Sunday, September 14, 2008


Jim BH called me this morning; he's my writing teacher/mentor. He seemed out of breath and when I asked he said he thought he'd told me -- he has rheumatoid arthritis-associated pulmonary fibrosis. I knew about the arthritis, but not this. No treatment, no cure. And yes, it's fatal if it progresses. He said he's been pretty stable but really about all he can do is sit. He said he does walk around the house, very slowly, a few times a day.

He's breaking my heart.

I still think of him as that man who'd bring in a jug of wine to class, and we'd all sit around drinking and smoking and talking about one another's poems. Then after class we'd all go over to Tolly Ho's to eat greasy cheeseburgers and drink pitchers of beer and talk about poetry and writing. I took his poetry classes for years, two semesters a year. He changed my life.

Now of course, a teacher would be fired for bringing alcohol to class, and I guess if the administration knew then they would have fired him. But we never told anyone. And smoking is prohibited damn near everywhere these days.

He won teacher of the year once, and he was our state poet laureate for a year. His work was published in numerous magazines, and one of his books was nominated for some high-level prize that I've forgotten the name of. He and wife had a big party, invitation only, to celebrate the nomination. One year he brought his own work to class, not only for feedback, but to show us that he struggled with the same poetry and language things we did. The few people who didn't love him respected him highly, and still do. But the number of people who loved him and love him still far outnumber the others.

He lives far out in the country, beyond the interstates and state roads, with his wife, who has published three novels herself. He used to have his special students out for dinner, including me, where we ate wonderful meals and drank too much wine and talked about writing and writers. He was friends with a lot of writers, many of whom would visit for a day or so, but who are dead now.

The wind is howling outside this afternoon, and the leaves of the trees are showing their undersides -- precursors to a huge storm, though the tail end of Ike isn't supposed to reach us at all. Romantic that I am, I assume it's the universe's way of sympathizing with my pain at his illness. Sometimes the wind can howl far better than I.

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