ABOVE THE SEAT ON THE AMTRAK PEACE TRAIN
Eleven of us on this car
pulling out from Meridian,
Mississippi. We don’t know
each other yet. I took the shuttle
out of Yakima to Seattle.
Flew the next morning to Houston
(which they’re evacuating now),
and then to Jackson, Mississippi.
Last night I took the bus to Meridian.
All the while I believed
I had the last seat, that’s what
I told my friends: I got the last seat
on the Peace Train out of Meridian
to Washington, DC. Hurricanes
bring their own weather. So does
politics, and so does the poem.
The people who had tickets
for this train, now—they got up
one morning and their jobs
were gone. So were their houses.
Calling Karen this morning
before getting on the train,
she gave me one word: Poetry
is what pulls our feet towards
the impossible. I hang the muslin.
We start exchanging names.
Thursday, September 23, 2005
Sunlight through a pine forest.
All is beauty. I could be a tourist
in red dirt Alabama, looking out
Amtrak windows. Warm, lazy,
September afternoon. First day
of Fall. Sitting water destroys
a city and wipes out all that
remains of your suburban desire.
September 22, 2005
GREEN TOMATO PIE
— Lynda Mapes
Theola Grayson, singing to me in my kitchen,
is the woman who served me sausage and eggs
at Jean’s Restaurant in Meridian, Mississippi,
the morning I took the Peace Train to the Capitol.
She’s singing to me about Jesus right now,
and she sounds like Patsy Cline reborn.
I believe her voice carries the gospel,
and no matter what our differences, I believe
her voice crosses over to a truth we both
could agree on. She goes by the name of Pee Wee,
and that’s how she signed her name on the cd
that came in the mail two days ago. I met
Mrs. Grayson, and her two sons sitting at the table
behind me, because Mr. William Pritchett, 78,
sat beside me on the stool at the counter.
She sings blue grass and gospel he said,
and I asked if I could get her music. Yes,
that could be done, that could be arranged.
Around here there’s music going on all the time.
I planted the tomato plant in a bed of roses.
The gift of a friend, let it have good soil, bright sun.
After staking it, I watered the plant, watched it grow
into the rose, over-taking it, using its canes
to lean on. As fruit ripened I had to go inside
the vine taking care not to shred my hands
on thorns I couldn’t see. His wife kept correcting
me on its name. Stupice, she said. Stupice.
until I got it right. 62 days to maturity.
From Czechoslovakia. I looked it up.
Sweet and tart. Balanced. Copyrighted.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I thought
of my friends as I watched my rose disappear,
while eating red pepper hummus tomato sandwiches
in August. But there came a time, in October,
when I had to decide for the rose, to save it,
and that meant harvesting green tomatoes
running the length of the rose bed.
Don’t build your life around a single metaphor.
That’s one of the things loss teaches me.
But what to do with a bushel of green tomatoes.
I really wanted relish. Green tomato relish.
My Louisiana recipe called for 24 red peppers
a dozen onions, and cinnamon. I liked
the head of cabbage in the Dakota recipe.
The mustard seeds made me weep.
I stared at the recipes at the kitchen table
for two days. I’d look over my shoulder
at the hole in the rose bed. I couldn’t say
relish. Couldn’t say the word.
I could have stayed in that Mississippi hollow
and listened to Theola Grayson sing about Jesus.
I could have. I got on that train instead.
I listened to the Gold Star mothers.
Cabbage and red pepper together
would make something entirely different
but it would never fill those holes.
Those holes would never be filled.
13 October 2005
READING THE JACKSON ADVOCATE,
BLACK VOICE OF MISSISSIPPI,
AT THE BUS STATION IN JACKSON
Them greens look horrible.
They’re all stock.
Not supposed to be that way.
My box of Golden Delicious
must be turning to mush.
I move them from corner to corner
like they’re my last possession.
Sometime in the next 24 hours
we’re all going to eat good.
I know for a fact they’re just picked.
Still, heat and humidity’s got to be
in that box by now.
I give one man five dollars
and another one a single.
The man who gets the five
stays with me until I get on the bus.
The voice of Black Mississippians
has a page on August Wilson.
Barbara Harris is born on Wilson’s 8th birthday.
Give him his flowers now, Barbara Harris writes,
His liver cancer won’t be treated.
August Wilson, 60, born April 27, 1945,
Frederick August Kittel, is dying.
James Allen III passed. Obituaries tell stories, too.
