Staying put

To all those U.S. citizens (myself included) who have been talking about going into self-imposed exile: it ain’t that bad yet!

Or maybe it is. But where you gonna go? The actions (and inaction) of the most powerful empire in world history are felt in every corner of the globe, from the North Pole to the bottom of the sea. Don’t you think that, as a voting, taxpaying citizen of the imperial power, you have a moral obligation to stay and try to make a difference – at least until the Bill of Rights is completely suspended and your life is physically in danger?

Much as I would love to relocate now to Canada, or maybe Ethiopia, I don’t know how well I’d do apart from this place – this deeply conservative, Republican area – where I’ve put down roots. We deny the power of attraction to the land at our own peril, I think. Displacement may be one of the most demoralizing of human conditions. And internal or external refugee status is a sad reality for hundreds of millions of people around the globe. In all too many cases, their uprootedness is the direct or indirect result of U.S. political and economic hegemony. Rather than exile ourselves, shouldn’t we do what we can – however little – to help end the exiles of others?

The great Spanish poet León Felipe wrote this about having to flee Spain in 1938 after the defeat of the Republic:


Y ahora me voy sin haber recibido mi legado,
sin haber habitado mi casa,
sin haber cultivado mi huerta,
sin haber sentido el beso de la siembra y de la luz.
Me voy sin haber dado mi cosecha,
sin haber encendido mi lámpara,
sin haber repartido mi pan…
Me voy sin que me hayáis entregado mi hacienda.
Me voy sin haber aprendido más que a gritar y a maldecir,
a pisar bays y flores…
me voy sin haber visto el Amor,
con los labios amargos llenos de baba y de blasfemias,
y con los brazos rí­gidos y erguidos, y los puños cerrados, pidiendo Justicia fuera de ataíºd.

by León Felipe

And now I am going, without having received my inheritance,
without having lived in my house,
without having tended my garden,
without having felt the kiss of the planting season and of the light.
I am going without having shared my harvest,
without having lit my lamp,
without having broken my bread . . .
I am going without having been given my estate.
I am going without having learned anything more than how to shout, how to curse,
how to trample on berries and flowers . . .
I am going without having gained a single glimpse of Love,
with my bitter lips all flecked with foam and blasphemies,
my arms stiff and straight and my fists clenched, begging for Justice beyond the confines of the coffin.

Re-reading my own writing from last spring, I think: who was this too-clever chap who was able to spin such inspired bullshit? Whatever happened to that sense of black humor I had? It’s been so long since I’ve felt frightened enough even to want to whistle in the dark. Now, it’s as if the tune got stuck in my throat. I listen to a scratchy old recordings from another, more desperate time in the nation’s history: Tommy Johnson, Willie Brown, Son House, singing woke up this morning with the Jinx all ’round, Jinx all ’round, round my bed, singing can’t tell my future, now, you can’t tell my past. Well it seem like tomorrow, baby, sure gon’ be my last, singing about canned heat, singing about alcohol and jake, but still singing the sun gonna shine in my back door someday. The wind gonna rise and blow my blues away.

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