Stars + Shadows

by angeliska on July 4, 2010

4th of July - from Square America
What is America? What is it to be an American?
It’s very complicated. It’s one of those words that used
to mean something pretty good, but now is embarrassing
to admit to, like identifying yourself as a poet, or as bisexual.
There are so many lousy ones out there – they’ve given any
of the good ones such lame reputations that you’d never
advertise it unless you were completely oblivious.
My first instinct (especially when traveling outside my
country) is to be ashamed. I feel shamed by my privilege,
by the brashness and bravado I’m expected to walk with,
the obliviousness to the rest of the world, the narrowness,
the pride and patriotism for a place that has continually
screwed over its inhabitants (and neighbors). A country
of invaders and immigrants that forgot how they got here,
forgot what it might have been like for their ancestors,
who were not born here. There is wonder here, as well:
though it is fast disappearing. Carl Sandburg’s corn fairies
are being buried by the run-off from gated developments
that no-one will ever live in. The potato farmers won’t
eat their own crop, because they know it’s all poisoned.
The little desolate towns call to me, Detroit’s hulking
shells of former grandeur groan entreaties to come visit
while they can still stand. I want to see the Gulf of Mexico
again before it all turns bloody, I want to climb the mountains
of Appalachia before they all get their tops blown off.
There’s a lot on those backroads I intend to see before
it’s gone. So much of a way of life, that for a little while
was such a treasure. It wasn’t here for very long.
Firefly season gets shorter and shorter on this side of the Rockies.
4th of July - from Square America
That being said, I’m still a sucker for almost any holiday.
I like the ritual celebration. I like costumes, and wish people
still made gown and crowns with crepe-paper stars. I like
summertime, and hot-dogs with sauerkraut and fireworks.
4th of July - from Square America
I think these four bleak black and white found photographs
from Square America say it best for me. Awkward, silly
yet darkly beautiful. Ordinary, extraordinary. So many
of the photos collected at Square America capture that.
So much of our real story is told in what remains afterwards,
the ephemera, the much-repaired feed-sack dress, the iron.
When it’s completed, the compendium from the wondrous
curator will give anyone a solid overview of who were were,
and how we came to get here. There are hard things to see
there, violent things that make you wonder how anyone could
see them and still hold a camera steady. There are beautiful
things too, sweet scenes of people and places that only exist
in now in those little frames. Just the table of contents and the
names of the chapters alone make me thrilled to see the entirety.
They read like the song titles from a Tom Waits album, or maybe
shades of Cormac McCarthy. Go and see, see where we came from:
This Is My Country: An Epic Survey, Rendered In Photographs,
Home Movies, Audio Recordings, And Other Assorted Ephemera,
Of Everyday Life In These United States And Of The Ways And
Customs Of The American People c.1900-c.1976 (A Work In Progress)
Book I: The Old World (1900-1946)
The Aeronauts Dream, How the West Should Have been Won,
Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, The Frogman of Chicago,
On Grandma’s Porch, The Dance Lesson, The Girls of Summer, Dramatis
Personae, My Days at Illinois, In Aurora, The Great War, A Letter, Great
Northern, A Trip to the Shore, Lady Earl Stops for Milk, Queens of the World,
Spring, Crying Holy unto the Lord, On A Darkling Plain, The Scavengers,
A Trip to the Fair, A Bike Ride, The Kiss, G-Men, We’re in the Army
(and the Navy) Now, The Home Front, Our Lady of the Pacific,
Once More unto the Breach, The Soldier’s Dream, The Voice
of Your Man In Service, May 8th, 1945, V For Victory,
What We Brought Home from the War
Book II: On the Ways and Customs of the American People
African-American Photobooth & Small Studio Photographs,
Smoke, Fire, Drink, Drunk, A Brief Reminder of an Unpleasant Reality,
La Violence Américaine, Ambiguous Evidence: Heaven in a Shotgun Shell,
Ambiguous Evidence II: Blood, Hair on Tractor, Scrap Girls, The Cooper’s Dream,
Lift & Carry, Up in the Old Hotel, The Dispatchers, Play Ball, The Gridiron,
The Sweet Science, In the Bathroom, A Brief History of Laughter.
Book III: The Land and What We Put Upon It
The Ghosts of Vegetation, The Farmer’s Dream, The Crop Duster’s Dream,
We Cast Our Dreams in Chrome and Steel, The Grid, At the End of the Mechanical Age
Book IV: The New World (1947-1976)
Paul of Nazareth, Bakersfield by Night, To Ruben & Other Stories,
The Road Barons, The In Crowd, Race, The Also-Rans, Here Am I,
Your Special Island, Memorial Day, At the Ball, Down in the Basement,
In the Neightborhood, 51% of Everything, The Promised Land.
Epilogue: Of Being Numerous
4th of July - from Square America
Required reading for the holiday:
The Air-Conditioned Nightmare – By Henry Miller


