
most local of local poets, You:
We are lost because we have been unjust.

I was in high school when you spoke.
50 years later, building home in a poem,
I type your words and pin them to a wall
made of words. Fated archers, diplomats
miss target after target. In my time
TV sport never ends. Elpenor cheering.

Forgettable whistles furthering holocaust.
You stand with Rex Warner in the stadium,
understanding. Coded language of love
before the horror. Steadfast in sympathy
for Elpenor, who we can no longer name.
My poor, foolish Elpenor. Oh, Help us!

You instruct in diary and anecdote,
one day going for a swim, coming on
the sunken wreck. Surrounded
in water and light, the poem, Thrush,
born here—close the curtains
to bring what’s been hidden to the surface.

Jim Bodeen
1 September-15 October 2014

This Ineffable Thing


So this is my work, undertaker.
Walking with you and my brother,
delivering the spirit body,
soul house, from the land of illusion
to the otherness in the air.
The otherness in soil,
body in a treasure box,
my granddaughter’s language.
Williams said it first,
I will teach you my people,
and I’ve only done it once, well,
only once,
when Mom died, that time.
You were both present,
with work to do yourselves.

So this is my work, too.
Talking like this. This airy talk.
The undertaker, the one 
who rides with the bodies,
is my friend. He says to me,
It’s getting harder and harder.
We talk about the grave diggers
in Hamlet. Try and give him
some encouragement. Hold on now.
My son-in-law remembers
the man in Moxee used to dig graves,
called him Digger. Grandchildren
climb the Japanese Cherry by the grave
where my sister-in-law’s casket rests.
Hamlet’s been gone. Doesn’t 
know his girlfriend
drowned herself in the pond.
Comes in the back way,
finds himself listening to the two digging,
finds himself catching up, stunned
by their irreverence
which in many ways matches his own,
and then the procession comes,
court ceremony and all, Queen Mother
on the King’s arm,
his girl friend’s brother, Laertes,
the one he’s been fighting with,
everybody grieving, his world
collapsing before his eyes.
I’m getting into it, but my friend,
working the ceremony,
gets distracted. And my brother,
with his grief in his hands.
Did you know Our Town?
I say to the undertaker, when he returns.
I’ll get it for you,
we’ll read it together. I’ll order copies,
one for him, one for my brother
whose wife’s body is in the casket
beneath the Japanese Cherry
where the children climb, and the third one
for me, in case they ask me 
to sit with them,
reading graveside. The undertaker’s been
the stage manager most of his adult life,
but never got to read his own lines.
My brother can sit here in Act III
and hear Emily say to Simon Stimson,
Live people don’t understand, do they?
Maybe the three of us 
can drive to Anacortes,
sit on the bench by Ray Carver’s grave
and read together, weeping and laughing.
I’d like that. People with other lives
than in books get cheated this way,
living in the commerce of things,
even in my brother’s case, a baseball game.
The baseball coach and the undertaker
with this play at Ray Carver’s grave.
What we talk about when we talk about love.
What we don’t talk about, you know?
My loneliness comes from those books.
I know that. I’m trying to learn
to be quiet for my wife’s sake.
Once more talking to myself.
A husband’s 50-year grief talk.
But the undertaker, and my brother.
What might connect them
more fully to themselves is my life. What
establishes my solitude is my work.
I’m reading George Seferis’
Journal from 1945-51. The librarian found
it for me in an Oregon Library. June, 1946,
he writes, The mountains, 
each inside the other,
are bodies hugging each other, flowing
into each other; they complete you.
Someone has taken a number #2 pencil
with a sharp point and made a small dot
in the margin crossing time and distance.
On the next page, where Seferis wrote,
But to say what you want to say 
you must create another language 
and nourish it for years
with what you have loved, 
with what you have lost,
with what you will never find again.
And the same dot 
with the same sharp pencil.
This goes on and I begin
writing the passages in my notebook,
The days are stones.
Realizing slowly,
The pencil marks are mine,
from decades ago. Same book,
same library, the exile
still trying to find his way home.
I recall the poet who led me to Seferis,
the many things I learned from him.
I recall ordering this book before.
The way of being a poet. 
And this same book.
Long apprenticeship and ancient way.
What can and cannot be said. This same,
worn and lovely book, warm in my hands.
Seferis himself, reading again, 
The Odyssey from the beginning. 
This ineffable thing—
words barely scratch its surface.
These beautiful children 
climbing this one tree.
The chance of us all being here.
The poet saying, Just being here.
The falling. 
The falling is about to begin.
My brother and the undertaker.
The Stage Manager asking 
himself about marriage.
Hamlet returning to Elsinore 
through the back gate.
All gates open. 

