Charles Bukowski

The Shoelace

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there –
license plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
light switch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out –
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a

so be careful
when you
bend over.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski



the great lover

I mean, at that place in east Hollywood
I was so often with the hardest numbers
in town
I don’t speak as a misogynist
I had other people ask me,
“what the hell are you doing, anyhow?”

these were floozies, killers, blanks

they had bodies, hair, eyes, legs
but, say, take one of them, it was like
sitting there with a shark dressed in a
dress, high heels, smoking, drinking,

the nights went into days and the days
went into nights
and we babbled on through, sometimes
bedding down, badly.

through the drink, the uppers, the
downers, I got myself to imagine
things–say, that this one was the
golden girl of the golden heart and
the golden way of laughter and love
and hope

in the dim smokey light the long hair
looked better than it was, the legs
more shapely, the conversation not as
bare, not as vicious

I fooled myself pretty well. I even
got myself to thinking that I loved
one of them, the worst one

I mean, why the hell be negative?

we drank, drugged, stayed in the
center of the rug, through sunset,
sunrise, played Scrabble for 8
or ten hours

each time I went in to piss she
stole the letters she needed
she was a survivor, the

after one marathon session
of 52 hours of whatever we
were doing
she said, “let’s drive to
Vegas and get married?”

“what?” I asked.

“let’s drive to Vegas and
get married before we
change our minds!”

“but suppose we get married,
then what?”

“then you can have it any
time you want it.” she told

I went in to take a piss
to let her steal the letters
she needed

but when I came out I opened
a new bottle of wine
and spoke no more of the

she didn’t come around as
much after that
but there were others,
about the same
sometimes there were
more than one
they’d come in two’s
the word got out that
there was an old sucker
in the back court, free
booze and he wasn’t overly
sexually demanding,
although at times something
would overtake me and I
would grab a body and throw
in a sweaty horse copulation,
mostly, I guess, to see if
I could still do it

and I confused the mailman
there was an old couch on
the porch and many a morning
as he came by I’d be sitting
there with, say, two of them
we’d be sitting there with our
beer cans, smoking and

one day he found me alone

“pardon me,” he said, “but can
I ask you something?”


“well, I don’t think you’re

“no, I’m broke.”

“Listen, he said, “I’ve been around
the world.”


“and I’ve never seen a man with
as many women as you.
there’s always a different one.
or a different pair…”


“how do you do it?
I mean, pardon me, but you’re kind
of old and you’re not exactly a
Cassanova, you know?”

“I could be ugly, even.”

he shifted his letters from one hand to the

“I mean, how do you do it?”

“availability,” I told him.

“what do you mean?”

“I mean, women like a guy who is always

“uh,” he said, then walked off to continue his

his praise didn’t help me
what he saw wasn’t as good as he thought
even with them there were unholy periods of
drab senselessness,
and worse

I walked back into my place
the phone was ringing

I knew that it would be a female

from “Third Lung Review” – 1992

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

from: War All the Time

what are you doing with all those paper
napkins in your car?
we dont have napkins like
how come your car radio is
always turned to some
rock and roll station?do you drive around with
young thing?

dripping tangerine
juice on the floor.
whenever you go into
the kitchen
this towel gets
wet and dirty,
why is that?

when you let my
bathwater run
you never
clean the
tub first.

why don’t you
put your toothbrush
in the rack?

you should always
dry your razor

I think
you hate
my cat.

Martha says
you were
sitting with her
and you
had your
pants off.

you shouldn’t wear
$100 shoes in
the garden

and you don’t keep
of what you
plant out there


you must always
set the cat’s bowl back
the same place.

bake fish
in a frying

I never saw
harder on the
brakes of their
than you.

let’s go
to a

listen what’s
wrong with you?
you act

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski





often it is the only
between you and
no drink,
no woman’s love,
no wealth
match it.

nothing can save

it keeps the walls
the hordes from
closing in.

it blasts the

writing is the

the kindliest
god of all the

writing stalks
it knows no

and writing
at itself,
at pain.

it is the last
the last

what it

Charles Bukowski

from blank gun silencer – 1991

Charles Bukowski


 cows in Art Class

  good weather
  is like
  good women--
  it doesn't always happen
  and when it does
  it doesn't
  always last.
  man is
  more stable:
  if he's bad
  there's more chance
  he'll stay that way,
  or if he's good
  he might hang
  but a woman
  is changed
  the moon
  the absence or
  presence of sun
  or good times.
  a woman must be nursed
  into subsistence
  by love
  here a man can become
  by being hated.

