A Poem for the Preakness

Pimlico Race Course

In celebration of Saturday’s 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, I thought I would offer a horse racing-themed poem inspired by Charles Bukowski and his penchant for betting on the ponies.

Charles Bukowski

Hanging with Bukowski

I wish I could spend an afternoon
with Charles Bukowski—
drive out to Santa Anita,
watch the horses parade in the paddock,
then head up to the grandstand and
compare theories about breeding,
jockeys, trainers, and finishing times.
But I know he wouldn’t share
any betting tips with me.
I’d ask him: “Hey, who do you like in the fourth race?”
And I can hear him say,
“Screw you man, figure it out for yourself.
I don’t have the answers for you.”

But maybe if I hung around long enough—
if I bought him a hot dog
and a few draft beers,
his tongue would loosen
and his disposition turn.
He’d let me stick around,
and I’d get to see him composing a poem,
scribbling notes in the margins
of the Daily Racing Form,
flashes of images preserved,
like the glistening muscles of the horses,
or the curves of a tan woman
wearing an orange sundress
and standing along the rail.

Maybe after the last race
we’d go out to a bar
and have a couple of drinks,
maybe meet some women
and take them back to his place.
He’d fry some eggs or make sandwiches,
and we’d drink some more,
while listening to
Mozart or Beethoven on the radio.
This is how I imagine
I would spend the day with Bukowski.

Charles Bukowski

But since the social interaction is not possible,
I will seek out Bukowski
in the pages of his books.
There I will discover the writer
who rises above the legend.
The odd jobs and shabby apartments,
the drinking, gambling, profanity, and women—
they entice readers, draw them in
like a trailer for a summer blockbuster.
But once there, you’re hooked by the stories,
the prose and poetry of a man who
sacrificed everything to express his art.

And what he had inside
is now stored for us to review,
volumes upon volumes
in any public library.
I will keep reading,
cracking open Bukowski books,
and saying “hello” to my friend.
And maybe I’ll spot his ghost
the next time I go to the track.
I may even place an exacta bet on his behalf.
But he would probably complain
about the horses I’d pick.
“Jesus, you wasted six bucks on those nags,”
he would say.
“You don’t know your ass
from a hole in the ground.
Next time don’t do me any favors.
Stay home if you’re gonna blow money like that.”

©2017 Francis DiClemente
(Sidewalk Stories, Kelsay Books)


A Monday Kind of Poem

I’ve been reading another collection of poetry by Charles Bukowski that I borrowed from the library. I’m up to page 138 in What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire, and I came across a poem Sunday evening that seems fitting for the resumption of work following a long holiday weekend.

This little verse by Buk offers inspiration to reset one’s focus and seems to urge readers to value each day above everything else.

Here it is:

This Moment

it’s a farce, the great actors, the great poets, the great
statesmen, the great painters, the great composers, the
great loves,
it’s a farce, a farce, a farce,
history and the recording of it,
forget it, forget it.

you must begin all over again.
throw all that out.
all of them out

you are alone with now.

look at you fingernails.
touch your nose.


the day flings itself upon

Bukowski, Charles. What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire.
New York: Ecco; First Edition, 2002.


Come On In! by Charles Bukowski

Over the weekend I finished reading Come On In!: New Poems by Charles Bukowski, and I felt a twinge of sadness when I returned the book to the library. I had enjoyed spending some evenings at home with old Buk.

Come On In by Charles Bukowski

Come On In by Charles Bukowski

Bukowski died in 1994 and the collection was published posthumously in 2006. Here we find the author facing old age, illness and death and never flinching. He presents several gems in the book—accessible poems packed with emotion. The tender, humane side of Bukowski is exposed, as if the onion skin had been peeled.

Charles Bukowski (Richard Robinson/Black Sparrow Press)

Here are four of my favorite works from the volume. I think they contain lessons for the living, as Bukowski seems to offer instructions as we face our own demise.

moving toward the dark

if we can’t find the courage to go on,
what will we do?
what should we do?
what would you do?
if we can’t find the courage to go on,
what day
what minute
in what year
did we go
or was it an accumulation of all the years?

