The River Now

By Richard Hugo 1923–1982 Richard Hugo
Hardly a ghost left to talk with. The slavs moved on
or changed their names to something green. Greeks gave up   
old dishes and slid into repose. Runs of salmon thin   
and thin until a ripple in October might mean carp.
Huge mills bang and smoke. Day hangs thick with commerce
and my favorite home, always overgrown with roses,   
collapsed like moral advice. Tugs still pound against   
the outtide pour but real, running on some definite fuel.   
I can’t dream anything, not some lovely woman   
murdered in a shack, not saw mills going broke,
not even wild wine and a landslide though I knew both well.   
The blood still begs direction home. This river points   
the way north to the blood, the blue stars certain   
in their swing, their fix. I pass the backwash where   
the cattails still lean north, familiar grebes pop up,   
the windchill is the same. And it comes back with the odor   
of the river, some way I know the lonely sources   
of despair break down from too much love. No matter   
how this water fragments in the reeds, it rejoins   
the river and the bright bay north receives it all,   
new salmon on their way to open ocean,   
the easy tub returned.

Richard Hugo, “The River Now” from Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo. Copyright © 1984 by The Estate of Richard Hugo. Reprinted with the permission of 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., 1983)

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Poet Richard Hugo 1923–1982

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Nature


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 Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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