POETRY DISPATCH No. 362 | January 5, 2012
Editor’s Note: I just trashed a lead-in piece, essay, on Harrison that I spent too much of yesterday (and the afternoon of the day before) writing. I liked where it was going, but after a trip to town, after a cup of coffee and reflection, after I came back to the desk here in the coop, I was tired of the piece, tired of what we’ve done to Harrison, maybe even more tired of what Harrison has done to himself.
Success in American writing means the making of the myth. Then living up to it till it eventually kills you, spiritually if not physically. I don’t want to get started on this or I’ll spend another day or more writing that piece. I don’t want to be reminded of how many times Harrison has been compared to hard drinking, hard living, hard loving, hard writing Hemingway. And how the myths sometime converge. But…
Fuck it! (I’m angry). Harrison may be our Hemingway of today (he may have even preened himself for this distinction through time…including what seems his present, ‘heroic’ road to self-destruction), but he is not Hemingway. He is Harrison. In some ways, a better writer than Hemingway. Certainly a better poet. Certainly a fuller grasp of the narrative of the natural landscape of America (the Midwest in particular), how it speaks, what it says, how it saves us from ourselves…how it shapes Harrison’s words far beyond the Nick Adams Stories.
Forget the myth. Forget the photographs. Go to the work. There you’ll find him. — Norbert Blei
Back in the blue chair in front of the green studio
another year has passed, or so they say, but calendars lie.
They’re a kind of cosmic business machine like
their cousin clocks but break down at inoppormne times.
Fifty years ago I learned to jump off the calendar
but I kept getting drawn back on for reasons
of greed and my imperishable stupidity.
Of late I’ve escaped those fatal squares
with their razor-sharp numbers for longer and longer.
I had to become the moving water I already am,
falling back into the human shape in order
not to frighten my children, grandchildren, dogs and friends.
Our old cat doesn’t care. He laps the water where my face used to be.
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.
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. ]
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.
Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.