Charles Bukowski and the Japanese Garden

charles bukowski stencil painting

Charles Bukowski stencil painting by All Surfaces Design.

When you run a Charles Bukowski fan site you end up finding out all kinds of things about the old guy you never knew.

Like, for instance, that Bukowski used to go hang out in the recently reopened Japanese Garden at The Huntington Library, in San Marino.

The Huntington, fans may recall, recently exhibited Bukowski manuscripts, and various ephemera (such as his typewriter and the radio on which he listened to classical music while he worked), in an exhibition called Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge.

This comes from an article in the Glendale News-Press:

The tranquil garden was a favorite stop for tough-guy poet Charles Bukowski after a day at Santa Anita. The ability to soothe that savage beast is proof positive of the site’s calming and restorative powers.

Here we see the well worn portrayal of Bukowski as tough old bastard, raging through life, which, while it holds some truth, is only a fraction of the true story of his personality.

Bukowski could be quite soft spoken and tranquil, as witnessed in numerous interviews. Still, if you asked most people to close their eyes and picture Charles Bukowski, they wouldn’t place him in the setting of a Japanese Garden.

Charles Bukowski & Buddhism

This revelation is made less surprising, however, by recalling that he took a real interest in Buddhism later in life. His funeral was even presided over by Buddhist Monks.

The influence was strong enough to show up in his work, as well, such as in his poem “As Buddha Smiles”:

as Buddha smiles

the ladies in blue and green and red,
the ladies in all their colors,
circle about.

there is nothing quite like
the arrogance of a
beginning writer
unless it is the conceit
a successful

is but a mask
that covers

looking at her
sitting at the bar

she’s the best thing
in sight:

silent, blazing,

the same sun
mixed and grinding
dancing toward what’s left of your

I keep pondering the
Adam and Eve without belly buttons?
and if so, why?

at times
small children
wake up screaming
as something
leaps toward them
that they have never

if we can laugh, fine.
if we’ve got to cry, we’ve
got to cry.

summer followed summer
flea fucked flea
as my parents
prepared themselves for an
early grave.

the 3 a.m.
radio sings
as a
of diminutive
flying bugs now
rush in to
keep me

as the swans circle
the truly damned are the
truly talented
as the swans circle
the truly talented are the
truly damned
as the swans circle.

it’s easier
to write a symphony
than it is to love
and respect
your neighbor.

head down
sitting by the
staring at my
as the wife tells me
how well I’m

anybody can be a genius
at 25. at 50, it takes

I think of Li Po
many centuries ago
drinking his wine
writing his poems
setting them
on fire
and sailing them
down the river
as the emperor

I light another cigarette
and wait patiently for lady
luck to

we’ve just got to get rid of
all those poor souls
who eat pizza and go to
baseball games.

I shot the cat
stole a webster’s dictionary
and ate a green apple.

the same sun
mixed and grinding
dancing toward what’s left of your

O my God
all that blue sky

I take my prickly heart and
throw it away
as far into the dark as possible and

I am
like a bug
a dog
a flower.

the knife cuts into the
the plate
the cat yawns.

the once young
hero has grown
as Buddha

Whether Bukowski felt any spiritual desire to spend time in The Huntington Library’s Japanese Garden, or if he simply liked the calm and quiet after experiencing the loud, swirling mass of humanity of the track, is anyone’s guess.

But if nothing else, true devotees now have another stop to make on their Bukowski pilgrimages. Now that it is once again open to the public after a year long renovation project, fans can go check it out and picture the old man strolling along the pebble path, celebrating a victorious day, or soothing the wounds of failure.