Monday, May 4, 2009

Losing things happens all the time. For years I could not put my finger on where I had stored my collection of letters from the writer and poet Charles Bukowski. It was the fall of 1972 when I reached San Francisco in my cross-country escape and I went directly to City Lights bookstore. Whatever I could afford I took down from the shelves, poets who were new to me especially. Among them was a collection of poems by Bukowski: The Days Run Away Like Horses Over the Hills, published by Black Sparrow Press in 1969. My driving companion and I took turns reading the poems aloud as we made our way back to New York bolstered by bottles of Henry McKenna and white tablets with little crosses engraved on them that made you feel very, shall we say, awake. I found a few more of Bukowski’s books in New York but had to hunt for them. I wrote to him care of the publisher, John Martin and only signed with my last name. I think I had already had a good sense of the volatile chemical reaction he’d had with women. He wrote back with a post office box return. I wrote, revealing my full name and he wrote again, finally including his home address on Carleton Way in Los Angeles.

We continued our written correspondence for a little over a year and my collection of more than 50 letters from him was passed around at many wild and drunken evenings in my apartment for the artists and writers and weirdoes who passed through my life. To my mind, I thought I had, at some point, recognized their value and stashed the letters away somewhere safe because I did have copies of the letters. But periodic searches in the apartment revealed no trace of them. At least I still had the copies. I resigned myself to their loss.

After I left, or rather lost my job in the corporate world I saw the field becoming rockier and rockier (re: younger and younger) and then impossible to navigate. I thought about how I could earn money quickly. I knew a woman of a certain age…er…mine, someone who also fancies herself a writer and had, like me, been unceremoniously dumped from magazine publishing. She had entertained the notion of becoming a dominatrix and she once gifted me with a tightly braided leather whip that so freaked me out I never brought up the subject again. The Mister was never on board with the idea anyway.

One night I recalled a line from one of Buk’s letters, about how I should never give up my art; if times got tough his letters might bring cash someday. I was determined to find those letters. The Mister and I pulled out every drawer, emptied every closet, and dug through piles of photos and papers stashed into suitcases. Spent and disappointed I was just about to give in when a basket full of letters from my friend Rauda, a writer in Paris, kind of glowed from under the little desk in the front room. I reached into the lot of them and plucked out a letter from Bukowski, mixed in with her correspondence. I had found the very one I was looking for, the bulk of the collection, in fact. A few of them sold quite well and got us across a financial crevasse.

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