Poem for Personnel Managers:

An old man asked me for a cigarette
and I carefully dealt out two.
“Been lookin’ for job. Gonna stand
in the sun and smoke.”

He was close to rags and rage
and he leaned against death.
It was a cold day, indeed, and trucks
loaded and heavy as old whores
banged and tangled on the streets…

We drop like planks from a rotting floor
as the world strives to unlock the bone
that weights its brain.
(God is a lonely place without steak.)

We are dying birds
we are sinking ships—
the world rocks down against us
and we
throw out our arms
and we
throw out our legs
like the death kiss of the centipede:
but they kindly snap our backs
and call our poison “politics.”

Well, we smoked, he and I—little men
nibbling fish-head thoughts…

All the horses do not come in,
and as you watch the lights of the jails
and hospitals wink on and out,
and men handle flags as carefully
    as babies,
remember this:

you are a great-gutted instrument of
heart and belly, carefully planned—
so if you take a plane for Savannah,
take the best plane;
or if you eat a chicken on a rock,
make it a very special animal.
(You call it a bird; I call birds

and if you decide to kill somebody,
make it anybody and not somebody:
some men are made of more special, precious
parts: do not kill
if you will
a president or a king
or a man
behind a desk—
these have heavenly longitudes
enlightened attitudes.

If you decide,
take us
who stand and smoke and flower;
we are rusty with sadness and
with climbing
broken ladders.

Take us:
    we were never children
    like your children.
    we do not understand love songs
    like your inamorata.

our faces are crackled linoleum,
cracked through with the heavy, sure
feet of our masters.

we are shot through the carrot tops
and poppyseed and tilted grammar;
we waste days like mad blackbirds
and pray for alcoholic nights.
our silk-sick human smiles wrap around
us like somebody else’s confetti:
we do not even belong to the Party.

we are a scene chalked-out with the
sick white brush of Age.

we smoke, asleep as a dish of figs.
we smoke, as dead as fog.

take us.

a bathtub murder
or something quick and bright; our names
in the papers.

Known, at last, for a moment
to millions of careless and grape-dull eyes
that hold themselves private
to only flicker and flame
at the poor cracker-barrel jibes
of their conceited, pampered
    correct comedians.

Known, at last, for a moment,
as they will be known
and as you will be known
by an all-grey man on an all-grey horse
who sits and fondles a sword
longer than the night
longer than the mountains’s aching backbone
longer than all the cries
that have V-bombed up out of throats
and exploded in a newer, less-planned

We smoke, and the clouds do not notice us.
A cat walks by and shakes Shakespeare
    off of his back.
Tallow, tallow, candle like wax: our spines
are limp and our consciousness burns
guilelessly away
    the remaining wick Life has
doled out to us.

An old man asked me for a cigarette
and told me his troubles
and this
in what he said:
that Age was a crime
and that pity picked up the marbles
and that hatred picked up the

He might have been your father
or mine
He might have been a sex-fiend
or a saint
but whatever he was,
he was condemned
and we stood in the sun and
and looked around
in our leisure
to see who was next in

Charles Bukowski
This poem appeared in the following books: