Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Federico García Lorca / City That Does Not Sleep

City That Does Not Sleep

By Federico García Lorca
Translated and edited by Robert Bly

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the stars.


Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.


Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.


One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cows.


Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.


Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.


No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The secret love of García Lorca

Ampliar foto
Juan Ramírez de Lucas, pictured in 1973.

The secret love of García Lorca

Juan Ramírez de Lucas never spoke about his relationship with the famed poet

Amelia Castilla
Madrid, 20 May 2012

Juan Ramírez de Lucas, a journalist and art critic from Albacete who died in 2010, did not want to take his secret to the grave.
For more than 70 years he kept all the memories of his sentimental tragedy - the drawings, the letters, a poem and a diary - locked up inside a wooden box. But before dying, he handed his legacy to one of his sisters, so that she might make it public. Despite the strict silence he observed during his entire lifetime, and the support of friends who knew about the relationship but never said a word, Ramírez de Lucas did not want the memory of his great youthful affair to be lost forever. The name of his love? The poet Federico García Lorca.
They met in Madrid during the tumultuous period of the Republic, and had kept their families in the dark about their romance, given that one came from a very conservative background and the other from a family of Socialists, who were very straitlaced when it came to homosexuality.
Ramírez de Lucas was a very attractive and cultured young man, who dreamed of being an actor, and Lorca promised to take him to all the stages of the world. They were madly in love, and decided to move to Mexico. By then, Lorca was a successful author and a household name halfway across the globe; he was also tremendously reviled by violent right-wing groups in Spain. But even though his friends kept insisting that he was in great danger, the poet did not want to travel alone. In July 1936, the couple said goodbye to each other at Atocha train station. Ramírez de Lucas, who was only 19, was on his way to Albacete to seek his family's permission to go to the Americas with the poet. Lorca boarded a train to Granada to say goodbye to his own parents before leaving for Mexico.
The pair met in Madrid during the tumultous period of the Republic
Lorca experts have welcomed the decision by Ramírez de Lucas to allow his personal documents to see the light, given their historical importance. Laura García Lorca, the poet's niece, already knew about the existence of the letter, and said that it could be "of enormous interest" for the archives of the Lorca Foundation.
A novel by Manuel Francisco Reina, Los amores oscuros (or, The dark loves), due out on May 22, retraces that relationship, while the heirs of Ramírez de Lucas are in talks with a publisher over the possibility of making his diary and other documents public.
At this point in time it is unnecessary to explain that the couple's plans could not have turned out any worse than they did. Just as Ramírez de Lucas suspected, his father was enraged, and threatened to go to the Civil Guard if he attempted to leave Albacete without his permission (which was necessary at the time until the age of 21). Juan had been sent to Madrid to study public administration, and despite his good grades, the father felt that his son had betrayed his trust. His parallel life as an actor at the Anfistora Theater Club, created by Pura Ucelay to showcase Lorca's work, did not fit into his father's plans for him - much less a relationship with a homosexual poet. Otoniel, the eldest of his 10 siblings and the only one who knew about Juan's double life, tried to intercede on his behalf, but it was in vain.
Meanwhile, down in Granada, Lorca telephoned Ramírez de Lucas and encouraged him to be patient, assuring him that his parents would end up accepting it. Juan received a letter dated July 18. But that was the last he ever heard from him. Lorca's arrest at the home of the Rosales family, and his subsequent execution, remained initially obscured by the confusion surrounding the outbreak of war. But when he did find out, Ramírez de Lucas was in shock. And his feelings of guilt only grew stronger with time.
One scholar is sure that Ramírez is the real subject of 'Sonetos del amor oscuro'
After serving with the Blue Division (a Spanish unit of volunteers in the German army during WWII) to wipe his slate clean, Ramírez de Lucas returned to Madrid and rebuilt his life. But Agustín Penón, the writer who traveled to Granada in 1955 to investigate Lorca's death, found out about the relationship and made note of it in his annotations, which were later published by the historian Ian Gibson and Marta Osorio, another Lorca scholar. They were just a few lines lost in between hundreds of pages, but Lorca's lover never replied to any of the requests for interviews by either one of the researchers.
A good friend of Lorca's, the poet Luis Rosales, found him a job at the newspaper Abc, where he began a career as an art and architecture critic. He started a diary and never let go of the memories of his time with Lorca, including a poem written on the back of a receipt from Orad Academy, where he once studied. Not even his new partner, with whom he spent 30 years, knew about his affair with Lorca.
But after two years of extensive research, the scholar Manuel Francisco Reina is sure that Ramírez de Lucas is the real subject of Sonetos del amor oscuro.
"We knew there was a great love who in a way provided inspiration for the Sonetos del amor oscuro, but we didn't know his name," says Félix Grande, a poet. "In many conversations I had with Rosales he told me that all the days that Lorca spent hiding in his house, he kept correcting those verses nonstop. I never managed to get him to say the name. Rosales had promised Federico that he would keep the secret, and he was a man of his word."
That last letter from Federico to Juan, sent four days after Franco's uprising and just before mail service was interrupted, smelled of jasmine - the poet had slipped in a flower from his parents' garden between the sheets of paper. The message to Juan was that he should be strong and try to convince his parents to respect his ideas.
"You can always count on me. I am your best friend and I ask you to be skillful and not let yourself get carried away by the tide. Juan, it is necessary for you to laugh again."

