Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Charles Bukowski's Last, Unpublished Poem and the Bestial Wail

by Stephen J. Gertz

On Friday, February 18, 1994, at 2:14 PM - eighteen days before his death - Charles Bukowski, America's poet laureate of society's fringe, sent to his publisher, John Martin of Black Sparrow Press, via FAX, what would be his last poem.


oh, forgive me For Whom the Bell Tolls,
oh, forgive me Man who walked on water,

oh, forgive me little old woman who lived in a shoe,
oh, forgive me the mountain that roared at midnight,
oh, forgive me the dumb sounds of night and day and death,
oh, forgive me the death of the last beautiful panther,
oh, forgive me all the sunken ships and defeated armies,
this is my first FAX POEM.
It's too late:
I have been

We wondered about it and asked John Martin for insight.

"On February 18, 1994 Hank had a fax machine installed at his home. He sent me his first fax message in the form of that poem. I'm sure he visualized sending me his future letters and poems via fax, but sadly 18 days later he was gone.

"I ran off nine photocopies of the fax, for a total of ten, and numbered and initialed them. Over the next few months and years I gave copies to individuals who were Bukowski collectors and regular customers of Black Sparrow. I think I gave away the last one more than 10 years ago.

"That poem has never been published (except as described here) and the poem has never been collected in a book."

A copy, #4,  has just come onto the marketplace, offered by Whitmore Rare Books.

FAX Poem #1 a far cry from the poetry in Bukowski's first chapbook, Flower, Fist, and Bestial Wail, published in an edition of 200 copies by Hearse Press out of Eureka, California in 1960, which introduced readers to the major themes that informed many of his works, particularly “the sense of a desolate, abandoned world,” as R. R. Cuscaden pointed out in The Outsider, the small literary magazine edited by Jon Edgar Webb  that published only five issues 1961-69. 

Thirty-four years after Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail, Charles Bukowski was no longer struggling with the demon muse. For the first time, after a long, difficult existence, his personal life and finances were secure. He had a home. He drove a nice car. 

He possessed, for once, a simple sense of joy. The lyric hard truths of his early poetry had given way to an almost childlike sense of wonder, carefree of the world, the bestial wail becalmed to a coo of delight.

All images courtesy of Whitmore Rare Books, with our thanks, who, in addition to offering this absolutely scarce copy of FAX poem #1, offers this copy of Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail.

A personal thank you to John Martin.

Of related interest:

Bukowski: Lost Original Drawings of a Dirty Old Man Are Found.

Charles Bukowski Bonanza At Auction.

Dirty Old Man Exposed at the Huntington.


  1. You always learn something new. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.



  2. Hello, Stephen. I've read a LOT of Bukowski but did not know of this last fax poem. Have reflected a little on this here, linking to your piece of course:


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