for Jack Turner
1. Our minds buzz like bees
but not the bees’ minds.
It’s just wings not heart
they say, moving to another flower.
2. The well pit is beneath where the pumpshed burned
years ago with a living roar, a fire lion. Down
in the pit, charred timbers, green grass, one burdock,
a vernal pool where frogs live trapped in a universe.
3. I’ve wasted too much moonlight.
Breast beating. I’ll waste no more moonlight,
the moon bullied by clouds drifts west
in her imponderable arc, snared for a half
hour among the wet leaves in the birdbath.
8. One part of the brain attacks another,
seven parts attack nine parts,
then the war begins to subside
from lack of ammunition,
but out there I know the mules are bringing
fresh supplies from over the mountain.
10. Our pup is gravely ill.
She’s her own pup too,
first in her own line.
How great thou art o god,
save her, please, the same cry
in every throat. May I live forever.
11. At Hard Luck Ranch the tea is hot,
the sky’s dark blue. Behind me
the jaguar skin from the jaguar
who died so long ago from a bullet
while perched on a calf’s back,
tells me the same old story.
13. The hound I’ve known for three years
trots down the mountain road
with a nod at me, pretending he knows
what he’s doing miles from home
on a sunlit morning. He’s headed
for a kind of place he hasn’t quite found yet
and might not recognize when he gets there.
15. Way up a sandy draw in the foothills
of the Whetstone Mountains I found cougar
tracks so fresh damp sand was still
trickling in from the edges. For some reason
I knelt and sniffed them, quite sure
I was being watched by a living rock
in the vast, heat-blurred landscape.
17. Up at the Hard Luck Ranch
there’s a pyrocanthus tree full of red berries
right outside my study window.
In December after seven hard frosts
the birds arrive to eat the fermented berries.
The birds get drunk and unwary in this saloon
and the bam cats have a bird feast.
A phainopepla landed on my head, shrieking
when an eyebrow moved, booze on its bird breath.
19. Time gets foreshortened late at night.
Jesus died a few days ago, my father
and sister just before lunch. At dawn
I fished, then hoed corn. Married at mid-morning,
wept for a second. We were poor momentarily
for a decade. Within a few minutes I made
a round-trip to Paris. I drank and ate during a parade
in my room. One blink, Red Mountain’s still there.
21. Just like today eternity is accomplished
in split seconds. I read that Old Nieh
in the wilderness vastness trained a mountain
tiger to carry his firewood. A black hole the size
of 300 billion suns is gobbing up the K87
galaxy because astronomers gave it a boring name.
Time passed in sitting begs mercy from the clock.
23. It certainly wasn’t fish who discovered water
or birds the air. Men built houses in part
out of embarrassment of the stars
and raised their children on trivialities
because they had butchered the god within themselves.
The politician standing on the church steps thrives
within the grandeur of this stupidity,
a burnt out lamp who never imagined the sun.
24. The monk is eighty-seven. There’s no fat
left on his feet to defend against stones.
He forgot his hat, larger in recent years.
By a creek he sees a woman he saw fifty summers
before, somehow still a girl to him. Once again his hands
tremble when she gives him a tin cup of water.
25. Talked to the God of Hosts about the Native American
situation and he said everything’s a matter of time,
that though it’s small comfort the ghosts have already
nearly destroyed us with the ugliness we’ve become,
that in a few hidden glades in North America
half-human bears still dance in imperfect circles.
26. This adobe is no protection against the flossy
sweep of stars that in recent nights bum pinprick
holes in my skin, mostly in the skull despite my orange
stocking cap, hunter’s orange so you won’t get shot
by other hunters, a color the stars readily ignore
with beams of white fire. O stars, you forsaken suns.
28. Linji says, having thrown away your head so long
ago you go dn and on looking for it in the wrong
places. The head’s future can be studied in a spadeful
of dirt. The delightful girl I loved 40 years back
now weighs, according to necrologists, 30 lbs. net.
Why does she still swim in the eddy in the river’s bend?
30. It is difficult to imagine the wordless conversations
between Jesus and Buddha going on this very moment.
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA. goes unmentioned.
31. Come down to earth! Get your head out of your ass!
Get your head out of the clouds! Stop mooning around!
Pay attention. Get to work on time.
Time and tide that wait for no man willingly
pause for the bare armed girl brushing her hair
in a brown pickup truck on a summer evening.
32. If that bald head gets you closer to Buddha
try chemotherapy. Your hair drops casually to the floor,
eyes widen until the skull aches, the heart beats like
Thumper’s foot. Heaven’s near at every second.
Now you’ve become that lamb you refused to eat.
34. It wasn’t until the sixth century that the Christians
decided animals weren’t part of the kingdom of heaven.
Hoof, wing, and paw can’t put money in the collection plate.
These lunatic shit brained fools excluded out beloved creatures.
Theologians and accountants, the same thing really, join
evangelists on television, shadowy as viruses.
35. Everywhere I go I study the scars on earth’s face
including rivers and lakes. I’m not playing God
but assessing intent. In the Patagonia Mountains
you think “small mines, pathetic deaths.” In Cabeza Prieta
men boiled in their own blood, ground temperature 170 F.
Contrails of earthen scar tissue, creeks stink of sulfur.
Gold & copper to buy the horse that died, the woman who left.
37. Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too,
said Rilke one day to no one in particular
as good poets everywhere address the six directions.
If you can’t bow, you’re dead meat. You’ll break
like uncooked spaghetti. Listen to the gods.
They’re shouting in your ear every second.
39. In the next installment I’ll give you Crazy Horse and Anne Frank,
their conversation as recorded by Matthew of Gospel fame,
who was wont, as all scriveners, to add a bit of this and that.
