The great writer Jim Harrison

March 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Pipeline

jim-harrisonJim Harrison has passed on. Not too long ago he said “at my age you don’t think about the future because you don’t have one” but that is true only in the narrowest sense. His future is assured, because his words are still with us. I don’t think Jim really saw time as finite anyway. He was too busy experiencing life and thinking about how it felt and how to express the beauty of the world and all of us in it.

His novels are beautifully written and always humane. He loved people, but understood their foibles, failures and ultimate transcendence. He loved the natural world as only a person who lived in it can do.

I’m not sure there are too many writers like him anymore. Nor will there be.

Though best known for his fiction and essays (and large appetites), Jim was first and foremost a poet: “in poetry our motives are utterly similar to those who made cave paintings or petroglyphs, so that studying your own work of the past is to ruminate over artifacts, each one a signal, a remnant of a knot of perceptions that brings back to life who and what you were at that time, the past texture of what has to be termed as your ‘soul life’.”

His latest book of poems is Dead Man’s Float, published by Copper Canyon Press, in which this poem is found.


Warm enough here in Patagonia AZ to read
the new Mandelstam outside in my underpants
which is to say he was never warm enough
except in summer and he was without paper to write
and his belly was mostly empty most of the time
like that Mexican girl I picked up on a mountain road
the other day who couldn’t stop weeping. She had slept
out two nights in a sweater in below-freezing weather.
She had been headed to Los Angeles but the coyote
took her money and abandoned her in the wilderness.
Her shoes were in pieces and her feet bleeding.
I took her to town and bought her food. She got a ride
to Nogales. She told us in Spanish that she just wanted
to go home and sleep in her own bed. That’s what Mandelstam
wanted with mother in the kitchen fixing dinner. Everyone
wants this. Mandelstam said, “To be alone is to be alive.”
“Lost and looked in the sky’s asylum eye.” “What of
her nights?” Maybe she was watched by some of the fifty
or so birds I have in the yard now. When they want to
they just fly away. I gave them my yard and lots of food.
They smile strange bird smiles. She couldn’t fly away.
Neither can I though I’ve tried a lot lately to migrate
to the Camargue on my own wings. When they are married,
Mandelstam and the Mexican girl, in heaven they’ll tell
long stories of the horrors of life on earth ending each session
by chanting his beautiful poems that we did not deserve.