Read. Think. Write.
Charles Bukowski has been dead for a long time, some eighteen years to be exact. Yet, I often think of him; one of the few who did not just write poetry … he lived the poetry.
Mixed with alcohol, (when first introduced to the mighty substance as a teen he reportedly remarked: ‘This is going to help me for a very long time’), it ran through his veins, saturated his life, and made him one of the greatest poets and writers!
Stink and decay, virtue and sin, love and hate … it all pulsates inside his work as it reflects human conditions in the world he witnessed. And this is the most sacred of all of the writers and poets sacred duties; to bear witness. To announce and denounce. To record. To be humanity’s eyes and ears.
Charles knew that. He also knew that a poet can not, will not buy his daily bread from a regular pay-check. Clock in at nine and clock out at five. Open the door inside the picket fence and manicured lawn in suburbia.
When his early efforts at publishing did not amount to much, he quit writing for a decade, time he letter referred to as a ‘ten-year drunk’. He worked sporadically in pickled factory, post office, and roamed across America, sleeping in a cheap rooming houses … until he accepted an offer from John Martin of Black Sparrow Press publisher and quit his post office job to write full-time. He was 49 years old … as he explained: ‘I have one of two choices; stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.’ Less than a month later he finished his first novel: ‘Post Office’!
Every single work-day morning I remember you dear Charles, and those words of yours! I sometimes get so angry at my own cowardice that I even think of your real name, you know the one your parents gave you at birth – Heinrich Karl and which did not sound all that charming and poetic and bohemian as Charles did! Or how neighboring kids tormented you because of your German accent and the clothes your parents made you ware. Here, … that is how much impotent rage and useless jealousy I can feel! Just to think of you in the early work-day morning. Because it was you who also said:
Oh you dear, old, dead bastard … how right you were! How intimately you understood the real nature of working class drudgery! And impossibility of courting one’s real passion around the edges of life, to indulge in it when so-called respectable life permits, like one does with one’s mistress!
And speaking of mistresses, didn’t you just loved them! You gave them all self, even if for just a night. A lot has been written by various people about your so-called affairs and one-night trysts. But you and I both know that you really did love them, even if for just one night! How could you not? They were essential to poetry! After the certain 23-year old redhead you wrote a book of poetry as a tribute to her, titled: ‘Scarlet’. A ‘Women’ was also a tribute to a certain lover.
My dear dead Charles, they do not make them like you any more … and so likes of me have only your poems to look up to and lust after.
And so here is the one I love best … for all the reasons we already know.
A 340 Dollar Horse And A Hundred Dollar Whore
don’t ever get the idea I am a poet; you can see me
at the racetrack any day half drunk
betting quarters, sidewheelers and straight thoroughs,
but let me tell you, there are some women there
who go where the money goes, and sometimes when you
look at these whores these onehundreddollar whores
you wonder sometimes if nature isn’t playing a joke
dealing out so much breast and ass and the way
it’s all hung together, you look and you look and
you look and you can’t believe it; there are ordinary women
and then there is something else that wants to make you
tear up paintings and break albums of Beethoven
across the back of the john; anyhow, the season
was dragging and the big boys were getting busted,
all the non-pros, the producers, the cameraman,
the pushers of Mary, the fur salesman, the owners
themselves, and Saint Louie was running this day:
a sidewheeler that broke when he got in close;
he ran with his head down and was mean and ugly
and 35 to 1, and I put a ten down on him.
the driver broke him wide
took him out by the fence where he’d be alone
even if he had to travel four times as far,
and that’s the way he went it
all the way by the outer fence
traveling two miles in one
and he won like he was mad as hell
and he wasn’t even tired,
and the biggest blonde of all
all ass and breast, hardly anything else
went to the payoff window with me.
that night I couldn’t destroy her
although the springs shot sparks
and they pounded on the walls.
later she sat there in her slip
drinking Old Grandad
and she said
what’s a guy like you doing
living in a dump like this?
and I said
I’m a poet
and she threw back her beautiful head and laughed.
you? you . . . a poet?
I guess you’re right, I said, I guess you’re right.
but still she looked good to me, she still looked good,
and all thanks to an ugly horse
who wrote this poem.