The Fire Watch Tower Atop Desolation Peak
In the summer of 1956, when I was 11 years old, Jack Kerouac spent 63 days manning a fire watch tower in Washington’s North Cascades, atop Desolation Peak. On the Road, which was to be the main source of his fame, followed by The Dharma Bums, were not yet published. The recently published Desolation Peak is a collection of Kerouac’s many writing projects—many of them fragmentary—while he scanned the horizon for fires during those 63 days.
Jack was desperately poor having spent all his money to get to Washington from Mill Valley. He began his job as a fire watcher with a total of 2¢.
This year I have become entranced by Kerouac. Like most of the members of my generation, I read On the Road while I was still in high school, and then stopped there. I have become newly fascinated by his work and am resolved to read all his work that I can find. That assumes I will live long enough, as Jack was a busy boy.
Below is a selection of what Kerouac called his “Desolation Pops.” In form, they resemble traditional Japanese haiku, but they do not adhere to the genre strict rules concerning the number of syllables per line. They’re still interesting. After all, English is a very different language than Japanese.
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
(7) A stump with sawdust —a place To meditate (11) The clouds assume as I assume, Faces of hermits (24) There’s nothing there because I don’t care (36) Poor gentle flesh— there is No answer (42) Wednesday blah blah blah— My mind hurts (55) Rig rig rig— that’s the rat On the roof (59) I called Hanshan | A Zen Buddhist recluse in the fog— Silence, it said (60) I called—Dipankara | One of the Buddhas of the past instructed me By saying nothing (70) Aurora borealis over Mount Hozumeen— The world is eternal
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