Oh dear! I am a bisexual US poet! I suppose there is no hope for me. I’m hopelessly uncool. 😉

by Virginia on July 4, 2010 at 6:57 am. Reply #

Once again, darling, you are stealing my thoughts and articulating them far more clearly and beautifully than I have been able to. You should come down to Appalachia! Good folks here.
America, I’ve realized, is too enormous and complex and contradictory for me to feel something as unambiguous as love or hate towards. I love barbecue and CCR and Langston Hughes, I hate the Disney corporation and strip malls and dieting. I love a lot of this country’s cities, its wilderness, most of the people on this earth who I love live in this country. But I spent a lot of last semester studying Spain and Yugoslavia and how nationalism fucked those places up, and I’ve started to realize how artificial nations are, how arbitrary the boundaries we draw, how scary nationalist chauvinism can be. Flag waving makes me incredibly nervous and uncomfortable. But, like everyone else, I love the picnics and fireworks.
Things are so crazy in my life these days. Watch my facebook account over the next couple weeks, ok? Stuff will be happening.

by Sophie on July 4, 2010 at 8:27 am. Reply #

Perfect articulation of something that’s hard to describe. As someone who has felt out of place in America most of her life, despite being born and raised here, the 4th of July is a weeeird holiday for me. I mostly try to ignore the drunk flag wavers and just enjoy the fireworks. 😉

by Michelle on July 4, 2010 at 10:21 am. Reply #

this is a beautiful tribute to what remains, and what is worth remembering. there’s magic still in those lands. you are a glorious testimony to that. i hope you’re having a beautiful day. i’ve been thinking about you a lot. xx.

by annie on July 4, 2010 at 10:42 am. Reply #

It’s very sad that you feel ashamed to be American. I have travelled and lived in many places around the world and I am always reminded how kind and generous Americans are and how lucky we are to live here. People are always happy to find out that I’m American and very rarely have anything negative to say about it. Yes, we are not perfect and sure there are examples of rude Americans, but you get that in any culture. Instead of feeling ashamed, you should be proud because ultimately America is what people like you and me make of it.

by Isabelle on July 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm. Reply #

Dear Virginia,
Well, that makes two of us! What are we hopelessly American, bisexual poets to do? Alas!

by Angeliska on July 10, 2010 at 11:15 pm. Reply #

Dear Isabelle,
Yes, it is very sad that I should feel ashamed to be an American – I would love to feel proud, but considering the fact that this country has been at war in Iraq for almost ten years under totally bullshit pretenses, I find that a little difficult. That’s really only the tip of the iceberg. I highly recommend A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, a wonderful book that delves into America’s illustrious past, and explains a lot about how we got to be where we are now. Please read it, and then let me know if you can relate to my point of view. My frustration is not about Americans being rude – it’s about ignorance and blind patriotism in the face of countless grave injustices.

by Angeliska on July 10, 2010 at 11:38 pm. Reply #

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