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Monday, April 4, 2016

Jim Harrison 1937-2016

The dead are not meant to go,
but to trail off so that one can
see them on a distant hillock,
across the river, in dreams
from which one awakens nearly healed:
don't worry, it's fine to be dead,
they say, we were a little early
but we could not help ourselves.
Everyone dies as the children they were...
Since his death at the end of March, I've been thinking about Harrison and have realized that I've read more words written by him than any other person. Those words were in essays, memoirs, novels, novellas, but it's been towards his poetry that I've turned, possibly because he thought of himself primarily as a poet. Poets like writing about death, so I had no trouble finding passages. The words here are from a poem in the collection The Theory and Practice of Rivers which was dedicated to his niece after her death while still a teenager.
Harrison was fond of many things in life: eating, drinking, religious writings, women's bottoms, fishing, bird hunting, music. These often are mentioned in his writings so that those of us who didn't know him personally knew him through his words and will miss him.
It is that, but far more:
as if we take a voyage out of life
as surely we took a voyage in,
almost as frightened children
in a cellar's cold grey air;
or before memory- they put me on a boat
on this river, then I was lifted off;
in our hearts, as it is always just after
dawn, and each bird's song is the first,
and that ever so slight breeze that touches
the tops of trees and ripples the lake
moves through our bodies as if we were gods.


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