Taking My Own Temperature, Raw and Heavy-Handed

A Confession, with Wishes

It’s time to ‘fess up.
I’m feeling less and less keen
on “finding common ground”
and all that assorted
“give them a chance” bullshit,
and the vague nature
of my pacifism is washing away
with every drop of water
that stings the flesh
of peaceful protestors
on a frigid landscape barely
a day’s drive away
from where I sit fat and warm,
mired in my own
inconsequential dramas.

So here are some truths.
I wish a vessel would burst
in the heart or brain of our
“President Elect” and he’d
drop flopping and dead
in a puddle of shit from
his own vacuated bowels,
and the world would sigh
with relief,
then point and laugh.

I wish every one of that man’s
braindead followers would be
visited in the night
by the spirits of the lost,
forgotten, and brutalized,
– Dickens-like –
to see a possible future where
they and their loved-ones face
the violence and hate
they advocate and cheer,
that each one may wake
soaked and reeking
of piss in their sheets,
screaming into the morning,
“What have I done?”

I wish that the ghosts
of our ancestors
would sweep across the land,
whooping and singing,
and leave behind nothing
but shriveled carcasses
frozen inside the body armor
of every rent-a-soldier
who tramples the bodies
of my friends, lovers, and family,
like the husks of locusts
whose plague ended
when it ventured too far
onto the Northern Plains.

I wish all those fuckers
would suddenly understand
that indeed they are correct:
not everyone belongs here.
But it isn’t the ones
they were thinking of.

Sitting on Logs

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.

___________________________

Notes on the Sacred Art of Log Sitting
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.

Art of Floating

41kZEc9AX4L._SX340_BO1,204,203,200_I’m a late-comer to reading Jim Harrison. I encountered a rave review in 2007 of his novel, Returning to Earth, when it was first released. Reading the book I was captivated. In a subsequent interview, I learned he identifies himself as a poet. With some few exceptions I had not really “gotten” poetry at that point in my evolution as a reader, and I couldn’t understand why on earth anyone would choose to be a poet when clearly they were adept at the novel form. After all, isn’t that the pinnacle of storytelling?*

Then I started reading Harrison’s poetry. The man really knocked down some doors for me, and now I make a point to read poetry every day, even as I must admit I could probably read and re-read his over and over for the rest of my life and be satisfied.

His newest collection, recently released by Copper Canyon Press, is called Dead Man’s Float. I have a review in the current issue of the Indy. You can check it out HERE. An excerpt:

When I read the last few poems of this book and closed the cover I sat back in my chair and looked around. The sun was shining brighter than it had for days. I could see through my window several house finches at the feeder hanging from the branches of the tree out front. My dog slept on her cushion, back-to-back with a bitter old cat. They used to be mortal enemies, but both now find themselves too old to expend the energy for animosity. Reflections like these seem the soul of what Jim Harrison writes about, at least to me. Few enough are the books I decide to keep beyond a culling or two. Barring fire or flood, Dead Man’s Float will be in my library for the rest of my life. If it’s the last poetry collection we get from Harrison—and I hope it isn’t—it is as fine an example of his efforts as any.

 

Here is one of my favorite poems from the book, this one called “Apple Tree.”

Sitting under the apple tree on a hot

June day harassed by blackbirds

and a house wren who have nests there.

I’m thinking of the future and the past,

and how the past at my age has become

obviously so much longer than the future.

The feeling always precedes my sense

that severe weather is coming. I don’t believe

in doom or destiny — I believe in turmoil,

thunderstorms in the head, rolling lightning

coming down my brain’s road. As an artist

you follow the girl in the white tennis dress

for 25,000 miles and never close the deal.

 

You’ll be hearing a lot about Jim Harrison on this blog in the coming months, I believe. I’ve dedicated myself to reading as much of his work as I can find, and I’ve found much of it.

 

* That’s a rhetorical question, of course

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I Believe for National Poetry Month

I’ve seen mentioned several places that April is National Poetry Month. I’ve been cultivating an appreciation for poetry over the last couple years, so I thought I would post one of the ones I’ve noted as being interesting to me. Then I thought I’d try my hand at one of my own instead, as I’ve been dabbling at that a bit as well. So here is one I just wrote that is pretty much a total rip-off of Jim Harrison’s poem, “I Believe,” that I’ve mentioned previously. I’m going to be so bold as to even swipe the damn title.

I Believe

I believe in the leveling off after a

steep climb, blasts of rain on my

face, the sound of cricks and rivers

and lakes and oceans stroking the

sand and dirt, wind in the trees

and thunder. Christmas lights downtown,

food carts, ice cream trucks, and beat-up

old pick-ups, women with noses and

asses and personalities bigger than

what’s considered appropriate,

and dogs like that too.

The smell of clean sweat and

dirty sex and breakfast,

Men and women and children and

weeds and flowers and grass

poking their way through the cracks

between those spaces where the world

says they ain’t supposed to be.

 

No Need to Bother

Recently, in a bid to consider trying my hand at writing the occasional bit of poetry, I pick up a copy of Jim Harrison’s In Search of Small Gods, open to the first poem, and shortly ask myself why I should even bother to try, considering he’s already summed up everything I want to say. . . .

I Believe (by Jim Harrison, from In Search of Small Gods)

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 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.