Pool of Fresh Water


Pool of fresh water

Underneath the bird feeder

Garden stone blossom

Jim Bodeen

24 May 2021




      --for Lea Ramirez

We talked once of stones

and you remembered other

things I had forgotten

that had nothing

to do with stones.

So much like mountains

even in our hands

they carry news

of mountain majesty

in our pockets

how like tiny moments

in our lives

when they remind us

that time, that song,

that parable of Jesus

woman at the well

how often stone and water,

for instance,


As children

we remember singing,

the wise man

building his house

on the rock,

and especially for those

of us who’ve said

in more ways than one

how we love certain stones,

yes love them, we say,

because we don’t have

another word for them,

don’t we—each of us--

have a stone we can visit

when we’re left alone?

A stone where the beloved

will meet us

and we will be one.


Jim and Karen




I. ------------

      ...all your mother insists

      we must see to know...

      from Kevin Young’s Money Road

Robins in front yard, eastern morning

sunshine, mid-April, Juneberry Bush

blossoming. Walking into house,

wiping dew-wet shoes, into guest

bathroom where your Blues Poems,

lovely, rests on cabinet with Jody’s

True North in snow storm

also backed in blue. Jody, gone

now blues sustained lifted,

Dear Darkness, food celebrated

passing, giant steps all,

Kevin Young,

Dear Kevin,

This week you’re everywhere in this house,

David and Gil here this week for pork sandwiches

outside, outback, David’s wife gone after 51 years,

Detroit born, Vietnam Vet baseball hat,

(Being two years older, I’m two years earlier in Nam)

this is your lovely Art of Losing, my gift,

open first to Yusef’s Facing It

as we mirror each other. What’s so lovely

about Kevin Young’s work, the way

he breaks down boundaries,

We can talk about this.

We can talk about this because Gil’s

our listener-griot, soul historian.

He doesn’t flinch questioning,

Isn’t listening making love, Gil?

Isn’t listening, deepest penetration?

You’re everywhere in this house, Kevin Young.

This week’s New Yorker, new direction coming from

Nathaniel Mackey’s Song of the Andoumboulou

and I turn to Blue Light Sutras 1976-1989,

250 Years of African American struggle and song,

and in Falso Brilhante,

White sky made blue by the blackness,

Mackey setting out, singing all the songs.

Your singing tracks surround, Kevin Young,

your books placed carefully in each garden roof

providing sanctuary and shade from sun.

This morning your centerpiece essay.

Return to Blue Light Sutras, this time only women,

that kind of read, trying every way I can imagine

to enter the book. Start to finish, then, the women.

Soaring once more, struggle and song.

II. A. African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song:

Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters

I’ve got a friend in Yakima, looks out for me.

Found Struggle and Song in the Independent book store, Inklings,

turned it around in the poetry session so nobody’d

find it until I got there. That first sit down with the book

in my hands. The solid fact of A Library of America

bound book, as close to a permanent thing

as the idea. That night with your essay

and amplification. The difficult miracle.

Title, epigraph. June Jordan. That word,

persist, hope-based political, a bumper sticker

on my car come from here:

This is the difficulty of black poetry in America:

that we persist, published or not, and loved or unloved:

we persist.

I read her poems in the Big book. Take these

as another starting point: What would I do white?

I would do nothing.

That would be enough.

Non-action to that extreme.

Supreme effort to get out of the way.

Through the great anthologies of my time.

Johnson, Bontemps, Harper,

some look, some teachers,

and the great need to find

that what I needed there,

and now, this morning, how I got here with you--

Struggle and Song. Big thanks.

The Big Book stepping us through time

and the back of forth, including the outside-of-it-all

time, unending, good night kiss without end,

after all this time, here. Here it is in the hands.

A 12-Step beauty for all things right and wrong.

Get to it, Man. Get to it.

This morning, 28 Days in February,

the anthologies carrying me

after the appearance of the Harlem Renaissance Stamps

last summer. Names I hadn’t integrated in my life.

