The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir

By Richard Hugo 1923–1982 Richard Hugo
Not my hands but green across you now.   
Green tons hold you down, and ten bass curve   
teasing in your hair. Summer slime
will pile deep on your breast. Four months of ice   
will keep you firm. I hope each spring
to find you tangled in those pads
pulled not quite loose by the spillway pour,   
stars in dead reflection off your teeth.

Lie there lily still. The spillway’s closed.
Two feet down most lakes are common gray.
This lake is dark from the black blue Mission range   
climbing sky like music dying Indians once wailed.   
On ocean beaches, mystery fish
are offered to the moon. Your jaws go blue.   
Your hands start waving every wind.
Wave to the ocean where we crushed a mile of foam.

We still love there in thundering foam   
and love. Whales fall in love with gulls   
and tide reclaims the Dolly skeletons
gone with a blast of aching horns to China.   
Landlocked in Montana here
the end is limited by light, the final note   
will trail off at the farthest point we see,   
already faded, lover, where you bloat.

All girls should be nicer. Arrows rain   
above us in the Indian wind. My future
should be full of windy gems, my past   
will stop this roaring in my dreams.   
Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. But the arrows sing:   
no way to float her up. The dead sink   
from dead weight. The Mission range   
turns this water black late afternoons.

One boy slapped the other. Hard.
The slapped boy talked until his dignity   
dissolved, screamed a single ‘stop’
and went down sobbing in the company pond.   
I swam for him all night. My only suit   
got wet and factory hands went home.   
No one cared the coward disappeared.   
Morning then: cold music I had never heard.

Loners like work best on second shift.
No one liked our product and the factory closed.   
Off south, the bison multiply so fast
a slaughter’s mandatory every spring
and every spring the creeks get fat
and Kicking Horse fills up. My hope is vague.   
The far blur of your bones in May
may be nourished by the snow.

The spillway’s open and you spill out
into weather, lover down the bright canal
and mother, irrigating crops   
dead Indians forgot to plant.
I’m sailing west with arrows to dissolving foam   
where waves strand naked Dollys.   
Their eyes are white as oriental mountains
and their tongues are teasing oil from whales.

Richard Hugo, "The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir" from Making Certain It Goes On:  The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo.  Copyright © 1973 by Richard Hugo.  Used by the permission of the author and W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.  This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1984)

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Poet Richard Hugo 1923–1982

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects History & Politics, The Body, Nature, Men & Women, Jobs & Working, Death, Animals, Living, Relationships, Activities, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Blank Verse


Richard Hugo was a poet of the Pacific Northwest, yet his renown attests to a stature greater than that of most "regional" poets. He is noted for the tight, rhythmic control of his language and lines and for the sharp sense of place evoked in his poems. Hugo's images are urgent and compelling; he imbues the many minute or seemingly irrelevant details found in his poems with a subtle significance, thereby creating a tension . . .

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SUBJECT History & Politics, The Body, Nature, Men & Women, Jobs & Working, Death, Animals, Living, Relationships, Activities, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

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