Dear James Baker Hall (1935 – 2009) 
         You hardly know me and our contact was not literary. I was looking for a new car to replace the Subaru wagon which I’d purchased from Magistrate Jones over in Kentontown. (He bought clunkers at government auctions and resold them for a tidy profit.)  It ran fine but I’d get an acid dust coating on my tongue whenever I drove it very long. I vacuumed and brushed it out many times – still the tongue coating. The driver’s door looked like it had had a Civil Defense symbol on it and I thought “Hell, they probably carried nuclear waste in this thing. I’m going to get cancer!” So I started looking in the Harrison Shopper which came to my mailbox on Tuesdays. ” Ah, here’s one: 1989 Sentra. High mileage but well taken care of. Dividing Ridge Road, Harrison Co.”  When you answered the phone, I recognized your voice immediately. (Just the year before I had taken a credited summer writing class at EKU where you and Mary Ann were the keynote speakers for the final session. I’m sure you remember the faculty for that seminar – all the good old EKU writers like Dorothy Sutton and Harry Brown and you, the keynoter. They just don’t make them like you guys anymore.)  I said, “Is this James Baker Hall selling the Nissan?”  After a brief explanation, it was like we were lifelong friends. When I came to test drive the car, we spend most of the time touring your place (the barn across the road, the trees planted in the yard, your studio) and talking about tennis. I was the coach for Nicholas County and you were looking for local people to play. You set up a match but later had to cancel. (Ha, ha, probably good for me from what I’ve heard of how avid a player you were.)                                        By the way Jim, I wanted to remind you about the car. The next spring I was driving home late from a school tennis match when that Hendrickson boy, coming down Piqua Hill, lost control of his car and hit me head on. Totaled. …The next time we met you asked about the Sentra, and when I told you the story you laughed and said the same thing had happened to your tennis game.         

         Jim, so many of my friends and members of our writing community have had you as a teacher. I sorely regret having missed your instruction, but I think your student, Whitney Baker, has produced one of the finest films on writing that has ever come out of Kentucky – “The Elbow of Light: a film on James Baker Hall.”  It changed the trajectory of my own writing and also allowed me to get a glimpse of who you were as a person and a teacher…… All of us down here still miss you.
P.S.  Below is one of my own poor poems that Whitney’s film inspired. I’m sure you’ll be able to help me whip it into shape.
New Year (2016)
(after Whitney Baker’s “Elbow of Light”)
Dog hunches on the rug

cat on the couch
the storm has me in a fidget
my squirm my twitch
devolved to a grating shuffle,
they look at me
and wonder what it would take
to get me out of here
out into the blow and drift. 
I catch their snickers
pull out my mucker boots
my stormy kromer cap,
they don’t come to the door
I don’t look back.  

From the porch
snow hides all my marker points,
I go straight into the maelstrom
eyes open to vast blankness. 
I turn to go back
to stand by the hearth-stone stove
to listen to NPR about prisoners released. 
But fuck comfort
for I”ve spotted a window in the shed 
its loose pane
now a broken stem of glass
where an elbow of unknown light
is about to go unnoticed.
I hear Jim’s voice
“comfort is the enemy of joy,
sharpen your ear

to the sound of your fear,
it can change your life.”
My boots sink deeper 
into the whiteout,
I know
when to look head on
when to squint
Respectfully yours,  Jim Lally