LONG WAY FROM, LONG TIME SINCE: George Kalamaras writes John Haines, poet to poet, off the grid with memories and hound dogs.

Alaska pexels-photo-207049 850wide.jpg

Letter to John Haines I Neglected to Send,
So Am Finally Sending Now, Twenty Years Late

by George Kalamaras

That’s no working dog, George,
you chuckle, my beagle-hound
lounging on my lap. You telling me

about your dog team and hauling wood
through snow several months deep,
stopping to skin a moose

before another storm. The afternoon light
of Helena is particularly amber. You slug
a bit of whiskey, a bottle of Jim Beam

on an old cottonwood stump
between us, and ask about Indiana and hounds
and my wife and me not having ever had

children. It is 1998. Our summer in a cabin
in Montana. No phone, no email, nothing
except General Delivery in Big Timber.

I remember the winter of ’47, you tell me.
In the long dark. Alone. Reading Tu Fu snowy
nights by kerosene lamp. Wandering

the great northern territories
with him. In exile
. I remember Indiana,
John. My own lantern nights. The moon

milking the sycamores. Lamplight
of 1961 still flickering inside, making me
want the quiet of hickories, maples,

and elms. Those woods I keep
walking further into, in the dark
of midnight light. Took us till the 90s

to meet. And I tell you how your books made me
snow inside. Ran lynx tracks
and hare traps near streams that converged

in my heart. The throaty growl
of your and Joy’s German Shepherd
scares all twenty-six pounds of my hound

into sniffing every aching board
of your floor. I’d put my nose down,
too, if I sensed being saved

by what’s below. So we separate the dogs
and bring my hound outside
to her royal seat, again, on my lap. You repeat,

That’s no working dog. Tender
for a forest tough, for a woodsman
who salvaged wood for his cabin

from an old bridge over Gasoline Creek,
laying trapline from Norfolk, Virginia,
to Vallejo, California, into desire

for the frozen north, for western light leaking through
cottonwoods here in Helena. All afternoon we talk
and hold Indiana and Alaska together like fraternal twins

in the liminal space of Montana. I think of Tu Fu,
how that first winter you must have worried
your hair white as his, worried with him

that the kerosene might not hold
till the thaw. That the fellowship you sought
in exile might leave you both

lonely as lemmings limping toward
the Bering Sea. So, we embrace
goodbye. Not in Fairbanks

or Fort Wayne, but somewhere
in-between. Now, I see
there’s a letter from you, John,

unanswered, that I’ve kept as a totem
twenty years on my desk. Makes me
remember the things you were

comfortable enough to ask. As you sloshed
the amber back-burn from a bottle
you brought all the way

from Mile Post 68. And the moon rose
that evening in Indiana and Alaska, Montana
and somehow as far west as Hunan Province

all at once. The solitude
of Tu Fu ruinous and round
in the great white waves

of both of our veins, a moon washing
the sycamores full and warming
our throats. I won’t say I’m sad;

I refuse regret. Your unanswered letter
waits for me to be and not be
who I am, who we could both become

when our words, traveling the Tanana River
or the Wabash, might flow into a common stream
below a cutbank, braid through

one another, and—again—finally meet.

About George Kalamaras:

Photo by Jim Whitcraft

George Kalamaras is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014-2016) and has published fifteen books of poetry, eight of which are full-length, including The Mining Camps of the Mouth (2012), winner of the New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM Chapbook Award, Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (2011), winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Contest, and The Theory and Function of Mangoes (2000), winner of the Four Way Books Intro Series. He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.

Allow George to introduce himself (and Bootsie, among other animal presences) in an audio interview at Radio Free Albion. The interview celebrates, in part, issue 13 of Court Green, including George's poem “Dream in Which Kenneth Rexroth Counts to Eight.

Follow George on YouTubeIndiana Poet Laureate page on Facebook, and at the Wabash Watershed.

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John Haines (June 29, 1924 – March 2, 2011), served as Poet Laureate of Alaska beginning in 1969, among many other honors. From the Poetry Foundation:

"Harper’s critic Hayden Carruth once described John Haines as 'one of our best nature poets, or for that matter one of the best nature writers of any kind.' Though Haines is sometimes categorized as a regional writer, or an autobiographical poet, Gioia noted that his work eludes simple categorization: 'He is an obstinately visionary poet,' Gioia wrote of Haines, 'who characteristically transforms individual experience into universal human terms.'"

Two of John's poems George is fond of recommending are "If the Owl Calls Again," and "The Flight." These and others are available online at The Poetry Foundation, poets.org, and PoemHunter.com, along with extensive biographies and bibliographies.

* * *

Read George Kalamaras's other letters to:

·         Dan Gerber

·         Li Ch'ing-chao 

·         Richard Hugo (2018, and also in 2014)

·         Federico García Lorca

·         Bill Tremblay

·         Gerrit Lansing

·         Robert Bly

·         Judith Emlyn Johnson

·         Ray Gonzalez

·         James Wright

Thanks, George, for bringing these voices to us through your own

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Long Way From, Long Time Since features letters written from writers, to writers, living or dead. Send us your queries and inquiries, your best wishes and arguments, and help us explore correspondence as a creative form. For letter submission guidelines, visit our submissions page or email cutbankonline@gmail.com for more information.