Think List

11

July 18, 2020


American Hearts

Since I wrote here last, I've started a small plant-based food business, returned to working full-time at a Thai school, and found myself avoiding using words; both in general and as tools of self-expression. I don't care to go into detail about any of this, and I know from experience that my avoidance of language will eventually fade, but if you were wondering why these letters stopped (and I'm very aware that you probably weren't), now you know three of the reasons.

Today, I write to you as an expat of almost four years with a question: What is America? I've been watching closely from afar, and I have opinions on the matter. But two things one quickly learns from any kind of international travel are: (1) The places outside of America are not what you thought they would be, and (2) America looks very, very different from all places outside it.

Increasingly, I find myself questioning my allegiance to the US. With the not-insubstantial exception of my stateside friends and family, my life is on the outside. So why should I feel compelled to follow the news that so often disheartens me (the events themselves, but also (sometimes especially) the reporting)? Why should I make the antiquated effort to request my mail-in ballot and send it all the way back to Chicago? Why should I throw the tiny pebble that my opinions amount to into a sea that's already so set in its course? Why should I give an ounce of my energy to any of it? I don't know that I should. But I also don't know that I shouldn't. And even if I shouldn't, one cannot so easily, I have learned, extract oneself from America. At least I can't. It is an inextricable part of me. And nowhere have I ever been more American than in Thailand, where the reminders are nothing short of relentless.

I don't have the energy needed at present to move any further into the weeds on this topic. So, for now, I am asking you, humbly and sincerely, for your help in answering this question: What is America?

Brian Leli, July 2020

When the Peace Dove Is Felled

We were raised by wolves
And we are still wild
And we howl when the troubled wind blows
And in the TV's blue light
Oh, assassins will lie
Every wail just a-goin' down slow

So don't tread on me
For I am your brother
I was born with an American heart
And don't tread on her
For she is your sister
She was born with an American heart

All the people you meet
Down in the streets
May be good but they don't wanna know
So they cover their eyes
For who wants to be sad?
Life is sweet at the bottom of the sea

And don't tread on me
For I am your brother
I was born with an American heart
And don't tread on her
For she is your sister
She was born with an American heart

And the mothers will cry
Fathers stay up all night
With the worry that goes to the bones
And if your God makes war
Then he's no God I know
'Cause Christ would not send boys to die

And don't tread on me
For I am your brother
I was born with an American heart
And don't tread on her
For she is your sister
She was born with an American heart

Don't you get low as hell
When the peace dove is felled
By men with the blackest of minds
And above the din
Let the sighin' begin
As we're bound for the longest of days

So don't tread on me
For I am your brother
I was born with an American heart
And don't tread on her
For she is your sister
She was born with an American heart

AA Bondy, "American Hearts"