Not man in a metal hat aboard a floating city, not carpetbagger walking jauntily from the train. All colonies begin, after all, in the mind: longing for that hub, the warm fire of London, Paris, Berlin, Lisbon, Rome, Jerusalem. Only there can the gravity of this life achieve its divinity; there, past the horizon, wisdom is won on streets of gold.
Next to this mental promise is always and forever the sword, the mighty brittle sword, cutting straight to the native’s throat.
You who long for the pure identity, for the aboriginal truth, for the phantom heart we left behind when we accepted the alphabet or the railroad, you who know that language conquers all including dream, you who have sunk under the meniscus of Reason into the midnight shadow of what anxious scholars call the subaltern, which only means servant, but no less scary for being quotidian, you bold believers in revolution, remember:
My father showed me his Social Security Card. A small rectangle of time-worn paper printed with dark and light blue ink, with a simple string of nine numbers typed across the middle below his name. Paper.
“Boy,” he had told me, “this card meant I was part of the eternal vigil for the General Welfare intended by our Founding Fathers, as they wrote in the Preamble to our Constitution.”
It was another vigil that took my father away, the hunt for talkative men, opinionated men who spoke about what they thought.
Our Holy Office is eight hundred miles to the east, the Route 66 Building in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My father is interred there in an unmarked grave. Our corporate charter is unusual in that we do not lay claim to particular territories; we build and maintain roads, and as such subcontract with a variety of governments.
Even so, movement is discouraged. The roads are seldom used. Taxation provides Our Holy Office with the majority of its income.
I am a customs agent. I supervise the scanning of many of the shipments that pass this way, here outside Elk City, Oklahoma. Elk City, a city founded by railroad men, for railroad men.
It is such a slow slip into the river of time, is it not, the tight and eternal bonds of blood between nation and merchant-tyrant, the business of both Americas, O Coolidge, is business, the business of your short-statured smile, of your diesel appetite, of your divine love.
Oklahoma did not fight long for the Constitution. Religion and jobs were easy replacements for the people of Elk City; after all, it was how they had been raised.
Not man in metal hat or traveler with carpet bag, no more, the colony extends within, always and forever within, seeking markets in our soul and trading posts in the medulla. The logic of trade is tragic in its immensity, having no innate moral valence: it is like the physics of asteroid fields, marking transits of orbit to orbit, collision to collision. The only end is movement; wheat, fetuses, gold or slaves. Movement, forever on the move, old son, old daughter of my eye.
She is under the train and the jackboots are scanning her from above but I don’t think they have X-rays for some ridiculous reason, probably a copyright dispute. Remote monitored but not directly controlled; they hover at one hundred feet as I crouch under a lip in the railroad embankment, my daughter only 25 meters away, under the old steel train, attaching her mapping pod.
Maps are treasure for us. Reliable data.
I have my rifle but it would be slow suicide to fire on the drones; I am not wearing my ID. In this, again, I am unusual man: to facilitate my movements I have been only partially biometrically scanned. Though I have not visited the neighboring corporations, being only imperfectly databased is an advantage when it comes to such official travel: you can still talk fast and make impressions before executive summaries are sent to buyers’ hands.
I close my eyes and wait for the hum to diminish: a statistical forty seconds elapse between stimulus and response for this model drone. I can hear my daughter’s breathing.
Brother, this is my testimony to you. Do you remember that old flag? Have you seen it? Do you remember the state birds and trees? For my father it was mockingbird and pecan. What was it for your father? I wish I could sing with you some old song we both might know.
The hum is fading away, fading west.
“Rebecca!” I hiss.“Strap it on already.”
“I’ve got it,” she whispers back. And we are running back home, running, running in our night.
Every night I see the debates on the inter-county screens: the thousand comparative sufferings that are the legacy of a complicated continent. I know my father felt as I do, old unreconstructed Marxist that he was, that this obsession ultimately slowed revolution, slowed the mobilization of angry populations to war.
Our Holy Corporate Office does not care what color my skin is except insofar as its melanin concentration marks a biometric datapoint. My native language is interesting demographically but not politically. No, no, it is my access that counts in the end, a number on the screen, a codeword coded down into a variety of linked mountaintops, satellites, and nuclear submarines, an invite list for oligarchy. Which house, which train, which river and which orbital flight belongs to me and mine? None for me, brother, and none for you either.
The Chattanooga Choo-Choo will leave Elk City at 23:00 hours tomorrow night: the mapping pod will record its route and transmit this data in a final burst when it reaches the Pacific, some two days later. By then I hope to be in Texas.
“Jamila isn’t coming,” Rebecca says, watching me, watching the sky.
“We can still trust her,” I say.
“What will they do if they catch us?” my daughter asks.
“But what if they do?”
Texas, my father’s state, is already almost mythical to me. Original and aboriginal.
I told my daughter we were lighting out for the territory. The territory, child, always and forever thirsty, which is what a territory is by root: a thirsty patch of ground. I who thirst for the ways of my ancestors am lost, and lost again, because I no longer know what it means to be a man.
I am not a tree or a bird, I am not a national or a tribalist. I believe only in the community of Man, and yes, our manifest destiny of the stars. Is an absence of boundaries a boundary? It is what Che Guevara longed for, that old madman.
I watch my daughter walk ahead of me and admire her strong legs: we will make it to New Mexico on foot, I know it.