images of america

    (with apologies to Whitman)

    America asked the poets, What am I? pressing in with eyes puzzled and agape;

    How could they answer? They does not know what it is, any more than you.

    Is it the sum of hopeful colors splashed against porch and backyard, across the riverbank and from watchful towers?

    Is it the necessary ground? The canyons? The lost prairies? The mountains and vineyards?
    The blessed pantry of the Lord?
    Could this be the promised land? Where John Deere roams freer than bison?

    Or is it a cypher, a statistic
    And it means: capturing share in large markets and small markets
    Selling among black folks as among white;
    CNN, Coke, McDonalds, Microsoft, giving them the same, receiving from them the same.

    And now it seems the unlettered syllables of all our lost names.

    O you receive so many muttering channels!
    America where is Amana on your TV screen? Where are the Meskwaqie, who wait for your flag to pass like all the others before?
    They carry wisdom to you with full hands, but your cup is unemptied of distractions.
    Half-Buffalo says it's not the first time buildings have burnt in Manhattan.
    In Hiroshima children still fold paper cranes for the day light devoured a city.
    America all flesh burns the same, even in Iraq. Walk the emptiness and see not memorials nor office blocks, but a new kind of closure.

    America, your secret histories have returned and you do not know them.
    It may be if you had known them you would have loved them.
    It may be you transpired from their breasts;
    It may be you are made of the fallen hopes of Europa, and from mothers' tears, and on the shaved heads of a forgotten people.

    Could America itself be a poem, the unwritten ballad of a bawdy history, pastiche of drunken rhymes from a thousand shores?

    What do you think of us, the earth's young and old, men and women? Do you think of us?
    And what do you think has become of our songs and stories?
    Listen to the heartbeat of your cities, you will hear our rhythms on the streets, under a jazz riff, in the lyrics of Elvis.

    (Do you want the globe decaff? Non-alcoholic?)

    America you have eaten the world you sprung from. You have swallowed your own tale. If there is still a meaning to you, it has escaped arrest, it remains fugitive in the belly of you, with the rest of us.

    Still you go onward and outward; may nothing collapse your dream
    that to be American is different from what any one supposes, if luckier.

27 January 2003   01:05 hours
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