Donal Russell (1931-1994) Poet and Fly Fisherman
by Hank Dittmar
news services: Washington Post, March 1994
Asked to Allow Body to Be Skinned
Ore. -- Donal Russell's last wish was to have his body skinned and
his hide tanned like leather. . . His will, signed Dec. 17. directed
that his body "be skinned from the head down and tanned for the
purpose of face binding volumes of my verse."
aside this muscle and fatty tissue.
the brain, the still chambers of the heart.
the hundred bones to ash.
don't care -- they've done their part.
my hide, neck and torso,
also. Leathery already from sunny years
swift running trout streams --
it all the way to taut and supple skin.
I know and much I can't fathom
in these verses. All that can persist
this brief tour is here in words.
this human leather and bind these poems.
ask you my wife to carry out this task
I know my love lives on in you:
life my mate, in death
must be my publisher.
Russell of Springfield, Oregon,
husband and proprietor of Russell's Bughouse:
shame we did not dwell in Japan,
doctors and museums vie
add tattooed skins to their collections.
this state laws against corpse abuse
standards of the community.
community sensibilities -- isn't that
job of the poet?
by the undertaker, that preparer
formaldehyde injections and gruesome cosmetic
whose delicate sensibilities
disturbed by this strange request,
am left with no recourse but the courts.
as upholder of values,
are besieged by hate.
you see the twists in my fly tying poet's
at immortality, his longing for publication?
the years together I collected the rejections,
accounts and tended the back bar.
we bore children,
good and bad and time.
put it all down in his verse.
at the Bughouse, he was troop leader
beery expeditions and indulged scribe.
before you are his friends, a community.
a little, but still watching his back.
---- please grant my request
this purest form of vanity publishing.
the poet to cheat death
out his hidebound verse.
does it matter how trite your poems, how low you aimed?
your try at transubstantiation, your grasp
the night blooming flower that holds me in thrall.
book of yours, is it meant for the altar, the library shelf,
the bathroom? Does it scream imprecations
leak subtle emanations? I want it to contain the musty
of the forest floor, worms and sow bugs
under piney mulch, or the vibe
old, battered salmon bobbing in the shadows,
with young and tired of life. Donal,
your banshee wail come through in your unknown poetry
just in this perfect cry from beyond the passage?
alchemy, does it turn corpse corruption into art?
fear it would merely graft slow putrefaction to the
don't want to find out. That blind stab
the gulf from your cranky spirit to mine,
enough for me. Bring on the tannic acid,
and scrape, pierce and sew.
bind your perfect words.