I have some answers.
to die, yes.
to go mad, maybe.

or perhaps to
gamble everything away?

if we can’t find the courage to go on,
what should we do?
what did all the others

they went on
living their lives,
we’ll do the same,

living too long
takes more than


no leaders please

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself,
don’t swim in the same slough.
invent yourself and then reinvent yourself
stay out of the clutches of mediocrity.

invent yourself and then reinvent yourself,
change your tone and shape so often that they can
categorize you.

reinvigorate yourself and
accept what is
but only on the terms that you have invented
and reinvented.

be self-taught.

and reinvent your life because you must;
it is your life and
its history
and the present
belong only to


Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

my song


restless days
sleepless nights

always fighting
with all your
heart and soul
so as not
to fail at living

who could ask
for anything


mind and heart

unaccountably we are alone
forever alone
and it was meant to be
that way,
it was never meant
to be any other way–
and when the death struggle
the last thing I wish to see
a ring of human faces
hovering over me–
better just my old friends,
the walls of my self,
let only them be there.

I have been alone but seldom
I have satisfied my thirst
at the well
of my self
and that wine was good,
the best I ever had,
and tonight
staring into the dark
I now finally understand
the dark and the
light and everything
in between.

peace of mind and heart
when we accept what
having been
born into this
strange life
we must accept
the wasted gamble of our
and take some satisfaction in
the pleasure of
leaving it all

cry not for me.

grieve not for me.

what I’ve written
forget it

drink from the well
of your self
and begin

Bukowski, Charles. Come On In!: New Poems. New York: Ecco (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2006.


Poetry Pals

I can’t seem to get enough of writer Charles Bukowski these days.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

I recently finished reading his novel Hollywood, a fictionalized account about Bukowski’s experience writing the screenplay for the movie Barfly.

I then ran out to the library and checked out two poetry books by Bukowski—The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain: New Poems and Come On In!: New Poems.

I don’t even read much poetry but I felt I needed more Bukowski books in the house, like I wanted to keep my friend around for a while. Bukowski seems less like a deceased author and more like a buddy spending his vacation with me. When I’m engrossed in a Bukowski work, I often picture him sitting in my living room and reading aloud from his book while taking sips of beer from a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Miller High Life.

Anyway, that’s just a fleeting image. The writing speaks for itself. And I’ve only read up to page 57 in The Flash of Lightning, but here’s a poem I found worthy of sharing. I hope you enjoy it too.

Born Again

this special place of ourselves
sometimes explodes in our
I got a flat on the freeway yesterday,
changed the right rear wheel on the
the big rigs storming by,
slamming the sky
against my head and
it felt like I was clinging to the
edge of the earth,
30 minutes late for the first

but strangely, something
about the experience
was very much like emerging reluctantly
a second time
from my
mother’s womb.

Bukowski, Charles. The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain: New Poems. New York: Ecco (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2004.

I also ran across an old interview with Bukowski in the New York Times in which he discusses his style of writing and being a lucky late bloomer.


nobody but you

Over the weekend I finished reading Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way, a book of poems by Charles Bukowski.

One of the last poems in the book, nobody but you, serves as a punctuation mark and a pep talk from the late author to all human beings.

After reading it, I imagined Bukowski, an avid horse racing bettor, standing up in the grandstand at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.

Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.

Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.

I pictured him holding a microphone and shouting the words of the poem to the people around him and the crowd below.

He would say: “OK listen up, this is what I have to say. I’m only gonna say it once.”

And in a rough voice he would recite his poem:

nobody but you

nobody can save you but
you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly

nobody can save you but
and it will be easy enough to fail
so very easily
but don’t, don’t, don’t.
just watch them.
listen to them.
do you want to be like that?
a faceless, mindless, heartless
do you want to experience
death before death?

nobody can save you but
and you’re worth saving.
it’s a war not easily won
but if anything is worth winning then
this is it.

think about it.
think about saving your self.

your spiritual self.
your gut self.
your singing magical self and
your beautiful self.
save it.
don’t join the dead-in-spirit.

maintain your self
with humor and grace
and finally
if necessary
wager your life as you struggle,
damn the odds, damn
the price.

only you can save your

do it! do it!

then you’ll know exactly what
I am talking about.

