A Smile To Remember – Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski Quote

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.



my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: ‘Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?’



and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw



one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother



001 Charles Bukowski

By Charles Bukowski
Read more of his poetry
Visit: bukowski.net


I hope this doesn’t depress you all today, but I thought this was a very powerful piece of writing.  It says what it is with no frills, no elegant poetic phrases – tragic and dark, it works so well.  Charles Bukowski really knew how to present the dark subjects of life, leaving behind much food for thought.  If you’d like to read more about the man and his life, have a read of this.

I haven’t really gone in the direction of dark in my poetry on here, but I have written about much darker subjects in a novel I’m writing.  I can do dark quite well, when I want to.  Poetry seems to cause me to lean towards the elegant, the beautiful, the positive, and occasionally the sad.  Dark just doesn’t quite feel right when I’m in poetry mode, but I’m working on it!

I know not everyone likes writing on the ugly things of life, the ones we would prefer to forget, or not see at all.  I’m okay about poetry that’s quite dark, I like to face the miserable subjects head on, and see writers shine a bright light on them, but there always has to be something within it that allows my mind to be thoughtful, inspires me to want to write more about those horrible days, otherwise it can feel a bit pointless to me.  If you have any thoughts and opinions about this, even if you don’t like it, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, I’d be very interested to know.



Poetry Reading – A Smile To Remember


You may also find these two documentaries of Charles Bukowski of interest.
(Please note: Contains language some may find offensive)
Bukowski – Born Into This
Bukowski – Documentary
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5
BukowskiPoetry In Motion


58 thoughts on “A Smile To Remember – Charles Bukowski

  1. My mind has made this dark poem, even darker.

    Though I do appreciate the mother’s strength to remain positive, I do believe that darkness does find the fissures. It shows in the final smile. It is cruel but it is ok. If after that the mother can look at herself and say I was cruel. Maybe then she would cry and not be cruel again.

    1. It is a dark poem indeed! There is something to be said for anyone being able to remain positive in a situation like this one, but also frightening to think that maybe it’s because she had no other choice. There are probably people today suffering in this way, it’s not always easy to remove yourself from an abusive relationship. Also depends where you live too, help isn’t always available.

      We do seem to learn a lot from our failings.

    1. It is a moving message, but I didn’t write the poem. Charles Bukowski was excellent at writing about the darker aspects of life. I’m amazed with his unhappiness he was able to write about it at all. So glad he did, a lot of writers avoid these kinds of subjects.

  2. I think we need dark to enjoy the light. I think when we all get sad, poetry reaches into our heart and soul.
    This was Real and Raw. I liked Charles Bukawski and wished he had had a better life. I tend to want to “fix” people’s lives or at least try. 🙂

    1. I really think we do, yes! It’s all about balance. And I agree, I find poetry reaches to places other kinds of art fails to.

      I know what you mean, I feel that need to fix things too. I think he was a very sad man Charles. I heard a recording of an interview with a him in the 70’s, he explained how he relied on poetry to spill out all the inner turmoil. And then he laughingly said, “I’m lucky I get paid for it!” 🙂

  3. Suzy- Thanks for reminding me to keep go back over Charles Bukowski. Though one of the youngest of the “Beat” era poets, along with Ginsberg the most acid in his direct truths. I love Ferlinghetti too, but his is a thinking man’s poetry, while Bukowski can be a drinking man’s poetry, so to speak. When Charles throws a radio through a window and breaks it, repairs the window, and throws the radio through it again, and the radio survives, seemingly out of spite, that’s the world, copied in real life by Tom Waits, that few will live through, but so many visit at times. Thank you for liking my poems. The fact that you like and write so many other good ones enlivens me today here in Gwangju, South Korea.

    1. Thank you for that, I’ve not heard of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he looks very interesting, I’ve bookmarked his poetry on Poem Hunter, I shall have a good read of his poetry – looks promising! I agree, a lot of the time Charles Bukowski is definitely the drinking man’s poetry, but every now and then I find a jewel among the hilarious or the little too dark ones, and I find them inspiring! You’re welcome, I enjoyed reading your poetry, and thank you so much for the compliment too! 🙂

  4. Yes domestic violence is brutal and any story about it will be about cruelty and power. But what comes through in this poem is the stoicism of the mother, her courage, her goodness. She shines. We don’t know the circumstances or what happens in this story, but what will Henry remember? Choose to be happy? We can only hope the mother was able to free herself and her son.

