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April 4, 2016


The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.

Jim Harrison 1974

COMMENTARY: Jim Harrison passed away this week. Outside the literary world, he was better known for a handful of Hollywood screenplays and for having written the food column for Esquire (raw-antler, antelope-liver, venison-on-a-spit kind of stuff). Inside the literary world, though, he was a significant voice for a number of decades. His brusque, choppy, minimalist style (like his food preferences, come to think of it) helped define a certain kind of mid-century nature writing. A lifelong recluse in the farm-mountain-hillbilly-sky country of western Michigan, he wrote about solitude and the natural world as if he intended the poems to be read by the elk and the deer as much as the human literary establishment. “Barking” is a fairly representative example of his method. The short, hard lines, verging on the surreal, capture the alienating remoteness of time passing in loneliness. But, despite the sadness in the outlook of the poem, there is a redeeming spryness at work (“age swept past me, but I caught up” or “I got a call from the outside/ world but I said no in thunder”). Even the last line, with its dark hint of suffocation, is playfully offhand, as if the idea of there being “no chain” is as much liberating escape as narrowing extinction.  

One Comment
  1. Something of Robert Bly seems to lie beneath the surface of his poem, a poem like this, for instance:!/40733920

    Anyway, I don’t see the darkness that you do at the end of the poem. Having slipped the leash or broken the chain the dog is free to go about his “doggy life,” barking at the moon. I saw him say in an interview that he wanted once to be a dog.

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