Brown

Brown was the biggest guy in
high school, mostly fat, warts,
excess hair and stupidity.
you could feel his stupidity–
rays of it bounced off of him
into your eyes, mouth, brain.
and since they seated us
alphabetically and he was
Brown and I was Bukowski
I sat behind him
staring into his thick round
neck
at his senseless ears and
big dumb head
shutting out
all the light–
he was always raising his
hand, his arm (fat arm)
keeping the light
shut out.
he was always asking
questions, he thought that
was being intelligent.

I sat behind Brown
day after day
class after class
wishing various things
for him
like drowning in
the bathtub or
moving to
Cedar City, Texas.

I knew that he
couldn’t help
what he was, he was just
a big space of something
where nothing grew
and that didn’t make him
guilty of anything
and I also felt that
there was something wrong
with me and so
I played brother
and when he turned and
made some puking dull
joke
I’d grin
as if he had accomplished
something.

in sundry classes while various
teachers were instructing us
I would imagine these rays arising
from Brown–
sometimes they were yellow
then they changed to white
but the rays weren’t a pure
white–
they were strung through with
curls of brown and
I felt vacant
in the stomach
ingesting him
day after day
while many of the other guys
sat behind young girls
who emanated
pink and violet light….

I was not always behind Brown.
he was not in all of my classes
or I was not in all of his
classes–
whichever way you want to
put it.

and I was never a good student
but in the classes without
Brown (or Brown without
me) I got mostly “C’s” and
sometimes a rare “B”
but in the other classes
I usually got a “D” and now
and then
an “F”.

it got so bad that
near the end of my Senior
term
a notice was sent
to my parents
that I wouldn’t have
enough credits to
graduate.

my mother, a woman with
a psychotic fear of failure,
came to that school and
wept and screamed until
they told her, “all right,
Mrs. Bukowski, we’ll let him
out of here.”

what they meant, of course,
was that they were
getting rid
of her….

and during the graduation ceremony
you knew who I stood behind while
waiting for my scroll….

as they called his name
he turned to me
and made his little joke
but this time
I didn’t grin–
I let my face show him
exactly
what I felt: that
kindness begins only
where it must start
or else
all other things are
useless…

he moved onto the stage
and I
graduated.

Author
Charles Bukowski
Written
1982
Source
Original manuscript