Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg Poem by Richard Hugo

Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg

Rating: 3.4

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.

Michael Walker 23 February 2015

Hugo rated this his best poem; I do too. There is wit-'streets laid out by the insane' and a tender ending 'whose red hair lights the wall'.

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Mimi Brown 23 July 2009

Richard Hugo tells it like is for small town America. These towns are gray. I come from one in northeast pa. And yes the prison is still there, so is the tavern where I had my first illegal beer, but the churches are going fast and nothing seems to move forward. I have always admired Hugo for his realism and grit. Check out his Dream Poems, they are beautiful.

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Fred Babbin 30 November 2007

O.K. I'm only 82, but I know the feeling.

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Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo

Washington / United States
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