While Reading Jim Harrison’s “True North”

This passage made me just stop dead.  It starts at the bottom of p. 116.  And I thought of Ying, of course, but it wasn’t sadness that I felt, but a sort of —  confirmation, I guess you’d call it.  Because I wasn’t there when she passed, and I had to get everything second-hand from Dearest Mum, who was going on and on about how Ying in her last moments kept saying she was cold.  And I realize that I’ve completely, in this post, dropped the pose of the “self.”  Perhaps that’s the effect a Jim Harrison novel has on his readers.

The “Laurie” in the passage is an old love of the narrator’s;  she happens to be dying of cancer.  The narrator has visited her in the hospital.

When Laurie touched her daughter’s hand with a forefinger and her mother gathered up the child we looked at each other and I saw the sight disappear from her eyes.  She didn’t so much die as withdraw, and her body under the sheet was still but there was an aura of departure that made me feel cold despite the warm room.  Instead of pressing the button to call a nurse I listened to an aspect of emptiness I hadn’t heard before as if her passing had stopped all other sound.  I’m sure it couldn’t have been more than a few moments but time had collapsed.  When it was over I had nothing left about which to draw conclusions.  My incomprehension was total.

And that, I am sure, is what dying must feel like —  to the person left behind.  No one, absolutely no one, can pierce reality, just pin a moment to a wall, like Jim Harrison.


  1. May 19, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Wow! That is absolutely good writing. I can see why it stopped you in your tracks.

  2. May 19, 2009 at 3:36 am

    Isn’t it good? He’s a poet. Reading the passage over, if I hadn’t known it was by Jim Harrison, I would have thought it was by a magical realist. Or a fabulist. Or some Latin American writer.

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