Wednesday, June 24, 2009

James Baker Hall

We all knew this was coming, but when Charlie casually mentioned he'd heard hospice had been called it was still too much for me to hear.

I called his wife and left a short message but they both already know how much I love them. There's nothing left to say.

What I will remember is his laugh and the clear way he always pronounced my name, each syllable crisp, his long discourses on poetry and literature and ego and ego-lessness. If you're not risking anything, he would tell us in those late afternoons, don't bother to write. He wanted us to come to the page naked and honest, perhaps for the first time in our lives. If you're not risking anything . . .

Too easy, I guess, to say that he made it safe for me to finally risk in my work. During our first conference he said he took me seriously as a writer -- the first person who ever had.

Over the years I took everything he had to give me, greedy for more without much idea of ever being able to pay back. My first and probably only book of poems is dedicated to him, but it probably won't be published in time for him to see it.

That night so long ago at Tolly Ho's, Carole and Tina and Jim and I sitting around, on our fourth or fifth pitcher, talking about rock 'n roll, and Jim turning to me to ask, "You've been awfully quiet. What do you think?"

And I said, "I was just thinking that I love you." I saw the tears in his eyes and flustered I went on, "I don't mean, you know, . . . " I got up to go to the jukebox to play some Fleetwood Mac song to cover up our embarrassment.

Safe journey, my friend. Safe journey.

April 1935 - June 25, 2009

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