SUNDAY CHURCH SERVICE IN BOWBELLS HIGH SCHOOL GYMNASIUM
WITH ALL-CHURCH COMMUNITY CHOIR, SITTING WITH MOM &
During half time at basketball games I shot baskets
in stocking feet before the community in this gym.
This place was a promise. We had an all-school assembly
with a man selling virtues of canned rattlesnake meat.
I played Frosty the Snowman on this stage in first grade. My
Sharon, three years my senior, played French Horn in the
became class valedictorian. Walking through the school
the service, the library opens to questions. These books on
31 Letters & 13
Dreams by poet Richard Hugo. Diving
into the Wreck,
by Adrienne Rich, beside E. A. Robinson. Small enough, too,
to hold me, take me back. I’ve been gone 51 years.
The school was hooked up to Internet Access in 1999
“…to squirm among this difficult magnificence
where we are most our own,” Hugo writes
in “Camping the Divide.” Bill Jenson, from another
place, too, comes up to me in the library.
Class of ’62, a pilot in Viet Nam
“Tomorrow this town will be a ghost town,” he says.
I pull a book from the shelf, and ask Mom to sit at the
table here in the library to help me read Act III of Our Town.
I give Mom the part of Emily, just buried, at her funeral
among the dead. Karen reads Mrs. Gibbs,
Howie Newsome, and Simon Stimson.
I take the part of the Stage Manager.
“Live people don’t understand, do they Mama,” Mom reads.
Most of what Emily says is daily news for me.
The All-Community Choir is practicing before the service,
And I am in my seat, good boy at last.
Wandering between gymnasium, library, and classrooms,
makes it easy to get lost. I’m walking through time, standing
in front of a clean old chalk blackboard—old school—
washed for summer, I search the teacher’s desk for chalk,
writing The Red
Wheelbarrow side by side with lines
from some lines about Crazy Horse of mine. I write our
William Carlos Williams, Jim Bodeen, adding
American poet under each name. Back in the gym
I watch two middle-age women to whom I gave May Day Baskets
And Valentines. Women whose names I named in poems
As a man, wondering if they had enough love for me.
These two women, along with Karen, all three in this small
town gymnasium, became the three women of my adult life.
I remember a photo of my father in a basketball uniform
in the library. It is his face, not mine. But I’m in the
sitting on a folding chair, listening to the choir.
“It’s so sad,” the woman sitting next to Mom says,
“Someone so young.” Karen read that line minutes ago.
These necessary things my family does for me. All I do is
Then last fall we
moved to Park River, about 60 miles…
It was time for us to
move off the farm. We wanted
to be closer to the
kids. We didn’t want to go to the city.
Mom talks to Elton Peterson, in his 80’s. “I have a son
who helps me in the store, a daughter in Mohall
who won’t talk to me, and a daughter who teaches
in the university who’s too smart for her own good.”
And this: …and her
husband passed away,
and her and I are
about the same. We can do anything,
but not everything,
and not fast. I ask Karen,
What did you think of reading Our Town?
“It sounds like your mother talking.” I ask,
“Are you somebody I’m supposed to know?”
The Bowbells All Faith Worship Service
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Be our dwelling place this morning. We flourish and wither.
To see as Moses did,” the pastor reads. Even at worship
I’m other, writing in a notebook, homework for no school.
Pastor Todd Erickson, graduate class of 1994,
from Bowbells, living in Kenmare, begins with a joke.
“Living in Kenmare, I’m sorry. I root for Honkers.”
His 4-month old son killed two years ago in an accident.
We praise God, he says. He makes a joke through tears.
“Hey mom, how come you look forward to seeing
old ladies you said you can’t stand?”
His reading is from I Kings. 1-13. Elijah. Glory days.
Altars at Bael. 400 prophets of Bael, building an altar.
“Don’t you wish we could go back to glory days?”
After the fire came a whisper, What are you doing here,
Observation. Interpretation. Application.
The valley experience follows the mountain experience.
No fear. And here. Here’s fear. “I nicknamed her Hillary.”
Ooh. I wince. But then this. God came only in the silence.
God is only in
nothingness, void. God on his own terms.
Are you listening?
Taken away by circumstances.
Glory days with the word.
And until then,
celebrate every day.
The Jepson girls from Bowbells say,
“Take a look around. What do you see?”
See through it as a picture, or a mirror.
Gordy Everson, from my mom’s side of family.
Ron Swanson. Joyce Ekstrom. Names from dreams.
Doris Haxton Cron. Class of ’50. Married to Clarence.
stayed w/Mom’s family
for two years, when the school…
“Joyce, there’s someone I want you to meet,” I say.
“This is my wife, Karen. Karen, this is Joyce Ekstrom.
Joyce and I exchanged Valentine’s.
I left May Day Baskets on her porch.”
I needed to make a gift exchange after 50 years—
To name the beginning myth, lost arrow head.
Valentine in public view. Fire seed.
To show Karen the fidelity inside my poem
and the journey of the story. This controlling truth
Pursues me. I do the best I can. At best, it’s awful,
not. Not.—Mom comes from the other side.
Joyce sees the Everson between Lucille and Bodeen.
Joyce is interested in this name that means nothing to me.
We meet her mom who is 93 years old. Mom tells
a story of her husband. Family stories safer than
Walking to the Jeep, Mom says, “Joyce is the girl
who Jim liked when he was a boy.”
And I feel that I’m the boy being talked about
In bathrooms. We sit in silence.
Eating with Karen and Mom, I say,
“I don’t think I’m the only one who was interested.”
Joyce was valedictorian of the class of 1963.
The man she married wasn’t from Bowbells.
She married outside the gene pool. Why did Karen choose me?
I don’t think her marriage went unnoticed.” I want Karen
to know however I understood her beauty,
it connects to story. A story in charge of my life,
Whatever my life is, there was no equivocation.
I went straight from
here to you. This is all
there ever was of me,
all I ever had to give.
In a notebook, in times like these, I’m beyond failure
or arrival, inside charged conditions. All that can be done,
will be done here, on the page, and it will live.
It will live beyond one’s life if one
has strength and courage to let it happen.
Karen marries into story, too. Unfettered poetry.
Including finalities in goodbye. Unfinished lives.
Ed Cline says, “You’re Jim, Wayne Bodeen’s boy.
I sold grain to him. They’ve got 17 guys
doing it over here now.”
More people from Bowbells,
than living here, now. Coming here you better
come in an RV or have a place. No places to stay here.
Later, on the way home, in a Pizza Hut in Shelby, Montana
on Highway 2, I write, We
lived between railroad tracks
and Canada, train whistles woke me, I
dreamed Indian graves
31 July 2006-19 October 2006
Revised January, 2007