Stone as Palimpsest



To get to here, to us, where we are.
Turn off Washington onto that street
with the name I refuse to say
for its preciousness in a modest development,
and driving slow, respecting children
and their parents, you'll see the flag
on your left and the flag underneath the flag,
another unnamed one, turn left before this one
and the stones will be on your left
in front of the white fence.
Follow the stones.

These stones, picked up, dug up, placed here,
by me. Mostly ordinary stones, long buried,
placed here, random and not random, by me.
The occasional cairn. The river run run out,
the creek bed, what dried out, and what ran
and still runs in water imagined and real.
Some stones from famous rivers, too.
All of the stones, themselves, silent,
but showing a direction, a way.
These stones are us, on the corner.
Keep following the stones.
The specimen trees surrounding the stones
will tell you without telling you,
even while making their own statement,
this is a stone garden.


Nobody told me about Ghost Town Turnoff
where I can see the Garnet Range.
After all these river stops. When granite magma
entered limestone, the two reacted to form
a new kind of rock. The key to gold mineralization
lies in granite magma rising molten from earth's crust
forming the slippery base for block to slide on,
cooling, crystalization separated quartz and gold
into veins. My pastor friend remembers the Finn,
Arne Siirila saying poets are nerve endings of society.
When Grandpa Charlie was dying in Dakota,
he said, Don't let them burn me. Dear God,
don't let them cauterize my nerves. We cried
each other into comas, and left for Black Elk's grave
located in St. Agnes' Catholic Cemetery in Manderson
at Pine Ridge. Pretty soon, for the dreamers,
oblivious of the star dust in their palms,
gold is in the pan. You figure that one.


Looking back through the notebook
the world does seem to fit onto a single page

You have to keep the live vein
You have to get food up there somehow
You need to give the tree a chance

Nebari, front, trunk, direction, movement,
first branch, apex

The project of forgetting commences

Mothership Zendo
Turn the quilt, go with the thread
Indian summer

Finish start and go
Baseball boats float white water
Sky openings

Leg out on black mat
Take care of it


--for Louis Fiset, and the "Stone Pickers"

            Dear Hanaye, Yesterday I mailed you
                two stone handicrafts I made. I made these
                myself. So won't you hold them in safekeeping?
                Compare these with the previous ones
                and see how much care I have taken...It took
                lots of work in matching the color and shape of
                each one. The ashtray is a small one for individual
                use. The flower vase is the one with the empty
                Alka Seltzer bottle. I'm completing them
                one after the other every day...Day before last
                I made a cookie jar. Sayonara, Iwao
                                October 30, 1943

Driving off Lolo Pass, Mothership loaded
with treasure from the Lochsa River,
stone  rich and tired from river walking,
the distant reality is the Fort Missoula Detention Station
and I didn't remember Louis Fiset's Imprisoned Apart,
World War II Correspondence of an Issei couple,
and he and Joan are coming the morning
I'm due home. Suiseki stones
is what I've been looking for, miniature
Japanese landscape stones, what I have
been searching for in the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers.

Establishing conversation on the patio
after their arrival, Louis tells me a story
of correspondence during the time of the camps,
focusing on narratives envelopes tell,
stamps and cancelation, along with their value.
Together, they witness censorship of love.
This is how Fiset enters the story,
and at one point holds in his hands,
the custodian of an unopened love letter
between the couple
separated by ocean waters and war.
Years later the woman finds Fiset
and he delivers the letter.

We hand rub stones as Fiset talks.
The stones work too, and we are dimly
conscious of how, and the ways they remain
present to us during the weekend.
Fiset sends me his book with the letters.
The stones we rubbed for the patina
come from Missoula, the same riverbeds.
The letters to Japan narrate their importance.
Stone fever sweeps through camp as detainees
find many-colored rocks of varied shape
during spring snow melt,
polishing them on concrete floors
and government issue blankets.
Practical gifts of stone ashtrays, yes,
but not all. In one photo, suiseki stones
displayed alone, cairn in itself.

