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Best Famous Richard Hugo Poems

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Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

Farmer Dying

 for Hank and Nancy

Seven thousand acres of grass have faded yellow
from his cough.
These limp days, his anger, legend forty years from moon to Stevensville, lives on, just barely, in a Great Falls whore.
Cruel times, he cries, cruel winds.
His geese roam unattended in the meadow.
The gold last leaves of cottonwoods ride Burnt Fork creek away.
His geese grow fat without him.
Same old insult.
Same indifferent rise of mountains south, hunters drunk around the fire ten feet from his fence.
What's killing us is something autumn.
Call it war or fever.
You know it when you see it: flare.
Vine and fire and the morning deer come half a century to sip his spring, there, at the far end of his land, wrapped in cellophane by light.
What lives is what he left in air, definite, unseen, hanging where he stood the day he roared.
A bear prowls closer to his barn each day.
Farmers come to watch him die.
They bring crude offerings of wine.
Burnt Fork creek is caroling.
He dies white in final anger.
The bear taps on his pane.
And we die silent, our last days loaded with the scream of Burnt Fork creek, the last cry of that raging farmer.
We have aged ourselves to stone trying to summon mercy for ungrateful daughters.
Let's live him in ourselves, stand deranged on the meadow rim and curse the Baltic back, moon, bear and blast.
And let him shout from his grave for us.

Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg

 You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down.
The last good kiss you had was years ago.
You walk these streets laid out by the insane, past hotels that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up.
The jail turned 70 this year.
The only prisoner is always in, not knowing what he's done.
The principal supporting business now is rage.
Hatred of the various grays the mountain sends, hatred of the mill, The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls who leave each year for Butte.
One good restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines, a dance floor built on springs-- all memory resolves itself in gaze, in panoramic green you know the cattle eat or two stacks high above the town, two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse for fifty years that won't fall finally down.
Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat so accurate, the church bell simply seems a pure announcement: ring and no one comes? Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium and scorn sufficient to support a town, not just Philipsburg, but towns of towering blondes, good jazz and booze the world will never let you have until the town you came from dies inside? Say no to yourself.
The old man, twenty when the jail was built, still laughs although his lips collapse.
Someday soon, he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no.
You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with, no matter where it's mined, is silver and the girl who serves your food is slender and her red hair lights the wall.
Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

The Church On Comiaken Hill

 for Sydney Pettit

The lines are keen against today's bad sky
about to rain.
We're white and understand why Indians sold butter for the funds to build this church.
Four hens and a rooster huddle on the porch.
We are dark and know why no one climbed to pray.
The priest who did his best to imitate a bell watched the river, full of spirits, coil below the hill, relentless for the bay.
A church abandoned to the wind is portent.
In high wind, ruins make harsh music.
The priest is tending bar.
His dreams have paid outrageous fees for stone and mortar.
His eyes are empty as a chapel roofless in a storm.
Greek temples seem the same as forty centuries ago.
If we used one corner for a urinal, he wouldn't swear we hadn't worshipped here.
The chickens cringe.
Rain sprays chaos where the altar and the stained glass would have gone had Indians not eaten tribal cows one hungry fall.
Despite the chant, salmon hadn't come.
The first mass and a phone line cursed the river.
If rain had rhythm, it would not be Latin.
Children do not wave as we drive out.
Like these graves ours may go unmarked.
Can we be satisfied when dead with daffodils for stones? These Indians-- whatever they once loved or used for God-- the hill--the river--the bay burned by the moon-- they knew that when you die you lose your name.
Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

Underwater Autumn

 Now the summer perch flips twice and glides
a lateral fathom at the first cold rain,
the surface near to silver from a frosty hill.
Along the weed and grain of log he slides his tail.
Nervously the trout (his stream-toned heart locked in the lake, his poise and nerve disgraced) above the stirring catfish, curves in bluegill dreams and curves beyond the sudden thrust of bass.
Surface calm and calm act mask the detonating fear, the moving crayfish claw, the stare of sunfish hovering above the cloud-stained sand, a sucker nudging cans, the grinning maskinonge.
How do carp resolve the eel and terror here? They face so many times this brown-ribbed fall of leaves predicting weather foreign as a shark or prawn and floating still above them in the paling sun.
Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

Letter To Kizer From Seattle

 Dear Condor: Much thanks for that telephonic support
from North Carolina when I suddenly went ape
in the Iowa tulips.
Lord, but I'm ashamed.
I was afraid, it seemed, according to the doctor of impending success, winning some poetry prizes or getting a wet kiss.
The more popular I got, the softer the soft cry in my head: Don't believe them.
You were never good.
Then I broke and proved it.
Ten successive days I alienated women I liked best.
I told a coed why her poems were bad (they weren't) and didn't understand a word I said.
Really warped.
The phrase "I'll be all right" came out too many unsolicited times.
I'm o.
I'm back at the primal source of poems: wind, sea and rain, the market and the salmon.
Speaking of the market, they're having a vital election here.
Save the market? Tear it down? The forces of evil maintain they're trying to save it too, obscuring, of course, the issue.
The forces of righteousness, me and my friends, are praying for a storm, one of those grim dark rolling southwest downpours that will leave the electorate sane.
I'm the last poet to teach the Roethke chair under Heilman.
He's retiring after 23 years.
Most of the old gang is gone.
Sol Katz is aging.
Who isn't? It's close now to the end of summer and would you believe it I've ignored the Blue Moon.
I did go to White Center, you know, my home town, and the people there, many are the same, but also aging, balking, remarkably polite and calm.
A man whose name escapes me said he thinks he had known me, the boy who went alone to Longfellow Creek and who laughed and cried for no reason.
The city is huge, maybe three quarters of a million and lots of crime.
They are indicting the former chief of police.
Sorry to be so rambling.
I eat lunch with J.
Hillis Miller, brilliant and nice as they come, in the faculty club, overlooking the lake, much of it now filled in.
And I tour old haunts, been twice to Kapowsin.
One trout.
One perch.
One poem.
Take care, oh wisest of condors.
Thanks again.

Written by Richard Hugo | Create an image from this poem

Death Of The Kapowsin Tavern

 I can't ridge it back again from char.
Not one board left.
Only ash a cat explores and shattered glass smoked black and strung about from the explosion I believe in the reports.
The white school up for sale for years, most homes abandoned to the rocks of passing boys--the fire, helped by wind that blew the neon out six years before, simply ended lots of ending.
A damn shame.
Now, when the night chill of the lake gets in a troller's bones where can the troller go for bad wine washed down frantically with beer? And when wise men are in style again will one recount the two-mile glide of cranes from dead pines or the nameless yellow flowers thriving in the useless logs, or dots of light all night about the far end of the lake, the dawn arrival of the idiot with catfish--most of all, above the lake the temple and our sanctuary there? Nothing dies as slowly as a scene.
The dusty jukebox cracking through the cackle of a beered-up crone-- wagered wine--sudden need to dance-- these remain in the black debris.
Although I know in time the lake will send wind black enough to blow it all away.