Richard Hugo (1923-1982)

Second Chances

I can’t let it go, the picture I keep of myself
in ruin, living alone, some wretched town
where friendship is based on just being around.
And I drink there a lot, stare at the walls until
the buzzing of flies becomes the silence I drown in.
Outside, children bad-mouth my life with songs
their parents told them to sing. One showers
my roof with stones knowing I’m afraid
to step out and tell him to stop. Another yells,
“You can’t get a woman, old man. You don’t get a thing.”

My wife, a beautiful woman, is fixing lunch.
She doesn’t know I dream these things. She thinks
I’m fine. People respect me. Oh, she knows, all right,
I’ve seen grim times. But these days my poems
appear everywhere. Fan mail comes. I fly east
on a profitable reading tour. Once in a while
a young girl offers herself. My wife knows that, too.
And she knows my happiness with her is far more
than I ever expected. Three years ago, I wouldn’t
have given a dime for my chances at life.

What she doesn’t know is now and then
a vagabond knocks on the door. I go answer
and he says, “Come back, baby. You’ll find
a million poems deep in your destitute soul.”
And I say, “Go away. Don’t ever come back.”
But I watch him walk, always downhill toward
the school yard where children are playing “ghost,”
a game where, according to the rules, you take
another child’s name in your mind but pretend
you’re still you while others guess your new name.