Charles Bukowski’s Poem, ‘the suicide kid’

So I went searching for poets similar to Charles Bukowski, just to get a feel for other notable poets that exist in that same sort of grimy poetry world. A Bukowski forum recommended a slew of authors seemingly in the same vein as him from Jack Micheline to Bertolt Brecht to Frank O’Hara to Raymond Carver. Some were okay (Carver), and some were over-the-top (mainly Micheline), but none really connected with me the way Bukowski did. Inevitability, I stumbled onto another Bukowski poem I haven’t read before:

the suicide kid

I went to the worst of bars
hoping to get
killed.
but all I could do was to
get drunk
again.
worse, the bar patrons even
ended up
liking me.
there I was trying to get
pushed over the dark
edge
and I ended up with
free drinks
while somewhere else
some poor
son-of-a-bitch was in a hospital
bed,
tubes sticking out all over
him
as he fought like hell
to live.
nobody would help me
die as
the drinks kept
coming,
as the next day
waited for me
with its steel clamps,
its stinking
anonymity,
its incogitant
attitude.
death doesn’t always
come running
when you call
it,
not even if you
call it
from a shining
castle
or from an ocean liner
or from the best bar
on earth (or the
worst).
such impertinence
only makes the gods
hesitate and
delay.
ask me: I’m
72

Fun fact about Bukowski I didn’t pick up in my last post about him: He was 35 when he began writing poetry and his first book of poetry wouldn’t be published for another four years. It’s never too late, writers and poets! Of course, he was quite prolific and would go on to publish more than 45 books of poetry and prose. Good grief.

First off, I like the structure here. It literally reads (to me at least) like the person who went into the bar seeking to be killed, upon realizing he wasn’t going to be killed, fell down in a drunk stupor, and was like scribbling off his woes on an endless roll of paper. Probably toilet paper from a nasty bathroom stall. That’s the image in my head. Even how the title “the suicide kid” is not capitalized at all suggests this loose sort of writing.

It’s irony. He’s trying to, and hoping to, be killed, and it just won’t happen. Apparently, when he wrote this, he was 72. Or at least, the person in the poem was. Death cannot be beckoned. It comes on its own timeline. Meanwhile, as he alludes to in the poem, those who, quite the opposite, do not want to die, end up in circumstances where they are staring down the tunnel of death. Alas. Death is fickle like that, or perhaps the maestro of a greater design. All the same, it doesn’t matter to us because we can’t see the blueprints or lack thereof.

Reading the poem again, my first interpretation of that part of the poem was that death came when someone didn’t want it to (unlike the suicide kid), but there’s also an active component there:

“while somewhere else/some poor/son-of-a-bitch was in a hospital/bed,/tubes stick out all over/him/as he fought like hell/to live.”

In other words, the suicide kid is fighting like hell to die, and someone else, near the precipice of death, is fighting like hell to survive and keep living. He can’t quite understand that. He can’t relate to the inverse of thirsting for life rather than begging for death.

I also find it interesting that it’s titled “the suicide kid” but ends with the person at the heart of the poem revealing their age as 72. I take “kid” as a play on a superhero of sorts, that his thing is being the suicide kid. He keeps trying to kill himself or be killed, and well, it’s not working.

Bukowski is great. Like I said, he hits me in a way these other poets I kept sampling this afternoon did not.

6 thoughts

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