What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire [NOOK Book]


This second posthumous collection from Charles Bukowski takes readers deep into the raw, wild vein of writing that extends from the early 70s to the 1990s.

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What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire

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This second posthumous collection from Charles Bukowski takes readers deep into the raw, wild vein of writing that extends from the early 70s to the 1990s.

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Editorial Reviews

Jennifer Schuessler
A literary garden requires ''plenty of manure,'' Bukowski once said to John Martin, and this collection gathers a good deal of tossed-off fertilizer along with the blooms. But it stands in spite of this -- or perhaps because of it? -- as a testament to outward sloth and a fierce, inverted work ethic, a belief in self-help through unending self-attention, a refusal to waste even the smallest table scrap of world or time. ''The word should be like / butter or avocados or / steak or hot biscuits, or onion rings or / whatever is really / needed,'' he writes in ''Christmas Poem to a Man in Jail.'' ''Maybe if we write well enough / and live a little better / life will improve a bit / just out of shame.''
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061873317
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/17/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 294,510
  • File size: 634 KB

Meet the Author

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowsk is one of America's best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose, and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of three. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for fifty years. He published his first story in 1944 when he was twenty-four and began writing poetry at the age of thirty-five. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.


During the course of his long, prolific literary career, Charles Bukowski was known as a poet, novelist, short story writer, and journalist. But it is as a cult figure, an "honorary beat" who chronicled his notorious lifestyle in raw, unflinching poetry and prose, that he is best remembered. Born in the aftermath of World War I to a German mother and an American serviceman of German descent, he was brought to the U.S. at the age of three and raised in Los Angeles. By all accounts, his childhood was lonely and unhappy: His father beat him regularly, and he suffered from debilitating shyness and a severely disfiguring case of acne. By his own admission, he underwent a brief flirtation with the far right, associating as a teenager with Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. After high school, he attended Los Angeles City College for two years, studying art, literature, and journalism before dropping out.

Although two of his stories were published in small literary magazines while he was still in his early 20s, Bukowski became discouraged by his lack of immediate success and gave up writing for ten years. During this time he drifted around the country, working odd jobs; fraternizing with bums, hustlers, and whores; and drinking so excessively that he nearly died of a bleeding ulcer.

In the late 1950s, Bukowski returned to writing, churning out copious amounts of poetry and prose while supporting himself with mind-numbing clerical work in the post office. Encouraged and mentored by Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, he finally quit his job in 1969 to concentrate on writing full time. In 1985, he married his longtime girlfriend Linda Lee Beighle. Together they moved to San Pedro, California, where Bukowski began to live a saner, more stable existence. He continued writing until his death from leukemia in 1994, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.

Bukowski mined his notorious lifestyle for an oeuvre that was largely autobiographical. In literally thousands of poems, he celebrated the skid row drunks and derelicts of his misspent youth; and, between 1971 and 1989, he penned five novels (Post Office, Factotum, Women, Ham on Rye, and Hollywood) featuring Henry Chinaski, an alcoholic, womanizing, misanthrope he identified as his literary alter ego. (He also wrote the autobiographical screenplay for the 1987 film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.) Yet, for all the shock value of his graphic language and violent, unlovely images, Bukowski's writing retains a startling lyricism. Today, years after his death, he remains one of the 20th century's most influential and widely imitated writers.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 16, 1920
    2. Place of Birth:
      Andernach, Germany
    1. Date of Death:
      March 9, 1994
    2. Place of Death:
      San Pedro, California
    1. Education:
      Los Angeles City College, 2 years

Read an Excerpt


1 blue beads and bones

my father and the bum

my father believed in work.
he was proud to have a
sometimes he didn't have a
job and then he was very
he'd be so ashamed that he'd
leave the house in the morning
and then come back in the evening
so the neighbors wouldn't
I liked the man next door:
he just sat in a chair in
his back yard and threw darts
at some circles he had painted
on the side of his garage.
in Los Angeles in 1930
he had a wisdom that
Goethe, Hegel, Kierkegaard,
Nietzsche, Freud,
Jaspers, Heidegger and
Toynbee would find hard
to deny.

legs, hips and behind

we liked the priest because once we saw him buy
an icecream cone
we were 9 years old then and when I went to
my best friend's house his mother was usually
drinking with his father
they left the screen door open and listened
to music on the radio
his mother sometimes had her dress pulled
high and her legs excited me
made me nervous and afraid but excited
by those black polished shoes and those nylons—
even though she had buck teeth and a
very plain face.
when we were ten his father shot and
killed himself with a bullet through
the head
but my best friend and his mother went on
living in that house
and I used to seehis mother going
up the hill to the market with her
shopping bag and I'd walk along beside
quite conscious of her legs and her
hips and her behind
the way they all moved together
and she always spoke nicely to me
and her son and I went to church and
confession together
and the priest lived in a cottage
behind the church
and a fat kind lady was always there
with him
when we went to visit
and everything seemed warm and
comfortable then in
because I didn't know
that there was a worldwide
and that madness and sorrow and fear were
almost everywhere.


his name was Eddie and he had a
big white dog
with a curly tail
a huskie
like one of those that pulled sleighs
up near the north pole
Igloo he called him
and Eddie had a bow and arrow
and every week or two
he'd send an arrow
into the dog's side
then run into his mother's house
through the yelping
saying that Igloo had fallen on
the arrow.
that dog took quite a few arrows and
managed to
but I saw what really happened and didn't
like Eddie very much.
so when I broke Eddie's leg
in a sandlot football game
that was my way of getting even
for Igloo.
his parents threatened to sue my
claiming I did it on purpose because
that's what Eddie
told them.
well, nobody had any money anyhow
and when Eddie's father got a job
in San Diego
they moved away and left the
we took him in.
Igloo turned out to be rather dumb
did not respond to very much
had no life or joy in him
just stuck out his tongue
slept most of the time
when he wasn't eating
and although he wiped his ass
up and down the lawn after
he usually had a large fragrant smear of
under his tail
when he was run over by an
icecream truck
3 or 4 months later
and died in a stream of scarlet
I didn't feel more than the
usual amount of grief
and loss
and I was still glad that I
had managed to
break Eddie's leg.

the mice

my father caught the baby mice
they were still alive and he
flung them into the flaming
one by one.
the flames leaped out
and I wanted to throw my father
in there
but my being 10 years old
made that
"o.k., they're dead," he told me,
"I killed the bastards!"
"you didn't have to do that,"
I said.
"do you want them running
all over the house?
they leave droppings, they
bring disease!
what would you do with
"I'd make pets out of
what the bell's wrong with
you anyhow?"
the flame in the incinerator
was dying down.
it was all too late.
it was over.
my father had won

my garden

in the sun and in the rain
and in the day and in the night
pain is a flower
pain is flowers
blooming all the time.

legs and white thighs

the 3 of us were somewhere
between 9 and 10 years old
and we would gather in the bushes
alongside the driveway about 9:30
p.m. and look under the shade
and through the curtains at Mrs. Curson's
crossed legs—always
one foot wiggling, such a fine
thin ankle!
and she usually had her skirt
above the knee
(actually above the knee!)
and then above the garter that
held the hose sometimes we could see
a glimpse of her white thigh.
how we looked and breathed and
dreamed about those perfect
white thighs!
suddenly Mr. Curson would
get up from his chair to
let the dog out and
we'd start running through strange yards
climbing 5 foot lattice fences,
falling, getting up, running for
finally getting brave again and
stopping at some hamburger stand
for a coke.
I'm sure that Mrs. Curson never
realized what her legs and white
thighs did for us
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Table of Contents

