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Charles Bukowski was born as Heinrich Karl Bukowski in Andernach, Germany, to Heinrich (Henry) Bukowski and Katharina (née Fett). His paternal grandfather Leonard had emigrated to America from Germany in the 1880s. In Cleveland, Leonard met Emilie Krause who had emigrated from Danzig (today Gdańsk, Poland), then part of Germany. They married and settled in Pasadena. He worked as a carpenter, setting up his own very successful construction company. The couple had four children, including Heinrich (Henry), Charles Bukowski’s father.
Charles Bukowski’s parents met in Andernach in western Germany following World War I. The poet’s father was a sergeant in the United States Army serving in Germany following Germany’s defeat in 1918.[9] He had an affair with Katharina, a German friend’s sister, and she became pregnant. Charles Bukowski repeatedly claimed to be born out of wedlock, but Andernach marital records indicate that his parents married one month prior to his birth.

Afterwards, Henry Bukowski became a building contractor, set to make great financial gains in the aftermath of the war, and after two years moved the family to Pfaffendorf. However, given the crippling reparations being required of Germany, which led to a stagnant economy and high levels of inflation, Henry Bukowski was unable to make a living, so he decided to move the family to the United States. On April 23, 1923, they sailed from Bremerhaven to Baltimore, Maryland, where they settled. Bukowski’s parents began calling their son the Anglophone version of his first name (‘Heinrich’), ‘Henry’, in order to help him assimilate, which the poet would later change to ‘Charles’. Accordingly, they altered the pronunciation of the family name from /buːˈkɒfski/ boo-kof-skee to /buːˈkaʊski/ boo-kow-ski. Bukowski’s parents were Roman Catholic.
The family settled in South Central Los Angeles in 1930, the city where Charles Bukowski’s father and grandfather had previously worked and lived.[9][10] In the ’30s the poet’s father was often unemployed. In the autobiographical Ham on Rye Charles Bukowski says that, with his mother’s acquiescence, his father was frequently abusive, both physically and mentally, beating his son for the smallest imagined offence. During his youth Bukowski was shy and socially withdrawn. Neighborhood children ridiculed his German accent and the clothing his parents made him wear. Although he seemed to suffer from Dyslexia, he was highly praised at school for his art work. This depression later bolstered his rage as he grew, and gave him much of his voice and material for his writings.
In his early teens, Bukowski had an epiphany when he was introduced to alcohol by his loyal friend William “Baldy” Mullinax, depicted as “Eli LaCrosse” in Ham on Rye, son of an alcoholic surgeon. “This [alcohol] is going to help me for a very long time”, he later wrote, describing the genesis of his chronic alcoholism; or, as he saw it, the genesis of a method he could utilize to come to more amicable terms with his own life.After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Bukowski attended Los Angeles City College for two years, taking courses in art, journalism, and literature, before quitting at the start of World War II. He then moved to New York to begin a career as a writer.

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

The laughing heart
The laughing heart
Art by Mary Janet Jackson

The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

— by Charles Bukowski

Bluebird Poem by Charles Bukowski

Bluebird Poem by Charles Bukowski

Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our
secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?

***

Bluebird Poem by Charles Bukowski

Bluebird

The Retreat poem by Charles Bukowski

The Retreat poem by Charles Bukowski

The Retreat poem by Charles Bukowski

The Retreat

this time has finished me.
I feel like the German troops
whipped by snow and the communists
walking bent
with newspapers stuffed into
worn boots.
my plight is just as terrible.
maybe more so.
victory was so close
victory was there.
as she stood before my mirror
younger and more beautiful than
any woman I had ever known
combing yards and yards of red hair
as I watched her.
and when she came to bed
she was more beautiful than ever
and the love was very very good.
eleven months.
now she’s gone
gone as they go.

this time has finished me.
it’s a long road back
and back to where?
the guy ahead of me
falls.
I step over him.
did she get him too?

***

Man in the sun poem by Charles Bukowski

Man in the sun poem by Charles Bukowski

Man in the sun poem by Charles Bukowski

man in the sun

she reads to me from the New Yorker
which I don’t buy, don’t know
how they get in here, but it’s
something about the Mafia
one of the heads of the Mafia
who ate too much and had it too easy
too many fine women patting his
walnuts, and he got fat sucking at good
cigars and young breasts and he
has these heart attacks – and so
one day somebody is driving him
in his big car along the road
and he doesn’t feel so good
and he asks the boy to stop and let
him out and the boy lays him out
along the road in the fine sunshine
and before he dies he says:
how beautiful life can be, and
then he’s gone.

sometimes you’ve got to kill 4 or 5
thousand men before you somehow
get to believe that the sparrow
is immortal, money is piss and
that you have been wasting
your time.

——————————————————————————–

From Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame
Selected poems 1955 – 1973
Black Sparrow Press, 1986.
First published in:
Crucifix in a Deathhand, 1965.

***

Love & Fame & Death Poem by Charles Bukowski

Love & Fame & Death Poem by Charles Bukowski

Love & Fame & Death  Poem by Charles Bukowski

Love & Fame & Death

it sits outside my window now
like and old woman going to market;
it sits and watches me,
it sweats nevously
through wire and fog and dog-bark
until suddenly
I slam the screen with a newspaper
like slapping at a fly
and you could hear the scream
over this plain city,
and then it left.

the way to end a poem
like this
is to become suddenly
quiet.

***

Question and Answer Poem by Charles Bukowski

Question and Answer Poem by Charles Bukowski

Question and Answer Poem by Charles Bukowski

 

Question and Answer Poem

he sat naked and drunk in a room of summer
night, running the blade of the knife
under his fingernails, smiling, thinking
of all the letters he had received
telling him that
the way he lived and wrote about
that–
it had kept them going when
all seemed
truly
hopeless.

putting the blade on the table, he
flicked it with a finger
and it whirled
in a flashing circle
under the light.

who the hell is going to save
me? he
thought.

as the knife stopped spinning
the answer came:
you’re going to have to
save yourself.

still smiling,
a: he lit a
cigarette
b: he poured
another
drink
c: gave the blade
another
spin.

–from The Last Night of the Earth Poems

Some People Poem by Charles Bukowski

Some People Poem by Charles Bukowski

Some People Poem by Charles Bukowski

Some People

some people never go crazy.
me, sometimes I’ll lie down behind the couch
for 3 or 4 days.
they’ll find me there.
it’s Cherub, they’ll say, and
they pour wine down my throat
rub my chest
sprinkle me with oils.
then, I’ll rise with a roar,
rant, rage –
curse them and the universe
as I send them scattering over the
lawn.
I’ll feel much better,
sit down to toast and eggs,
hum a little tune,
suddenly become as lovable as a
pink
overfed whale.
some people never go crazy.
what truly horrible lives
they must lead.

***