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Poet`s Secret Romance / Lorca's last love letter

The newly unearthed letter written by Lorca on July 18, 1936.Ampliar foto
The newly unearthed letter written by Lorca on July 18, 1936.


Lorca’s last love letter

Newly unearthed note sheds light on why the writer failed to flee the Civil War

Amelia Castilla / Luis Magán
Madrid, 16 May 2012
Seemingly indifferent to the terrible events unfolding around him and the dangers they posed, in July of 1936 Federico García Lorca was concerned only with persuading his 19-year-old lover, Juan Ramírez de Lucas, to convince his parents to allow him to leave Spain for Mexico with him.
Indeed, in his letter dated July 18, the day that General Francisco Franco’s military uprising was announced, García Lorca still seems unaware of the cataclysm about to be unleashed: “In your letter there are things that you shouldn’t, that you can’t, think. You are worth so much, and you will be rewarded.
“Think about what you can do, and let me know straight away so that I can help you in whatever way, but be very careful. I am very worried, but knowing you, I am also sure that you will overcome every obstacle because you are overflowing with enough energy, grace, and happiness, as we flamencos say, to stop a train.”
Ramírez had met 38-year-old Lorca, author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, in Madrid the year before, where he was completing his studies to become a civil servant. An aspiring actor, he had performed in several productions staged by Lorca, and the pair had fallen deeply in love.
Lorca was well connected and politically active, and was aware of the rumors of a military revolt against the Second Republic. He had already decided to accept an invitation to visit Mexico, but now he wanted to go with Ramírez.
The problem was that Ramírez came from a traditional provincial family of 10 children, and his father felt betrayed that his son had secretly pursued his dream of a career in acting, although he had passed his exams.
Lorca could probably have arranged for false papers for Ramírez, who was still not old enough to travel, but refused, telling his lover that he must explain things fully to his father, and get his permission to leave the country.
“I think of you all the time, and you know this without me having to say it, but silently, and between the lines, you should be able to read the love I feel for you, and the tenderness in my heart… Count on me always. I am your best friend and I ask you to be political and not allow yourself to be washed along by the river [of fate],” Lorca wrote.
According to Ramírez’s diaries, he and Lorca discussed leaving Spain together and both went to their separate homes to bid farewell to their families in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of civil war.
Ramírez details his father’s angry opposition, refusing to issue his son with papers so he could leave Spain. Lorca’s decision to return to Granada would cost him his life, and historians have often wondered why he put himself in danger.
Ramírez did not receive Lorca’s missive until July 22, shortly before all communication links broke down between areas controlled by Franco’s forces and those of the Republican army.
By this time, the poet and playwright had left Madrid, and was staying at his family’s summer home near Granada. A month later, on August 18, Lorca was seized by pro-Franco thugs and shot the next day. His body has never been found.
The murder happened during a period when Franco’s supporters took advantage of the chaos of the war to unleash a reign of terror against anybody suspected of Republican sympathies. There has also been speculation that Lorca’s homosexuality, which was well known, was also a motive.
The letter is part of a collection of papers that include a poem written in Lorca’s hand on the inside cover of a textbook to which EL PAÍS has been given exclusive access. The papers have come to light two years after the death of Ramírez, who had kept his relationship with Lorca a secret until his death, aged 91, in 2010.
The short poem, dated May 1935, is entitled Romance, and describes Ramírez as “that young man from La Mancha,” repeating: “he came, mother, and looked at me. I cannot look at him!”
It was apparently written on a journey the two lovers made to the southern city of Córdoba. The poem is handwritten on the back of a receipt for the Orad Academy in Madrid, where Ramírez de Lucas was studying.
A handwriting expert has reviewed the poem and declared that it was written by García Lorca. The poem was composed at the same time as Lorca was writing his famous “dark love” sonnets.
Lorca experts have welcomed the decision by Ramírez de Lucas to allow his personal documents to see the light, given their historical importance. Laura García Lorca, the poet’s niece, already knew about the existence of the letter, and said it could be “of enormous interest” for the archives of the Lorca Foundation, which she heads alongside her sister.
