Back to the U.S.A / Ricky Rapoport Friesem
Another nowhere town
With a string of nowhere malls
Could be Dayton, Sacramento
Cedar Rapids or Sioux Falls.
What's the difference? Same old shopping
Same old Big Boy, Home Depot
Toys 'R Us and Circuit City
Pizza Hut and food to go
The motel room, same old carpet
Patterned to conceal the stains
Complimentary tea or coffee
Could be either, tastes the same
Same old wake-up call recorded
Cheerio voice to start the day
Followed by the same old breakfast
Plastic cereals, bread like clay
Eaten while the same old sound bites
Stir the air with gusts of news
Blasts of ads and blasts of music
And the same words over-used
"How'ya doin? Ya-da, ya-da
Have a nice one. Come Again."
Wish I could, but I have changed and
Here’s not what it was back then
Oh, America I loved you,
Love you still but I can't stay.
Gone too long and seen too much
To fit into the USA.
First published in “Cyclamens and Swords,” November 2008
“Love trumps hate,” is a hopeful but unhelpful slogan. “Oh, America I loved you / Love you still but I can’t stay,” says a visitor after a long absence, evoking the American tradition of lovin’ and leavin’ in literature and song. People on the move built America, settling on the continent’s edges, borne inwards by ambition, drought, railroads and interstate highways, or scattering from the heartland outwards to pursue gold, freedom, education, abortions, employment or lives untrammeled by convention. Huckleberry Finn: “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory,” to escape Aunt Sally’s “sivilizing.” Today, adjusting to new life in another part of America is simple: Much of the man-made landscape doesn’t vary, as depicted in the opening stanzas, nor do basic products and transactional communications. Much is interchangeable – coffee and tea tastes and stains, strip malls in any town.
Mobility also has a Jewish pedigree. Abraham skedaddled from Haran, the Passover saga is the ur-story of the oppressed migrating and the Babylonian exile, the expulsion from Spain, and layer pogroms and wars kept us in motion. Though Israel supposedly provides an end to wandering, many here and elsewhere have or seek extra passports. Stalin disparaged this as rootless cosmopolitanism but we’re used to it.
However, for many Americans, leaving for elsewhere isn’t an option. Some who voted for Donald Trump are stuck in economic circumstances that paralyze geographic and social mobility. His other voters have choices, cash and college educations but are hostile to the mobile sectors – immigrants, “elites,” people who look different – and stick close to home in comfortable economic and political entrenchments. Some reports say that Trump himself would rather glower in his Manhattan power tower than actually move into the White House. (The current tenant “founded Isis.”)
So the challenge for the mobility-prone, Jews and Americans of all colorations and non-Americans, isn’t to love but rather to figure out how to live well and safely with those who don’t like us, or do hate us. Many know that love often fails, the option of saying goodbye won’t save the world and we have already “seen too much."
Ricky Rapoport Friesem holds Canadian, American and Israeli citizenship. She has published four collections of poetry and is former head of the communications department of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
*Musing: What do you make of the nods to the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R” and “Nowhere Man?”
*Bonus: Leonard Cohen, sings “Democracy.”