Barry Tebb |
Give me life at its most garish
Friday night in the Square, pink sequins dazzle
And dance on clubbers bare to the midriff
Young men in crisp shirts and pressed pants
‘Dress code smart’ gyrate to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
And sing along its lyrics to the throng of which I’m one
My shorts, shoulder bag and white beard
Making me stand out in the teeming swarm
Of teens and twenties this foetid Friday night
On my way from the ward where our son paces
And fulminates I throw myself into the drowning
Tide of Friday to be rescued by sheer normality.
The mill girl with her mates asks anxiously
"Are you on your own? Come and join us
What’s your name?" Age has driven my shyness away
As I join the crowd beneath the turning purple screens
Bannered ‘Orgasm lasts for ever’ and sip unending
Halves of bitter, as I circulate among the crowd,
Being complete in itself and out for a good night out,
A relief from factory, shop floor and market stall
Running from the reality of the ward where my son
Pounds the ledge with his fist and seems out to blast
My very existence with words like bullets.
The need to anaesthetise the pain resurfaces
Again and again. In Leeds City Square where
Pugin’s church, the Black Prince and the Central Post Office
In its Edwardian grandeur are startled by the arching spumes
Or white water fountains and the steel barricades of Novotel
Rise from the ruins of a sixties office block.
I hurry past and join Boar Lane’s Friday crew
From Keighley and Dewsbury’s mills, hesitating
At the thought of being told I’m past my
Sell-by-date and turned away by the West Indian
Bouncers, black-suited and city-council badged
Who checked my bag but smiled at ‘The Lights of
Leeds’ and ‘Poets of Our Time’ tucked away as carefully as condoms-
Was it guns or drugs they were after
I wondered as I crossed the bare boards to the bar.
I stayed near the fruit machine which no-one played,
Where the crowd was thickest, the noise drowned out the pain
‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’ the chorus rang
The girls joined in but the young men knew
The words no more than me. Dancing as we knew it
In the sixties has gone, you do your own thing
And follow the beat, hampered by my bag
I just kept going, letting the music and the crowd
Hold me, my camera eye moving in search, in search…
What I’m searching for I don’t know
Searching’s a way of life that has to grow
"All of us who are patients here are searchers after truth"
My son kept saying, his legs shaking from the side effects
Of God-knows- what, pacing the tiny ward kitchen cum smoking room,
Denouncing his ‘illegal section’ and ‘poisonous medication’
To an audience of one.
The prospect of TV, Seroxat and Diazepan fazed me:
I was beyond unravelling Meltzer on differentiation
Of self and object or Rosine Josef Perelberg on ‘Dreaming and Thinking’
Or even the simpler ‘Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States’
So I went out with West Yorkshire on a Friday night.
Nothing dramatic happened; perhaps I’m a little too used
To acute wards or worse where chairs fly across rooms,
Windows disintegrate and double doors are triple locked
And every nurse carries a white panic button and black pager
To pinpoint the moment’s crisis. Normality was a bit of adrenaline,
A wild therapy that drew me in, sanity had won the night.
"Are you on your own, love? Come and join us"
People kept asking if I was alright and why
I had that damned great shoulder bag. I was introduced
To three young men about to tie the knot, a handsome lothario
In his midforties winked at me constantly,
Dancing with practised ease with sixteen year olds
Who all seemed to know him and determined to show him.
Three hours passed in as many minutes and then the crowds
Disappeared to catch the last bus home. The young aren’t
As black as they are painted, one I danced with reminded me
Of how Margaret would have been at sixteen
With straw gold hair Yeats would have immortalised.
People seemed to guess I was haunted by an inner demon
I’d tried to leave in the raftered lofts of City Square
But failed to. Girls from sixteen to twenty six kept grabbing me
And making me dance and I found my teenage inhibitions
Gone at sixty-one and wildly gyrated to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
Egged on by the throng by the fruit machine and continuous
Thumbs-up signs from passing men. I had to forgo
A cheerful group of Aussies were intent on taking me clubbing
"I’d get killed or turned into a pumpkin
If I get home after midnight" I quipped to their delight
But being there had somehow put things right.
