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

other side.

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.




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.

Tra-la-la-la-la-la-Spa-ghet-tiii !

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.

Snoring loudly.

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

on it.


Trout Fishing in America Shorty




C/O Nelson Algren


And there would be stickers all over the crate, saying:




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

key ?”

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




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

blackberry bushes.

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?

Nobody !

Scotland Yard?

(Pouf !)

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.




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

into being.

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

Salt Creek.

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.


sign on the trail says, and it also says, WATCH OUT FOR






Then the sign says this all over again in Spanish. i AH !





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

all, brother.

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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Richard Brautigan's poem Part 5 of Trout Fishing in America

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