Dead Man's Float

Dead Man's Float

by Jim Harrison


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Dead Man's Float by Jim Harrison

“Bracingly candid, gracefully elegiac, tough, and passionate, Harrison travels the deep river of the spirit.” —Booklist

“[Jim Harrison] is still close to the source. . . . Dead Man’s Float is, as its title would suggest, a flinty and psalmist look at mortality and wonder.” —Los Angeles Times

Two months after the hardback publication of Dead Man’s Float, Jim Harrison was found dead in his home office. Harrison always thought he would die young, and when he didn’t he became increasingly preoccupied with time. As old age proved to be a harrowing trial, Harrison titled his book after a survival technique used by swimmers during an exhausting journey. This paperback edition includes the poem Harrison was writing at the time of his death, published here for the first time.

From “Bridge”:

. . . Sometimes the sea roars and howls like the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music over which you can hear the lightest music of human behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies . . .

Jim Harrison was the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. His books have been translated into two dozen languages, and in 2007 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556595424
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 373,424
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Jim Harrison was the author of over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction--including Legends of the Fall, the acclaimed trilogy of novellas, and The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems. His books have been translated into two dozen languages, and in 2007 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Read an Excerpt

Where Is Jim Harrison?

He fell off the cliff of a seven-inch zafu.
He couldn’t get up because of his surgery.
He believes in the Resurrection mostly because he was never taught how not to.

Easter Again

Christ rose so long ago but the air he rose through hasn’t forgotten the slight red contrail from the wounds.
I think he was headed to that galaxy with six trillion stars to cool off from the Crucifixion.
I have often heard the spikes being driven through hands and feet—in my mind, that is.
The sky was truly dark blue that day and earth a tiny green-and-blue ball.

The Present

I’m sitting on the lip of this black hole, a well that descends to the center of the earth.
With a big telescope aimed straight down
I see a red dot of fire and hear the beast howling.
My back is suppurating with disease,
the heart lurches left and right,
the brain sings its ditties.
Everywhere blank white movies wait to be seen.
The skylark flew within inches of the rocks before it stopped and rose again.
The cost of flight is landing.


Thunder before dawn,
thunder through dawn,
thunder beings they were called.
It had to be a person or animal up there.
Outside, walking to my work shed the clouds were low, almost black, and turbulent.
You could nearly jump up and touch them.
I love thunder. I could listen to it all day long.
Like birdsong it’s the music of the gods.
How in childhood I adored these cloud voices that could lift me up above my troubles,
far above the birds. I’d look down at their flying backs, always in circles because earth is round. What a gift to have my work shed shudder with thunder.
Reverse Prayer

I pray for Mandelstam hiding covered with snow in a ditch. The Stalinists want to kill him and finally succeed. I want him to escape to Nebraska, please God. I pray for Lorca that the assassin’s guns won’t work and he’ll escape like a heron flying west to the Mediterranean then across the ocean to Michigan where he might dislike the snow but at least he’s alive.
He loved Cuba and Brazil for their music which we don’t have much of here. Please God, save him.
I even pray for Keats that he won’t die so young but get another thirty years or so to write poems in Rome. He likes sitting with my girlfriend on the Spanish
Steps. Can I trust him? Probably not but I want more of his poems so I’ll overlook his behavior. And of course Caravaggio the king of painters must live longer,
God. Why create a great painter then let him die early?

A Variation on Machado

I worry much about the suffering of Machado. I was only one when he carried his mother across the border from Spain to France in a rainstorm. She died and so did he a few days later in a rooming house along a dry canal.
To carry Mother he abandoned a satchel holding his last few years of poetry.
I’ve traveled to Collioure several times to search for Machado’s lost satchel.
The French fed him but couldn’t save him.
There’s no true path to a death—
we discover the path by walking.
We turn a corner on no road and there’s a house on a green hill with a thousand colorful birds sweeping in a circle.
Are the poems in the basement of the house on the hill?
We’ll find out if we remember earth at all.

Dead Man’s Float

Dr. Guevara said that I’m hollow-eyed and exhausted from writing too much.
I should take a break but I don’t know how.
Suddenly I remembered learning the “dead man’s float” in Boy Scout swimming lessons and a light went off.
That’s what I’ll do to rest up,
the dead man’s float without water.

I got in bed and conjured the feeling of floating and recalled my last dead man’s float about a mile out in the ocean east of Key West when I tired from too much swimming ambition.
Big waves kept drowning my nose.
I gave up floating and swam desperately to shore.
I dozed in the hot sand and a pretty girl stopped and asked, “Are you okay?”
“I’ll never be okay,” I said, and she left.
I saw her later but she wouldn’t talk to this goofy. A poet blows a chance with a dumb witticism.

If you need me now
I’m here along the Mexican border dead-man floating.


Most of my life was spent building a bridge out over the sea though the sea was too wide.
I’m proud of the bridge hanging in the pure sea air. Machado came for a visit and we sat on the end of the bridge, which was his idea.

Now that I’m old the work goes slowly.
Ever nearer death, I like it out here high above the sea bundled up for the arctic storms of late fall,
the resounding crash and moan of the sea,
the hundred-foot depth of the green troughs.
Sometimes the sea roars and howls like the animal it is, a continent wide and alive.
What beauty in this the darkest music over which you can hear the lightest music of human behavior, the tender connection between men and galaxies.

So I sit on the edge, wagging my feet above the abyss. Tonight the moon will be in my lap.
This is my job, to study the universe from my bridge. I have the sky, the sea, the faint green streak of Canadian forest on the far shore.

Table of Contents

Where Is Jim Harrison? 3

Hospital 4

Birds 7

Solstice Litany 8

Another Country 11

Zona 12

Seven in the Woods 13

Easter Again 14

The Present 15

Soul 16

Thunder 17

Reverse Prayer 18

A Ballad of Love and Death about Elsa 19

Molly the Brave 20

Report from Valencia 21

Wood and War 22

Sticking to It 23

Warmth 24

Cow 25

Seventy-Four 26

Old Man 27

Risen 28

NYC 29

A Variation on Machado 30

Vows 31

Purple 32

Spirit 33

Wolves of Heaven 34

Lost Medicine 35

Private Diamonds 36

Lazuli Trance 37

Mountain Travel 38

God's Mouth 39

Junk Pile 40

Carpe Diem 41

Marriage 42

Round 43

Dead Man's Float 44

Barebacked Writer 45

Feeder 46

The Girls of Winter 47

Weeks 48

Time Again (2) 49

Time 50

Tethered 51

Riding the Wolf's Nose 52

Whimsy 53

The Green Man 54

Incidentals 55

Pain (2) 56

Man Dog 57

The Dog and Tobacco Room 58

Notes on the Sacred Art of Log Sitting 59

The Future (2) 61

Lorca Again 62

Winter Creek 63

February 64

December Butterflies 65

Pool of Light 66

Poetry Now 67

Criticism 68

Money 69

Bird Nightmares 70

He Dog 71

Tree Coroner 72

Books 73

Patagonia AZ 74

Melrose (2) 75

Dark 76

Sunday 77

Cattle Nap 78

Life 79

Universe 80

Herring 81

Things Unseen 82

Cigarette 83

Nuthatch Girl 84

Big Issues 85

Apple 86

Sundial 87

Winter, Spring 88

April 89

Tiny Bird 90

Apple Tree 91

Galactic 92

The River 93

Daylight 94

Warbler 95

The Final List 96

A Dog in Heaven 97

Quarantine 98

Moon Suite 99

Bridge 106

About the Author 107

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