Charles Bukowski

(16 August 1920 – 9 March 1994 / Andernach)

A Smile To Remember


we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, 'be happy Henry!'
and she was right: it's better to be happy if you
can
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn't
understand what was attacking him from within.

my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: 'Henry, smile!
why don't you ever smile?'

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother
smiled

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Monday, May 16, 2011

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Comments about this poem (A Smile To Remember by Charles Bukowski )

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  • Suhana Ali (6/24/2014 2:19:00 PM)

    What a poem, my heart goes while I try to picture the situation. So painful yet so beautiful! (Report) Reply

  • Anna Garland (5/27/2014 1:49:00 PM)

    That is beautiful. I wish one day I can write poetry as clear and straightforward as Bukowski, yet evoking so much recognition and emotion in readers..! (Report) Reply

  • Herbert Guitang (4/25/2014 8:08:00 AM)

    A very unique kind of poem. An smile to remember. A poem that will be remembered in all generations (Report) Reply

  • Krishnakumar Chandrasekar Nair (11/18/2013 4:31:00 AM)

    We too live like fish in round bowls
    Too scared to jump and to be free
    But content with the whipping
    With never a thought to flee....

    I welcome all those reading this to my page too..... (Report) Reply

  • Heather Wilkins (7/1/2013 3:12:00 PM)

    maybe this is more a story. anyway I enjoyed the write. It is entirely up to the poet what he writes. (Report) Reply

  • H. Reese (7/5/2012 11:31:00 AM)

    Bukowski was a really inspired guy who explored devestation, poverty, sadness. We need those kind of people. The Internet can help stop suffering in this life, Go to Google, search The Truth Contest, click the first result, begin reading The Present (Report) Reply

  • Celine Charcoal (1/19/2010 11:19:00 AM)

    is this a poem written by clouded Henry, or by Bukowski? If it is a poem of the poem written by this scarred Henry, I would understand, but if it is by Charles, it is bad. (Report) Reply

  • Milan Kaplan (11/14/2008 5:02:00 PM)

    I must agree with Mr Seminara: 'Poetry is defined by the poet.'

    Those who think that it is not a poem should perhaps make a list of features that characterise poetry.
    Well, what have you put down:
    1. rhymes - no, modern poetry does not need rhymes since they are in the way of spontaneity and create a frame, that is, in my view, artificial. Yes, medieval, reneissance... times revelled in form and the poet was often judged by his/her ability to cram (some) meaning into various forms (sonnet, rondel etc.) of various degree of restrictions. Modernists got rid of rhymes: attempting at expressing yourself the coincidence that one word rhymes with another is hardly a sufficient reason why to put it at the end of the line. I suggest that those who require rhymes call themselves tradicionalists - I, not being one of them, will insist that it is a poem since it fits my idea of poetry that I give hereinafter.
    2. Obviously there are other features intrinsic to poetry as assonance, metrical feet etc. - again the point no.1 can be applied - they are expression of form and as modern poetry sought spontaneity form became a cage they wanted to break out of.

    Still, the two points I mentioned contain something that is very important to poetry and that is rhythm - yes, poetry has always been expected to be more rhytmical than, say, novels or stories. And rhythm is something what I expect from poetry too - but not the artificial rhythm of forms given in advance but the rhythm of poet's thoughts. Yes, poetry has always been very subjective, it recreates the moment, as somebody put it, and therefore there is no space for explaining. The narrator (novels, stories) tends to explain more, describe - the poet relies more on you seeing the links for yourself since he/she wants to recreate the moment on the emotional, not factula, level.

    And so you see the way Mr Bukowski cut up his POEM into lines (sometimes just one word on the line) - yes the lines are the rhythm of his thoughts. He would not do it, if he wanted to create a short story. The lines are his decision - yes, he meant this as a poem. Try to write a short story in this way - it would annoy the reader since narration has different (intrinsic) rules and goals.

    What I leave out is obvious overlaying of genres - poetic features in narration, narrative features in poems - that is another, long, story.

    Let me repeat in the end what was said at the beginning:
    Poetry is defined by the poet.
    The poet has
    the
    right
    to do it while
    the reader
    has
    the right
    to say
    this is not poetry
    TO ME (Report) Reply

  • Greenwolfe 1962 (9/1/2008 4:13:00 AM)

    I had heard a lot of things about Bukowski, but I had never really read anything
    he had written until I read this. Lamont is right. This is not a poem at all.
    What I find to be fascinating is rading all the comments by others here calling this a poem. It is hilarious. And it may be the best part about this whole thing. As for
    the prose piece that Bukowski actually wrote, it is absolutely wonderful prose.
    I love sentiment, and this piece is loaded with it. I owe this man an apology.

    GW62 (Report) Reply

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