Sunset boulevard, Los Angeles, 2013
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas
AS THE POEMS GO
by Charles Bukowski
as the poems go into the thousands you realize that you've created very little. it comes down to the rain, the sunlight, the traffic, the nights and the days of the years, the faces. leaving this will be easier than living it, typing one more line now as a man plays a piano through the radio, the best writers have said very little and the worst, far too much. from ONTHEBUS - 1992
a woman, a tire that’s flat, a disease, a desire: fears in front of you, fears that hold so still you can study them like pieces on a chessboard… it’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse. death he’s ready for, or murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood… no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse… not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left … The dread of life is that swarm of trivialities that can kill quicker than cancer and which are always there - license plates or taxes or expired driver’s license, or hiring or firing, doing it or having it done to you, or roaches or flies or a broken hook on a screen, or out of gas or too much gas, the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk, the president doesn’t care and the governor’s crazy. light switch broken, mattress like a porcupine; $105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at sears roebuck; and the phone bill’s up and the market’s down and the toilet chain is broken, and the light has burned out - the hall light, the front light, the back light, the inner light; it’s darker than hell and twice as expensive. then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails and people who insist they’re your friends; there’s always that and worse; leaky faucet, christ and christmas; blue salami, 9 day rains, 50 cent avocados and purple liverwurst.
or making it as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift, or as an emptier of bedpans, or as a carwash or a busboy or a stealer of old lady’s purses leaving them screaming on the sidewalks with broken arms at the age of 80.
suddenly 2 red lights in your rear view mirror and blood in your underwear; toothache, and $979 for a bridge $300 for a gold tooth, and china and russia and america, and long hair and short hair and no hair, and beards and no faces, and plenty of zigzag but no pot, except maybe one to piss in and the other one around your gut.
with each broken shoelace out of one hundred broken shoelaces, one man, one woman, one thing enters a madhouse.
I mean, at that place in east Hollywood I was so often with the hardest numbers in town I don’t speak as a misogynist I had other people ask me, “what the hell are you doing, anyhow?”
these were floozies, killers, blanks
they had bodies, hair, eyes, legs parts but, say, take one of them, it was like sitting there with a shark dressed in a dress, high heels, smoking, drinking, pilling
the nights went into days and the days went into nights and we babbled on through, sometimes bedding down, badly.
through the drink, the uppers, the downers, I got myself to imagine things–say, that this one was the golden girl of the golden heart and the golden way of laughter and love and hope
in the dim smokey light the long hair looked better than it was, the legs more shapely, the conversation not as bare, not as vicious
I fooled myself pretty well. I even got myself to thinking that I loved one of them, the worst one
I mean, why the hell be negative? accept
we drank, drugged, stayed in the center of the rug, through sunset, sunrise, played Scrabble for 8 or ten hours
each time I went in to piss she stole the letters she needed she was a survivor, the bitch
after one marathon session of 52 hours of whatever we were doing she said, “let’s drive to Vegas and get married?”
“what?” I asked.
“let’s drive to Vegas and get married before we change our minds!”
“but suppose we get married, then what?”
“then you can have it any time you want it.” she told me
I went in to take a piss to let her steal the letters she needed
but when I came out I opened a new bottle of wine and spoke no more of the subject
she didn’t come around as much after that but there were others, about the same sometimes there were more than one they’d come in two’s the word got out that there was an old sucker in the back court, free booze and he wasn’t overly sexually demanding, although at times something would overtake me and I would grab a body and throw in a sweaty horse copulation, mostly, I guess, to see if I could still do it
and I confused the mailman there was an old couch on the porch and many a morning as he came by I’d be sitting there with, say, two of them we’d be sitting there with our beer cans, smoking and laughing
one day he found me alone
“pardon me,” he said, “but can I ask you something?”
“well, I don’t think you’re rich…”
“no, I’m broke.”
“Listen, he said, “I’ve been around the world.”
“and I’ve never seen a man with as many women as you. there’s always a different one. or a different pair…”
“how do you do it? I mean, pardon me, but you’re kind of old and you’re not exactly a Cassanova, you know?”
“I could be ugly, even.”
he shifted his letters from one hand to the other.
