An Old Chunk of Coal

I like to draw attention to the anniversaries of the birth or death of people I think are interesting or important. It gives me a chance to say a few words about them, and perhaps share some work of theirs that has made me think or moved me. I like to feel that I might also be introducing them to folks who are unfamiliar with their lives and work.

Such an opportunity avails itself once more, as today is the 90th anniversary of the birth of American poet, novelist, short story writer, and professional drinker, Charles Bukowski. Now you can follow that link and learn the details of Bukowski’s life, but I can tell you it was hardboiled, bedraggled, soaked in booze, and banged out on Royal Model HH, Underwood Standard, and Olympia SG model typewriters.

All of Bukowski’s novels save for his last, Pulp, are autobiographical up to a point. Like Hunter Thompson, he created a myth about himself through his writing, and then he had to live the myth. Some have called his work spiritual. I agree, for Bukowski was trying to figure out the same things as any Buddha or any other kind of seeker: what is the truth of my life and why do we make ourselves suffer.

Bukowski reminds me of the Chinese poet, Li Po, who had few wants in life, other than to drink, to write, to have a little fun, and know some women. They may not be the highest aspirations a person can have, and yet, there is a sagely quality about even that lower-level simplicity.

And if you have any sort of fondness for Los Angeles, likely you are already aware that Bukowski is among the pantheon of the literary gods who have immortalized the City of Angels in fiction. And it’s a short list as far as I am concerned. For me the others include Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Ross Macdonald, and James M. Cain.

When I think of Bukowski, often a song by Billy Joe Shaver comes to mind: “I’m just an old chunk of coal but I’m gonna be a diamond someday.”

I don’t know what Bukowksi thought of Buddhism. I do know his last wife was a devotee of Meher Baba, who wasn’t a Buddhist and I don’t think Bukowksi had any interaction with him. I also know that his funeral was conducted by three priests who were Buddhist, something his wife arranged. Bukowski couldn’t a given a damn.

I imagine if anyone asked him, Bukowski would have probably said that he thought Buddhism was silly. At the same time, the hard shell he cocooned himself into wasn’t so thick and he wasn’t quite as cynical as he pretended to be. So maybe he had some grudging respect for the Buddha and his dharma, who knows?

Charles Bukowski wrote thousands of poems.

Here are two you might like:

On The Fire Suicides Of The Buddhists

“They only burn themselves to reach Paradise”
– Mne. Nhu

original courage is good,
motivation be damned,
and if you say they are trained
to feel no pain,
are they
guarenteed this?
is it still not possible
to die for somebody else?

you sophisticates
who lay back and
make statements of explanation,
I have seen the red rose burning
and this means more.

Nirvana

not much chance,
completely cut loose from
purpose,
he was a young man
riding a bus
through North Carolina
on the way to somewhere
and it began to snow
and the bus stopped
at a little cafe
in the hills
and the passengers
entered.
he sat at the counter
with the others,
he ordered and the
food arived.
the meal was
particularly
good
and the
coffee.
the waitress was
unlike the women
he had
known.
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
from her.
the fry cook said
crazy things.
the dishwasher.
in back,
laughed, a good
clean
pleasant
laugh.
the young man watched
the snow through the
windows.
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
forever.
the curious feeling
swam through him
that everything
was
beautiful
there,
that it would always
stay beautiful
there.
then the bus driver
told the passengers
that it was time
to board.
the young man
thought, I’ll just sit
here, I’ll just stay
here.
but then
he rose and followed
the others into the
bus.
he found his seat
and looked at the cafe
through the bus
window.
then the bus moved
off, down a curve,
downward, out of
the hills.
the young man
looked straight
foreward.
he heard the other
passengers
speaking
of other things,
or they were
reading
or
attempting to
sleep.
they had not
noticed
the
magic.
the young man
put his head to
one side,
closed his
eyes,
pretended to
sleep.
there was nothing
else to do-
just to listen to the
sound of the
engine,
the sound of the
tires
in the
snow.

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