Arthur Schomburg. The Schomburg Center,

Center for Research in Black Culture.

Your office. Office itself. Opus facere.

Divine service. Doing service work of the divine.

Power, might and abundance. To set.

What does your desk look like?

Divine office. Worship.

I write to friends who write:

Go to the Schomburg Center,

write notebook poems that take me there.

Schomburg’s teacher urges him on.

He turned her lessons around.

Do this for me. Then the panel appears

remembering Sterling Brown

and I’m listening to his granddaughter.

Poets know those eight categories

of time, Kevin Young,

are eight lines making an 8-line poem,

not categories at all, maybe

I can call them reading rooms.

Why this matters to me.

Struggle and song makes gratitude possible.

For the black poets

have shaped my life and fed me.

Saved me. Some days. Ray Charles.

Seattle. 1962. What’d I Say. Modern Sounds.

Not everybody messing around. Not me.

Made me. Yes. Well, mess around. Of all people.

African American saves our country again

six months ago. That counts.

Made-make. Given to, and allowed. Me.

Allowed, yes. And questioned.

Doorways and Doors.

The too many ways.

Bury me in a free land,

This is a package in the mail to Kevin Young,

Phillis Wheately. Lift every voice in the dark tower.

Ballads from Gwendolyn Brooks to Bob Kaufman,

and the ancestors, the ancestors,

it seemed like they were all ancestors

and then it happened with Gilbert.

Even in blue light sutras Jesus remains.

Praise songs for today.

That’s Terrance Hayes stepping

from the basketball game to the poem.

After the hurricane la negra

takes Medusa to the hair salon.

Somos muchas/os. Langston knew it then.

What a book, this one, one to take me home.

II. B. What Happens Reading Blue Sutras

Between weekends at museums

who I think I am, questioned, tested,

re-affirmed, but still, this isn’t about me.

Created by a granddaughter, this time:

Grandma, didn’t you go to a bonsai museum.,

I’m trying to create new images of women’s beauty.

Bruised eyes at 15, she sees ahead of her time

what’s wrong. She sees the bonsai

in my back yard, knows this beauty.

Small trees with cut roots

in elegant pots. Wired towards

what’s natural, and the ancestors,

flowing limbs in mid-breeze

and the exaggerated exposure of trunk.

Grandma, didn’t you go to a bonsai museum?

Behind her question, 

How shall I find beauty in us all?


Between visits to Seattle Museum,

Unsettling Femininity at the Frye

probes politics of looking and viewing

images of women, I’m reading

250 Years of Struggle and Song,

African American poetry anthology

needing its early ancestors in order

to become the one that takes us into time:

I open to Blue Sutras, 1976-1989,

reading only the women, the years

women matured with the tradition

as they became the tradition, breaking

into daylight. Breaking into text-to-be,

thread-rule, ancient ones made scripture.

Over two days, from Ai, afraid that

if I let go, I’d live—And don’t I lead them

like a good shepherd? To epic

Cleopatra vision: ...what I want

is the weight of Imperial Rome.

Persistence. Word turned bumper

sticker in American electoral politics

shows up first in June Jordan,

This is the difficult miracle of Black

poetry in America: that we persist,

published or not, and loved or unloved:

we persist. Thank you Ms. Jordan,

most grateful for the epigraph, Kevin Young.

Brown girl levitation, these poems

have direct bearing on the future

of all grand daughters, each girl,

girl-woman-elder. Each man.

And on her wedding day, she wept,

Lorna Goodison, who pronounced

my blood holy. These poems

repair each time they’re opened.

Each day, on successive days,

a photo of my granddaughter

before me, a different sutra

speaks truth. Erica Hunt appears,

Would I recognize my name in the voice

from the burning bush?--These

birthdays don’t need to be rationed.

It doesn’t matter where one turns.

Ntozake Shange is the Sunday School teacher:

I found god in myself

& I loved her/ I loved her fiercely.

Xosa. She who comes into her own things…

She who walks like a lion.

Are you saying, these sutras

make one long poem? I am.

It happened by accident.

