it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple.
America, tonight I leave you.
I want to leave you in joy and peace and eloquence, but you have filled me up with words which are not fully formed. They fall from me in spurts, blurted, wild. I am grotesque in my incompleteness. I wasn’t always this way.
Here I made a home, in all its wholeness, and while I built it I forgot the mantra I should have kept close. I didn’t come to stay. Maya’s shield, my shield. I forgot, and fell in love.
I didn’t come to stay. I came to watch the shimmer of the horizon line as I waited for the bus. I came to watch the sunset over the mountains at the end of Covell. I came to drink coffee in the CoHo and write papers between classes, just to see if I could. I came to lie down on the quad and watch clouds above redwoods. I came to look for an XS hoodie in the bookstore every week. I came to eat In n Out and burritos and sushi and burgers, to drink from red Solo cups - to learn beer pong. I came to order Dutch Bros so many times the girl at the drive in gave us coffees for free.
I came to hear Harlem poetry and jazz. I came to read children’s classics. I came to take a class I thought I’d hate and found my favourite. (Professor Embry, it was all you.) I came to study the Old Testament next to Asian Diasporic Literatures. I came to realise it is ok to think some work professors think is important is actually terrible. I came to take a seminar class which let me write on James Nachtwey for my final paper. (Thank you, Professor Stratton.) I came to spend shady hours on the fourth floor of the library. I came to leave with a 4.0.
I came to talk my way into an oversubscribed photography class. (I came to be blessed with Sam Contis for my photography teacher, who took a chance on a literature student from England.) I came to spill chemicals and light with friends while I came to believe I was an art student. I came to learn faster than I thought I could. I came to appreciate crit. I came to find my voice, clear and insistent, in black and white film. I came to shoot gas stations and greenhouses and empty barns and swimming pools and mailboxes and parking lots and underpasses, in the dead of night, thinking about love and loss and space. I came to visit galleries in San Francisco. I came to sing to Jackson Browne in the darkroom at one a.m, alone, with my work.
I came to join a newspaper and find out whether this was what I really wanted. (It was.) I came to climb cranes with cameramen for CBS news. I came to cover campus festivals and fashion shows and football games. I came to meet cheerleaders and frat boys and senators and protestors and athletes, and editors, and people like me.
I came to hitch a ride back from the beach with a girl who wore the biggest smile: I came to meet Abby, my confidante and my counsel. I came to sit next to a girl at a party with tumbling curls and a sparkle in her eye: I came to meet Misha, my darkroom mentor. I came to eat lunch with a girl in a hijab who said she liked my watch: I came to meet Ziba, my guide inside Islam and my go-to girly gossiper.
I came to visit the cows at two a.m. I came to stay the night. I came to be picked up before sleep to go stargazing, shivering. I came to open Googlemaps and drive to the first body of water we didn’t recognise. I came to see Berryessa under a full moon and return again to photograph the night sky. I came to take spontaneous roadtrips and run a car to ruin on the freeway in the dark. I came to sit above the Golden Gate Bridge with the lights of the city echoed in the hills, to feel still with hope and fear, and then, released, to drive full speed across the water with Springsteen in our ears under the moon. I came to learn the bus routes off by heart, to write papers during early-hour layovers in Safeway parking lots, to chase the cops for a cover story. I came to share a bath and a bottle of wine on a Sunday night over House of Cards. I came to roadtrip eight hours through the desert and the mountains and argue about oranges. I came to be taken to flooded mountain cabins and wide turquoise lakes and deserted beaches with the moonlight on the waves. I came to make a pinhole camera and visit Disneyland and walk down a boulevard engraved with stars. I came to see thunderstorms in the desert. I came to lie in the dark listening to two heartbeats, thinking about the word tenderness.
I came to be an Aggie. I came to belong. I came to find another part of myself. I came to fall in love. But I didn’t come to stay.
America, tonight I think of Adrienne and her poem which I found first in you - within two miles of the Pacific where I lived then. In the fall everything was new, and she spoke of that terrifying delight. I read the poem again tonight, and found another voice which touched me, tongue to tongue.
If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life.
America, tonight I leave you incomplete. Something here is started, something which has uncovered a part of me which was always there, dormant, dulled. From the shell of a remembered ancestry and the fragile belief in a wild heart I have built a home. I am myself, if you had known me/once, but I am not the same as I was before.
I am not finished here. While I lock the door I hold the key. America, tonight I leave you because I didn’t come to stay, but I bury a part of me under a stone by the back door. In a different/light and life, I will return.