Search results for: "the laughing heart"

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

All Because I Was Born Laughing
by Joan Jobe Smith

My mother had this picture taken of just us two in a
photo booth in Paris, Texas, February, 1940, to give to
her rich cousin Mae who was related to Jesse James to
show me some day what my mother looked like who
couldn’t take care of me, she had to go to work, be a
waitress, so she gave me away to her rich cousin Mae
related to Jesse James because Mae had a big ranch and
plenty of money for a nanny to take care of me because
I was born laughing, I was not born dead like the doctors
said, because I was born feet first and stopped being born
at the knees for 14 hours till my feet and legs turned purple.
And because I was born laughing instead of being dead,
the doctors said I’d never be right in the head because of
lack of oxygen to my brain those 14 hours and I’d never
walk or talk or feed myself, button buttons, tie my shoes,
get a job and earn my keep, be a wife or mother because
I was born laughing and that proved their theory that I was
not all there–my laughter merely neurological spasms and
my laughter so depressed my father, he went away (but he’d
later come back) and, so, there I am in that photo, only
four weeks old as my bereaving mother hugs me tightly
in her arms in the photo booth, the first photo ever taken
of just us two to give to her Jesse James cousin Mae to
show me some day (if I can understand) because I was
born laughing, laughing in that photo because I’m happy,
surely knowing that my mother is beautiful, so very happy
because I can feel her heart beat, hear her sighs telling me
she’ll come back to get me in just 3 weeks because her heart
will nearly break (she’ll tell me when I’m grown) because
she’ll miss me which is what my mother did. All because
I was born laughing.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Jobe Smith, founding editor of Pearl and Bukowski Review, worked for seven years as a go-go dancer before receiving her BA from CSULB and MFA from University of California, Irvine. A Pushcart Honoree, her award-winning work has appeared internationally in more than five hundred publications, including Outlaw Bible, Ambit, Beat Scene, Wormwood Review, and Nerve Cowboy—and she has published twenty collections, including Jehovah Jukebox (Event Horizon Press, US) and The Pow Wow Cafe (The Poetry Business, UK), a finalist for the UK 1999 Forward Prize. In July 2012, with her husband, poet Fred Voss, she did her sixth reading tour of England (debuting at the 1991 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival), featured at the Humber Mouth Literature Festival in Hull. She is the author of the literary memoir Charles Bukowski Epic Glottis: His Art & His Women (& me) (Silver Birch Press, 2012). Her writing is featured in LADYLAND, an anthology of writing by American women (13e note Éditions, Paris, 2014). Her poem “Uncle Ray on New Year’s Day . . .”  won the 2012 Philadelphia Poets John Petracca Prize. Her latest book is Tales of an Ancient Go-Go Girl. She will appear at the Sunday Salon of the Los Angeles Visionaries Association (LAVA) on April 26, 2015 from 2-4 p.m. in downtown Los Angeles — find out more at


Thank you to everyone who entered our raffles for Bukowski-related artwork, posters, and books to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buk’s passing. We congratulate our winners: Harry Calhoun, Jocelyne Desforges, Denise Enck, Alexis Rhone Fancher, Catfish McDaris, Karen Massey, John McHugh, Andrew Spencer, and A.D. Winans.

IMAGE: Blue pyrex bowl filled with names of raffle entrants resting on brown cardboard package with image of Bukowski drawn by Bradley Wind, inscribed with Bukowski’s poem “The Laughing Heart.”


The Laughing Heart 

by Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

Hear Tom Waits read the poem here.

Photo: G. Freihalter, shot in Rue d’Alsace, Paris

Out, Alone
by Maria Nestorides

It’s a balmy spring afternoon
and I’m on my way to the craft shop
where I’ve booked a class
to make a heart-shaped wreath for my wall.
And I am still waiting…

I park my car wherever I find a spot,
but this is New York City, and
I need a good five minutes to walk to the shop.
A group of young men are huddled together
outside a shop, laughing and joking.
Ask any woman you know. These men
could be as harmless as a bee in the middle
of the ocean, but
to a lone woman, a group of men being loud
and raucous is a clear and present danger.
And I am still waiting…

Alert sounds scream in my mind,
my flight or fight signals are going crazy.
Adrenaline rushes through my body,
preparing me to do whatever I need to do—fast.
Are my trousers too tight? Is my top too revealing?
If I cross the road to the other side will I provoke them?
If I stay on the same side of the road, will I provoke them?
If I look at them, will I provoke them?
If I don’t look at them, will I provoke them?
Why didn’t I buy a can of pepper spray?
And I am still waiting…

I clutch my car keys between my knuckles
with the metal jutting out, ready to attack,
if I need to. Silly, I know. What chance
would I stand against a bunch of men?
I pass them by, and exhale sharply
in relief as they don’t even seem to notice
I exist. It looks like I’ll be making that
heart-shaped wreath after all.
Others have not been as lucky.
Others have not lived
to write about their experience.
#notallmen are the same but I am
still waiting for the day
when all women can walk free,
when they can do so without fear.

