art, fiction

The Hung-Man’s Bottle Cap

She sat there, social as a dead butterfly, bending beer bottle caps in half.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

She paused, ruminated over the words “Miller High Life,” then responded.

“When I can’t do this anymore, I will hang myself.”

“What if you break your fingers?” I said, smirking.

“Then, it will be a loose knot,” she replied, without humor.

I laughed–tried to. I picked up a cap; gave it a squeeze.

“Ouch.” It dropped. We both looked at it, she looked up at me.

I frowned. “I’m not going to hang myself!”

She shrugged, looking rather disappointed.




drinking and other acts with Charles Bukowski

Inspired by Mark Renney’s poem, Any Orders Before Time, here’s a story about Bukowski I wrote a while back…


He let me hang around after the poetry reading when I promised to pick up his tab. We’re at an outdoor bar, sitting on unsteady stools or I’m drunk. I tried to match him whiskey for whiskey. Patpong Love Bar: and he’s reciting an old poem about prostitutes ‘that make you want to tear up paintings and break albums of Beethoven across the back of the john’.

‘Women of such significance, such beauty,’ he calls out to the emaciated whores on the steps of the bar next door, who are giggling, wondering whether they ought to try their luck, knowing I’ve already laid claim to him, this ugly man, but cash is cash. ‘Society should realise the value of the whore,’ he says ‘those who make it almost an art form…you feel liberated and human again for a mere $3.’ He raises his arm to make a point and knocks my whiskey off the table.

‘How much do they pay you, my beautiful pussies? How much would it cost me to feel like a man again,’ he asks the tallest of the three, the one whose eyes slant upward, eyeliner thick and precise. But she’s not a she, though that no longer matters. Not to Charles, not tonight.

He mumbles about the drudgery of everyday life, its pathos a familiar refrain in his poetry and stories. ‘The problem was you had to keep choosing,’ Charles says, ‘between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you.’ He leans in close, I think he will kiss me; I open my mouth slightly, and he says, ‘The truth is: the free soul is rare.’

As he drinks, the cracks between his monologues widen and I fear that one of us will slip through. And what if gravity disappears? Charles will hang on to the flame tree above us and spy my purple knickers under my black dress as I ascend, swallowed by space. He will move on to the women quick-witted enough to grab hold of something rooted to the earth.

Then he asks if I’d like to fuck and I’m embarrassed even when it’s ridiculous to play coy now. I drop the pretext of drinking and stare at him. I want to trace his face with my tongue.

3am, my phone says, and in three and a half hours, dark will give way. I tell Charles I want to leave now. I hate seeing these streets gutted by light. We walk over to a cab on the corner and shake the driver awake. An extra 100 baht and he’s keen to take us back to my flat.

In my room, Charles is suddenly tentative; while I shed my clothes, he escapes to the kitchen for a bottle of beer. We are both swaying and I wonder how we’ll get through this without hurting each other.

I sit on the bed naked, there’s no reason to feel awkward in the presence of a man who worships women. When he comes to stand in front of me, he caresses my cheek then gently pushes me down on the bed. We kiss and I smell booze and famine. He pinches my nipples hard with his fingers, cups my breasts, and sucks cries out of a mouth that has long been mute. A gentleman, he kneels on the rug, and covers my cunt with his mouth.

He enters me. I feel him lose control. I cross my legs around his back and grip his thighs, urging him deeper. His cock has gone crazy. I scream but the sound is muffled. It erupts from deep inside my belly. He comes then, shuddering violently on top of me. He raises his fist and I think he will smash my face, but at the last moment he brings it to his mouth to smother a moan or a cry. He has been away too long and still too close to death.

Later, he lights a cigarette and out the side of his mouth, ‘Did you fuck the poet or the man?’

‘Does it matter?’

‘Yes, it matters because if I fall in love with you, I want to know how it started. You might be one of the knives that stick me,’ he says as he rolls over to sleep on his side. ‘There’s an old one stuck into me in 1955, you can take its place.’

Lying next to him, I bite off the chipped end of a nail as a question carousels in my mind. In his last novel, Pulp, written as Charles was dying of leukemia, he wrote about a gigantic, glowing bird that had come to claim him. Death approached and he didn’t blink:

Then, as I watched, the Sparrow
slowly opened its beak.
A huge void appeared. And within the beak
was a vast yellow vortex,
more dynamic than the sun,

– Pulp

I stare at the back of his head.

He knows what’s on the other side, what happens to the soul when it’s evicted from its body. If there’s such a thing as a soul. I shake him awake and my ferocity disturbs his slumber. ‘I need to know,’ I say, ‘I need to know what happens to you after. Is there something or nothing?’

Bukowski turns over and looks at me with such understanding I have to suppress the urge to punch him in the face.

‘Oh, Babe–’


art by Christine Wu

Bukowski quotes taken from his novels Ham on Rye, Women, and Pulp. Also from his poetry collections, The Pleasures of the Damned and Love is a Dog from Hell.


Top-Shelf Booze

I saw a piece of ground today
that reminded me
of you.

And I felt the rage,

But being angry at you
is like being angry
at empty air.

So I grab a bottle
and collect it,
saving it to drink
later, when I catch myself,

Because too often
do I watch people with pieces
of you,
if I can put them together.

The bottles are kind,
if but full of hard curves
and even harder

Although I can’t melt into them
the same way I did
with you.

And they break,
more often than you used to.

I can put them back together, though,
with the sticky messes
you left behind –

It’s a perverse form of kintsugi*,
but it does the job.

*The Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold and/or silver.




There was not a single time when I was wrong,

only those moments where I was told as much,

so it became fact.

When they would crush my confidence so small

it could be squeezed

into a miniature Vodka bottle.

