Stanley Diamond, “How to Die in America”

Category : Anthropology, Writing

Slip away
go to the end of the line and keep going
make sure you’re alone
and unknown
go by bus, train or plane
just keep going
don’t let them know

First, take a train to Trenton
then rent a car to Philadelphia, the airport
abandon it
take a plane to Santa Fe or Seattle
makes no difference
keep going till the money runs out
then use the credit card
you can only fly to a big city
the small towns aren’t on the schedule
soon they’ll all be suburbs of Chicago
As this country hardens into concrete,
Los Angeles, New York, and New Orleans
grow together at the center.
Center of what?
This state, without a nation.
Without memory
Only capital went west
until there was no place else to go.
Neither horizontal nor vertical
destination nowhere

After Seattle
doubleback
take a train
a sleeper
and ride it
all the way down to Fayetteville
extinct except as a junction
and otherwise unknown
and drive to Raleigh
Take a bus to Nashville

then to Dallas
Fly to Yucatan
Disappear beyond Uxmal
whittle yourself away
but keep moving
Back to Merida
Sign on to Polynesia
destination Singapore
sew your money into your shirt
throw away your wallet
your keys
the pocket watch your grandfatherg ave you
your wedding ring
the golden strand of your daughter’s hair
the hat that had become your friend
In that last year
then discard your fear
begin to empty out your brain
cut long thoughts
remember then dismember our humanity
and buy your way on a junk
to Penang
Walk dumbly through the city
keep the last object of identity
for the snappy pink police
speedingp ast the turbaned beggars
in their blue Hondas
crazed with disaffiliation
traditions become crimes

So walk like a white man
dissimulate importance
and on the edge of the city
put the last mask behind you
slouch quietly
on dirt roads
becoming trails
destroy the last paper
stop eating
stare carelessly into the sun
remove your shirt
fling the cash into the bush
collapse slowly for another hundred yards
then crawl as far as you can go
into the tall grass
and with your hair on fire
and your soul somewhere else
close your eyes
for the sake of those who will find you
neither hating nor loving
but beyond their grasp

Source: Cultural Anthropology 1.4 (Nov 1986): 447-448

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