PAINTING: Walking Woman by Balcomb Greene (1949). 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem after reading about the recent kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard in London, as she walked home after visiting a friend. Rest in Peace, Sarah and all other “Sarahs.” May you be the last to have to suffer like this.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maria Nestorides lives in sunny Cyprus. She is married and has two adult children. She has an MA in Developmental Psychology from Columbia University and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her short stories have appeared in Silver Birch Press, The Sunlight Press, The Story Shack, Inkitt  and she has also contributed a six-word memoir to the book Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure, by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Jan 6, 2009). You can visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Ways of Self-Salvation (How to Be Born)
by Kerfe Roig

Demanding patience, spirit grows deep—
nourished and carried near to the heart.
Waiting, waiting, my soul for to keep—
shadows breathing and falling apart.

Nourished and carried near to the heart—
the third eye opens, window and mirror.
Shadows breathing and falling apart—
beginning is singing, ending is near.

The third eye opens, window and mirror—
the ripeness growing, large and complete.
Beginning is singing, ending is near—
emptying follows, head and then feet

The ripeness growing, large and complete—
rocking inside a musical voice.
Emptying follows, head and then feet—
atoms laughing in naked warm noise.

Rocking inside a musical voice—
no thoughts to speak, no dreams to word.
Atoms laughing in naked warm noise—
diving like oceans, skying like birds.

No thoughts to speak, no dreams to word—
demanding patience, spirit grows deep.
Diving like oceans, skying like birds—
waiting, waiting, my soul for to keep.

PAINTING: Expectation by Gustav Klimt (1909).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I first wrote this pantoum when I was pregnant with my older daughter, 36 years ago.  I revisited and revised it a few years ago when my life was undergoing major changes, and I realized we are always being born.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new.  Follow her explorations on her blogs,  (which she does with her friend Nina), and, and see more of her work on her website

Self-portrait by the author.


Essential Words
by Joan Leotta

When the pandemic closed this county’s library buildings, our librarians still went to work to keep the internet “fires burning” so that those in our area without service could access signals from the parking lot—a literal beacon in Covid’s storm. Essential workers with no contact allowed. No checking out books permitted—at first.

My own bookshelf provided solace in a broad range of offerings for rereading—meetings with old friends that took me to Italy, to the West, to the past—on wings of words, trips not even Covid could cancel.

I began to read and borrow books online, in spite of eye difficulties with computer reading. At last, drive-up service came. We can now roll up to the door, call inside, and Kim or Christie or another librarian, pops out, books in hand. These angels with book carts know us, and often add items to our requests—things we might enjoy, things we may have found if we had browsed or talked with them.

The hallowed halls of my branch where shelves of books take the place of treasured frescoes are made holy by the ministrations of our librarians. The books themselves are secondary. Book clubs can continue by zoom, but the librarians are the beating heart of what makes the library my happy place. Books are important, but it’s the encouraging words (and actions) of our librarians that have been, are, and will be essential during and after the pandemic.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo is of the two librarians (Kim WIlson, left, and Christi Iffergan) that I interact with most at the SW Branch of the Brunswick Library system here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This is more of an homage than prose poem or vignette—a cheer for the librarians who have kept up the sense of community here in rural Brunswick County with their unfailing attention to individuals—expressed as best they could (in emails, in calls) even when the library was closed, and as it opened, like a flowering bud, provided more and more of the aroma of kindness that is essential to all human life. Our librarians are great!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When she is not playing with words on page or stage, Joan Leotta loves nothing more than sitting at table or walking the beach, laughing and talking with family. She spins poems, articles, essays, short stories, and performance pieces most often around her core interests—food, family, nature, travel, and strong women. Her poetry books include  Languid Lusciousness with Lemon (Finishing Line Press), Nature’s Gifts from Stanzaic Stylings (free online), and a mini-book from origami poems (free, but also printable). Another short collection will be released by Origami in 2020. Visit her at and on Facebook.

peru licensed Pablo Borca
COVID Lockup in Lima
by Rose Mary Boehm

It’s quiet Sundays again. Our Presi
(and his band of braves) have decided
that we’ve had enough fun. Back to total lockup
on Sundays. Just heard the police giving someone
a hard time. The woman was walking her dog.
What, the poor dog can’t poop on Sundays?