The publication of the letter and love poem to Ramírez comes in the run-up to a major exhibition that Laura García Lorca is organizing in New York.
Lorca biographer Ian Gibson, who lives in Spain, says he believes the documents will shed new light on Lorca’s last days.
Gibson says that during his exhaustive research into Lorca, Ramírez’s name came up as someone who was close to the poet in his final weeks, but that he had always refused to be interviewed.
“I did everything possible to interview him,” reveals Gibson. “I knew that his relationship with Lorca was very important. I did manage to talk to him, but he said he didn’t want to talk to me; he said that he was working on publishing something himself, and I thought he just wanted to get rid of me.”
“We can only hope that the papers will be made available soon,” says Gibson, who believes the letter is likely to be the last one that Lorca wrote. “According to my information, the painter Pepe Caballero wrote a letter to Lorca around this time, but it was returned to him unopened.”
A novel by Manuel Francisco Reina, Los amores oscuros (The dark loves), which is due out on May 22, retraces that relationship, while Ramírez de Lucas’ family is reportedly talking to a major publisher about a book deal.
Like many others looking for a way to erase the sins of the past after the Civil War, Ramírez de Lucas joined the Blue Division, the military unit that Franco sent to help Hitler after the invasion of Russia in 1941. He was wounded and decorated.
After the war, with the help of poet Luis Rosales, he found work as an architecture and art critic for the newspaper Abc, working there for the rest of his life until his retirement in the 1980s.
Ramírez de Lucas never talked about his relationship with Lorca, although it was well known among his colleagues. Not even his new partner, with whom he spent 30 years, knew about his affair with the famous writer.
In later life, after the death of Franco, he began to write about the tragic events that had marked his early life.
Shortly before his death, he handed over the documents, along with the material related to Lorca, to one of his sisters, saying he wanted them to be published.
“We knew there was a great love who in a way provided inspiration for the Sonetos del amor oscuro [Sonnets of dark love], but we didn’t know his name,” says the poet Félix Grande.
“In many conversations I had with Rosales he told me that all the days that Lorca spent hiding in his house, he kept correcting those verses nonstop. I never managed to get him to say the name. Rosales had promised Federico that he would keep the secret, and he was a man of his word,” he says.


A. C. / L. M.
The writer Agustín Peñón first began investigating the circumstances of Lorca’s murder in 1955, traveling from New York to Spain to talk to friends and colleagues of the poet and playwright in Granada and Madrid, documenting his conversations in minute detail.
One clue came in the form of something that Pura Ucelay, a theater director in Madrid who worked with García Lorca, remembered him saying to her: “Hey, Pura, where do you find such handsome men?”
Lorca was referring to Juan Ramírez de Lucas. “He was from Albacete, and came from a good family. Federico was mad about him. He said he would make him a great actor, that he would take him abroad, that he would perform in all the great theaters, and that he would be an internationally acclaimed actor.
“As soon as she told me about him, I asked Pura if there was any chance of meeting him, that it would be of enormous help in my work if I could find out about the last feelings of Federico. She made no promises, but said she would try. Perhaps she was trying to protect a young man who was not openly homosexual… That was when I began to suspect that perhaps the reason Lorca had not left for Mexico was because of a new love in his life.”
Peñón returned to New York with his material in a suitcase, which is where it stayed for decades. Peñón refused to publish anything, saying it would put the lives of many people at risk.
Years later, Lorca biographer Ian Gibson would track Peñón down and, after reading his notes, himself try to talk to Ramírez de Lucas, but without success.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Federico García Lorca / Returning to the ravine of death


Returning to the ravine of death

Claude Couffon was the first historian to investigate Lorca's 1936 execution

Granada, 16 de junio de 2011

Around six men made up the death squad. Dawn had not broken yet, and the headlights of a car lit up the Víznar ravine. A priest administered the last rites to the prisoners about to be executed. That is how the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca died, together with three other men, on August 19, 1936, at the onset of the Spanish Civil War.