Once I was interrupted.

Once I was finished and lost

my computer text. Gone,

I told my wife. It’s gone.

Splayed grace on drenched sky,

random line in Patricia Smith.

These Praise Songs For The Day.

Does the title for this book

come from the Elizabeth Alexander

poem, and these are poets just

going about their business?

Salt, teeth, and correct pronunciation

of my name, Aracelis, little propeller

helicopters falling in mass from

the maple tree. Gift every time

from one privileged enough

to hold this book. And one more,

reading on a stool at the tire shop,

going back and forth between poems

and the biography section, after

Robin Coste Lewis’ research

of titles, catalogs, and black female

entries, I begin writing down

listed titles by the women.

Another poem. 10,000 poets

in the mothership of our time.

250 Years of Struggle and Song.

These 15-year old girls, daughters

of elders bound: test, question, develop.


a kind of coda

Among the doors and doorways

at the Frye—so many gods

in thresholds—so many ages!

Black marketplace

and one freestanding

Anastacia-Reneé (Don’t be Absurd)

Alice in Parts, devotee of Audre Lorde,

constructs the Church of Lorde

in a red room, Alice in Parts

delivers the eulogy

offering a rageful meditation.

Alice in Parts is a city girl

with Lorde’s poems on every wall.

This struggle-song’s not a done deal

and there’s hope in that, too.

III. Dear Darkness: Or Notes on Food While Reading Kevin Young’s poem

     Below us he hears

     as the dead must, the day

     speaking to itself, muttering

         --Kevin Young, Eulogy

He is trying to break my heart.

This curator-poet working long hours

knows lone time needs

I won’t/don’t pick from ode’s

already anointed sauce and smoke

rivals for God’s affections--

Say when!

Flipping pages backward

what gets said about pork bows

remembers my father’s feet

he got to the car but never

went back to work, turns out

it’s the prayer, not black-eyed peas

showing here, every un-proud

impulse and sounds in line-breaks

and dark luck coming into the city

just enough, just enough Stevie Wonder,

innervision prayer on edge

blues in water, how Jacob Lawrence

shows the granddaughter how to paint

water’s dark light, not a summer soldier,

that prayer for black-eyed peas--

that one, Aunt Toota and gravy,

every night doubled, doubled,

this magnificence.

Jim Bodeen

March—May 2021





      for pastors Jewel R. Withers, Jr. & Kathleen Anderson

      Little Rock, Arkansas—Yakima, Washington 

      and for Rex Deloney, Colorist, Little Rock, Arkansas, &

      Karen Bodeen, Fabric artist, Yakima


Walking the yard, pruner in your old leather

holster, lopper in hand, that Monday

after Easter, how was it? You stopped,

as always, by the Hinoki Cedar

and bonsai-like, Pinus Contortis, lost

in trunk diameter beauty, foolishly probing

ungloved hands into the pine

after dead needles, giving new growth

a better chance for sunlight. More

meditation than prayer. More nature

than Christ, even as you believe

without doubting, Christ-presence

in the branch? How was it, Easter?


Twice blessed Easter, This is the day

the Lord has made, twice. Worship

streaming from your native place,

and again, from Rex in Little Rock.

This is the day the Lord has made,

three days, Friday to Sunday, and while

the faithful wait out Saturday,

you get married children and grandchildren,

out door and verified proof of new life’s

transfigurations. Stones, cairns, boulders

marking way, nothing hidden, no one

waiting for anything except cake,

early baked in your oven, new

recipe, coconut cream injected

to sweeten what’s already sweet,

Flaked coconut spread over whipped

cream. This is the day that the Lord

has made a day early.

You live

with a fabric artist, your friends

poets, painters, jewelers, surrounded

by all desire that may be delivered.

Sol y sombra, you move at will

from beauty to beauty, silence and word.

Let them eat cake.


Such are the joys of listeners,

great inheritors of Catherine

and William Blake up through fabric

artists come through the rural south

the quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins,

and Alice Walker’s two sisters arguing

what’s to be done with Mama’s quilts

in the story Every Day Use--

frame and bequeath them in wills

or wrap bodies warm, exhausting

their threads so you may better know

the cost of your grandmother’s love?

