Featured Poem: Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

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Bluebird by Charles Bukowski

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too tough for him,

I say, stay in there, I’m not going

To let anybody see

You.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I pour whiskey on him and inhale

Cigarette smoke

And the whores and the bartenders

And the grocery clerks

Never know that

He’s

In there.

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too tough for him,

I say,

Stay down, do you want to mess

Me up?

You want to screw up the

Works?

You want to blow my book sales in

Europe?

There’s a bluebird in my heart that

Wants to get out

But I’m too clever, I only let him out

At night sometimes

When everybody’s asleep.

I say, I know that you’re there,

So don’t be

Sad.

Then I put him back,

But he’s singing a little

In there, I haven’t quite let him

Die

And we sleep together like

That

With our

Secret pact

And it’s nice enough to

Make a man

Weep, but I don’t

Weep, do

You?

(from poemhunter.com)

 

Like most of Charles Bukowski’s other works, Bluebird is a straightforward, hard-hitting, and rather gut-tugging poem. A literary punch to the gut. A hyper-dose of reality, so to speak. In this poem, Bukowski speaks of a bluebird in his heart. A bluebird that he repeatedly smashes down to hide away from prying eyes. He is too tough for the bluebird, he pours whiskey on it, smokes it down with cigarettes, so none of the whores, the bartenders, and especially none of his readers can see it. As a writer who makes his living by selling pain sealed under a hard casing of machismo, there is little room for vulnerability, let alone, a kindle of happiness.

Well, maybe this is conjecture or maybe this is fact, but it’s highly possible that the bluebird Bukowski speaks of in this piece is the bluebird of happiness. The very same feathered friend that Tyltyl had in the 1908 play by Maurice Maeterlinck called The Blue Bird. Also the same avian in the 1934 song “Bluebird of Happiness” by Edward Heyman and Sandor Harmati.

Now, looking at the poem with the idea of the bluebird signifying happiness, particularly a childlike wonder or glee, it tells us of the inner workings of the persona’s or the writer’s mind. Bukowski’s works often describe a very adult world of alcohol, grief, a string of bimbos, and electric rage. And so, the bluebird is kept secret. Let out once in a while, when everyone’s asleep. I know that you’re there, so don’t be sad.

This is a feeling we can all identify with. It is the universal theme of how most of us deal with adulthood. We don our masks and our everyday armor, tap down our childlike wonder, afraid of being found out. Afraid of being taken less seriously, as if happiness were a stain in our otherwise pristine, unbreakable façade. We hide our real selves away—our weak points and vulnerabilities. Until the time we can finally be ourselves again. Until we can finally breathe again. When no one else is looking.

About the Poet

Now, who in this day and age wouldn’t know of Charles Bukowski? As a poet and writer, his confessional style of writing matched with his grit-and-grime-covered take on real life has made him one of the foremost leaders of the Dirty Realism movement. But as a man, he was larger than life.

Although his writing aspirations started in his late teens, a series of rejection slips coupled with a decade-long binge had Bukowski almost giving up on his dreams. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he started writing professionally, oftentimes choosing to publish with underground and independent presses instead of major publishers. This is something Bukowski continued to do throughout his long and successful career.

His experiences with boozin’ and floozin’, and living in the “frayed edge of society,” as Stephen Kessler puts it, figured heavily in Bukowski’s writings. Oftentimes his characters were staggering reflections of his own person, or literary persona, depending on who you ask. The result is an irresistible body of work that resonates loudly and richly with its readers.

 

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