Is it possible for anyone with a heart to remain unmoved by the lyrics put to paper by the incomparable Robert Burns, sung to the yearning traditional Scottish melody?
The first book in my Books Read list for 2016 was Jim Harrison’s latest – and last, as it turned out -- book of poetry, Dead Man’s Float. For months after the release of The Ancient Minstrel, a volume of novellas that came out in time to be reviewed shortly before his death, I put off opening that book at all. Then sometime in the summer it occurred to me that I should save it for the end of the year, thus bookending the year with Harrison. And so I did, and so now, for the first time, I am reading Jim’s last book of very autobiographical fiction and missing him and Linda (as I often do, truth be told) all over again.
The title novella in The Ancient Minstrel took me by surprise. It took my breath away and made my heart ache. I hadn’t known it would be so personal! And I can picture so many of the scenes, too – in Lake Leelanau, up in the U.P., down in Patagonia, Arizona. (The Montana settings are the only ones I don’t know firsthand, only from movies and previous books of Jim’s.) And the voice, of course, is pure Jim.
Linda was not a letter-writer, but I used to write to her once in a while, and once in a while she would call me on the phone. I will always be grateful to the Fates for bringing the four of us together again for an evening in Arizona in the spring of 2015, going on two years ago now. Now there will be no more letters or postcards or phone calls, no more wine poured or bread broken together.
But I have – we all have – Jim’s books, and I cannot express the depth of my gratitude for that. He got his work done. He left us poems and stories, himself and his life distilled on pages, and because of that, and for old times’ sake, I am able to close out this year with my old friends. Ah, yes, we will, in our house tonight: We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne!
Travel safely, if you travel.