Jim Kilgo was a professor of American Literature at the University of Georgia when I was doing my doctorate there back in the 1970s. I never had a class with him, but we bonded as fellow Christians. We had other reasons too. I miss that man.
We never did get to the woods together.
We’d meet up in his air-conditioned office
From time to time to swap a tale or two.
He’d find a chair beneath a pile of papers
For me, beneath a pile of books for him,
And we’d lament the state of education
And then get on to more important things:
How quiet dawn is in a river swamp,
How sharp the wind blows over Albert’s Mountain,
The steam a plate of grits makes on a table
When frost is on the sedge outside the window,
The best last lines in all of literature
(They must be Izaak Walton’s Life of Donne
And then “The Life and Death of Cousin Lucius”).
We’d quote from C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Faulkner,
Or Robert Frost, or Flannery O’Connor;
We loved the words that named the things we loved.
We even tried some naming of our own–
He’d read his stories, and I’d read my poems,
Testing lines like newly mounted axe-heads
For balance and a clean and compact stroke:
The different rhythm life has on the trail–
I said, “Three days away from clocks you feel it”;
The trout he caught high in a mountain stream
In pools between the rapids and the falls–
“No gift comes cleaner from the hand of God.”
His book was Deep Enough for Ivorybills.
He meant woodpeckers in a cypress swamp;
I take it and apply it to his soul.
We love the words that name the things we love,
And one among the cleaner strokes is “Jim.”
Donald T. Williams, PhD