God is terse. The earth’s proper scripture could be carried
on a three by five card if we weren’t drunk on our own blood.
40. Walking the lakeshore at first moonlight I can see
feathers, stones, smooth spars, seaweed,
and the doe washed up from the Manitous two days ago
has been nearly eaten by the coyotes and ravens.
I poke my stick in the moon’s watery face, then apologize.
41. Home again. It looked different for a moment.
The birds, while not decrepit, flew slower.
The dogs wagged and licked their greetings
then went back to sleep, unmindful of airplanes.
The new moon either said, gather yourself for your last
decade, or slow down big pony, fat snake shed another skin.
42. Inside people fear the outside; outside, the in.
But then I’m always halfway in or out the door,
most comfortable and at home in this fear,
knowing that falling is best for my nature.
Backwards works well, or gathered for the leeward
pitch, imitate the sea in perfect balance in her torment.
43. The world is wrenched on her pivot. Shivering. Politicians
and preachers are standing on their heads, shitting
out of their mouths. Lucky for us Stephen Mitchell
has restored the Gospels, returning the Jesus
I imagined at fourteen, offering up my clumsy life
in a damp shroud of hormones. Most of all he said
pay attention, Buddha nodding from the wings.
44. The dawn of the day we arrived Abel Murrietta
saw a big mountain lion sitting behind our gate.
This is not an omen but a lion, the borderguard
athwart our time in the chaos of the wild, the other
that draws us to speechlessness, the lion behind the gate
turning her head, flowing up the mountainside to sit,
gazing at twilight at the casita, creekbed, our shared thickets.
45. The sound of the dog’s paw steps move away
at the precise speed of his shadow. Nothing is blurred.
The bullet tumbled toward the girl’s head at 1250 feet
per second. She wasn’t the president, you say,
too young for politics. Despite theological goose shit
the gods don’t keep time in light years. We’re slowed
to the brutality of clocks. Listen for the alarm. Wake up.
46. Sometimes a toothpick is the most important thing,
others, a roll of toilet paper. If you forget red wine
and garlic you’ll become honky, new age incense
dressed in invisible taffeta. Eat meat or not,
try weighing your virtue on that bathroom scale
right after you crap and shower. You’re just a tree
that grows shit, not fruit. Your high horse is dead meat.
48. It was Monday morning for most of the world
and my heart nearly exploded according
to my digital high blood pressure machine,
telling me I don’t want to work anymore
as the highest paid coal miner on earth.
I want to stay up on the surface and help the heron
who’s been having trouble with his creek bed landings.
He’s getting old and I wonder where he’ll be when he dies.
49. Jesus wants me for a sunbeam, I sang in Sunday
school a lifetime ago, way up in cold country
where there wasn’t much sun. A sunbeam in winter
made one recoil and everyone stared mutely upward.
The boogey-man still smiles, now from a glass
of whiskey, then from a farmhouse root-cellar.
A little boy bred this man with no thought of the future.
50. If I’m not mistaken everyone seems to go back
to where they came from, ending up right
where they began. Our beloved cat died today.
She liked to sit on my head during zazen
back when she was a child. I bow to her magnificence
beside which all churches and temples are privy holes.
51. A lovely woman in Minnesota owned a 100 year old horse,
actually 37, but in horse years that’s at least a 100.
In the third grade I read there were eleven surviving
Civil War veterans. Under the photo caption it said
they were mostly drummer boys. Now both
horse and veterans are dead, the woman married, rid
of her binding sweetheart horse. I know these peculiar
things because I’m Jim, at the right place, the right time.
52. Once and for all there’s no genetic virtue.
Our cherubic baldy flounces around, fresh out of Boulder,
in black robes, Japanese words quick on his tongue.
World War II nearly destroyed my family so I ask
him to learn Chinese. He understands I’m a fool.
Then over a gallon of wine we agree there’s no language
for such matters, no happiness outside consciousness. Drink.
53. Sam got tired of the way life fudged the big issues,
drank a quart of vodka, shot himself in the parking lot
of the tavern. How could a friend do this to himself?
It was relatively easy. Anyone can do it in a blink.
We won’t look for black bears again out by Barfield Lakes.
Some don’t go up in smoke but are strangled off the earth.
54. This morning I felt strong and jaunty in my mail order
Israeli commando trousers. Up at Hard Luck Ranch I spoke
to the ravens in baritone, fed the cats with manly gestures.
Acacia thorns can’t penetrate these mighty pants. Then out
by the corral the infant pup began to weep, abandoned.
In an instant I became another of earth’s billion sad mothers.
55. I once thought that life’s what’s left over after
I extricate myself from the mess. I was writing a poem
about paying attention and microwaved a hot dog
so hot it burned a beet red hole in the roof of my mouth.
Lucrezia Borgia got shit on her fingers by not paying
attention. Chanting a sutra the monk stepped fatally
on the viper’s tail. Every gun is loaded and cocked.
56. I’ve emerged from the seven going on eight divorces
that have surrounded me for three years. I kept on saying,
look at me, I’m not wise. I’ve advised seven suicides.
No one’s separate. Our legs grow into the horse’s body.
You’ve ridden each other too long to get off now.
You can make a clean get away only if you cut off your heads.
All in vain. Life won’t get simple until our minds do.
Embrace the great emptiness, say again, I don’t do divorces.
57. Took my own life because I was permanently crippled,
put on backwards, the repairs eating up money and time.
For fifty-seven years I’ve had it all wrong
until I studied the other side of the mirror.
Not birth before death. The other way around.
How pleasant to get off a horse in the middle of a lake.
Excerpted from the poem After Ikkyu by Jim Harrison. This poem will appear in full in the book After Ikkyu and Other Poems by Jim Harrison, forthcoming from Shambhala Publications, Inc. in September, 1996.
This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.