How does consciousness inhabit liminal spaces? In Jeffrey Harrison’s Between Lakes, the death of the speaker’s father places him in the ever-shifting zone between the living and the dead while also sending him back into his journey to manhood. Old arguments are reimagined: What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a participant in one’s life as well as a witness and recorder of the lives of others? The exploration of these questions leads to new discoveries, including the way time reshapes the vision of one’s life and alters relationships, remaking a shared history. Harrison refrains from explanation, instead offering detail after trustworthy detail—less to prove a case than to imagine a life true to the original. Whether observing nature with steadfast precision or sensing the presence of his absent father while doing chores, Harrison sings the songs of experience in late middle life.
The night before my father died
I dreamed he was back home,
and I in my old room
on the third floor, and he
was calling up to me
from the bottom of the stairs
some advice I couldn’t hear
or recall the next day when,
standing over him
back in the ICU
full of the chirping of machines
we had decided to unplug,
I remembered the dream
and heard him call my name.
Jeffrey Harrison’s deceptive, beautifully made, uncanny new poems have a calm surface and a roiling undertow. How quietly and obsessively he probes and captures those singular moments—fragile, vanishing, too blue to last—that deepen into the unknown. That’s why I consider him a true heir to Elizabeth Bishop, his favorite poet.
How refreshing to read whole poems about a whole life in which true dark is illuminated. Narrative is too easy a word for what Harrison does: he’s a poet who follows through, who allows the arc of an experience to find its own landing point. The writing has that quality of being at one with the experience; no pushy hype or muscle- show, just the lean moment dealt with and, by implication, enlarged.
In his sixth book, Harrison’s eye—always ready to gift the world to readers—only becomes keener, seeing more within more, revealing more within a body of wit and want. And this particular collection has the magic elasticity to show the wide elliptical orbit of a lifetime’s relationship between growing son and aging father.
Jeffrey Harrison’s beautiful seventh book, Between Lakes, is largely about his father’s death and how we live with the dead. It contains lovely elegies and poems of straightforward grief and mourning, but it’s also keenly aware of how our beloved dead continue to inhabit us….