So, today there are no cars, no dog barking,
no young voices laughing. I look out of the window
and the only living things are the palm trees
and the ever-increasing flock, colony, fleet,
parcel, or dissimulation of birds. The Pacific
is gently sighing its waves onto the pebble shore.
No witnesses.

But during the week it’s COVID entertainment.
And they are getting better. Bring a smile
to my face every time they pass. A trumpet,
a guitar, a drum and a singer. They make
their way along the boardwalks of Lima
to keep us locked-up folk smiling.
At first it hurt a bit. But they

must be practicing their craft. Every day
they keep the rhythm better, the singer
almost hits the right notes, the guitar
seems to be strumming with more confidence,
the trumpet no longer tortured.

Let me celebrate the bringers of cheer,
not wanting anything else but smiling faces
at the windows of the many high-rises along
the seafront. Every fifty meters or so
they stop to play Peruvian huaynos,
dances of happiness since Inca times.
I swear there once was a gaggle of police
in uniform who jumped and stomped
their hearts out.

PHOTO: Peruvian couple dancing Huayno, a traditional musical genre typical of the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, northern Argentina, and northern Chile. Photo by Pablo Borca, used by permission. 

peru licensed mark tucan

NOTE: Huayno is a genre of popular Peruvian Andean music and dance. It is especially common in Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, but also present in Chile, and is practiced by a variety of ethnic groups, especially the Quechua people. The history of Huayno dates back to colonial Peru as a combination of traditional rural folk music and popular urban dance music. High-pitched vocals are accompanied by a variety of instruments, including quena (flute), harp, siku (panpipe), accordion, saxophone, charango, lute, violin, guitar, and mandolin. Some elements of huayno originate in the music of the pre-Columbian Andes, especially on the territory of the former Inca Empire. Huayno utilizes a distinctive rhythm in which the first beat is stressed and followed by two short beats.

PHOTO: A Quechuan man with traditional dress and drum (Peru, 2018). Photo by Mark Tucan, used by permission. 

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am delighted to have this opportunity to write a poem in honor of the people here in Lima who have only one wish: to see the rest of us (especially the over-65s who are still in strict quarantine) stand at their windows and smile and clap. They are simple folk and could sure do with some money. But they do it from the goodness of their hearts. I find that very moving. At times even the police join in. Police have also in the past been driving slowly up and down the streets, windows open, playing happy music at full blast. You have to love the good intentions.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of two novels and Tangents, a full-length poetry collection published in the UK in 2011, she’s a three-time winner of the Goodreads monthly competition. Recent poetry collections are From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949: A Child’s Journey and Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back. Her latest full-length poetry manuscript, The Rain Girl, will be will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all good bookshops starting on September 10, 2020.   

If You Look . . .
by Mary Rohrer-Dann

with whimsy at my brown front door, you
will see the luscious red paint I will buy
when Home Depot reopens. Think:
an inside-out chocolate-covered cherry.

If you look with a night critter’s eye,
white fairy lights twinkle along the handrail;
red and green and yellow and blue
Christmas lights tap dance across the roofline.

With a certain appreciation, you’ll see
two snot-lines — one high, one low — twin contrails
my dog and cat leave on the storm door glass
as they ponder the greening world outside.

Look with a child’s eyes and see reflected
a snazzy rainbow and plump heart drawn
by the little boys across the street, taped
to their picture window to cheer us all.

If you listen, you’ll hear the soft thump
as our mailman — ever-smiling critic
extraordinaire of my squashed gardening hat —
delivers the soothing constant of mail.

If you look with summer in your eyes,
laughing snapdragons, blue salvia,
and bright green corkscrew grass bloom
in fat pots on each slanting stone step.

Listen, and hear neighbors up and down
the street calling, hello, how are you?
How is your family so far away? What
can I pick up for you at the store?

If you wait, with patience and luck and hope,
you’ll see our bright red door opening wide
at your knock, and my husband and I
welcoming you in with joyful, grateful arms.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I had just completed a darker flash piece about living in this scary, uncertain time and your writing prompt inspired something more hopeful.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Rohrer-Dann is a writer, painter, and educator in central Pennsylvania.  Her book of poems, Taking the Long Way Home, will be published by Kelsay Books later this year.  She is also the author of La Scaffetta: Poems from the Foundling DrawerLa Scaffetta, and another full-length poem project, Accidents of Being, were adapted to stage and produced by Tempest Productions Inc. in New York City, as well as State College and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Other recent poems and stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, San Antonio Review, Literary Yard, Literary Heist, and others.