Claude Couffon, the French Hispanist and renowned Lorca researcher, was the first person who had the guts, or the nerve, to travel to post-war Spain and ask what had happened to the poet. "At age 22 I was pretty daring. Nobody in Granada wanted to talk about what had happened. It was dangerous to ask questions and it was impossible to enter Víznar," recalls Couffon, now 86, about his visit to the Andalusian city in 1948, just 12 years after the writer's assassination by a Nationalist death squad.

"At age 22 I was pretty daring. Nobody in Granada wanted to talk"
So why did the young man lie to Ian Gibson about having buried the poet? "
Nobody in either Víznar had ever seen or heard about the poet at that time"

But Couffon returned to Granada with the Franco dictatorship fully consolidated in 1949 and decided not to leave again until he had some answers.
"That time I met the right people. I made friends in the city and one of them was from Víznar, so I was able to enter the village," he says, standing at Granada's city limits in what is possibly his "last visit "here.
The Frenchman, born in Caen in 1926, has decided to return to the scene of the crime with a journalist from EL PAÍS to talk about his own vision of what happened on August 19, 1936 and to appraise what has been said and written about it since.
"Things are very different today. There used to be a police checkpoint right here. They kept tabs on everyone's movements in the area. Only the villagers could go in," he says. The Couffon of today complains of pain in his legs and he walks with difficulty, but his mind remains agile like that of the young man who once followed the trail of Lorca. He proudly recalls that he was the first person to reveal the dramatist's exact birth date.
Claude Couffon and his wife in the ravine at Víznar, where he says Lorca is buried.

"In an interview he'd said that he was born in 1899, maybe to appear a year younger, but I think he did it so he wouldn't seem so much like part of the Generation of '98." Lorca himself espoused the more modern Generation of '27 literary group which included poets such as Rafael Alberti and Nobel laureate Vicente Aleixandre.
For decades, Couffon has been living in a tranquil corner of Normandy and stopped working on the subject of Lorca for a simple reason. "I had access to the right people. As far as I was concerned, the case was closed. Once I published my first conclusions, there was so much speculation. Everyone had a different version of events. There were many legends and many lies."
The researcher says he followed the story of the 2009 search for his grave, which was unsuccessful. "Of course I knew about the search, but nobody asked me where to dig," he says. "I always knew they would not find him there. That made no sense. They were very far away."
Couffon believes that Ian Gibson, the other great living Hispanist and Lorca researcher, was wrong to have believed the testimony "of a boy who could not possibly have buried García Lorca, and if he had he would not have recognized him." How could the young Manolillo el comunista, who had never been outside his native village of Alfacar, remember having buried Lorca at night?
"It's impossible for many reasons, but essentially because nobody in either Víznar or Alfacar had ever seen or heard about the poet," the French historian states. So why did the young man lie to Gibson when the latter visited the area on his own research? "Only he would know that."
"At first the graves were not deep. I was able to see them and even touch them," Couffon continues. "There were about 20 of them. Federico was not in the central grave. He was in a smaller one, possibly in that area [he points at the entrance to the ravine]. It was a steep place, all rocks and no trees. Today it's full of pine trees. Did nobody think of that?"
"There were no trees, not so much as a flower. There were open wells and the graveyard. The graves were small mounds of reddish earth," he continues.
A few months after Couffon's photographs of the area appeared in print, the Franco regime had the area planted with pines, which grow very fast. "At the bottom of the wells, the bodies ended up decomposing and sank underground," he wrote in his book. Couffon takes his leave from this place with no signs of melancholy. "It is easy to leave this behind - it represents all of human evil."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Federico García Lorca / Absent Soul

Cy Twombly
Absent Soul 
by Federico García Lorca

The bull does not know you, nor the fig tree, 
nor the horses, nor the ants in your own house. 
The child and the afternoon do not know you 
because you have dead forever. 