From Louis Fiset's research:
Training center during WWI. Headquarters for CCC.
North Bank of the Bitterroot River.
The fort sat on the dry bed of Lake Missoula,
a mammoth Ice Age glacial lake.
Prehistoric ice-damned body, at times a 1000 feet deep.
Filled and drained three dozen times during last Ice Age.
Geologic footprints etched on landscape.
In the Bitterroot Range to the west, 9,996-foot
granite batholith Lolo Mountain.

This ancient practice, un-named, Suiseki.

Stones we hold in our hands.
Familiar patina. Where it comes from.
Brothers and sisters of polished stones from the camp.
Fort Missoula, 1877, a recent yesterday, built
to protect settlers from the Flathead Indians.
Stones so much older than the trees
and yesterday's genocide.
Holding them under the faucet,
running water, rubbing them one last time
before placing them in the sun,
Louis and I walk through the stone garden.
I ask him again to tell me about the stamp,
and the cancelation on the envelope.
And the look on her face that day,
when she re-claimed her letter,
and it hadn't been opened,
are there words for the look on her face?


Before the time of stretching
but after the morning of the dreaming
after Fall Equinox
and lawn mowers
with their Briggs and Stratton engines
and days back from the California rivers,
the first day of new music from Van,
...too late for sorrow...
I sit until I'm firm
with rivers and mountains poets.
Hsieh Ling-yun,
'a single dusk and dawn up here
shows you the way through empty and full'
on Thatch-Hut Mountain.
Even light-heartedness, David Hinton says
'Whenever I see people who ply city markets,
I realize recluse sorrows don't go very deep.'
Su Tung-p'o writes these lines
six hundred years after Hsieh.
When I sit like this the stone in my hand
reveals Beckons-Away Monastery.


Painting by Shih T'ao
a poem about ruins
Eyes of October Suns

Living in mountains
with a garden of trees in town
Leave summer shade want

October dreaming
Patio stone patina
Inkwash baseball breath

Trumpet vine angels
Forget again, breathe, forget,
Finch thistle food

Lost finger koan
Stone rubs against stone
Off trail Sherpa laugh

Forget full practice
Deli dog recovery
It's all up for grabs


That loss is part
of the path light

Scratch that
into the surface
of the poem

as you burnish
with the hand rubbing


He throws the line
back into the water.
He recasts but cannot
completely erase. The note

book surfaces, imperfect
version of memory
all the way back
to the stone--its river

petroglyphs and etchings
partially disappeared
but for the memory
in thumb rubbings.

Jim Bodeen
30 July--31 October 2016

Letters to Svetlana Alexievich, and Masha Gessen

Notebook pages while reading "The Memory Keeper"
in The New Yorker



22 August 2016--13 October 2016

Dear Svetlana,

We have meatball stories, here, too.
And meatballs.
Perhaps you've heard.
Most likely, you've seen.
Don't bet against the meatball.
Your words. You'll lose.

Here a meatball is a man
who doesn't get it. A cartoon.
The joke itself.

There's a story you know.

Dear Svetlana,

I finished Secondhand Time early this summer,
along with your Afghan story. I'm a Viet Vet.
Medevac from a ground hospital.
I know your guys. I know Heilmann
from a talk on conscience after Paco's Story.
We sat at the same table then.
on the Nobel. I've been meaning to write.
Can you say that to someone who listens like you?
Not because of the prize.  How easy
it is to get the  video camera here.
Years ago, in Michoacán, I meet the campesino poet
of the rancho who tells me the history of Mexico
by only talking about his rancho. La Cuestita,
little hill, and Tata, Lazaro Cardenas,
who broke up the haciendas in the 30s,
and built the first schools.
Salvador Navarro Navarro.
Twice Navarro. Returning again and again,
until even he knew he was repeating himself
without finding anything new. Now I can't
put that camera down.
                                                The story in New Yorker.
Memory Keeper, you talking about it with Masha Gessen.
What it is. Art doesn't always get it down. Getting the inflection
of the voice, transcribing stops and starts as they happen.
Going back in mid-sentence to recover the truer thread
before going forward. Listening to you, the listener,
Still trying to make the complex simple.
Always coming out wrong, making what's simple,
understandable to meatballs. Gessen
listening so well. I return to the interview
as I read your work. Your listening
calls up Lorca and the Duende.

