The poet succumbs |

The poet succumbs

Jay Meehan, Park Record columnist

"Sometimes the only answer to death is lunch." ~ Jim Harrison, Warlock

Each time loss is visited upon me and mine I become perplexed by what must be at some base level a physical process. With quantum theory, of course, "physical," like the planet Pluto, has been downsized. Or is it promoted? String Theory, as it pertains to vocabulary, emits perplexities all its own.

So, anyway, where have all the flowers gone? When the brilliance the magnitude of poet, cultural icon, and famed author of "Legend of the Fall" Jim Harrison is no longer around in a "physical" sense to arouse and stimulate and just plain marvel at, where has it gone? Has it shape-shifted? Reverted to another dimension within the continuum?

I’m talking about the ‘genius’ here! Not the dust-to-dust generic housing. We still have his life’s work upon bookshelves, to be sure, but what about the exhalation that occurs when he enters a room or the vaudevillian mumbling that goes on while he removes an outer garment and begins patting down pockets in a search of a misplaced something-or-other? Where has that unrivaled sense of timing gone?

I mean it must somehow play into the Law of Conservation of Energy, correct? They say energy can neither be created nor destroyed but transforms from one form to another. As one whose life appeared to be a constant transformation of the chemical to the kinetic, Jim Harrison has been there and done that.

Do his gruff insights live on through his readers in the metaphorical form of one of his game-bird pâté recipes or in the manner in which circling vultures recall one of his Esquire-published novellas from their past? Senseless inquiries, to be sure. One might as well be attempting to quantify reactions within the Horsehead Nebula.

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Wallowing in self-pity must be part of the grieving process. Feeling lost after losing a cultural touchstone might just be part of the un-self-realized human condition. I can accept that.

I am of an era that vividly recalls Hemingway punctuating his final sentence with his favorite long-barreled side-by-side shotgun. I remember feeling that, even prior to learning of the Mayo Clinic visits, ‘it was his choice.’ I was OK with it. Not with his physical and artistic decline but with his chosen way out. Perhaps if I had been older, more of his generation, the event might have affected me in more profound ways.

My reaction to the loss of Jim Harrison, however, goes much deeper. As the days since I first heard mount up, I show little sign of, as the Navajos say, walking in harmony. I’m disgruntled. Even the fact that it appears he passed in peace at his home near Patagonia, Arizona doing what he loved to do has done little to calm my spirit. For some inexplicable reason, I remain angry.

Writer Phillip Caputo’s online account of the death scene went this way: "My wife, Leslie, and I got a call tonight (March 26) from Dr. Alfredo Guevara (a mutual friend) informing us of Jim’s death. He was at Harrison’s old adobe house on Sonoita Creek, to where he’d been summoned to confirm the death."

He "asked us to come over and say goodbye to Jim before his remains were taken away. That we did. We found him on the floor of his study, where he’d fallen from his chair, apparently from a heart attack. He’d died a poet’s death, literally with a pen in his hand, while writing a new poem."

Now, if that can’t put one at peace, what can? Obviously, I’m just not ready for his unscheduled departure. I’m sure, however, that if I could just get my filthy mitts on a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vieux Télégraphe to sip in conjunction with a nearby bowl of peppery Basque baby goat stew, it would all come into perspective.

As you can see, it was not just Harrison’s poetic syntax and scene structure that so intrigued his disciples but also his elegant yet rustic palate. Although his appetites were legendary, those dealing with food and drink emerged as subjects of published works in their own right.

We have lost a giant. Over time, I’ll get over it. I have no choice. In many ways I’m somewhat stunned by my reaction to Jim Harrison’s passing. Like Henry Miller, he impressed me on many levels, both visceral and intellectual. His poetry and prose became high water marks for the English language literary arts during my lifetime.

Anyone for lunch?

Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.