Charles Bukowski + Mary Oliver
August 24, 2022
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,
sought an escape, or
at least a return to
“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.
O, a turnip-hearted skunk cabbage,
“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.
Susan, you're brilliant!
Posted by: Laura Purdie Salas | August 26, 2022 at 11:08 AM
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!
Posted by: Susan T. | August 26, 2022 at 11:14 AM
Oh what a fabulous poem Susan, you tucked so much in there, and I love the story-premise for it, thanks!!!
Posted by: Michelle Kogan | August 26, 2022 at 05:27 PM
Thank you for reading, Michelle. Discovering the poems in those book neighbors was the best kind of research!
Posted by: Susan | August 26, 2022 at 06:24 PM
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.
Posted by: Molly Hogan | August 26, 2022 at 07:05 PM
Hi, Molly. Thank you! I keep thinking of these books/poets talking to each other when no one is looking. :)
Posted by: Susan | August 26, 2022 at 07:34 PM
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).
Posted by: PATRICIA J FRANZ | August 26, 2022 at 11:46 PM
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?
Posted by: Susan | August 27, 2022 at 08:32 AM
Susan, there is an amazing amount of banter in this wonderful poem you created. How clever of you!
Posted by: Carol Varsalona | August 27, 2022 at 09:57 AM
Hilarious and brilliant! Thanks!
Posted by: kareneastlund4898 | August 27, 2022 at 10:53 AM
Oh my gosh! I love this! Off to look up Bukowski, He's new to me!
Posted by: Marcie Atkins | August 27, 2022 at 02:05 PM
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: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/03/14/smashed
Posted by: Susan | August 27, 2022 at 03:07 PM
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!
Posted by: Mary Lee | August 28, 2022 at 08:30 AM
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!
Posted by: Susan | August 28, 2022 at 10:46 AM
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!
Posted by: Karen Edmisten | August 30, 2022 at 08:17 AM
Karen, thanks for reading and for your nice words! So right about Bukowski. No telling what he'll stir up!
Posted by: Susan | August 30, 2022 at 10:41 AM