These images in my notebook:
We were afraid of the phone ringing.
It was those God damn blue jeans!
Nothing but books on the store shelves.
I read detective novels. I'd finish one book and start the next one.

What about our children? They all want to study accounting.
Who are we now? We're the electorate.
My whole life I've believed we were the luckiest people on Earth.
That's how our children will remember us. Our parents sold out
A great country for jeans, Marlboros, and chewing gum.
I've read your books...You shouldn't put so much stock
in what people say, in human truth people don't write it, time does.
The mercy of my memories. I pick up every crumb.
You can wear the same suit for twenty years,
two coats are enough to last a lifetime,
but you can't live without Pushkin or the Complete Works of Gorky.

All of these voices. Pure listening. The pause, and restart.

Yesterday, unable to write you, I dig two holes,
plant two trees. Some of the meatballs here,
elect themselves. Some say they're called by God.
The trees are beautiful. One, Hinoki Cypress, has needles
soft as feathers, branches with the feel of silk scarves.
This isn't blue jeans and lingerie. Your listening saves time.
Listening to it all. Everything.
Once your speakers pull the trigger,
they flood themselves in language. Stopping,
only to return. Blake's mind-forged chains
broken by your tuned ear.
Better be quiet and watch you work.
You call up Rilke.

Banal time you say.
If I can't go deep with you, let me try small.
From the front porch in late afternoon
I have sanctuary on three sides
and a Little Cherry Twist in the garden.
I wasn't given small talk as a child,
don't know how to schmooz   e
and fear sit-down dinners.
At a family reunion in the American Heartland
we get up from the restaurant table
to adjourn to the dining room
where we are promised, No dessert.
Panicking, I ask my wife,
What will we do? She says, Talk.
Talk like this. No politics, no religion.
Religion understood.
Books, too, off the table, and fossils.
Svetlana, how do you do it?
No laughter, no tears. Nothing but compassion.
Yours is discipline requiring more than practice.
Everything here seemingly understood, one must find that place
to talk where there's no trouble.
Something like the thinnest veneer.
Talk from there. Keep it there.

I carry dumb luck where ever I go.
Ray Carver, who wrote stories and poems
from my town has one called,
What we talk about when we talk about love.
In this story, everybody's drunk.
Career people. Professional. Four of them.
Two couples having drinks before dinner.
More drinks, and Where should we go?
What we talk about when we talk about love.
Fueled by alcohol. What comes out
like that again and again. Our love in alcohol.

Walking through the day like this,
Svetlana, carrying Secondhand Time, your people.
What we talk about when we talk about love.

We are two couples walking in the city.
I'm carrying a tiny pocket book
of Thich Nhat Hanh's, How to Walk
 picked up in the airport.
It helps me walk into the room.

When the women return from the bathroom,
one of them takes it from my hand,
What is this? She's a talker,
She opens to the page where the monk says,
Walk without talking.
She looks at me, and falls apart.
Can you imagine me, Jim.
Walking and not talking?
How would you get anyplace?
Think of a song. Whistle.

Svetlana, Masha Gessen.
I didn't get it at first, how she did this story.

Dear Masha Gessen,
I wrote the following some months ago camping
off the Blackfoot River in Western Montana,
trying to get a foothold on Svetlana Alexievich
from The Memory Keeper, your article
on Svetlana Alexievich in The New Yorker
from last January.

Dear Svetlana,
The artists don't always get it.
Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.
Masha Gessen in The New York Times.
This week: Did the Soviet Union Really End?

I get it. Masha Gessen is guide, but she's also path.
Dear Masha, I didn't know your work.
Returning again and again to your time with Svetlana.
I missed your presence while stunned by your writing.
Your story surfaces in repeated return to the story.
I finished the story of your grandmothers yesterday.
Esther and Ruzya. I read it after finishing
Where the Jews Aren't, Birobidzhan,
autonomous vision between two rivers.
What I don't know all my life.
Thank you for those stories, the books.
Your work with Svetlana.
For bringing me her story of the meatball.

