Letter to Jim Harrison #3
REPORTAGE: a Tuesday. And along the highways a rash of clowns with knives. Dead deer killed while rutting, and brown, frothing rivers in flood ... "about 100" blackbirds fall mysteriously in a flock from the sky. I mean to say the big one, Election Day, and I canceled all my classes. But not in festivity or dread. Rather, since my young daughter awoke early with her stomach in knots-her eyes shiny coins as she kept close an orange bucket (remnant of Halloween) just in case. . . . Time to vomit. Or faint. Or pay attention. Or pay no attention. Or go nearly bankrupt, as I have four times before: l. Not kissing overly mature Sally from 7th grade when she wanted to kiss my immature and quivering lips. 2. Shooting my uncle by mistake (he's fine; simply picked three pieces of lead from his abdomen and said, "Hey. Watch your barrel.") 3. Tossing a frozen venison neck roast into an apartment dumpster. 4. Some shouted smog I forget, a graduate school Sunday. After Thursday and Friday and Saturday of crushed blue Dexedrine up the nose, some strobe lights of silver and gold, bodies prismed into backyards of flickering shadow, beer and then beer, but very little actual food. Except for words and making out: hi Denise and Daisy; hi Bee-Bee. Hi George jumping his vintage bicycle over a ramp of flaming textbooks and a horizontal Abraham. . . . Look! A fellow voter! Or the wounded lope of coyote. Look! A citizen! Or the sinning eyes of livestock headed for the bologna truck. . . . My daughter and I enjoyed our rare day off together . . . practiced pencil drawing (my go-to is the character Snoopy and a horse-head I learned in 3rd grade; she prefers stick figures and cupcakes). We ate neon yogurt. She saw a nine-foot-tall Bigfoot statue at the farmers' market and had the owner take our picture. Went to vote. "I really want to see the machine," my daughter said, as we stood in a long, snaking line outside the rural gymnasium. Is it legal for a child to see it close? It is, and she huddled inside the thin, blue curtain and hugged my leg tight and gripped her orange bucket while my finger pressed hard the button. . . . A day passed. I bow-hunted this morning and saw a large doe, but she never gave the correct angle, never paused. . . . The wonderful essence of archery: it rarely works out, if you desire to kill ethically, as in quickly and rightly done--so I let the deer browse away. And lowered my bow on a rope gently to the forest floor. And my breath coiled out into the cold. And the sunlight spilt patterns across the corn, cobwebs or thick nets. . . . Or simply nothing at all. And a tardy rooster crowed. And the nation has a new president.
Letter to Jim Harrison #6
HEMINGWAY. A "woodstove that didn't give off much heat, "which must be as much a boot to the groin as any writer can give another. A glacier or a wildfire, but never the dregs at the bottom of a tin cup. You were wrong, I'd guess, only that his shadow was on you like an unshakable odor: another debate we'll never hold . . . our visitation of the dead by words, a faulty summit . . . prayers struggling to part the curtains. A stumble among the white dew of the graveyard. A note read by cave light. While discussing Tolstoy's averagely doomed Ivan Ilyich, a recent graduate student said he wasn't frightened of death since he personally believed in the Christian afterlife. But his eyes darted about for relief. . . . Everyone else staring into their laptops out of existential politeness. . . . I suggested a regimen of Li Po, Plath, or Larkin, another kick to the groin with added torquing of the spinal cord . . . it either helped the situation or not at all. Possibly I should have handed out a tape dispenser or a tangerine. Maybe a shot of Pepto-Bismol. Or let another student say it better, describing a recent poetry reading wherein she gripped two cubes of ice and said repeatedly into the microphone, "Ice, ice, ice, ice. . . . " Then moments later opened her empty palms and waved them in conclusion: "Water." I believe she had the general dilemma by its horns: Vodka. Blood. Rain splashing in the street. Puddles. All rivers laughing by the centuries. You know, Hemingway wanted to write poetry and he did it and it was awful. So he stopped. We must give him credit for stopping. . . . So many trees waiting on it; so many libraries paused to sigh. . . . Poetry. A New York critic labeled yours "backwoodsy," hopefully a moment before tumbling into an uncovered manhole while reading Updike on his phone. Backwoodsy? Code for coughing. Code for watery Manhattans or a certain cut of gray cloth. Code for claiming art, but never once seeing a forest flower grow through the eye socket of a deer skull. Why so judgmental this morning? Not something I ate since I ignored breakfast (aghast!), other than coffee. I think I've meandered off the path into a valley fog but didn't want to mention The Richard Brautigan Library, Vancouver, Washington, where anyone is allowed to bring anything they've written--"the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted," as Brautigan envisioned. To just drop by. Maybe read a few strangers' musings . . . or not. To place a loosely bound stack of papers on the library shelves, where they will remain. And then to turn and walk away.
