Travelling with Bukowski, parts 1 and 2*

1

Brevity: like a footprint in the mud – no matter
how pure those sky-tears that fall from the grey
clouds, in the footprint they turn to soup; the tread
of the worn boot becomes featureless, and
by morning it’s nothing.

I turned up, a dust cloud out of the Mohave;
he and I kinda floated
down the Los Angeles River,
washing up on the far bank,
staring at the ceiling
of a cheap hotel room
and passing a smoke from hand to hand.

I had been on a quest – or so it seemed –
for the Holy Grail; but I had come instead with a bottle
of Burgundy filched from the back seat of a red Corvette.
He complained that it wasn’t whiskey, but drank
the lion’s share anyway. Alcohol went down his throat
like rainwater down a drain.

Love: maybe. The call of a freight-train sounded
like a violin playing in the key of somewhere-else,
and oh how those boxcars rattled. In the dark his cheek,
his curls, were cherubic; but when morning fisted the sky
the time and season when phantoms and night-haunts
are laid
– he was hollow-cheeked, hollow-eyed,
hollow-souled, and suddenly gone.

That is why – like you care – memory and bewilderment
are one to me, just like truth and beauty, and our momentary
flicker of a hitch-hike only led this far.

 

2

Everything I tell you is a lie

Says you, says the poet in the torn coat, hanging limp as night-fog while the wind frets at the cracked window, blowing blue like jazz from a New York loft.

I remember the spikes and penny-hangers of London, friend, but your eyes are on the Latinas, shuffling into the church next door, rosaries, crucifixes, charms and amulets against sin, red-cheeked confessions, turning the pages of their week and on to another chapter, bless me father. The bell pulses, the rope old and brittle against the priest’s calluses, the prayers are spoken. But you…

Why does it amuse you so much, out here in the Valley, away from those Angelenos, kneeling beside me, spreading my hair on the pillow? You have no camera, no palette and easel, simply a notebook and the butt of a pencil; but I feel like a whore, paid to lie with a bastard Jesus at my breast while you paint me as a Madonna.

That wind, blowing soft and crazy like Ornette Coleman, lifts the torn curtain; the half-crescent moon, a whey-faced voyeur, winks an eye at the depth of my shame. You say it was karma that we met; I say close the window, pull the curtains together, shut out the moonlight, as I gaze at the swinging lightbulb and the motion makes me feel sick…

Oh you lying poet! No white sails on a golden sea, no elusive, leaping gazelles, just the truth of dust and hurt; and your words still paint me – your shiftless, dirty Madonna, always haunted by you, by our travels, by the two plastic spoons in the jar of cold beans, nuestro sacramento, by our upside-down world.

Now, at nights, those bald, bare words of yours are what I lay against my cheek as I try to sleep, betrayed, an old gypsy of the long, flat roads, my life peeled from me the way a thumbnail peels the skin from a mandarin orange, fleeced, the droplets of my blood tart and citric. I listen to the damnable high-hat-and-snare of a cicada, and I laugh. Bitter, my friend… bitter.

 

__________

* This poem won the Del Warren Livingston Memorial Prize for Free Verse in 2009. I don’t generally put my poems up for awards and I regard things like this as incidental, but it seems silly not to mention it.

The image of Charles Bukowski used in this post was retrieved from http://helvira3.blogspot.com where the user states that it is assumed to be in the public domain.