Richard Brautigan Poems >>
Part 5 of Trout Fishing in America
Worsewick Hot Springs was nothing fancy. Somebody put some
boards across the creek. That was it.
The boards dammed up the creek enough to form a huge
bathtub there, and the creek flowed over the top of the boards,
invited like a postcard to the ocean a thousand miles away.
As I said Worsewick was nothing fancy, not like the
places where the swells go. There were no buildings around.
We saw an old shoe lying by the tub.
The hot springs came down off a hill and where they flowed
there was a bright orange scum through the sagebrush. The
hot springs flowed into the creek right there at the tub and
that' s where it was nice.
We parked our car on the dirt road and went down and took
off our clothes, then we took off the baby's clothes, and the
deerflies had at us until we got into the water, and then they
There was a green slime growing around the edges of the
tub and there were dozens of dead fish floating in our bath.
Their bodies had been turned white by death, like frost on
iron doors. Their eyes were large and stiff.
The fish had made the mistake of going down the creek too
far and ending up in hot water, singing, "When you lose your
money, learn to lose."
We played and relaxed in the water. The green slime and
the dead fish played and relaxed with us and flowed out over
us and entwined themselves about us.
Splashing around in that hot water with my woman, I began
to get ideas, as they say. After a while I placed my body in
such a position in the water that the baby could not see my
I did this by going deeper and deeper in the water, like a
dinosaur, and letting the green slime and dead fish cover me
My woman took the baby out of the water and gave her a
bottle and put her back in the car. The baby was tired. It was
really time for her to take a nap.
My woman took a blanket out of the car and covered up the
windows that faced the hot springs. She put the blanket ontop
of the car and then lay rocks on the blanket to hold it in place.
I remember her standing there by the car.
Then she came back to the water, and the deerflies were
at her, and then it was my turn. After a while she said, "I
don't have my diaphragm with me and besides it wouldn't
work in the water, anyway. I think it's a good idea if you
don't come inside me. What do you think?"
I thought this over and said all right. I didn't want any
more kids for a long time. The green slime and dead fish
were all about our bodies.
I remember a dead fish floated under her neck. I waited
for it to come up on the other side, and it came up on the
Worsewick was nothing fancy.
Then I came, and just cleared her in a split secondlike
an airplane in the movies, pulling out of a nosedive and sail-
ing over the roof of a school.
My sperm came out into the water, unaccustomed to the
light, and instantly it became a misty, stringy kind of thing
and swirled out like a falling star, and I saw a dead fishcome
forward and float into my sperm, bending it in the middle.
His eyes were stiff like iron.
THE SHIPPING OF TROUT
FISHING IN AMERICA SHORTY
TO NELSON ALGREN
Trout Fishing in America Shorty appeared suddenly last
autumn in San Francisco, staggering around in a magnificent
chrome-plated steel wheelchair.
He was a legless, screaming middle-aged wine.
He descended upon North Beach like a chapter from the
Old Testament. He was the reason birds migrate in the
autumn. They have to. He was the cold turning of the earth;
the bad wind that blows off sugar.
He would stop children on the street and say to them, "I
ain't got no legs. The trout chopped my legs off in Fort
Lauderdale. You kids got legs. The trout didn't chop your
legs off. Wheel me into that store over there."
The kids, frightened and embarrassed, would wheel Trout
Fishing in America Shorty into the store. It would always be
a store that sold sweet wine, and he would buy a bottle of
wine and then he'd have the kids wheel him back out onto the
street, and he would open the wine and start drinking there
on the street just like he was Winston Churchill.
After a while the children would run and hide when they
saw Trout Fishing in America Shorty coming.
"I pushed him last week, "
"I pushed him yesterday, "
"Quick, let's hide behind these garbage cans."
And they would hide behind the garbage cans while Trout
Fishing in America Shorty staggered by in his wheelchair.
The kids would hold their breath until he was gone.
Trout Fishing in America Shorty used to go down to
L'Italia, the Italian newspaper in North Beach at Stockton
and Green Streets. Old Italians gather in front of the news-
paper in the afternoon and just stand there, leaning up
against the building, talking and dying in the sun.
Trout Fishing in America Shorty used to wheel into the
middle of them as if they were a bunch of pigeons, bottle of
wine in hand, and begin shouting obscenities in fake Italian.
I remember Trout Fishing in America Shorty passed out
in Washington Square, right in front of the Benjamin Frank-
lin statue. He had fallen face first out of his wheelchair and
just lay there without moving.
Above him were the metal works of Benjamin Franklin
like a clock, hat in hand.
Trout Fishing in America Shorty lay there below, his
face spread out like a fan in the grass.
A friend and I got to talking about Trout Fishing in Ameri
ca Shorty one afternoon. We decided the best thing to do witl:
him was to pack him in a big shipping crate with a couple of
cases of sweet wine and send him to Nelson Algren.
Nelson Algren is always writing about Railroad Shorty, a
hero of the Neon Wilderness (the reason for "The Face on
the Barroom Floor") and the destroyer of Dove Linkhorn in
A Walk on the Wild Side.
