Viewing the Manuscript Scroll
of Jack Kerouac's On the Road
in the Tosca Bar, San Francisco
Lying in state,
unrolled to reveal
flood of words describ'd
Mississippi River near New Orleans
1947 -- an American Shroud,
Davia Nelson called it, like
the Shroud of Turin, holy remnant
of modern Literature, naïvely
would have lov'd
this, I think, his own worn
Shrouded Stranger, well-travel'd,
displayed for religious purpose,
himself collapsed Catholic Buddhist
pilgrim in constant search
for the Sacred, sanctified today
here in sere mute Tosca cathedral
light, lone silver'd stream of sun,
God's finger pointed toward window
sarcophagus casket containing
phantom tome brought out by hand
half-century before by Jack Kerouac
from America's burning Egyptian heart.
buried in Rome
a few weeks ago next to Shelley
in an acattòlico cemetery in Testaccio
Sitting on a bench in the Piazza Cavour
I recall Nanda telling me last December
Gregory had his balls cut off
"I don't care," he told her, "I fucked enough."
Now at twilight in the Quartiere Prati
watching rich women walk big dogs
past palm trees under plum-colored sky
suddenly there's Corso ten years ago or more
at a baseball game in San Francisco
shouting at a player, "Pull up your pants!
It's a disgrace to the uniform!"
Three rows in front I looked around,
"Gregory," I said, "what happened to
your teeth? "They're gone!" he said
"Who needs teeth after fifty?"
We met again at a wedding in Bolina.
Quietly he told me how secretly he
envied Kerouac having died so young,
only 47. "If only he could have enjoyed
himself more, but he was always drunk."
O Gregory, may you take eternity for all
it's worth, the same as you captured
your time on earth, knowing all along
there was nothing real to lose.
Roll over, Captain Poetry,
tell old Percy the news.