    1. This was about Charles Bukowski’s real life, his Fathers drinking and aggressive behaviour, and his Mother’s tolerance for it all, and wishing ‘Henry’ as he was called then, could be happy. Women must have had a real hard time many years ago, there weren’t many who escaped a violent marriage. And sadly as far as I know I don’t think him or his Mother got away from that dreadful situation. It’s no surprise Charles as an adult was a chronic alcoholic for his entire life. I’m sure the memories of the way his Father had mistreated him and his Mother must have haunted him. It’s funny how many see women as weak for putting up with a man who treats them badly, but I actually think it takes a lot of strength to stay in a situation like that. I guess it’s one of those subjects that many will argue about fiercely!

      I just really admire the man for being able to write about all those dark times in his life. I think he found it therapeutic to get some of it off his mind and out into the open.

  5. Just came across your post and blog; good pic for a traditional Bukowski poem! 🙂 I’d argue that he was pretty good at describing the beautiful things of life, too, when the mood so struck him. (Just seems that this didn’t happen very often.) Both “Laughing Heart” and “Roll the Dice” are pretty good examples of things to read on a crappy day.

    1. Ah yes, the picture! Took a bit of work to improve the original image and then find the best quote to go with it, but it was worth the effort. You have to read a lot of his poetry to find those poems about the beautiful things. I’ve not read ‘Laughing Heart’ before, but I do know ‘Roll The Dice’, that’s one of my favourites. They’re on a much lighter subject, and seem very to convey advice, some very good advice too – definitely good for a crappy day!! 🙂

  6. It didn’t make me uncomfortable at all, but it did move me deeply. It takes a lot of courage to write that simple. Sometimes misery and pain can be communicated very effectively through such poignant expressions without resorting to ‘bombastic’ words and phrases. What matters is how deep and authentic the feeling is. Should read more about the poet. Thanks for sharing, Suzy.
    The smiling mother reminded me of this holocaust survivor:

    1. It is very moving this poem, and yes it does take courage to write plainly and simply in the way that he did, telling just it how it was, not dressing it up with poetic phrases. I think Charles Bukowski was a troubled man in some ways, but he wrote extremely well. I think it’s often the case that troubled people can often make great writers! 🙂

      Thank you for the interesting link! What an optimistic lady she is, and three hours of piano practice a day at 108 – wow! I shall never have an excuse to complain again! 😀

      Some people do seem to be born naturally optimistic, and others are real pessimists. I suppose it takes all kinds to make a balanced earth, it would be terrible if we were all the same!

  7. Had read this when it was first posted, but on re-reading again just now I was struck by the simplicity of the story. The poetic, yet almost conversational way the words flow, make it feel like the man is telling you his story, just you and him, together in a moment of recollection of a traumatic childhood and at the same time a celebration of surviving some of the worst that life can throw at you! Inspiring way to view the world. 🙂

    1. Yes, that’s why I like it so much, it is told as a story a very traumatic one, and it does feel like he’s telling just you in a very personal moment. This is the most liked post on here at the moment – Charles has beaten me on the likes!!! I’m really glad I put this poem up now, it’s given me some very valuable feedback on work that’s not my own, I think it’s going to help me a lot with future writings, especially the novels! 🙂

  8. Wow! That’s familiar.
    When my mom was the most hurt, she would smile.
    It was an out-of-place smile.
    I think she was uncomfortable with being angry and upset.
    So she smiled. And it made me sad.

    1. Oh – that’s a sad memory of your Mum!
      It’s amazing what little children pick up, they don’t miss much, and yet parents often think they won’t notice – they certainly do! 🙂 I know what you mean about that sad smile, my Mum used to do something similar, which is mainly why this poem struck me in the way that it did. But if my Mum ever got upset and cried, I’d go into floods of tears too! I feel mothers often hide their emotions, just trying to protect their little ones, it’s instinct kicking in I guess! 🙂

  9. I haven’t read all the comments so my apologies if I repeat what someone else has said – I was so moved by what Charles wrote – I have never read any of his work before so thank you for sharing. I could write a whole post here about dark and ‘light’ (had to say that hehe) writing – but as you mentioned it’s about balance. I enjoyed your perspective – will keep popping in.

    1. I’m glad you got something from this! I like to share some classic poets work on here and a few modern living poets too, it helps to keep me out of my own little poet world and broaden my thinking on how to write! 🙂 I’d never heard of Charles Bukowski myself until very recently, he was a very down to earth man by the look of what he wrote, and I like that! Thanks for dropping by and commenting!
      Suzy 😀

  10. i also thought these were your words until i saw who wrote it. i’m glad it wasn’t a personal account by you :). but i’m still glad i stumbled upon it. you are bright and shine light in dark places,.

