a smile to remember – A Charles Bukowski Poem

we had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, “be happy Henry!”
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.

my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: “Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother

Notes: The poem best illustrates the perfunctori-ness of  being happy, a social, emotional commitment rather than a true state of mind. In these times of ‘positivity’ we are all compelled to show our happiness while hiding the hideous facts of our individual lives from the prying outsiders.

The mother in the poem while demonstrating a happy smile only make the boy realize that she has the ‘saddest smile in the world.’

I am reminded of Nora in ‘The Doll’s House ‘creating the illusion of a happy family where is perhaps as insignificant as a door mat.

1n 1986 Time called Charles Bukowski ‘laurate of the lowly life’, the man who was not afraid ‘to say it as he saw it’.






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