“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again
as my life is done in watermelon sugar.”
On 16 September 1984, after a life filled with abuse and mental instability and alcoholism, Richard Brautigan, one of the finest poets and storytellers of the twentieth century, shot himself in a cabin in Bolinas, California. He was so isolated that his body wasn’t found for a month.
There were entire decades during which I read and re-read the complete Brautigan canon every single year. After Dylan Thomas, Richard Brautigan was my most important influence. He was especially valuable to me in giving inspiration and value to my flash fictions and poems. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said of him, “As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naïf, and I don’t think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally.” And there is a deep profundity in that naivete.
I read and re-read the koans that are the stories in “Trout Fishing In America“, the utter tripiness of “In Watermelon Sugar,” the essential genre pastiches such as “The Hawkline Monster,” “Sombrero Fallout,” and “Dreaming of Babylon“, the straightforward vulnerability of “The Abortion.” And the poetry. Every year I read them, for decades.
I just finished “Trout Fishing” and “In Watermelon Sugar” for the first time in a long time, and I may go back to reading Brautigan every year again. He still speaks to me and deserves to be remembered.
He had long ago accepted the loss as permanent,
but that acceptation was merely a gloss, as yet skin deep,
not yet having bled into the very marrow of his being,
nor led him to that place of serenity.
His bitterness lay as deep as the roots of cedar in shale,
following tracks as distant and serpentine as the staged attacks
of true hackers working their miraculous juju through the internet
ether, and forever ending in a sad soiled grace.
And, though he could choose to confuse his loneliness with tragedy –
as if he were the sainted prophet of his own persecuted
exarchate in exile — it was but loneliness nonetheless,
and it hurt as bad as the arrows of martyrdom.