Celebrate is certainly the right word to use here….


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 by the time i arrived his writing notebooks had been archived in the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Library at the University of Montana.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

half dozen poems

here in missoula

Indians must teach us the true way

to conduct a seance

because our dead are so outnumbered



a long time ago


we writhed like worms on barbed hooks

dangled in front of hungry trout

but we found a way to crawl off

and dig out homes more suitable

than teeth


grew up on


Looking Glass Hill 845 Cheshire street

where jar headed kids on stingrays

threw dirt clods and filberts at the weak

and the lonely vet drank all day telling us

he was the first up Iwo Jima and his kids

gave me whooping cough



best job i ever had


we drilled anchor holes for a snow retaining wall

to keep glaciers from pushing Paradise Lodge

off the side of Mt Rainier

gave away my best bird dog to the construction foreman

who promised her a good home.

met set designers for Muppets Take Manhatten

in the Motel lounge while watching the world series

and we cheered each eruption from Mt Saint Helens.


another day in Missoula


and another great writer shows his stuff

to the world with great swooping rooster tails

pushed along by 300 horsepower twin merc brains

and here I limp along- nurse my 5 horse Evinrude

with a coughy carburetor

too dumb to be scared

i cut accross the wake

stubborn for that distant shore



Charlies Bar


was also Eddies club when Mr Hugo lived here

but I came too late to Missoula to meet him

so I learned to travel where ghosts end up

and found him almost everywhere I went