Bukowski started it, got drunk and picked a fight with John Muir. He didn’t want to fight for any ideological reason—it was just somehow what he needed, to get drunk, be an asshole, and pick a fight he wouldn’t win, didn’t want to win. But he supposed if he was going to get all pretentious about it, then for fuck’s sake, this was his ideology, because while it didn’t make him feel better, it was exactly what the 9-year-old boy trapped in the empty well of his spirit needed to feel. He was doing it for the kid.
Dick Hugo was driving down the gravel road when he saw the ruckus. Much like Bukowski, Dick found the thought of any drunk winning a brawl too much to bear. So he postponed the destruction of the old town he was heading for and pulled over to see if he could take a few punches.
By this time, Bukowski had already thrown in the towel. He was sitting in the dirt, panting, legs outstretched, serene. He was as base and ugly as always, and he felt renewed. Muir, on the other hand, had won the fight, but was sporting a nasty gash over his left water ouzel.
Hugo loaded Muir into the passenger seat, threw the Buick in reverse and flipped it around in a cloud of dust, speeding back up the road to Whitman’s.
Whitman dressed Muir’s wound and sent him and Hugo on their way, with fresh bread, hot coffee, and warm hugs and kisses. When his guests were down the road, Whitman wrote a long letter to Neruda declaring the astonishment of his love for Hugo and Muir, who were off to find Bukowski. They were going to give Hank a ride to the nearest tavern and make him buy them both a pint and a shot.
It was Sunday afternoon. Neruda had just finished straightening the house. He was reheating some leftover fish (salmon with a creamy lemon-dill sauce) while he read Whitman’s letter. He ate his lunch, which was delicious, and thought of writing a poem about the salt in the salt shaker, maybe the spiky haired salt crystal had joined with the peppercorn to make creamy lemon-dill love to the fish on his plate. He laughed softly—that was a poem he wouldn’t be writing. But the fish he ate for lunch had already turned back toward the sea. Less than an hour after eating, he was ill, barely making it to the toilet.