Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), the “godfather of dirty realism,” wrote about the underside of American urban life. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambiance of his home city of Los Angeles. His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over 60 books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column Notes of a Dirty Old Man in the LA underground newspaper Open City.
with one punch, at the age of 16 and 1/2, I knocked out my father, a cruel shiny bastard with bad breath, and I didn’t go home for some time, only now and then to try to get a dollar from dear momma. it was 1937 in Los Angeles and it was a hell of a Vienna. I ran with these older guys but for them it was the same: mostly breathing gasps of hard air and robbing gas stations that didn’t have any money, and a few lucky among us worked part-time as Western Union messenger boys. we slept in rented rooms that weren’t rented and we drank ale and wine with the shades down being quiet quiet and then awakening the whole building with a fistfight breaking mirrors and chairs and lamps and then running down the stairway just before the police arrived some of us soldiers of the future running through the empty starving streets and alleys of Los Angeles and all of us getting together later in Pete’s room a small cube of space under a stairway, there we were, packed in there without women without cigarettes without anything to drink, while the rich pawed away at their many choices and the young girls let them, the same girls who spit at our shadows as we walked past. it was a hell of a Vienna. 3 of us under that stairway were killed in World War II. another one is now manager of a mattress company. me? I’m 30 years older, the town is 4 or 5 times as big but just as rotten and the girls still spit on my shadow, another war is building for another reason, and I can hardly get a job now for the same reason I couldn’t then: I don’t know anything, I can’t do anything. sex? well, just the old ones knock on my door after midnight. I can’t sleep and they see the lights and are curious. the old ones. their husbands no longer want them, their children are gone, and if they show me enough good leg (the legs go last) I go to bed with them. so the old women bring me love and I smoke their cigarettes as they talk talk talk and then we go to bed again and I bring them love and they feel good and talk until the sun comes up, then we sleep. it’s a hell of a Paris.
“Look,” he told me, “all those little children dying in the trees.” And I said, “What?” He said, “look.” And I went to the window and sure enough, there they were hanging in the trees, dead and dying. And I said, “What does it mean?” He said, “I don’t know it’s authorized.”
The next day I got up and they had dogs in the trees, hanging, dead, and dying. I turned to my friend and I said, “What does it mean?” And he said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s the way of things. They took a vote. It was decided.” The next day it was cats. I don’t see how they caught all those cats so fast and hung them in the trees, but they did. The next day it was horses, and that wasn’t so good because many bad branches broke.
And after bacon and eggs the next day, my friend pulled his pistol on me across the coffee and said, “Let’s go,” and we went outside. And here were all these men and women in the trees, most of them dead or dying. And he got the rope ready and I said, “What does it mean?” And he said, “It’s authorized, constitutional, it past the majority,” And he tied my hands behind my back then opened the noose. “I don’t know who’s going to hang me,” he said, “When I get done with you. I suppose when it finally works down there will be just one left and he’ll have to hang himself.” “Suppose he doesn’t,” I ask. “He has to,” he said, “It’s authorized.” “Oh,” I said, “Well, let’s get on with it.”
man mowing the lawn across the way from me
I watch you walking with your machine. ah, you’re too stupid to be cut like grass, you’re too stupid to let anything violate you–
the girls won’t use their knives on you they don’t want to their sharp edge is wasted on you, you are interested only in baseball games and western movies and grass blades.
can’t you take just one of my knives? here’s an old one — stuck into me in 1955, she’s dead now, it wouldn’t hurt much. I can’t give you this last one–I can’t pull it out yet, but here’s one from 1964, how about taking this 1964 one from me?
man mowing the lawn across the way from me don’t you have a knife somewhere in your gut where love left?
man mowing the lawn across the way from me don’t you have a knife somewhere deep in your heart where love left?
man mowing the lawn across the way from me don’t you see the young girls walking down the sidewalks now with knives in their purses? don’t you see their beautiful eyes and dresses and hair? don’t you see their beautiful asses and knees and ankles?
man mowing the lawn across the way from me is that all you see– those grass blades? is that all you hear–the drone of the mower?
I can see all the way to Italy to Japan to the Honduras I can see the young girls sharpening their knives in the morning and at noon and at night, and especially at night, oh, especially at night.
Video and poems from KCET. Included in Vox Populi for educational purposes only.