Charles Bukowski

(16 August 1920 – 9 March 1994 / Andernach)

A Smile To Remember - Poem by Charles Bukowski

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
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

Comments about A Smile To Remember by Charles Bukowski

  • Thomas Case Thomas Case (3/10/2016 6:12:00 AM)

    fantastic...Buk is one of a kind. (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Thomas Case Thomas Case (3/10/2016 6:11:00 AM)

    great poem, sad but Buk all the way. (Report) Reply

  • Rajesh Thankappan Rajesh Thankappan (2/26/2016 10:41:00 AM)

    The mother putting up a facade of a smile is most pathetic. The father, suffering from within, has made the life hellish for rest of the family members. (Report) Reply

  • Luka Martin Dezmalj Luka Martin Dezmalj (1/30/2016 10:31:00 AM)

    one of my heroes.. one beautyfull dirty old man :) (Report) Reply

  • Bharati Nayak Bharati Nayak (1/20/2016 2:57:00 AM)

    The poem paints the picture of a broken home which stayed together as mother had no option to go out and bore the torture of husband.sShe was pretending happiness and carrying on as if every thing was normal.She wanted her children not to see through her pain.Three lines vividly express the three characters-father, mother, children
    1-'He could not understand what was attacking him from inside'',2-then, she would smile to show me how and it was the saddest smile I ever saw,3- he threw them to the cat there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother smiled.
    Father, mother and children, all were all confined to such painful situation like fish in the jar from which they could not escape.Only death could liberate them. (Report) Reply

  • * Sunprincess * (1/13/2016 4:25:00 PM)

    ..........this poem paints a dark picture of the family sad to be with someone, whom one isn't happy with....and must fake it....or doesn't have enough self esteem, or resources to make a permanent change for the better....I've read of many women who stay with men, even though they are beaten black and sad ★ (Report) Reply

  • Thomas Case Thomas Case (12/17/2015 6:19:00 AM)

    so sad and beautiful....sometimes there is nothing to smile about. (Report) Reply

  • Vitor Torrez (12/1/2015 8:08:00 PM)

    Absolutely sad, but beautiful, poem. The sadness of the mother mixed with the permanent care with the child... Certainly she wished to be free as the goldfish at the end... (Report) Reply

  • Kumarmani Mahakul Kumarmani Mahakul (11/4/2015 5:36:00 PM)

    Beautiful smile is ever rememberd in this wise and interesting sharing. Expressive poem definitely shared. (Report) Reply

  • Gobinda Sahoo Gobinda Sahoo (10/21/2015 8:08:00 PM)

    Not anything on earth is permanent. Its true (Report) Reply

  • Gauri Vyas Gauri Vyas (10/17/2015 9:39:00 AM)

    it was the
    saddest smile I ever saw
    what a alluring n thought provoking line..really full of sentimental emotions! (Report) Reply

  • Sofia Kioroglou Sofia Kioroglou (9/24/2015 5:43:00 AM)

    Awesome poem! A lot of food for thought and absolutely sad! (Report) Reply

  • Mohammed Asim Nehal Mohammed Asim Nehal (9/11/2015 1:43:00 PM)

    A smile that taught many lessons..........................To live the life with courage, face the hardship of the life, Take the bull by its horn etc....Awesome poetry.............I liked it (Report) Reply

  • Dedan Onyango Dedan Onyango (7/14/2015 11:35:00 AM)

    Indeed a smile is the only language that even a baby knows. We should learnt to smile even in our lowest moments. A nice piece with a powerful message (Report) Reply

  • Howard 'the motivational poet' Simon Howard 'the motivational poet' Simon (6/26/2015 5:00:00 AM)

    Smiling in the midst of pain is not always easy. This reality is well expressed in this poem. (Report) Reply

  • A Crowley (6/2/2015 11:40:00 AM)

    There's something about a mother. Her love for her children will carry her through the hardest of times. She will smile a sad smile in hopes her children will smile a genuine smile. She will know loss, and devastation, but if her kids still smile, she will persevere. There is nothing a stronger than a mother's love. The pain brought on by her husband couldn't keep her from trying for her child.

    The saddest part of the poem is that the mother's attempts are futile. The kid won't smile. The child knows all that the mother is going through. His mother is beaten multiple times a week. There is no time to smile, only to worry. His mother is as trapped as the goldfish, and he knows it. She tries smiling, tries hiding the physical and emotional pain. He sees passed the fake smile and notices her sadness. He notices what she's been trying to hide. (Report) Reply

  • Nishu Sharma Nishu Sharma (5/8/2015 5:37:00 AM)

    Super !!! (Report) Reply

  • Francis Lynch Francis Lynch (5/5/2015 9:26:00 AM)

    Way over-rated as a good poem. I wouldn't even post this one. (Report) Reply

  • John S John S (3/25/2015 10:03:00 PM)

    God, I made so many grammatical errors in my comment below. Does anyone know how to edit your comment? (Report) Reply

    Frank Avon (4/5/2015 10:16:00 PM)

    Well, it's a backward way of doing it, but I've learned to COPY the comment, DELETE it, then PASTE it as a new comment, make CORRECTIONS, only then SUBMIT it again. There oughta be a better way, but I haven't found it.

  • John S John S (3/25/2015 1:19:00 AM)

    While I disagree with the commenter below, I think the old poets were way more talented than the famous modern poets (I mean come on Shakespeare was to lierature like Einstein was to physics. Brukowski ain't Shakespeare) , I disagree with those who say this is not a good poem. This is a great poem. It has a sort of a structure and literary quality to it. In my opinion it has three, shall I say parts, subjects, ideas... I don't know forgive me it's two AM and I ain't an English major) , so I'll say subjects. The fish, the cruelty of his father, and His mother's obsession with smiling and happiness. At first the fish seem to be just randomly thrown in the poem at the beginning. Then we have an example of his father's cruel nature as a domestic abuser, and intermixed is his mother's desperate attempts to remain happy and optimistic given the unpleasant, bleak circumstances. In the end, like a good storyteller, Bukowski manages to weave all three together as the dead fish are, with cruel indifference, thrown on the floor for the cat by the father, while the mother smiles and pretends all is swell and well in their broken home! A masterfully written poem. (Report) Reply

    Nel Omofolarin Nel Omofolarin (7/29/2015 8:23:00 AM)


    Frank Avon (4/5/2015 10:18:00 PM)

    I agree!

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Read poems about / on: happy, smile, cat, father, mother, fish, water, home, remember, fishing

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

Poem Edited: Monday, May 16, 2011

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