    1. It’s funny, I’ve never seen Charles Bukowski’s writing as anything like my style, but maybe it’s the kind of subject – I was surprised he’d written something like this, although having said that, I think a lot of his were sad, thoughtful, and a bit dark, but occasionally funny, I quite like those!

      A bight light!? I’d not thought I came across as that, just someone learning how to write, but that’s lovely Rahburt – thank you, I shall try and keep lighting up the dark corners! 😀

      1. yeah i believe most of his stuff is brutally honest and unbridled. but we sometimes need that. we tend to ignore reality because it’s not always welcoming.

        ha, you’re welcome! well you’re doing both 😀

  11. His poor mother, trying to make the best she could of her family, and poor boy, abused and having no choice. I can read the sad, very real words, but only in small doses, like medicine. My inner compass is toward the happy, and I need it to find that north regularly.

    1. I think his mother was one of many many women who smiled over things, sadly because they probably had no way out, nowhere to go. But I guess there probably are still women who feel trapped today – and sometimes the other way round, a surprising amount of men are controlled by abusive women, but that’s not talked about much, because it’s so embarrassing and seems unbelievable it would happen in reverse! It’s amazing the power that what one person can have over a few people in their family, and no-one knows about it. 😦

      I agree about the small doses of sad, medicine is a good way to describe it actually! It wouldn’t be good for anyone to read too much dark material, but it’s good to have a balance. 🙂

  12. relevant
    tone and themes
    about resiliency
    face choices
    there is no judgement
    right or wrong
    when dealing

    1. Yes, judgement doesn’t really feel right with poems like this, it’s another’s life, their pain expressed in writing. And to like, or not to like, almost seems irrelevant, the story being told is what matters most!

    1. I’m glad you found that Vashti, I think Charles Bukowski wrote it for that kind of impact – deep thoughts, and a meaning that never leaves you! 🙂

    1. I’m glad you think so! And it devastating, I almost feel guilty liking it for the writing, because I’m sure it must have been terrifying for a small boy to endure, something that never really leaves the mind.

  13. Thank you for sharing, Suzy. Bukowski does draw you in to that dark space and make you see what you’d rather not.
    I also can write dark, but I much prefer the light. I saw too much of the dark as a reporter. Still I am drawn to stories and movies about darker subjects.

    1. I can’t imagine what it must be like to report the tragedies of other lives, I think I’d end up having nightmares – a bit like being a Doctor or a Nurse perhaps, as you said, a lot of the dark! It’s odd how we can be drawn to the dark side when it’s done within creativity, something to do with a safe distance to view it from or identify with I guess! Perhaps we need it to help us cope with our own dark moments in life. 🙂

  14. Definitely did not find this depressing at all. I was actually surprised until I saw the ending author was Bukowski. I was reading it and thinking they were your words.

    Well you’ve got a few set of people. One that like to read only pretty things, and one that likes to read tragedies like stuff on the news. I don’t mind tragedy only if it is written in poetry or prose but not seeing it on TV.

    1. Well, that’s relief! I was actually wondering if you would find this a bit of an uncomfortable read, and wonder what on earth I was doing putting such a thing up here! Obviously I was very wrong – what do I know!! 🙂

      I know what you mean about tragedy in poetry and prose, it certainly very different from what’s reported on the news, that’s mainly why I don’t watch the news, and I never know which bits of it are accurate, and which bits they will be saying happened completely differently six months or a year later! 😐

      I’m just wondering if something from Charles Bukowski has rubbed off on me, if you thought it was my words! 🙂 I did sort of have his style in mind when I wrote The Voice, I wanted that one to sound a little different to my others.

      I do have some slightly dark ones coming up – probably not as dark as this. Don’t want this blog looking too pretty! 🙂

    1. Well, you know him now!! 🙂 He did tend to write about the negative low moments of life. I like some of his poetry, but not all of it. I put up one of his on here a while back called Hemingway Never Did This, it’s about him accidentally deleting a file of poetry from his computer – obviously very early days of computers! It’s a dry sense of humour, but it’s certainly amusing!

      Mine are a different style – some of mine may turn a little dark soon, but not as dark as this one! 🙂

  15. I believe we express what we know, feel, experience ect. Its life and each persons life is unique to their souls. I read regardless of the high or lows because simple stated,” it is, what it is” human experience. Thank you for sharing Suzy and continuing to open my minds eye.