November 12, 1966-Saturday August 27, 2005
The African proverb says A person’s never dead
until they’re forgotten. August Wilson wrote
those plays with us in Seattle.
100 Black Men, with 103 chapters nationwide,
reach out to Katrina victims.
Because Bobby Rush, King of the Chitlin Circuit’s
coming through Jackson, I learn where others come from:
Robert Johnson, Hazlehurst; B.B. King, Indianola;
Willie Dixon, Vicksburg; Jessie Mae Hemphill, Senatolia;
Muddy Waters, Rolling Fork; Skip James, Yazoo City;
Otis Clay: Waxhaw—and Bobby Rush, Nightfishin’.
Charles Tisdale, the publisher, says Mississippi
hasn’t changed one bit on race issues. Cites
historian Vernon L. Wharton: Mississippi
invented its own system for keeping black people—
whatever that is—and nothing other than death
or northward migration out of the state could erase that.
Tisdale reminds readers that it was the great flood
during the early 20th Century that unleashed the Great Migration
north out of the Delta, and sweeping the race-hating
J.J. Vardaman into power. Vardaman’s race hate
stopped modern education for Black Mississippi cold.
Vardaman called the education of black people
a positive unkindness that renders negroes
unfit for the work the white man has prescribed for him,
which he will be forced to perform.
Charles Tisdale makes the connection to now:
Of course the denial of equal treatment
in the delivery of goods and taxpayer services
in the hard hit Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast
and the black majority attests to racism
of U.S. Social Services System,
as well as inherent inequities in tragic calamities
in this State, protests from Governor Haley Barbour
and his cohort President George Bush, notwithstanding.
Mothers sit with their children in bus rows
in the heat of the afternoon. The kids box
with the flies, an old game, a constant sorrow.
All the young men in cigarettes and cell phones.
Shouldn’t serve them greens with all that stock.
Break out those apples. Break out those apples now.
September 22-28, Jackson, Mississippi, Yakima, Washington
Train whistle, rolling wheels,
and the rails rocking just enough
to stir the poetry, that ought
to be enough for any one person
on any given day.
each in their seats.
Lincoln nods to Whitman.
Seeing that is all I need.
Naomi Shihab Nye, her red
suitcase beside my black one,
her voice in my ear, me not
knowing the difference
and small talk.
I want to call Karen,
email Jody. They’re tracking
me on Google Maps.
This dissolving kingdom
beneath my teeth.
of earned and given.
23 September 2005
LETTER TO NAOMI SHIHAB NYE FROM
THE PEACE TRAIN CROSSING ALABAMA
Two more pilgrims board in Birmingham.
Two days of hard travel to get here.
People crossing between hurricanes. I rode
the closing door in and out of Houston
to Jackson, Mississippi, bused myself
to Meridian where one steps out of weather
and talk turns to bluegrass. On the jet I used
your poems to cross into the big room,
crossing lines of time. I didn’t need a thread.
The day was sweeping water past the window.
Your street was named for berries.
He thought you held kerosene lamps
the size of splinters. Everything connecting
on its own. I fill pages in one sitting
inside the red suitcase and you and yours.
It felt good. Feels good looking at it now.
Before you begin has been with me
long enough to be an old friend.
Enough’s inside me now
I can’t go back and tell it.
I live in teaspoon, bucket, river, pain…
the story shuffles, and some are born to wonder.
My wife built a pillar of muslin
to carry on this train. Peace Pilgrim’s
on muslin. The train rides better
in the dark. At Atlanta a man gets on
wearing a Children’s Peace Train tshirt.
He flew 13 ½ hours from Korea to get here.
He could have flown directly to the Capitol
but needed to be on this train more.
He dreams peace with five other men.
They’re practicing now.
In Africa, as a young man, he came to an end point.
That stop made all the difference
He turns 60 on March Sunday.
5 times through the Zodiac. In Korea
you’re automatically born again at zero.
P.S. It’s the children’s voices in the train whistle.
Swear to God.
CAMP CASEY PEACE VIGIL TESTIMONY
BETWEEN THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT
AND THE WHITE HOUSE, SEPTEMBER 23, 2005
This is an authentic gathering of those touched by war:
Viet vets, Gold Star Families, and Iraq War Veterans.
We have just completed 26 days at Crawford, at Camp Casey.
I was there 22 of those days. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
We left on three buses, and had over 200 events in 58 cities
and 26 states in 21 days.
