– in Memoriam, J. D. Salinger
You leave college your senior year, become
a townie garbage-man in spiritual crisis,
the polite term for taking too much acid
too soon after reading Franny and Zooey
wherein Franny leaves her dreadful weekend date
to commence a new life of ceaseless prayer
right there in the restaurant bathroom –
her break the model for your break from . . . all . . . this.
Okay, you’re inarticulate, but at least
you’re not three chapters behind in everything
anymore, plus you’re making a buck-fifty
an hour hanging on a bad-mufflered truck,
hopping off while the thing’s still rolling
for the can-drag, the quick dump, the toss back
before a sharp whistle (that still needs work)
to Slim the driver, your parents in shock,
repeating, “This is just a phase, a phase . . . ”
which, of course, is their constant mumbling prayer,
their concerns so the same as Franny’s mom’s
when she put the praying girl on their East Side couch,
brought in soup and smart brothers who only
made things worse rattling on about Noble Truths,
Bodhisattvas, all no help to her or you.
But at least you’ve stopped hiding from the war
you watch the poor fight on TV each night.
You will take a physical but until then
you make cowboy coffee in the morning,
and on cold nights you buy a short bag of coal
from Preacher’s little shack by the side-tracks,
and when they switch you to Leaves and Limbs
you make a scene, a grand show of refusal
because it’s an all-white crew, the cleaner truck
ruining everything, all your selfless aspirations!
But wait, now you’ve become Franny’s bad date,
his Flaubert-paper-pride no different from yours
when any true seeker should know by now:
all trucks end up at the same dump.
Author’s commentary: The Catcher in the Rye’s moral stance was my gateway drug to Franny and Zooey, the harder stuff that, instead of more goddams and chrissakes from Holden, was the story of a college girl in deep spiritual doo-doo, her brother offering a ham-handed primer on the Buddhism/Oneness thing to try and pull her back from the abyss.
Wait, I didn’t know there was an abyss.
Had Salinger planned it this way – tossing Catcher’s smart-alecky bread crumbs as a trail leading to the Glass family’s mixed-up spirituality? I didn’t ask that question. I was too overwhelmed by the koan of ego-death, brain flypaper. And then in what Hunter Thompson might have called a “hellish convergence,” here came LSD to set the stain with an overkill of “make-it-stop” awareness, induced psychosis. Veggie-land.
I chose the 2nd person POV because it implies the imperative, a series of moral commands I had no choice but to follow insane as the commands may seem today. I’ve read this poem at colleges, and when I ask if students still have spiritual crises, the question gets sometimes a chuckle but mostly not. Nobody has time for such anymore. That wacky old Zeitgeist done shape-shifted again. But in another galaxy we truly believed we were on a path. Plus the Beatles were obviously going through the same thing. So there.