Read The Sea is My Brother Online

Authors: Jack Kerouac

The Sea is My Brother (2 page)

BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
10.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Jack's journal ends on August 19, 1942 shortly after reaching Greenland. The last entries are a short story entitled “‘WHAT PRICE SEDUCTION?' OR A 5 CENT ROMANCE IN ONE REEL A
STORY—‘THE COMMUNIST,'” two poems, a descriptive character piece called “PAT,” and a set of notes called JACK KEROUAC FREE VERSE, FOUR PARTS.
This next poem encompasses many of the daily frustrations expressed in the journal about being different than the rest of the crew.
Once, when I was out to sea,
I knew a lad who's famous now.
His name is sung in America,
And carried far to other lands.
But when I knew him, far back now,
He was a lad with lonely eyes.
The bos'un laughed when Laddie wrote:
“Truth Brothers!” in his diary.
“You daggone little pansy!”
Roared the heavyset rough bos'un.
“You don't know what life be,
You with all your sissy books!
Look at me! I'm rough and I'm tough,
And I got lots to teach ye!”
So the bos'un jeered, and the bos'un snarled,
And he set him down to drudgery.
And the boy, he and his poetry,
He wanted to stand bow-watch
And brood into the sea,
But the bos'un laughed, and snarled,
And set him down to drudgery.
Down in the hold, mid fetidity . . .
Then one night, a wild dark night,
The lad stood by the heaving bow
And the storm beat all about him.
The bos'un he laughed and set right out
To put him down to drudgery,
That sissy lad of poetry . . .
With wind and sky all scattered wide,
A grim, dreary night for fratricide!
Jack disembarked the
but continued to think of the sea as a symbol for the integration of his friends and the promise of brotherhood. After a brief return to Columbia University he moved back to Lowell with his parents and got a job at a garage on Middlesex Street where he works diligently night and day writing by hand his first novel. The novel's importance to this early period of Jack's life is indisputable. Although a short novel, it represents a pivotal point in his writing career where his serious intention to become a writer resonates in the power of his speech and the depth of his visualization.
The placement of hyphens, dashes, ellipses, apostrophes, etcetera, have all been maintained only standardized for readability. In cases of spelling errors, I have corrected unless thought to be intentional and have included some editorial elements and or additional punctuation when needed which can be found in brackets [. . .] and in cases were material is missing, illegible or otherwise obscured, I have shown this with empty brackets [ ]. In places where Jack Kerouac has edited his own material by crossing out and re-writing; I have only included that which he preserved unless context is unclear or words appear to be missing. Spacing and line breaks have been preserved in some cases where the emphasis of the
words would be affected, otherwise the margins, indents and line spacing have been standardized. Kerouac's entire archive can be found in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.
The Broken Bottle
A young man, cigarette in mouth and hands in trousers' pockets, descended a short flight of brick steps leading to the foyer of an uptown Broadway hotel and turned in the direction of Riverside Drive, sauntering in a curious, slow shuffle.
It was dusk. The warm July streets, veiled in a mist of sultriness which obscured the sharp outlines of Broadway, swarmed with a pageant of strollers, colorful fruit stands, buses, taxis, shiny automobiles, Kosher shops, movie marquees, and all the innumerable phenomena that make up the brilliant carnival spirit of a midsummer thoroughfare in New York City.
The young man, clad casually in a white shirt without tie, a worn gabardine green coat, black trousers, and moccasin shoes, paused in front of a fruit stand and made a survey of the wares. In his thin hand he beheld what was left
of his money—two quarters, a dime, and a nickel. He purchased an apple and moved along, munching meditatively. He had spent it all in two weeks; when would he ever learn to be more prudent! Eight hundred dollars in fifteen days—how? where? and why?
When he threw the apple core away, he still felt the need to satisfy his senses with some [ ] dawdle or other, so he entered a cigar store and bought himself a cigar. He did not light it until he had seated himself on a bench on the Drive facing the Hudson River.
It was cool along the river. Behind him, the energetic thrum of New York City sighed and pulsed as though Manhattan Island itself were an unharmonious wire plucked by the hand of some brazen and busy demon. The young man turned and swept his dark, curious eyes along the high rooftops of the city, and down toward the harbor where the island's chain of lights curved in a mighty arc, sultry beads in the midsummer mist strung in confused succession.
His cigar held the bitter taste he had wanted in his mouth; it felt full and ample between his teeth. On the river, he could distinguish faintly the hulls of the anchored merchant ships. A small launch, invisible except for its lights, glided a weaving path alongside the dark freighters and tankers. With quiet astonishment he leaned forward
and watched the floating points of light move slowly downriver in liquid grace, his almost morbid curiosity fascinated by what might have seemed commonplace to another.
This young man, however, was no ordinary person. He presented a fairly normal appearance, just above average height, thin, with a hollow countenance notable for its prominence of chin and upper lip muscles, and expressive mouth lined delicately yet abundantly from its corners to the thin nose, and a pair of level, sympathetic eyes. But his demeanor was a strange one. He was accustomed to hold his head high, so that whatever he observed received a downward scrutiny, an averted mien that possessed a lofty and inscrutable curiosity.
In this manner, he smoked his cigar and watched the Drive saunterers pass by, for all outward purposes at peace with the world. But he was broke and he knew it; by tomorrow he would be penniless. With a shade of a smile, which he accomplished by raising a corner of his mouth, he tried to recall how he had spent his eight hundred dollars.
The night before, he knew, had cost him his last hundred and fifty dollars. Drunk for two consecutive weeks, he had finally achieved sobriety in a cheap hotel in Harlem; from there, he recalled, he had taken a cab to a small restaurant on Lenox Avenue where they served
nothing but spare ribs. It was there he'd met that cute little colored girl who belonged to the Young Communists League. He remembered they'd taken a taxi down to Greenwich Village where she wanted to see a certain movie. . . . wasn't it
Citizen Kane
? And then, in a bar on MacDougall Street, he lost track of her when he met up with six sailors who were broke; they were from a destroyer in dry-dock. From then on, he could remember riding in a taxi with them and singing all kinds of songs and getting off at Kelly's Stables on 52nd Street and going in to hear Roy Eldridge and Billie Holliday. One of the sailors, a husky dark-haired pharmacist's mate, talked all the time about Roy Eldridge's trumpet and why he was ten years ahead of any other jazz musician except perhaps two others who jammed Mondays at Minton's in Harlem, Lester somebody and Ben Webster; and how Roy Eldridge was really a phenomenal thinker with infinite musical ideas. Then they had all rode to the Stork Club, where another sailor had always wanted to go, but they were all too plastered to be admitted in, so they went to a dime-a-dance joint where he had bought up a roll of tickets for the gang. From there they had gone to a place in the East Side where the Madame sold them three quarts of Scotch, but when they were finished, the Madame refused to let
them all sleep there and kicked them out. They were sick of the place and the girls anyway, so they rode uptown and west to a Broadway hotel where he paid for a double suite of rooms and they finished the Scotch and flopped off in chairs, on the floor, and on the beds. And then, late the next afternoon he woke up and found three of the sailors sprawled about in a litter of empty bottles, sailor caps, glasses, shoes, and clothing. The other three had wandered off somewhere, perhaps in search of a bromo seltzer or tomato juice.
Then he had dressed up slowly, after taking a leisurely shower, and strolled off, leaving the key at the desk and making a request to the hotelkeeper not to disturb his slumbering buddies.
So here he sat, broke except for fifty cents. Last night had cost $150 or so, what with taxis, drinks around, hotel bills, women, cover charges, and everything else; his good time was over for this time. He smiled as he remembered how funny it was when he woke up a few hours previous, on the floor between a sailor and an empty quart bottle, and with one of his moccasins on his left foot and the other on the bathroom floor.
Casting away his cigar butt, he rose and moved on across the Drive. Back on Broadway he walked slowly
uptown taking in the small shoe stores, radio repair shops, drugstores, newsstands, and dimly lit bookstores with a calm and curious eye.
