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To Bukowski, #6

now that the chief was dead
I ran the fiction board hands-down

two board members were present
a soft-spoken male
grad student & a young female undergraduate

“I’m going to read a story” I said “if you like
it raise your hand”

then I read one of the narrative
poems you sent
four lines into it
the undergraduate’s hand leapt
I raised mine said “fair enough” & we discussed eight
manuscripts by unpublished writers for fifteen
minutes apiece

they accepted one about a woman named Luna

Luna got drunk & taken to dinner by an anthropology
professor with an impressive vocabulary

it took her nineteen pages to get drunk

I ended the meeting returned to the office & called Lars
the mag’s poetry editor

“Lars?” I said “I got a Bukowski story”

“he’s uneven”

“he’s published more than you’ve read”

“what’s that supposed to mean?”

“listen the story got a two-thirds majority on the fiction
so it’s in

but it’s short so I’m thinking we can run
it as a poem”

Lars wheezed delicately

“after he dies” I said “you’ll be a literary hero”

“& if I die first?”

“doctors said his liver was history 15 years ago”

“let me think about it” Lars said
& we hung up

I sat
down considered using
the restroom & the phone rang
I answered in the way I always answered that phone:


“it’s fine with me as long as Buk doesn’t
mind that we call it poetry” Lars said

won’t mind” I said

& correct me if I
was wrong to tell him this

though please also know
that for years I’ve been sure
I was right



To Bukowski, #8


20 or so years after your letters from Long Beach

I got an email from a PhD
in Australia saying he’d heard I’d caught
hell for having published you & that he was looking
for what hadn’t been collected
of yours & knew you & I corresponded
& as a result would be ecstatic

to read even one line quoted
from any letter of yours still lying
around here

I began drafting the email back saying
something like “hell mate

I was more or less banned

from teaching in California & NYC
for merely signing letters addressed to the man—not to
mention he typed his last poem some twenty
years ago—can’t we just move on?”

“besides” I added “if any of those letters
I received haven’t been stolen by my sister-in-law
or her boyfriend
or someone else who got me drunk

they’re up
in the attic
in some box with all the pages
I wrote for the attorney who had convinced me for weeks
to sue the English department
that eavesdropped on

stole from
& slandered me for publishing Buk—
& the last time I saw
that attic I faced
my second-worst cardiac episode”

& then—as I proofread this response
to this Australian PhD—the palpitations

followed by
the nosebleed

& then came the sweating

so I plugged the bleeding
nostril with wadded toilet paper

told myself this Aussie could never
understand you anyway

deleted what I’d drafted & instead sent a quick
no-thanks while calming myself as I often have

with the belief that nothing
in those letters you
& I wrote

has ever really
been of much



Mark Wisniewski’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Ecotone, and Poetry International. His second novel, Show Up, Look Good, was praised by Ben Fountain, Jonathan Lethem, and Christine Sneed. He’s won a Pushcart Prize, and Salman Rushdie chose work of his to appear in Best American Short Stories.