Letter to Jim Harrison


And after a marathon I may cry, for pain, but yes I’ll say it, for joy, and though I’ve never eaten 144 raw oysters in one sitting or a thirty-seven course, day-long meal in a French castle (an exorbitant feast for a Midwesterner [or most anyone], in both volume and price, though of course you weren’t paying [your writing was] and anyway, as you said, “Sure it costs about a Volvo station wagon, but I didn’t want a station wagon.”), I surely know how to sustain, to begin, to end, and what is wrong with hunger? To be into, or to “obsess,” as writers are wont to do—you named yours as food, alcohol, fishing and hunting, strippers, religion, the road, and the place of the human in the natural world, a fine life/list and it certainly gives one material. As I tell my students, “All the artists I know are nerds about something,” just a variation on reminding this isn’t dress rehearsal. Or as you put it, “If I can’t enjoy my life while living it, when will I?” So. I once ate nachos 41 days in a row, which is something (but what?) and, yes, I bow-hunt deer and can read a river for smallmouth or trout. As for religion, I think we may generally be like a toad hit by a car, a theology not all that helpful. My problems with alcohol are obvious. A friend of mine once had a scare with cancer and then it was his birthday and someone thought strippers were apt celebration, two skinny women in a dimly lit kitchen in Knoxville, Tennessee, one with a C-section scar, the other charging five dollars per breast to lick off Kraft Easy Cheese . . . about as erotically charged as painting a basement on Tuesday morning, though with much less accomplishment and much more the persistent odor of sadness. Whenever I’m anywhere new—North Carolina, Colorado, or upstate New York—I like to run further than I should, the mouth drying, sweat slicking the forehead, the lips, and I get a bit lost, shimmering body/blurring mind, and must return the same distance or further (it’s called an out-and-back for a reason) and the legs burning, this copper taste any exhausted runner will know, and I’m drifting off. I’ll stop, for the sand scuttling crazy over dunes. The stark, sheared slabs of mountain. The frogs singing so tightly below a railway trestle . . . I’d like to awake today and cause no harm, which seems a low bar, until you actually try . . . Man’s relationship to nature? The Chinese poets wrote very well on the subject and seldom ended with kind summation, but rather with image, so here goes mine: I walk up to a kid with giant headphones around his neck and fantastic, pink, vertical hair and say, “Hey, look around at this mess. Read the newspaper!” The kid says, “What the fuck is a newspaper?” And over there rolls the fog.  

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