by Jim Harrison
The old Finn hadn’t washed his cup
in fifty years. “It ain’t dirty,”
he said, “there’s just been coffee in it.”
His wife and baby both died in childbirth
fifty-seven years ago. Inside his cabin
there’s a dust woman near
an unused cradle he made by hand.
Rainy afternoon coffee on the shitty end of Larimer Street-
The kind of day that always pulled me to brown liquor as a young buck;
Drinking on the boat as we ran the lines-
Slaves to currents and tides then, not weather.
Now, as the rest of the party has repaired elsewhere to
Toast with THC gummies and loaded lollipops,
I sip harsh black coffee less than a mile from
Neal Cassady’s childhood home.
Should I have gotten the cream?
Her question threw me.
Still can, but not sure.
Do I usually take cream?
The surface of the coffee waves and crests with the
Vibrations of my hand; so I clatter it back down,
Again wiping at the new crescent moon between my
Thumb and forefinger.
My first tattoo-still fresh enough to feel foreign.
My dad had an uncle who died on a bar stool.
That meant a lot to him-he told the story often.
He’d also killed five men
But three were in the war so they didn’t count.
The old man never disowned him until his own deathbed;
Far too late.
The fucking stories we choose-
The characters we become.
I’m getting the cream.
It’s right there-just get it.
Maybe the next one.
Might as well,
This rain will not let up.
“…Nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
-Jack Kerouac, On The Road
© TDR 2017
What are you even doing here? The Love of my life? Hardly. She’s in Houston with her kids, And his. When I dream of her I wake a rock- Head full of all the soft, wet places. You? Gravel and jagged edges- Broken glass Desolate highways with no lights, No guiderails. You took my heart; never given. Smashed it, killed it, left it lie. Didn’t wish you dead, but now that you are, Stay there. I’m cauterized- Like a drunk needing a bottle when once a cocktail would do- I must dig deeper and deeper to feel the Pain you used to visit so cavalierly With a word. A gesture. I’ll stab at my skin with a sharp spoon, Drive nails between my toes, Tear my hair and rend my guts to wear As braids. I always feared I would see you in hell To again be choked on your leash. But I’d hoped to die first. Go back to poling the River Styx Ferrying the damned from sulfurous shore To sulfurous shore And leave me be. I’ll see you soon enough. Fuck you Fuck you And fuck me. I’d give my left nut for the sunrise.
It was a dream, within a dream Wrapped in a memory. The streets were wet and empty- Deserted in the middle of another rainy night. Running fast to no end, but as the distance rolled out Found it easier to drop to all fours and gallop. Hands clattered along the shiny brick As a dog’s claws on ceramic. Slipping left-sliding right; Gaining precious purchase then sliding back, Making no progress. I was telling this to my Aunt Peggy- Not in her doughy middle age- But as she had been. Slim and boyish; twenty-five to my Lusty Sixteen. She leaned close, All overbite and collar bones And told me that I should. That she would. I whiffed flowers Hyacinth- At the base of her neck. You should, she whispered, Eyes wide open. Her mouth tasted of spearmint. Her soft tongue, Alive and welcoming. You should, she whispered.
I don’t think I’ll live through this,
He told his friend as they watched the cold rain
Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.
A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.
His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.
May there never come a time when you say that with relief
Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.
The hard work was done. Hidden by the night's blanket- Drowned out by barking dogs and passing coal trains That shook the building. The Osso Buco was my idea. It was his favorite- Something his family wouldn't have known. Expecting fried chicken and hot sausage They looked at me like I was crazy. So I braised all night, Reliving old conversations to file away- For later. I could have been with him that night. Doesn't mean I should have. He wouldn't begrudge me still being here. As long as I cooked. I braised long enough to be sober by dawn. Nothing to do but stir the sauce and wait For the set-up crew. His stool at the end of the bar looked less empty, Washed by the golden glow leaking through the curtains. Nobody would begrudge me a beer After a long night's work.
So I guess it’s kind of funny how
I loved you so way back when
You say I wouldn’t know you now
Well I didn’t even know you then
-Avett Brothers “I never knew you”
I buried an old lover last month.
Of course, I didn’t-not actually. We were years ago.
What I did was read her obit and have a few drinks.
That had been an odd year of comings and goings and she’d dug her elbows into the middle of it determined to claim something. As if there was anything to claim. As if there was anything to be had.
She pushed and I pushed back. Territory was won-lost-won again.
Such relief when she left.
Could never have calmed her.
A friend had seen her a couple of years ago in an upriver joint that we frequented back in the day.
I showed up there a few times at the end of long drives just to….
Could not imagine.
She died with her father’s name.
Evidently, I was not the only one who couldn’t calm her.
Her picture looked as it should have. I would have recognized her on the street or in that bar.
Now she’s gone,
But in a different way that she had been to me for years.
Now she’s a shallow reflection of me-no longer herself.
Actually closer now than ever-joining the chorus of the dead who follow me, laughing when I piss on my shoes or forget to zip my fly.