The Ballad of the One Armed Boatman

They say that outfitters are pretty much the same,
But this one dude’s different.
I’ll not mention his name.
For the sake of this little story we’ll just call him Spike.

If you’ve rowed for the man you’ll know the guy
He’ll pinch a penny till old Lincoln will cry.
A real conservative S. O. B.

If you could cut a corner old Spike would.
His boats are all patches. He don’t feed so good.
His equipment is just plain junk.
But what ever it’s condition it has to suffice.
What everyone else uses once old Spike uses twice.
Even recycles the toilet bags.
Washes ‘em out by hand.

Now he’s done lots of cheap things that I can recall,
But the one that really topped them all,
Was when he hired that one armed boatman.

Spike said, “This man can row for me any day.
Half the work, half the pay.
Saves on oars. Cuts down on expenses.”

Now this one armed man he didn’t concede much.
He was big and brawny. We called him ‘Dutch’.
He was one stubborn devil.

We were rigging up to put on Grand.
He did all right with just one hand.
Pitched right in there and worked.

All went well until it was time to go.
Old Dutch sat there all ready to row.
We shoved them boats out in the stream.
It was a beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky.
Them other boats just slipped right by.
They flat went off and left us.

Dutch was rowing hard. He was rowing fast.
A little gal said, “Six times that rock’s gone past.
I think we’re going around in circles.”

Dutch said, “Now don’t you mind.
I never was the giving up kind.
I’ll get her straightened out.”

Then he devised a system and he got going.
He was doing more spinning than he was rowing.
It was push on an oar then whirl on your butt and pull.
We were beginning to wonder how much he could stand.
The blisters he was getting weren’t on his hand,
But he just wouldn’t quit.

Up ahead a big rapid was heard.
Everyone was worried but said not a word.
We didn’t want to upset the boatman.

Old Dutch stood up and then he looked faint.
He grabbed for an oar where an arm there ain’t.
We slid into that rapid sideways.

The boat did a flip and we all went swimmin’.
It was every man for himself and to hell with the women.
God but that water was cold!

We bobbed around and then started to swim.
Every one climbed out except for him.
He just floated away going around and around.

Just before he disappeared out of sight,
This little gal yelled with all her might,
“Yoo hoo! You are going around in circles again!”

Spike said:

“Sure hate to lose old Dutch.
Hell of a good worker. Didn’t complain much.
Wasn’t even all that big an eater.”

Now I was over in Vegas one night last year,
Just sitting around drinking beer.
Looking at a little leg. Staring at boobs.

Got to talking to this local Joe.
Right sharp fellow seemed in the know.
He told me this little story.
He said:

“You know I saw the damnedest thing
Out in the middle of Mead last spring.
This joker was just swimming around and around in circles.”

“Didn’t really pay him too much mind.
He was one of them hairy hippie kind.
Could have been one of those crazy boatmen.”

“Don’t know how long he had been in the drink.
He was all shrivelled up like he was starting to shrink.
If you can picture a fuzzy prune, that’s him.”

“Didn’t hang around there very long.
Fish weren’t biting. Something was wrong.
They could have been dizzy from watching.”

“For this dude was just swimming around and around.
Sure as hell wasn’t gaining any ground.
I revved it up and got out of there.”

Now I figured it was old Dutch swimming around.
Anyone else would go ahead and drown.
As I said before. He was one stubborn devil.

So if you ever go out to fry and bake,
Or whatever they do on that damned lake.
Keep an eye out for my old friend.

He’ll be swimming in circles as sure as hell.
As you speed by, just wave and yell.
Tell him I said to say ‘Hello’.

Vaughn Short
Two Worlds


   At long last, Vaughn’s long promised second book of verse, Two Worlds, is out. The above poem, part of the Spike Trilogy, is joined by two dozen other poems and prose introductions.

   It is available at Marble Canyon, Back of Beyond Books in Moab or by mail from Vaughn (6635 N. Desert View, Tucson, AZ 85743) for $9.95 + $1.50 postage. His first book, Raging River, Lonely Trail is available as well for the same price.