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.