the piano player

I used to like the old guy who played the piano
with his drink on the lid of some honkeytonk
bar in China or Manilla or some island somewhere,
cigarette dangling while these dope dealers,
killers, international spies were about
scratching their calves and backs in the smokey
heat as they decided the fates of whores and
the old piano players tickled out a tune
while this honey-eyed blonde in a banana-colored
v-neck to bellybutton
eyebrows plucked away
leaned against the piano like a decibel
elbows like clothespins
she sang as
came in
the one rugged handsome one
sweated collarband
after heroic nodule-slicing of evil dumb
nazi nodules, he
nodded through squinted eyes
up to the old piano player
said:   “him ho blow.
old piano player:
“ho blow him.”
        honey-blonde with the slits said:
            re back, Harry.”
Harry glances at his back, half pinched–
out a tarantula and he and she walked off to
a back room

the old piano player just went into another
tune and I used to think, jesus, he should have
her, he’s not fag and certainly not in a hurry
about anything, seem to have more sense, he
doesn’t worry about nazis or a better world
or how to act tough enough to deserve a woman
in a banana dress
and he wears unusual old-fashioned and comfort-
able suspenders and you know all he finally wants
to do is to drink that drink on the piano lid and
then play another tune, he knows the price of any-
thing else:   another man around, many men around
always a contest of bidding:   who can jump and has
the highest?   who can break the most two by fours
with the edge of his hand?   who can remain the cool-
est as she eyeballs the lightning rod of some greasy
matador from Madrid in for a

the old piano players knows and he desists but he
hasn’t always desisted, and then somebody asks for
a certain tune and he runs it off, first taking the
drink, lighting the cigarette, then his fingers
sun up and down along the keys, up and down, it’s
good and easy, asks nothing, asks such a little of
nothing that it gives a chance for those who have asked
for no chance, like, you know, sunlit slabs of dripping
rain, someplace to sit down and wait, dogs eyes and National
Geographics spread out all over the place.

Charles Bukowski
Original manuscript
This poem appeared in the following books: