looking back

now
I can’t believe myself:
in the bars
attempting to pick up
the most dowdy of
women.
sagging stockings,
over-rouged cheeks,
deathly masqueraded,
yellow-toothed,
rat-eyed,
bellowing hyena
laughter…
and when I was
successful–
peacock proud,
I was Atilla,
I was Alexander the
Great,
I was the toughest
roughest guy in
town–
Bogart,   Cagney,
Gable,   all in
one.

and worse,
I   can’t believe myself
choosing out the biggest
meanest   bastard in the bar
to the alley.

to get myself clubbed by
meathooks I didn’t even
see coming.
my brain jumped inside
my skull,
I saw blazing shots of
color, flashes of
lightning, I   felt my
mouth fill with blood,
sensed my body
on the pavement.
I got up and rushed
forward with my
tiny hands.
there was many a
fight when I hardly
landed a
punch.
I was a laugh a
minute and the crowd
had all
night.
I   got my beating
and they got their
jollies.

my face never healed.
I always had a fat
lip, a black
eye, a nose that
hurt all over.
I developed bone-
growths under the
knees from falling
hard.
yet a couple of nights
later
I’d still be looking
for a newer and
meaner
bastard.

but hard to believe
was when finally
through some obnoxious
stroke of miracle
I did win
one,
I was accorded no
accolades.
my stripe, my function
was to
lose.
I was the guy from out of
town
and not even of the
neighborhood.

the strangest most hateful
nights were after
winning,
sitting alone at the end
of the bar
as that gang laughed and
talked it up
as if I weren’t even
there.

when I lost they loved me
and the drinks came
all night
long.

so when I won I lost
and when I lost I
won.

and
looking back
it is hard for me to believe
some of the women
I   shacked with.
they all had good bodies,
great legs
but the faces
the faces were faces from
hell
covered with
masks.
they were all fair in bed
in spite of a rather general
indifference to it
all.
they had ways of flattering
me
and I was younger,
more open to the
dream.

but Christ, they were good at
finding my wallet
after a day or two
or a week or two
to vanish
with all my money
to leave me
scrabbling for rent,
food, sanity and the
lost
dream.

only to reappear
knocking on my 3 a.m.
door
as if nothing had
ever happened:

“Hi!”

back from robbing some
other poor son of a
bitch.

and worse,
I’d let them back in,
liking the look of the leg,
the general   madness of it
all,
to drink with them then,
to hear their sad
stories,
to let the dream seep
back in…
after all, where was I to find
a lady?
down at the public library?
or at the opera house?

come on, baby, show me
some leg and let’s hear
your story.
and come on, have another
drink!

I had no plans.
I had no idea of what I was
doing.
the world was a strange and
oppressive
place.
a man had to get up his guts
to shove through.
everybody was so sad and
defeated and
subservient,
obedient.

“tell me about it, baby.”

I liked myself with my tiny
hands and my pock-marked
monkey face.
I liked myself sitting in my
shorts and my undershirt,
the undershirt torn and
dirty and full of cigarette
holes and wine-stains,
and I had muscular arms
and great powerful legs
and I loved to walk the rug
with my whore watching
while I vomited forth
inanities and
insanities.

I was hot stuff.
I was young stuff.
I was a fool
and I loved the
fool,
I lived the fool.

“o.k., baby, show me
more leg!
more!
your talk dulls me!
lift your skirt higher!
hold it!
not too high!
I don’t want to see what’s
there!”

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