Hugo’s White Center

I like to tell myself that I read poetry to discover new ideas, to see the world in new ways. Sometimes when I read a book like Richard Hugo’s White Center, though, I realize I also read to rediscover old truths. Poetry can help to see the world in new ways, but it can also help us the rediscover old truths.

Since I was born in White Center and found several poems in Hugo’s Selected Poems that made me remember my childhood there, I was looking forward to more of the same in a book named after that town. I was a little disappointed, though, to discover that most of the poems seem to focus on Hugo’s adopted home, Montana.

You’ll have to forgive me, then, when I admit I was a little disappointed in these poems, though I still found several poems I liked. Perhaps, though, it was my nostalgic bent that drew me to the poems that I ended up liking the most from this slim volume.

My favorite poem,”SECOND CHANCES”reminded me once again that, no matter how much you change, who you once were is still part of who you are now. Sometimes even later success and wealth can’t change the inner feelings you had as a child. At the very least, we are left with the fears that we will end up having to relive that life. Sometimes we simply can’t believe our good luck. The juxtaposition of “You can’t get a woman, old man. You don’t get a thing/” with “My wife, a beautiful woman, is fixing lunch” instantly reveals how irrational this fear is, but whoever said fear had to be rational?

More surprising, though, is the idea suggested in the last stanza that at times there is a longing for the past, the past that everyone, likely including ourselves, would say is crazy. The truth is that most changes seem to entail a trade-off of some kind, perhaps a loss of freedom, a greater sense of obligation, or merely a sense of alienation because you somehow feel you don’t truly belong in your new situation.

I suspect I’m showing my age even more in my preference for “CHANGES AT MERIDIAN”.I guess I can comfort myself a little bit in that I left Seattle over 35 years ago because I felt precisely this way when Seattle’s population began to explode. Still, it’s hard not to feel a little like a dinosaur when you look around and your whole world has changed, and, no matter what others say, it doesn’t feel like it a change for the better. The first lake I ever hiked to and stayed for four days outside Seattle is now surrounded by estates owned by ex-Microsoft employees. No matter how fabulous their homes, I can’t convince myself they’re an improvement over the firs that used to line the shores.

Like Hugo, I can’t convince myself that is “enough to live perpetually in change.” And, like Hugo, I still miss my old man’s advice to “Keep your line in the water” and regret that I can’t take my grandson out fishing the same way my father took me out.

2 thoughts on “Hugo’s White Center

  1. Not long ago, I watched the Roethke documentary entitled, “In a Dark Time.” Of course, Hugo was a student of Roethke… I actually found your link when I did a Google search for Hugo’s poem “Duwamish” from his first collection. Perhaps its my favorite poem in that book… Yes, you can’t go home again. I lived in Seattle from 1992-1997, than again, from 2007 until 2013. I think we all long for times gone by, not to relive them, but to draw strength and, perhaps, wonder what it was like when things were new and strange. It’s hard to recreate those feelings. When I look back at my past, it’s like I’m looking at another creature. I often wonder why I did the things I did?

    1. It’s hard to even remember writing this, Ed. By now 2004 is nearly forgotten, too.

      Sometimes I think I look back to try to find my “true” self, the one that’s been somehow lost in the shuffle, lost in the inevitable clutter we gather as we go through life. Maybe that’s similar to drawing strength from the past.

      When I look back now I see more similarities than I do differences, at least in my personality, though certainly not in the material things I’ve surrounded myself with.

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