Where’s the Frozen River?

I sit beneath a painting of Kerouac
in thick shades
of gray and try to digest

the fact that I am older than he
will ever be. I should
be so privileged to pass

Emily and Virginia. I’ll prefer
mine lilac and thinner
than the rim of ice

hovering along these northern banks
of the Mississippi. This January
moves unnaturally fast.

Polite Emily Dickinson Flies*

Riding the rails through
an afternoon comes
easier than staying

put face
to face with imminent
death. Or not. To those

gone but not
gone, she says
these tracks are her prayer.

* From Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur

Inherit This

“Soaked in the blood and black of thousands of dead bugs. We smelled our clothes deeply.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

What color
is your blood, she asks
her grandmother instinctively.
The answer comes on strong

as a tall shot
of Polish vodka: black. Absence
or all wavelengths of light,
it’s so hard to tell

in this reflection against skin.

On California Crates

“I made love to her under the tarantula.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Beams and beliefs
before the bottom
fell out

and I became just
another casualty.
It’s not the fur—it’s the dander.

Brown Foams

“What is the Mississippi River?—a washed clod in the rainy night, a soft plopping from drooping Missouri banks, a dissolving, a riding of the tide down the eternal waterbed . . . down along . . . and out.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Heavy legs won’t lift
the feet so easily over
cobblestoned walkways
on the West Bank. I make believe it’s winding
north, but I’m the one

doing the twisting slowly upward. The water flows
south over falls that used to be
natural spilling below. Louisiana
steam has backwashed against the current
to fill up this Minnesota atmosphere.

It could happen. Anything is possible. Weather is everywhere—
weather is god. I am everywhere
weathering god.

In a Serious Room

“Waiting like a longbodied emaciated Modigliani surrealist woman in a serious room.”
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

She who passes
the art test will be cursed
with elongated worry—the weight
of aluminum confused

with its atomic
number 13. She never believed
a number could sink her

dream. Has not encountered quick
sand, is not willing to take
the risk. She takes high

bridges over vehicles to knock
the wind from her diaphragm
of fear, pauses abnormally long

before crossing
any street. Then she runs a quick
rodent race across, laughing

all the way
at herself. She knows how
to do that—has been

doing it for years.
Even as she prepares her face
for that stranger she believes

would catch her before
she spilled over a cliff,
she giggles at the distortion
in the mirror.

Medium High

“Poetry doesn’t know:
The air conditioner
Not in use in winter
Is like my hopes—
Half in, half out.”
—Jack Kerouac, from “Richmond Hill Blues” (Book of Blues

I have no air
conditioner. No
dishwasher. I have no washing
machine. I am half 

in, half out—don’t
take pity on me
because I don’t cook
down suburban roads 

in an SUV. I want no mercy
meals from anyone—
not even Kerouac.  He’s
dead. I am sitting in 

my own lap
topped to wait
for the right moment
to cast a warm glow.

Question of Property

“I almost called these poems
Pickpocket Blues
because they are the repetition
                              by memory
                      of earlier poems
                        stolen from me
b y    t w e l v e    t h i e v e s.”
—Jack Kerouac, from the 2nd Chorus of “Orizaba 210 Blues” (Book of Blues

She doubts her bones
will be put on display.  Sees 

how she is blessed.  To be a thief
in this time is what’s left. If he channels you 

to music, how will she tune in, listen,
take away what she can 

to call her own? If possession
is nine tenths, she has her doubts 

about the other tenth—does believe
it has something to do with the shape 

of the moon and whether she bothers
to look for it each night. Did she steal 

that one too?

No Ginger

“I stand on my head on Desolation Peak
And see that the world is hanging
Into an ocean of endless space.”
—Jack Kerouac, from the 1st Chorus of “Desolation Blues” (Book of Blues

Prone to motion sickness, I’ve looked
for adjustments. How to encounter the rolls
and curves without losing myself
when I have a suspicion 

I should do just that. How to
accept this condition, this disease
of being human without
somersaulting over the bluff. How to drop 

everything I battle gravity
over to let stillness in the center
of a wild wind be my single garment.  How to be
a mammal without a thick coat 

of fur. How to be upright
on two leathered feet. How? Like this:

 I’ll let the blood rush
to my head without blushing.

What He Said in the 11th Chorus

You swim in the biggest one
of a chain
of lakes. Don’t fear
the consequences. There your head goes 

popping through the surface
then bubbling back under. You
were adamant—you don’t
like the tone of Kerouac’s poems. So there you go 

through water without salt,
through muck
seen and unseen. I could not be
so brave. I’d rather splash 

through an ocean without narrative,
would rather let sound
carry me
than the other way around.