Farewell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Poet, publisher, and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti passed away this week at the age of 101. A friend and publisher of Jack Kerouac’s, Ferlinghetti in the late 1980s visited Lowell at least twice as a guest of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! group. He began writing the poem below on a visit in 1987.

Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in front of his City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (web photo courtesy of sfexaminer)

The Canticle of Jack Kerouac

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. . . .
Writ in Lowell and Conway and Boston Mass. and San Francisco
March-April 1987
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “The Canticle of Jack Kerouac” from These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1993 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm. Source: These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)