May 8, 2006


by Jim Harrison

MONDAY, 8 MAY, 2006
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Poem: "Science" by Jim Harrison from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It was one of those mornings utterly distorted by the night's dreams.
Why go to court to change my name to Gaspar de la Nuit in order to
avoid thinking of myself as a silly, fat old man? At midmorning I
looked at the dogs as possibilities for something different in my life.
I was dogsitting both daughters' dogs plus our own: Lily, Grace, Pearl,
Harry, Rose and Mary. I shook the biscuit box and they assembled in
the living room on a very cold windy morning when no one wanted
to go outside except for a quick pee and a bark at the mailman. I sang,
"He's got the whole world in his hands," as they waited for their snack.
Harry was embarrassed and furtive and tried to leave the room but I
called him back. I tried, "Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas
today," and Lily, the largest of the dogs, became angry at the others
who looked away intimidated. I tried something religious, "The Old
Rugged Cross," to no particular response except that Mary leapt up
at the biscuit box in irritation. I realized decisively that dogs don't care
about music and religion and thus have written up this report. This
scarcely makes me the Father of the A-bomb, I thought as I flung the
contents of the full box of biscuits around the room with the dogs
scrambling wildly on the hard maple floor. Let there be happy chaos.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Edmund Wilson, (books by this author), born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He is generally considered the greatest American man of letters of the twentieth century, though he published almost all of his work in popular magazines. He never took a teaching position and rarely gave lectures.

He went to communist Russia and learned both Russian and German to write about the history of socialism in his book To the Finland Station (1940). He wrote about Russian poetry, Haitian literature, the Hebrew language, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the literature produced during the American Civil War.

Wilson introduced Americans to writers like James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Vladimir Nabokov. He almost single-handedly resurrected the reputation of the novelist Henry James, who had been forgotten for years. He championed new writers like Ernest Hemingway, and it was Wilson who persuaded American readers that F. Scott Fitzgerald had been a genius, and that The Great Gatsby was an American classic.

Today is believed to be the birthday of the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson, born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi (1911). We know very little about his life. The only reason we know for sure he existed is that in 1937 he recorded twenty-nine of his songs over the course of two recording sessions. He had two photographs taken of himself around the same time. Those were the only recordings he made and the only photographs taken of him in his lifetime, and he died the following year, at the age of 27.

But before he'd even died, people began to spread the rumor that Robert Johnson had met the devil one night at the crossroads of two highways and sold his soul in exchange for his skill at the guitar.

It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950s. In 1956 he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next twelve years in a monastery, studying Buddhism.

Gary Snyder said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author), born in Glen Cove, Long Island (1937). Over the course of his career, he became a kind of mythical figure. People said that he lived on the run, giving out false names wherever he went. Some claimed he had joined a band of Mexican rebel fighters.

Then, in the late 1990s, an article in New York magazine revealed that he lived in New York City with his wife and son. He wasn't hiding out in an underground bunker. He just wasn't seeking publicity.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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