Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Charles Bukowski Poem on New Orleans


Charles Bukowski is known as a Los Angeles beat poet, but he must have spent some time in New Orleans to come up with this poignant, unusual love poem to the city.


Young in New Orleans

starving there, sitting around the bars,
and at night walking the streets for hours,
the moonlight always seemed fake
to me, mabye it was,
and in the French Quarter I watched
the horses and buggies going by,
everybody sitting high in the open
carriages, the black driver, and in
back the man and the woman,
usually young and always white.
and I was always white.
and hardly charmed by the
world.
New Orleans was a place to
hide.
I could piss away my life,
unmolested.
except for the rats.
the rats in my small dark room
very much resented sharing it
with me.
they were large and fearless
and stared at me with eyes
that spoke
an unblinking
death.
women were beyond me.
they saw something
depraved.
there was one waitress
a little older than
I, she rather smiled,
lingered when she
brought my
coffee.
that was plenty for
me, that was
enough.
there was something about
that city, though:
it didn't let me feel guilty
that I had no feeling for the
things so many others
needed.
it let me alone.
sitting up in my bed
the lights out,
hearing the outside
sounds,
lifting my cheap
bottle of wine,
letting the warmth of
the grape
enter
]me
as I heard the rats
moving about the
room,
I preferred them
to
humans.
being lost,
being crazy mabye
is not so bad
if you can be
that way:
undisturbed.
New Orleans gave me
that.
nobody ever called
my name.
no telephone,
no car,
no job,
no anything.
me and the
rats
and my youth,
one time,
that time
I knew
even through the
nothingness,
it was a
celebration
of something not to
do
but only
know.

Charles Bukowski

The speaker expresses nostalgia for his time in New Orleans--a time when he was broke, could only afford a rat-infested apartment, and was doing nothing particularly productive. This time was important to him because of its simplicity--"no anything / me and the / rats / and my youth"--and because New Orleans left him "undisturbed." Despite the harsh living conditions, the speaker remembers being happy there, reveling in "something not to / do / but only / to know."

A kind of Zen point of view permeates this poem: the not-doing, the peaceful acceptance of one's place in the moment, the lack of guilt and the aquiring of an "undisturbed" life. The speaker is not, in this moment, looking for anything more; no ambition, no desire, no need to be with anyone but himself. This creates contentment, even with the rats.


Check out the previous post in Living Poetry's New Orleans series.

8 comments:

Michael said...

Amy - I rather like this Burowski tribute to the city. It definately has Bukowski stamped all over it.

D-Thinker said...

I like the post, it just sounds authentic like the Blues. I have to revise my post, thanks to your comment.

Amy said...

Michael and Thinker:

I like this poem, too. It does sound musical, particularly bluesy. I relate to the experience of being nostalgic about one's financially unstable, but simpler, past.

D-Thinker said...

Thanks for your feed back to my revised post, this is given me the opportunity to explore further.

Billy said...

thanks for sharing this bukowski poem with us. very moving.

Ima Poemer said...

ahhh...bukowski
one of the greats

although he'd probably
punch me in the face
for saying so

Garnet said...

New Orleans, as he says, "let me alone", doesn't judge him, like a best friend, a buddy, just there, not square. That feeling captures the spirit of the city sadly lost now.

I hope you'll stop by my blog sometime. I dabble, and I mean dabble, in poetry. Your criticism would be welcome. :-]

Claudel said...

i love Burowski, he's poetry is more then just art :)