Stories of Song and Remembrance

March has come and conquered me. Bright-eyed with the presence of song and feathers, I find myself amazed and overwhelmed, disinterested in everything save for birds, bulbs, and the heavy sweetness of remembrance.

On Saturday, despite the thick drizzle and grey, the Arboretum’s meadow was filled with music. Interspersed within the piccoloing of song sparrows, I heard red-winged blackbirds singing conk la REE. Biking in, past the still-blooming apricot tree and the more patient cherries, I found myself suddenly surrounded by those heralding syllables of spring. The male birds, with their wings that flash red in flight, are returning north from Mexico and Virginia. They’re browsing cattails and perching in the maples that border them, having a rest and shouting.

Without the birds the cityscape was only dreary, glazed with ice and the detritus of winter. My face after biking was dirty with water splashed up from the street, but the music washed me. I felt like I was sticking my hands into honey pots, like the birds were thrusting me into a baptism. Any pain cloaking my heart, any weariness or worry, was polished away, leaving me shining and awake. These birds, whom I met and first loved along the riversides of Milwaukee, were letting my soul out, were shaking and wringing away the winter, were calling me in.

That evening, I learned that someone very dear to me had died. Jim Hazard, poet, fly fisherman, teacher and coronet player, passed away on Friday. I am deeply shaken. A few paragraphs do nothing to arrive at any summation of a great man, but I would like to offer my admiration and some memories.

His writerly work offered textbook examples on how to finely craft a piece with grace, honesty, and grit. He taught his craft, and taught it well, and with gentle encouragement took me under his wing. During the course of the year that I attended UW-Milwaukee, he helped me to hone and wield my skills as a writer, offering armfuls of much-appreciated criticism and advice.

He also became a friend. After my classes with him were over we kept in touch, and eventually I also got to know his son, Bix. One afternoon while I was visiting them Jim asked if I’d been writing, adding sternly that I was not to say that I’d been merely journaling. Blushing, I admitted that that was exactly what I had been doing. In response, Jim demanded that I write outside of the cloisters that I’d created for myself. He told me that I had a craft to share and that I owed it to myself to let it out.

I’ve come back to that moment again and again over the years. Jim’s belief in my work kindled a resolve and ardency deep within me, handing me a fire that I will always cherish and tend. His kindness and encouragement were fiercely sincere and touching, and it is perhaps solely because of him that I am now devoting so much of myself to writing, striving to make something that he, and I, may be pleased with.

Other than being a wonderful teacher and sublime author and poet, Jim was also an immensely sweet, kind, and generous friend. I will always remember his warm Indiana accent and the way he glowed when he spoke of music. He was incredibly wise and vivacious and I’m so glad that I had the fortune of knowing him. My deepest condolences are with his wife, Susan, Bix, and the rest of their family. He will be sorely missed.

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