by Charles Bukowski
The mockingbird had been following the cat
mocking mocking mocking
teasing and cocksure;
the cat crawled under rockers on porches
and said something angry to the mockingbird
which I didn't understand.
yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
with the mockingbird alive in its mouth,
wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,
feathers parted like a woman's legs,
and the bird was no longer mocking,
it was asking, it was praying
but the cat
striding down through centuries
would not listen.
I saw it crawl under a yellow car
with the bird
to bargain it to another place.
summer was over.
Okay, the first thing you diligent Bukowski readers
are going to notice about this poem is
that something's missing. Whores, feces, wine, beer, racetracks,
one-room apartments with vile landlords—something unwholesome
in a distinctly 20th Century Man sort of
way. Because, Jesus, this is Bukowski. The line, "parted like a woman's
legs"—that's the closest we're going to get in this poem.
This poem, that's one of Bukowski's best.
(Which pretty much makes it one of our best.)
That's the closest we're going to get to the expected Bukowski here, simply
because although he often chose to limit his subject matter and his
language, he was not limited by these choices. His eye and his pen remain
quite singularly sharp in even that most-unlikely contraption, the Bukowski nature poem.
This poem has a certain lulling effect as it begins: It opens with imagery that feels
both true and fundamentally funny. The bird chases the cat, in my mind
swooping low from behind, beak very sharp (I swear, I've seen it happen). The
language itself is clever and clear, but bubbling underneath is this
Henery Hawk precocity, this comedy.
This in a poem about inevitability. About death.
The weight soon bears down, as the first stanza turns to the second, as the
summer fades to fall. As youth fades to age—because the unspoken metaphor
here is of the life we think we're riding turning around and riding
us. Of disease, arthritis and outstanding property taxes, and every other predator in wait.
The second thing you diligent Bukowski readers will notice about this poem,
once you give yourselves a chance, is that nothing is really missing: it begins simply, and
its weight builds effortlessly, and when it ends it does so bluntly and
finally and inevitably. It is deceptively simple and unexpectedly powerful.
This is to its heart a classic and complete Bukowski poem.
Bukowski, Charles. "the mockingbird." Mockingbird Wish Me Luck. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1972. 71
"the mockingbird" is Copyright © by Charles Bukowski; permission to reproduce this poem has been requested, though no response has yet been received.