Bukowski’s Letter To A Friend Who Convinced Him To Write Full Time

In 1969, the year before Bukowski’s fiftieth birthday, he caught the attention of Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, who offered Buk a monthly stipend of $100 to quit his day job and dedicate himself fully to writing. (It was by no means a novel idea — the King of Poland had done essentially the same for the great astronomer Johannes Hevelius five centuries earlier.) Bukowski gladly complied. Less than two years later, Black Sparrow Press published his first novel, appropriately titled Post Office.
August 12, 1986

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,
Hank

I Learned The Secret Handshake

Ah! I see you now!

Yes, now

behind your screen,

seeking comfort,

speaking to no one,

throwing fond glances at the cat

and sipping tea,

no. whiskey

Maybe it’s this super moon that revealed to me the shadows

you lurk in

and illuminated your behavior

so coveted, so magical,

so tremendously marvelous to me,

I read and read the books you write

the stories

the poems

the blogs

the tweets

the different ways you arrange the 26 letters

to make sense for me

your world in there

your home, your brain, your heart.

where I can only go

through your message

I scour the biographies

to live like you and yours

to dine like Fisher

to hunt like Hemingway

to love like Nin

to curse like Parker

to travel like Kerouac

to protest like Ginsberg and Hughes

to celebrate femininity and desire for life like Angelou

and seek like Hesse.

but I know the truth now

(I think it was Bukowski who left the door ajar

just enough so that I could peer in).

It is all those heroes,

those stories,

those lives

that ache to be told,

burn to be written

like fire in my fingers and

I hold my breath

until the last sentence ends

and the period drops

from the cursor.

I know the truth now,

you all seemed larger than life

and behind the curtain,

(or screen as may be),

the great Oz

the writers

are insomniacs

introverts

easily broken

yet stronger than most

a little depressed, probably

eternally optimistic and romantic

maybe a touch alcoholic

yet feeling much deeper than others–

which gets drowned out

by booze

or women

or Jesus the savior,

feelings which haunt us

like ghosts in our ears

and mice driving racecars furiously around our brains

until the next piece is ready

to be born

from our fingers,

out of our slightly to mostly crazy minds

which need the darkness

to balance out our rose-colored glasses

and make us feel,

so deeply feel,

and remind us that our mission as writers

is to hope that by the right combination

of those 26 letters,

we can share a moment of sameness,

a brief encounter of closeness,

partake in a instant of shared experience

and emotion

with another beautiful creature,

our devoted/friendly/sympathetic/lucky reader

without having to venture out

into the world

where the cracks in our souls

might reveal the depths

of what we’ve seen, experienced,

who we really are.

writer

The Hot And Cold Of Geophysics

molten

So that’s it.

The end.

It wasn’t the great swooning moment I’d hoped it would be

There were no violins or tearful goodbyes

Just a smile hiding a broken heart

the kind where my soul

sinks like a moon at dawn

into the pit of my stomach

and my fingers tingle

with the reverberations of

brokenness at the lives

that were once

soldered together

by heat

by passion

by fire

and were subsequently washed

in the cool ocean,

cooling the molten emotion,

hardening it.

Until was

cold

black

stone.

Absent.

And as in life

which is given birth daily in my imagination

among the memories

of movie musicals

and long, dramatic kisses,

two people collided

like meteors

causing an explosion

of heat

energy

love

vitality.

I thought that explosion would give

rise to a calamitous

beautiful

brilliant

amazing

light.

A light that would last forever.

But entropic as the universe is,

she began sorting out the chaos

and magic

that was once us

and moves us peacefully now

away from each other

into parallel systems.

Just floating slowly away.

Without violins

or crescendo

or fanfare.

just as the universe moves

her cold, dark hearts

away

until one day

the lava explodes

into the sky

and wandering meteors

create light

again.

 

Homework

If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran
I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap,
scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in
the jungle,
I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly
Cesium out of Love Canal
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain the Sludge
out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little
Clouds so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie
Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood &
Agent Orange,
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out
the tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an
Aeon till it came out clean

Allen Ginsberg
storm-water

A Different Standard Of Beauty

a-tree-inside-me

In this exquisite world

full of beautiful things

where gratitude for the gorgeous

and young

sings in every image,

window, painting, lovesong,

and permeates the

dreams and desires of

all who enlist themselves

among the unworthy

or broken.

And yet when I’ve scratched the surface

in my short years

on this earth,

the ones where I actually paid attention

and I can count on one hand,

I’ve seen the true beauty

that shines from

the most stunning people

isn’t their smiles

or cheery dispositions

but their willingness to

struggle with the pain that

eats them alive,

haunts them in all their deep places,

torments them at night

while the whole world is peaceful

and they’re told they should be too.

I’ve met so many humans

who are shaped by these experiences

instead of pretending

that life is all roses

and smiling when pain

trickles in all of their nooks and crannies,

a shadow sewn to the soul.

And maybe because

the hardships life has gifted me with

or those I’ve seen in others

have been constant companions

forcing life forward,

and sideways,

and diagonal

forging new paths

I never knew existed

or was too frightened to travel,

I hold hands with the anguish,

(not actually embracing it altogether)

But know, and love,

that sitting

and hurting

and digging within

with those excruciating questions

that don’t want to be answered

and hide when I seek them,

changes me.

I can sit with the suffering

as have these beautiful people I know

who know that there can only

ever be light,

if there is darkness.

 

Here, Let Me Just Cuddle Beneath Your Ribs

Take off the white gloves

and the bullshit pretentions

that force you to smile

even though you want to

scream and run around like a banshee

clawing at your ecru walls

that shine like desperation

and siphon out the soul

you traded for all this

comfort

 

I want to stare into those eyes,

when the contacts have been removed,

to see all the way

into the spirit of you

your pure desires

cowering in the corner,

afraid to be noticed

make waves,

make a sound,

lest you have to turn a mirror

and look truly

at who you are

independent of the kids

irrespective of the spouse

free of the job

unaffiliated from all the mind-numbing pursuits

you’re told will make you happy

 

I want to reach past your ribs

and nestle in your heart

to know what glorious purpose burdens you

to what you choose to do with this one

surreal life,

amazing chance

to worship god or goddess

with all the talents and passion

that were bestowed upon you?

 

What makes you passionate?

What god exists in your world?

Do you think we all see the same color of sky?

If god doesn’t exist,

how are we to explain orgasms and John Coltrane?

What is to be done about peace in the middle east?

(I personally think we need to put mushrooms in the groundwater,

because you can’t help but love your neighbor after)

What is your art?

What do you yearn for?

How can I help you achieve it?

Do you feel the same nostalgia

about burritos and nuclear power plants

that I do? Why not?

What sounds make your toes curl

and the hair stand up

on the back of your neck?

for me, it’s the ocean

or my daughter crying

Why aren’t there such things as UFOs?

I hope we’re not the most intelligent

beings in the universe

What sounds or words break your heart?

Can it ever be fixed?

Did you remember it’s red, almost purple

and throbbing, contorting,

bursting, and teeming

to make you alive?

Not polite and beige,

smiling and calm,

The way we  pretend

life is supposed to be

as we chit chat over lattes

about our children’s teachers

and birthday parties.

Throb

Beat

Quiver

Teem

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