:: Article

Three Poems

By Charles Bukowski.

a poem is a city

a poem is a city filled with streets and sewers
filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen,
filled with banality and booze,
filled with rain and thunder and periods of
drought, a poem is a city at war,
a poem is a city asking a clock why,
a poem is a city burning,
a poem is a city under guns
its barbershops filled with cynical drunks,
a poem is a city where God rides naked
through the streets like Lady Godiva,
where dogs bark at night, and chase away
the flag; a poem is a city of poets,
most of them quite similar
and envious and bitter…
a poem is this city now,
50 miles from nowhere,
9:09 in the morning,
the taste of liquor and cigarettes,
no police, no lovers, walking the streets,
this poem, this city, closing its doors,
barricaded, almost empty,
mournful without tears, aging without pity,
the hardrock mountains,
the ocean like a lavendar flame,
a moon destitute of greatness,
a small music from broken windows…

a poem is a city, a poem is a nation,
a poem is the world…

and now I stick this under glass
for the mad editor’s scrutiny,
and night is elsewhere
and faint gray ladies stand in line,
dog follows dog to estuary,
the trumpets bring on the gallows
as small men rant at things
they cannot do.


the young man on the bus stop bench

he sits all day at the bus stop
at Sunset and Western
his sleeping bag beside him.
he’s dirty.
nobody bothers him.
people leave him alone.
the police leave him alone.
he could be the 2nd coming of Christ
but I doubt it.
the soles of his shoes are completely
he just laces the tops up
and sits and watches traffic.

I remember my own youthful days
(although I traveled lighter)
they were similar:
park benches
street corners
tarpaper shacks in Georgia for
$1.25 a week
not wanting the skid row church
too crazy to apply for relief
daytimes spent laying in public parks
bugs in the grass biting
looking into the sky
little insects whirling above my head
the breathing of white air
just breathing and waiting.

life becomes difficult:
being ignored
and ignoring.
everything turns into white air
the head fills with white air
and as invisible women sit in rooms
with successful bright-eyed young men
conversing brilliantly about everything
your sex drive
vanishes and it really
doesn’t matter.
you don’t want food
you don’t want shelter
you don’t want anything.
sometimes you die
sometimes you don’t.

as I drive past
the young man on the bus stop bench
I am comfortable in my automobile
I have money in two different banks
I own my own home
but he reminds me of my young self
and I want to help him
but I don’t know what to do.

today when I drove past again
he was gone
I suppose finally the world wasn’t
pleased with him being there.

the bench still sits there on the corner
advertising something.


advice for some young man in the year 2064 A.D.

let me speak as a friend
although the centuries hang
between us and neither you nor I
can see the moon

be careful less the onion blind the eye
or the snake sting
or the beetle posses the house
or the lover your wife
or the government your child
or the wine your will
or the doctor your heart
or the butchers your belly
or the cat your chair
or the lawyer your ignorance of the law
or the law dressed as a uniformed man and killing you.

dismiss perfection as an ache of the
but do not give in to the mass modesty of
easy perfection.

and remember
the belly of the whale is laden with
great men.


Charles Bukowski was “the ultimate outsider poet” (Alan Kaufman) “a solitary man and a courageous writer” (Spike Magazine), “a major-league tosspot” (The New York Times) and “a jerk” (Nick Cave). He once, admirably, made up a quote from Jean Genet that he was “America’s greatest poet.” Following Canongate’s reissue of The Pleasures of the Damned: Poems, 1951-1993 and the biography Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life, 3:AM will be shortly running a feature on the poet’s life and legacy.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, January 25th, 2010.