Anne Sexton |
A born salesman,
my father made all his dough
by selling wool to Fieldcrest, Woolrich and Faribo.
A born talker,
he could sell one hundred wet-down bales
of that white stuff. He could clock the miles and the sales
and make it pay.
At home each sentence he would utter
had first pleased the buyer who'd paid him off in butter.
had been tried over and over, at any rate,
on the man who was sold by the man who filled my plate.
My father hovered
over the Yorkshire pudding and the beef:
a peddler, a hawker, a merchant and an Indian chief.
Roosevelt! Willkie! and war!
How suddenly gauche I was
with my old-maid heart and my funny teenage applause.
Each night at home
my father was in love with maps
while the radio fought its battles with Nazis and Japs.
Except when he hid
in his bedroom on a three-day drunk,
he typed out complex itineraries, packed his trunk,
his matched luggage
and pocketed a confirmed reservation,
his heart already pushing over the red routes of the nation.
I sit at my desk
each night with no place to go,
opening thee wrinkled maps of Milwaukee and Buffalo,
the whole U.S.,
its cemeteries, its arbitrary time zones,
through routes like small veins, capitals like small stones.
He died on the road,
his heart pushed from neck to back,
his white hanky signaling from the window of the Cadillac.
as blue-eyed as a picture book, sells wool:
boxes of card waste, laps and rovings he can pull
to the thread
and say Leicester, Rambouillet, Merino,
a half-blood, it's greasy and thick, yellow as old snow.
And when you drive off, my darling,
Yes, sir! Yes, sir! It's one for my dame,
your sample cases branded with my father's name,
your itinerary open,
its tolls ticking and greedy,
its highways built up like new loves, raw and speedy.
Philip Levine |
The day comes slowly in the railyard
behind the ice factory. It broods on
one cinder after another until each
glows like lead or the eye of a dog
possessed of no inner fire, the brown
and greasy pointer who raises his muzzle
a moment and sighing lets it thud
down on the loading dock. In no time
the day has crossed two sets of tracks,
a semi-trailer with no tractor, and crawled
down three stories of the bottling plant
at the end of the alley. It is now
less than five hours until mid-day
when nothing will be left in doubt,
each scrap of news, each banished carton,
each forgotten letter, its ink bled of lies,
will stare back at the one eye that sees
it all and never blinks. But for now
there is water settling in a clean glass
on the shelf beside the razor, the slap
of bare feet on the floor above. Soon
the scent of rivers borne across roof
after roof by winds without names,
the aroma of opened beds better left
closed, of mouths without teeth, of light
rustling among the mice droppings
at the back of a bin of potatoes.
The old man who sleeps among the cases
of empty bottles in a little nest of rags
and newspapers at the back of the plant
is not an old man. He is twenty years
younger than I am now putting this down
in permanent ink on a yellow legal pad
during a crisp morning in October.
When he fell from a high pallet, his sleeve
caught on a nail and spread his arms
like a figure out of myth. His head
tore open on a spear of wood, and he
swore in French. No, he didn't want
a doctor. He wanted toilet paper
and a drink, which were fetched. He used
the tiny bottle of whisky to straighten
out his eyes and the toilet paper to clean
his pants, fouled in the fall, and he did
both with seven teenage boys looking on
in wonder and fear. At last the blood
slowed and caked above his ear, and he
never once touched the wound. Instead,
in a voice no one could hear, he spoke
to himself, probably in French, and smoked
sitting back against a pallet, his legs
thrust out on the damp cement floor.
In his white coveralls, crisp and pressed,
Teddy the Polack told us a fat tit
would stop a toothache, two a headache.
He told it to anyone who asked, and grinned --
the small eyes watering at the corners --
as Alcibiades might have grinned
when at last he learned that love leads
even the body beloved to a moment
in the present when desire calms, the skin
glows, the soul takes the light of day,
even a working day in 1944.
For Baharozian at seventeen the present
was a gift. Seeing my ashen face,
the cold sweats starting, he seated me
in a corner of the boxcar and did
both our jobs, stacking the full cases
neatly row upon row and whistling
the songs of Kate Smith. In the bathroom
that night I posed naked before the mirror,
the new cross of hair staining my chest,
plunging to my groin. That was Wednesday,
for every Wednesday ended in darkness.