“I mean, how do you do it?”
“availability,” I told him.
“what do you mean?”
“I mean, women like a guy who is always around.”
“uh,” he said, then walked off to continue his rounds
his praise didn’t help me what he saw wasn’t as good as he thought even with them there were unholy periods of drab senselessness, and worse
They were women then My mama’s generation Husky of voice—stout of Step With fists as well as Hands How they battered down Doors And ironed Starched white Shirts How they led Armies Headragged generals Across mined Fields Booby-trapped Ditches To discover books Desks A place for us How they knew what we Must know Without knowing a page Of it Themselves.
To wash and rinse our souls of their age-old sorrows, We drained a hundred jugs of wine. A splendid night it was . . . . In the clear moonlight we were loath to go to bed, But at last drunkenness overtook us; And we laid ourselves down on the empty mountain, The earth for pillow, and the great heaven for coverlet.
My hair had hardly covered my forehead. I was picking flowers, paying by my door, When you, my lover, on a bamboo horse, Came trotting in circles and throwing green plums. We lived near together on a lane in Ch'ang-kan, Both of us young and happy-hearted. ...At fourteen I became your wife, So bashful that I dared not smile, And I lowered my head toward a dark corner And would not turn to your thousand calls; But at fifteen I straightened my brows and laughed, Learning that no dust could ever seal our love, That even unto death I would await you by my post And would never lose heart in the tower of silent watching. ...Then when I was sixteen, you left on a long journey Through the Gorges of Ch'u-t'ang, of rock and whirling water. And then came the Fifth-month, more than I could bear, And I tried to hear the monkeys in your lofty far-off sky. Your footprints by our door, where I had watched you go, Were hidden, every one of them, under green moss, Hidden under moss too deep to sweep away. And the first autumn wind added fallen leaves. And now, in the Eighth-month, yellowing butterflies Hover, two by two, in our west-garden grasses And, because of all this, my heart is breaking And I fear for my bright cheeks, lest they fade. ...Oh, at last, when you return through the three Pa districts, Send me a message home ahead! And I will come and meet you and will never mind the distance, All the way to Chang-feng Sha.
Two poets of the golden age of Chinese Poetry appeared on a set of of Poets and Philosopher stamps issued in 1983. The first is Li Bai (also known as Li Po) born in 701, who had what is described as a "hard living life" which means he liked a drink or two; any poetry collection of the Tang Dynasty will contain many of his poems.
The painting is a modern one created by Liu Lingcang (1906-1989) who was apprenticed at 14 and and as a young man went to Beijing alone living off the sale of his paintings to follow the masters of his chosen art. He himself became a great scholar of painting history and painting theories and in in his 70 year art career he spent 40 teaching those skills. It is interesting to see the scroll painting he made of Li Bai which expands the view of the poet and appeared as "Landscape of Tang Poetry"
Next is Du Fu (also known as Tu Fu) 712-770 who is known in China as the "Poet Sage". But let the words of these poets tell their own story. They share a page in my copy of Soame Jenyns's (who was keeper of Oriental Antiques in the British Museum) second collection of translations of Poems of the T'ang Dynasty, you will see why he has done this.
"Sending Off A Friend" by Li Po
Looking north of the city you see the line of blue hills, Sparkling water flows past the eastern gate. Here we part once for all; A solitary waterweed drifts off into the distance. When I think of the wandering clouds you will come back into my thoughts Sunset will bring with it memories of you. We part now with a wave of the hand; as we turn our horses they neigh farewell.
"With the width of Heaven between us thinking of Li Po" by Du Fu
A chill wind springs up from the horizon, What are your thoughts now I wonder? When will the wild geese arrive? Rivers and lakes are big with autumn floods Your literary compositions are a foe to your success, The ghouls are gleeful when people (like you) pass by I fear your path corresponds to that of the "aggrieved spirit". Throw a poem to him in the Mi-lo River.
Legend has it that Li Po died in a most poetic way by falling from his boat when he tried to embrace the moon in the Yangtze River. The 'aggrieved spirit' reference in the poem Jenyns says is an allusion to Ch'ü Yüan, who committed ritual suicide by holding a rock and wading into a river, today celebrated by the dragon boat racing festival.