it’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse

the shoelace
by Charles Bukowski.

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a

it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the

not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …

The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there –
licence plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s

lightswitch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the, market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out –
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as

then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a

so be careful
when you
bend over.

Rent Bukowski, Born into this. Or better yet, buy it.

7 thoughts on “it’s not the large things that send a man to the madhouse”

  1. Margaret Cho calls this “Death by a Thousand Papercuts.” She was referring to a specific phenomenon, but I believe her meaning is the same.

  2. Rarely seen a poem that speaks to the soul so well. And the tortue of daily life. But it doesn’t address those little things in the madness that makes it worthwhile, and how to find those smiles… They exist. Need more of this. Love it.

  3. Bukowski is one of the people who live in the back of my head and whisper write… write it all… to me. Of course he also whispers …drink.

    And indeed. Sometimes so much less than a broken shoelace. The mad house may not be so bad if some of you people are there to hold my hand.

  4. It’s 3:00 am and there must be a reason why I ended up here. Thank you for the poem. Here’s something to ponder while we are all waiting in line at the madhouse door:

    Sexual intercourse is kicking death in the ass while singing.
    Charles Bukowski (who else?)

    Go kick some ass, Karl. Goodnight.


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