One of those teenage boys was my brother.
That night as we lay in bed, the lights
out, we spoke of Froggy, of how at first
we thought he would die and how little
he seemed to care as the blood rose
to fill and overflow his ear. Slowly
the long day came over us and our breath
quieted and eased at last, and we slept.
When I close my eyes now his bare legs
glow before me again, pure and lovely
in their perfect whiteness, the buttocks
dimpled and firm. I see again the rope
of his sex, unwrinkled, flushed and swaying,
the hard flat belly as he raises his shirt
to clean himself. He gazes at no one
or nothing, but seems instead to look off
into a darkness I hadn't seen, a pool
of shadow that forms before his eyes,
in my memory now as solid as onyx.
I began this poem in the present
because nothing is past. The ice factory,
the bottling plant, the cindered yard
all gave way to a low brick building
a block wide and windowless where they
designed gun mounts for personnel carriers
that never made it to Korea. My brother
rises early, and on clear days he walks
to the corner to have toast and coffee.
Seventeen winters have melted into an earth
of stone, bottle caps, and old iron to carry
off the hard remains of Froggy Frenchman
without a blessing or a stone to bear it.
A little spar of him the size of a finger,
pointed and speckled as though blood-flaked,
washed ashore from Lake Erie near Buffalo
before the rest slipped down the falls out
into the St. Lawrence. He could be at sea,
he could be part of an ocean, by now
he could even be home. This morning I
rose later than usual in a great house
full of sunlight, but I believe it came
down step by step on each wet sheet
of wooden siding before it crawled
from the ceiling and touched my pillow
to waken me. When I heave myself
out of this chair with a great groan of age
and stand shakily, the three mice still
in the wall. From across the lots
the wind brings voices I can't make out,
scraps of song or sea sounds, daylight
breaking into dust, the perfume of waiting
rain, of onions and potatoes frying.
Maggie Estep |
My first job was when I was about 15. I had met
a girl named Hope who became my best friend. Hope and I were flunking math
class so we became speed freaks. This honed our algebra skills and we quickly
became whiz kids. For about 5 minutes. Then, our brains started to fry
and we were just teenage speed freaks.
Then, we decided to to seek gainful employment.
We got hired on as part time maids at the Holiday Inn while a maid strike
was happening. We were scab maids on speed and we were coming to clean
We were subsequently fired for pilfering a Holiday Inn guest's quaalude
stash which we did only because we never thought someone would have the
nerve to call the front desk and say; THE MAIDS STOLE MY LUUDES MAN. But
someone did - or so we surmised - because we were fired.
I supppose maybe we were fired because we never actually CLEANED but rather
just turned on the vacuum so it SOUNDED like we were cleaning as we picked
the pubic hairs off the sheets and out of the tub then passed out on the
bed and caught up on the sleep we'd missed from being up all night speeding.
When we got fired, we became waitresses at an International House of Pancakes.
We were much happier there.
Denise Duhamel |
At first she was sure it was just a bit of dried strawberry juice,
or a fleck of her mother's red nail polish that had flaked off
when she'd patted her daughter to sleep the night before.
But as she scrubbed, Snow felt a bump, something festering
under the surface, like a tapeworm curled up and living
in her left cheek.
Doc the Dwarf was no dermatologist
and besides Snow doesn't get to meet him in this version
because the mint leaves the tall doctor puts over her face
only make matters worse. Snow and the Queen hope
against hope for chicken pox, measles, something
that would be gone quickly and not plague Snow's whole
If only freckles were red, she cried, if only
concealer really worked. Soon came the pus, the yellow dots,
multiplying like pins in a pin cushion. Soon came
the greasy hair. The Queen gave her daughter a razor
for her legs and a stick of underarm deodorant.
doodled through her teenage years—"Snow + ?" in Magic
Markered hearts all over her notebooks. She was an average
student, a daydreamer who might have been a scholar
if she'd only applied herself. She liked sappy music
and romance novels. She liked pies and cake
instead of fruit.
