Charles Bukowski’s Poem, ‘Alone With Everybody’

Alone With Everybody

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
but keep
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than

there’s no chance
at all:
we are all trapped
by a singular

nobody ever finds
the one.

the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill

nothing else

If you’re into bleak, dark and gritty poetry, well, there’s not many better places to turn in the poetry world than Charles Bukowski’s poetry. He’s the grimy underbelly of poetry, who the hoity-toity critics of his time would look at him with dismissive disdain. And, I mean, you can see why. He’s not reveling in the majestic form of language or waxing poetic about nature or lofty things (although some of his poetry certainty hits more optimistic notes). He’s talking about the hardships of real life, and not hiding it behind metaphor or anything (although, again, there is some of that). It’s right there. In your face.

That sounds about right: In-your-face poetry. I’m not some Bukowski expert by any means, but that’s the aesthetic I get from him at least. And one of the best examples of what I’m talking about is his poem shown above, “Alone With Everybody,” which I think might be the greatest title of any work of art. It’s a title that says so much before you even begin to read the poem.

For me, it evokes the introvert, the socially anxious and the depressive. Someone who can be in the center of a group of people and still feel completely alone. But in the context of the poem, this line means more so the idea that we’re all alone together. Alone in the sense that none of us can attain and hold on to the togetherness we seek, but nonetheless, we are all “together” in the sense that we will eventually die.

Meaningless-flesh-to-meaningless-flesh to forgotten-dust-to-forgotten-dust.

To be sure, it’s a cynical and nihilistic view of life and the journey we are all on despite the impending fact of our deaths.

But if I have mirrored my poetry after any style, it would be this Bukowskian style, where there’s not much structure to it, not much rhyming, if at all, lower case usage at the beginning of the lines, random number of words on each line, free-flowing, and like I’ve said, raw and gritty. But I think that style gets at the theme of the poetry itself: it’s pointless, who cares? Why bother rhyming or adhering to strict poetry rules? It fits the aesthetic.

The end is a nice gut punch, too. He’s talking about how men and women search, “crawling in and out of beds,” for something more than lust, a deeper connection, but in the course of finding that, we fill that void with meaningless things and clutter we don’t need (dumps and junkyards are emblematic of this idea), or we lose our minds or our bodies (madhouses and hospitals), or as our “singular fate” has it, the graveyards.

But in the end, while all of those fill, he says “nothing else fills.” It’s a sad, “trapped” fate. Again, quite cynical and nihilistic, but I appreciate a peek (or more like a blunt force object to the head) into that perspective.

What do you make of this poem? Is this your kind of poetry or a departure from the poetry you usually read? If you are already a Bukowski fan, which poems of his are your favorites?

2 thoughts

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