Poem: ‘Ghosts’

In the final months of his life, Jim Harrison wrote poetry contemplating his own mortality and proximity to death, including this dedication to his friends.

jim harrison poem ghosts
Joe Ciardiello

Friends are helping me on my slow path to the grave.
Three beat me there last summer.
Matthiessen, Bowden, Torrey. Now I’m taking their ghosts
on a walk up the pasture hill to my bench
to celebrate the Solstice. Another friend
is on the lip. One still living friend
thinks that we live too long. He’s the only
one I know who thinks this. He says
how long do you want to continue doing
what you’re doing? We think something new
might be coming along, a girl, a big check
that will take us back to France
for a better life of wandering and poetry.
It was time to leave the bench but I was helpless,
the ghosts refused to leave saying why
go any place else now that we’ve been here.
You can’t move recalcitrant ghosts
but unlike ghosts I still eat dinner
and went home while they sang a medieval chant.
At dawn I returned with Folly our dog
who was frightened. The ghosts were dozing
with the birth of God coming with the light
caught and held safely by the mountains in their cradle
of stone. The philosopher said, “The miracle
is that the world exists.” We bathe in the beauty at dawn.•

© 2021 James T. Harrison Trust. Excerpted from Jim Harrison: Complete Poems, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press on October 26, 2021.

This poem appears in the Fall 2021 issue of Alta Journal.

Jim Harrison (1937–2016) was the bestselling author of nearly 40 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
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