The Queen remained the fairest in the land.
It was hard on Snow, having such a glamorous mom.
She rebelled by wearing torn shawls and baggy gowns.
Her mother would sometimes say, "Snow darling,
why don't you pull back your hair? Show those pretty eyes?"
or "Come on, I'll take you shopping."
staying in her safe room, looking out of her window
at the deer leaping across the lawn. Or she'd practice
her dance moves with invisible princes. And the Queen,
busy being Queen, didn't like to push it.
Denise Duhamel |
They decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin
over Ken's bulging neck socket. His wide jaw line jostles
atop his girlfriend's body, loosely,
like one of those novelty dogs
destined to gaze from the back windows of cars.
The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance.
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips,
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.
With only the vaguest suggestion of genitals,
all the alluring qualities they possess as fashion dolls,
up until now, have done neither of them much good.
But suddenly Barbie is excited looking at her own body
under the weight of Ken's face. He is part circus freak,
part thwarted hermaphrodite. And she is imagining
she is somebody else-- maybe somebody middle class and ordinary,
maybe another teenage model being caught in a scandal.
The night had begun with Barbie getting angry
at finding Ken's blow up doll, folded and stuffed
under the couch. He was defensive and ashamed, especially about
not having the breath to inflate her. But after a round
of pretend-tears, Barbie and Ken vowed to try
to make their relationship work. With their good memories
as sustaining as good food, they listened to late-night radio
talk shows, one featuring Doctor Ruth. When all else fails,
just hold each other, the small sex therapist crooned.
Barbie and Ken, on cue, groped in the dark,
their interchangeable skin glowing, the color of Band-Aids.
Then, they let themselves go-- Soon Barbie was begging Ken
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her
on the kitcen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.
Richard Brautigan |
THE PUDDING MASTER OF
Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of the
lake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled with
thousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shore
and busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.
The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction. They
should have been made into a National Monument. Swimming
close to shore, like children they believed in their own im-
A third-year student in engineering at the University of
Montana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he went
about it all wrong. So did the children who came on the
Fourth of July weekend.
The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch the
minnows with their hands. They also used milk cartons and
plastic bags. They presented the lake with hours of human
effort. Their total catch was one minnow. It jumped out of a
can full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp-
ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on the
The mother apologized. She was supposed to be watching
the fish --THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE-- holding the
dead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a young
Jewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.
The third-year student in engineering at the University of
Montana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design of
holes in the can, the design running around and around in
circles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth. Then he
attached some string to the can and put a huge salmon egg
and a piece of Swiss cheese in the can. After two hours of
intimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula,
The woman who travels with me discovered the best way
to catch the minnows. She used a large pan that had in its
bottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding. She put the
pan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun-
dreds of minnows gathered around. Then, mesmerized by
the vanilla pudding, they swam like a children's crusade
into the pan. She caught twenty fish with one dip. She put
the pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played with
the fish for an hour.
We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaning
on them a little. We didn't want her to kill any of them be-
cause she was too young.
Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidly
to the difference between animals and fish, and was soon
making a silver sound.
She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at it
for a while. We took the fish out of her hand and put it back
into the pan. After a while she was putting the fish back by
Then she grew tired of this. She tipped the pan over and
a dozen fish flopped out onto the shore. The children's game
and the banker's game, she picked up those silver things,
one at a time, and put them back in the pan. There was still
a little water in it. The fish liked this. You could tell.
When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in the
lake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous. I doubt if
they will ever want vanilla pudding again.
ROOM 208, HOTEL
TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA
Half a block from Broadway and Columbus is Hotel Trout
Fishing in America, a cheap hotel. It is very old and run by
some Chinese. They are young and ambitious Chinese and
the lobby is filled with the smell of Lysol.
The Lysol sits like another guest on the stuffed furniture
reading a copy of the Chronicle, the Sports Section. It is the
only furniture I have ever seen in my life that looks like baby
And the Lysol sits asleep next to an old Italian pensioner
who listens to the heavy ticking of the clock and dreams of
eternity's golden pasta, sweet basil and Jesus Christ.
