March 19 – Jim Janda

Wedneaday March 19 — the last full day of winter

Jim Janda lived as a mystic pilgrim for most of his 74 years. He died August 7, 2010 in Salt Lake City, a priest of that diocese since 1996. Jim also lived for a quarter century as a Jesuit which is when we met. Jim was “well known for his gentle and generous heart. . . . During his life he wrote and published a series of short religious stories for children, school plays and books of poetry.” So reads his obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune. The obit is accurate, as was the stated cause of his death, emphysema; I think he smoked too much. I can’t remember ever visiting with Jim without feeling bathed in wisdom and tenderness, and in his awareness of how deep grief runs in human beings, right there along with whimsy.

The Tribune’s evocation of “stories for children, school plays and books of poetry . . .” does not even hint at the flint-hard prose and fine tuned ironies that throb and flow through his poems. Today’s post comes from the 1970s when Jim lived on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Like many of his poems, “The Town in March” is homey and close to the grass without flinching from pain.

Jim Janda reminds me of Joy Harjo. I am glad I thought to pull his book off my poetry shelf on this last full day of winter.


John sj
The Town in March

a wind smelling
of grass
and wet earth
was coming
off the prairie
and blowing
through town

you could hear
Mr. Buffalo Robe
playing marches
on his piano
from the open door
of his shack

Mrs. Big Dog
sitting on the
stoop of her trailer
was squinting
in the sun

kids were shouting
about the dead
badger they found

he does not play
the piano any more

some men broke his
hand and arm
when he was drunk

some men blinded
John Red Feather too

this is not spoken of
in town

ps March 19, feast of St. Joseph and of Sisters of St Joseph everywhere. Happy feast Sr. Beth.

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