With National Poetry Month winding down, I thought I would recognize it. I’ve been meaning to for about 28 days now, as a matter of fact. I’ve read more poetry in the past year than I have in my lifetime prior, I think. I’ve even taken to writing it. Last year, I recognized April with one of my own, the first I’d written in at least a couple decades, directly inspired by one from Jim Harrison.
Considering Harrison left us a month ago, I thought this year I would share one of his, this sort of prose poem from his last collection, Dead Man’s Float, to mark the event. It’s one I love, for its beauty and its sadness. I’ll miss the man’s work, though I suspect there is probably some stashed away we’ve yet to see.
by Jim Harrison
To give the surgeon a better view of my interior carcass I was slashed from neck to tailbone. Recovery was slow and the chief neurologist told me, “You can walk your way out of this.” I began walking out by shuffling down a long hallway. It was very hard on my tender empathy to see so many hopeless cases, especially the truly beautiful girl who was paralyzed for life.
I want to walk in the morning with Zilpha again. I want to walk in the morning with Zilpha again. I want to walk in the morning with Zilpha again. I want to walk in the morning with Zilpha again. I want to walk in the morning with Zilpha again. Amen.
And I want to bird hunt, which I’ve done with intensity for forty years in a row. Is this even possible? The answer, come to find out, was that I couldn’t keep up. Zilpha would flush some birds then look to me wondering why I hadn’t shot. I was far behind, sitting on an Emory oak log and staring hard at the landscape.
My shuffling mood was always corrected by sitting on an oak log, so I decided to make some notes on the sacred art of log sitting:
- Approach the log cautiously with proper reverence as if you were entering a French cathedral or the bedroom of your lover.
- If it’s over 60 degrees, inspect the lower side of the log for Mohave rattlesnakes.
- Now examine the log closely for the most comfortable place to sit, usually away from the sun.
- Sit down.
- Empty your mind of everything except what is in front of you — the natural landscape of the canyon.
- Dismiss or allow to slide away any aspect of your grand or pathetic life.
- Breathe softly.
- Avoid a doze.
- Internalize what you see in the canyon: the oaks and mesquites, the rumpled and grassy earth, hawks flying by, a few songbirds.
- Stay put for forty-five minutes to an hour.
- When you get up bow nine times to the log.
- Three logs a day is generally my maximum.
When you get in your car it will seem as wretched as it is. A horse would be far better. For hours your mind will still be absorbed in the glory of what you saw rather than mail, emails, cell phones, TV, etc. Hopefully log sitting will allow you to change the contents of your life. You will introduce yourself as a “log sitter” rather than a novelist, detective, or mortician. You will walk more slowly and perhaps your feet will shuffle like mine. I can readily imagine buying a small ranch I’d call “The Log Ranch.” I’d truck in thirty-three logs and arrange them on the property like the Stations of the Cross. This could soothe me during my limited time in the twenty-first century, which has been very coarse indeed. Especially after Zilpha died.