We thought that Nelson Algren would make the perfect
custodian for Trout Fishing in America Shorty. Maybe a
museum might be started. Trout Fishing in America Shorty
could be the first piece in an important collection.
We would nail him up in a packing crate with a big label
Trout Fishing in America Shorty
C/O Nelson Algren
And there would be stickers all over the crate, saying:
"GLASS/HANDLE WITH CARE/SPECIAL HANDLING/GLASS
/DON'T SPILL/THIS SIDE UP/HANDLE THIS WINO LIKE HE
WAS AN ANGEL"
And Trout Fishing in America Shorty, grumbling, puking
and cursing in his crate would travel across America, from
San Francisco to Chicago.
And Trout Fishing in America Shorty, wondering what it
was all about, would travel on, shouting, "Where in the hell
am I? I can't see to open this bottle ! Who turned out the
lights? Fuck this motel! I have to take a piss ! Where's my
It was a good idea.
A few days after we made our plans for Trout Fishing in
America Shorty, a heavy rain was pouring down upon San
Francisco. The rain turned the streets inward, like
drowned lungs, upon themselves and I was hurrying to work,
meeting swollen gutters at the intersections.
I saw Trout Fishing in America Shorty passed out in the
front window of a Filipino laundromat. He was sitting in
his wheelchair with closed eyes staring out the window.
There was a tranquil expression on his face. He almost
looked human. He had probably fallen asleep while he was
having his brains washed in one of the machines.
Weeks passed and we never got around to shipping Trout
Fishing in America Shorty away to Nelson Algren. We kept
putting it off. One thing and another. Then we lost our gold-
en opportunity because Trout Fishing in America Shorty dis-
appeared a little while after that.
They probably swept him up one morning and put him in
jail to punish him, the evilfart, or they put him in a nut-
house to dry him out a little.
Maybe Trout Fishing in America Shorty just pedaled down
to San Jose in his wheelchair, rattling along the freeway at
a quarter of a mile an hour.
I don't know what happened to him. But if he comes back
to San Francisco someday and dies, I have an idea.
Trout Fishing in America Shorty should be buried right
beside the Benjamin Franklin statue in Washington Square.
We should anchor his wheelchair to a huge gray stone and
write upon the stone:
Trout Fishing in America Shorty
20 cent Wash
10 cent Dry
OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
London. On December 1, 1887; July 7, August 8, September
30, one day in the month of October and on the 9th of Novem-
ber, 1888; on the Ist of June, the 17th of July and the IOth
of September 1889
The disguise was perfect.
Nobody ever saw him, except, of course, the victims.
They saw him.
Who would have expected?
He wore a costume of trout fishing in America. He wore
mountains on his elbows and bluejays on the collar of his
shirt. Deep water flowed through the lilies that were entwined
about his shoelaces. A bullfrog kept croaking in his watch
pocket and the air was filled with the sweet smell of ripe
He wore trout fishing in America as a costume to hide
his own appearance from the world while he performed his
deeds of murder in the night.
Who would have expected?
They were always a hundred miles away, wearing halibut-
stalker hats, looking under the dust.
Nobody ever found out.
0, now he's the Mayor of the Twentieth Century ! A razor,
a knife and a ukelele are his favorite instruments.
Of course, it would have to be a ukelele. Nobody else
would have thought of it, pulled like a plow through the intest-
"Speaking of evacuations, your missive, while complete in
other regards, skirted the subject, though you did deal brief-
ly with rural micturition procedure. I consider this a gross
oversight on your part, as I'm certain you're well aware of
my unending fascination with camp-out crapping. Please
rush details in your next effort. Slit-trench, pith helmet,
slingshot, biffy and if so number of holes and proximity of
keester to vermin and deposits of prior users."
--From a Letter by a Friend
Sheep. Everything smelled of sheep on Paradise Creek,
but there were no sheep in sight. I fished down from the
ranger station where there was a huge monument to the Civi-
lian Conservation Corps.
It was a twelve-foot high marble statue of a young man
walking out on a cold morning to a crapper that had the das-
sic half-moon cut above the door.
The 1930s will never come again, but his shoes were
wet with dew. They'll stay that way in marble.
I went off into the marsh. There the creek was soft and
spread out in the grass like a beer belly. The fishing was
difficult. Summer ducks were jumping up into flight. They
were big mallards with their Rainier Ale-like offspring.
I believe I saw a woodcock. He had a long bill like putting
a fire hydrant into a pencil sharpener, then pasting it onto
a bird and letting the bird fly away in front of me with this
thing on its face for no other purpose than to amaze me.
I worked my way slowly out of the marsh until the creek
again became a muscular thing, the strongest Paradise
Creek in the world. I was then close enough to see the sheep.
There were hundreds of them.
