Richard Hugo--American

Richard Hugo (Hogan)


Born Richard Hogan in 1923, Hugo legally changed his name in 1942. Hugo served as a bombardier in World War II and left the service as a first lieutenant in 1945. After the war, he enrolled at the University of Washington and received B.A. and M.A. degrees. He worked for the Boeing Corporation for thirteen years as a technical writer. His first book of poems, A Run with Jacks, was published in 1961. taught at the University of Montana for eighteen years. In 1977 he was named the editor of the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Series. Hugo penned a number of books between 1965 and his early death in 1982 at the age of fifty-eight. Among his best known writings are: Death of the Kapowsin Tavern, Good Luck in Cracked Italian and The Triggering Town. Hugo wrote his war poems while on a trip to Europe twenty years after the war.

The Yards of Sarajevo

Time of day: a dim dream, probably
late afternoon. Children watch our train
pull into the yard. Other late dark
afternoons and porches seem remote.
These people, tracks and cars were what
we came to bomb nineteen years ago
and missed six miles through blinding clouds.
One war started here. The coal smoke
of our dirty train compounds the gloom.
The past is always dim. A plot. A gun.
The Archduke falling. A world gone
back to mud. Our long day from Dubrovnik
grates to a stop. Air is getting black.
I was five miles up there sighting
on this spot. I can’t speak Serb or read
Cyrillic listings of departure times.
Even long wars end. Dukes and Kings 
tell peasants old jokes underground.
This was small and foreign five miles down.
Why am I at home? The tongue is odd,
the station loud. All rebuilt
and modern. Only the lighting bad.

Napoli Again

Long before I hear it, Naples bright
with buildings trumpets from the hill.
A tugboat toots “paisan” and I am back.
That dock I sailed from eighteen years ago.
This bay had a fleet of half-sunk ships.
Where those dapper men are drinking wine,
A soldier beat an urchin with a belt.
Fountains didn’t work. I remember stink.
Streets and buildings all seemed brown.
Romans hate such recent ruins,
bombed-out houses you do not repair.
Better pillars one must work to date.
Forget the innocent cut down, 
cats gone crazy from the bombs
waiting down those alleys for delicious eyes.
Here, the glass replaced in galleria roofs,
cappuccino too high priced, it’s hard
to go back years and feed the whores for free.
I’ll never think of virgin angels here.
Did I walk this street before,
protesting: I am kind. You switch the menu,
gyp me on the bill. Remember me? My wings?
The silver target and the silver bomb?
Take the extra coin. I only came 
to see you living and the fountains run.