Daybreak with Jean-Louis Kérouac

Never expected Jack to show. I’m eating supper
with Gregory Corso in a lonely blue Italian joint
in New Haven. He is coming up alone to read
his poems at Wesleyan. Bragging about Jack, 
Greg gets mournful, as if Kerouac had spun off
the planet. I say, Look, Jack’s not a corpse. 

He’s alive, knocking it out. What kind of shit . . .’ 
Corso, the straight pin of the gang, lets me have it,
Ginsberg sleeps with everyone. Allen, poor Allen, 

he’s just a whore. I’m the only straight dude
who’s ever slept with Jack-o’-Lantern. We’re tight.’
Corso’s proud of being top gun with Kerouac.

Jack stinks out loud with whisky, but off booze, 
he’s really low key, gentle. He’s a timid man. 
On the weekend, Greg shows. He’s come up

from the city with a tired wobbling bum wearing 
a black ratty raincoat hugging his ankles, 
a black fedora and shades . . . HEY, KEROUAC! 

YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING. Drunk as a hog, his feet 
made of cotton, Jack’s smiling a lot. I ferry him 
to Olin Library and present him to Professor Greene, 

expert in Christmas carols. Jack asks Greene, 
‘What are you teaching, sir?’ ‘Shakespeare,’ 
responds the patrician teacher. D’yuh like           

Shakespeare?’ says Jack. ‘I love Shakespeare,’
states the professor. Overjoyed, Jack shouts,
‘I love Shakespeare too!’ And he grabs his new

friend’s cheeks and slaps a wild kiss on his lips.
I’ve read your books,’ says Greene. ‘I like em.
Where can I take you?’ The scholars skip off. 

In the evening, Corso stuns me. “Are those tramps
going to beat me up?’ ‘You’re crazy.’ But Corso
won’t read his poems. He raves about his hero 

William Burroughs, whispers a chapter from Naked Lunch
and we’re transported to jungle rapture and shots 
of heroin Burroughs sticks in the ass of a Brazilian boy. 

After a discourse on love, Greg and the gang of pals
Jack came up with from New York jam into a side room, 
and Jack is sober and describes his dawn climb

up Mount Tamalpais north of the Golden Gate.
Jack is impassioned. ‘I climbed Tamalpais.
‘I got to the top and beheld daybreak. I saw satori!’

‘You saw bullshit!’ Corso throws in. ‘I saw bullshit,     
Jack confesses. He surrenders. A buddy knows I’m nuts 
about everything Greek and puts on an LP 

of hassapiko from Asia Minor dens. Jack tells me, 
‘Let’s dance.’  We squat, arms locked, and we’re doing 
the butcher’s dance strict and low until Zen daybreak. 

From Mexico In My Heart: New And Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2015) by Willis Barnstone. Copyright © 2015 by Willis Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.