A Poem for People who don’t enjoy Poems*

Seventy years had passed before the Prussian-American Charles Bukowski entered my life. (It happened by the beach, at the southernmost tip of our continent: Wamoon was the place’s ancient name.) It was my birthday and an author friend drove three hundred kilometres to present me with the book. I asked him to stay the night. He limped down to the ocean, immersed himself to the waist, then drove back home where he was writing five books at once.

I learned Bukowski belonged to the Dirty Realist movement in Los Angeles. I wasn’t surprised. He had authored over sixty books (five at a time?), one of which was titled, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. On account of that title, the FBI kept an eye on him.

Here’s the first poem to take my eye, ‘Are You Drinking?’

washed up, on shore, the old yellow notebook

out again

I write from the bed

as I did last 

year.

will see the doctor,

Monday.

“yes, doctor, weak legs, vertigo, head-

aches and my back

hurts.”

“are you drinking?” he will ask.

“are you getting your

exercise, your

vitamins?”

I think that I am just ill

with life, the same stale yet

fluctuating 

factors.

My doctor mind interrupts, interprets.

‘Washed up’ – is he depressed?

‘I write from the bed’ – probably depressed.

‘will see the doctor’ – THE doctor, one known to the speaker, one who knows the speaker: is this patient a regular?  a recalcitrant? An incurable? 

‘weak legs’ – alcohol and nutritional neglect will lead to muscle wasting, thin weak legs below the large belly groaning with ascitic fluid;

‘vertigo’ – alcohol again, damaging the back end of the brain;

‘head-

aches’ – the hyphen, why the line change? Who 

knows?

‘and my back

hurts’ – who, in this human herd, has a back that doesn’t hurt? Or a head that doesn’t ache?

‘vitamins’ – often critical and urgent when an alcoholic comes to medical care; nutritional neglect can lead to vitamin B deficiency, with brain damage resulting.

All these items, concrete and specific: Charles writes from personal knowledge. Nothing abstract here.

I read on:

even at the track

I watch the horses run by

and it seems 

meaningless.

I leave early after buying tickets on the

remaining races.

“taking off?” asks the mutuel

clerk.

My wordlover’s mind wonders – mutuel – is this a typographical error?

The dictionary assures me it’s not: this office bearer at the race track checks bets, sells tickets, pays out cash where due. In Australia he’d be a turf accountant, a bookie’s clerk

‘‘… if you think it’s boring

out there”, he tells me, “you oughta be

back here.”

And now, in this moment in the story, in a poem that doesn’t bother to rhyme, that refuses all song, that wastes nought by way of capital letters and punctuation, reserving them for the speech of the doctor and the clerk, now the engine of strong feeling fires:

so here I am

propped against my pillows

again

just an old guy

just an old writer

with a yellow

notebook.

Listen as the engine roars in to high fear: I’m intruding here with bold print:

something is

walking across the floor

toward

me.

Feel Bukowski’s fear. Something which has the power of motion. Some thing, some beast, some force, some terror.

Feel the poet alert, listening, paralysed in his fear. Feel his tension rising, rising, as the something comes nearer and nearer. What does he fear?

What fear is this that drives the poet to drink, that send him again and again to the doctor, what fear is it  that dulls even the power and the thrill of ‘the horses that run by’? 

oh, it’s just

my cat

this 

time

‘this’ 

A space, a breath, a moment grabbed from the fearful something that surely will come –

time’

The fearful something came for Charles Bukowski on March 9, 1994. He was 73 years and seven months old.

Two hours ago in Glenhuntly Road

“Fucking women!”
I walk along the footpath and I hear the words.
The man who speaks the words is tall, well made. He walks alone, with
easy vigour. He might be forty, perhaps fifty years old. He speaks the
words distinctly. He does not raise his voice, but I hear the words as
if he shouted them. They crash my ears as if I were not losing my
hearing, as if I were walking alongside him, facing him, instead of
two paces behind him.

“Fucking women. Walk right into your face, walk right through you. You
give way or they go through you.”

I am alongside now, walking stride for stride. I look straight ahead.
We two are alone in our stretch of pavement. I am the only person
within earshot.

The tall man has not finished shooting: “Fucking bitches!”
He gives the words a cadence – fuc-king bit-ches – as he spits them
out. The man has found his groove and he stays in it, hissing his
words again, again.

I am running late for “Hitler’s Children’, the movie where my
womenfolk await my arrival. I am glad to find that in my haste I
outpace him. His anger, his intensity, his perseveration unnerve me.

I am glad there are no women in sight. I am glad he carries no weapon,
glad for the bright daylight.

As I hurry to my movie I think of Jill Meagher and Sarah Cafferkey,
still in their graves.