Poem For Personnel Managers

Photo by Lance Iversen for the San Francisco Chronicle: Panhandler Roy Gray, age 70, recalls the good old days in and around Howard Street at 3rd that also carried the nickname of Skid row. Today the area mostly consists of the Moscone Center, and upscale hotels and restaurants. Thursday May 7, 2009.

An old man asked me for a cigarette
and I carefully dealt out two.
“Been lookin’ for job. Gonna stand
in the sun and smoke.”

He was close to rags and rage
and he leaned against death.
It was a cold day, indeed, and trucks
loaded and heavy as old whores
banged and tangled on the streets…

We drop like planks from a rotting floor
as the world strives to unlock the bone
that weights its brain.
(God is a lonely place without steak.)

We are dying birds
we are sinking ships –
the world rocks down against us
and we
throw out our arms
and we
throw out our legs
like the death kiss of the centipede:
but they kindly snap our backs
and call our poison “politics.”

Well, we smoked, he and I – little men
nibbling fish-head thoughts…

All the horses do not come in,
and as you watch the lights of the jails
and hospitals wink on and out,
and men handle flags as carefully as babies,
remember this:

you are a great-gutted instrument of
heart and belly, carefully planned –
so if you take a plane for Savannah,
take the best plane;
or if you eat chicken on a rock,
make it a very special animal.
(You call it a bird; I call birds

And if you decide to kill somebody,
make it anybody and not somebody;
some men are made of more special, precious
parts: do not kill
if you will
a president or a King
or a man
behind a desk –
these have heavenly longitudes
enlightened attitudes.

If you decide,
take us
who stand and smoke and glower;
we are rusty with sadness and
with climbing broken ladders.

Take us:
we were never children
like your children.
We do not understand love songs
like your inamorata.

Our faces are cracked linoleum,
cracked through with the heavy, sure
feet of our masters.

We are shot through with carrot tops
and poppyseed and tilted grammar;
and waste days like mad blackbirds
and pray for alcoholic nights.
Our silk-sick human smiles wrap around
us like somebody else’s confetti:
we do not even belong to the Party.
We are a scene chalked-out with the
sick white brush of age.

We smoke, asleep as a dish of figs.
We smoke, as dead as fog.

Take us.

A bathtub murder
or something quick and bright; our names
in the papers.

Known, at last, for a moment
to millions of careless and grape-dull eyes
that hold themselves private
to only flicker and flame
at the poor cracker-barrel jibes
of their conceited, pampered
correct comedians.

Known, at last, for a moment,
as they will be known
and as you will be known
by an all-gray man on an all-gray horse
who sits and fondles a sword
longer than the night
longer than the mountain’s aching backbone
longer than all the cries
that have a-bombed up out of throats
and exploded in a newer, less-planned

We smoke and the clouds do not notice us.
A cat walks by and shakes Shakespeare off of his back.
Tallow, tallow, candle like wax: our spines
are limp and our consciousness burns
guilelessly away
the remaining wick life has
doled out to us.

An old man asked me for a cigarette
and told me his troubles
and this
is what he said:
that Age was a crime
and that Pity picked up the marbles
and that Hatred picked up the

He might have been your father
or mine.

He might have been a sex-fiend
or a saint.

But whatever he was,
he was condemned
and we stood in the sun and
and looked around
in our leisure
to see who was next in

Charles Bukowski
The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills (1969)

Photo by Lance Iversen for the San Francisco Chronicle: Panhandler Roy Gray, age 70, recalls the good old days in and around Howard Street at 3rd that also carried the nickname of Skid Row. Today the area mostly consists of the Moscone Center, and upscale hotels and restaurants. Thursday May 7, 2009.

Smelling Is Desiring

Photo by Beata Wilczek

The nose is really a sexual organ. Smelling. Is. Desiring.

We have five senses, but only two that go beyond the boundaries of ourselves. When you look at someone, it’s just bouncing light, or when you hear them, it’s just sound waves, vibrating air, or touch is just nerve endings tingling…

Know what a smell is? It’s made of the molecules of what you’re smelling. Some part of you, where you meet the air, is airborne. Little molecules of you…Up my nose.

Mmmm…Nice, Try it. Inhale…


Smelling. And tasting. First the nose, then the tongue. They work as a team, see. The nose tells the body – the heart, the mind, the fingers, the cock – what it wants, and then the tongue explores, finding out what’s edible, what isn’t, what’s most mineral, food for the blood, food for the bones, and therefore most delectable…

Salt…Mmm. Iron. Clay…Chlorine. Copper. Earth…

What does that taste like?…

It tastes like ”nighttime”?…


From Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America (1991)

Photo by Beata Wilczek

Damage Control

Screen shot: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

The difficulty with saying ‘no’ to someone to whom we have already said ‘yes’ is that he is bound to think there was something unsatisfactory about the first sexual encounter. Having already lost our immortal soul, something more than a simple ‘no’ is required in situations where we are badly compromised. We must conduct ourselves as if the world were a more spiritual place than it actually is. We must be painstakingly considerate of others – especially those whom we must disappoint.

When one accepts another date with a man (or a woman) who has every reason to believe that we are already conquered, one cannot feign surprise when he or she makes a move to wrap up the evening in physical congress. Once you have let down your guard and allowed strangers to cross your moat you are bound to find it a hassle to get them out of your castle. A second date with a conquering hero will undoubtedly be interpreted as a sequel to the first, perhaps even the beginning of a long-running serial in which one will be expected to ‘break a lance’ with the horny knight whenever he’s inclined to joust. Saying ‘no’ to a man bulging with expectations is never easy, but saying ‘no’ to a man who has cast us in the feature role of his X-rated dreams (note who gets to be writer and director) requires consummate tact to prevent a tactless consummation.

You cannot say or imply that the sexual encounter which you allowed to take place on an earlier occasion was a mistake, or a waste of time and that you don’t intend to go through the bother again. You must find an excuse for saying ‘no’ that does not cast even a thin shadow of derision upon his human frailties. You can plead temporary insanity (‘I don’t know what came over me, I can’t think what I was doing…’) or you can drag in your conscience to play one of its occasional roles (‘I realize that what we did was wrong, the fault is entirely mine – such an incident must not occur again’). You should be aware, however, in having to make these excuses, that you have passed from the stage of birth control to that of abortion, for in saying ‘yes’, even once, to a man, you have planted a seed in his mind that his actions are acceptable to you, perhaps even desired by you, and now you are frustrating those hopes. While bringing a man’s illusions to an end at an early stage is ultimately kinder than allowing them to grow into some monstrous misunderstanding, the responsibility for terminating his expectations is not to be shrugged off.

Quentin Crisp
Manners from Heaven (1985)

Screen capture: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

On Gun Control

Ad for toy machine gun, Little Folks Magazine, December 1918

Nobody really believes [the right to bear arms is] about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.

Alec Wilkinson
The Dark Presence of Guns
The New Yorker, 24 December 2012

Illustration from Little Folks Magazine, December 1918

Related: The Cultural Fight for Guns


Photo by Robert Doisneau: The Cellist (1957)

Waking up begins with saying Am and Now.

Christopher Isherwood
A Single Man (1964)

Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.

John Wayne
Playboy interview, 1971

Photo by Robert Doisneau: The Cellist (1957)