Among the questions, Eli Leon.

Eli Leon, her champion.

They meet at a flea market

in Oakland, red thread

among everything gold.

These questions, along with similar

others, are your only unknowns

waiting for sunrise on Easter morning.

You are the one who remembers

the Jim Harrison poem. You still

hold out for more justice, Easter Morning,

proud, poor white peasants, where

we come from, who we are, frying potatoes

in bacon grease, joining the army

for the GI bill in exchange

for being shot at. The dice.


Listening first from your butterscotch

chair in the living room, with your notebook,

the visiting pastor, an interim you haven’t

bothered to meet, Kathleen Anderson,

her name, baptizing a child, breaks out

into giggles, overcome with joy

before the baby, surrounded by family.

She giggles again reading Mark’s gospel.

Pout and be gone, poetry man—your wife

feels what you cannot on Easter. More

proof in how much you are loved.

throw water from palm branches on all.

Worship again while you walk. Following

worship reading from Eddie Glaude Jr.,

the black professor’s rare book,

Uncommon Faith: A Pragmatic Approach

to the Study of African American Religion.

You, who have had late coffee and oranges

with your wife of half a century, Sunday

Morning, carrying Wallace Stevens.

You, who hears Duke Ellington play,

Come Sunday, coming through Archie Shepp’s horn.

My Lord, what a morning. Rare book,

headphones in your ears, Church of God in Christ,

walking Yakima in Little Rock,

this may be your come to Jesus moment

on Easter, walking the neighborhood in clothes

hand-sewn by your artist wife. Hand-carved

walking stick from a cottonwood tree

from the hands of the ancestor-griot himself,

your friend, Gil Chandler. Walk,

my privileged friend, listen.

Holy Temple Cathedral, where the distance

is worth the difference. Rex brings me

through the door. Senior pastor

Bishop Jewel R. Withers Jr.

Hand clapping. Foot-stopping.

Clap hands, clap hands.

Far from shoreline, but the boat,

the boat’s right—get in the boat

Getting through Saturday.

Rex the colorist. Artist, painter, pilgrim.

Coach too? He did some coaching.

Brush man. Jesus man.


Saturday’s the day my children

will be here, the pastor’s wife says.

Saturday’s my Sunday.

Jesus understands. Jesus

knows all the Sunday songs.

Resisting breath is resisting God



Resisting white supremacy.

A cross-walking.

Easter’s uncommon faith provides.

To be otherwise. Being so.

A yes to how broken we really are.

On my Easter morning porch,

Professor Glaude, cup in hand,

Pragmatism encounters the underside…

Thrown into the messiness

of living. Who’s that behind him?

Is that, no, could it be Howard Thurman?

This, the invocation of Jesus,

a distinctive form of Christ,

a change of will, no longer content.

No longer resigned—daring

to be otherwise--

otherwise with the green light of no guarantee

Walking the development with earphones

This is Easter Sunday in Little Rock

after the song--

way out, way through, way maker,

man on a walk, man in a pew

looking at the back side, beginning.

“They didn’t kill him,” Bishop Withers says,

“He died on his own terms. Those sad ones,

living in the past. When my wife

hands me a jar that’s too tight,

I’m not giving it back until it’s open.”

Use everything. Women smiling, men chuckling,

that tiniest crack acknowledges the past in the moment.

We stand on diseased, distorted and deformed ground,

directed against us, here where a different way

of being in the world, a made-possible us,

in new space, a foundation made of shards.


Walking the Sunday yard, sun-stoned, altared

Sun-stoned altar

Alter-chained, changed

Re-written halleluiah

To save us from ourselves

Blessed by the question that carries

Eat long, as long as I can

Live Easter, as long as we can


The Lutheran pastor now, singing camp songs

from the pulpit, Pastor Kathleen,

So high you can’t get over it.

You gotta come in through the door.

