3rd Chorus. Now, what’s he going to do? He’s got to make up another poem. So – what?
Describe fires in riverbottom
sand, and the cooking;
the cooking of hot dogs
spitted in whittled sticks
over flames of woodfire
with grease dropping in smoke
to brown and blacken
the salty hotdogs,
and the wine,
and the work on the railroad.
$275,000,000,000.00 in debt
says the Government
Two hundred and seventy five billion
dollars in debt
And Unnumbered Sentient Beings
Who will be admitted –
To the new Pair of Shoes
Of White Guru Fleece
O j o !
The Purple Paradise
“Describe fires in riverbottom/ sand.” – (So, actually, he’s going to sketch something, or it’s instructions to himself. That’s why he begins it “Describe.”)
“Describe fires in riverbottom/ sand, and the cooking;/the cooking of hot dogs/spitted in whittled sticks/over flames of woodfire/ with grease dropping in smoke/to brown and blacken/the salty hotdogs/and the wine,/and the work on the railroad./ $275,000,000,000.00 in debt/says the government/Two hundred and seventy five billion/ dollars in debt/ Like Unending/Heaven/And Unnumbered Sentient Beings/Who will be admitted – /Not-Numberable – /To the new Pair of Shoes/Of White Guru Fleece/O j o !/The Purple Paradise”
Or “Oh Ho” – I think “O-J-O” means something in Japanese, but I don’t know what it is. [Editorial note – It means “eye” in Spanish, and he is writing these poems in Mexico. It is also also a colloquial expression in Mexico for “Look out!”] – “The Purple Paradise” – (It’s just little lyric utterances based on the idea that because there is ultimately emptiness – a Buddhist notion, sunyata, emptiness, (vast means the same thing – vast and the emptiness are more or less the same) – since there is ultimately emptiness and since all the poor denizens of hell and snakes and people and debts are taking place in that vast emptiness, there’s not going to be any hell to pay and everybody’s relieved, ultimately, of his suffering. That is, the snake comes through the grass and what does he face but an empty clear pool of frogs, rather than some horrible circus that’s going to capture him. Or maybe he’s going to eat the frog, actually. The snake’s after the frog. That’s there, too. So there’s all that subtle suffering in the emptiness of snakes who think they’ve got to eat frogs and frogs that think they’re frogs. All hanging around pools that are clear.
So the notion of “275,000,000 in debt”, (which was 1955 – What we’re up to? – I think they just passed a law that you couldn’t go higher than a trillion in debt, if you read the papers this last weekend. The vastness of the number struck him as being almost like unending heaven. I thought that was funny when I first read it. A weird way of thinking about the U.S. debt – “Like Unending/ Heaven” or “Unnumbered Sentient Beings”.
“Not numerable” – So the phrase “innumerable sentient beings” is an old Buddhist phrase. The Bodhisattva takes a vow to save the innumerable sentient beings in all the ten directions of space. And innumerable because you can’t figure out how many there are – there’s too many to count. So it’s innumerable. But that phrasing of “innumerable sentient beings” is just an old Buddhist phrase from Dwight Goddard’s Buddhist Bible
Is this interesting or is this boring?
Student:Like the dollars are sentient beings?.
AG: Well, sentient beings are empty, too, like the dollars, is really what the implication is. Or the beings are as empty as the dollars. Or it’s just big numbers. Big conceptions. Big vast, empty conceptions. Actually in a way what he’s pointing out is that 275,000,000 dollars in debt is a non-existent thing – it isn’t there anywhere – it’s just some sort of idea. it’s a conception like the goose in the bottle. I think he was marvelling that American human beings of that time could think so maniacally and vastly that they could get them 275,000,000 dollars in debt, like a karma of some sort. Like some huge karma. But an empty karma in the sense that the actual money doesn’t exist anywhere. In that sense, ” Like Unending Heaven”. And its vastness is so great. I always thought his writing was really subtle that way, because it doesn’t actually mean anything exactly, except that it reminds you of something – like the 275,000,000 dollars in debt reminded him of “Unending/ Heaven”, which is a weird thing to remind him of, but that’s what he thought of, and that was the flash. It’s such a vast figure, and such an empty figure – because nobody’s got the money, it isn’t in any coin or gold or anywhere, it’s just paper and it might be somewhere in the United States where they have it, like on one piece of paper – 270 … maybe not even. Maybe they got it in the Bureau of the Budget somewhere stashed in a drawer or locked in a safe or enshrined. In other words, where is this 275,000,000 dollars in debt, actually? In the mind, like the universe, “Like Unending/ Heaven”, although perhaps it is written down somewhere in some official book, which nobody … so the idea is that the debt is so unreal that nobody even bothers to find out. or have any idea, or would even think of writing… that there should be some place where you can go look at it, make sure that that’s what it is. Like the Constitution or something.
Student: A glass case?
AG: Like a glass case with a number in it, and maybe some wires leading so you can push a button and see where it came from, or something. It’s just the idea of such a vast debt was unreal in a way. The unreality of the debt and the unreality of existence itself.
Also his father was a somewhat right-wing guy for those days who hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the bureaucracy. His father would sit around saying, “Bureau-cracy! – Fucking bureaucracy! – that’s what Roosevelt gave us! Nothing but a bunch of bureaucrats!” So this is a giant bureaucractic conception of the 275,000,000 in debt. It’s the kind of remark his father might have made. “We’re 275,000,000 dollars in debt. Who’s ever seen that kind of money? It’s not real. And those guys up in Washington are manipulating. It must be the banks.” So it’s a funny kind of redneck comment, really, right out of Wes Pegler, who was a reactionary, cantankerous, anti-Roosevelt-ian columnist of the ‘Forties and ‘Fifties – or (Kerouac’s) father.
“Like Unending/ Heaven/ And Unnumbered Sentient Beings/ Who will be admitted -/ Not-Numberable-/ To the new Pair of Shoes” – (Poor humans. All they want is a new pair of shoes. Or heavenly shoes, say – a “new Pair of Shoes.”) – ” … Shoes/ Of White Guru Fleece” – (So he’s just making up a little lyric phrasing to describe the softness and delicacy of the emptiness of heaven)
Some of this might … some of this is repeated in a thing he wrote a little bit later called “The Scripture of the Golden Eternity” – some of these ideas of unendingness.
“The Purple Paradise” – I don’t know why he’s got “Purple Paradise” here – he might have been looking out of the window and it might have been purple dusk or he might have been thinking of William Maynard Garver who wants a purple paradise instead of an empty one.
Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in