The Last Days of Jack Kerouac, a film-poem

1.

Setting: A waterfront saloon.

The wooden floor

thatched in dull golden sawdust

plus

the acrid scent of piss

wafting in from the urinal.

2.

Cut to: A broad-shouldered man

slumped on his barstool.

The camera notices that the legs

of the barstool are not the same size

one is shorter than the other.

The camera lingers

then slowly zooms out

to emphasize the man on the barstool

within the wider context

of the time-rubbed saloon

of which he is a rumpled part

a childhood cowboy

whose trusty hobbyhorse

is long gone

a Rosebud splintered

in memories dimmed. 

3.

BARKEEP: Jack, hey Jackie, wake up. Wake up!

The man on the barstool stirs, groggily lifts his head.

In the bronze-rimmed mirror behind the bar

we see Jack’s creased and swollen face reflected

equal parts punching bag and pillow.

His runny eyes can’t focus, like ticktock eyes

of a cat clock that haunts curio shops and nightmares.

JACK: Wuzzat, Tully—

BARKEEP: It’s almost 11. You said to tell you when when it was 11. It’s almost 11.

Jack’s head bobs up and down, ineffectually, a toy with no hope for the future.

BARKEEP: Stella called three times. She said to get home.

The camera pans and then zooms in on Jack’s cauliflower ear

as if to show that sound may be entering its dark canal

but there was nobody home to receive it.

BLACKOUT.

4.

Blue Novembers, and railroad earth fantasies.

Men hitching up their torn trousers to correspond with sonnets and downgoing sunsets.

Chewing tobacco basins. Tilted windmills. Pulled daisies. Windowsills hosting apple pie pageants.

A river,

a dark twisting serpent

of a river

coursing endlessly

through the mind,

the memory of a river

now realer than the river

upon which private mythologies were predicated.

How far can you spit sunflower seeds boy?

How many matinees can you take in in one week

and how about that Gina Lollobrigida

that Jean Harlow

that Rita Hayworth

how about all those glossy pin-up images

you used to giftwrap your nascent longing and loneliness.

Boys basements are filled with these kinds of bones.

(Voice-over, from a distance: Wake up, Jack, it’s time to wake up!)

5.

Your mother

let you borrow

her spinal column

to support

your quests and endeavors

unrolling scrolls

by which your worth

could be measured

indefinitely…

6.

The soundtrack kicking in,

the incidental music of horns,

a vagabond zoobreak of horns.

One is a dolphin in boiling water

squeeeeeee-ing.

Another is a scamp whistling while hitchhiking.

Then there’s the belching farting blowhard uncle

of a horn, and his lady-friend of the evening,

brassy as all get-out.

The horns do not wake

snoring Jack

poor snoring Jack

the camera seems to be saying

proving that mechanical objects can exercise compassion

BUT

the horns, in their banter and god-spleening,

do wonders for bringing the dreary scene

to life in a manically festive

point counterpoint sort of way.

7.

The gauzy timbre of a flashback.

Back back way back

to a summer’s day

with bandstand music blaring from a gazebo

while in the bleachers a young bumbling Jack

and a young maternal Maggie are holding hands

and pooling into each other’s eyes

and wasn’t this the single most important

thing that could happen to them

that would ever happen to them?

Don’t let go Jack

because you are falling

so hold on

as if your blushing romantic life depended on it

because moments die so easily

they come and go

so hold on

a while longer

Jack

and remember Maggie

sweet lovely Maggie

write about her

one day…

8.

Go deep Jack.

It is the quarterback giving the terse command

and then the huddle breaks

and you position yourself

at the line of scrimmage

your cleats digging into the frosted earth

as you take off downfield

the camera opting not to focus on you

but rather the football sailing through the air

with the precision of a tight spiral

and we don’t see the ball land in your hands

as you keep on running and running

and cross over into the end zone

we don’t see this—

the screen black—

but we do hear the electric cheering

and we are left to imagine

the monumental size of your grin

as your teammates mob you

calling out your name.

10.

Jack, Jack,

wake up, willya?

Stella called for the fourth time.

Jack…

11.

You felt safe with the boys,

with your innersinging folklore.

As if Peter Pan

had flown into your bedroom window

in Lowell

and issued a moratorium on grown-up behaviors

that you took to heart

and then packed up and took with you on the road

to paper towns and liminal ports.

One man’s adventure is another man’s avoidance.

Boys will be boys even when they’re not.

Fear is in the eye of the beholder. Or the beholden.

A fox is a fox. A moon is a moon. A human, though . .  well that’s where things get complicated.

Close your window at night

so you can breathe in the air from nights past,

from vanishing points that render you a dreaming invalid,

an interloper in the lives of the people, places, things

that you fictionalized like a conduit gone screwy.

