“Peonies” by Jim Harrison

The peonies, too heavy with their beauty,
slump to the ground. I had hoped
they would live forever but ever so slowly
day by day they’re becoming the soil of their birth
with a faint tang of deliquescence around them.
Next June they’ll somehow remember to come alive again,
a little trick we have or have not learned.

“Peonies” by Jim Harrison from In Search of Small Gods. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010.

“Horses” by Jim Harrison

In truth I am puzzled most in life
by nine horses.

I’ve been watching them for eleven weeks
in a pasture near Melrose.

Two are on one side of the fence and seven
on the other side.

They stare at one another from the same places
hours and hours each day.

This is another unanswerable question
to haunt us with the ordinary.

They have to be talking to one another
in a language without a voice.

Maybe they are speaking the wordless talk of lovers,
sullen, melancholy, jubilant.

Linguists say that language comes after music
and we sang nonsense syllables

before we invented a rational speech
to order our days.

We live far out in the country where I hear
creature voices night and day.

Like us they are talking about their lives
on this brief visit to earth.

In truth each day is a universe in which
we are tangled in the light of stars.

Stop a moment. Think about these horses
in their sweet-smelling silence.

“Horses” by Jim Harrison from Songs of Unreason. © Copper Canyon Press, 2011.

“Warbler” by Jim Harrison

This year we have two gorgeous
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honeybee. We stared at
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size
of bumblebees they’ll fly to Costa Rica without a map.

“Warbler” by Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

***

* With a wave to kind reader Usha who, during the Spring, offered this as one of her favorite poems, shortly after Jim Harrison passed away (March 26, 2016). 

Usha’s suggestion led me to learn more about Harrison. Reading more, I learned that Linda King Harrison, his wife of 55 years, had passed away less than six months earlier (October 2, 2015) and that Mr. Harrison had “died a poet’s death, literally with a pen in his hand, while writing a new poem,” (from “Jim Harrison and the Art of Friendship” by Doug Peacock via thedailybeast.com.) And although Harrison (author of many novels as well, including Legends of the Fall) said in a 1980 interview-“I’m always having a man in desperate straits trying to help somebody else out with no apparent success,” Mr. Harrison said, “because nobody can be helped by anybody.”–he did indeed help and champion many during his life, according to Peacock:

Jim Harrison was one of the most generous men I ever knew. He lent countless thousands to dozens of less fortunate friends who needed help; he seldom if ever got paid back and that didn’t stop him. Jim would invent jobs for me when he thought I was broke. He lent money to my ex-wife that I never knew about. When traveling he kept his single good eye out for a paucity of tip, the dangerous baldness of tires, or the looming mortgage payment. He took care of working writers like Chuck Bowden and Jack Turner. That generosity extended to sharing his time with younger and beginning writers who he encouraged and sometimes mentored throughout his life. At my wife Andrea’s bookstore, Jim was always up for signing books by the box-load. One night in 2011, when Jim was sicker than shit and Linda was in the hospital with a coma, he crawled up on the stage at a benefit and read with Peter Matthiessen—Livingston, Montana’s greatest literary night.

Thank you, Usha, for the suggestion and for the gentle nudge to learn more about Harrison. Click here to read another piece by Harrison, “Bridge,” which includes the beautiful line: What beauty in this the darkest music / over which you can hear the lightest music of human / behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.