THE FISHING KING

 

for Dick Hugo

 

You drove here to catch a Superior fish,

got snagged in The Montana Bar.

This bartender knows your word is good

for nothing, runs you a tab all cutthroat feel

is wrong as shadow ghosts on a stream

and cracked as your life—an honest need

to lie about sizes of fish you’ve caught

and women you’ve never had. Maybe

you’ll write her a poem some day you tell

the skirt two stools away who noses

your artsy Royal Wolf—cast like a spell

on a beaver pond, always dim as your opinion

or the mirror at closing time.

 

When you order two Turkeys and beer backs,

she asks where you plan on dipping your worm.

You curse her ancestors, her children and dog,

tell her you’re proud of your rhythm and fly,

don’t cotton to vulgar slugs or slime

that sully the graves of true fishermen

and swear you’ll piss on the bejesus bar

if she keeps talking trash or bait.

The brazen twitch steals your keys

when the bartender points to the door.

 

The air outside, stifling when you came

opens lilac in her hair. She suggests you try

her night crawler with a little taste of corn

and drives you fast to the mouth of Trout Creek,

points out her favorite hole. You cast,

retrieve, cast, retrieve, cast, then let it go.

Your fly rides the current slow, before a Rainbow

flashes and dances—tail fin arcing the sky.

The hook is set. You play it long, till it rolls

its heaving side. She opens her Busch

in cottonwood shade and sucks a Lucky Strike.

 

Her wink tells more than crippled words—

you know your rod and line. You finish

the beer and afternoon, drive her back to

the Four Aces Saloon where a run of jacks

could drown. You head for Chet’s in Alberton

on the frontage road you know for sure

will never lead you home.

 

When your tongue wakes gray at Forest Grove,

the moon is full and blue as your Buick

flirting with suicide, halfway down the boat ramp,

its grill in soothing tide. Your head throbs

like a knife wound as you search for the roll

of twenties gone and know you’ll never find.

You think her name was Brooke. No.

Wasn’t it Dolly Brown? A damn good catch

for a fat clown who calls all water pain.

 

You remember her skin, those golden spots—

pretty as they come, and admit your pole

could never again stand up to her spinning dare.

Your silly grimace begs a smile you want

to wear back to town. Forget this river,

your pride and youth you sold for cheap disdain.

You know reverse like hangovers

will take you back to war. Inside you’re still

the shriveled worm good booze won’t let you

ignore. She left you dry as rotting carp

pitched high into the weeds—rank air

you crave like your broken need

to snare this poem or that Superior girl

who claimed you both a Missoula sucker

and The Clark Fork Fishing King.

 

Mark Gibbons

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