Afternoon walk

No Sean Penn. No awkward awards ceremony speeches or tasteless humor. Just blue sky, birds and trees. I did find myself thinking of Ammon Bundy as I worried about what BLM might do in my backyard — our backyard — but crisp air smoothed my step and now I am back home, turning the page to fiction, although poetry keeps coming to mind.

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Couldn’t think of what to say last night. It was just there.

What the heck. Maybe I’ll read “Degrees of gray in Philipsburg” again. It’s been on my mind for months.

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

by Richard Hugo

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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