All we need to do is to ask: to be fed, hugged, healed.
At Camp Casey, you learned to ask for what you needed.
And in return, when you hear a need, be there.
We look forward to marching with you this weekend.
I’m from Military Families Speak Out. My son’s in his third tour.
500 days and counting. I believe he’s ok because I haven’t heard otherwise.
I don’t want to be a member of the Private Club—the Gold Star Mothers. My son says,
When you speak out, tell the people we don’t believe in the war. A year ago,
my son and I stood at the Viet Nam Wall together. He said, I wonder how many names will be on our wall?
[Interference comes from a car’s music with an external speaker system.]
When my son was killed, he left a pregnant wife behind. I’ll tell you what faith is. Faith is what kept that baby in the womb.
And yesterday I ran into Joe Lieberman. I told him, What makes your life more important? This is it, he told me. I called Joe Lieberman a liar.
Let’s impeach the liars.
Mr. Lieberman, we are becoming your hurricane.
I didn’t plan to speak tonight, but Joan Baez asked me to speak until she could get here.
My son was my American Dream.
My son was the first soldier to die from the State of Georgia.
I don’t know who came back, but it wasn’t my son, not the one that went over there.
[This is the testimony in front of the Washington Monument Candlelight Vigil, as recorded in the pocketbook blue line. jb]
I am Mexican-American.
I live in California.
The Mexico of the United States.
Bush is not the owner of your son.
Bush is the number one terrorist in the world.
I’ve been on the Northern Tour and I’ve told my son’s story over 100 times.
Families die forever when a son dies.
Congressmen don’t understand that.
On behalf of my son, I’d like to talk about him.
He came home looking good, not like the others.
A year later we found him hanging from a rope.
Congress really supports the war.
Congress doesn’t support the troops.
My cousin was a patriot all his life.
He died when his chopper went down.
[The people raise their candles between speakers. Someone says, Not one more death. Not one more life for oil.]
I’m here tonight so that you’ll hear the name of my son.
That’s the only way I’ll hear it.
The President said yesterday that we are wrong.
Tonight he has left the city.
[The people sing Amazing Grace led by Joan Baez.]
We’re not at the Capitol now.
We’re at the scene of a crime.
Tonight is a solemn occasion.
Tomorrow we’re going to take
our case to the criminals.
Now we’re going to the Viet Nam Memorial.
We’re going to ask that after the American Flag, the Viet Nam era veterans, the ones from the last war, lead, and then the Gold Star families.
Testimony recorded by Jim Bodeen
September 23, 2005
Cut Muslin, Layered with Poetry, A Peace Collage by Karen Bodeen
Karen cut a piece of muslin cloth 7 ¼ by 63 inches. The idea was to cut the cloth to resemble the shape of the Poetry Pole in the garden. She hemmed both ends and inserted ½ inch wooden dowels at top and bottom and sewed gold embroidery thread at the top so that it could be hung. Then she cut a piece of brown cotton just under 4 feet long and 4 inches wide. She sewed the letters P O E T R Y in freeform script down the length of the cloth in letters about 3 inches high. When she sewed this brown cotton onto the muslin,
she had her basic design, and the only idea we had at this point was to have people sign it, and maybe write something, and for me to carry it on the Peace Train from Meridian, Mississippi, to Washington, DC, during the Anti-War march on Washington the weekend of September 24-26.
I asked some people to write something directly on the muslin pole or to send me some poems to go on the material. Ed Stover wrote a poem, These Words, and Jody Aliesan sent the Robinson Jeffers poem, Shine, Perishing Republic. I included a poem of Viet Nam Vet John Akins, On the Way to Khe Sanh. Several people wrote their names on the cloth as Karen had made it at the book launching for the anthology Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole. We had discussed briefly, what the pilgrimage might look like: I had mentioned the Vietnam Wall, and Jody suggested a stop prior to that at the Lincoln Memorial. This is what was in my head as Karen and I began talking.
Karen worked on it all day yesterday finishing it, getting it ready. Some time yesterday, Jody asked, “What does it look like? I thought it was going to be a medicine bundle.” This morning I wrote back, “Well, it is, kinda.” Sometime late this morning, after Karen
had put more poems on, I realized that what it really looked like was a Torah. It can be rolled tight, and placed in one’s pocket, or rolled into a tube.