  I am drinking tonight in Spangler's Bar
  and I remember the cows
  I once painted in Art class
  and they looked good
  they looked better than anything
  in here. I am drinking in Spangler's Bar
  wondering which to love and which
  to hate, but the rules are gone:
  I love and hate only
  they stand outside me
  like an orange dropped from the table
  and rolling away; it's what I've got to
  kill myself or
  love myself?
  which is the treason?
  where's the information
  coming from?

  books . . . like broken glass:
  I w'dn't wipe my ass with 'em
  yet, it's getting
  darker, see?

  (we drink here and speak to
  each other and
  seem knowing.)

  buy the cow with the biggest
  buy the cow with the biggest

  present arms.

  the bartender slides me a beer
  it runs down the bar
  like an Olympic sprinter
  and the pair of pliers that is my hand
  stops it, lifts it,
  golden piss of dull temptation,
  I drink and
  stand there
  the weather bad for cows
  but my brush is ready
  to stroke up
  the green grass straw eye
  sadness takes me all over
  and I drink the beer straight down
  order a shot
  to give me the guts and the love to

Artwork & Poem by
Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski




the house 

They are building a house
half a block down
and I sit up here
with the shades down
listening to the sounds,
the hammers pounding in nails,
thack thack thack thack,
and then I hear birds,
and thack thack thack,
and I go to bed,
I pull the covers to my throat;
they have been building this house
for a month, and soon it will have
its people…sleeping, eating,
loving, moving around,
but somehow
it is not right,
there seems a madness,
men walk on top with nails
in their mouths
and I read about Castro and Cuba,
and at night I walk by
and the ribs of the house show
and inside I can see cats walking
the way cats walk,
and then a boy rides by on a bicycle
and still the house is not done
and in the morning the men
will be back
walking around on the house
with their hammers,
and it seems people should not build houses
it seems people should not get married
it seems people should stop working
and sit in small rooms
on 2nd floors
under electric lights without shades;
it seems there is a lot to forget
and a lot not to do,
and in drugstores, markets, bars,
the people are tired, they do not want
to move, and I stand there at night
and look through this house and the
house does not want to be built;
through its sides I can see the purple hills
and the first lights of evening,
and it is cold
and I button my coat
and I stand there looking through the house
and the cats stop and look at me
until I am embarrased
and move North up the sidewalk
where I will buy
cigarettes and beer
and return to my room.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

“the American writer”

gone abroad
I sit under the tv lights
and am interviewed again
I am asked questions
I give answers
I make no attempt to be
to be truthful
I feel bored
and I almost never feel
“do you?…” they ask.
“oh, yeah, well I…”
“and what do you think of…”
“I don’t think of it much. I
don’t think too much…”
somehow it ends.

that evening somebody tells me
I’m on the news
we turn the set on.
there I am. I look pissed.
I wave people off.
I am bored.

how marvelous to be me without
it looks on tv
as if I knew exactly what I
was doing.

fooled them

Charles Bukowski

from Dangling In The Tournefortia – 1981

Charles Bukowski



having the flu and
with nothing else to do

I read a book about John Dos Passos and according to
the book once radical-communist
John ended up in the Hollywood Hills living off investments
and reading the
Wall Street Journal

this seems to happen all too often.

what hardly ever happens is
a man going from being a young conservative to becoming an
old wild-ass radical

young conservatives always seem to become old
it’s a kind of lifelong mental vapor-lock.

but when a young radical ends up an
old radical
the critics
and the conservatives
treat him as if he escaped from a mental

such is our politics and you can have it

keep it.

sail it up your

Charles Bukowski