Letter to Jim Harrison #14
PURCHASED A NEW OFFICE CHAIR for my failing lower back. Testing, testing. The flies that buzz and land about me while I write are the stupidest flies. Almost sluggish. I can flick them into the beyond quite easily, which brings a Buddhist hesitation. These insects must be poems--why do they exist? What's at stake? What is the emotional background that this fly is rooted in? Blar. The sweet odor at the bottom of a garbage can. These letters are of course the turtles you see trudging across a rural highway. . . . Or dead raccoons. How many dead, bloated, rigid raccoons? How many opossums and flattened frogs? The turkey vultures circling, a bird that oddly grunts or groans but never sings. If only our cars could right now meet the woolly mammoths, so nearby--Wham! Payback. Fire and ice. A hissing and a gurgling. And stop naming subdivisions after tribal chiefs or leaping fawns. The farmers plow up bones daily. Hardly ancient history: men built pyramids while the mammoths roamed this prairie, now grids: Corn, corn, soybean, corn, exit ramp, corn, David Foster Wallace penned while driving down an Illinois highway, his mind outracing the car, his mind too-conscious, his thoughts so many miles ahead and ticking hard like an overheated engine. . . . Did you know David Foster Wallace? Most likely. You certainly knew of his suicide. But remind me again, did you really share a drink with Jack Kerouac? With Jimmy Buffet in Key West? George Harrison and Sean Connery? Yes. You shook Kevin Costner's hand? While Farrah Fawcett played Dalva in a television movie . . . I'd rather believe in Orson Welles, a lunch of half-pound beluga with a bottle of Stoli, salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads, a miniature leg of lamb with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports, and a chaser of cocaine. A sort of epic poem, no? Something involving the sun and broken glass off the sun, later ball lightning and possibly a shaker of blood, the vividness of gout, diabetes, bonfires and roadkill. The way when you skin a whitetail deer it looks hauntingly like a human being. . . . How did you get your start writing and what have you done to develop your craft? What's your schedule like? What do you look for in the first lines of a poem . . . blar. Blubber, squeal, drip. Bubble, burp. Blar. . . . I'll end this by noting I opened the nearby window and watched as the flies thumped their way free. We all know the outdoors is safer than people.
Letter to Jim Harrison #44
THE TOP LOCATION for an office meeting is nowhere. Second best is in a bar. I've found the finest boozy conversations are with linguists, which makes no sense and all the sense in the world. Lexicon of slur. Loopy diction. Jangle back and slap language upside the head, cackling and crescendo--time to get statistically potted, etcetera. Do I even drink apple cider? Order me four. The snow swims down the windows . . . the snow swirls in silhouettes: a stray cat, a skunk, a killer or a news anchor--strange sounds in the night. "Why are you so excited?" I asked a nearby colleague. "Because I'm drunk!" he screamed and I took stock: he was drunk, glowing and swaying so, floating paper lantern, which is the good way if you can hold a winter wind in place with a halo of your arms, a feat I believe impossible . . . meaning? Drinking always makes me want to drink. Way leading onto way. But home soon, to face my disappointments. Don't blame the mirror, just wave. Or swoon politely. La, ha! Clunk. What was that? Smeary face. Fry a deer steak, chop it up, throw it on tortilla chips. Add a handful of Pringles and blueberries. Why is a spatula in the bathroom? Hot sauce in my hair. . . . Let's write a nasty email to the universe. Send. Then onto eBay. Good gods. Purchased a fishing rod and blue suede shoes and eighty-four dollars of Chinese literature: Tao Qian ("Drinking Alone When It Rains Day After Day") and Li Po ("Drunk, I Rise to Follow the Moon"), stumbling down this paper trail to Tu Fu and Wang Wei and off a high cliff into turbulent river, sprinting to the ocean, but never once turning back (since river generally don't). Tumble. Jump cut. I twirl on my barstool over and over, over and over. Dizzy. Someone said I wouldn't know her name. Someone said I had the acronyms wrong. "You have to live with it, I guess," someone said to someone. I felt a pressure on my shoulder, someone's hand. Someone mentioned lithium causes weight gain. Someone said drink water. Then someone said don't drink water. Someone proclaimed the utter death of actual hope. Someone rolled their eyes. Someone bought me a beer and I bought someone two--or the other way. The ceiling fluttering blue. Someone gave a weak smile and said into my ear, "You blink and you're forty." A flaky crust on my lips. Throat tightening. Someone left and showed up later and we couldn't figure out if they'd really left at all. Someone dropped a green scarf, then a glass. Then the glass reappeared, dark eye full of bourbon. Someone reminded me of something I didn't want to be reminded of. Someone cried, "I shouldn't even have opened my damn mouth!" And then something happened. And this other thing. Then nothing.