Charles Bukowski

(16 August 1920 – 9 March 1994 / Andernach)

A Smile To Remember


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
can
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
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
smiled

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Monday, May 16, 2011

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Read poems about / on: happy, smile, cat, father, mother, fish, water, home, remember, fishing

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Comments about this poem (A Smile To Remember by Charles Bukowski )

  • Rookie - 236 Points John S (3/25/2015 10:03:00 PM)

    God, I made so many grammatical errors in my comment below. Does anyone know how to edit your comment? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 236 Points John S (3/25/2015 1:19:00 AM)

    While I disagree with the commenter below, I think the old poets were way more talented than the famous modern poets (I mean come on Shakespeare was to lierature like Einstein was to physics. Brukowski ain't Shakespeare) , I disagree with those who say this is not a good poem. This is a great poem. It has a sort of a structure and literary quality to it. In my opinion it has three, shall I say parts, subjects, ideas... I don't know forgive me it's two AM and I ain't an English major) , so I'll say subjects. The fish, the cruelty of his father, and His mother's obsession with smiling and happiness. At first the fish seem to be just randomly thrown in the poem at the beginning. Then we have an example of his father's cruel nature as a domestic abuser, and intermixed is his mother's desperate attempts to remain happy and optimistic given the unpleasant, bleak circumstances. In the end, like a good storyteller, Bukowski manages to weave all three together as the dead fish are, with cruel indifference, thrown on the floor for the cat by the father, while the mother smiles and pretends all is swell and well in their broken home! A masterfully written poem. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 141 Points Wei Bin (1/18/2015 7:10:00 PM)

    So cruel and I'm in pain. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Emaan Mir (1/8/2015 10:40:00 AM)

    Awwww ..... Sad (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 432 Points Mokhtari Houssam Eddine (11/1/2014 5:00:00 PM)

    Sad poem smiling what a philosophy! ! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 150 Points Mark Sebert (9/24/2014 12:53:00 PM)

    Keep smiling, is that the lesson. Or find happiness by the vicarious in the destruction of others which is really the destruction of ourselves. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Suhana Ali (6/24/2014 2:19:00 PM)

    What a poem, my heart goes while I try to picture the situation. So painful yet so beautiful! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 48 Points Anna Garland (5/27/2014 1:49:00 PM)

    That is beautiful. I wish one day I can write poetry as clear and straightforward as Bukowski, yet evoking so much recognition and emotion in readers..! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Mazhari David (5/21/2014 3:54:00 AM)

    What is left of a human drama... sigh... sadness, and we relish it...* * (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 1,625 Points Herbert Guitang (4/25/2014 8:08:00 AM)

    A very unique kind of poem. An smile to remember. A poem that will be remembered in all generations (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Sash S.sharma (1/10/2014 6:13:00 AM)

    CHarles Bukowski was such a fine poet, he is still my all time inspiration. RIP (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kaity Cochran (12/27/2013 5:43:00 PM)

    Every time I read this I get goosebumps. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 10 Points Fiona Schwartzinoff (12/21/2013 9:57:00 PM)

    Wow. Powerful.
    me like it. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 262 Points D.l. Aceves (12/19/2013 7:20:00 PM)

    'saddest smile I ever saw' (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 423 Points Krishnakumar Chandrasekar Nair (11/18/2013 4:31:00 AM)

    We too live like fish in round bowls
    Too scared to jump and to be free
    But content with the whipping
    With never a thought to flee....

    I welcome all those reading this to my page too..... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 13 Points Inas Essa (10/12/2013 1:12:00 PM)

    Great write, I really enjoyed it. (Report) Reply

  • Gold Star - 9,730 Points Heather Wilkins (7/1/2013 3:12:00 PM)

    maybe this is more a story. anyway I enjoyed the write. It is entirely up to the poet what he writes. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie H. Reese (7/5/2012 11:31:00 AM)

    Bukowski was a really inspired guy who explored devestation, poverty, sadness. We need those kind of people. The Internet can help stop suffering in this life, Go to Google, search The Truth Contest, click the first result, begin reading The Present (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Bruna Araujo (3/25/2010 3:51:00 PM)

    How is this a poem? Oh well, maybe will never know. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Celine Charcoal (1/19/2010 11:19:00 AM)

    is this a poem written by clouded Henry, or by Bukowski? If it is a poem of the poem written by this scarred Henry, I would understand, but if it is by Charles, it is bad. (Report) Reply

Read all 39 comments »

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