High in the tower where I sit above the loud complaining of the human sea, I know many souls that toss and whirl and pass, none there are that intrigue me more than the Souls of White Folk. Of them I am singularly clairvoyant. I see in and through them…Not as a foreigner do I come, for I am native…I see these souls undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know.

            W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of White Folk, Darkwater, 1920

Leaving, then, the world of the white man, I have stepped within the Veil, raising it that you may view faintly its deeper recesses,--the meaning of its religion, the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its greater souls…Before each chapter…stands a bar of the Sorrow Songs,--some echo of haunting melody from the only American music which welled up from black souls in the dark past. And, finally, need I add that I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the flesh of them that live within the Veil?

            W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, Atlanta, Ga., Feb 1, 1903

Dear Dr. DuBois,

Anne Spencer’s on the new Harlem Renaissance stamp! I don’t need to be stepping on flowers in her garden at the reception, but can’t stop imagining the look on your face receiving the mail with her smile on the envelope. I’d love to find a photo of you from her writing cottage, Edankraal, listening to her poems. The price of stamps has gone up. You’re on two already. The Postal Service issued a 29-cent DuBois stamp in 1992 as part of its Black Heritage Series; and again in 1997, unveiling, (their word, they know not what they say) a 32-cent stamp honoring you as a civil rights pioneer. You’re sitting with your typewriter. You never went empty. Thank you for every word. Commemorative Stamps inspire, Dr. DuBois, but my hope in this letter is to say something of what Souls of Black Folk has meant to me over the past 50 years (I’m 75), and not write about stamps, wonderful as they are, and now here I am standing before the Post Office—O!—

 Dr. DuBois, we’re in such a—

    Nothing’s unveiled. Nothing. The veil.

    Republicans are pulling out sorting machines at the post office,

    Suppressing ballots not slavery, the election in six days.

    Mailing ballots clogged, grinds each woman and man.

    I used to teach, have a classroom.

    The fly. Souls of white folk.

    Atlanta and the 100 hills.

    Your chronology and the dizziness it brings.

    I didn’t want to talk about Washington,

    Your well-known prophesies.

    What, in God’s name, am I on earth for?[ii]

    Not Dudley Randall’s poem carrying me decades

    None of the indelible beauty.

    This is a war cry, warrior DuBois,

    And you are the word behind

    Black Lives Matter.


If I had a classroom today,

all my students would you write letters.

We’d start with the post office, telling you everything.

They told us to get out with our masks.

The poem in the garden, the chronology From here.

A new saint your way. George Floyd, Look for him.

You taught us caste too. Isabel Wilkerson

Took off with it: Caste of Our Discontent.

Another of your words making a comeback.

In the Vice-Presidential Debate

Between Democratic Senator Kamala Harris

And Vice-President Mike Pence,

(Kamala graduated from Howard),

A fly lands on the Vice-President’s head

And he doesn’t brush it off.

Call this Parable of the Fly Reborn.

I am underlining again reading (Yes I am!)

Souls of Black Folk, and that fly

Kept us going for a week.

A little blue fly is trying to cross the yawning keyhole.

Oh Bishop Onderdonk![iii] You too live again!—thriving

In the well-tempered skin of Mike Pence. 

Shoo fly, shoe fly, feelers in his clipped protestant hair.

Have they all felt their Valley of Humiliation?

Your Alexander Crummell lives where he stands

Refusing entry under such terms.

Souls of Black Folk. But beautiful.

How laughter is food from Jesus.


Your long walk, your steady resistance,

Warns against word count and remembrance,

Requiring a march and not a parade,

Your breath planting free schools,

Your pen insistent, praising Freedmen’s Bureau,

Naming Edmund Ware, Samuel Armstrong,

So much faith in men! Unwritten history.

This one, Dr. DuBois:

I taught school in the hills of Tennessee.

Out of Fisk, beginning the hunt for a school—

Got a teacher? Yes. So I walked on and on—

Horses were expensive. You found one.

You stayed in homes longing to know,

Knowing doubts of old folks.

Your two years in country schools

Makes Robert Moses[iv] possible,

Puts algebra alongside the vote.


Sorrow songs rise above all defining prayer.

Most beautiful expression of human experience.

It takes courage to leave the porch

And if you want to ride with our teacher

            the Jim Crow door’s open.


Born in 1868, you start high school in 1880,

Become a saint at 95, a citizen of Ghana. 

In 1963. I am 17, hearing your name for the first time.

Your Library of America writings count 1334 pages.

This letter. You’re not laughing in your essays,

But what on earth is whiteness that one should desire it?

Suppression returns. Your early call for suppression of slave trade.

Today it’s suppression of the vote and we follow you,

 And it shall mean the triumph

Of the good, the beautiful and the true.


Two friends here, Gilbert and Phil[v] won’t let me close

With a handshake. Dr. Dubois, we’ve been socially distanced

By another plague, and give air-hugs and elbow bumps.

I’m reading about your grandson, Arthur McFarlane II.

He’s got his own Ph.D in public health.

I’m looking at the picture of the two of you.

You’re 90. He’s two months.


