artwork for Sean Lovelace's story

Letters to Jim Harrison
Sean Lovelace


Why does the dog chase his broken leg in a circle?

Your father called you Little Turd of Misery, a name your childhood self enjoyed, “… somehow connected to all the cows and horses in the perpetual mire of the barnyard.” What did my father call me? Nothing, since he wasn’t there, so I called him Son of a Bitch and Fuck You and Dog. So many of them disappeared—backed over or hit by a semi on the highway or found frozen trying to re-enter a fence they dug out of but couldn’t dig back in. None of them really knew much. Jone liked to roll over and piss herself. Hector (the inspector, sometimes collector of dead things) would watch half asleep as a nearby raccoon gorged itself on dog food. Lucy jumped from the back of the pickup while roped tight, dangling and spinning and clawing a foot from her asphalt forever as we pulled over to the shoulder … other dogs just vanished. To somewhere better? Who knows? You had your hunting breeds—the beagles and hounds, the English Setters, a truly pure thing to watch “work,” in its own essence (the dog is the dog is the dog, notes Ted Hughes) as it zigzags, scents the earth and air, whines in joy, points and flushes the pheasant, the quail … a jumped rabbit always runs a large circle, a very bad idea indeed, since the shotgun awaits at the end of the beginning. The pheasant just hauls ass, as does the quail, an aerobatic lightning blur of wings, the hunter jolted, heart jangling, gun suddenly up … miss! Miss! (I can’t wing-shoot for shit. Could you?), a hit … tumbled bird located (by the dog), folded into the game pouch at the back of the vest … a long walk to the truck, to the table, but the French say hunger is the best sauce and like you, I only kill what I eat. That’s a lie: In the forest I shot a large, black dog; it crept from behind. A stick cracked, I whirled … I felt it was stalking, but was it? There is an age of stupidity and I am sorry now like shadow, or the sound of water whispering through the body. I would like to tell of Ernest, named after Hemingway, a rat terrier who made it, as they say, all the way, and what do I get for that? I get to hold him shivering and then pentobarbital and inhale acrid urine as I feel the body slack. And then they hand me a blue canvas bag with carry handles and a glistening zipper … I just keep looking at the bag on the passenger seat. “Why can’t I ever have a good dog?” I asked my wife. She said, “Because you never trained them.” Ah, OK … I’ve read most all your poetry. There is a takeaway: Tired. In trouble. Sucked in by the muck. Outside the fence and wailing, What is happening? Well, to me.


Olympic track and field as holy. Glowing men and women, clothed in sweat—glittering blurs of sinew and belief: likely our only actual angels. My head unhinged again this summer. But swearing off powdery Dexedrine, due to obvious reasons of unbearable wakefulness. And also resemblance to an urban raccoon, obsessive picking at fur, grasping of shiny things, a mask of some type and blundering nocturnally towards roadkill. For all the lunacy swooping down a split second behind, our recent days, your black moths returned, untenable moods, etcetera. Just a phase, as they say. A sort of temporary hiding place in the basement. Even closer to the soil. Things are better now, though. In a fantasy or Tuesday morning traffic. Look, the sunlight is a peach! Using mirrors to simply age. Using credit cards for nothing more toxic than the American fantastic: darker coffee and Eggo waffles. Nicer carpets and soccer balls. This world of details that does not yield. My wife’s car won’t start in the rain and my car won’t start if the weather is too dry. My dog ate a fishhook out the tackle box I left wide open on the floor. A mutual act of dumbassness. Though I do admire the sweet odor of fishing reel oil. But not a smiling veterinarian and a bright pink receipt. Damages are indeed due. A cold front, for example, in my checking account this morning, negative three thirty-five, a sub-subtotal wherein even atoms stop their spinnings … factoids that impress neither the kid’s future braces nor the cheerleader gear. Oh well. Another rotting fruit money buzzes by. Or trapped like the yellow jackets in the poetry of empty beer. The spider webs between windows. I screech open the frame and away they tumble dead on the wind. Money as blustery night, black clouds against gray sky. Mystical or murdered or murderer. Or just searching for some other usual reincarnation, truly whatever, who knows?—either way, so long. I do provide, I do, then down the stairs. I’m sorry but I need my secrets if this is going to exist at all, a point by now I’ve surely made. … Time unspools then spools suddenly back to slap me in the face—a whirring tape measurer of blood. I was once a fast runner. And in a small Tennessee town won a road race and was awarded a gleaming trophy and a warm paper bag of locally grown tomatoes. The grassy smell of ripe sun … that’s what I mostly owned then, daylight and tattered shoes. What an odd age. When I ran until tired and hungry and then for my lunch ate tomatoes. And ate tomatoes for dinner. And for lunch the following day, tomatoes.


