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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Ghost of Charles Bukowski, a novel excerpt or a partial tribute

At the end of my freshman year in college, a professor loaned by Love Is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski. The 300+ page book of poetry about horseracing, prostitutes, drunkenness, despair and the rare moment of transcendence makes a strange source for an epiphany, I warrant. But as a 19-year-old who had been carrying a poetry journal for the two years or so prior, that book offered one brilliant illumination and made me forever indebted to the misanthrope poet of Los Angeles. Bukowski just wrote. He didn't wait for a subject; he didn't edit himself or circumscribe his thoughts; he didn't sweat line breaks or unpleasant odors. He wrote what he wanted. That's what Dog from Hell said to me: write what you want.


Ever since then, I've thought about my relationship to Bukowski's work, and have dabbled with imaginings about his ghost. I include one of these poems in "Monster Poems." Recently, I also uncovered a novel concept and first few chapters with the working (or not working) title "Better Safe Than Haunted by the Ghost of Charles Bukowski." Needs work, I reckon. But here's the first chapter for your reading enjoyment.

If you'd like to read more, click that "Follow" link up at the top of this page. If I get a few of you to do so, I'll post chapter two.


Chapter 1

“Misery is the privilege that finds you when you need it to,” quips Charles, belting me across the face. My chin whips over my left shoulder, and I go down. Needless to say, nobody sees the blow that fells me. Conveniently for Charles, he’s non-corporeal. Annie gasps in surprise. My toppling is a far cry from the expected response to the question, "Do you take this woman to love, cherish, honor, obey, in sickness and in health, 'til death, yadda yadda…"
            From my vantage point at carpet level I can see already where this is going, this ceremony, this afternoon, this evening, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I can see it going a long way away.
            “Here’s your mantle,” says Charles. “Wear it proudly.”
            I lift my face up to the shoes of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Maddie who have come in from Cleveland. Cries of confusion and concern arise from all quarters. I postpone saying anything to anybody until it’s Annie, my dad and the pastor who are closest.
            “I can’t,” I say. They know what I mean. I see Annie’s dad has the message, too, but there’s this clinging we people do, denying what’s patently true because we want some explanation that will change the truth. I notice that Annie understands: her eyes are brimming. The pastor’s eyes are rolling, like he’s heard it all before and now he’s going to have to advocate for the rest of his fee. It’s my dad that’s desperate for words.
            “What do you mean? You can’t what? What’s going on? Do you know who’s here?”
            “Come on, dad,” I say, cold as Charles, who is now nowhere to be seen. “You get it. I’m not going through with this. I’m sorry. This whole scene isn’t for me. That’s the bitter truth.”
            Dad’s hand comes down like a spanking on my shoulder, though his grimace looks as if he means to brace me for the customary conclusion to this event—the one that includes a hailstorm of uncooked rice. I shake him off, and on the tide of murmurs, understanding and disparagement, I ride out of the chapel at a speed walk. Outdoors on the steps isn’t nearly far enough, so I keep walking fast, down the lawn to the sidewalk, down the sidewalk, past the fence, across a street…
            Like a lost penguin, I walk quick, turning corners, seeking some way to home in on where I’m supposed to go. I keep turning so the people who will soon be leaving the church will not chance to drive past me. I don’t want the people who knew me to find me. I don’t want the people who thought they’d know me to tell me anything, either. I walk for at least an hour in the blasting Miami summer until I’m soaked through and God knows where.
            Charles appears for a moment to draw my attention to a shadowed doorway. “In here,” he rasps.
            It’s dim and rancid with a single black bar and a half-dozen wounded naugahide stools. A couple tables and mismatched chairs mill around like anonymous alcoholics. A booth forebodes against the far wall. A vintage but worthless jukebox appears to be unplugged. A beer-brand lampshade stubbornly asserts, “Miller.”
            The craggiest, most Caucasian man I’ve seen in Florida eyes me.
            “Miller,” I say.
            “What’s with the tux?”
            “Walked out on my bride to be.”
            “Truth,” Charles enunciates. “More beautiful than a bride. Better than peanuts with beer.”
            “Shut the fuck up.”
            The bartender looks ready to swing a haymaker at me.
            “Not you,” I say. “The voices in my head.”
            “Okay,” says Charles. “But this one just came to me. Then I leave you to your mug of cold piss:
           
            heart broke
            and breaking
           
            sometimes the whole
            mass of the world
            stops a minute
            to nod
            its distaste

            for you.

            you’re tired,
            so it rolls off
            like beer foam.

            in a minute
            your turn is over,
            and the next
            man in line
            throws the
            meaningless
            dice.

            As I pound the beer, Charles swirls away into the stale effluvia of this place, and I move on to whiskey.

 

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