James Baldwin

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“Hey, America!”: Poem by Shuji Terayama (abridged)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 31/10/2020 - 7:13pm in


James Baldwin

America: In 65 lines to be yelled at 100 miles an hour while sitting on Mal’s piano[1]

Hey, America

Hey, map stuck on the wall of my cheap drizzly-damp apartment

Two years ago the empty shell of myself disappeared into Louisville Kentucky on that map

Soichi Akimoto, despised and remorseful second year student of English Literature who never woke up from a 20 year nightmare

Strokes the scratches on his Charlie Parker LPs

And Alex and Henry and Thomas, leaves of grass in the Second World War, the B52s that will never return…

Ah, the America I’ve never seen

The home-sweet-home of Jack and Betty

The America that killed my father in a sea-battle off New Guinea[2]

America where floods of Coca Cola surge into the business district

The America of Kirk Douglas’ dimpled chin

America the motherland of the Marx brothers

America where the sausages in hotdogs get groaning erections

America that says say goodbye to the dog that does clever tricks at the old people’s home

The America of great train robber Jesse James

The America of Natalie Wood whose clit I’d love to lick if I had the chance

America where Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali, rides in a Cadillac writing poems

Hey, America of massacres in Vietnam

Hey, do you see Staten Island? Jane and her brother suck stick-candy and gaze at the beloved faraway skyscrapers

America, do you know why queer James Baldwin sleeps only with white men

America where heaven is a 5 dollar tab of LSD

Hey, lonely America where Nick works on manholes and digs his own grave

Where Jewish Ray sips 15 cent coffee at Horn and Hadart and wonders when to sell his mother[3]

Half America where Archie Shepp wearing an eye-patch blows his wild horn[4]

Hey America, where ageing star Bette Davis[5] has her last ever period and swims at night in a Hollywood mansion

Hey, Stars and Stripes live on forever

Hey, America, America

The barricades so near and far away

The stagecoach leaves town on a mission to shoot down the rising sun mark on a pack of Lucky Strikes[6]

Hey, camonna-my-house America

America the illusion, even though it’s there on the map

The orphan child of the faraway Wild West of the past

America the eagle that eats the darkness of death

That stands up with all kinds of utopia on its broad shoulders

It’s time to wake up and sing

Right now

Hey, America


[1] Mal Waldron, American jazz pianist who often visited Japan

[2] Terayama’s father died of illness in today’s Sulawesi. This is Akimoto, his alter ego, speaking.

[3] This looks like an anti-semitic slur, but in Terayama’s imaginative world, mothers were tradable items. One tanka poem  runs as follows: “Carpenter town / Rice town temple town/ Buddha town / Tell me, Swallow / Is there a town for buying old mothers?”

Horn and Hadart was a chain of cheap eateries, founded in the 19th century and still going strong when Terayama visited New York in 1968.

[4] Jazz saxophonist, though becomes a drummer in some versions of the poem.

[5] Bette Davis would have been in her early sixties when the poem was written

[6] Reference to the red disk emblem on the cigarette packet, mixed with a reference to war against Japan.

There are several quite different versions of this poem extant. I have mostly used the version in the second book of the first volume of collected poems and shortened it by some ten lines.