A Light in the Darkness: Bukowski’s “Raw with Love”

As a poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski is not exactly known for sentimentality and tenderness. On the contrary, his work is notorious for its pessimism and a style that could be blunt, pugilistic, and sometimes downright coarse. In hundreds of poems and a wide range of novels, Bukowski doesn’t write, so much as boil over with the cynicism and misanthropic rage of a street-wise alcoholic contemptuous of human stupidity. Perpetually on the verge of self-destruction, he often spills over into profanity and scatological references, like a doomed outsider verbally lashing out at a cold and uncaring world.

But Bukowski was far more complex, both as a person and as a writer, than he might initially appear. His writing, especially his poetry, sometimes exposes a core of sadness, vulnerability, and melancholy beneath all the jaded, tough-guy posturing and the “boorish asshole” persona he tried to cultivate and often seemed to hide behind. Strange as it might sound, poems like “Bluebird,” “The Laughing Heart,” “No Help for That,” and many others have a wisdom, unpretentious honesty, and yes, even a beauty that I’ve personally found comforting in dark, trying times. Part of Bukowski’s appeal, at least for me, stems from his refusal to sugarcoat the harsh realities of life, without succumbing to empty nihilism and despair. After all, that would have been taking the easy way out, and Bukowski was nothing if not a fighter. As he himself once wrote in one of his best-known lines, “There is light somewhere. It may not be much light, but it beats the darkness…you can’t beat death, but you can beat death in life.” That, for me, is the essence of Bukowski as an artist: a tenuous balance between light and dark, between looking into the abyss and daring it to flinch, while trying to extrapolate some beauty and hope from the sad, painful morass of daily existence. I’m not here to pretend that Bukowski was a saint, but maybe that’s for the best. After all, saints are usually disappointing and often terribly dull. As a writer, one thing Bukowski will never do is bullshit you, and in a strange way, that’s comforting in and of itself.

Anyway, with all of that being said, I’d like to share “Raw with Love,” one of my favorite Bukowski poems, and probably one of my favorite poems, period. It’s a poem that I think exemplifies the softer side of Bukowski, but I won’t comment any further. Why should I, when the poem speaks so powerfully and movingly for itself.

Raw With Love

little dark girl with
kind eyes
when it comes time to
use the knife
I won’t flinch and
I won’t blame
you,
as I drive along the shore alone
as the palms wave,
the ugly heavy palms,
as the living does not arrive
as the dead do not leave,
I won’t blame you,
instead
I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
me,
and I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
your records
your books
our morning coffee
our noons our nights
our bodies spilled together
sleeping
the tiny flowing currents
immediate and forever
your leg my leg
your arm my arm
your smile and the warmth
of you
who made me laugh
again.
little dark girl with kind eyes
you have no
knife. the knife is
mine and I won’t use it
yet.

Published by menachemrephun

A published author and journalist, Menachem Rephun lives and breathes movies, books, music, videogames, and pop culture. His reviews have been published online and in the literary journal of Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he majored in English and creative writing, graduating in 2015.

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