Charles Bukowski

The Secret of my Endurance


I still get letters in the mail, mostly from cracked-up
men in tiny rooms with factory jobs or no jobs who are
living with whores or no woman at all, no hope, just
booze and madness.
I get most of their letters on lined paper
written with an unsharpened pencil or in ink
in tiny handwritings that slants to the left

and the paper is most often torn
usually halfway up the middle
and they say they like my stuff,
I’ve written from where it’s at,
they recognize it truly, I’ve given them some
chance, some recognition of where it's at.
it’s true, I was there, even worse off than most of them.
but I wonder if they realize where their letter arrives?
well, it's dropped into a box on a wire fence
behind a six-foot hedge and a long driveway
to a two car garage, rose garden, fruit trees,
animals, a beautiful woman, mortgage about half
paid after a years residence, a new car-
two cars,
fireplace and a green rug two-inches deep
with a young boy to write my stuff now,
I keep him in a ten-foot square cage with a
typewriter, feed him whiskey and raw whores,
belt buckle him pretty good three or four times a week.
I’m 60 years old now and the critics say
my stuff is getting better than ever.

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About "The Secret of my Endurance"

charles bukowski is perhaps best known for writing about his wild exploits during a decade-long alcohol bender. while he (to some degree) moved beyond that stage of his life, this poem serves as a response to fans who relate to it intensely. here, bukowski ruminates on the strangeness of being an icon for dirty, drunken bachelors while now living a somewhat more mature and conventionally desirable life (e.g., “rose garden,” “a beautiful woman,” “two cars”).

at the end of the poem, bukowski reflects on why these folks are still able to relate to him: the boy in the cage represents the childhood trauma that scarred bukowski for life. while he had superficially moved past that dark period in some way, it left a mark on bukowski’s psyche that never faded. he laughs at poets who say his material is getting better, for while bukowski may have gotten somewhat better on a personal level, his most praised writing often involves simply tapping into the trauma that he was given during childhood.

this poem ironically juxtaposes progress as a human and progress as a creator – while u may want to do better and be happier, healthier, etc., it may be unavoidable that ur best work comes from pain u wish u could unfeel. bukowski mocks this as potentially lazy and jokes about the idea of keeping his trauma locked in a cage, constantly keeping it alive for inspiration without letting it overtake his life.

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