Hank’s Place

2 minute read

Yesterday I drove to San Pedro to visit the grave of Charles Bukowski. He’s buried at Green Hills Memorial Park in what, at first glance, appears to be an unremarkable plot. It was my second visit. Here’s a poem about it:

HANK'S PLACE It's a quiet place There's not much talking but his words are here, still I'm surprised he didn't etch a poem's worth into the granite instead of just the two Then again he wasn't one t(w)o beat around It's a nice place There's San Pedro on a hillside by the sea industry, villas, poverty, palms it's all here I can see why he stayed

As hinted in the poem, in addition to displaying his name and relevant dates, there are two words etched on his headstone: “Don’t Try.” Having read much of his stuff - five novels, several collections of short stories, and many poems - I have come to understand this as a playful taunt aimed at other artists.

Roll the Dice, one of his most well known poems, begins “if you’re going to try, go all the way.” If the words on the headstone are not a direct reference to this poem and the ethos it espouses, it’s one hell of a coincidence.

I imagine I’m in a conversation with the man over a beer. Confident from drink, I boldly claim, “Hank, I’m gonna write a great poem!”

He smiles, raises his glass, says, “don’t try.”

There’s a dual meaning here. On the one hand he’s correctly pointing out that I’m likely to fail. If I’m not absolutely determined and if failure worries me, it’s best to stay out of the ring. On the other hand, he’s saying if I’m really serious about it, then I have to see it through despite all the hardships.

Below the inscription is a silhouette of a Rock em Sock em robot. The novel Ham on Rye ends with a scene where the narrator, Hank Chinaski, an alter ego of the author, is playing matches of rock em sock em against another youth. He keeps losing but he keeps struggling. This symbolism further suggests that “Don’t try” actually means that you are supposed to try.

Here’s a poem about my first visit, which I made on Black Friday in 2022. There happened to be a couple of other Bukowski fans reading to each other there.

MICHAEL AND MILA I met them at Hank's grave on Black Friday while the cluster flies infested the dying malls hinged on a hollow holiday (cash moving from taxed hand to corporate countinghouse and back again) We all play that game, even while deriding it. At first I couldn't find the thing in the imperfect rows of memory's markers sunken, sacred buried beneath that neat American lawn. I sought but found defeat, I said "You've lost it" And I was lost on that gentle hillside kept green by death. Finally I saw them: one on either side of the grave, one reading, one hearing, both afraid. The seeing was like a secret: reassurance for a wretch who wondered what could be found waiting at a dirty old man's dirty old mound? I, too, rested with them for a time and listened to the old man's graceful verb: I heard about the Bluebird and I heard about the Mailbox painted, blue, on the curb.