America is Always Far Away

by Mara Jebsen

Photo 464The idea of civilization, bit by bit, helps holds together opposites, whose only former identity existed in the opposition to the Other.–Edouard Glissant

No one has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.–Zelda Fitzgerald

America is always far away, particularly in November. In November in New York, the mind bends toward California, or any way of imagining how chaotically big the country is. Is it possible to fathom that all of these people really belong together? This November, we are asked to consider the narratives and ideas that yoke us so uncomfortably. But we all seem to know different narratives and to consider them differently. For this reason, we should reflect on the rather remarkable combination of faith, apathy and sophistication that prevents us from resorting to bloodshed if we find ourselves governed by a party we dislike.

For some reason, in November, I become transfixed by the image of a transcontinental train. I think of the train tracks spanning from New Orleans to Los Angeles, carrying lots of hopeful and deperate families during the second wave of the Great Migration. I try to imagine this moment for this population: the first unsegregated streets, these first palms, the first blue glimpse of the Pacific. It is a moment in our history I do not know enough about.

Personally, I feel most patriotic when I am listening to Bob Dylan or Ray Charles. So much of American music seems to contain, and melodically resolve, our violent narratives within it. It makes one vainly wish that music could be a model; could be the idea that holds opposites together. All citizens, even musicians and poets, are occasionally called upon to test how much the heart can hold. Some artists can even make a career of it. I think of Whitman, containing, stretching, containing. I want to tell him: I, too, contain multitudes, but they don't always get along.

To expand the container, to even name the sensation of holding in your consciousness the idea of multitudes, the geographic vastness of this place, the strangeness of belonging to it, is very difficult. One November I mashed-up “Dying Swan” by the Duke Quartet, a snippet of Dylan lyrics, and a poem first published at fogged clarity as “Mirages,” but now renamed “America is Always Far Away.” I offer it in this container because I think it sounds a little like what it feels like to be here, now, nervous and determined, imagining America.

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