At Kerouac’s grave

Jack Kerouac's grave at Edson Cemetery, Lowell, Mass.

“He honored life…”

But have the living given proper honor to Jack Kerouac, America’s one true spokesman, who plumbed the deepest depths of sorrow and climbed to the highest ledge of beauty and joy?

His grave at Edson Cemetery in Lowell, Massachusetts, is marked with a simple slab with the above inscription, the names of the names of the grave’s two tenants — John L. Kerouac, “Ti Jean,” and his third wife Stella Sampas, and their dates of birth and death. Nearby are the graves of Stella’s mother, father and brother.

Pilgrims to Kerouac’s grave leave tokens and talismans — piles of pebbles, beer bottles, cigarettes, spare change and ballpoint pens.

Lowell does its best to remember its native son — there’s an annual Kerouac festival and even a Kerouac park with stone monuments engraved with quotes from his prose and poems.

And people abound who can point out the Catholic church and Catholic school he attended in the city, who can talk knowingly about his brief stint as a sports reporter for the Lowell Sun, and even folks who can point you to the bars where Jack used to drink — and oldtimers who actually drank with Jack (or at least say they did).

But stand at Kerouac’s grave on a cold day in January as the wind rushes off the Merrimack River and stirs the brown grasses and dry leaves. The winter sun lays low in the sky. It casts a certain slant of light. The light has the heft of cathedral tunes.

Kerouac’s grave is just one of thousands in the sprawling cemetery. They’re all just as dead. Their bones are all just as bleached and brittle. Their names and dates will erode and fade from their stones — and so will Jack Kerouac’s, despite the pebbles and bottles and cigarettes and change.

Standing at this holy tragic place I hear the rattle of bones and the riddles of life. And I hear Jack Kerouac speaking, his words pouring out, his words slurred by dharma and drink:
“Love is all.”
“Happiness consists in realizing it is all a great strange dream.”
“It all ends in tears anyway.”
“Something good will come of all things yet.”

Pilgrims, hear those words, and say them like a prayer, when you stand at Kerouac’s grave.

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Pale horse, pale rider, Palin

The end is near. It’s got to be. If it isn’t, then why is the Pope on television kicking off a weeklong, worldwide marathon reading of the Bible? And why is Sarah Palin actually being taken seriously as a vice presidential candidate? I say expect the pale rider on the pale horse any minute now. Am I the only one who just noticed that Sarah Palin’s surname is PALE-in? Come to think of it, am I the only one who just realized that John McCain  is so pale and white-haired that he could pass for Johnny and Edgar Winter’s uncle?  

The pale rider on his pale horse, heading toward the finishing line
The pale rider on his pale horse, heading toward the finish line

Anyway, I’m assuming the Bible-reading marathon was inspired by the marathon readings of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” held every June 23 to mark “Bloomsday” or maybe the marathon readings held last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

According to the Associated Press:

Pope Benedict XVI’s “”In the beginning” started off a weeklong Bible-reading marathon on Italian television Sunday.  RAI state TV began its program called “”The Bible Day and Night,” with Benedict reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis … the holy text’s opening verses about the creation of the world…The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights…The Bible marathon is scheduled to end Oct. 5, when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, will read the last chapter of the Apocalypse.

Like most people, my favorite part of the Book of Revelations is a toss-up between the part about the mark of the beast and the part about the great whore of Babylon. But my next-favorite part is where the seventh seal is opened to reveal that the two beasts are…well, let’s just get right to the point and note that an email I’ve received SEVERAL times in the last few months says careful reading of the Bible proves that Barack Obama is the anti-Christ and that the end times are at hand, and now we’ve got the second-ranking official at the Vatican reading about the Apocalypse in a nationwide TV broadcast and a second-rate second-ranking member of the GOP presidential ticket who believes that Alaska will be the refuge for all the true-believin’ Joe Six Packs and hockey moms when the Rapture comes, that Earth was created 6,000 years ago and that the Apocalypse will start in that gosh-darned Middle East.

“Drill, baby, drill?” Well, of course. It all makes sense now. If we don’t have good, old-fashioned American oil and natural gas, doggone it, then how the heck will we keep hell’s fires burning?