The Chinese are always doing something to the hotel. One
week they paint a lower banister and the next week they put
some new wallpaper on part of the third floor.
No matter how many times you pass that part of the third
floor, you cannot remember the color of the wallpaper or
what the design is. All you know is that part of the wallpaper
is new. It is different from the old wallpaper. But you can-
not remember what that looks like either.
One day the Chinese take a bed out of a room and lean it
up against the wall. It stays there for a month. You get used
to seeing it and then you go by one day and it is gone. You
wonder where it went.
I remember the first time I went inside Hotel Trout Fish-
ing in America. It was with a friend to meet some people.
"I'11 tell you what's happening, " he said. "She's an ex-
hustler who works for the telephone company. He went to
medical school for a while during the Great Depression and
then he went into show business. After that, he was an errand
boy for an abortion mill in Los Angeles. He took a fall and
did some time in San Quentin.
"I think you'll like them. They're good people.
"He met her a couple of years ago in North Beach. She
was hustling for a spade pimp. It's kind of weird. Most
women have the temperament to be a whore, but she's one
of these rare women who just don't have it--the whore tem-
perament. She's Negro, too.
"She was a teenage girl living on a farm in Oklahoma. The
pimp drove by one afternoon and saw her playing in the front
yard. He stopped his car and got out and talked to her father
for a while.
"I guess he gave her father some money. He came up
with something good because her father told her to go and
get her things. So she went with the pimp. Simple as that.
"He took her to San Francisco and turned her out and she
hated it. He kept her in line by terrorizing her all the time.
He was a real sweetheart.
"She had some brains, so he got her a job with the tele-
phone company during the day, and he had her hustling at
"When Art took her away from him, he got pretty mad. A
good thing and all that. He used to break into Art's hotel
room in the middle of the night and put a switchblade to Art's
throat and rant and rave. Art kept putting bigger and bigger
locks on the door, but the pimp just kept breaking in--a huge
"So Art went out and got a .32 pistol, and the next time
the pimp broke in, Art pulled the gun out from underneath
the covers and jammed it into the pimp's mouth and said,
'You'll be out of luck the next time you come through that
door, Jack.' This broke the pimp up. He never went back.
The pimp certainly lost a good thing.
"He ran up a couple thousand dollars worth of bills in her
name, charge accounts and the like. They're still paying
"The pistol's right there beside the bed, just in case the
pimp has an attack of amnesia and wants to have his shoes
shined in a funeral parlor.
"When we go up there, he'll drink the wine. She won't.
She'Il'have a little bottle of brandy. She won't offer us any
of it. She drinks about four of them a day. Never buys a fifth.
She always keeps going out and getting another half-pint.
"That's the way she handles it. She doesn't talk very much,
and she doesn't make any bad scenes. A good-looking woman, r
My friend knocked on the door and we could hear some-
body get up off the bed and come to the door.
"Who's there?" said a man on the other side.
"Me," my friend said, in a voice deep and recognizable
as any name.
"I'11 open the door. " A simple declarative sentence. He
undid about a hundred locks, bolts and chains and anchors
and steel spikes and canes filled with acid, and then the
door opened like the classroom of a great university and
everything was in its proper place: the gun beside the bed
and a small bottle of brandy beside an attractive Negro woman,
There were many flowers and plants growing in the room,
some of them were on the dresser, surrounded by old photo-
graphs. All of the photographs were of white people, includ-
ing Art when he was young and handsome and looked just like
There were pictures of animals cut out of magazines and
tacked to the wall, with crayola frames drawn around them
and crayola picture wires drawn holding them to the wall.
They were pictures of kittens and puppies. They looked just
There was a bowl of goldfish next to the bed, next to the
gun. How religious and intimate the goldfish and the gun
They had a cat named 208. They covered the bathroom
floor with newspaper and the cat crapped on the newspaper.
My friend said that 208 thought he was the only cat left in the
world, not having seen another cat since he was a tiny kitten.
