Driving Hugo Home


Since 1997, I’ve been fairly obsessed with the poet Richard Hugo. Okay, really obsessed. Perhaps Hugo gave me a way of seeing the west and of assembling a family out here. Some people collect tourist keychains or tee shirts. Our family was hungry for places that resonated. We craved small towns with taverns and libraries; we looked for rivers we could wade and we slept on the banks. “Hugo wrote a poem about this town,” I once said to my husband Gary. We were standing in Wallace, Idaho. “There were whorehouses here until the mid-nineteen eighties.”

Or the time the two of us took three days off of work to head out to Tahola, Washington, a decrepit town with a spirited sandwich shop on the open Pacific. Despite a “Road Ends” sign, we burrowed into the trees, following the pavement until it ran to gravel and went uphill. Then, we came back down to town and had lunch.

That was the way to find Hugo. You headed out into the “west,” a place actually further east than the west where we lived, and you looked over the landscape. You hiked around, sometimes on “streets laid out by the insane.” Then, you went to a non-chain restaurant and ate. “Warm beer and lousy food,” the sign for the Club Bar in Philipsburg reads. That’s how we knew to go there.

Or this church. After reading the sign, you’d almost want to go in, wouldn’t you?

Living in a Painting

So, back in the early 1990’s, I hung out with the backroom guys in that law firm in Seattle, and I saw more of Mohammed’s paintings. Ambrosavage, the cartoonist, spoofed office life and dipped into political satire. “My sister’s in the FBI,” he said. “Don’t want to get carried away.” Ambrosavage drank constantly and encouraged everyone else to join him. We admired it, but couldn’t ever quite keep up.

On weekends, Mohammed painted more and more sprays of color, more figures of women reclining, more ladders connecting land and sky, more airplanes. I’d go visit his house where he and his wife Marcia, a solid socialist who was a kindred soul of my husband Gary’s, lived on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Mohammed worked in an unheated garage set against the hillside and we’d sit in there with a portable heater blowing. I’d sit on a stool and watch him paint. We’d drink beer and point to the images. “Like ’em?” Mohammed would say. Then he’d grin. Sometimes, at dinner, he’d goof around and pretend to poke a fork in his eye. The prongs would bounce off the lens of his glasses. Continue reading “Living in a Painting”