The shoulder of the stone does not know you 
nor the black silk, where you are shuttered. 
Your silent memory does not know you 
because you have died forever 

The autumn will come with small white snails, 
misty grapes and clustered hills, 
but no one will look into your eyes 
because you have died forever. 

Because you have died for ever, 
like all the dead of the earth, 
like all the dead who are forgotten 
in a heap of lifeless dogs. 

Nobady knows you. No. But I sing of you. 
For posterity I sing of your profile and grace. 
Of the signal maturity of your understanding. 
Of your appetite for death and the taste of its mouth. 
Of the sadness of your once valiant gaiety. 

It will be a long time, if ever, before there is born 
an Andalusian so true, so rich in adventure. 
I sing of his elegance with words that groan, 
and I remember a sad breeze through the olive trees.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Jim Harrison’s Last Poems —of Love and the Earth— Are the Arguments We Should Be Having

Jim Harrison’s Last Poems

—of Love and the Earth—

Are the Arguments 

We Should Be Having

Dean Kuipers Reads the Poet's Posthumous Collection

By Dean Kuipers
May 28, 2019

On the last day of September, 2015, I cooked a simple pomodoro pasta for writer Jim Harrison at his house near the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley. I chopped tomatoes grown by his wife, Linda, and I could see the little garden out there as the cottonwood trees released the last of the summer light. She was gravely ill, and while Harrison and I were talking she had called from the hospital to tell him he’d better come in the morning because she was near the end.

I was thinking about this night as I read the new posthumous collection, Jim Harrison: The Essential Poems (Copper Canyon, May 2019). In this unforgiving literary moment, we must deal honestly with his life and work, as they are inextricable in a way that is not true of other poets. Harrison was a man of gluttonous appetites for sadness, for food, for a 1982 Petrus, for full immersion (if not reclusion) in nature, for the legs of a young woman not his wife that he could throw his arms around and declare that he’d found a reason to go on living. His resonant, necessary poems are even hungrier, and more demanding of proof that living matters. These poems bear-crawl gorgeously after a genuine connection to being, thrashing in giant leaps through the underbrush to find consolation, purpose, and redemption. In his raw, original keening he ambushes moments of unimaginable beauty, one after another, line after line. Harrison digs in the dirt and finds the stars.
At nineteen I began to degenerate,

slight smell of death in my gestures,
unbelieving, tentative, wailing…
so nineteen years have gone. It doesn’t matter.
It might have taken fifty. Or never.
Now the barriers are dissolving, the stone fences
in shambles. I want to have my life
in cloud shapes, water shapes, wind shapes,
crow call, marsh hawk swooping over grass and weed tips.
Let the scavenger take what he finds.
Let the predator love his prey.

–from “Returning to Earth,” 1977
“Tell me about your bride,” Harrison said to me on that evening in 2015 in his wild, quavering growl. It was just him and me and the wind. “Are you in love?”
I was engaged to be married in the summer and I told him, yes, I was crazy in love.
“Good,” he said, and poured more wine from a magnum he’d finish easily. “We’ve been married for 55 years. Can you believe it?” He told me the first time he saw Linda, “she was a teenager. On a horse.” He was worried that if Linda died, he would lose the will to live. He was very matter-of-fact about it. Maybe she was the proof he needed every day that he could be forgiven. But as we talked, it also became clear that he was simply in love with his wife. He wanted details about where my fiancée and I met, what I loved about her, what draws two people together. He just wanted to know that the day lilies in the ditch would continue to bloom. I had been conducting an interview, but our huge and sloppy dinner turned into two guys talking about the real thing called love, one at the beginning and one at the end.
The challenge of these poems is dizzying because they condemn us even as they feel beautiful in your mouth.
Harrison told me once, “Someone has to stay outside,” by which he meant both outdoors and outside academia. He felt writing programs turned people into copyists. He taught one year at Stony Brook after his first book came out, 1965’s Plain Song, and never again. He thought people should work, like he did, laying bricks. For a brief moment he got rich from his novels and looked and acted like the hegemony—hanging with Jack Nicholson, stuffing himself with Mario Batali—but he squandered a lot of it and spent most of his career on his back, raking the belly of the industry and the canon with his long hind claws, tearing at its guts. He became irascible. He scratched out a living close to the earth, dependent entirely on you and me, the readers.
The Essential Poems, selected by his longtime and best reader, Joseph Bednarik, demonstrates perfectly why we should turn to Harrison again. He lived and breathed an American confrontation with the physical earth, married himself to a universe of bodies and stumps and birds, did not try to shuck his grotesque masculinity and stared hard with his one good eye (the left was blinded when he was 7) at the inescapable, beckoning finger of death.
These poems are arguments and conversations that America should be having with itself right now: what have we done to the earth? What does it mean to be a human being now? The challenge of these poems is dizzying because they condemn us even as they feel beautiful in your mouth. Harrison wrote in the voice of a man who’d walked off his family farm in the cold northern climes of Michigan, with its profusions of life, and dared to wonder aloud what there was to live for. Dared even further to declare that maybe the stars, or success, or family weren’t enough. And then went on living.
A few lovers

