The Night Torn
With Mad Footsteps

New Poems
Charles Bukowski
(Black Sparrow)

Bukowski manages to plumb the fear that all of us have that what we think of as society is not working, that our hopes and dreams do not lead to a gated home in the suburbs with children in the schools, mom in the kitchen, dad at the office, and all's right with the world --- but, instead, broken people slopping around in the lousiest parts of city center, drinking Wild Turkey, tattooed fat-bellied men trying to beat up on other tattooed, fat-bellied men or beating up their tattooed girlfriends or wives or whatever, chasing them around their filthy fourth-floor walk-up apartments late at night, reviling each other more and more noisily with each drink (taken straight from the bottle) until finally at four or five in the morning, exhausted with the labor of their wars, they throw up, fall into their beds and drift off into a drunken slumber where they snore until next afternoon where they rise up hotly out of the sweaty, jism-encrusted beds (no sheets; no pillowcases) and, without bothering to shower or even wash their hands they pry open a can of Chicken-of-the-Sea tuna with a pocket-knife and pick it out and stuff it in their mouths and somehow score a case of Mickey's Wide-Mouth and embark yet again on a noisy window-breaking, door-smashing, furniture-wrecking, glass-strewn night of noise and vituperation and snittery. That's America, Bukowski-style.

Instead of blood, sweat and tears --- Bukowski was upchuck, dirty socks, and broken condoms. Notes of a Dirty Old Man, Post Office, or Ham on Rye were an excellent introduction for us fey university types to the parts of America where the War on Poverty (and the rest of us) never managed to reach. We felt privileged that this crude brawler with his pustule-infested body and fearsome appearance and disgusting ways would, in the midst of yet another night of whoring and mayhem and throw-up, pause to pound on his faithful typewriter to give us more poems and prose out of the American Dream turned into a nightmare of and black eyes, yellowed underpants, and smegma.

§     §     §

But the fact is that Bukowski's world is one of artfully manufactured smelly social history, and, what's worse, at least for those who treasure his writing --- one that no longer exists. Mid-town Redevelopment and cocaine and heroin and crack and a bonanza of rifles, pistols, and AK-47s have, forever, changed the Bukowski homebase. In fact, reading these poems --- almost two hundred in number --- becomes a walk down memory lane where one could survive in the slums back then when they were free of the more vicious products of America's current gun and drug (and zoning) laws...where the biggest worry was whether the spiders would take over,

    I haven't killed all the spiders in this place
    but I've gotten most of them. there are two
    I can't get. they sit inside the plastic shield
    on my radio, solid-state FM-AM, they sit
    inside where the red dot selects the station...

Ah, so. His spiders are "newly cultured spiders. they heard Beethoven's/9th last night and now they are listening to Brahms/2nd..." and Bukowski's two favorite radio stations play classical music. This Bukowski, this --- to quote from one of his favorite authors --- this mewling lewdster, this paunchy lout, this puking malt-worm, is, zounds! --- a man of culture, one who not only listens to classical music, but quotes Walt Whitman, reads Rabelais, argues the virtues of Céline, writes poems on the deaths of Stravinsky and Carson McCullers.

And somehow we are reassured: that in the backyards filled with trash, rainspouts lined with broken bottles, telephone lines drooping with old Adidas tied together, yards of tape yanked from cassettes, cats with mange and dogs with an attitude --- amidst all this detritus, in one apartment, up the pissy-stairs and down the flea-bitten hallways smelling of cabbage and diapers, huddled over a rachety Royal Portable there's this island of sanity, a brawler with heart, a boozer with soul, an artist who is no artiste, a poet who is no namby-pamby, an intellectual baglady who never said but spat the word "culture," who would use a NEA application to keep out the cold by stuffing it in the cracks around the smudged window looking out on a yard filled with wind-blown baggies, fat rats and zonked-out winos --- our own Gully Jimson who does his art straight, no chaser, who will never stomach the foundation chasers, those Arty types who could only honor a Walt Whitman or a Verlaine or a Hart Crane --- or a Charles Bukowski --- long after they are laid sodden in the grave.

--- Lolita Lark

Go Home     Subscribe to RALPH     Go Up