This is a story of an American poet by the name of Charles Bukowski. Late one evening, he finds himself in the company of a young beautiful woman. They drink wine until their faces are flushed with excitement. Charles reads the woman his poetry as she lay in his arms caressing his gaunt cheeks. His voice rises and falls, weaving into the rhythm of the night until he drifts to sleep. The next day he wakes up and rolls over. The bed is cold. His first thought is about having overslept. Slowly, his vision clears, letting him see the devastation. His study has been ransacked. His poems were missing, not just a page or few, but all of it. He had been robbed. Poor thing. Of all the things he could've been robbed of, he was robbed of his poetry. He was a man with few material possessions that he cared about as much as his writings. As a poet, his first instinct was to write a poem about it, titled "To The Whore Who Took My Poems." As alternating prickles of anger and disbelief coursed through his body, he picked up his pen. His hands trembled as he wrote:
next time take my left arm or a fifty
but not my poems:
I'm not Shakespeare
but sometime simply
there won't be any more, abstract or otherwise;
there'll always be money and whores and drunkards
down to the last bomb,
but as God said,
crossing his legs,
I see where I have made plenty of poets
but not so very much
No one has attempted to steal my poetry. As flattering as the whole incident sounds to me, I can imagine just how devastating the ordeal must have been for him. However, at some point in our lives, we've all been robbed like Charles. Of our time or our hearts. I remember going through my first heartbreak. Waking up to a call from my then-boyfriend at maybe 6 o'clock in the morning. He told me he wanted to break up. Out of the blue. I felt alone and unnerved.
Just as Charles lost his poems, I felt like an artist having lost the portraits of his lover. I’d roll over to the other side of the bed, half asleep, hoping my hands would land on him. I was struggling to get out of bed, my eyes heavy and half-closed. I saw my room in disarray too, much like Charles. The place was plundered over. All the glass ink bottles were cracked empty. The hardwood floorboard was stained with spilled ink. The color tubes stomped over, every last bit of paste squeezed out. Tracing the skid lines on the floor, I found the easel knocked to the corner of the room. The canvases were missing. I had been robbed of my portraits of my lover. I spent hundreds of hours and hundreds of hundred-dollar bills in the making. They were now gone, along with him.
“There won’t be anymore, abstract or otherwise,” Charles says about his stolen Poetry, “[as] there always will be money, and whores and drunkards.” These portraits, I thought to myself, were just like his stolen Poetry. My futile attempt at getting My One. I felt like I lost all the time and energy I spent on it. The sleepless nights I would carefully knit a future where both of us fit together, and days that were quick to pass because I was so consumed by drawing this perfect portrait of him. I dreaded the feeling of having gotten so close to being with the My One and it not working out. Like I missed a catch by a fingertip in the last inning or ran out of time right before I was to circle in my last answer. If you asked me I couldn't tell you who I sobbed more for -- my lover or the portraits I made him.
Charles says in the last line of his poem that there are "plenty of poets, but not so very much poetry." The line struck a chord with me and inspired me to look back without the rose-tinted glasses on. If lovers are poets, love should be an exchange of poems, a conversation with heart-throbbing rhythms and rhymes. Right? Poetry that is penned and performed by two people, where one person picks up the pen from where the other left it, filling pages right until the paper runs out. Poetry is two people working hard to make a relationship work, through thick and thin, unhurried and unconditional. Not an unrequited affair, or long one-sided storytelling of a ballad. It is at this moment I realized, there wasn’t much Poetry lost at all because there wasn’t any there, to begin with. I grieved for not the Poetry, I concluded, but my failed attempt at it. It was just a portrait of a fictional character that I had spent all too much time conjuring. Missing.
Because that’s what it was. The happiness I felt in the relationship and the sadness that struck me after my heartbreak had quite little to do with the Poet I was in love with, in fact, it was all about the lacking Poetry. My devoted attempts at making it all work – trying to match My Relationship with My expectations, and when it didn’t, wishfully walking the wire for the person I thought he could become. It became all about me. I looked right past his personhood for his potential – the poetry he could write with me, blissfully ignoring that his pen never touched the paper. As I look back at my heartbreak, the Poet perhaps just became a sad excuse for the lacking Poetry.
Blame comes easy. But in all honesty, there are many things I could have done differently. One of the many lessons I have learned is, to be honest with myself when judging a relationship. Untethering it from my past – not letting the previous baggage and trauma burden it. Freeing it from my future – not letting what it could become take away from what it is, even in the slightest. I was so caught up in the Disney makeover of my Prince Charming that somewhere along the way I forgot to see him for who he was – his good and his ugly. He didn’t hide, as I had long convinced himself he did. I just painted him over. So it shouldn't have been a surprise when he turned out a shade different as he tore through the acrid gritty brush strokes I’d put on the canvas.
You see, a relationship is not a personal project, I’ve learned. It's anything but. Either you love the person as it is, or you don’t. You can’t crave creative control over someone else. You’re only the main character in your own movie. You can’t make up for Poetry falling short in the relationship by overcompensating their lack of effort with your labor. That's unfair to both you and him. If you ever find the Poetry in your relationship taking the backseat, remember you just that there are "plenty of Poets, but not so very much Poetry."
Fall not for the Poet, but the Poetry he pens with you.