One Night Under A Big Moon…

by lizard

I’m putting up this week’s LWPS a bit early because I’m on vacation this week and may not have time later to do it. Or the energy. Kansas City is a steaming hot mess, and traveling with two young kids is, at times, a living hell. I’m repeating the word “vacation” like a mantra trying to convince myself that is indeed what is happening, but throw in the in-laws, and the work-to-vacation ratio can seem dismal.

Anyway, I managed two hours today of gratuitous me-time, which I spent looking for books. I found a great eclectic used book store called Prosperos Bookstore, and combed through the poetry section, finding books by Adrienne Rich, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Lew Welch, and a strange memoir to his father by Charles Olson.

I brought my selections to the counter, and struck up a conversation with Jason Ryberg, one of several writers who has published work for sale at the store, through a press associated with Prosperos called Unholy Day Press. Jason was kind enough to add a copy of one of his books to my little stack.

Then I went to the Plaza, land of fountains, to check out Barnes and Noble (because I’m an addict and will go anywhere for a fix). And sure enough I found two selections: a piece of Montana with Jim Harrison’s book Saving Daylight, and a new book I can’t wait to read, by Wendell Berry, about one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams. The book is called The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford.

The poem I would like to feature this week is from Jim Harrison. I picked this poem specifically because of the largely ridiculed protest that went down recently with those damn environmentalists and the governor who, to his credit, met with them. Apparently they got the tone and style all wrong, and if those are the merits on which they ought to be judged, then their efforts were a failure.

But problems with tone and style don’t invalidate the legitimate concerns they have with a Governor who supports building more pipeline infrastructure when it’s clearly evident those who traffic in crude can’t maintain their existing lines, and systematically lie when disaster strikes.

That point, though, is being lost in all the subsequent noise. Hopefully those youngsters will realize tone and style are inescapable facets of trying to advocate for issues they care about, so don’t make it any easier for the critics and ridiculers to invalidate the reason you’re engaging in direct action in the first place.

Jim’s poem, I would argue, accomplishes more with his use of language than five arrested protestors accomplished grabbing a few headlines, mainly because it puts humans in their place, right alongside a whole cast of creatures we share this earth with. Enjoy.

*

LETTER POEM TO SAM HAMILL AND DAN GERBER

I’ve been translating the language with which creatures
address God, including the nonharmonic bleats
of dying sheep, the burpish fish, the tenor groan
of the toad in the snake’s mouth, the croak
of the seagull flopping on the yellow line,
misnamed mockingbird and catbird singing hundreds
of borrowed songs, coyotes’ joyous yipe when they
bring down a fawn that honks like a bicycle
horn for his helpless mother. The ladybug on the table
was finally still. I strained my ear close to her
during the final moments but only heard Mozart
from the other room. She was beyond reach.
One night under a big moon I heard the massive-
lunged scream of a horse pounding in the pasture
across the creek, then his breathing above the creek
gurgle. This language is closer to what we spoke
in Africa seventy thousand years ago before
we started writing things down and now we can’t
seem to stop. I can’t imagine how we thought that
we’re better than any other creatures except that
we wrote ourselves into it. Someone looked down
from Babel’s tower and got the wrong idea, ignoring
the birds above him. I learned all this one day
listening to a raven funeral in a fir tree behind
my cabin, and learned it again listening to a wolf
howling from the river delta nearby. It’s an old
secret past anyone’s caring, or so it seems.

Yrs,

Jim Harrison
June 20, 2001


  1. Dem Antidote

    That tree is obviously photoshopped.

  2. Dem Antidote

    this comment was deleted due to off-topic personal attack.

  3. lizard19

    i just slogged through the comment threads surrounding the EF! protest and, as so happens with these flamewars, no one comes out looking reasonable.

    it’s tempting to conclude humans deserve to stew in the toxic environment we have created and materially benefit from.

    the toxic discourse is merely a sad reflection of a pervasive, systemic sickness we are all suffering from.

  4. Let me first say Liz that I hope you do have a wonderful time, despite the odds you’ve put forth.

    I’ve spent some time down Kansas City way, both sides of the river – in Bonner Springs and Leavenworth and a whole bunch of places all over. Martinis in hayfields and grilled cheese after the shows. Load some music on that iPod – the humidity issue will shrink.

    I love this post.

    Now I’m off to find out a little more about Jim Harrison.

  5. Dem Antidote

    The photoshop comment was just a joke, you know, like a moon the size of a basketball at two feet, so I said hey that tree’s been photoshopped! Guy’s about as humorless as an undertaker.

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