To Work at Thirteen
By Paul Nebenzahl

Six foot at thirteen, the summer of 1968, sent to a hippie summer camp
Among the glacial hilled farms and lakes settled by the Dutch, in mid-Michigan

Dirt roads and outhouses behind gas stops, in tired tin roof towns
I spent nine weeks working using my hands, my heart and head

Digging a ditch to the Orchard Cabins, to build a bathhouse
At Circle Pines Center, only one of a handful a fifties/sixties retreats

Where interracial families, folksingers and gunslingers
Spent evenings under the glass harmonica of midwestern skies

Swaying, singing, throwing at the moon, telescoping freedom’s songs
Around great fires that seared your face, shining in the coal black night

Kellogg’s was down the road, through Kalamazoo to Battle Creek
That Kellogg’s truck appearing every Sunday morning, behind the old farmhouse

We’d swarm around, the rewards of Sunday kitchen duty, and get the good boxes
To go with the packaged milk and chocolate milk cartons for fuel

This a slightly different camp, let’s say, that music camp they sent my brother to
‘Round the campfire in Lake Placid, I don’t think they sang red songs of freedom/struggle

Songs all pounding in my head, weekday mornings of dew sleep, then bells ringing
Breakfast all but gone by 9:30 when I climbed down in the trench, with an old shovel

To dig until noon, and then again after lunch and swimming and early sex trying
Back in the trench again, to dig until dinner, and then to wash the dirt from our teeth

Settling down for a pass-the-meal sing-a-long in flowered shirts and flowered hair
Singing Danish folk songs, folk blues, Irish ballads, 50s camp songs

The corn, potatoes and chicken, in metal tubs, sandy water in red plastic cups
Sing for the cooks! Sing for Rosie! Sing-along under stained glass windows

I fell in love a million times under a million stars, my hair grew long and tangled
Shoulders broadened week by week, shovel steady, laughing with my best friend

Digging all day, under the volleyball field, the milkweed and cotton top flowers
Filled with buzzing bees and flies to follow you to the beach, sweat flies

They stayed with you, all the way down to the water, biting your head and back
Until you dove onto the cool sheen of Lake Stewart, under the rope and floats

Pulling up on an old dock, catapulting onto white painted sandy slats, sun stinging
I could feel the keel of work surge through muscle and capillary, raising me

That summer of ’68, with the Art Ensemble of Chicago as our final week counselors
With the bathhouse trench to the Orchard, the SDS, the Panthers and Blackstone Rangers

With first kisses and caresses in barn lofts/hay fields, with midnight swims to moonbeams
With books and poetry and music, we sang the body polemic

Work glued us, broke us, renewed us and changed us, a spirit built in our chests and hands
I arrived early summer a boy, and trained home to Chicago, folk dancing in the aisles, a man

IMAGE: “Shovel” by Aloysius Patrimonio. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem brought back such a rush of memories of early work ingrained into me at the cooperative summer camp I attended in Michigan in the sixties and seventies.  A hotbed of radical, labor, civil rights, folk music, blues (Big Bill Broonzy had been the cook there in the fifties), it was also a place where you had to work long hard days as a camper on work projects such as the one we tackled that summer, to bring water to a group a cabins near the center of camp. Today, when I visit Circle Pines, I can still see where we piled the dirt back in after laying the pipes out the Orchard all those years ago.


Paul Nebenzahl
is a writer, painter, and musician who lives in Evanston, Illinois. His drawings and paintings have been exhibited at Kubiak Gallery and at The Palette Gallery in Douglas, Michigan, at Frame Warehouse Gallery in Evanston, Illinois, and his photomontage has been exhibited at Aperture Gallery in New York City. His collection of 50 poems, Black Shroud With Rainbow Fringes, was published by Silver Birch Press in May, 2014, and his poems appear in three other Silver Birch collections, Bukowski, Summer,  and May.  His  poem,” Gusen Station” was published in English, Italian, and German in 2012 by the International Committee for Mauthausen and Gusen. As a performing multi-instrumentalist and composer, he has created Emmy-nominated works for film and television, and has performed extensively in theater, stage, and club settings.  He toured the United States in 1979 playing tenor sax with legendary blues artists Big Walter Horton and Homesick James –– and performed with Karen Finley from 2011-2015, including engagements at the Barbican Centre in London, the Museum of Modern Art and The Laurie Beechman Theater in New York City, the Richard and Karen Carpenter Theater in Long Beach, California, and at the Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.