Periodically over the years, I would wonder what I did with that letter from Jim Harrison.
During a particularly unsettled period in my life, I felt steadied by Harrison’s writing. I read “Farmer,” then “Warlock.,” This man lived here? Amazing.
A snippet from one of his poems helped me understand why I felt as I did.
Abel always votes
Cain thinks better of it
knowing not very deep in his heart
that no one deserves to be encouraged.
Abel has a good job and is a responsible screw,
but many intelligent women seem drawn
to Crazy Horse, a descendant of Cain,
even if he only gets off his buffalo pony
once a year to throw stones at the moon.
Of course these women marry Abel but at bars and parties
they are the first to turn to the opening door
to see who is coming in.
I needed direction, and I always tried to read and write my way out of trouble. So I summoned all my courage to write Harrison because he seemed more of a friend than a literary celebrity. I needed to sort out whether to stay or go. Should I jump on the back of Crazy Horse’s painted pony and ride away? Or should I stay rooted.
I was stunned when he wrote back. His words resonated. I treasured the letter and put it away to keep it safe.
But then the house burned a couple years later. Almost everything was lost.
I thought Harrison’s letter had been tucked safely away among the albums and files that had escaped the flames, stored in the basement. But I could never seem to find it again, though I spent hours searching.
In the interim, I married a Crazy Horse, though he’s tame enough now that he spent part of his mini-vacation cleaning out our spare room. He called me there to go some papers he found tucked away in an old filing cabinet, to see if there was anything worth saving.
And there it was. Harrison’s letter dated May 21, 1983. Part of what he wrote:
In order to further protect my privacy I am on the verge of disappearing altogether. I have purchased a green janitors suit that says ‘Ralph’ on the pocket. With this suit I also have a pair of ankle high black shoes and a key ring with 33 keys that open no doors, a wallet full of $2 bills – with this goes a John Deere cap and a 90 day Greyhound pass.
Words to live by. Thanks, Ralph.