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America (a work in progress)

America (a work in progress)


America is a voice that echoes in the rich, cavernous, red rock vistas of Sedona and parts of Utah. It’s the steady holding of the tone of the mink-white, snow-covered mountains of the Berkshires, folksy small towns in the Adirondacks and in the Catskill mountains, upstate New York.  This land, America, is red barns freshly painted, the smell of cut grass, Woody Guthrie songs embedded in the decay of old rail cars left abandoned on the side of the highway. They can still be seen while riding the train through the towns and cities. America is Blue Grass music, and extra shots of Tequila drunk by young boys playing pool in the back rooms of American Bars and pool halls that are fast becoming extinct. America is Long Island Sea Ports reeling in history but now populated by tourist attractions, fast food vendors and Starbucks. America is abandoned farms plowed under to make way for apartment houses and shopping malls, now also abandoned. America is ethnic communities searching for their own place and voice in the ever-changing landscape of suburbia and the American metropolis.

I see all things and nothing. I am informed and empty. I allow. I am. I listen to the sound of the song birds as they flutter around the tin feeder, to the sound of the pigeons as they protect their nest, to the sound of the wind as it whips up sand in the desert, in Joshua Tree where I wait. I am open like a baby bird waiting to be fed. I am expectant like a new mother. I am waiting like a child waits for a birthday, like a lover waits for a phone call, like a pause in a conversation waits for continuation.

And I wonder…

Is waiting passive or active? Is waiting natural or delicious in its unnatural way? I wonder if waiting is the slow laborious walk from one place to another, from the eastern coast to the west, from the north to the south.  I listen for answers in the deeper internal voices that call up the wonderment of life all around me. I wonder about the many voices in my head and the deeper call of my heart. I wonder about the power of truth and the revelation of freedom. I wonder about expression and the many costumes it adorns itself in: sweet girl next-door openness, military genius, rich boy entitlement, dirt-specked workers with blistered hands, mothers with cell phones and appointment books – all fragments of life – broken glass, glittery life – vast like the sand dunes of Johnson Valley, California.

I see the many faces of creation. I see the inner forces that drive the spirit and the many ways it shows itself from the children throwing a ball, to the rabbits nibbling on the rose bush. Small baby steps of expression: a newborn taking tiny, hesitant steps – up one moment, down another, the taste of pomegranate jelly made by Hazel, who can’t remember she just turned ninety-two, the licentious flirtations of Chicken Freddy and the taste of cold beer on a hot summer night.

I wonder about right and wrong, good and bad – words drummed out by the sound of the waves slapping against the rock walls of the New England coastline. I wonder about the static and the passive moments, about the stifling one hundred plus degree heat of a Phoenix summer. I am every bit America from shore to shore, from discovered to uncovered, from the restoration of the California missions to the clay cliffs of Martha’s Vineyard. I am America with her African American mothers taking their children to public school. I am America with the Native American wife who folds her hands over her breasts and declares herself a wife so everyone will know. I am America where cars can cost as much as a house and some towns are known because their residents can’t afford their next meal and a full set of teeth are rare.

I am America filled with everything possible, a place brimming with expectancy and waiting for the next expression and the next. Expressions so rich and alive that they can’t be contained and they spill out all over the boundaries and borders, real or imaginary while our citizens double as border patrol. Expression waiting for the next breath, fighting through smog-filled air for the next breath. America – the old and the new living side by side. Expressions so diverse and similar at the same time – parent and teenage child fighting for a voice in a home where every venture threatens to break out in rebellion. Expression with teenage acne and crippling self-judgment. Expression that needs space to find itself. Expression that builds a home wherever it goes and asks what home is with its shifting parameters and its illusive definitions.

Home: sweaters and jeans packed in a suitcase and left under the bed. Homemade bedrolls made of old blankets and thrown on the floor below discarded homilies stitched into cloth and hung on the wall. “A stitch in time saves nine” and “Home is where the heart is”. Walls made of stucco, dirt, plaster, marble, glass – rich extravagant and dirt-poor materials – covered in a variety of papers and paint. The question is asked – Haven’t you found yourself by now? Europe shrugs but little is said because we are all too polite, but politeness doesn’t mend the falling down houses or stops the heart from yearning for a way to express itself. So I, we, America, learns to declare ourselves in studied mediation and compromises between the cowboy rancher, working the same way as his father’s father and the scientist, environmentalist seeking to save the tortoise.

Speak to me, I cry. Speak to me my heart and tell me what you seek. Expression it cries back. Expression. If you don’t grant me expression, I will hold a powerful thirst never quenched. If you don’t grant me expression, I will always live with an emptiness that will never be filled.

Expression is the breath of the Divine – breathing in and out, loving and expressing love. Express yourself, says my heart as it sings the song of muffled traffic while lying on the carpeted floor in a twentieth floor New York apartment. Sing says my heart as it recalls the weathered jetties of the Marina and watching Pelicans teaching their young to fly. Dance says my heart recalling the movement of the Staten Island Ferry and the densely packed stack of cars being shuttled from Manhattan to Staten Island. Dance in the tree thick landscape of the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire; Dance around the extravagant spray of lights and water shooting out of the fountains guarding the entrance of Las Vegas hotels along the strip. Sway with the rhythmic sound of the names of American towns and cities; names like Duluth, Athens, Chattanooga, Laramie, Durango, Farmington and Tulsa. Names so sweet they slide off your tongue – Tonopah, Visalia, Alturas and Winnemucca. Dance to the rhythm and expression of twenty-first century life, to the Blues, to Country and Western music, to Jazz, to Opera, to Hip Hop and Rock N Roll. Dance to the America that is fading away and the America coming into focus. Dance says my heart, dance.

America – mix breed, adolescent, devoted preacher, recalcitrant village-dweller, stead-fast adult, preoccupied student – all of this you are and so much more. America, you are my heartbeat, my lover, myself, my mirror, my teacher, my conscience, my theory and philosophy; you are my home. It is here in America that I am born and reborn – divine and human, fallible and infallible. America, the word is whispered on lips eager to be kissed. America, the name is sung at the highest decibel from our highest mountain range and chanted with a foreign accent. America you have opened your arms and closed your borders, you have rushed in and pulled away. You give mixed messages while standing firm. All this you are and so much more. America, as I search from shore to shore I find pieces of myself, hidden expressions waiting to be expanded on or expressed in new ways, behaviors I wish to discard, conscience that must be developed. America, I stretch up my arms as far as they go and hold them open to cradle the sky. America, I am growing, you are changing, and we are in an awkward time of change. The rickety, old, western general store, the small country churches, the taste of Nathan’s Hot dogs, the lingering smell of the closed down steel mills and the fading colors of abandoned towns still dot your landscape but are fading away. I remember you, America, and I am discovering you.

One Comment

  1. This is a beautiful, soaring impression of the many faces of America. There are so many elements that could be a story on their own, from Hazel and her pomegranate jelly to the environmentalist trying to save the tortoise. You have obviously seen a lot of the country and I look forward to reading more about your experiences and inspirations.

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