A Commentary on ‘The Secret’ by Charles Bukowski

By Jimmy Tee, BWW member

photo by Jimmy Tee from the documentary ‘Bukowski’
photo by Jimmy Tee from the documentary ‘Bukowski’

The Secret
          by Charles Bukowski 

don’t worry, nobody has the
beautiful lady, not really, and 

nobody has the strange and
hidden power, nobody is
exceptional or wonderful or
magic, they only seem to be
it’s all a trick, an in, a con,
don’t buy it, don’t believe it.
the world is packed with
billions of people whose lives
and deaths are useless and
when one of these jumps up
and the light of history shines
upon them, forget it, it’s not
what it seems, it’s just
another act to fool the fools

there are no strong men, there
are no beautiful women.
at least, you can die knowing
and you will have
the only possible victory

What a sense of comfort Bukowski offers us in these lines, as if he had comfort to spare, sharing his view through simple words and phrases from a beat-up Southern California apartment overflowing with empty beer cans. To know his life through his poetry sends the reader past the drudgery of the bottom rung of society to visit his straightforward version of the truths that govern existence.

Charles Bukowski suffered the pain of abuse from a father who beat him as regularly as daily Mass. The strap found hanging prominently in the hallway, the welts that never had time to heal. A father who, despite losing his job, still prepared and left for work daily, so strong was the need for pretense, until the day came when both father and son knew the abuse was over and the young man escaped to the street and all it has to offer. These acts witnessed by his mother who silently allowed the assaults to occur.

If great art has its source in great pain, (and who’s to argue against that fact), his childhood would have been sufficient, but shortly after the beatings ended he was afflicted with painful boils on his face and neck, the aptly named acne vulgaris. Emotionally devastated and horribly scarred, he turned to his typewriter, gallons of fortified wine, and a string of flop houses. He delivered mail and drifted from one woman to another. He suffered inane Post Office efficiency games, followed by rotgut bars glowing in neon in the Los Angeles rains, ending spread-eagle on soiled sheets, only to be interrupted by the sameness of the rising sun.

When you read Bukowski, you leave the common area of our fat lives and enter thinness. Truly, the human soul is unbreakable, but oh how it can bend.

Bukowski, by mentioning history, seems to aim the poem at ‘famous’ men or women whom we allow to commit the horrible crimes present in our nature, crimes of a grand scale that repeat themselves despite our enlightenment. The final lines can also be seen as a barb against the tabloid description of the celebrity worship that is a part of our popular culture. The profusion of hairstyled, airbrushed, pancaked skin as a goal we can all achieve is foolish since we all share the same fate and no team of publicists can change that.

Bukowski writes with a mandate that should appear in every poet’s work. It is very tough to agree with Bukowski’s outlook on life just as it is tough to agree with any author. His words contain authority, an accounting of his personal discovery. He mistrusted the fame that found him in his later years, unapologetic as he chugged wine before the audiences at his readings. ‘The Secret’ contains the look behind his eyes.

He is sharing his discovery by keeping his ego in suspect check and allowing his view of a very large subject in a matter-of-fact, almost condescending manner. He writes how my father spoke to me as he taught me the ropes as best he could and left the final education to others. Dont let yourself be fooled by anyone and you are most suspect.

I have lived a fat life. I bet you could say the same thing. Thinness is unappealing in this modern age. Thank heaven for poets. Poetry is concerned with significance and its absence. Analyze ‘The Secret’ as you would a fellow workshop member’s work and it would fail most of the guidelines that we are forced to follow. But his message is clear, important and instructive, for meaning trumps structure and truth contains its own evidence.