poverty

meant nothing to me, I even thought it was funny,
especially since I had chosen it over wealth and
success. I figured it was my business if I wanted
poverty, then I had a right to it and those rooms I
shared with the rats and the mice and the roaches
and the empty wine bottles, well, all of that was my
wish and I spent weeks, months, years mulling
about, passing my life away in tiny rooms and I was
content with that, it was my victory and my birthright.

what a delicious thing it was to stretch out on a
lumpy mattress in the dark on some second floor
over an avenue, watching the headlights of cars
work patterns across the ceiling full of strange and
curious cracks while you were drinking from a
bottle of wine from the bed stand and there was
another bottle waiting when that one was finished.
rolling cigarettes in the dark, watching the red ash
glow so red in the dark, it was magic even when a
bit of ash would fall on your chest and burn you–
shit!–you’d leap up laughing, then settle back
down, wanting nothing, having nothing but just
that small bit you had–the bottles, the smokes, the
rats, the roaches, the mice, the feeling of the dead
who had preceded you in that dark room, and
look, you could sleep until noon, you could sleep
until 3 a.m., you could sleep for two days and often
you did.

you never considered owning an automobile, and
women?
just enough to prove you could do it but to have one
around every day?
what was the need?
I wasn’t lonely.

I think I fattened my god damned soul in those rooms,
all those hours of years, actually, I suppose I was
hiding, not wanting to get caught up, not wanting to
be them, not wanting to be what my father had become,
all the fathers had become, and the mothers and the sons
and the uncles and the brothers and the twins and everybody
and anybody else.
it looked like shit, it looked like waste, it looked like dying
and dying only looked like the dead had died.

I hid, I hid, I hid like a gopher, a mole, all I had with myself to
feed upon and it filled me.
I only became emptied when at times I had to enter the
marketplace to sustain myself
and I couldn’t believe those lives:   men as slaves, doing
monotonous and repetitive work they would never escape
except by being discharged or dying.
but they accepted the horrible hours in order to make
payments upon major necessities and minor
luxuries.
I preferred suicide, attempted several, failed, went back
to the small rooms.

and in those rooms, I blossomed again, like a flower, more
like a flower on a cactus, but Christ, it was marvelous, an
out, a waiting, a calm place.

so many nights just looking at the knobs on a dresser,
the cracked mirror.
the chair in the corner.
rolling another cigarette.
taking a hit of the wine.
waiting.
I understood men sat on mountain tops, who lived
in caves.
I understand that to have nothing was to have
everything.
the most valuable thing on earth was to have each hour
as your own,
that was all there was.

I was even enamored of many of the old stairways
which led up and down to the rooms, old stairways with
bits of worn rug from thousands of footsteps, half dark
those stairways, little unshaded lightbulbs here and
there and often–wow!–a framed painting of the face of
Christ in thorns–even for a non-believer it had its charm.
and strangest of all, for all the dozen or so roomers in those
places you never met any of them on the stairway–great
luck–because you were usually drunk, coming from some
tavern and no need to upset your brethren with your
inebriated state…
to go up, fumble for your key, find it, fit it to the door, and
the door opens and there is the dresser and there is the
bed and there is the chair and there is the window and the
dripping sink and there is the mouse sitting on the dresser,
he has gotten bold, your eyes meet and his are much more
beautiful than yours, and then with a lightning dart, he is gone
and you are young man in a very old world and you know
it and it is absolutely strange and you sit down on the bed and
take off your shoes and everything everywhere is quiet, final
and perfect.

Author
Charles Bukowski
Written
1992
Source
Original manuscript