my father and the bum 17
legs, hips and behind 18
igloo 20
the mice 22
my garden 24
legs and white thighs 25
Mademoiselle from Armentieres 26
my father's big-time fling 29
the bakers of 1935 31
the people 35
the pretty girl who rented rooms 36
too soon 38
canned heat? 40
Pershing Square, Los Angeles, 1939 43
scene from 1940: 46
my big moment 47
daylight saving time 50
the railroad yard 51
horseshit 52
man's best friend 54
the sensitive, young poet 56
hunger 58
the first one 61
the night I saw George Raft in Vegas 63
no title 65
too many blacks 66
white dog 68
blue beads and bones 69
ax and blade 71
some notes on Bach and Haydn 73
born to lose 76
Phillipe's 1950 78
in the lobby 79
he knows us all 81
victory! 82
more argument 84
wind the clock 87
what? 88
she comes from somewhere 89
lifedance 90
the bells 91
full moon 93
everywhere, everywhere 94
about a trip to Spain 95
Van Gogh 96
Vallejo 98
when the violets roar at the sun 99
the professionals 100
the 8 count concerto 102
an afternoon in February 104
crickets 106
the angel who pushed his wheelchair 108
the circus of death 111
the man? 114
Christmas poem to a man in jail 115
snake eyes? 119
my friends down at the corner: 121
smiling, shining, singing 122
Bruckner 124
this moment 126
one more good one 127
you do it while you're killing flies 133
the 12 hour night 134
plants which easily winter kills 137
the last poetry reading 139
probably so 143
assault 144
raw with love 148
wide and moving 150
demise 151
the pact 153
75 million dollars 155
butterflies 157
4 Christs 159
$180 gone 162
blue head of death 164
young men 166
the meaning of it all 167
guess who? 169
I want a mermaid 170
an unusual place 172
in this city now- 174
Captain Goodwine 177
morning love 180
an old jockey 182
hard times on Carlton Way 184
we needed him 186
Nana 188
poor Mimi 189
a boy and his dog 192
the dangerous ladies 194
sloppy love 196
winter: 44th year 203
Hollywood Ranch Market 204
rape 207
gone away 211
note left on the dresser by a lady friend: 213
legs 215
the artist 217
revolt in the ranks 219
life of the king 221
the silver mirror 223
hunchback 225
me and Capote 227
the savior: 1970 230
la femme finie 233
beast 234
artistic selfishness 236
my literary fly 237
memory 239
Carlton Way off Western Ave 241
at the zoo 243
coke blues 244
nobody home 245
woman in the supermarket 247
fast track 249
hanging there on the wall 251
the hookers, the madmen and the doomed 253
looking for Jack 255
apprentices 257
38,000-to-one 259
a touch of steel 261
brown and solemn 263
time 264
nobody knows the trouble I've seen 266
the way it works 268
bright lights and serpents 270
mean and stingy 272
$100 274
this particular war 276
German bar 277
floor job 278
the icecream people 280
like a cherry seed in the throat 282
the ordinary cafe of the world 285
on shaving 287
school days 291
neither a borrower nor a lender be 293
sometimes even putting a nickel into a parking meter feels good- 297
Mahler 299
fellow countryman 300
the young man on the bus stop bench 303
computer class 305
image 309
the crunch (2) 312
I'll send you a postcard 315
bravo! 316
downtown 318
the blue pigeon 320
combat primer 321
thanks for that 323
they arrived in time 324
odd 326
an interlude 328
anonymity 330
what's it all mean? 332
one-to-five 333
insanity 337
farewell my lovely 339
comments upon my last book of poesy: 341
a correction to a lady of poesy: 343
Beethoven conducted his last symphony while totally deaf 346
on the sidewalk and in the sun 348
what do they want? 350
I hear all the latest hit tunes 352
am I the only one who suffers thus? 354
on lighting a cigar 358
the cigarette of the sun 361
to lean back into it 363
dog fight 1990 365
I used to feel sorry for Henry Miller 367
locked in 369
wasted 372
Sunday lunch at the Holy Mission 374
slaughter 375
a vote for the gentle light 377
be alone 379
I inherit 381
another day 384
tabby cat 386
the gamblers 388
the crowd 389
trouble in the night 391
3 old men at separate tables 393
the singer 395
stuck with it 397
action on the corner 400
no guru 402
in this cage some songs are born 404
my movie 405
a new war 407
roll the dice 408
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