Jack Kerouac in Racine

by Jessie Lynn McMains (& Jack Kerouac)

Jack Kerouac in Racine

The children in Monument Square pay no attention to me, either that or because I’m a ghost they don’t see me. Belle City rattles in my haunted head —

O to be out in Racine in the summereve, air so wet and thick it slicks along my shoulders like the memory of a lost lover’s caress. I wander my neighborhood lonesome, happysad, my soundtrack the hot flare of mariachi brass from a neighbor’s Quinceñera and the ice cream man’s warped ragtime. Or perhaps I wander farther, one old Italian man with pompadour hair silvershot and gold chain resting on tanned chest above white undershirt and prodigious belly, he’s grilling sausage over coals, sipping from his bottle of grappa and I have half a mind to stop and ask him for a taste, but my weary feet lead me onward, ever onward — to where some young cats shoot craps on their front porch, the air around them thick with smell of skunkweed and their shouts — “Three, ace deuce, come away single!” And in another house the sound of doo-wop pours from the windowscreens, and the nightrider lilies bend their darkling heads towards the melodies, the Moonglows sweetsadly crooning “Oh Lord, won’t you tell me why / I love that girlie so, she doesn’t want me…”

And yonder I wander, on and on, toward downtown, stop at North Beach to see the moonrise over that vast dark lake, o I know it’s only Michigan cross’t on the other side but so large and oceanlike in its furies is it that my lake-heart cries Adventure! On the High Seas! and thumps a childwish to play at pirates with black bandana and sticksword. And children run in and out of the waves, shrieking, their folks call to them in Spanish and Hmong and midwest accent: “Ven aquí, Los ntawm no, C’mere!” I think of my own childhood, the voices in French and Polish, Danish and Greek, Americana, and the Armenians with Madagh picnics blessing the fields and singing a requiem for departed souls, for I grew up in those trainyards and beaches and blackberry brambled backyards and beat old playgrounds of Highway 32 and the Root River. I was surrounded by other kids with no escape, under the bridge, among the rusted bicycles, along the brick-streeted neighborhoods and sleepy porches of early evening where girls played guitars while their older brothers were at work in the factories building tractors and transmission equipment.

Now the moon rises orangegold thru the haze and cuts her glowing path across the black waters and I’m headed south, stop in for jazz at George’s and there’s one gone brunette leaned against the bar digging the horns and the bass’s deep thrum and I could buy her a beer or an Old Fashioned but no, I keep moving, across the bridge over the river and like the river I am rooted, yet I flow, and everyone’s out tonight, in the wet night, the town smells of grease sizzling and hot tar, of the muddydank river and once again I think of young summers longago when I sat in my bedroom with my window open to watch fireflies spark in the dusky yard and I could smell the alewives rotting on the beach and the acrid gluey smell of the nearby factories…

moving on, past Evelyn’s, past Monument Square, up toward Wisconsin Avenue between Sixth & Seventh Streets, more gone summers rattling in my haunted head, when my teenage hoodlum friends and I ran barefoot on the courthouse lawn at dewdamp four a.m. and after sunup went to Andrea’s, snuck illegal smokes from the cigarette machine and sat writing and talking smack over coffee and eggs overeasy. Now I stop into Toad Hall, fill my belly with a good cold beer and a side of poutine tots, oh the gorgeous greasy cheesecurds and Guinness gravy; in the corner is a table crowded with musicians playing Irish ballads on bodhrán, on mandolin, a fiddled reel, I step outside for a minute, stand in the alleyway lookin at the names passers-through have scrawled and carved on the soot-stained creambrick — Mad Dog, Stella, Jooooce, Ghost, and o the ghosts of summer, I think of what beer I’ll try when I go back inside, I think of summers gone and summer now, I think of old Belle City…

spontaneous bop prosody

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