Bukowski.

Bonaparte’s Retreat

by Charles Bukowski

Fred, they called him.
he always sat at the end of the
bar
near the doorway
and he was always there
from opening to
closing.
he was there more than
I was,
which is saying
something.

he never talked to
anybody.
he just sat there
drinking his glasses of
draft beer.
he looked straight ahead
right across the bar
but he never looked at
anybody.

and there’s one other
thing.

he got up
now and then
and went to the
jukebox
and he always played the
same record:
Bonaparte’s Retreat.

he played that song
all day and all night
long.

it was his song,
all right.

he never got tired
of it.

and when his draft beers
really got to him
he’d get up and play
Bonaparte’s Retreat
6 or 7 times
running.

nobody knew who he was or
how he made
it,
only that he lived in a
hotel room
across the street
and was the first customer
in the bar
each day
as it
opened.

I protested to Clyde
the bartender:
“listen, he’s driving us
crazy with that
thing.
eventually, all the other
records are
rotated
but
Bonaparte’s Retreat
remains.
what does it
mean?”

“it’s his song,”
said Clyde.

“don’t you have a
song?”

well, I came in about one
p.m. this day
and all the regulars
were there
but Fred wasn’t
there.

I ordered my drink,
then said out loud,
“hey, where’s
Fred?”

“Fred’s dead,”
said Clyde.

I looked down at the end
of the bar.
the sun came through the
blinds
but there was nobody
at the end
stool.

“you’re kidding me,”
I said, “Fred’s back in the
crapper or
something.”

“Fred didn’t come in this
morning,”  said Clyde, “so
I went over to his
hotel room
and there he
was
stiff as a
cigar
box.”

everybody was very
quiet.
those guys never said
much
anyhow.

“well,”  I said, “at least
we won’t have to hear
Bonaparte’s Retreat
anymore.”

nobody said
anything.

“is that record
still in the
juke?”  I
asked.

“yes,”  said
Clyde.

“well,”  I said,
“I’m going to play it
one more time.”

I got up.

“hold it,”
said Clyde.

he came around the bar,
walked to the
juke
box.

he had a little key
in his
hand.

he put the key
in the juke
and opened
it.

he reached in
and pulled
out a
record.

then he took the
record and
broke it over
his
knee.

“it was his
song,”  said
Clyde.

then he locked
the juke,
took the broken
record
behind the bar
and
trashed
it.

the name of the
bar
was
Jewel’s.
it was at
Crenshaw and
Adams
and it’s not
there
anymore.

from Last Night of the Earth Poems, by Charles Bukowski, p. 295-9, Ecco Press 2002

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