They never let him out of the room. He was a red cat and
very aggressive. When you played with that cat, he really
bit you. Stroke 208's fur and he'd try to disembowel your
hand as if it were a belly stuffed full of extra soft intestines.
We sat there and drank and talked about books. Art had
owned a lot of books in Los Angeles, but they were all gone
now. He told us that he used to spend his spare time in sec-
ondhand bookstores buying old and unusual books when he
was in show business, traveling from city to city across
America. Some of them were very rare autographed books,
he told us, but he had bought them for very little and was
forced to sell them for very little.
They'd be worth a lot of money now, " he said.
The Negro woman sat there very quietly studying her
brandy. A couple of times she said yes, in a sort of nice
way. She used the word yes to its best advantage, when sur-
rounded by no meaning and left alone from other words.
They did their own cooking in the room and had a single
hot plate sitting on the floor, next to half a dozen plants, in-
cluding a peach tree growing in a coffee can. Their closet
was stuffed with food. Along with shirts, suits and dresses,
were canned goods, eggs and cooking oil.
My friend told me that she was a very fine cook. That
she could really cook up a good meal, fancy dishes, too, on
that single hot plate, next to the peach tree.
They had a good world going for them. He had such a soft
voice and manner that he worked as a private nurse for rich
mental patients. He made good money when he worked, but
sometimes he was sick himself. He was kind of run down.
She was still working for the telephone company, but she
wasn't doing that night work any more.
They were still paying off the bills that pimp had run up.
I mean, years had passed and they were still paying them
off: a Cadillac and a hi-fi set and expensive clothes and all
those things that Negro pimps do love to have.
Z went back there half a dozen times after that first meet-
ing. An interesting thing happened. I pretended that the cat,
208, was named after their room number, though I knew that
their number was in the three hundreds. The room was on
the third floor. It was that simple.
I always went to their room following the geography of
Hotel Trout Fishing in America, rather than its numerical
layout. I never knew what the exact number of their room
was. I knew secretly it was in the three hundreds and that
Anyway, it was easier for me to establish order in my
mind by pretending that the cat was named after their room
number. It seemed like a good idea and the logical reason
for a cat to have the name 208. It, of course, was not true.
It was a fib. The cat's name was 208 and the room number
was in the three hundreds.
Where did the name 208 come from? What did it mean? I
thought about it for a while, hiding it from the rest of my
mind. But I didn't ruin my birthday by secretly thinking about
it too hard.
A year later I found out the true significance of 208's
name, purely by accident. My telephone rang one Saturday
morning when the sun was shining on the hills. It was a
close friend of mine and he said, "I'm in the slammer. Come
and get me out. They're burning black candles around the
drunk tank. "
I went down to the Hall of Justice to bail my friend out,
and discovered that 208 is the room number of the bail office,
It was very simple. I paid ten dollars for my friend's life
and found the original meaning of 208, how it runs like melt-
ing snow all the way down the mountainside to a small cat
living and playing in Hotel Trout Fishing in America, believ-
ing itself to be the last cat in the world, not having seen
another cat in such a long time, totally unafraid, newspaper
spread out all over the bathroom floor, and something good
cooking on the hot plate.
I watched my day begin on Little Redfish Lake as clearly as
the first light of dawn or the first ray of the sunrise, though
the dawn and the sunrise had long since passed and it was
now late in the morning.
The surgeon took a knife from the sheath at his belt and
cut the throat of the chub with a very gentle motion, showing
poetically how sharp the knife was, and then he heaved the
fish back out into the lake.
The chub made an awkward dead splash and obeyed allthe
traffic laws of this world SCHOOL ZONE SPEED 25 MILES
and sank to the cold bottom of the lake. It lay there white
belly up like a school bus covered with snow. A trout swam
over and took a look, just putting in time, and swam away.
The surgeon and I were talking about the AMA. I don't
know how in the hell we got on the thing, but we were on it.
Then he wiped the knife off and put it back in the sheath. I
actually don't know how we got on the AMA.
The surgeon said that he had spent twenty-five years be-
coming a doctor. His studies had been interrupted by the
Depression and two wars. He told me that he would give up
the practice of medicine if it became socialized in America.
