Dasein, Red Elephant.

Bukowski – A Smile To Remember

A Smile to Remember
Charles Bukowski

We had goldfish and they circled around and around
in the bowl on the table near the heavy drapes
covering the picture window and
my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, “be happy Henry!”
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.

my mother, poor fish,
wanting to be happy, beaten two or three times a
week, telling me to be happy: “Henry, smile!
why don’t you ever smile?

and then she would smile, to show me how, and it was the
saddest smile I ever saw

one day the goldfish died, all five of them,
they floated on the water, on their sides, their
eyes still open,
and when my father got home he threw them to the cat
there on the kitchen floor and we watched as my mother

Poor mopey bukowski was far from content watching animate goldfish swimming round tapestries-how could he be?

picture window cine-bukowski sulky;

mother smiley preaching

life goes on, sad or happy-

even if whacky ski-dad gets punches a-rolling

more than twice weekly


poor bukowski, and ski-mom with her tragic smile:

smile of forgiveness, and understanding-

smile of helplessness, like paint hiding cracks-

of darkness and confusion-

perhaps too complex for poor young mopey bukowski

to access-

-thought she-

but bukowski did

and her smile did not sell

it just cracked in mid air,

so frozen and well-preserved

you could almost clone it.


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  1. * ani says:

    i really want to understand this poem a little more, if somone could please help me understand the meaning of the mother smiling and what charles meant when he sates that the mother smiles as she watched the fish being thrown to the cat i would really appreciate it!

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 3 months ago
    • * analyticpseudointellectual says:

      There are a lot of different ways to take it, but the entire poem is insinuating and trying to draw similarities between the fish in the bowl and the mother. (both locked away, trapped, just trying to make the best of life) The mother smiled when the fish were eaten because 1. she always smiled and 2. because in a way she saw herself as the fish as well and in a dark sort of way she knows that the escape from her situation is death.

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 8 months ago
  2. do you think the mother is relieved coz for once the father has taken out his frustration on the fishes instead of his wife and kid?

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 8 months ago
  3. * Scody says:

    The mother is smiling because the mother always smiles.

    The poem is about a boy watching as his mom hides her pain over and over again. She smiles as the father throws the fish to the ground because its just more hurt and death that she is so used to ignoring and smiling.

    When Bukowski says “my mother poor fish” he is meaning I think in a way that the mother is either already dead, and the father beating her is just his continual way of throwing her to the cat to be eaten. Or that she is so weak and defenseless as a house mom (which she seems to be) she is stuck in her bowl, just waiting like the fish, just waiting to die and be cast aside.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 7 months ago
  4. * loluver says:

    Check out Buck 65’s track “The Floor” off of his album “Secret House Against the World”

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  5. * starsaresuns says:

    I think that when Bukowski wrote this poem, he didnt think of what it actually meant. He just wrote a poem about his smiling mother and the goldfish and that was that. The beauty is that all these years after, here we are analysing the thoughts of a man that has been dead for 9 years.
    I guess that’s why they call it art.


    | Reply Posted 5 years, 2 months ago

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