The Triumph of the Bull
We’d been arguing an hour when I stopped.
It wasn’t that I could no longer fight,
or he had stuck in me an intellectual horn,
gouged me beyond the chance to recover.
No, in fact I would say, on the main,
I was winning easily, counter-jabbing
his assaults, thrusting my sword.
What overtook me was mental weariness,
the fatigue of one who is tired of stabbing
the dying bull who is too stupid
to stop charging forward, blindly.
Though strong in reason and in word,
there resides in me this failing,
the inability to seize upon an advantage
and bring a foe to his finish, this
especially the case when the foe is friend,
or was a friend before his face flushed,
before he was made to defend
what he could not. How sad then,
how pitiable, having sheathed my sword,
having turned my back to go on home,
to be gored from behind. How much winning
meant to him, and how little everything else.
I told him he had me, he won, and I was leaving.
He must have smiled, must have laughed.
He maybe even congratulated himself.
Perhaps he went out to celebrate,
stopped for a beer, looked around,
felt alone, maybe learning at long last
what I knew when I laid aside my sword:
each time you win an argument you lose a friend.
Bukowski’s Safe Bet
After some years almost all his poems
were as stale as a beer he left unfinished
after he passed out, words dribbling
down the page like puke down his shirt.
He talked incessantly about risk and gamble
while rarely taking one, except maybe
when he visited the track, never leaving
the persona like an actor afraid to remove
his costume for fear they’ll cancel the play.
Like his hero, Fante, he joined the actors
in Hollywood, befriending Madonna, Penn,
and wrote about the beautiful people,
their peccadilloes and foibles and hang-ups,
all the while claiming to be separate.
His work became the descent of drool.
By that time he had more in common
with Margaux Hemingway than Ernest.
Ironically, or maybe not, it was during
this nothing period, when his writing
was a thin ghost of what it had once been,
that his fame increased many-fold.
He didn’t complain. He bought a BMW
and published in Poetry Magazine,
a journal that only a few years earlier
he dubbed a “golden outhouse of culture.”
A whimpering finish to a bestial wail.
Yet in the end there’s nothing to do
but forgive him. Sick, mostly written out,
he knew his last bet was the safe bet:
that people prefer a gossip to a gambler
and, let’s face it, both of them to a poet.
About the Poet
James Valvis has placed poems or stories in Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Midwest Quarterly, Ploughshares, River Styx, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.