Meconium. The shit of babies in the womb. Possibly a metaphor for the news I read this morning on the computer screen, either of Paris or Kabul. Or two local Midwest streets over in a very hot, very locked car … but it doesn’t catch: babies are reliably cute; we are reliably ugly. The ghastly posture of the living. Our yawns and yelps of scrap. Our official screams. At age 12 Simone de Beauvoir met Shakespeare: suddenly now born to fret and strut her hour upon the stage. And then to vanish forever into nothing. So she threw herself to the floor in panicky fit. A friend of mine takes a different tack—lying in bed for three or four days while refusing to budge. I used to leap off roofs and from moving cars. Tossing my puny bones and soft skull into the cosmic gears. A fractured heel burns like charcoal, even today. A concussion feels like being sucked into a hollow below a turbulent river, pushed down by the fists of gods. Murky bubbles gurgle. Grasping fingers for something solid. Temples pounding. Way up high a shimmering red blur of light, Philip Larkin’s long, bloody slide. You wanted to leave this life while wading a stream, to melt into water. To fall through yourself, top to bottom. Or into a thicket mist, unseen. To enter some bite of wind. At your writing desk: a type of stream or thicket … whirlpools and branches of time. If you were near enough, which you’ll never be, I’d grab you close and hard and say you made it, friend … I’d hand you a sloshing cup of wine. You wished to be reborn as crow, the ablest bird, with its ability to eat off an apple orchard or garbage pile, to join and unjoin clouds, to fly above this black soil of lies. Likely I’ll return as a political poll or, better yet, a sad pundit. I hold all qualification: I don’t really know much of anything. I’ll dangle by a necktie. Smile while eating glass. My margin of error as large as Lake Michigan, a 7-Eleven travel mug of Smirnoff, the terrifying awe of all the plastic bobbing in the Pacific. Or maybe even the discarded litter—over 200 tons of TV cameras and golfballs and sealed bags of urine—left to sigh and settle on the surface of the moon. … The pity of it is, we are free, Beauvoir tells us. Well, maybe. And maybe not. I keep waking from dreams with my back in knots and my head full of cold, dark meat. Keep trying to remember some spinning before. A puzzle flung … shards of gray twisting by. What did happen to us, exactly? How honestly I do not want to make or read any more daily events. I don’t have to, do I? Still. I do.

Sean Lovelace’s Comments

These letters originate with the 1925 death of Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who was found at age 30 hanging from a heating pipe in his hotel room, after writing his final poem (“Goodbye, My Friend, Goodbye”) in his own blood. Flash forward to 1972 and the American poet, novelist, and screenwriter (of Legends of the Fall fame) Jim Harrison. Harrison was a great admirer of Yesenin and wrote a series of literary correspondence through time and space to him, Letters to Yesenin, published in 1973 and reprinted several times since. Jim Harrison died of cardiac arrest this March. He was found at home on the floor below his desk. He was writing a poem. For various personal (I lived in Michigan for a time—Harrison’s region) and professional reasons (Harrison was a master of the short, compressed form—my primary scholarly interest), I am and was a great admirer of Harrison’s work (and also Yesenin’s). So.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | Fall/Winter 2016 | The Shame Issue