the secret life

as a child
I was not quite with
it.

the best parts were
when
I was left alone in
the house.

there was a large
old-fashioned
stand-up
victoria.
you wound it
up with a
handle on the
right hand
side.

the best parts
were the late
afternoons.
it was shady
it was
quiet.

I took out all the
records
and spread them
about the
room.

I preferred the
ones with the dark
purple
labels.
I only played
those.
but I didn’t like
the
melodies.

I held my fingers
against the spinning
record
and slowed the
sound.

I liked that
better.

I played all the
records with the
purple labels,
slowing the
sound.

as I slowed the
sound,
imaginary things
happened in my
head.
but they were
ill-formed:
I would see a
waterfall, then it
would
stop.

then I would see
my father putting
on his leather
slippers in the
morning.
then I saw a
tiger killing
something.

I kept seeing parts
of things,
when they would
vanish
and oftentimes
there was
nothing,
just the purple
label
revolving
and I’d attempt to
read the print
as it
turned.

then I would put
all the records
away
and I would
rewind the
machine
and watch the
turntable
spin.
it was of green
felt
and I would
alter the speeds
of the turntable
by holding my
finger against
it.

after that,
I would often go to
the front window
and peek through the
drapes at the lady
across the street.
she sat on the
front steps
most of the day.
her legs crossed.
she spoke to
people as they
walked by.
she had long silk
legs
and she laughed
and seemed
happy.
she was not
at all
like my
mother.

I watched her
a long
time.
I watched her
until she went
into her
house.

next was the
clock on the
mantle.
it had a large
second
hand.

then the contest
would
begin:
me against the
second
hand.

I would place
myself on the
floor
so that I could
see
the second
hand.

I would wait until
it touched the
twelve,
then I would
hold my
breath.
I would hold
it as long as
possible,
then time
myself.

then I would
begin
again,
holding my
breath
in an attempt
to hold it
longer than
the first
time.

I would note the
time passed,
then I would
begin again
in an
attempt to
surpass that
time.

each time
I would hold
my breath
longer.

it became
more and more
difficult.

I heard a
voice:
“THIS TIME, LADIES
AND GENTLEMEN,
THERE WILL BE A
NEW WORLD’S
RECORD!”

it got bad,
it got real bad,
holding it
in,
but the world
record was
important.

I could no longer
just lay there
holding it
in,
I had to clench
my fists
and roll about
the rug.
I closed my eyes.
flashes of light
were inside of
my head,
rolls of color,
red, blue,
purple,
and they
interchanged.

at last,
I breathed
in,
looked at the
clock:

I HAD SET A NEW
WORLD’S RECORD,
15 SECONDS
PAST THE OLD
ONE!

then to get
up,
go into the
kitchen and drink
a glass of
water.
I always drank a
glass of water,
I don’t know
why.

soon after that
my parents would
be home,
first my mother,
then my
father.

my mother wouldn’t
say much,
she’d be busy in
the kitchen,
but my father
always had something
to say
and it was always
about the
same:
“well, Henry, what
have you been doing
all day?”

“nothing.”

“nothing? what the
hell’s that:
nothing!”

I wouldn’t answer,
not to him,
he would never
know,
I’d die before I
would tell him,
he could kill me
before I’d tell
him.

him and his shoes,
him and his ears,
him and his
body.

whatever I had
done,
it was
mine.

Author
Charles Bukowski
This poem appeared in the following books: