Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462

Bukowski is no stranger to the seamier side of life, in Los Angeles and elsewhere. He has been the familiar of junkies and drunks as well as of many artists of his and later generations. He has said that at one point in his life, he quit writing and stayed drunk for ten years, and it was after that long binge that he started writing poetry. Alcohol is a recurrent motif in his poetry. The poet John Ciardi, while poetry editor of The New Yorker, commented that he could detect the ingestion of “a sip of sherry” in any poem. The tone of the fourth part of “The Twins” is just maudlin enough to be motivated, at least in part, by alcohol. Remember that Bukowski advised his father to “learn to paint and drink,” and in another poem, “Counsel,” he claims that drink maintains continuance because “drink is a form of suicide/ wherein the partaker returns to a new chance/ at life.”

No condemnation is intended here, for in every age people look to visionaries and madmen to correct their own vision. One only need point to John Lennon, Timothy Leary, and William Burroughs as examples of men who have taken drugs to cut through the trappings of the routine, anxiety, or pain of modern life. One can be grateful to those who do so and pass on their experiences as poetry or other forms of expression: It shows everyone else how to survive or how to save themselves from the direct experience.

Bukowski readers may never know which came first: the drinking or the pain. They can see a certain delicacy of touch and plain dignity in the raw quality of life he leads. With humor, he realizes, for example, that his father probably “painted” rather well the seedy life of the scoundrel son. If the reader is feeling generous, the analogy drawn between his father’s fall bulbs sitting on a screen ready for planting and the son planting his seed with a whore from Third Street may actually be a moment of self-deprecation in favor of the life-giving leanings of his father. In any other context, it simply would be a bad joke. Moreover, the more one is able to see that even though some form of reconciliation was never possible (perhaps never even wished for) between father and son, there was still a basic bond between them that this poem acknowledges: “A father is always your master, even when he’s gone.” This filial respect is one of the few authenticities in life. “Very well, grant us this moment,” Bukowski says to the universe. Looking in the mirror at the twins, the ludicrous image of himself dressed in his father’s coat, he too is waiting to die.

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