Nirvana – Tom Waits reads Charles Bukowski

Today’s Wednesday literature post features a reading by Tom Waits of Charles Bukowski’s poem Nirvana. Jordan Peterson uses it in his presentation below to great effect. If you want to just listen to Tom’s narration you can watch it from 4:15 in the video or read it in its entirety below. I have read a lot of books by Bukowski and some of his poetry and I’m always impressed by his innate talent as a writer. Bukowski had a way with these small scenes, a way of estranging the ordinary.

Tom Waits’ reading of Nirvana comes closest, perhaps, to the world-weary Bukowski’s voice, and the images and music that accompany Waits’ grizzled sigh convey the dreary grit of the real world of bus travel, not as it looks in the movies, but as it looks from the road: the bleak sameness of highways and the way the snow is oily.

Nirvana – Charles Bukowski

Not much chance
Completely cut loose from purpose
He was a young man riding a bus through North Carolina
On the way to somewhere and it began to snow
And the bus stopped at a little cafe in the hills
And the passengers entered
And he sat at the counter with the others and he ordered
The food arrived
And the meal was particularly good, and the coffee
The waitress was unlike the women he’d known
She was unaffected, and there was a natural humor which came from her
And the fry cook said crazy things and the dishwasher in back laughed a good, clean, pleasant laugh
And the young man watched the snow through the window
And he wanted to stay in that cafe forever
The curious feeling swam through him
That everything was beautiful there
And it would always stay beautiful there
And then the bus driver told the passengers that it was time to board
And the young man thought, I’ll just stay here, I’ll just stay here
But then he rose and he followed the others into the bus
He found his seat and he looked at the cafe through window
Then the bus moved off, down a curve
Downward, out of the hills
The young man looked straight forward
And he heard the other passengers speaking of other things
Or they were reading or trying to sleep
And they hadn’t noticed the magic
And the young man put his head to one side, closed his eyes, and pretended to sleep
There was nothing else to do-
Just to listen to the sound of the engine
And the sound of the tires in the snow

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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