Survival Poem: Bukowski’s ‘Tough Motherfucker’

The History of One Tough Motherfucker
by Charles Bukowski
 he came to the door one night wet thin beaten and
a white cross-eyed tailless cat
I took him in and fed him and he stayed
grew to trust me until a friend drove up the driveway
and ran him over
I took what was left to a vet who said,”not much
chance…give him these pills…his backbone
is crushed, but is was crushed before and somehow
mended, if he lives he’ll never walk, look at
these x-rays, he’s been shot, look here, the pellets
are still there…also, he once had a tail, somebody
cut it off…”
I took the cat back, it was a hot summer, one of the
hottest in decades, I put him on the bathroom
floor, gave him water and pills, he wouldn’t eat, he
wouldn’t touch the water, I dipped my finger into it
and wet his mouth and I talked to him, I didn’t go any-
where, I put in a lot of bathroom time and talked to
him and gently touched him and he looked back at
me with those pale blue crossed eyes and as the days went
by he made his first move
dragging himself forward by his front legs
(the rear ones wouldn’t work)
he made it to the litter box
crawled over and in,
it was like the trumpet of possible victory
blowing in that bathroom and into the city, I
related to that cat-I’d had it bad, not that
bad but bad enough
one morning he got up, stood up, fell back down and
just looked at me.
“you can make it,” I said to him.
he kept trying, getting up falling down, finally
he walked a few steps, he was like a drunk, the
rear legs just didn’t want to do it and he fell again, rested,
then got up.
you know the rest: now he’s better than ever, cross-eyed
almost toothless, but the grace is back, and that look in
his eyes never left…
and now sometimes I’m interviewed, they want to hear about
life and literature and I get drunk and hold up my cross-eyed,
shot, runover de-tailed cat and I say,”look, look
at this!”
but they don’t understand, they say something like,”you
say you’ve been influenced by Celine?”
“no,” I hold the cat up,”by what happens, by
things like this, by this, by this!”
I shake the cat, hold him up in
the smoky and drunken light, he’s relaxed he knows…
it’s then that the interviews end
although I am proud sometimes when I see the pictures
later and there I am and there is the cat and we are photo-
graphed together.
he too knows it’s bullshit but that somehow it all helps.


Feces as Medicine

Yes, that’s right. They’re called fecal microbiota transplants–F.M.T.’s. A healthy person’s stool is mixed in an enema and transplanted to a patient’s rectum. The beneficial bacteria in such transplants are proving very effective in relieving two stubborn illnesses: ulcerative colitis and clostridium difficile (a really bad bacterium that can take hold, ironically, when antibiotics have knocked out a person’s normal bacteria.) About 3,000 F.M.T.’s have been performed in the U.S.

Fecal bacteria

Fecal bacteria at 10,000x magnification.

Excrement is not just rotting food. In a healthy person, it’s  60 percent bacteria, most of it alive and beneficial, that can kill or crowd out hostile species. That percentage is not so surprising considering that in our bodies as a whole, bacteria outnumber human cells ten to one.

In a fascinating article in the New York Times  of July 7, 2013, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a writing professor at Columbia University, explained “Why I Donated My Stool.” The therapeutic impact of F.M.T.’s is so strong that Lee’s first donation to a friend suffering from ulcerative colitis eased his distress within minutes, though further implants were needed. She adds that “the first randomized clinical trial of F.M.T.’s for clostridium difficile [was] halted because the treatment worked so well that it was unethical to withhold it from the control group.” Moreover, “In April, the F.D.A. decided to classify human stool that is used therapeutically as a drug, and thus approved for use only within an F.D.A-approved clinical study.” This is good news and bad; stool works so well as medicine that now it can’t officially be used as widely.

A friend who is a nurse told me yesterday that therapeutic stool is now available in pill form. We both grimaced. Here comes the future.

It’s one thing to pause and contemplate the visible plants and insects that surround us in the ancient and closely woven web of life. But it is another step to envision the invisible bacteria everywhere, on and in all living things, outnumbering even the human cells in a human body; bacteria that had seemed to us so hostile—all the more so for being unseen—now revealed to be mostly harmless, often helpful, sometimes essential; cells that reproduce simply by dividing, with no inevitable death, with 3.8 billion years of bacterial predecessors, the solo cells, the lives within other life.