In front of a fruit stand he stopped in his tracks; at his feet, a small cat mewed up at him in a plaintive little cry, its pink bud of a mouth opened in a heart shape. The young man stooped down and picked up the cat. It was a cute little kitten with grey-striped fur and a remarkably bushy tail for its age.
“Hello, Tiger,” he greeted, cupping the little face in his hand. “Where do you live, huh?”
The kitten mewed a reply, its fragile little frame purring in his hand like a delicate instrument. He caressed the tiny head with his forefinger. It was a minute shell of a skull, one that could be crushed between thumb and forefinger. He placed the tip of his nose against the little mouth until the kitty playfully bit it.
“Ha ha! A little tiger!” he smiled.
The proprietor of the fruit stand stood in front rearranging his display.
“This is your cat?” inquired the young man, walking over with the kitten.
The fruit man turned a swarthy face.
“Yes, that is my wife's cat.”
“He was on the sidewalk,” said the young stranger. “The street's no place for a kitty, he'll get run over.”
The fruit man smiled: “You are right; he must have wandered away from the house.” The man glanced up above the fruit store and shouted: “Bella!”
A woman presently came to the window and thrust her head out: “Hah?”
“Here's your cat. He almost got lost,” shouted the man.
“Poom-poom!” cooed the woman, espying the kitten in the young man's hands. “Bring it up Charley; he'll get hurt in the street.”
The man smiled and took the cat from the stranger's hands; its weak little claws were reluctant to change hands.
“Thank you!” sang the woman from above.
The young man waved his hand.
“You know women,” confided the fruitseller, “they love little cats . . . they always love the helpless things. But when it comes to men, you know, they'll want them cruel.”
The young stranger smiled thinly.
“Am I right?” laughed the man, slapping the youth on the back and reentering his store with the kitten, chuckling to himself.
“Maybe so,” mumbled the youth to himself. “How the hell should I know?”
He walked five more blocks uptown, more or less aimlessly, until he reached a combination bar and cafeteria, just off the Columbia University campus. He walked in through the revolving doors and occupied an empty stool at the bar.
The room was crowded with drinkers, its murky atmosphere feverish with smoke, music, voices, and general restlessness known to frequenters of bars on summer nights. The young man almost decided to leave, until he caught sight of a cold glass of beer the bartender was just then setting before another patron. So he ordered himself a glass. The youth exchanges stares with a girl named Polly, who sits in a booth with her own friends.
They stared at each other for several seconds in the manner just described; then, with a casual familiarity, the young man spoke to Polly: “Where
“Where am I going?” laughed Polly, “I'm not going anywhere!”
But while she laughed at the stranger's unusual query, she could not help but wonder at his instant possessiveness: for a second, he seemed to be an old friend she had forgotten many years ago, and who had now chanced upon her and resumed his intimacy with her as though
time were no factor in his mind. But she was certain she had never met him. Thus, she stared at him with some astonishment and waited for his next move.
He did nothing; he merely turned back to his beer and drank a meditative draught. Polly, bewildered by this illogical behavior, sat for a few minutes watching him. He apparently was satisfied with just one thing, asking her where
was going. Who did he think he was? . . . it was certainly none of
business. And yet, why had he treated her as though he had always known her, and as though he had always possessed her?
With an annoyed frown, Polly left the booth and went to the young stranger's side. She did not reply to the inquiries shouted after her by her friends; instead, she spoke to the young man with the curiosity of a child.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Wesley what?”
“Wesley Martin.”
“Did I ever know you?”
“Not that I know of,” he answered calmly.
“Then,” began Polly, “why did you? . . . why? . . . how do you . . . ?”
“How do I do what?” smiled Wesley Martin, raising a corner of his mouth.
“Oh hell!” cried Polly, stamping an impatient foot. “Who
Wesley maintained his amused shadow of a smile: “I told you who I was.”
BOOK: The Sea is My Brother
10.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
Motherland by Vineeta Vijayaraghavan
A Chance Mistake by Jackie Zack
Beware of Virtuous Women by Kasey Michaels
Mansfield with Monsters by Mansfield, Katherine
A Christmas Visitor by Anne Perry
36 Exposures by Linda Mooney
Murder on Stage by Cora Harrison