Poem: Robert Hayden’s “[American Journal]”

Robert Hayden’s “[American Journal]”

here among them        the americans        this baffling
multi people        extremes and variegations        their
noise        restlessness        their almost frightening
energy        how best describe these aliens in my
reports to The Counselors

disguise myself in order to study them unobserved
adapting their varied pigmentations        white black
red brown yellow        the imprecise and strangering
distinctions by which they live        by which they
justify their cruelties to one another

charming savages        enlightened primitives        brash
new comers lately sprung up in our galaxy        how
describe them        do they indeed know what or who
they are        do not seem to        yet no other beings
in the universe make more extravagant claims
for their importance and identity

like us they have created a veritable populace
of machines that serve and soothe and pamper
and entertain        we have seen their flags and
foot prints on the moon        also the intricate
rubbish left behind        a wastefully ingenious
people        many it appears worship the Unknowable
Essence        the same for them as for us        but are
more faithful to their machine made gods
technologists their shamans

oceans deserts mountains grain fields canyons
forests        variousness of landscapes weathers
sun light moon light as at home        much here is
beautiful        dream like vistas reminding me of
home        item        have seen the rock place known
as garden of the gods and sacred to the first
indigenes        red monoliths of home        despite
the tensions i breathe in i am attracted to
the vigorous americans        disturbing sensuous
appeal of so many        never to be admitted

something they call the american dream        sure
we still believe in it i guess        an earth man
in the tavern said        irregardless of the some
times night mare facts we always try to double
talk our way around        and its okay the dreams
okay and means whats good could be a damn sight
better        means every body in the good old u s a
should have the chance to get ahead or at least
should have three squares a day        as for myself
i do okay        not crying hunger with a loaf of
bread tucked under my arm you understand        i
fear one does not clearly follow i replied
notice you got a funny accent pal        like where
you from he asked        far from here i mumbled
he stared hard        i left

must be more careful        item        learn to use okay
their pass word        okay

crowds gathering in the streets today for some
reason obscure to me        noise and violent motion
repulsive physical contact        sentinels        pigs
i heard them called        with flailing clubs        rage
and bleeding and frenzy and screaming        machines
wailing        unbearable decibels        i fled lest
vibrations of the brutal scene do further harm
to my metabolism already over taxed

The Counselors would never permit such barbarous
confusion        they know what is best for our sereni
ty        we are an ancient race and have outgrown
illusions cherished here        item        their vaunted
liberty        no body pushes me around i have heard
them say        land of the free they sing        what do
they fear mistrust betray more than the freedom
they boast of in their ignorant pride        have seen
the squalid ghettoes in their violent cities
paradox on paradox        how have the americans
managed to survive

parades fireworks displays video spectacles
much grandiloquence much buying and selling
they are celebrating their history        earth men
in antique uniforms play at the carnage whereby
the americans achieved identity        we too recall
that struggle as enterprise of suffering and
faith uniquely theirs        blonde miss teen age
america waving from a red white and blue flower
float as the goddess of liberty        a divided
people seeking reassurance from a past few under
stand and many scorn        why should we sanction
old hypocrisies        thus dissenters        The Counse
lors would silence them
a decadent people The Counselors believe        i
do not find them decadent        a refutation not
permitted me but for all their knowledge
power and inventiveness not yet more than raw
crude neophytes like earthlings everywhere

though i have easily passed for an american        in
bankers grey afro and dashiki long hair and jeans
hard hat yarmulka mini skirt        describe in some
detail for the amusement of The Counselors        and
though my skill in mimicry is impeccable        as
indeed The Counselors are aware        some thing
eludes me        some constant amid the variables
defies analysis and imitation        will i be judged
incompetent

america        as much a problem in metaphysics as
it is a nation earthly entity an iota in our
galaxy        an organism that changes even as i
examine it        fact and fantasy never twice the
same        so many variables

exert greater caution        twice have aroused
suspicion        returned to the ship until rumors
of humanoids from outer space        so their scoff
ing media voices termed us        had been laughed
away        my crew and i laughed too of course

confess i am curiously drawn        unmentionable        to
the americans        doubt i could exist among them for
long however        psychic demands far too severe
much violence        much that repels        i am attracted
none the less        their variousness their ingenuity
their elan vital        and that some thing        essence
quiddity        i cannot penetrate or name

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