    1. Thank you for that! Yes human experience is full of highs and lows. As much as we might like it happy all the time, I think it would be strange if it was, we might end up craving for a low! I’m very pleased you got something from this! 🙂

  16. I admit I am a bit sad or depressed reading the story. The write is simple but for I think everyone can relate or understand some somewhere this is happening.

    1. It is sad, definitely! And yes, I was thinking of someone reading this who may know someone living this kind of life – or perhaps I should say existence, it’s not much of a life really, and I nearly changed my mind because of that thought. But I can sort of relate to this myself, I remember my mum trying to smile over unhappy moments, although not as bad as this, my dad was grumpy and good at starting arguments, but he wasn’t a bad father. Sounded like Charles Bukowski had a very hard childhood.
      Thanks for the feedback, it’s much appreciated! 🙂

    1. He certainly seemed to have a bleak past, something that probably lived with him for life, going by the subjects he wrote about. He wasn’t known for cheerful poems, but at least he was able to write about the dark, it must be terrible to have to keep it all in! 🙂

  17. I write about dark stuff all the time. Well, some of the time. When I’m in the mood. Poetry without the dark side would be like having to suffer an eternity of cheerful, upbeat songs – enough to make you want to throw yourself off the top of Beachy Head. Upbeats good for the verses, but the dark is best for the chorus.

    1. You definitely have to be in the mood to write dark – or moody even! 🙂 Oh yes, eternally cheerful, just the thought of it immediately encourages depressing thoughts – odd that, opposite to what we might think. It seems we need some darkness in order to appreciate the light!

      When I first got into blogging, looking for other poetry blogs I found either endless poems about the same dark day or endless poems on how joy had just made more joy in their heart! I suppose there is room for those sorts of blogs, but I like some variety and balance in my life, and just can’t relate to either of those.

      Yes, I guess dark is best for a chorus, cheerful choruses, don’t cause me to remember them as much. A favourite one of mine when I was 15 was Eurythmics Sweet Dreams, the music isn’t sad – but quite a powerful tone to it, and the lyrics could be described as depressing, and I suppose they are – but so true, as I’ve discovered! 🙂

  18. I really enjoyed your post Suzy, i didn’t find it depresing at all. Anything but.

    A writer/publisher friend of mine who has been trying to encourage me to attempt prose said to me dont be afraid to write about the bleak, because life can be bleak.

    I have questioned my own poems sometimes, and whether to post them or not because, as you know, quite a few of them concern my illness. But that is why I started writing and they are simply part of the truth.

    So Im all in favour of the darker side too. It’s real. 🙂

    1. I thought you would be OK with this Christine, because I remember you asking a similar question on your blog, about the darker side to poetry, and if people were happy reading it. It’s funny how you can read or write something like this and it can come across very powerful, but as soon as it comes to putting the post together, little doubts creep in and suggest perhaps it’s a bit too much, not the kind of thing that would be normally found here. I thought I’d lighten it a bit with a comment of my own! 🙂

      And real is very much my favourite subject, and I certainly don’t have a problem with you writing about your illness, or anything else frustrating in your life, it’s good to write about it, a kind of self therapy, and so much of writing on blogs is all about that anyway. I get a bit fictional on here at times though – someone else’s real I guess!! 😀

      1. That’s what I would like to do, get a bit fictional, but I find it very difficult. I wrote a couple of 500 word stories when I did a very short creative writing course about 9 years ago, but thats it! And it wore me out! I love reading fiction. Maybe I should leave it at that! But never say never, ad “they” say. 🙂 x

  19. I saw the following quote on Facebook the other day, it is not often something on Facebook resonates with me but this did –
    “A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.”
    It’s apparently a well used quote by Osho but it was the first time I had come across it. It seemed apt to share when I read your post. 🙂

    1. Mm.. yes I know what you mean – there are quotes, and quotes. Some of them leave me either puzzled or totally unmoved! 😐 But there is something really interesting about coming across a quote that agrees with your own thinking, even if you’ve never thought of it before.

      I have seen that quote, and yes I think it is absolutely spot on, and very timely that you saw it only the other day! 🙂 As much as we might want pleasantness and good times every day, I think if we actually did have it that way we’d find it a bit weird, after a while. A bit like laughing too much – it is possible to laugh ourselves into unfunniness – at least I have a few times anyway! Obviously, we need the variety! 😀

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