neither Shakespeare or Mickey Spillane

fold yourself in half, look you’re back again
living on a candy bar a day in the cheapest
room in town–
trying to be a writer, not a great writer but
somebody who got checks for what he writes
and he lives upon those checks
and he doesn’t need an automobile or a
girlfriend and he needn’t go to work,
just be a writer, pumping it out, day after
day, day and night, words hot upon the paper,
2 and 1/2 cents a word, 5 cents a word, any-
thing, pulp magazines, stories about detectives
and aviators, or sex mags–great escapades of
a fantastic fucker, and at the same time send out
serious stuff, poems to POETRY, A MAGAZINE OF
VERSE.

the candy bar was the meat and the cheap wine
was the blood and the long-legged, long-haired
girls were let go to the others so you could get the
word down for the pulps, for the sex rags, for the
ATLANTIC MONTHLY and HARPER’S and
ESQUIRE and the NEW YORKER, those dirty cold
fucks who kept sending it back while printing the
clever careful crap.

young young young, only wanting the Word.
going mad on wine in the streets and in the bars.
fights, broken glass, crazy women screaming in
your cheap rooms.
a familiar member of the drunk tank at North
Avenue 21, Lincoln Heights.

sifting through the madness for the word, the line,
the way.
a check from somewhere?
dreaming of a letter from a great editor:
“God, man, you don’t know how long we’ve been
waiting for you!”

no way.

it finally came down to less words, after 5 short
stories and 20 poems a week, it came down to less
words and more wine and more crazy women and
broken glass and screaming and vengeful landlords
and police raids

you young, taller than the mountains in your
imagination, stinking drunk, screaming
“SCREW YOU GUYS!   I’M A GENIUS!”

handcuffs on in back, always too tight, the
steel cutting into the wrists, snap!–the
sharp brutal pain….
“Shut up, buddy, or I’ll shut you…”

fold yourself in half and there you were
36 years ago.
and a greater more interesting time
could never be had.
I had the faith then that I don’t even have
now.

and the funniest thing, the woman, slobbering
drunk, hair in face, staggering…

“let her go fellows, it’s me, I’m the bastard, I’m
your man, she’s a subnormal from lower
Dixie, a brain-damage case…”

“god damn you, shut up!” from the cop,
shoving me through the door, down the
stairway fast
wherein it took all my effort not to fall
straight forward, which was what he
wanted, handcuffs behind me I would
be unable to break my fall…

I broke into song:
“MY HEART IS A HOBO…”

I heard a curse and then all else was
blackness.

all I wanted was 2 and 1/2 or 5 cents a
word.
son of a bitch, I ached to be a writer
of any kind.

didn’t they understand?

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