he used to be

so big with the cigar sticking out of his mouth
he listened to people
the old women in the neighborhood who told him
about their arthritis and their constipation
and about the peep freaks who looked at their
wrinkled bodies at night
breathing heavily under the shades
he used to have patience with the mob
he knew something and he sat at the taco stand and
listened to the cokeheads and the meth-heads
and the ugly whores
he was the neighborhood
he was Hollywood and Western
even the pimps with their switchblades stood aside
as he walked by.

then it happened almost at once: he began to get
thin.   he came to my door and asked if I had some
oranges.   he sat in my chair looking weak and sad,
he seemed about to cry. “I don’t know what is wrong.
I can’t eat.   I pewk it all up.”   I told him to go
to the meds.   he went to the Vet’s hospital, he went
to the Queen of Angels, he went to the Hollywood
Presbyterian.   he went other places.

I went to see him the other day. he had moved to
a new neighborhood. he sat in a chair.   paper
milk cartons were on the floor, empty cans of
beef stew, empty Kentucky Colonel boxes, empty bags
of french fries and the stale stink.

“you need a good diagnostician,” I said.

“it’s no use,” he said.

“try it…”

“I’ve found,” he said, “that I can drink buttermilk
and it stays down.

we talked some more and then I left.

the old women ask me, where is he?   where is your

I don’t think he wants to see them.

I’ll always remember him when there was trouble
around this place
running out of his court in the back
with his shotgun, cocking it, himself large
in the moonlight, long cigar in mouth
ready to right was was needed to be

and it’s now as simple and clear
that he waits as alone as a man can get.
even the devil has company, you know.
the taco stand has lost its class
and when the police helicopter circles
over us each night
and the searchlight beam invades our windows
through the blinds it doesn’t have it
like it used to have it.   it’s as simple
and clear as that.

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