Setting: A waterfront saloon.
The wooden floor
thatched in dull golden sawdust
the acrid scent of piss
wafting in from the urinal.
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.
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.
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 dark twisting serpent
of a river
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!)
let you borrow
her spinal column
your quests and endeavors
by which your worth
could be measured
The soundtrack kicking in,
the incidental music of horns,
a vagabond zoobreak of horns.
One is a dolphin in boiling water
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
poor snoring Jack
the camera seems to be saying
proving that mechanical objects can exercise compassion
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.
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
and remember Maggie
sweet lovely Maggie
write about her
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.
wake up, willya?
Stella called for the fourth time.
You felt safe with the boys,
with your innersinging folklore.
As if Peter Pan
had flown into your bedroom window
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?)
Acclaim gave you wings and clipped them all at the same time.
Fame that finicky sycophant is funny that way.
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
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,
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)
leaning against an alley wall
smoking a cigarette
sporting a peacap
brakeman’s manual in your pocket.
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
(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.
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.
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.
your demons have a harder time tracking you if you stay on the move
Thomas Wolfe warned
You Can’t Go Home Again.
Two men and two lines
among so many flooding your mind
empty seeming like something
you would never know
no matter how many koans
or rosary beads
you counted upon.
Visions of poor Neal
falling off the edge of earth—
Do not go gently.
how you loved the sound
of a chattering typewriter
to bipolar odysseys.
comes in many
scoops of fervor.
Tully reminds him
that he has a wife named Stella
waiting for him to come home.
Jack keeps drinking.
to match his desires.
to his dead brother.
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.
zooms in on a rumpled man
slumping on his barstool
the glasses set before him
as the telephone rings two
three four times
before the barkeep picks it up
he hasn’t left yet
I’ll tell him
and when the barkeep hangs up the phone
we hear a sad sentimental tune playing
as the screen slowly fades