Bukowski, Charles. Sifting Through the Madness for the Word, the Line, the Way. New York: Ecco (An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), 2003.

After receiving thunderous applause, Bukowski would say, “That’s it. Enough poetry for today. I need to go make an exacta bet—six and four in the fifth.”

He would drop the microphone and head toward the betting windows, getting lost in the crowd of other patrons. It’s a fitting image since the man is gone but his words remain with us.


Saturday Night with Bukowski

I finished Ham on Rye last night (or more accurately, early this morning), and while I enjoyed reading about the exploits of Charles Bukowski’s fictional alter ego Henry Chinaski, I don’t think I would want to live next to him. Being Henry’s neighbor could put you in peril. He’s loud, rude, gets drunk all the time and brawls with his pals and strangers who cross his path. Say the wrong thing to him and you’re likely to be on the receiving end of a right upper cut.

But in one scene toward the end of the book, we find Henry reflecting on his life as he drinks alone in his room in a Los Angeles rooming house. Bukowski paints the scene with humor, absurdity, loneliness and truth.

Our narrator Henry takes over from here:

It was a Saturday night in December. I was in my room and I drank much more than usual, lighting cigarette after cigarette, thinking of girls and the city and jobs, and of the years ahead … Then I heard the radio in the next room. The guy had it on too loud. It was a sickening love song.

“Hey buddy!” I hollered, “turn that thing down.”

There was no response.

I walked to the wall and pounded on it.


The volume remained the same.

I walked outside to his door. I was in my shorts. I raised my leg and jammed my foot into the door. It burst open. There were two people on the cot, an old fat guy and an old fat woman. They were f**king. There was a small candle burning. The old guy was on top. He stopped and turned his head and looked. She looked up from underneath him. The place was very nicely fixed-up with curtains and a little rug.

“Oh, I’m sorry …”

I closed their door and went back to my place. I felt terrible. The poor had a right to f**k their way through their bad dreams. Sex and drink, and maybe love, was all they had.

Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1982. 275. Print.

A short time later Henry walks back to the other room, knocks on the door and apologizes to the couple; he invites them over to his place for a drink. But the man, described by Bukowski as having a face “hung with great folds of sorrow,” refuses the offer and closes the door on Henry.

And so our Saturday night ends. Henry awakens the next day with what he calls, “one of my worst hangovers.”


Laughing with Bukowski

Charles Bukowski does it to me every time. His snappy dialogue and streamlined prose make his books a joy to read. I also like the first-person narration, with added sarcasm, and Los Angeles settings, which remind me of Raymond Chandler novels. Whenever I am reading one of Bukowki’s novels while lying in bed, I will come across a passage that incites laughter. I will read it again, only to laugh louder. Last night was no exception.

I am currently reading Ham on Rye. As we pick up the story, Bukowski’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, is unemployed and has decided to enroll at L.A. City College.  And being a journalism major in college, I appreciated the humor of this conversation. I’ll let Bukowski take over from here:

My father was simply ashamed that I was unemployed and by going to school I would at least earn some respectability. Eli LaCrosse (Baldy) had already been there a term. He counseled me.

“What’s the easiest f@%*ing thing to take?” I asked him.

“Journalism. Those journalism majors don’t do anything.”

“O.K., I’ll be a journalist.”

I looked through the school booklet.

“What’s this Orientation Day they speak of here?”

“Oh, you just skip that, that’s bull****.”

“Thanks for telling me, buddy. We’ll go instead to that bar across the campus and have a couple of beers.”

“Damn right!”


Bukowski, Charles. Ham on Rye. Santa Barbara, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1982. 221. Print.

I am sure Bukowski will keep me laughing as I work my way toward the end of the book.