Remembering Jim Cody/Wildman, Scholar, Shaman, Papa

James Marion Cody, Jim to those who knew and loved him, came to his end in a car crash in Lubbock this past August. Cody was an original out of the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, born of Scots-Irish parents whose oddities exceeded those Mary Karr writes about in The Liars’ Club. He was a lonely man much of his life, driving his taxi on the night shift in Austin, writing poems by the day, starting magazines like Wood Ibis and a small press called Place of Herons, publishing his own work that spoke of the fading wilderness of Texas, the once undammed Brazos, the muddy Colorado he explored now and then in a canoe, and wrote about with deep affection in Colorado River.

We were good friends in those years, and when I found myself teaching in Kuala Lumpur one year, he walked into the teachers’ lounge and greeted me. He had just recovered from colon cancer and was eager to live again, to travel. He soon went off to Seoul, Korea and met his future wife, Jeong Ja, on a bus. He lived there, learned Korean, became passionate about the possible connections between Korean mythology and Native American myths. He told me Korea was what America might have looked like had the Europeans never invaded.

He was the friend of Chicano and native writers, and published as many as his purse could afford. When we got together to memorialize the passing of Ricardo Sanchez in El Paso, Cody was at the table conducting the ceremony, a balding, middle-aged partisan trying to right the wrongs of a white world that had taken too much, given too little. Some younger pachuco poets began to heckle him until an older man stood to say to them, in Spanish, this was a friend, a man who had loved Ricardo as much as anyone could. The room got back in order and we saw the spirit of Ricardo into the hills.

Unhappy with his education he went to nursing school in his forties, got an R.N. degree, and worked in hospitals across the land. But Cody chafed against the bureaucracy of the medical world, and quit to undertake a doctorate at Texas Tech in Lubbock. He was in the throes of completing a dissertation on the buried, but momentous Celtic mythology underlying James Joyce’s Ulysses. He wrote to me that it would shake the Joyce world and make him famous. I hoped it would.

But he turned one afternoon in early August into a street where the sun blinded his vision of an on-coming car that took his life. His books will endure; some, like The Book of Wonders and My Body Is a Flute, will be republished because they are good. He was volatile, rash, easy to anger, eager to be loved, and to forgive when he knew how, and a man who gave his best years to writing about the Texas landscape he called his spiritual home. His absence in the ranks of Texas poets will be hard to fill, and his friends will not easily forget him.

Poet and essayist Paul Christensen has been a professor of English at Texas A&M University since 1974.

Wildman, Scholar, Shaman, Papa


Of gnarly Bards: ghostvoices in a throwaway worldWhat do you listen for? The earthis wounded. Earth can not make you whole.—David Wevill


Gather the spirited ones, the stubborn poets, into an Equinox memorial for Jim White Bear Cody, wildman-scholar-shaman-papa: touchstones & riprap, flutesongs & many heady tales & a polyglot so like his own. There is a way, some of us came to believe over the years, that the “ideo-deities,”as Paz called them, would not be found out there but as we stumbled over them in here. Our stumbling stones were words. Jim Cody knew their powers, their failures, the knotty and difficult chores they entail.

At the end of his fine book, My Body Is A Flute, he takes pains in his “Notes” to give over to his reader certain hidden knowings of his own. First, a fine Poem—then reconnaisance of it:

Journey To The New World

I wander along the paths of Celtic mythology, German mythology, all the white myths, and when I get to the end of the path, when the Gotterdammerung has long been over and the gods, dead, long mouldered into basic elements, potassium, sodium, and basalt; when the Dagda no longer plays his harp for human ears, no longer emerging from his Sidhe, waiting for later times to understand his songs, and the Christ is long overdue, only now just come, I find myself along the east bank of the Rio Grande, with the subtle words of Finn MacCumhaill in my ear-blood, the white corn mother standing on the other side.

We live, the philosopher Heidegger suggested, in the night of the world’s Night—the old gods dead, the new ones not yet arrived. Jim says in his notes: “Once when I lay ill on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Rio Grande Gorge south of Taos, New Mexico, I heard the voice of Finn McCumhaill tell me through the pounding rhythm of the blood in my ears that he had handed me over to the Americas.”

Jim tells us Dagda was the Earth god; Sidhe the huge mounds in the Irish countryside: home of the gods defeated by ancestors of the Gaels. And elsewhere Jim says he took corn woman as his goddess figure after she appeared to him in a dream. I like her image there, on “the other side.”

And from a farther shore, these words in Gustav Sobin’s Luminous Debris seem to echo with a glimpse of Jim’s own paths, both afoot and by the mind’s eye, as he moved among us. Sobin, poet-archeologist, says:

Adrift in a world of semiotic vacuity, lost to ourselves in the midst of so much electronic overload, we’ve begun, as if intuitively, haunting museums, consulting archives, sifting through the apparent detritus of long-ignored vestige. Here in Provence, for instance, each village has generated its own historian; each dilapidated roadside shrine, its own restorer. In default of a viable present, we’ve come to valorize the past as never before. Propelled forward, we’ve turned, quite manifestly, backward, looking for the signs, signatures, and substantiating echoes of a world that underlies our own.

Jim Cody lived there, in the interstice. Most poets I know do. When three years ago, I hosted a poetry reading for Jim at a local java joint, he delighted and stunned us by reciting with his strong voice some ancient Gaelic songpoems he had been translating. The feelings of a Sea-rage his words evoked was potent, undeniable; not knowing meanings but in those sounds, his small audience—young students, mostly—got it. Said one young woman, “That’s about a storm!” And so it was, and so Jim sang then his translation, handing it over to us Americans.

I liked his image that night, his voice and how it carried so much of who he was, and what he knew and how he had, like so many of us, stubbornly nurtured a long won faith in the art of the poem to speak the heart of the man.

Daniel Durham currently lives in West Texas, and is working on a chapbook, Other Songs Other Nights. He hosts occasional poetry reading events for The Wobbling Twilight Revue.

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Published at 12:00 am CST