Thursday, August 25, 2011

“The Laughing Heart”

Welcome to a poetic Thursday on Robert Frost’s Banjo!  I need to thank our own Visiting Poet, Nancy Krygowski, for suggesting today’s poem—& thanks indeed, Nancy, because it is a very good one.

I’ve long admired Charles Bukowski’s work, & especially read & absorbed his poetry a lot when I was living in San Francisco in the 1990s.  Bukowski was an anti-aesthete & an anti-poet of the first order, & that has always appealed to me—in fact, coincidentally with Nancy’s recommendation, I’ve found myself lately with my teeth even more on edge than usual when encountering anything that struck me as poetical or esthetical, & this poem really did my soul good.

On a personal note, I have an odd Bukowski anecdote that some may find amusing.  Back in my San Francisco days, several of us planned a Bukowski night at the local beanery, Java Supreme on Guerrero, home at the time to lots of music & poetry—I can’t remember the exact occasion; it’s possible it was when he died in ‘94, tho I think it may have been a year or so later.  Any hoot, as coincidence would have it, I was also scheduled for a root canal during the afternoon.  I showed up for the root canal fully expected to be fully inflated with nitrous oxide to transport me thru the procedure—but the orthodontist’s assistant discovered, too late to do me any good, that the nitrous tank was in fact empty.  So I told them to forge ahead, & a few hours later, I was reading Bukowski in an even more altered state than I would have been in had I had the nitrous oxide—& this without the benefit of any mind-altering chemicals except Novocaine &, to be blunt, pain. 

This has always struck me as appropriate to the occasion.  As an added feature, I’ve found a YouTube video of Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart.”  Enjoy!

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Charles Bukowski


  1. For some reason I just tried to imagine the "poem" as a continuous piece of text rather than divided into "lines" and it didn't work. Id this scientific proof that poetry has a place in the world?

  2. What a good poem! I once had an operation on my teeth in hospital under anaesthetic. I felt very strange afterwards. Lying in my hospital bed all afternoon recuperating, I also read poetry - A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. It's a long one, so it was a good opportunity to read it, and whatismore, being disorientated as to time and space seemed to make it easier to read!

  3. Hi Alan & Dominic

    Alan: Ah, the mysteries of lineation! Thanks for stopping by.

    Dominic: Now I don't know that poem; I shall have to look into it--not all that familiar with MacDiarmid, but have liked what I've read. Since poetry is an altered state itself, it certainly is amenable to others, tho of course I no longer resort to the chemically-induced ones (at least outside of the dentist's chair.)

  4. Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing John.

  5. Bukowski was insame. Who knew insanity would be so beautiful.
    His work will live on forever.

  6. Hi Mar & Richard

    Mar: So glad you liked it, & thanks so much for stopping by!

    Richard: Bukowski was a fantastic poet--thanks!


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