"I've never turned away a patient in my life, and I've
never known another doctor who has. Last year I wrote off
six thousand dollars worth of bad debts, " he said.
I was going to say that a sick person should never under
any conditions be abad debt, but I decided to forget it. Noth-
ing was going to be proved or changed on the shores of Little
Redfish Lake, and as that chub had discovered, it was not a
good place to have cosmetic surgery done.
"I worked three years ago for a union in Southern Utah
that had a health plan, " the surgeon said. "I would not care
to practice medicine under such conditions. The patients
think they own you and your time. They think you're their
own personal garbage can.
"I'd be home eating dinner and the telephone would ring,
'Help ! Doctor ! I'm dying! It's my stomach ! I've got horrible
pains !' I would get up from my dinner and rush over there.
"The guy would meet me at the door with a can of beer in
his hand. 'Hi, dec, come on in. I'11 get you a beer. I'm
watching TV. The pain is all gone. Great, huh? I feel like a
million. Sit down. I'11 get you a beer, dec. The Ed Sullivan
"No thank you, " the surgeon said. "I wouldn't care to
practice medicine under such conditions. No thank you. No
"I like to hunt and I like to fish, " he said. "That's why I
moved to Twin Falls. I'd heard so much about Idaho hunting
and fishing. I've been very disappointed. I've given up my
practice, sold my home in Twin, and now I'm looking for a
new place to settle down.
"I've written to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexi-
co, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington for
their hunting and fishing regulations, and I'm studying them
all, " he said.
"I've got enough money to travel around for six months,
looking for a place to settle down where the hunting and fish-
ing is good. I'11 get twelve hundred dollars back in income
tax returns by not working any more this year. That's two
hundred a month for not working. I don't understand this
country, " he said.
The surgeon's wife and children were in a trailer nearby.
The trailer had come in the night before, pulled by a brand-
new Rambler station wagon. He had two children, a boy two-
and-a-half years old and the other, an infant born premature-
ly, but now almost up to normal weight.
The surgeon told me that they'd come over from camping
on Big Lost River where he had caught a fourteen-inch brook
trout. He was young looking, though he did not have much
hair on his head.
I talked to the surgeon for a little while longer and said
good-bye. We were leaving in the afternoon for Lake Josephus
located at the edge of the Idaho Wilderness, and he was leav-
ing for America, often only a place in the mind.
A NOTE ON THE CAMPING
CRAZE THAT IS CURRENTLY
As much as anything else, the Coleman lantern is the sym-
bol of the camping craze that is currently sweeping America,
with its unholy white light burning in the forests of America.
Last summer, a Mr. Norris was drinking at a bar in San
Francisco. It was Sunday night and he'd had six or seven.
Turning to the guy on the next stool, he said, "What are you
"Just having a few, " the guy said.
"That's what I'm doing, " Mr. Norris said. "I like it. "
"I know what you mean, " the guy said. "I had to lay off
for a couple years. I'm just starting up again. "
"What was wrong?" Mr. Norris said.
"I had a hole in my liver, " the guy said.
"In your liver?"
"Yeah, the doctor said it was big enough to wave a flag
in. It's better now. I can have a couple once in a while. I'm
not supposed to, but it won't kill me. "
"Well, I'm thirty-two years old, " Mr. Norris said. "I've
had three wives and I can't remember the names of my child-
The guy on the next stool, like a bird on the next island,
took a sip from his Scotch and soda. The guy liked the sound
of the alcohol in his drink. He put the glass back on the bar.
"That's no problem, " he said to Mr. Norris. "The best
thing I know for remembering the names of children from
previous marriages, is to go out camping, try a little trout
fishing. Trout fishing is one of the best things in the world
for remembering children's names."
"Is that right?" Mr. Norris said.
"Yeah, " the guy said.
"That sounds like an idea, " Mr. Norris said. "I've got to
do something. Sometimes I think one of them is named Carl,
but that's impossible. My third-ex hated the name Carl. "
"You try some camping and that trout fishing, " the guy
on the next stool said. "And you'll remember the names of
Your unborn children. "
"Carl! Carl! Your mother wants you!" Mr. Norris yelled
as a kind of joke, then he realized that it wasn't very funny.
