the pelicans

as times get hard
the nerves shorten

we’re still paying
on the boat

bait prices way
up
and the damn
pelicans
keep diving in
grabbing bait and
hook
which we are
dragging

those birds are
dumb fuckers
really
you ought to see
their eyes like
I see their
eyes:
zero blots of
stupidity

as they grab bait
and hook they are
caught on the line
like idiot kites
flapping

we slice the line
cut them loose
and they fly off
with
hook and bait

then we have to
haul in
re-hook
re-bait

price of hook,
line, bait
are up 45%
from
two years
ago

…and here they come
again
some of the same
ones…
hooks dangling out of
their beaks
they take bait and
hook again
and we cut them
loose and
try it
again…

3 fisheries have closed
down in the last
6 months
and everytime I look
around
there are more
boats
competing for the
fish
and more
pelicans
some of them
dangling 3 or 4 hooks
from their beaks…

and what fish we do
bring in
the remaining fisheries
bid us half of
what they used
to–
hard times
more boats
more
pelicans…

I’m 3 months behind
in my condo payments
and I can’t sell
because there aren’t
any buyers
and I’m in the middle of
a divorce
and my wife wants half
of everything
which I don’t even
own
and to keep her from
taking what isn’t even
mine
my lawyer gets
what
there really is

and I could tell you
similar stores about
the other guys working
this boat
worse maybe–
like Mack, his girlfriend
torched his car and
half his house
because she found out
he caught a blow job
from some crazy coked-
out airline hostess
under the pier
and so far he hasn’t been
able to collect any
insurance on the house or
the car
and is living at this
crackerjack
motel

and the pelicans keep
coming in
there’s no chance
you should see their
indelicate eyes
looney-mad
they can’t help
themselves
they don’t know
but they are taking
the food out of our
mouths, they are
killing
us…

                  II

I remember it…
it was a Wednesday morning
we’d been out since
5 a.m. and
not one catch

the pelicans were dipping
in and out of the
water
grabbing bait and hook
as we cut them loose
re-hooked
re-baited…

we were defeated.
we got into the beer.
9:30 a.m.
and not one catch

there was Mack, me,
Curly and Doug.

“I really hate those
fucking things!” said
Mack.

“they’re like giant
roaches with wings,”
said Curly, “they’re
like giant rats with
wings…”

“they’re eating us down
to skidrow!” said Doug.

he looked up at the
whirling birds
then yelled:  “HERE,
TRY THIS!”

Doug threw his empty
beer can high into the
air

out of the whirl of
pelicans
came a big one
he caught the can
in mid-air
held it
then shook his
head
dropped the can
in disgust
making a very ugly
sound
flapping his wings
angrily…

Doug gave him the
finger:    “ha! not good
enough for you!”

“I HATE THOSE FUCKING
THINGS!” Mack screamed.

he stood up on deck
he had a pint of whiskey
he raised it and took a
good hit
just as a pelican dove
down
and grabbed hook and
bait from one of
our lines…

“OH NO YOU DON’T, YOU PRICK!”
screamed Mack

he grabbed the line
as the pelican looped
upwards
and he began pulling the
line in
like pulling a kite from
the sky
in a high wind

the bird fought back
gamely
great wings bursting
against the sky in
furious energy
but the bird had
swallowed the hook
and he was being
yanked down

Mack reeled him in
closer and closer
until man and bird
were 3 feet
2 feet apart

“YOU PRICK!” Mack
yelled
reached out and
grabbed the bird
by the neck

in a flash of wings
the bird attacked
Mack’s face with talons
and beak

there was a slash of
blood on his face
then he had the bird
against the deck
holding the neck
his knee upon the
body
as the bird thrashed
about with
unbelievable
energy
Mack yelled:   “GIMME
THOSE FUCKING DESK
SHEARS!”

Curly ran over
found the shears
handed them to
Mack

Mack held them
in one hand
said to Curly:
“you hold the wings
and the body!”

“what?”

“do as I say!”

Curly got down
held the wings
the body

Mack put his knee
on the Pelican’s
neck
opened the shears
slid them down
the beak
almost to the
head
then snapped them
shut

the two parts of
the beak
dropped to the
deck

Mack lifted his
knee
said to Curly
who was still
struggling with the
pelican: “o.k., asshole,
let him go…”

the bird rose
awkwardly
into the air in
curious imbalance
then seemed to
find itself
and rushed off
to somewhere…

Mack grinned
took a hit of his
bottle
passed it around and
we cracked some more
beers…

we were ready for the
next pelican
and it came
took hook and
bait

Mack reeled him
in
he protected his
face this
time

and all of us
helped de-beak the
bird this
time

and as he wobbled
off into the sky
Mack yelled, “GOODBYE
MOTHERFUCKER, EAT SHIT
AND DIE!”

we found more whiskey
chased it with
beer

we even caught a few
fish
Doug brought out the
portable radio
and we were able to
get some good rock
music
I preferred country
and western but what
the hell

it was a great
day

it happened again
and again: we
hauled them in
clipped beak and
let them go

it went on for
some time
actually until
there weren’t any
pelicans left

we could have really made
a catch then
but we were too drunk
to care
so we went back
docked it
had a few drinks at
the pier bar
then went to our
separate places…

the next day it was in
the newspapers
about how some “really
sick person must have
done this to the
pelicans…”
it was stated that the
birds could still
eat
but couldn’t catch
fish.
4 of the birds had
been captured and
fitted with
artificial beaks
and the entire
community
the citizens were
outraged….

we had our biggest
catch ever that
day
and so did many of
the other
boats.
the few birds who
snagged on our lines
we cut
them loose.
now we’re waiting for
tomorrow’s newspaper
and don’t know
quite
what to
do.

Author
Charles Bukowski
Written
1982
Source
Original manuscript