Your birthday party in New York,

You’re guest of honor. Your grandson’s given your words,

You will soon learn, my dear young man…

That famous one addressed to you, ending,

Learn what you want to do, how you are fit to do it…

And Sharee Silerio lives with history, too,

Writes in THE Root how your grandson works

To re-distribute what’s here, with homelessness, food insecurity.

Here’s more. He knows your talented tenth.

…those ten were supposed to be of service to the people,

…that piece of the puzzle is what I’ve taken

As being my part keeping grandpa’s legacy alive.

I think that a big part of how I became myself.

People relate to his double consciousness,

to what grandpa says.


Writing to grandkids. What else to do?

Your grandson finds his voice in you.

Children hand-carrying letters, walking.


Jim Bodeen


Yakima, WA

October, 2020

[i] George Floyd is murdered in Minneapolis by a policeman on this day.

[ii] DuBois, citing Alexander Crummell, who refused the veil, writing in Souls of Black Folk.

[iii] See Chapter XII, Souls of Black Folk, Of Alexander Crummell.

[iv] Robert Moses went on to teach Algebra in the South, insisting on quality education for Black students.

[v] Gilbert Chandler & Phil Pleasant, Yakima. Chandler took me into Black Ancestors to document their stories. Phil was famous for neckbones and his mantra, Don’t give me no handshake!

Traduciendo Cabellerias



Carta contigo

Caballero Andante

Triste Figura


Ojos lanternas

Vows resolute, capacious

October May Day


Jim Bodeen

28 October 2020




            for Karen


Stay in bed with Karen

receiving her kisses

reading emails


Reading the paper

while morning light

comes from window


The sadnesses of parenting accompany the joy



Our exhausted planet

Our multiple contagions

I read carefully for preparing

short ribs in the Dutch Oven

bitter chocolate, espresso, chipotle



Things to do this morning

Mulch and spread top soil

Get a key made

Withdraw money from savings




Tu Fu, Sancho, La Triste Figura




Wake and wonder how

it all happened to the children

and the country at once

We knew something

was in the air, but

didn't know it from a short cut

2 am amid a choice of books

TuFu within an arm's length

walking the banks

of the Yangtze River

That small boat

Refugees in a jet plane

I put my arm out

my quilted blanket

reaching for water




In Chapter XIX of Quixote

the chapter where our Cabellero Andante

is excommunicated, Sancho

gives his amo a new name

Don Quixote de la triste figura

Our Cabellero smiles and nods

John Rutherford translates this image

Quixote of the sorry face.

Edith Grossman translates the sorrowful face

Cervantes' Quixote de la triste figura

remains monumental, a foundation

for all that sorrows, the sorrowful face

accepted and affirmed by don Quixote

as he follows Sancho and his donkey

on Rocinante, looking for a place

they can dismount, hungry and thirsty

as they are, before resting among the grasses.


Jim Bodeen

13-15 October 2020





"All the noise was disturbing

and I couldn't find Irving."

            Tom Waits


Pick up 20 pounds of pears

from bargain bin at the orchard

for drying, and computer from shop

before returning to the house

for rain hat. People are getting off.

God's humility wrapped in plastic.

Magazines for friend. She's here.

Note to J. and an invitation to read

poems from the island.

These guys in yellow vests

take up some seats on this plane.

Vest-dressed, almost a uniform.

Look at 'em waiving contracts,

Asylum seekers deported each Tuesday.

arms wrapped around hello and goodbye

ready for something like return.

White pickup with a staircase.

Steps loaded over the cab

for getting on and off the plane.

Wight-of-way nursery rhymes.

Take a few pictures with the phone.

Vests, vested, vestments.

Tom Waits sings in the new year.

How many years has it been?

Recognition of names by friend's

breath-fresh grace. Home

by early afternoon, slicing pears

for drying with knife so sharp

seeds slice, remain in place.


Jim Bodeen

13 October 2020

13 October 2020


13 OCTOBER 2020


Lock and Key


ICE Flight

Bright moon, white clouds

This Life

Li Po, Tu Fu

Bob Dylan

Parker Pen


Tacoma Buses

Red Notebook

Mike & tripod

Lime green vests

Tucked behind bldg.

Swift Air

Yellow & blue tail feathers

Rain on tarmac

I see you

Sun-dried asphalt

October sky


Chinese writing

Mouth with appetite

Plastic bag

All my belongings


The burgeoning.


Jim Bodeen

13 October 2020

12 October 2020

12 October 2020

As Karen reads me the comics

I look up from my IPhone

Where I’m reading Tu Fu’s

Spring Landscape. The year is 755.

Arlo’s talking to the computer lady.

She can’t find what he wants.

She’s not real. That’s the joke.

A mere letter’s

Worth ten thousand in gold.


Jim Bodeen

12 October 2020

On Receiving A Book of Poems in the Mail






Ephemeral or maybe evanescent

talking about tree limbs

there were blossoms

and the Hebrew Bible

open to something she

had discussed with the rabbi

back when freedom riders

others too

something looking away

but it was there

and real like a word

qualifying her for

looking in cupboards

speaking of God



26 September 2020

Was it






That branch


was it




like maybe


a word


Jim Bodeen

26 September 2020