iron

we all go through it, those times when
when we decide to challenge
everything,
we get to pumping iron, those sick
muscles respond to a throbbing
glow of flex and counter-flex
which need objects to work
upon.
we hang around the toughest
joints,
sitting quietly, waiting for
trouble, daring
trouble.
and it always arrives in the
form of some greasy
low-down
monster–
a misunderstanding with
this.
and outside we go,
fist against bone,
sucking it up,
throwing them from the
shoulder,
grunting,
sucking for air,
shaking off the shots,
planting your feet for
balance,
the drunken crowd
panting for somebody’s
demise.
you test the monsters,
find some of them
wanting but,
unfortunately, not
all.

and the ladies love
men who
fight.
and into your dim
rooms
they will enter,
delighted at your
dumb
valor
they will begin
to gnaw your
courage
away
by guile,
by god,
making those
monsters
in comparison
look
pale.

then you are sitting
around one night
in your cheap hotel
room
with whatever
she
whatever
libations,
she’s speaking of
childhood or about
the time she
hitchhiked through
the
Amazons,
and it hits you like a
kick in the balls:

what am I doing?

and you dump pumping
the steel,
you dump her or better
yet, let her dump
you.

you dump yourself.

you get off the proving
grounds.
the proving grounds
prove nothing
but vanity stuffing its
own
pleasures.

you back out,
regroup.

it’s easy.

a month later at some
public place
a boor and a bull
gives you a bit of an
elbow, a bit of a
shove.
he’s in a hurry for
something.
you’re slightly in his
way.
you catch his
eye.
“sorry, man,” you
say, “you o.k.?”

he’s puzzled, can’t
make it all
out.

fine.

a man has to circle
to come back to where
he is.

then the way out is to
break it.

sometimes it takes a
while.
other times it can’t
be done.

but since I have
the women have become
more beautiful and the
rooms larger,
not that I have sought
them
but that they have
found me.

of course, I still pump
iron at odd and
desultory
moments.
old habits often die
slowly
like
old men.

Author
Charles Bukowski
Written
1991
Source
Original manuscript
This poem appeared in the following books: