By Charles Bukowski
An old man asked me for a cigarette
and I carefully dealt out two.
“Been looking for a job. Gonna stand
in the sun and smoke.”
He was close to rags and rage
and he leaned against death.
It was a cold day, indeed, as trucks
loaded and heavy as old whores
banged and tangled on the streets…
We drop like planks to the rotten floor
as the world strives to unlock the bone
that weights its brain.
(God is a lonely place without steak)
We are dying birds,
we are sinking ships —
the world rocks down against us
throw out our arms
throw our our legs
like the death kiss of a centipede:
but they kindly snap our backs
and call our poison “politics”
Well, we smoked, he and I — little men
nibbling fish-head thoughts…
All the horses do not come in,
and as you watch the lights in the jails
and the hospitals wink on and out,
and the men handle flags as carefully
You are a great-gutted instrument
of heart and belly, carefully planned—
so if you take a plane for Savannah,
take the best plane;
or if you eat chicken on rock,
make it a very special animal.
(You call it a bird; I call birds
And if you decide to kill somebody,
make it anybody and not somebody:
some men are made of more special, precious
parts: do not kill
if you will
a president or a king
or a man
behind a desk —
these have heavenly longitudes
and enlightened attitudes.
If you decide,
who stand and smoke and glower;
we are rusty with sadness and
with climbing broken ladders.
we were never children
like your children.
We do not understand love songs
like your inamorata.
Our faces are cracked linoleum,
cracked through with the heavy, sure
feet of our masters.
We are shot through with carrot tops
and poppyseed and tilter grammar;
we waste days like mad blackbirds
and pray for alcoholic nights.
Our silk-sick human smiles wrap around
as like somebody else’s confetti:
we do not even belong to the Party.
We are a scene chalked-out with the
sick white brush of Age.
We smoke, asleep as a dish of figs.
We smoke, as dead as fog.
A bathtub murder
or something quick and bright; our names
in the papers.
Know, at last, for a moment
to millions of careless and grape-dull eyes
that hold themselves private
to only flicker and flame
at the poor cracker-barrel jibes
of their conceited, pampered
Known, at last, for a moment,
as they will be known
as you will be known
by an all-grey man on an all-grey horse
who sits and fondles a sword
longer than the night
longer than the mountain’s aching backbone
long than all the cries
that have a-bombed up out of throats
and exploded in a newer, less-planned
We smoke and the clouds do not notice us.
A cat walks by and shakes Shakespeare
off of his back.
Tallow, tallow, candle like wax: our spines
are limp and out consciousness burns
the remaining wick life has
doled out to us.
And old man asked me for a cigarette
and told me his troubles
is what he said:
that Age was a crime
and that Pity picked up the marbles
and that Hatred picked up the
He might have been your father
He might have been a sex-fiend
or a saint.
But whatever he was,
he was condemned
and we stood in the sun and
and looked around
in our leisure
to see who was next in