If Only


Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

Oh, to write just one poem

that would last as long as that rose

tattooed on her butt!

 

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Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

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After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

The Work


© 2014
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©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.

The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.

This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

And so I write it down.

Soul


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by Jim Harrison

My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?

Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, 2016. 

“Spirit” For New Year’s Day


by Jim Harrison

Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.

A Ballad of Love and Death About Elsa


Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

The ambulance driver told me in a bar
about the car accident–Elsa’s head torn off
and her eyes stayed open.
I went to the site with a bouquet of flowers.
The road’s shoulder was short green grass and along
the fence there were primroses and California
poppies. In the field a brown-and-white cow
watched me wander around. I wondered
how long Elsa could see, and what.
I found a patch of blood-crisp grass
where her head must have rested
surrounded by shards of windshield.
She was a fine gardener with a sweet,
warm voice.

Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, © 2016
Triggered this piece this morning. 

A Small Death in the Afternoon


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From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.

The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.

It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.

The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.

A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”

After IKKYU: Number 30


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by Jim Harrison

It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.

____________

in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press

Broom


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Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
en route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind  through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

From: “Songs of Unreason”, 2013

Tomorrow


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by Jim Harrison

I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.

[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]

The Girls of Winter


 December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016
Jim Harrison   1937 – 2016
Out the window of the bar I’m watching
a circle of girls stretching and yawning
across the street. It’s late January and 74
degrees. They love the heat because
they are a moist heat. Heat loves
heat and today is a tease for what comes
with spring around here when the glorious birds
funnel back up from Mexico. The girls
don’t care about birds because they are birds.
I recall in high school a half dozen
cheerleaders resting on a wrestling mat
in short shorts in the gym, me beside them
with a silly groin ache. What were they?
Living, lovely, warm meat as we all are
reaching out of our bodies for someone else.
–Jim Harrison

Not Jesus In A Pop-Up Camper, But…


Journey
@Spill_words

It wasn’t Jesus in a popup camper, but it was alright.

I am, in a word, astonished.
I find myself home after 50 years on the road.
I’ve endured, mainly ordinary disappointments,
some worse than that.

But all that is stored in albums on the shelf.
If I had a fireplace, I’d build a fire and sit,
With a big dog I don’t have, and a cat or two,
And flip through the memories again,
Sipping brandy and smoking a pipe I don’t have,
Since I quit smoking.

I have wiped the spider webs from the door
Cleaned the musty rooms
Thrown out that rotten food left in the ‘fridge.
Cleaned the basement and attic of
Things that don’t matter.
(And maybe never did.)
There’s still more to do,
But the old place waited patiently, and now is livable.
I’ve written about all that.

I was away longer than planned,
Living under the perverse and immutable rule of
The Law of Unintended Consequences,
The law of the Universe, as written:

“It shall be impossible to control everything. 
Even if you control almost everything,or 
Nearly everything—more than anyone else ever has,
or ever will—”

There will always be something you miss. 
And just because it’s fun to fuck with you,
This one thing will be the thing that screws you over.
Every time.”

A slow learner, it took most of my life to learn the rule.
The trip? A long, loopy, spastic waking fever-dream,
Out around the sun, slingshot back, coasting through
The cold void, the silence, alone,
To Mars and her moons, and back again,
To the past, to the future, and landing in the present,
Only to cross wilderness and water,
Barren desert and lush mountains.
Guess how much of that was on purpose.

The whole thing was shot through with wanting and
Emptiness and hidden vibrations and distant lights,
Filled with many corners, inevitable surprises around each,
And over and over, I met myself, wanting.
More. Different.
Understanding little at the time but driven by wanting.

The sea moves always, the wind moves always,
I want and I want and there is no end to my wanting.

I spun out and out, and around and around and down,
And, finally, ended where I began.

Now? The forms are all completed, the reports filed.
I am free. One manacle after another has been cut away.
I have nothing useful to do, and none can tell me to do it

I walk the buckled sidewalks of the old neighborhood.
A little hurt that no one asks for my autograph.
They don’t know, or care, about the journey.

But the children and I listen when the birds
Sit in the trees and sing like crystal and soar free,
Wishing we were with them,
Dreaming of soaring, singing high above the Earth.

This will take some adjustment.
I don’t know the lingo any more,
The streets have changed,
The Blankenships next door got old, died,
And the kids living in their house
Don’t care where I’ve been.
Difference is dangerous, they’ve learned.
And even though I know I belong—or did—
They give me wide berth,
Laugh and run away
Shouting in an unknown, yet faintly familiar language.

