March 9: On this day in 1994 Charles Bukowski died. Bukowski published over fifty books of poetry and prose in a career spanning a half-century, becoming the Grand Old Man of the fringe presses. He came by his skid-row, blue-collar themes honestly, having worked years of dead-end jobs, for bosses “with bad breath and big feet, men / who look like frogs, hyenas, men who walk / as if melody had never been invented.” After work he would go home to “the inevitable landlady, / execrating and final, / sending me to hell, / waving her fat, sweaty arms / and screaming / screaming for rent / because the world had failed us / both.” Or go to the bar, bringing back his only companionship: “I uncap the new bottle / from the bag and she sits in the corner / smoking and coughing / like an old Aunt from New Jersey.”
But by the mid-1970s there were appearances with Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, interviews in Rolling Stone, and sold-out readings in Europe, to which Bukowski now arrived with four bottles of good French wine rather than the two six-packs. And by the time of Barfly, the 1987 movie based on his life, Bukowski had traded his battered ’67 VW Beetle — the one that he and bed-sit neighbors Brad and Tina (Brad the manager of a pornographic bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard, Tina a go-go dancer) had so often used for their drink-and-drives, the one with a hole in its windshield from the time Cupcakes (Buk’s girlfriend and Miss Pussycat Theatres 1973) put her heel through it — for a new BMW, sun-roof, cash.
There was a marriage and a move to the suburbs, too, the wife bringing along her New Age remedies for Bukowski’s growing health problems. He took the cures with a smile — “…sitting naked behind the house, / 8 a.m., spreading sesame seed oil / over my body, jesus, have I come / to this?” — and his passing with a shrug:
. . . and to think, after I’m gone,
there will be more days for others, other days,
dogs walking, trees shaking in
I won’t be leaving much.
something to read, maybe.
a wild onion in the gutted
Paris in the dark.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.