an old jockey

when you no longer see them on the programs
you figure they have retired
but it’s not always so.
sometimes the women or bad investments
or drink or drugs
don’t let them.
I see them
down at Caliente
on bad mounts
vying against the flashy Mexican boys
or you see them at the county fair bullrings
dashing for clearance on that first hairpin
it’s like the old-time fighters with once-names
being fed to the rising small-town heroes.

I was in Phoenix this one afternoon
and people were talking and chattering and talking
and I borrowed the lady’s car
and drove down to the track.
I had a fair day.
then in the last race
this jock brought in a longshot:
$48.40 and I looked at the program:
so that’s what happened to him?
when he wheeled his mount up outside the winner’s
circle he shook his whip in the air
just like he used to do at Hollypark and Anita.
it was like seeing the dead
old R.Y.
riding 3 pounds overweight and still able to
create the magic.

I hadn’t even noticed his name
in that $3,500 claiming race
or I would have put a small
sentimental bet on him
on his only mount of the day.

you can have your New Year’s
your birthdays
your xmases
your 4th. of July’s

driving back in
I felt very good for R.Y.

when I got back in they were still
chatting and talking and chatting
and the lady looked up and said,
“well, how did you do?”
and I said, “I had a lucky day.”
and she said, “it’s about time.”

and she was right.

Charles Bukowski
Original manuscript
This poem appeared in the following books: