time for a missoula break – remembering a little of why i am here

Richard Hugo 1923-1982

understand he loved to fish and write. I missed meeting him by a year. by the time i arrived his writing notebooks had been archived in the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Library at the University of Montana. i had the good fortune to actually touch those tear and coffee and beer stained pages before they were carefully catalogued and microfilmed away to their secret sepulchre.

touching real pages worn with Dick’s scratched out doodles and margin thoughts felt like a special privilege- much like living in missoula is a special privilege. the beauty of the place haunts me as i go about my appointed rounds. the privilege to meet and listen to many of Hugo’s understudies like the ever shy buffalo William Kittredge and our town’s now newly mourned James Crumley has been a uniquely missoulian privilege. meeting my life long partner at Charlie’s and sharing missoula with her has been a rare privilege also. the gratitude i feel for the gifts that missoula has brought me cannot be expressed in words because i cannot write like this man could. the following is my favorite poem about a bar not far upriver from here.

The Milltown Union Bar

(Laundromat & Cafe)

You could love here, not the lovely goat

in plexiglass nor the elk shot

in the middle of a joke, but honest drunks

crossed swords above the bar,three men hung

in the bad painting, others riding off

on the phony green horizon. The owner,

fresh from orphan wars, loves too

but bad as you. He keeps improving things

but can’t cut the bodies down.

You need never leave. Money or a story

brings you booze. The elk is grinning

and the goat says go so tenderly

you hear him through the glass. If you weep

deer heads weep. Sing and the orphanage

announces plans for your release. A train

goes by and ditches jump. You were nothing

going in and now you kiss your hand.

When mills shut down, when the worst drunk

says finally I’m stone, three men still hang

painted badly from a leafless tree, you

one of them, brains tied behind your back,

swinging for your sin. Or you swing

with goats and elk. Doors of orphanages

finally swing out and here you open in.

for Harold Herndon

-from The Lady In Kicking Horse Reservoir- Poems by Dick Hugo

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