The Bigness of Small Poems – #9 in a Series – Jim Harrison

American writer, Jim Harrison (1936-2016)

American writer, Jim Harrison (1936-2016)


My work piles up,
I falter with disease.
Time rushes toward me –
it has no brakes. Still,
the radishes are good this year.
Run them through butter,
add a little salt.

Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float, Copper Canyon Press, 2016

When American poet, novelist and outdoorsman, Jim Harrison died earlier this year, we lost a man of great carnal appetite who grounded his poetry within that appetite and made us all richer for it. He reminds me constantly to remember that the ordinary is extraordinary. I bless him for that.

This small poem delights me in so many ways. First: its title – Zona. Not some esoteric eastern Yoga practice but another name for shingles – the painful viral condition that effects the nerves and skin in a most debilitating way. Harrison had shingles and in spite of them managed to enjoy his life.

In his poem he faces death and disease and still has time to enjoy his radishes. To make that the defining story, not his own illness and impending death which, as it happens, was approaching fast.

I call this poem, a prayer of thanksgiving. A huge prayer with a small body! I was grumpy today and loaded up with all sorts of competing jobs. Wasn’t much I wanted to praise and give thanks for. This small poem wakes me up. Kicks me in the ass.

I have so much to be grateful for. For example? This Spring’s resplendent cherry blossoms! And is it possible I am forgetting them already? Not now! Not after this poetic reminder! Thank you Jim Harrison.

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