A Smile To Remember – Poem by Charles Bukowski

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.


my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother

http_%2F%2Flkthayer.files.wordpress.com%2F2012%2F01%2F15-bukowski-by-andersen.jpgCharles Bukowski is a German-American poet, story-writer and columnist who had written thousands of poem and short stories in the dirty realism literary movement. His poems were later published in 60 books. Bukowski writes poems about the lives of the poor Americans, relationships, women, which are partially influenced by the socio-political environment of his resident-city Los Angeles. He gives brilliant imagery at the crude level, where there are no appropriations or censoring of his ideas and thoughts.

Bukowski hated the poets. He did not want to be lumped in with them—the pansy poets.

In a letter he wrote that “I am not primarily a poet, I hate god gooey people poets messing the smears of their lives against the sniveling world…” The academics, the poetry snobs, returned Bukowski’s disgust. They reviled him. They complained that by making poetry accessible, raw, gritty, dirty, and readable he was destroying the art form.

While Bukowski’s writing is in general about existential alienation (Sartre was an admirer) and the absurdity of humanity, a recurring theme in his work is the relationship between man and woman.

Bukowski’s outward reputation was that of a brawling drunkard, and hard-ass, but much of that was a persona he cultivated through poetry readings, he was actually very sensitive and capable of deep love. His first love was Jane Cooney Baker, a woman ten years his senior, who died of alcoholism long before Bukowski passed away due to leukemia.

His poem For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough is as powerful a declaration of a man’s love for a woman as there is in all of poetry. Bukowski got married twice. First to a wealthy publisher’s daughter (who he married sight unseen before he was a famous poet) and finally to a woman he met at one of his poetry readings after he had completed his “research” of sleeping around for his novel Women.


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