Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Canticle of Jack Kerouac

(Amoskeag Canal in Manchester, New Hampshire,
situated north of Lowell on the Merrimac, or Merrimack,
River, by Charles Sheeler, 1883-1965, American painter)

The Industrial Revolution in America took place mainly in the mill towns of New England. Immigrants from all over the world flocked to work in the great brick buildings by the rivers. This was their entry into American society.

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was a writer famous, even notorious, in the Fifties for his semi-autobiographical novel
On the Road. He was born and raised in one such town, Lowell, Massachusetts, at a time when the business of the mills was moving to the South and poverty was settling in. Like many of their neighbors, his parents were French-speaking Catholic immigrants with Breton roots, from Quebec. Kerouac’s first language was the joual of his parents’ heritage.



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

~ Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born 1919, American poet, painter and publisher

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