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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)

Writing

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
yourself.
you will be put again and again
into nearly impossible
situations.
they will attempt again and again
through subterfuge, guise and
force
to make you submit, quit and/or die quietly
inside.

nobody can save you but
yourself
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
being?
do you want to experience
death before death?

nobody can save you but
yourself
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
self.

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.