Door, door space, threshold aha back at you.

The women knew exactly which tomb

overwhelmed by trauma and ecstasy.

Cross-companion every day.

She asks, What else really matters?

In the garden

you can say it twice

What else matters.

Say, Amen.

This is Easter.

Little Rock Yakima Easter.



      *Pastor Kathleen Anderson

Reading sandwich recipes on the telephone

I may think that I want to read.

A small yellow-bellied finch

lands on bird bath with fresh water.

Another one waits on a nearby branch

of the Ed Wood Half-Moon Maple.

Sunday morning. Come Sunday.

Ellington wrote it for Mahalia.

It’s for all of us. Kathleen Battle

and Johnny Mathis. Ben Webster

and Oscar Peterson. That’s the day.

Finch in the birdbath. Finch in the maple.

Old man in the lawn chair with coffee.

Surrounded by Easter-image music blind.

Practicing in paradise.

This glimpse of the accessible, accessed,

if only in the doorway, glimpsed.

What resurrection is.

Before me in the safety of my own house, a quilter

and the story of Rosie Lee Tompkins.

Rosie Lee Tompkins, from Gould,

74 miles from Little Rock. And Rex.

But beautiful. Clap hands.

Unknowns and risks in every color.

Walk me to the threshold.

The gospel of what shows up

The gospel of who in wonder.

Jim Bodeen

4-14 April 2021–10 May 2021

Letter to Mr. Frederick Douglass % of David W. Blight






      Ah, Douglass, we have fall’n on evil days,

      Such days as thou, not even thou didst know

      “Douglass”, Paul Lawrence Dunbar


      And above all, Frederick Douglass.

     “The Talented Tenth”, W. E. B. DuBois

Through the ones carrying your story.

W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Dunbar, first grief

after your crossing. For David W. Blight

brings you forward this morning.

First talk at our table, of Crazy Horse,

never photographed. The poet reads

a hand-written copy from Ian Frazier.

“He was never captured because he was so free

that he didn’t know what a jail looked like.”

I can read you the entire thing in two minutes.

With you, Mr. Douglass, with Whitman,

Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Lincoln and Twain,

Crazy Horse: one of the men who came back

for the three of us. Another note, by way

of catching up. Black poets bow

before you in gratitude. Their poems,

markers, apprenticeship, cairns,

for 10,000 ways forward. Eloquent

and caustic sage, Joseph Seaman Cotter, Sr,

crossing time with you, continues,

ones ...of fluent tongue and trashy pen

will strive to imitate thee. Dunbar’s

reach continues: Oh, for thy voice high-sounding

o’er the storm...your presence bringing

blast-defying power. Dunbar’s sonnet

mirroring, seeing as you saw:

...salient, at the cross of devious ways...

Closer to me, Robert Hayden’s sonnet

on freedom--...this beautiful terrible thing

needful to man as air, usable as earth--

when it belongs at last to all as instinct,

brain matter, not gaudy...Douglass

shall be remembered. You, the mentor

in Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Mentors”:

I swear to keep the dead upon my mind…

I’ll stop my casual business. Leave the banquet.

Exceptional one of the talented tenth.

Developing money makers or men,

DuBois asks. No movement without men

like Douglass: Self-trained, but yet trained liberally.

.and so we come to the present—a day

of cowardice and vacillation.

It is May, 2021. My friend is 82 years old,

and we sit unmasked, three of us drinking coffee,

giving books on a birthday to our friend.

Crazy Horse is a prophet, he never ate at a table, one says.

The idea of becoming a farmer never crossed his mind.

We’re not alone with our coffee.

The book is your muse, Frederick Douglass.

I have no creed to uphold, no government to defend,

and as a nation, I belong to none. The land

of my birth welcomes me only as a slave.

A word standing on its own. Said, not said.

David Blight helps me understand Jubilee.

Cancellation and the end of debts, retirement.

He sits with us, too.

My friends and I are not here

to talk about the plague

but you can be certain,

we know what surrounds us.