Jim Bodeen 
8 October 2014

Ways You Try And Reach Me, Lord


I've been stepping in dog shit all morning.
I do not name the dog.

Jim Bodeen
5 October 2014



Dear Chuck, sweet brother. 
These songs,the only thing I know. 
Lena and I talked music,
she liked jazz, here’s my list 
with no Miles. Lena liked Miles. 
Be sure, his back is turned,
and Lena’s smiling. How these songs 
got here, what I want you to listen for.
Gretchen wanted Amazing Grace. 
I get to pick the recording. 
Charles Lloyd has a 2-hour set 
for his mother crossing,
Lift Every Voice and Sing. Gretchen
will track her mother to paradise
if she finds all of it, 
and gives six months
to nothing but You’re So Beautiful.
Not here. What is here? Lena’s listening.
Listen, when your girls finished 
writing the obituary 
we took out every reference
to here, as in not here, substituting
earth for here, believing, in fact,
Lena’s presence. What a privilege
being in the room with your daughters,
fully adult, as they wrote,
Megan saying at one point, 
This seems like Dad’s paragraph—
the one detailing how Lena
kept football pools quarter by quarter
with prizes to keep up her own interest.
Dad’s paragraph, his call.
They wrote Glioblastoma out of our world.
Chuck, sweet brother, Coach of Our Valley,
good husband, best Dad, and Papa,
I’m getting warmed up, 
under the influence
of Megan and the way she 
led the gospel songfest
around Lena’s bedside. 
Cottage in the Meadow-hospice, 
blessed place for family.
When Megan and Julia led us  
singing Blessed Assurance,
everyone in the room became believers.
Iris DeMent learned 
the song from her mother,
who believed like Megan. Like you.
Iris DeMent comes from deep river country.
She sings from, and crossing, riverbanks
most of us have never seen. 
She’s here, twice.
Just because, just because. And for Megan.
Chuck, these lines aren’t testimony,
but a kind of code. When you hear 
Archie Shepp’s clarinet 
on My Lord, What a Mornin’
picture Julia taking out her violin,
playing for Nana’s crossing. Note, too,
there are two versions 
of What A Morning.
These, the most beautiful 
ever recorded. Charlie Haden, 
Hank Jones, Archie Shepp, Horace Parlan.
Hank Jones had this bone disease capable
of shattering the bones in both hands
simply by laying them on piano keys.
And Elvis? Aren’t we Justified
by our listening? I’m just about done,
but Marsalis and Clapton carry on
with Just A Closer Walk with Thee
for over 12 minutes. It’s here
for that drum solo. Those are kids
banging on pails and garbage lids.
They’re at the ball park 
watching you coach
during the closest of games. 
You’re on third base, working praise songs,
coaching Lena on the Bridge to Heaven.
You’re really coaching. 
As you said, I was.
There was never any doubt in the outcome.
Thanks for that walk, for permitting us
to be present, to be 
in the room with you and Lena.
The rest is easy. Gretchen reminded me
of Mavis Staples, how we listened 
one day on our way up the mountain.
42 years of marriage. 
Jackie Robinson’s number. 42 years. 
40 Days in the Wilderness. 16 Songs.
Chuck, I’ve always had to go  
through the City of No, 
to get to the Paradise in Yes.
Leonard Cohen sings through fire,
he’s King David creating 
the Psalter of Our Days.
The women in our lives, 
Karen and Lena,
like Ruth in the corn.
Wherever thou goest, turning tables on us.
Where they go, we go too.

Your brother,

22 August—1 October, 2014