Dear Bill,

I remember the fountain pen’s scratch, the inky runes of scrawl climbing the Manilla sheet, your poem from memory salmon smart and wide as the Columbia River banks you and your wife Mary hitchhiked to the Pacific’s blue sexual churn.

Even though Mary lost her arm, you hitched the hiline’s shoulderless two lane berm, past Wolf Point, Browning, across the Blackfeet nation, splitting the wide forehead of Montana plains shaved by wind. Happy as dragonflies or chickadees, you owned only your clothes, no matching dishes or couch, no maple kitchen table, not even dental bills to nail you to duty. Wind and the diamond scalpels of stars scraped your hearts fresh each morning in land as vast as sky in a raven’s eye that recognizes no borders.

Bill, you learned to wait for others to speak first, kept that smile on a short leash except when you flung your arm around Mary’s shoulders as you walked between rides in freezing boots. Nothing but stars and wind and the Bear Paw Mountains accompanied you. Nothing but elk bugle and the occasional slide of a coyote into a barrow ditch as you promised each other to go anywhere you liked.

It was the end of the war to end all wars and sky was as clear as a deer’s conscience, the road open as your hearts in love. Was it then that your hand began to glow, picking up light from stars long dead, seeds of poems unborn, radioactive as atomic bomb tests you fled?

Bill, you taught us poetry was like fishing. Each morning cast your line into dawn’s watery soul. “Some people say I write too much. Lower your standards,” you said, “Not every day has to be an epic, just noticed.” I was just setting off down my own long highway, with a poet whose deep songs turned my heart to a flaming guitar as they taught me new chords.

Thousands of miles later, we met where the Strait of Juan de Fuca corners Puget Sound. You asked to see what I’d sketched. Near the head of my redwinged blackbird, you wrote out this poem—Mary’s moist smile, high prairie nights pocked with stars you could almost pick like frozen apples, the two lane highway on the Hiline where more Indians than you could count died in headons, run over by trains—where you walked, holding hands with beauty.

Decades I’ve carried this poem to homes from coast to coast to remind me that hitching rides under the hiss of meteors, leaning into the insistent wind you were as rich that night as any of us poets would ever need to be.