We wanted to experiment with ironing poems on the muslin. I had the poems from Ed and Jody, and found poems I liked from William Carlos Williams, William Stafford, David Hinton. We also had some brief, haiku-like poems written by hand on small muslin sheets by Barry Grimes and Brett Dillahunt. Maybe a dozen people had signed their names on the muslin in black ink. We decided to place poems underneath the narrower strip of brown cotton, and on the brown below the letters spelling P O E T R Y. The brown cotton was attached only at the top, so that it swings and hangs as it’s carried. The poems placed underneath break the margins alerting the eye. A poem of mine emerging from a confrontation between my mother and I about this journey is ironed underneath the word poetry. And coming out from underneath the word, P O E T R Y, Naomi Shihab Nye’s solitary Peace Pilgrim.
The poems on the front side ironed their way down the length of muslin. During this process, Karen found a JPEG document in red and blue of a locomotive, proclaiming Peace Train with one stanza of Cat Stevens’ song underneath. Karen placed this image at the bottom of the muslin. There remained one empty spot at the top, and here we placed a photograph of Manuh Santos, a native writer from Oaxaca and long distance runner, whose work is included in Weathered Pages, standing beside the Poetry Pole in the garden with me as he holds up his published work for the first time. This is the front side.
Karen and I were working at the kitchen table listening to blues and jazz show called On Higher Ground, coming out of Lincoln Center on NPR. Ideas were coming out of the music. We knew we had an entire untouched side to the muslin and another day to work.
We had a limited format and a deadline. We were working under inspired conditions and had a mission. Before we went to bed, Karen put the lyrics to Peace Train at the top along with two hand-written haikus, and an early poem of mine writing to a young man and family friend who was sent to Iraq with the first wave of marines more than two years ago. Lying in bed, I knew we had to put a poem of Dan Peters on in the morning, that at this point, any poem would work. When you’re writing a poem, you’re not making war. Further, Dan’s identification with the idea of the Pole was metaphorical and multi-leveled. Any poem would work. But which one. Under tight time-frame, I delighted in choosing, Skunk in the Well, even though it was a bit long. Skunk in the well works on many levels. “Pay up, and get ‘im out.” Yes, indeed.
Following Dan’s poem, Karen placed a photo of herself holding her first grandchild on the day of his birth. She wrote underneath the photo, Peace for our grandchildren, September, 2005.
The Muslin Pole was finished except for one important detail. How to present it as an evolving idea. Where and how would further work be invited and encouraged? Was that even possible? We let that simmer through the day. Coming back to it tonight, Karen said one word, Pockets. Underneath the photo of herself and her grandchild she made two.
In one pocket she placed cut blank muslin peaces we called leaves. Over this pocked I wrote these words: Muslin leaves for your visions. This is an invitation to select a muslin leaf for writing on the Peace Train’s Poetry Pole. You may place your poem in the pocket above, or take a safety pin and place it where you choose. Nothing disappears on the palimpsest, and even as the work becomes layered, nothing is ever covered over. Jim Bodeen, Meridian, Mississippi to Washington, DC, September 22, 2005. On the pocket just above the leaves, a pocked for your poem, is identified. Safety pins beside the pocket.
The muslin hanging is complete. My instructions are clear, but navigation is not. The external world always presents me with unknowns. It does look like a Torah. Already, in places, there are four layers, front to back. It does wrinkle. Karen thinks we need to roll it around a cardboard tube to hold its shape. That’s all I know for now, preparing myself, getting ready for the next step.
We sleep on this. One day before I leave, Karen comes home from work, and says, “A bag. It needs to go into a bag.”
Jody sends these words: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.-- from The Talmud. Karen sews a muslin bag tied in gold thread. Jody comes back: “ In a synagogue, the copy of the Torah is protected by a sheath that is pulled down over it from above. The sheath is often of rich and colourful cloth, but originally was probably homespun, or leather.”
Karen and Jody are on a wavelength. They see the same thing without talking. Karen irons the words from the Talmud on the muslin bag for the Muslin Peace Scroll. She places the Peace Train logo also, and rolls the scroll around a cut cardboard tube and places it in the sack.
“Jody says, “And the ends of the dowels would have tassels hanging from them, along with other things of beauty and value, including small bells. One way people could participate would be to offer objects of meaning to tie to long braided yarn or twine, attached to the dowels, that end in tassels.”
It is my job to record and carry: The voice says, Shalom/Salaam/Shanti.
18-20 September 2005
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