August, Versified
Poetry Friends

Charles Bukowski + Mary Oliver



New Neighbors


Bored with the Bs, Charles Bukowski

bopped down a few shelves to

visit Mary Oliver, wedged himself

between her Handbook and the 

New and Selected, like a bro

at a bar on Saturday night. 

“I want to drink wine with

 the assassins,” he said

by way of introduction.

Dreaming of kale’s

puckered sleeve, Mary

expressed no interest in the con-

versation. Such silence.

But there he remained,

more than a week.

Anyone seeking his fix of

Bukowski would not

have thought to 

look among the

gannets and the whelks

and the poppies—or

at Blackwater Pond.

“I would kill an elephant

with a bowie knife,”

he announced. Dorothy

Parker re-applied her

lipstick, red matte

since you ask,

and smiled in

his direction: “Wild and fickle

and fierce is he!”

Misfiled yet again,

Meghan O’Rourke

sought an escape, or

at least a return to

alphabetical order. 

“It’s warmer this August

than it has been for decades,”

she declared, only to hear

“I’ve been bombed out of

better places than this.”

But Aimee Nezhukumatathil

leaned over to yell,

“I know you are dangerous.

I see it in your shiny teeth,”

which caught Mary’s attention.

She sensed a shadow— 

and wait,      is someone


the Guidebook’s shoulder. 

Who’s there?

O, a turnip-hearted skunk cabbage,

No wonder. 

“In the past couple decades, 

we had a long-standing rule of 

keeping Charles Bukowski 

behind the register,” 

the bookseller said.


Origin story: Someone had put Bukowski’s Storm for the Living and the Dead in the middle of the Mary Oliver books at the local Barnes & Noble, and I thought it was a funny poetry in-joke. After taking a photo, I decided to write a poem that brought together the two wildly popular and wildly different authors along with some of their shelf mates.

“The kale’s puckered sleeve,” and “turnip-hearted skunk cabbage” are phrases from Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems: Volume One; “Such Silence,” “Gannets,” “Whelks,” “Poppies,” and “At Blackwater Pond” are titles of poems. “Such Silence” actually comes from Oliver’s Blue Horses, not the New and Selected.

The Bukowski verses are from Storm for the Living and the Dead. Meghan O’Rourke’s quote is from her collection Sun in Days, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s is from Oceanic. The Dorothy Parker line can be found in Enough Rope: A Book of Light Verse. The bookseller’s words belong to Annie Metcalf, who was quoted in a 2017 article in Electric Lit.


Head over to author Tanita S. Davis's site for the Poetry Friday roundup on August 26th.


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Susan, you're brilliant!

Oh, shucks, Laura. Thank you so much. This was a hoot to work on. Plus, before I even knew that the Poetry Sisters were writing a bop poem, I had a "bop" in here. Serendipitous!

Oh what a fabulous poem Susan, you tucked so much in there, and I love the story-premise for it, thanks!!!

Thank you for reading, Michelle. Discovering the poems in those book neighbors was the best kind of research!

Wow! This is fabulous! I so enjoyed the banter within the poem and am so appreciative that you provided some background info. to deepen my enjoyment.

Hi, Molly. Thank you! I keep thinking of these books/poets talking to each other when no one is looking. :)

Charles, your poetry is creative genius! Mary O would be delighted by your company, whether on the bookshelf or at Blackwater Pond. Thank you for this (the smile on my face).

Patricia, that's the start of a response poem/diss track! Excellent. Thanks for stopping by and reading. I am fascinated by stories of which books are the most stolen at stores, and Bukowski is always in the mix. So are Bibles. Who knew?

Susan, there is an amazing amount of banter in this wonderful poem you created. How clever of you!

Hilarious and brilliant! Thanks!

Oh my gosh! I love this! Off to look up Bukowski, He's new to me!

Thanks, Carol. I was just eavesdropping on the books talking to each other. :)

Karen, gracias. You're welcome. Thank YOU for reading. One never knows where one will get inspiration!

Thanks, Marcie! Bukowski is one of THE most stolen authors in bookstores (which is why some bookstores really keep his books behind counters). He was prolific, and most libraries have a lot of his work, too. A good piece about his career in the New Yorker:

Wait, WHAT? Bukowski and BIBLES? Who knew. (All of us now, thanks to Susan.)

This poem is just everything! You captured personality and attitude so perfectly! Long distance high five. Mary and Charles (and the others) are chuckling behind their book jackets and hoping for more mashups!

Mary Lee, yes, Buk and the Beats in stores on the East & West Coasts and Bibles in between. I often look to see which books are kept behind the counter. Thank you for reading and for your kind comments!

Ha, I love the line about keeping Bukowski behind the counter. He can't be trusted to come out and mingle. :D

This is brilliant and delightful, Susan, and just what I needed to start my day! I love it!

Karen, thanks for reading and for your nice words! So right about Bukowski. No telling what he'll stir up!

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