nobody ever goes downtown anymore
the plants and trees are cut down around
and the preachers are not as good
and down on Broadway
the Mexicans stand in line
waiting to see Mexican movies.
I walk down to Clifton’s cafeteria….
the waterfall is still there
the few whites are old and poor
dressed in 1940 clothing
sitting at small tables on the first
I take my food upstairs to the
more tired than hostile
the men from out of the factories
their once beautiful wives now
the men wanting badly to get drunk
but the money is needed for
clothes, tires, jump ropes, tv sets
children’s shoes, children’s clothing.
I finish eating
walk down to the bottom floor and out,
and nearby is a penny-arcade.
I walk in.
it is full of young Mexicans
between the ages of six and
and they shoot machine guns
and the piped in music is very
they fly spacecraft
test their strength
fight in the ring
have horse races
but none of them want their fortunes told.
I lean against a wall and
I walk outside again.
I walk down and across from the Herald-Examiner
where my car is parked.
I get in. then I drive away.
it’s Sunday. And it’s true
like they say: nobody ever
goes downtown anymore.
– Charles Bukowski
I discovered this poem about our neighborhood in a 1978 issue of Second Coming magazine. Second Coming was a small-press poetry and literary magazine founded and edited by the poet A.D. Winans, run as a nonprofit out of Winans’ San Francisco apartment from 1972 to 1989. Winans specialized in poetry and essays from the likes of Gerald Locklin, Jack Micheline, Pablo Neruda, Gene Fowler, Neeli Cherkovski, Douglas Blazek, Paul Fericano, Guy Williams, Hugh Fox and many others. One of his most consistent contributors was the late, great Los Angeles raised poet and author Charles Bukowski, who lived, worked and drank off and on, in and around Downtown Los Angeles for much of his life.
Bukowski was first published at the age of 24 and spent much of his early career submitting his prose poetry to the many independent literary magazines that existed in the ‘60s and ‘70s, generally referred to then as “Littles” (today we would call them zines). Most of these, like Second Coming, were labors of love founded and run by struggling writers who created a DIY poetry culture — a place where outsider original voices could get their work published. Nobody got rich off of these publications, to say the least. Many only lasted for a few issues while others, like Second Coming, Loujon Press’s Outsider, Nomad, and Wormwood Review were able to sustain themselves for years and went on to publish some incredible work.
As a kid my parents would drive my brother and I around downtown’s Skid Row so we could see how the less fortunate lived. In my early teens they would take me to the museums downtown, and as we drove through the busy streets I would look out the window at the people standing on the street corners and think how different they were from the people in my hometown, on the beaches of South LA. They were more worn and they were every type of skin color. They had seen and lived a kind of life I knew nothing about but wanted to, as life at the beach always seemed sheltered and unreal to me...even as a kid.
In my late teens I discovered Charles Bukowski. His style, words and point of view mirrored my memories of what I saw looking out that car window and gave me a bigger picture into that life I hadn’t lived but wanted to know more about. His prose broadened my view, changed how I saw poetry, people and the world like I know it did so many others.
Although downtown has changed dramatically and the Clifton’s Cafeteria he describes in the poem no longer exists (yet has recently reopened as a gentrified multiplex of mixologist bars) I still catch glimpses of Hank’s drunken ghost leaning against the doorways of old hotels and can hear his songs of love and desperation rising above the wail of the police sirens in the downtown LA that we so cozily call home.
In the shop we do our best to keep a hearty rotation of original Black Sparrow Press, City Lights, Wormwood Review, and Second Coming editions featuring Bukowski’s writing.
This documentary titled “The Best Hotel On Skid Row” is about residents of The Madison Hotel, which is located just a few blocks from the gallery. It was released in 1990 by HBO as part of their America Undercover series and is narrated by Bukowski.
I found this post on the DTLA facebook page the other day. It had 98 comments on it by what seemed to be mostly new residents who were offended by the post and referred to Hank as a "miserable asshole"…..which of course he was, but then again so are they. At least Bukowski knew he was a miserable asshole.