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The Canticle of Jack Kerouac

Narrated by Four Voices

I-Clarinda Harriss ~ II-Charles Rammelkamp

~ III-Alexis Rhone Fancher ~ IV Nitin Jagdish



Far from the sea far from the sea

                                     of Breton fishermen

       the white clouds scudding

                                             over Lowell

            and the white birches the

                                           bare white birches   

                along the blear night roads

                                       flashing by in darkness   

            (where once he rode

                                        in Pop’s old Plymouth)   

And the birch-white face

                                    of a Merrimac madonna   

            shadowed in streetlight

                            by Merrimac’s shroudy waters   

                  —a leaf blown

                                     upon sea wind

                     out of Brittany

                                           over endless oceans





There is a garden in the memory of America

There is a nightbird in its memory

There is an andante cantabile

in a garden in the memory   

of America

In a secret garden

in a private place

a song a melody

a nightsong echoing

in the memory of America   

In the sound of a nightbird   

outside a Lowell window

In the cry of kids

in tenement yards at night

In the deep sound

of a woman murmuring

a woman singing broken melody

in a shuttered room

in an old wood house

in Lowell

As the world cracks by


like a lost lumber truck

                                    on a steep grade   

               in Kerouac America

The woman sits silent now

                                     rocking backward   

      to Whistler’s Mother in Lowell

                         and all the tough old

                                          Canuck mothers   

                              and Jack’s Mémère

And they continue rocking


      And may still on stormy nights show through   

          as a phantom after-image

                            on silent TV screens   

             a flickered after-image

                              that will not go away   

                in Moody Street

                  in Beaulieu Street

                   in ‘dirtstreet Sarah Avenue’   

    in Pawtucketville

       And in the Church of St. Jean Baptiste



And the Old Worthen Bar

                                  in Lowell Mass. at midnight   

         in the now of Nineteen Eighty-seven

Kerouackian revellers

                               crowd the wood booths

         ancient with carved initials

                  of a million drinking bouts

                        the clouts of the

                                       Shrouded Stranger

                  upon each wood pew

      where the likes of Kerouack lumberjack

             feinted their defiance

                                 of dung and death

Ah the broken wood and the punka fans still turning   

          (pull-cord wavings

                                     of the breath of the Buddha)   

       still lost in Lowell’s

                                        ‘vast tragedies of darkness’

                           with Jack





And the Four Sisters Diner   

         also known as ‘The Owl’   

Sunday morning now

                           March Eighty-seven

or any year of Sunday specials   

Scrambled eggs and chopped ham

   the bright booths loaded with families

      Lowell Greek and Gaspé French

               Joual patois and Argos argot

    Spartan slaves escaped

                         into the New World

         here incarnate

                              in rush of blood of

                            American Sunday morning

And “Ti-Jean” Jack Kerouac   

      comes smiling in

                           baseball cap cocked up

               hungry for mass

                              in this Church of All Hungry Saints   

         haunt of all-night Owls

                                           blessing every booth …


Ah he the Silent Smiler

    the one

               with the lumberjack shirt

         and cap with flaps askew

                     blowing his hands in winter

             as if to light a flame

    The Shrouded Stranger knew him

         as Ti-Jean the Smiler

            grooking past redbrick mill buildings

            down by the riverrun

                              (O mighty Merrimac

                                           ‘thunderous husher’)

               where once upon a midnight then

            young Ti-Jean danced with Mémère

                   in the moondrowned light

And rolled upon the greensward   

    his mother and lover

         all one with Buddha

                           in his arms





And then Ti-Jean Jack with Joual tongue

      disguised as an American fullback in plaid shirt   

          crossing and recrossing America

                                             in speedy cars   

    a Dr. Sax’s shadow shadowing him

      like a shroudy cloud over the landscape   

       Song of the Open Road sung drunken

               with Whitman and Jack London and Thomas Wolfe

            still echoing through

                            a Nineteen Thirties America   

                            A Nineteen Forties America   

                            an America now long gone

               except in broken down dusty old

                                              Greyhound Bus stations

                   in small lost towns

       Ti-Jean’s vision of America

                seen from a moving car window

                      the same as Wolfe’s lonely

                                                sweeping vision

                  glimpsed from a coach-train long ago

       (‘And thus did he see first the dark land’)   

And so Jack

                in an angel midnight bar

   somewhere West of Middle America

          where one drunk madonna

                        (shades of one on a Merrimac corner)   

      makes him a gesture with her eyes

                                                       a blue gesture   

          and Ti-Jean answers

                                       only with his eyes   

And the night goes on with them

       And the light comes up on them

                      making love in a parking lot




In the dark of his fellaheen night

    in the light of the illuminated

                                 Stations of the Cross

               and the illuminated Grotto

                           down behind the Funeral Home   

                                           by roar of river   

       where now Ti-Jean alone

                     (returned to Lowell

                        in one more doomed

                                    Wolfian attempt

                                    to Go Home Again)   

    gropes past the Twelve Stations of the Cross

               reciting aloud the French inscriptions

                   in his Joual accent

            which makes the plaster French Christ

                                                       laugh and cry

                  as He hefts His huge Cross

                                        up the Eternal Hill   

    And a very real tear drops

                                           in the Grotto

                           from the face

                                              of the stoned Virgin





         Light upon light   

The Mountain

                  keeps still





         Hands over ears   

He steals away

               with the Bell. . . .






Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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