Charles Bukowski’s Poem, ‘it was just a little while ago’

Creative commons photo.

The best thing about Charles Bukowski is that he writes about normal stuff. Stuff! Even saying stuff seems fitting. I don’t need to find a better word to use there. He writes about stuff, relatable, human stuff. He’s not eyeballing the fantastical or the natural or dripping with metaphor or concealing with abstraction. He’s not trying to adhere to rhyme or much of any sort of academic poetic structure or style.

You can almost see him sitting down at a rickety old typewriter, yelling at the cat for disturbing his mojo, sipping his Boilermaker (beer with a shot glass of Bourbon dropped in it, which was apparently his favorite drink), with a cigarette trying to nosedive out of his wrinkled mouth — what was I talking about again? — and looking around him, he observes the day-to-day grind, and types. He types and bleeds. I don’t mean to romanticize the broken artist image I have of Bukowski, but also, I kinda do dig it?

The following simple, short poem does just that; it’s titled, it was just a little while ago.

almost dawn
blackbirds on the telephone wire
as I eat yesterday’s
forgotten sandwich
at 6 a.m.
an a quiet Sunday morning.

one shoe in the corner
standing upright
the other laying on its

yes, some lives were made to be

The linked version has the line “the other laying on its side” as “the other laying on it’s side,” and I assume that’s a transcription error and not Bukowski’s. So I fixed it.

Again, how relatable is all of this? Eating yesterday’s sandwich at 6 a.m., the quietness of a Sunday morning, the description of the discarded shoes, and the mundane aspect of it all. But it works? That’s the brilliance of Bukowski. I’m envious of it, to be honest.

We’ve all been there, right? That a moment in time was “just a little while ago,” and before you know it, the next moment is there, and then the next, and time is just going along, with you in it, like a wave you can’t control. You’re floating along, running into debris along the way.

Wasted. Wasted on that stupid old sandwich. Wasted on watching the birds on the wire. Another wasted dawn with nothing new but those dumb shoes flipped upside down.

There’s a melancholy resignation to it all. “yes, some lives were made to be wasted.”

I appreciate Bukowski for (to use a phrase I don’t like) for telling it like it is. There’s beauty in life, to be sure and I appreciate poems that focus on the beauty of life, and the optimistic aspects of life, but those mundane moments in between that erode us … that’s the sort of thing that resonates with me. Because it’s those in-between moments that are the time-killers, the ways in which we incrementally waste our lives.

And what’s Bukowski waiting on in this poem? It actually took my fifth reading of the poem to notice that after he talks about the blackbirds on the telephone wire, he has the “waiting” line. What’s he waiting on? What does he mean by that? But then again, aren’t we all waiting? Few of us take life on proactively because that’s scary, risky and that means having confidence, which is hard to have.

We’re waiting. Waiting for someone or something to come along to shake it up, to shake us off the wire, like the blackbirds we are, perched, waiting to fly, and to be liberated from our toes curled around the wire.

(Can you tell I’m having fun going deep on this poem? Because I am.)

What do you think about this poem?

3 thoughts

  1. Interesting poem! I love how much imagery there is in such few words. That’s great insight about waiting. It can be seen like the birds are waiting or the speaker is waiting, but either way it doesn’t make much difference because we’re all waiting. And yet when he says, “some lives were meant to be wasted,” it makes me wonder why the speaker fits into this category when the description of him eating the sandwich doesn’t really indicate that he’s wasting his life away. So I like, as you said, that it’s in those little moments in between the big moments that one’s life is being wasted.

    Also, the style of this poem reminds me of William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say.” Thanks for sharing. I’m enjoying reading the Bukowski poems you’ve been writing about!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Tirza! I hadn’t read that Williams poem before but its of apiece with this one (and in slightly different ways, too); I might have to do a whole post looking at that one! I love it.

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s