Podcast: Charles Bukowski – The Last Night of the Earth
That we were perishable, perhaps didn’t occur to
That greater gods might be
Watching.begging, Charles Bukowski
One can never have enough of Charles Bukowski’s books on the shelves, just as one might live in oblivion never knowing that we are perishable.
Hi, and welcome back to the Radio of Resistance. I never seem to be capable of sticking to my posting schedule. Forgive me for I am, as you are, perishable, and I take that notion liberally.
That we were perishable. There is much to talk about it. There is nothing to talk about it. For the longest of time, we have taken that fact for granted, although we do not know what to do with it. Should we place it down on this baked earth after the rain and walk away? Or should we just bring it with us on the journey, constantly looking at it, keep being reminded about how we will never become anything greater than who we are?
That we were perishable. Take a moment to think about it. Like the beggar in a video I mentioned in the last couple episodes, we are all in a rat’s race, and Charles Bukowski knows where the race ends.
That we were perishable, or that greater gods might be watching. I enjoy the hidden notion behind the regular, smaller, decapitalized “g” in all of Charles Bukowski’s poems, just as much as I enjoyed the “G-d” in Leonard Cohen’s. In a moment’s notice, the notion that greater gods might be watching does not seem that horrendous or filled with guilt. After all, aren’t the greater gods the same as the mortal men on the last night of Earth? And though you choose to worship them, though to you they are “G-d,” one of these days, the fact will catch to you that they will die along with the humans they created. Or not created, depends on your religion.
Whatever you believe in, that is your one true God.
In “The Last Night of the Earth,” Charles Bukowski spoonfeeds us the mortality of men. The best of us and more often than not, the worst of us. The masks we wear and the masks we tear down, depends on the weather and depends on who is in our hearts.
Each person is only given so many
It’s not a surprise to know Charles Bukowski spent most of his living life staying at home. I suspect if we could, we will also choose to spent our life not wasting our limited evenings. I wonder who among us will have enough power to determine which will be the wasted evenings and which will be the not-wasted ones. We don’t need amazing ones, thank you, just simply the not-wasted ones.
I remember Ed Sheeran’s song, “Supermarket Flower.” A life’s been loved is a life that’s been lived. And just like that, the memories of my mother and my sister flood into my mind like the torrent of rain in that far away evening when I waited before the school gate for my mother to pick me up. One of these nights, undoubtedly, it will be my mother’s last night of the the Earth. One of these nights, these memories might be burnt down to ashes, and as the ashes flow out to the ocean, as my mother wants to, I will remember these not-wasted evenings.
The evenings she took me to the supermarket on her motorcycle. No matter how tired she was, she never once forgot that task.
Or the evenings where she cooked dinner and I stood besides her, listening to her homemade recipes, her stories that day, and what happened to the stupid cat that kept begging her for cuddles.
Or even the sadder evenings, where we sat in silence. My mother at the head of the bed and me by the foot of the bed, simply staring at the empty spaces in the room. A hollow void inside our hearts keep bleeding out words of hate and revenge.
Thinking back on those not-wasted evenings, I realize one thing: that putting things against time, the notion of right and wrong is frivolous. Whimsy, even. Like a little child’s crying because he couldn’t get his favorite toys.
The more we spend time on Earth, the more we realize how meaningless right and wrong are. What could be done has been done. What we think could not be done, has also been done. And the wars will properly outlive us all, just as our right to disagree.
Within that small hemisphere, what could right and wrong possibly mean to us?
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I read the news about Beirut, and I am reminded of a verse in The Carpenters’s song.
I saw the face of the children, covered in blood and wounds and the wars’ gruesome death, and I thought to myself, What is the right and wrong in the event? And had they seen the children’s faces – the same ones that I see, that they see, on the street, laughing, running, living – would they do it again?
I had seen the faces of the Vietnam soldiers dying in the war, their corpses hanging from a tree or dismembered. I had also seen the face of the U.S. soldiers after the war, broken and void of any semblance of a smile. Their eyes vacant with hollow souls of the death.
After the war, you are not the same person you thought you could still maintain. And if luck is not on your side, you are not even a person. What, then, could be so valuable for the winning sides and the losing sides to grip so firmly on the attrition wars and pile corpses upon corpses? And do they know which corpses belong to which sides? In death’s eyes, we are all on the same side.
Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Vietnamese author who inspired me and other budding Vietnamese authors, had put it in a simple statement, The poor people never choose the war. The children in the Beirut aftermath covered in blood and dust never choose the war. The mothers and fathers grieving on the breaking ground for the smallest cries of their children surely do not choose the war.
I often wonder in my spare time on the last nights of Earth. Who choose the war? What is in their mind? What do they want to achieve? And why is there a right to turn the right to disagree into something larger? Something like death and corpses hanging from a tree and dismembered comrades.
Counting on one hand, I see the Rwanda Genocide, and recently, the Rohinga ethnic cleansing, I wonder about what we have learned from history. I thought spending thousands of years indulging ourselves in the blood bath of the enemy story, the us versus them story, and the human story, we can finally let go of the mindset of winning and losing. The saying often goes, The winners take it all, or to put it in this, The winners are the one writing the history.
Then, what did the winners actually learn? To be on the right side of history? To be the one worshipped and adored? And on the road leading to the right side of history, do they see the tears on the motherless children and childless parents? Do they hear the cry of their comrades and their enemies, just barely breathing, barely human, barely existing on the edge of their conscience?
It is so important to win. It is ingrained in our DNA. It’s the fight-or-flight system, the run for your life system, the get rich or die trying system. It is so, so very important to us that we forget sometimes, “not to lose” is enough. On Charles Bukowski’s racetrack, when 20 years are being lost after three days, it is just as important not to lose.
I say, I know that you’re there,
So don’t be
Then I put him back,
But he’s singing a little
In there, I haven’t quite let him
And we sleep together like
And it’s nice enough to
Make a man
Weep, but I don’t
You?The Blue Bird, Charles Bukowski
I often wonder, when the winners go to sleep, where will they end up? And did they kill the blue birds? Did they quiet the birds down, strangle them, and kill them softly the way they kill the dreams they had once when they were a child?
I recently had the honor to read Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story on a man’s melancholy with a river in Tokyo, his hometown. The melancholy growing inside a man’s heart that is nice enough to make a man weep. And in contrast to Bukowski, who quiet down the blue birds and sleep beside them in a secret pact, Akutagawa turns that sadness into the shape of the river, the smell of it , the sound of it, the breeze across it in the spring’s cherry blossom storms, the snow piling up on both sides of the riverbank in the cold winter that only the large cities have.
Despite the differences in the approach to the term “melancholy,” the meaning within Charles Bukowski’s blue birds and Akutagawa’s river sadness stay the same.
The thing is, when will the melancholy ever leave?
It sure follows Charles Bukowski to his sleepless night, singing his favorite classical music with its sweet dreary voice. And it sure follow Akutagawa to his suicide later on, as the cherry blossom petals were storming Tokyo with its vibrant and festive beauty by the riverside.
It’s like one of The National’s song, Sorrow found me when I was young.
I know of a man. Sorrow also found him when he was young. He lived in Tokyo all his life, and he was thirty years old. I wonder if he lived near Akutagawa’s river, or if he had something that resembled Akutagwa’s river. His own pills of melancholy. His own version of a sadness that will never leave. A wooden porch. A tilted old roof. An alley filled with old candy stores. Whatever that had stuck with him throughout his childhood and turned into his heart when he reached adulthood.
He told me many stories. The stories when he was bullied as a child. The stories when he couldn’t get any job as an adult. The stories that he hated living on a job from day to day. And the stories about how he would commit suicide later on in life if he had the opportunity.
I listened to him, and I think of the authors that cannot survive melancholy. Like Hemingway and Kawabata. I thought about the heroic sides of living and the heroic side of dying. I thought about the blue nights in Tokyo when I had the chance to see a train station filled with people rushing towards nowhere, with food on one hand and a briefcase on the other. I thought about him. I wondered what can save a life. I thought that if I had known it, I would have stayed up with him all night, talking about Akutagwa’s river and Bukowski’s blue birds. I would have done anything to keep his blue birds singing, to have them sleeping besides him, to let them live.
The next morning, he did not reply to my text. I guess like all beautiful things, sorrow got him, too.
And what’s the moral of the story? I’m sorry, but I didn’t tell this story just to dissect it. There’s no morality in living and in dying. I just want to let you, and everyone out there, who has food on one hand and the briefcase on the other, to keep on living. Don’t kill your blue birds. Let them sing.
This is Thanh Dinh, and you are listening to the Radio of Resistance.