Everything smelled of sheep. The dandelions were sudden-
ly more sheep than flower, each petal reflecting wool and
the sound of a bell ringing off the yellow. But the thing that
smelled the most like sheep, was the very sun itself. When
the sun went behind a cloud, the smell of the sheep decreased
like standing on some old guy's hearing aid, and when the
sun came back again, the smell of the sheep was loud, like
a clap of thunder inside a cup of coffee.
That afternoon the sheep crossed the creek in front of
my hook. They were so close that their shadows fell across
my bait. I practically caught trout up their assholes.
THE CABINET OF
Once water bugs were my field. I remember that childhood
spring when I studied the winter-long mud puddles of the
Pacific Northwest. I had a fellowship.
My books were a pair of Sears Roebuck boots, ones with
green rubber pages. Most of my classrooms were close to
the shore. That's where the important things were happen-
ing and that's where the good things were happening.
Sometimes as experiments I laid boards out into the mud
puddles, so I could look into the deeper water but it was not
nearly as good as the water in close to the shore.
The water bugs were so small I practically had to lay my
vision like a drowned orange on the mud puddle. There is a
romance about fruit floating outside on the water, about
apples and pears in rivers and lakes. For the first minute
or so, I saw nothing, and then slowly the water bugs came
I saw a black one with big teeth chasing a white one with
a bag of newspapers slung over its shoulder, two white ones
playing cards near the window, a fourth white one staring
back with a harmonica in its mouth.
I was a scholar until the mud puddles went dry and then I
picked cherries for two-and-a-half cents a pound in an old
orchard that was beside a long, hot dusty road.
The cherry boss was a middle-aged woman who was a real
Okie. Wearing a pair of goofy overalls, her name was Rebel
Smith, and she'd been a friend of "Pretty Boy" Floyd's down
in Oklahoma. "I remember one afternoon'Pretty Boy' came
driving up in his car. I ran out onto the front porch. "
Rebel Smith was always smoking cigarettes and showing
people how to pick cherries and assigning them to trees and
writing down everything in a little book she carried in her
shirt pocket. She smoked just half a cigarette and then threw
the other half on the ground.
For the first few days of the picking, I was always seeing
her half-smoked cigarettes lying all over the orchard, near
the john and around the trees and down the rows.
Then she hired half-a-dozen bums to pick cherries be-
cause the picking was going too slowly. Rebel picked the
bums up on skidrow every morning and drove them out to
the orchard in a rusty old truck. There were always half-a-
dozen bums, but sometimes they had different faces.
After they came to pick cherries I never saw any more of
her half-smoked cigarettes lying around. They were gone
before they hit the ground. Looking back on it, you might
say that Rebel Smith was anti-mud puddle, but then you migl
not say that at all.
High and lonesome and steady, it's the smell of sheep down
in the valley that has done it to them. Here all afternoon in
the rain I've been listening to the sound of the coyotes up on
The smell of the sheep grazing in the valley has done it
to them. Their voices water and come down the canyon, past
the summer homes. Their voices are a creek, running down
the mountain, over the bones of sheep, living and dead.
O, THERE ARE COYOTES UP ON SALT CREEK so the
sign on the trail says, and it also says, WATCH OUT FOR
CYANIDE CAPSULES PUT ALONG THE CREEK TO KILL
COYOTES. DON'T PICK THEM UP AND EAT THEM. NOT
THEY'LL KILL YOU. LEAVE
UNLESS YOU'RE A COYOTE.
THE M ALONE.
Then the sign says this all over again in Spanish. i AH !
HAY COYOTES EN SALT CREEK, TAMBIEN. CULDADO
CON LAS CAPSULAS DE CIANURO: MATAN. NO LAS
COMA; A MENOS QUE SEA VD. UN COYOTE. I12ATAN.
NO LAS TOQUE.
It does not say it in Russian.
I asked an old guy in a bar about those cyanide capsules
up on Salt Creek and he told me that they were a kind of pis-
tol. They put a pleasing coyote scent on the trigger (prob-
ably the smell of a coyote snatch) and then a coyote comes
along and gives it a good sniff, a fast feel and BLAM! That's
I went fishing up on Salt Creek and caught a nice little
Dolly Varden trout, spotted and slender as a snake you'd ex-
pect to find in a jewelry store, but after a while I could think
only of the gas chamber at San Quentin.
O Caryl Chessman and Alexander Robillard Vistas ! as if
they were names for tracts of three-bedroom houses with
wall-to-wall carpets and plumbing that defies the imagination,
Then it came to me up there on Salt Creek, capital pun-
ishment being what it is, an act of state business with no
song down the railroad track after the train has gone and no
vibration on the rails, that they should take the head of a
coyote killed by one of those God-damn cyanide things up on
Salt Creek and hollow it out and dry it in the sun and then
make it into a crown with the teeth running in a circle around
the top of it and a nice green light coming off the teeth.
Then the nitnesses and newspapermen and gas chamber
flunkies would have to watch a king wearing a coyote crown
die there in front of them, the gas rising in the chamber like
a rain mist drifting down the mountain from Salt Creek. It
has been raining here now for two days, and through the trees
the heart stops beating.
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