The Tragedy of the Leaves by Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski’s poetry is new to me. ‘The empty bottles like bled corpses’ is stunning, but it is the closing lines that linger for hours: ‘and I walked into a dark hall where the landlady stood execrating and final, sending me to hell, waving her fat, sweaty arms and screaming screaming for rent because the world has failed us both’.

[Update 16/11/13: The concluding confrontation between Bukowski and his angry landlady in this early, gloomy poem, according to Howard Sounes’ biography of Bukowski, reflects the place Bukowski was living at the time.]

The Tragedy of the Leaves

I awakened to dryness and the ferns were dead,
the potted plants yellow as corn;
my woman was gone
and the empty bottles like bled corpses
surrounded me with their uselessness;
the sun was still good, though,
and my landlady’s note cracked in fine and
undemanding yellowness; what was needed now
was a good comedian, ancient style, a jester
with jokes upon absurd pain; pain is absurd
because it exists, nothing more;
I shaved carefully with an old razor
the man who had once been young and
said to have genius; but
that’s the tragedy of the leaves,
the dead ferns, the dead plants;
and I walked into a dark hall
where the landlady stood
execrating and final,
sending me to hell,
waving her fat, sweaty arms
and screaming
screaming for rent
because the world has failed us
both

Bukowski in correspondence with John William Corrington who published Bukowski as the American representative of a tradition of literary outsiders stretching back to Villon and Rimbaud:

‘Old Man, Dead in a Room is my future, ‘The Tragedy of the Leaves’ is my past, and the ‘Priest and the Matador’ is a dawdling in between.