William S. Burroughs: A Thanksgiving Prayer

By on November 24, 2016

Another Thanksgiving tradition. This sardonic poem — read by its author, William S. Burroughs, and lensed by filmmaker Gus Van Sant in 1989 — resonates as much today as when it was originally published.

BURROUGHS THANKSGIVING 1

Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts
Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes
Thanks for the AMERICAN DREAM to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through
Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killin’ lawmen feeling their notches,
for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces
Thanks for ‘Kill a Queer for Christ’ stickers
Thanks for laboratory AIDS
Thanks for Prohibition and the ‘War Against Drugs’
Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business
Thanks for a nation of finks — yes,
Thanks for all the memories all right, let’s see your arms you always were a headache and you always were a bore
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

BURROUGHS THANKSGIVING 2

Source: Williams S. Burroughs’s 1990 spoken-word album Dead City Radio, from readings made at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, between December 12-15, 1988, with further recordings taking place on June 24, 1989.

This poem — “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986″ — originally appeared in his book Tornado Alley, published in 1989. The book itself was dedicated to John Dillinger, “in hope he is still alive,” which Burroughs also repeats at the beginning of this recording.

Van Sant shot this video two Thanksgivings after it was written, in 1988, the year before the release of his film Drugstore Cowboy (and six years after adapting Burroughs’s short story The Discipline of D.E. into an early short film).

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.