sweep by the inner eye, but is mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

–from “Death Again,” from Songs of Unreason, 2011
Harrison wrote free verse, but now again harnessed himself to a form, as with his spectacular book of ghazals, an Arabic and primarily Persian style. A lapsed Calvinist, he thrived under a bit of discipline:
I passed away in my sleep from general grief and a seven-

year hangover. Fat angels wrapped me in traditional mauve.
A local indian maiden of sixteen told the judge to go
fuck himself, got thirty days, died of appendicitis in jail.
I molded all the hashish to look like deer & rabbit turds
and spread them in the woods for rest stops when I walk.

–from “LVI,” from Outlyers & Ghazals, 1971
Love drives you to share a secret place in nature, which you might ordinarily keep to yourself because its authenticity helps you stay alive.
You feel the enormous leaps, the storyteller’s urge to shove the story forward, to push through the connective tissue of silence to get to the next astonishing image. Harrison lingers longer in one of his most affecting works, 1973’s Letters to Yesenin, “this homage that often resembles a suicide note to suicide,” as he calls it, a month of daily epistles to one of the most popular Russian poets of the 20th Century, Sergei Yesenin, who allegedly hung himself in a hotel room in 1925. In it, Harrison asks over and over if he himself should die, what it’s like in the ground, how it would be possible when you have young children. Finally, in the last lines of the Postscript, he adds:
You didn’t die with the dignity of an animal. Today you make me want to tie myself to a tree, stake my feel to earth herself so I can’t get away. It didn’t come as a burning bush or pillar of light but I’ve decided to stay.
In the end, death cannot match life. Not in Harrison’s mind or probably anyone’s, if they are honest. Nature will shame you. Looking into the eyes of a raven is like looking back through a tunnel in time to the beginning of everything. “Since my brother died / I’ve claimed the privilege of speaking to local rocks, / trees, birds, the creek,” he says in the poem “Adding It Up.” At some point in our discussion of love and my wife-to-be that night, we got into a discussion of Dalva, his novel about a half-Sioux woman who returns to a family ranch in Nebraska to find the son she gave up, which I consider to be one of the greatest of the great American novels. He told me he spent a lot of time out in the Sand Hills researching that book.
“You should take your bride to the Sand Hills!” he suddenly shouts at me, his rheumy good eye suddenly sparkling with honeymoon cheer. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world!”
This is Harrison. Love drives you to share a secret place in nature, which you might ordinarily keep to yourself because its authenticity helps you stay alive. How many people would say, “Go to the Sand Hills on your honeymoon”? Not many. They are probably worth listening to.
Linda died two days after our dinner, and Harrison was right about losing the will to live. For all the women he had worshipped from near and afar, and the ravens atop his writing shack that he felt mattered as much or more than the paper-thin lives of humans, his heart was hers and a few months later it stopped. He died at his desk, mid-line.
If someone asks why they should care about some old drunken, fly-fishing heretic named Harrison and his poems about our place in the natural world, maybe read to them from “The Theory & Practice of Rivers”:
The days are stacked against

what we think we are:
after a month of interior weeping
it occurred to me that in times like these
I have nothing to fall back on
except the sun and moon and earth.
I dress in camouflage and crawl
around swamps and forest, seeing
the bitch coyote five times but never
before she sees me. Her look
is curious, almost a smile.