(Stella called again.

Where will you place

that bit of inconvenient information?)

12.

Acclaim gave you wings and clipped them all at the same time.

Fame that finicky sycophant is funny that way.

Here,

the shot is that of a weathered photograph of you

leaning against an alley wall

smoking a cigarette

sporting a peacap

with a brakeman’s manual in your pocket

and this image suits you

and your fans

not exactly

James Dean in his red zip-up jacket

but it is close enough

to give you pop cred

as the restless voice

of a death-rattle generation.

Images die stubborn deaths,

or

images live forever—take your pick.

As for the man shadowing the myth,

well that’s another story that will be

told by the biographers and critics

in another time, another place,

not this saloon, not this movie

which, at present, is roaring

with epic orchestral music

that is consciously over the top

in corresponding to the image on the screen

(now framed in Cinemascope)

of you

Jack

leaning against an alley wall

smoking a cigarette

sporting a peacap

brakeman’s manual in your pocket.

13.

Fade in to the box-shouldered man who has just entered the saloon.

He is wearing a black ten-gallon hat and has a walrus moustache.

The camera tracks the man as he makes his way to the bar

lays his hand on Jack’s shoulder

yanks him from his stool

and WHAM!

(the animated comic-strip effect of WHAM!

spelled out on the screen

with the words encased in a yellow starburst)

Jack is flat on his back.

A thin thread of dark blood streams from his lower lip.

MAN: That’s for Tessie!

BARKEEP: Get the hell out of here Marion!

MAN: I’m sorry for the ruckus, Tully, really I am, but this man’s a louse. A no-good louse!

Marion leaves a five-dollar bill on the counter, as if that is the proper recompense for the commotion he’s caused.

Marion exits.

Two men on either side of Jack help him to his feet.

JACK: Wuzzat Marion?

One of the men, Pete, wipes at Jack’s bleeding mouth with a napkin.

PETE: It was. Hold the napkin here.

Jack holds the napkin. Draws it away from his face. Inspects it.

JACK: I’m bleeding.

Jack smiles, then laughs, drumming his hands on the counter.

JACK: I’m bleeding. Fer chrissakes. Okay then. I’m bleeding. Blood flowed, the danger is past. That’s an old Arabic saying. Tully, my good man, set me up with another round. A boilermaker.

BARKEEP: You’ve had enough Jack. Go home. Stella has called three times. No four times. Four times Jack.

Jack waves off Tully’s remarks.

JACK: What time is it?

TULLY: Almost 11:30.

JACK: It’s still early Tully. Come on. One more round. I just got punched in the mouth. One more round for a bleeding man. Then goodnight Jacky. Home I’ll go. Okay? One more.

Tully shakes his head, sighs.

TULLY: This is it, then home.

JACK: This is it. Then home. I promise.

14.

You Can’t go Home Again.

You had that book packed in your rucksack

along with many others.

Thomas Wolfe’s locomotive steam

really got you going

really got you barreling

into the quivering marrow of things.

Your demons have a harder time tracking you

if you stay on the move.

Who told you that?

Was it . . . it was the Choctaw Indian

you met at that coffeeshop in Memphis—

what was his name again . . . Bear . . . yes Bear

with the sleepy eyes and soft slow way of talking

that was a tonic for a taxed brain.

Bear

had said

your demons have a harder time tracking you if you stay on the move

while

Thomas Wolfe warned

You Can’t Go Home Again.

Two men and two lines

among so many flooding your mind

even now

empty seeming like something

you would never know

no matter how many koans

or rosary beads

you counted upon.

15.

Visions of poor Neal

falling off the edge of earth—

Do not go gently.

16.

Boy

how you loved the sound

of a chattering typewriter

its ribbons

your godsends

and contraband

your ticket

to bipolar odysseys.  

17.

Charlie Parker.

Jackson Pollock.

Jack Kerouac.

Insistence,

as kin,

comes in many

scoops of fervor.

18.

Jack drinks.

Eschews time.

Tully reminds him

that he has a wife named Stella

waiting for him to come home.

Jack keeps drinking.

Bends time

to match his desires.

Gerard

he toasts

to his dead brother.

19.

Once upon a time

there was a writer named Jack Kerouac

whose ghost now haunts

the metaphysical house

of a man named Jack Kerouac

who once upon a time

signed his name to books

that cried out for holy mercy.

20.

The camera

zooms in on a rumpled man

slumping on his barstool

the glasses set before him

empty

as the telephone rings two

three four times

before the barkeep picks it up

Hello?

No Stella

he hasn’t left yet

Yes Stella

Yes

I’ll tell him

and when the barkeep hangs up the phone

we hear a sad sentimental tune playing

as the screen slowly fades

to black.

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag. His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.
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