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Bernard Cohen
In Minneapolis the water tastes of chlorine, bleached out
memories of old conflicts dissolving into themselves like ice-cubes.
In Denver, the water carries occasional whiffs
of ammonia, but who cares? Not me,
I'm wearing a new suit like a nationality.
I'm testing out America for effect, slipping it over
my namebrand underclothing
to see if it makes me feel that Bomb Alaska
is a joke about Canadians, or that people move about
only in order to fulfil national objectives - tourism,
for example. No more border-crossings
at eight in the evening for me,
not with this passport, no more queuing
for the wrong stamp which will serve you ill
at Athens airport in February when it's snowing.
America, you have come to keep us neat.
You haven't the time to commute death
sentences on the way to the president's office.
No room for "I'm sorry", having a very nice time
swallowing dozens of whoopie burgers at the 1982 World's Fair,
understanding it's not the laughter that means America,
it's the actual punchlines - the what "upstairs" means to the breathy couple
on the cream-coloured sofa behind the coffee table,
when its late enough the music's changed and the pre-pubic
kiddoes are off to camp with trusted scoutmasters.
And I've done what I had to do, been born,
been to Nashville for all-you-can-eat, dry-fried
chicken strips. Americans will even swallow
that the Pacific coast was not the limit of exploration,
or that the dulling of stars (in the sky)
means something about development. Yes,
in Nashville there's a full-scale replica
of the Parthenon as once it stood,
though built to last in red granite.
Sydney, too, has a Chrysler Building,
the announcement draped in reflective-blue façade.
America is everywhere, in all stages of compression:
the nation contained in a song,
its complicated down-home heartlessness,
the flag gulping back speech after speech and flapping
out again in the prevailing westerly.
William H Gass put it best, his story asking,
"Where, after all, is Germany?"
America offers no space for quibbling -
"Insult me, insult my country," maintains someone
from Wisconsin, advancing belligerently, oblivious
of two dozen Haitians raising their arms: "Excuse us,
Mr Melodrama, you're disturbing our careers."
Bernard Cohen
Bernard Cohen lives in Katoomba, west of Sydney, Australia.

He is the author of three novels: Tourism (Picador 1992),
1996 Australian/Vogel Award winner The Blindman's Hat (Allen & Unwin, 1997) and
Snowdome (Allen & Unwin, 1998). For more information and writing, please visit
"America" - Cohen's second published poem - first appeared in
Cordite Poetry and Poetics Review
PO Box A 273, Sydney South NSW 1235
The URL address of this page is
this material is copyright © Bernard Cohen and Jacket magazine 1998

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