All local Russian museums begin with rocks.
You're writing from the museum in Birobidzhan,
Rocks do not need to be rearranged in case of regime change.
I'm just back from the Eel River in California.
Looking at stones. Looking for stones.
Miniature landscape rocks.
Suiseki, from the Japanese. Put the mountain range
in the palm of your hand. Glacial lakes the size
of your thumb. Imagine the mist. I go giddy
when I find this in Birobidzhan.
Between two rivers. The story
no one could tell me as a child.

David Bergelson, from the epigraph to the end,
I don't want to go, to feel events unfold.
The way you bring forth work of the local poets.
Emmanuil Kazakevich lives. Redeeming local poets
everywhere in every time. Teenage poet
on night walks, reading poems, guiding.
Citizen Taiga Has the Floor.
And at the end of the book,
you've tracked down Leonid Sholnik, poet,
for his surprises in growing up Soviet:
I would have wanted to pass the baton to my sons.... a mouse in the cellar of silence....
...everyone who did not come home in the 1930s...
carrying words, too, from the language of the times.
His book already written, not yet in a book
as I read in the mothership by the river in Montana.
The inexpensive edition, never reviewed, now with a life.
The tenacious reporting parallel, equal, alongside.
And the night of the murdered poets.

Other clues, too. Research reaching for insight
into the next question: Are Russians dying for lack of hope?
--the question surfacing with these:
Why haven't Russians experienced hope in the last quarter century?
Why are Russians incapable of hope?
We die of broken hearts in the American Empire too.
This sentence beginning early in the autonomous book:
Hope, crippled by tragedy but still alive reasserted itself in Birobidzhan...

I come home to find your grandmas, Ester and Ruzya.
Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace.
In search of a decent compromise.
...Secured her safety...sacrificed integrity.
How many ways are there to arrest a person?
When the call came...
Nobody knows literature like the censor.
All of this in the family story. Some homecoming.
All of this in your story on Svetlana, the memory keeper.
All of it, forcing itself forward, asking me to find it.
Thank you. For all of it.

This is one letter to you, Svetlana Alexievich,
You show up on every page of Secondhand Time:
On cries and whispers and exhilaration
On the mercy of memory and the lust for meaning
On a different Bible and a different kind of belief
I laugh, he doesn't
Now I have decided to publish his story in full. It belongs to history
more than it does to any one individual
On the sweetness of suffering and the trick of the Russian soul
[She stops.] Are you sick of listening to me?
The charms of emptiness
On a loneliness that resembles happiness
I didn't realize right away that I had turned on the tape recorder

And a third category, mine:

how you weave and fold
all of it into human community,
or a voice -- Voice One, empathetic, with and to--regardless.
Pancakes and love. And then what?
Salami everywhere.
Italics and ellipses.
Bela Shayevich.
Ten years without the right of correspondence.
An accomplice on the barricades.
Dangerous places.
Recording the  jokes.

For putting it all in, thank you.

Jim Bodeen
22 August 2016--Below Lolo Pass--13 October 2016,
Yakima, Wa

P.S. A kitchen conversation. Iris DeMent, American songwriter, singer,
adopted a child from Russia. Becoming her mother sent her to poems of Akhmatova.
She plays piano. Began singing the poems. They've been recorded.
Try a listen on YouTube.

P.P.S. On the morning I put this in the mail, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan and Svetlana Alexievich.
Enough for one day.
Masha, No mistake. No mistake.

The Bonsai Poet Wires His Tongue


My trees look
like my poems
I write knowing
how misleading
this all is, my trees

look like my poems
My poems look like my trees

The bonsai tree
collected from nature
is no longer a wild tree
The tree
in nature is wild
A tree in a pot
is a working
accepted definition

The bonsai tree
can be made by
certain ones,
certain artists not me
to look wilder
than the same tree
in the forest

This poem
is about the poem
This poem is not about the tree

My poems look like my trees
Anyone can have this tree.
I want what isn't there.

Jim Bodeen
9-11 October 2016