That Which is Bread

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? – Isaiah

Tag: Charles Bukowski

A Bukowski threnody

Bukowski himself

to Jane Cooney Baker, died 1-22-62

I will not find you on the street
nor will the phone ring, and each moment will not
let me be in peace.
it is not enough that there are many deaths
and that this is not the first;
it is not enough that I may live many more days,
even perhaps, more years.
it is not enough.
the phone is like a dead animal that will
not speak. and when it speaks again it will
always be the wrong voice now.
I have waited before and you have always walked in through
the door. now you must wait for me.

— Charles Bukowski, in Open All Night


This is the first (I think) of a series of poems that Bukowski wrote to Jane Baker, beginning not long after she died (from complications of chronic heavy drinking) and continuing for decades afterward. Their painful, inebriated relationship is the (fictionalized) subject of the movie Barfly.
This poem seems to me like a near-perfect expression of the most primal experience of separation when a loved one is lost to death: “I can’t reach you.” As Bukowski says, when the phone rings “it will always be the wrong voice now.”

Time for another Bukowski poem

Bukowski himself

the smoking car

they stop out front here
it looks as if the car is on fire
the smoke blazes blue from the hood and exhaust
the motor sounds like cannon shots
the car humps wildly
one guy gets out,
Jesus, he says, he takes a long drink from a
canvas water bag
and gives the car an eerie look.
the other guy gets out and looks at the car,
Jesus, he says,
and he takes a drink from a pint of whiskey,
then passes the bottle to his
friend.
they both stand and look at the car,
one holding the whiskey, the other the water bag.
they are not dressed in conventional hippie garb
but in natural old clothes
faded, dirty and torn.
a butterfly goes past my window
and they get back in the
car
and it bucks off in low
like a rodeo bronc
they are both laughing
and one has the bottle
tilted…
the butterfly is gone
and outside there is a globe of smoke
40 feet in circumference.

first human beings I’ve seen in Los Angeles
in 15 years.

— Charles Bukowski, in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck

If I read this in a Lit Crit class, I’d be asked, (1) What’s with the butterfly? and (2) What’s with the “eerie look”?
So I’m glad that I’m not in any Lit Crit classes.