At night I would suck down that harsh liquid,

so they could compress dreams afresh tomorrow;

distilled once again into that tiny space.

Over the years the nights became longer,

that vessel became larger,

and I grew accustomed to the taste.


Surviving Life/Geometry 101

When things
I like to draw lines
and straighten
my rugs.

The beer makes it hard sometimes
and things
don’t always end up
so straight.
They crisscross,
more often than not.

The uppers, though, make it easier –
I can see every grain
on the page
and it’s like a grid.
But then I can’t
draw the next day.

But when I’m sober
and I draw a line
and my rugs
are perfectly straight,

it’s my tiny little
“fuck you”
to all of Life’s curves.


Barstool Philosopher

I go out
to see a woman
about a drink
and she kisses my eyes
while acceding
to pouring it down
my throat.

Some people seek the cafes
to write –
it’s too quiet.
I need spilt drinks
and broken glass;
belligerent drinks
and volumes
far too loud.

I need insults
to injuries
and salt
on the wounds.
Writing is never done

The patrons screech
and so the bar
screeches louder –
a never ending competition
of volume-based

I take after Bukowski
and order a beer,
eschewing the gin and tonic.

It’s simpler.
They serve it faster.



I go window shopping,
but it’s for flesh,
with a drunken belly
and an equally drunken

I go to the top floor,
(the best whores
are always there)
then make my way
to ground zero.

He tells me –
“When we knock,
we needn’t even say

“It’s but a shake
or a nod”.

And I imagine life this way –
my livelihood
based upon head movements
of men.

they’ll charge me $480
for two showers
a blowjob
and sex.

And I’m watching, as
my greatest pleasure and most
inflaming passion
is sold
for a pittance.

And so,
I bid my friend adieu
and flee to my bar
and gin tonics.

At least I don’t need to pay
for those.


Ragged Tapestries

I’m in her house
and she asks me
to leave.

“I need to write
or fuck,”
she says

“It’s all the same

She reminds me
of stained glass
and kaleidoscopes,


with mismatched wings


the warm sound
of creaking wood
before it splinters.

She’s on the verge
but holds it
all together
with store-bought
and duct tape.

The skin under her nails
show me how many nights
she’s spent
not alone –

but she surprises me
with the ache
in her lower back
and I wonder
how many nights have been
curled against her own knees.

She tells me
that she’s searching;

I always find her though,
her fingers wrapped around a bottle
or a cock –
it’s all the same

She still has more sunrises
than fingers –
the problem is missing


Bar Etiquette 

I called him an arsehole.

He called me myopic.

“You ain’t got no strife,

I asked him why
he was tearing the labels off
of the beer bottles –
“I like to flick them
and watch your colleague
pick them

He’s been here
since half
past noon.
It’s a Sunday,
and I’ve children
playing outside.

He’s the sole
at the bar –
the respectable patrons
know better.

“Funny thing,
about shits –
you never want them
’til you lose them.”

I took that to heart.

I shit
goddamn day.


No Matter How the Wind Howls

Carmen sat in a park off of Clarkson Street watching teenagers play baseball. She drank wine from a plastic carton and swayed in the wind. No one could play very well in wind like that. Sometimes it was calm for a little.

Carmen was wearing a yellow dress that touched the ground. Her light brown hair was everywhere.

Emma walked up behind Carmen and sat next to her, facing away from the game.

“Why don’t you watch?” asked Carmen.

“Aren’t you afraid to get caught drinking that?” asked Emma.

“What do you mean?” asked Carmen.

“Never mind,” said Emma. She breathed through her nose and closed her eyes. She was short and wore the same pair of jeans all the time.

“Have you seen Tara?” asked Carmen.

“No,” said Emma.

One of the kids hit the ball and the bat rang out clear in the wind.

Carmen cheered and laughed. She drank more wine and offered some to Emma.

Emma drank some wine and passed the carton back. She said, “I was going to work tonight.”

“Don’t work,” said Carmen. “Watch the game.”

“I hate sports,” said Emma.

“Then go away,” said Carmen. She drank more wine and then asked, “What happened yesterday with Candice?”

“What do you mean?” asked Emma.

“Oh,” said Carmen.

The pitcher caught a ground ball and threw it to the first basemen. The first basemen missed it and ran off to get the ball. The runner advanced to second.

Carmen clapped her hands and laughed.

Carmen’s laugh made Emma feel a little better because it was a pretty laugh. Not like Tara’s laugh, which was so loud and obnoxious. It was fine for Tara to laugh like that, though.

Emma said, “What about Candice?”

“I ran into her at the store and she was talking about something happened last night. I don’t know what. Who cares.” Carmen drank more wine. “Isn’t it so nice? Out here on the bench?”

“It’s cold, kind of,” said Emma.

Carmen looked at Emma and then looked back at the game.

Emma said, “I heard you were thinking of leaving town.”

“How could I leave?” asked Carmen. “When it’s so nice. Out here. On the bench.”

“I never cared for this park,” said Emma. “We should go to a different one some time.”

“Emma,” said Carmen, “turn around and watch the game. You’re making everyone uncomfortable, looking that way.”

Emma turned around and Carmen gave her more wine.

“Don’t worry,” said Carmen, putting her arm around Emma, “tonight you w0n’t work. We’ll go to Brooklyn and drink cheap beer. We’ll play pool with boys and maybe find Kelsey. She can take us upstate or something. You won’t be cold and whiny. I’ll bring you a thick cardigan that my mother used to wear.”

“Ok,” said Emma. “But can we not stay here? It’s cold and this game is boring.”

“Well,” said Carmen, looking down through the opening of the empty carton, “why not? I hate baseball anyway.”


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