Bukowski, poetry, my daughter, and me

It’s no great secret that I’m a big fan of Bukowski. I don’t buy into his image in the way that some people do, I just think he produced some tremendous sentences. Say what you like about him – I don’t care – the guy could fucking write.

It’s rumoured he got through two or three poems a day. Now, I’ve said before, poetry isn’t really my thing. I like it well enough, I just don’t write it. I put a poem up here a few weeks back and I’m still a bit uncomfortable about it. It seems to have a touch of the old sixth form pretention still to me. However, I suspect Bukowski used poetry as a way to keep his creativity flowing. I go through massive slumps myself. In fact, my creativity is something like the ice ages – I’ve had several mini ones recently, but the last great climate shift was about four years back. At the moment I’m going through another. In the last month I’ve written four chapters of a novel, a poem (hmm), and now five pieces of flash fiction. That’s positively insane for me. I think the flash fiction holds the key. Just grab an idea and write it out. Don’t put it aside and think ‘I might be able to use that at some point’. Maybe I’m writing poetry for the prose generation. Maybe I’m writing prose for the text generation. Maybe that’s all absolute bollocks, and the point is I’m just writing – for the sake of it. (I know which one I’m going for – have had an inordinate amount of red wine).

Someone in my writing group asked me, about two months back, why all my stuff is about dysfunction. My answer was I don’t think you get to choose. She suggested I write something about love. My initial reaction was to say ok, and then ignore the idea. Actually, no, my initial reaction was to vomit up my sleeve and then to say ok and ignore the idea. But that’s probably because I’m a bit of a dick sometimes. Aren’t we all?

Today, I’ve been working on something that I suspect is in part a response to that suggestion, and in part an antidote to the moronic end of the world story I did yesterday. I don’t really know what it is. It isn’t flash fiction really. Is it some sort of confessional? Perhaps. With the exception of having spliced together different conversations into one, it’s pretty much all true. As true as anything ever is:

Hard to Explain

My daughter calls me Dude. I have no idea why this is. She always has. As soon as she wrapped her ten month old tongue around the word Daddy she decided it tasted wrong; it was bland, strangely textured, a processed noun with the nutrition stripped out.

‘Hey Dude.’

‘Hey monkey girl. What you up to?’

Sometimes I dread to ask, but I always do anyway. The inside of her head is densely packed with an imagination that consistently reminds me of the banality of life. I picture it as a fluorescent jungle in there: a whole spectrum of neon synapses, tangled and overlaid like vines in a primordial forest.

‘I’m drawing a picture of a fox that thinks it’s a dinosaur.’ Of course she is.

‘It’s a girl.’ She pronounces it gurl – again, I have no idea why.

‘She has balloon feet.’

She squeals with laughter at this last bit. It’s infectious. Breton has nothing on this girl. You can write a manifesto or you can live your dreams.

Until she came along, I had no grasp on all the things that love can be. With her it’s fundamental, beyond analysis; beneath the bedrock and absolute/elusive. I’ve cried before now just watching her sleep. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t drive me insane. When she wants something she warps the world around me. She knows disorientation is the key.

‘I like this song Dude. Is this your favourite?’

‘One of them, yeah.’

‘It’s my favourite too.’

She tries to sing the chorus in her five year old mezzo-soprano. The quickest way to a father’s heart is through his record collection. Every time, I burst out laughing – and by then she’s already won.

When she was two, she had a massive asthma attack. We almost lost her. It happened while I was at work and I drove home in a panic. The ninety minute journey took me just under an hour. I pulled up at our house and found nobody home. I drove around to the doctor’s surgery and got there ten seconds before her grandmother wheeled her around the corner in a pushchair.


It was one of the few times she’s used that name. She belted it out with all the lung capacity she had and it made her breathing all the more laboured. I took in her painful, shallow breaths. I took in her pale face and her ravaged eyes. But that look of delight mixed with relief when she saw me – that will haunt me until the end of my life and yours. I was there. Her mum was on her way, but I was there. In her infant mind that now meant everything would be alright. The absolute trust that displayed cut a cold, burning strip from the corner of my soul. Because I didn’t deserve it – I couldn’t help her. Only the nurses could do that by pumping magnesium into her veins. The worst thing of all is that I suspect she knew that as well, even then. But it didn’t matter to her. If she died, she was going to do it with me, and that was ok too.

‘Dude? Are you ok?’

‘I’m fine kid.’ I usually don’t think about this stuff until after she’s in bed.

‘I need an ice cream.’

‘Do you need one or want one?’

It’s a fine line between what they want and what they need, and she doesn’t make it any easier for me.

‘No, I definitely need one.’

She glances over at the stereo. I get up and go to the freezer before she even starts on The Strokes.


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