"The Poet Confronts Bukowski's Ghost" by Kat Giordano
 

On the night that I open my first MFA rejection letter,

Charles Bukowski appears in the corner of my college apartment

in stained khakis and a yellowed white undershirt,

swirling Jim Beam in a lowball glass. “Baby,” he says,

the whiskey-dipped ribbon of his voice swirling out

into the still room, “remember

that day in high school

when we first talked

through your Apple headphones?

You were only seventeen

and blowing off class

but even then you saw

something special

about me. You

walked home

in a fog, altered

like old dads are

in their stories

of listening to Pink Floyd

for the first time,

the world falling to me.

Isn’t that right,

baby?”

 

It’s been a long night of self-insult, so my eyes are

glassy when they let go of my lap and find the creases of

his face, and my cheeks are scarlet-soggy from all
the crying. He curls his thin lips into a smile, which opens,

his teeth flaring in all directions like the keys of an old piano,

like in the video where I heard him read “Bluebird”

for the first time. A knot inside me tightens the way

it always seems to when a man is about to refuse to let me

get away with something important. “You think I don’t see

 

you in there,

behind all the shivering?” he

says. “You are still

that girl who wanted

to be like me. You can’t

get away from that.”

 

He’s got me, so I don’t move. Slowly, his airy presence

inches its way to the spot beside me on the floor

where I’ve been tearfully shaking, resting on my thigh

with the vapor of his fingers, colder than death.

 

“That’s why

this is so hard

for you, baby.

 

That’s why this moment

feels like a lie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s why

you write poems

about self-love

then scratch your wrists

to pieces

on the bathroom floor,

 

why you condemn men

who buy their girls flowers

but secretly wonder

why you aren’t

pretty enough

to have ever received them,

 

why I’m still your favorite

years later,

even after I’ve beaten

women behind your computer screen

too many times to count,

 

why the man

who stole your poems

and told you

the only thing you could ever be

was a girlfriend

still appears in your dreams

and holds you down

hard

and tells you what to do

and why you sometimes

don’t mind that.”

His ghostly fingers trail upward. I say nothing, thinking

of those paranormal shows I used to watch

late into the night, how the specters would enact

their slow parasitic violence. His whisper lands

like a thousand cigarettes being put out on my tender neck,

all blasé fake-cool and ash. “You like to hurt,” he says. “You

like it

when I tell you

don’t try.

Rejection

for girls like you

is just permission.”

The knot in my stomach releases to pleasant heat. This does it

for me. I hum in satisfaction, gazing at the dirty old man

with half-lidded eyes. My hands find his crotch without thought,
as if by some animal instinct I’d forgotten. He trembles.
“You know,” I coo, all sugar and smoke, “you were wrong

about me.” Bukowski’s ghost gulps, frozen with lust,

and that’s when I go for it, a full year’s anger boiling

and pulsing in my fingers. With agonizing force, I grip both

of Charles Bukowski’s phantom testicles, numb

as his ghostly cry wobbles the walls of my shitty bedroom

in my shitty apartment. “I don’t need permission,” I say,

and I squeeze until all the pain is gone.