Letter to Jim Harrison


Sweating. We’re in a “heat dome” in the Midwest, another fanciful meteorological term, polar vortex or super storm, something born between cleavage and cheesy pseudonym—the weather as soft porn, etcetera. When I was a nurse the patients called me doctor. Now I hold the dreaded MFA and the students call me doctor. (As does the university president, the two minutes we actually met: She squinted at my name tag, shook my hand hard, and gave me a clinical smile that could fell a large tree.) We’re all using the wrong words again. We’re making shit up, as wise souls George Orwell or even Carlin predicted. (Amazingly, popular comedians once had consciousness.) Most likely we should just follow our leaders: spray paint our hair orange and delete the inconvenient. Or find additional ways for slicing life into residue . . . Hey, here’s a weather update for today: Justice rains from above! A cold front is fucking up a hot front, way up high . . . this event we will label General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone, which isn’t exactly catchy. So let’s just go with reaper of terrorists and shepherds and the occasional wedding party . . . My TV is upside down and my head muddy indeed, into the basement again, but there the sweet smell of soil and a small window with shards of sun and overgrown grass . . . A beer just migrated for ten thousand years and landed in my left palm. Thank you, beer, for being cold and also please go away and then return . . . Like with your vodka and French wine, I’m suffering pleasure and pain, collateral damage. Late in your life you ate dinner in Grand Rapids with my poet friend Ander and when I asked for details Ander said you kept staring hard at his third glass of porter and muttering something about gout . . . (Then again, you also ate three antelope steaks.) I’m likewise in control, as they say. Though it’s never good to fall asleep within a spin and then awake within another type of spiral, the definition of a cyclone or body gone awry—a life swallowed, as you put it. Have you heard of Englishman John Wildey? The only passenger in a Cessna at 3000 feet, when the pilot suddenly died of heart attack. Wildey, age 77, sat there for a while, as the minutes and the plane descended. A nearby airport radioed: “Do you have any experience in controlling the aircraft?” Negative, Wildey replied. A flight instructor, brought in to literally talk him down, asked, “Have you flown an airplane before this time?” Negative, negative, said Wildey. Hours of shaky circling. Three times overflown the landing strip. Night fell, lengthening the already far beyond. Another failed attempt, the fuel needle quivering . . . The fifth time the plane bounced/bounced and shuddered, sparks spewing—swerved off the runway; plowed through two gates and a tall field of grass . . . the Cessna leaning on its mangled limbs like a giant, crushed insect . . . My mouth is really dry, John Wildey said, stumbling from the smoking cockpit into the arms of the first rescuer. I need a drink.  

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