OE Classics: Excerpted from “Trout Fishing in America” by Richard Brautigan

Poetry, Prose


Trout Fishing in America was originally published in 1967. It can be purchased from our friends at Powell’s here.

credit: litkicks.com
credit: litkicks.com



How the Cobra Lily traps insects is a ballet for Trout Fishing in America, a ballet to be performed at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The plant is beside me here on the back porch.

It died a few days after I bought it at Woolworth’s. That was months ago, during the presidential election of nineteen hundred and sixty.

I buried the plant in an empty Metrical can.

The side of the can says, “Metrical Dietary for Weight Control,” and below that reads, “Ingredients: Non-fat milk solids, soya flour, whole milk solids, sucrose, starch, corn oil, coconut oil, yeast, imitation vanilla” but the can’s only a graveyard now for a Cobra Lily that has turned dry and brown and has black freckles.

As a kind of funeral wreath, there is a red, white and blue button sticking in the plant and the words on it say, “I’m for Nixon.”

The main energy for the ballet comes from a description of  the Cobra Lily. The description could he used as a welcome mat on the front porch of hell or to conduct an orchestra of mortuaries with ice-cold woodwinds or be an atomic mailman in the pines, in the pines where the sun never shines.

“Nature has endowed the Cobra Lily with the means of catching its own food. The forked tongue is covered with honey glands which attract the insects upon which it feeds. Once inside the hood, downward pointing hairs prevent the insect from crawling out. The digestive liquids are found in the base of the plant.

“The supposition that it is necessary to feed the Cobra Lily a piece of hamburger of an insect daily is erroneous.”

I hop the dancers do a good job of it, they hold our imagination in their feet, dancing in Los Angeles for Trout Fishing in America.



The autumn carried along with it, like the roller coaster of a flesh-eating plant, port wine and the people who drank that dark sweet wine, people long since gone, except for me.

Always wary of the police, we drank in the safest place we could find, the park across from the church.

There were three poplar trees in the middle of the park and there was a statue of Benjamin Franklin in front of the trees. We sat there and drank port.

At home my wife was pregnant.

I would call on the telephone after I finished work and say “I won’t be home for a little while, I’m going to have a drink with some friends.”

The three of us huddled in the park, talking. They were both broken-down artists from New Orleans where they had drawn pictures of tourists in Pirate’s Alley.

Now in San Francisco, with the cold autumn wind upon them, they had decided that the future held only two directions: They were either going to open up a flea circus or commit themselves to an insane asylum.

So they talked about it while they drank wine.

They talked about how to make little clothes for fleas by pasting pieces of colored paper on their backs.

They said the way that you trained fleas was to make them dependent on you for food. This was done by letting them feed off you at an appointed hour.

They talked about making little flea wheelbarrows and pool tables and bicycles.

The would charge fifty-cents admission for their flea circus. The business was certain to have a future to it. Perhaps they would even get on the Ed Sullivan Show.

They of course did not have their fleas yet, but they could easily be obtained from a white cat.

Then they decided that the fleas that lived on Siamese cats would probably be more intelligent than the fleas that lived on just ordinary alley cats. It only made sense that drinking intelligent blood would make intelligent fleas.

And so it went on until it was exhausted and we went and bought another fifth of port wine and returned to the trees and Benjamin Franklin.

Now it was close to sunset and the death was beginning to cool off in the correct manner of eternity and office girls were returning like penguins from Montgomery Street. They looked at us hurriedly and mentally registered: winos.

Then the two artists talked about committing themselves to an insane asylum for the winter. They talked about how warm it would be in the insane asylum, with television, clean sheets on soft beds, hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes, a dance once a week with the lady kooks, clean clothes, a locked razor and lovely young student nurses.

Ah, yes, there was a future in the insane asylum. No winter spent there could be a total loss.