Sep. 25, 2002

The Guitar Player

by Charles Bukowski

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Poem: "the guitar player," by Charles Bukowski from Open All Night: New Poems (Black Sparrow Press).

the guitar player

he came from South Carolina
with his young wife and
two kids
had a new red truck
and a guitar.
he came to Hollywood
to sing.
you know
how it is
when the hometown folks
tell you
how good you are.

he got a job
lived in the
front apartment with his
wife and two kids.
I got to know him
went down and
drank with him
listened to him
not bad
not great
but not
but you know that
the neighborhood
was full of guitars
and singers
not bad or great

his name was
and then Rex
met another guy
who lived in a back
named Del.
Del sold grass
and speed and

Rex started to
hang with Del.
I didn't care much
for Del.
he had a mongrel dog
he kept tied
with a rope
he beat the dog
too much.

soon Rex
stopped singing
and he
stopped working.
his wife
got a job
cleaning house
for some rich guy
in the hills
and maybe as part
of her job
he gave her one
of his cars to use
and the kids ran
up and down
the sidewalk
in front
and I didn't see
Rex much
he just stayed
in his room.
with the shades
pulled down.

I asked his
wife, "is Rex
all right?"

"he's got
sleeping sickness,"
she told me.

Rex lucked out.
one day
looked around and
put his family
his guitar
a few things
into that
red truck
and drove
all the way back
to South Carolina.

soon after that
Del o.d.'d
and they
carried him out
in a
black body bag
an old one
and his
naked feet
stuck out of
the end
as they took him
down the walkway.
somebody took in
the mongrel
and Rex's wife
wrote us
from S.C.
that Rex was
singing again
he was thinking of
going to Nashville
and he had
a good job
and it
was nice
they had known us.
were the only
in the court
who had
a little flower
vegetable garden
in front
of our place.
it made them think
of home
and Rex

It's the birthday of Shel Silverstein, born in Chicago (1932). He's best-known as a children's writer, the author of Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974) and The Light in the Attic (1981).

It's the birthday of Francine du Plessix-Gray, born at the French Embassy in Warsaw (1930). She's written a novel, Lovers and Tyrants (1976), and biographies of Simone Weil and the Marquis de Sade. Her essays have appeared in the New Yorker for decades.

It's the birthday of Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith, born in Green Bay, Wisconsin (1905). He wrote about sports for papers in Milwaukee and New York from the nineteen-thirties until his death in 1982.

It's the birthday of William Cuthbert Faulkner, born in New Albany, Mississippi (1897). He's the author of The Sound and the Fury, The Town, The Hamlet, and As I Lay Dying. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. He balked at going all the way to Sweden to accept the award, but his wife talked him into it. When he gave his acceptance speech, nobody could understand what he was saying, because he stood was too far away from the microphone, and he talked too fast. The next day, when the participants read the transcript in the newspaper, they realized that Faulkner had given one of the best acceptance speeches any laureate had ever delivered. He said that humanity was overwhelmed by the specter of its own destruction, and that the writers of the age, in their terror, had responded by writing about inconsequential things. "I decline to accept the end of man," Faulkner said. "It is [the writer's] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past."

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