Inhabiting the skin of my most advanced age yet is
The strangest feeling, sometimes.
Inside I’m still young, curious, horny and wistful.
Still wanting, but not any more sure than
Ever what would satisfy the need.
Then I look in the mirror and see
A stranger with mileage, a certain weariness… but me .

I wish I could grow one magic eye,
Able to see the truth of things,
And yet not despair.
But maybe I found a seed of it on the trip,
And while it needs a little tending,
There is occasionally some magic in it.

And that pleases me.

Everything I’ve done, everything and everyone
I’ve known; the friends, the enemies;
The broken bodies I left in my wake,
All the times I failed to just be kind,
(When it would have cost me nothing),
Or to learn from my mistakes,

If any of it had been different,
Even something small I didn’t notice at the time,
The story would have been entirely different.

So tonight, I’ll live the story I imagine,
By the imaginary fireplace, with
The imaginary brandy and dog and cats,
And flip through the old album, the only thing
That’s real, and let the truth rise.

That’s all I ever really wanted.

 

I Believe


It’s not Friday, but feels like it should be.
Maybe its the wine. Always blame the wine when you’re feeling low.
Get a little drunk and go off and read your favorites,
And thank the good Lord that there’s video.
Enjoy this little offering. And have some wine.

I Believe
By Jim Harrison

I believe in steep drop-offs, the thunderstorm across the lake
in 1949, cold winds, empty swimming pools,
the overgrown path to the creek, raw garlic,
used tires, taverns, saloons, bars, gallons of red wine,
abandoned farmhouses, stunted lilac groves,
gravel roads that end, brush piles, thickets, girls
who haven’t quite gone totally wild, river eddies,
leaky wooden boats, the smell of used engine oil,
turbulent rivers, lakes without cottages lost in the woods,
the primrose growing out of a cow skull, the thousands
of birds I’ve talked to all of my life, the dogs
that talked back, the Chihuahuan ravens that follow
me on long walks. The rattler escaping the cold hose,
the fluttering unknown gods that I nearly see
from the left corner of my blind eye, struggling
to stay alive in a world that grinds them underfoot.

 

Lunar


Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison, in “In Search of Small Gods”

Out in the nighttime in the caliche-gravel driveway
doing a shuffle dance to the music of the lunar eclipse,
a dark gray and reddish smear blocking the moon.
I’m embarrassed by my dance steps learned
from the Ojibwa over fifty years ago,
but then who’s watching but a few startled birds,
especially a canyon wren nesting in a crack of the huge
rock face? Without the moon’s white light the sky
is suddenly overpopulated with stars like China and India
with people. The stars cast the longest of shadows.
I dance until I’m a breathless old fool thinking
that the spirit of their blinded moon is as real
as that enormous toad that used to bury itself
between the house and the barn of our farm
in Lake Leelanau. One evening I watched him slowly
erupt from the ground. Now the moon’s white light
begins to show itself, shining off looming Red Mountain
where years ago I’m told a Mexican boy climbed
to the top to play a song more closely to his dead sister.
Luna, luna, luna, we must sing to praise living and dead.

Bittersweet Memories

Divine Losers


Art of War by Akira Enzeru

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player”

Darlin’, doesn’t it seem we’re just divine losers

“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. “

who will ultimately fail…at something,
but that doesn’t matter?
Then trying again, knowing we’ll fail: that matters.
God is in that, in us. We keep getting up.

The world, society,
will just move on right over us
in any case
and brush us aside.

It’s really the natural way of things, to come and go.
Everything has its time to be,
To bloom, to rut and to spread itself
And soak up the sun … for a while.
But it all becomes loam
on the forest floor eventually
Food for next year’s bloom.
And every special snowflake
Melts in the sun.

It took a while, a long while for me to see.
I used to think of goals,
But found they were but mileposts,
incentives to keep going.
To where, exactly, I didn’t really know….
little accomplishments that marked
the turning of pages of chapters
in a book that will
probably be forgotten.
No. It will be forgotten.

And now? Like The Dear Departed Harrison,
I have found that I like grit in myself, in others
taking a punch and moving anyway.
That’s what endures. Endurance.
I prefer to think on love and death,
dealing with real things, big things,
not simulated sex and violence on TV.

And more, I find I and drawn to sentiment,
because real people are sentimental
and they like to tell their stories, and hear others’.
That’s part of the sweep of things, too,
so why the hell not?

So Darlin’, I believe we divine losers, you and me…we know the score,
And we sure as hell don’t need hipster irony any more.

Barking. Remembering.


 December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016
Jim Harrison December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“Barking”

by Jim Harrison
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.