He was getting there.
He'd have a couple more and then his head would always
fall forward and hit the bar like a gunshot. He'd always miss
his glass, so he wouldn't cut his face. His head would always
jump up and look startled around the bar, people staring at
it. He'd get up then, and take it home.
The next morning Mr. Norris went down to a sporting
goods store and charged his equipment. He charged a 9 x 9
foot dry finish tent with an aluminum center pole. Then he
charged an Arctic sleeping bag filled with eiderdown and an
air mattress and an air pillow to go with the sleeping bag.
He also charged an air alarm clock to go along with the idea
of night and waking in the morning.
He charged a two-burner Coleman stove and a Coleman
lantern and a folding aluminum table and a big set of inter-
locking aluminum cookware and a portable ice box.
The last things he charged were his fishing tackle and a
bottle of insect repellent.
He left the next day for the mountains.
Hours later, when he arrived in the mountains, the first
sixteen campgrounds he stopped at were filled with people.
He was a little surprised. He had no idea the mountains
would be so crowded.
At the seventeenth campground, a man had just died of a
heart attack and the ambulance attendants were taking down
his tent. They lowered the center pole and then pulled up the
corner stakes. They folded the tent neatly and put it in the
back of the ambulance, right beside the man's body.
They drove off down the road, leaving behind them in the
air, a cloud of brilliant white dust. The dust looked like the
light from a Coleman lantern.
Mr. Norris pitched his tent right there and set up all his
equipment and soon had it all going at once. After he finished
eating a dehydrated beef Stroganoff dinner, he turned off all
his equipment with the master air switch and went to sleep,
for it was now dark.
It was about midnight when they brought the body and
placed it beside the tent, less than a foot away from where
Mr. Norris was sleeping in his Arctic sleeping bag.
He was awakened when they brought the body. They weren't
exactly the quietest body bringers in the world. Mr. Norris
could see the bulge of the body against the side of the tent.
The only thing that separated him from the dead body was a
thin layer of 6 oz. water resistant and mildew resistant DRY
FINISH green AMERIFLEX poplin.
Mr. Norris un-zipped his sleeping bag and went outside
with a gigantic hound-like flashlight. He saw the body bring-
ers walking down the path toward the creek.
"Hey, you guys !" Mr. Norris shouted. "Come back here.
You forgot something. "
"What do you mean?" one of them said. They both looked
very sheepish, caught in the teeth of the flashlight.
"You know what I mean," Mr. Norris said. "Right now!"
The body bringers shrugged their shoulders, looked at
each other and then reluctantly went back, dragging their
feet like children all the way. They picked up the body. It
was heavy and one of them had trouble getting hold of the feet.
That one said, kind of hopelessly to Mr. Norris, "You
won't change your mind?"
"Goodnight and good-bye, " Mr. Norris said.
They went off down the path toward the creek, carrying
the body between them. Mr. Norris turned his flashlight off
and he could hear them, stumbling over the rocks along the
bank of the creek. He could hear them swearing at each other.
He heard one of them say, "Hold your end up.'' Then he
couldn't hear anything.
About ten minutes later he saw all sorts of lights go on at
another campsite down along the creek. He heard a distant
voice shouting, "The answer is no ! You already woke up the
kids. They have to have their rest. We're going on a four-
mile hike tomorrow up to Fish Konk Lake. Try someplace
John Berryman |
I am the little man who smokes & smokes.
I am the girl who does know better but.
I am the king of the pool.
I am so wise I had my mouth sewn shut.
I am a government official & a goddamned fool.
I am a lady who takes jokes.
I am the enemy of the mind.
I am the auto salesman and lÃ³ve you.
I am a teenage cancer, with a plan.
I am the blackt-out man.
I am the woman powerful as a zoo.
I am two eyes screwed to my set, whose blindâ€”
It is the Fourth of July.
Collect: while the dying man,
forgone by you creator, who forgives,
is gasping 'Thomas Jefferson still lives'
in vain, in vain, in vain.
I am Henry Pussy-cat! My whiskers fly.