Like you, Blight delights in the sentence,

and the image: But that was memory

acting as desire for love. About

Blight’s telling, I say this:

Don’t miss the Preface or epigraph.

Prophet keys running from Old Testament

King James Bible through Abraham Heschel.

Hechel couldn’t stand contentment,

crossed Pettus Bridge with King.

Personal cataclysm an entry door.

Blight has the ear for Douglass.

Playmates are natural abolitionists.

We three abolitionists.

Believer and contrarian.

Nineteen months in England. Irish songs.

Imagine the boat ride home.

Every man is an abolitionist,

but every man doesn’t have courage

to liberate others. My favorite Blight story?

You with John Brown. Mine was as

the taper light, his was as the burning sun.

Entire pages underlined. Meeting with John Brown

disguised as a fisherman camped among bleak rocks.

Note in margin—my wife stopping me. OK, Jim,

How can I read my book, if you’re going to read

your book to me? The two of you: compelling.

800 pages one at a time, twice. Naming chapters,

convergence of text and speech, if you get stuck

skip ahead and go back. Don’t miss how

long life reaches the 20th Century, how close

we are in time ourselves. Blight calls you

the prose poet of the body politic. He, too,

fueled by Haden’s poem. ...legacies bleeding

forward from slavery and color lines.

His magnificent final sentence.

Stay a bit.


Sojourner Truth sits in the front row listening

as Frederick Douglass speaks. On this occasion,

this life. Adopted story. Children of Israel.

Intimate photos—Douglass and Heschel

alongside each other. Influenced images?

King making the Hebrew Bible

central to Civil Rights, Christianity.

Didn’t Douglass do this, David Blight?

Watching a movie this morning on PBS.

Hassidism. Mysticism.

The Audacity of Heschel.

Audacity of Douglass. Overcome by God.

Somewhereness, everywhereness.

That kind of wonder after a bicycle ride.

Like Crazy Horse. Because he was

never the Indian on the nickle.

I’m an abolitionist.

My friends as well.

Three abolitionists.

Crazy Horse on the lawn with Douglass.

Witness-box, jury-box, ballot-box.

And the imagination. Add that.

Ancient wisdom and metaphor.

Turned loose to the open sky.

Jim Bodeen





Still doubting, I return to these grand

ones battered by surf, ancient hair

tossed and dried by sunlight,

looking again, Iphone

photographing angles,

green seaweed, not hair,

to confirm my doubt, to leave,

convinced. They’re only stones.

They’re not ancestors.

This is not a face.

This is not the body of my brother.

My brother.

Jim Bodeen

3 May2021


Autumn Blaze Maple

May helicopters descend

Purple mass on deck

Jim Bodeen

6 May 2021

Listen to Some Songs


Listen to some songs

Sam Cooke’s Last Mile of the Way


Jim Bodeen

4 May 2021




for Quincy Troupe % of Kevin Young

While coffee brews in kitchen

I’m in bathroom getting ready

for morning, two books on cabinet,

I pick up Kevin Young’s Blues Poems,

lovely Everyman’s fitting like a song

in my hand, Bessie’s arms open

in sequins, her singing smile

and Quincy Troupe’s woke up

cry for severed sight of another day.

4 April 1968, writing for Martin.

Recounting the morning after,

subliminal sadness being his third key,

absorbing me. The other two,

creative joy and happiness.

I walk the yard at sunrise

trees opened for songbirds,

and songbirds here in the dogwood,

thistle-full finches on feeder.

Long shadows in stones and me

with sun on my back. Lost futures

in sand and sun. Blue cloth covering.

Quincy Troupe writes three poems,

makes love, a poem accepted.

I’m in Viet Nam on that day,

85th Evac Hospital, sending soldiers home,

writing about that last night

to a woman still with me,

I’m with three black brothers

all of us asking about ourselves

and going home to what.

It’s in the letter, Kevin.

Get it to Quincy. It’s sunshine,

here, songbird beautiful,

but it was Quincy and the blues

that started the morning.

Jim Bodeen

3 May 2021