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"The Milltown Union Bar"

Montana poet Richard Hugo

for Harold Herndon

(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.

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Richard Hugo (1923 - 1982) was a poet of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to his major poetry collections—including A Run of Jacks (1961), Death of the Kapowsin Tavern (1965), Good Luck in Cracked Italian (1969), The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir (1973), What Thou Lovest Well, Remains American (1975), 31 Letters and 13 Dreams (1977), and Selected Poems (1979)—Hugo also published a collection of essays, The Triggering Town (1979) and the mystery novel Death and the Good Life (1981); his autobiography was posthumously published as The Real West Marginal Way (1987). His forte, however, was poetry, and his characteristic stance as a self-analytic writer, a perceptive observer, and a Westerner is evident in Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo (1984).

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