Oh say, can you see?

Stars and stripes everywhere, of course, and white pillars, like those identifying the big white house that is impossible to approach, even to reach the stipulated distance.

Monuments, memorials. Grand Lincoln on his marble throne taking me back to grade school where I had to memorize the Gettysburg Address. The sound of the words returns to me as I stand reading the text here, and the next day at the stunning Library of Congress, the Jefferson Building, where Lincoln's neat handwriting is on display, behind glass.
Heading south, this is a good start. "Now we are engaged in a great civil war." It is a war identified by many names. Most commonly known as the civil war, the further south I get, it is called the War between the States (Fort Macon), or the war of Northern Aggression (Savannah). Here in the capital of the nation, however, the emphasis is on the triumph of having kept the states under one flag, and what a splendid capital it is. The looming neo-classical buildings, the hum of argument that must be going on inside the hotels, and the office buildings as people try to persuade one other to cooperate or resist. Still a kind of civil war. In the news I hear about a broken congress, or broken government, but outside everything is beautiful; bright sunny days, brisk autumn winds, wonderful fall colours, red and gold being the coin of the season. With my personal guide to steer me to the best places, including the brilliant café at the Museum of the American Indian, which offers such native foods as alligator and blue corn bread, I pass through Washington without having been touched much. Only security everywhere and the bollards that go up, preventing access to any kind of close up view of the White House, only those things rouse the anger I used to feel at policies that seemed a joke in this so-called land of liberty.

I left the country to protest all that transpired during the Vietnam War and the inspired design of the memorial to that war amazes me for how it evokes the darkness of that time. We walk along the path beside the black marble bearing the names of all those poor soldiers sacrificed for something abstract and absurd as the domino theory and are literally overwhelmed by its shadow, even my tall friend Jimmy.

On my last morning I try once again to glimpse the White House, and it is a perfect day to walk the length of Pennsylvania Avenue, but no luck. I am stopped a block away, and so head back to Union Station, but by a side street that takes me to Ford's Theatre and the house where Lincoln died. Relics of history everywhere, and of conflicts that have morphed into different forms. Beneath its gleaming white beauty, the bones of Washington rattle.

Quebec to Montreal to New York

Aur revoir, belle ville, this cold sunny morning. Cold, sunny. On to snappy Montreal, St. Catherine's Street a profusion of red ...  poppies for Remembrance Day,  roses for Hussain, luscious long stemmed red roses, one of which survived the long walk up St. Urbain to Mile End, and fit perfectly in a wine bottle at Hil and Lil's place. Lunch at the Local Café, smoked salmon on a Montreal bagel. Leonard Cohen singing Halleluhjah. Snow flurries outside the window later that night, and in the morning.

Yes the morning, over the bridge, a last look at the St. Lawrence. Stop, the border; go, welcome to New York. Lake Champlain, Champlain, Champlain. The one long whistle blowing around bends, rock-cobbled coves. Thoreau came this way in 1850, started in Boston and travelled to Montreal for a fare of seven dollars, his goal being to take one honest walk in Canada "as I might in the Concord woods on an afternoon."
    Lake Champlain, then darkness, then New York City. Up the subway stairs at 14th St and 1st Avenue, and it's like someone has injected me with a sudden spurt of oxygen. Everything is faster, crisper. Nine-thirty, people indoors, out of doors, wind blowing, garbage blowing, darrrk, yet bright under the lights of Tompkins Square where the yellow leaves of a spreading tree glow as if with fairy light.

   Up a flight of stairs, up another, another, another, finally arriving at Five W, where friend Liz greets me with tea and we talk and talk and then sleep and morning breaks. One day. One day?  Heading down and over to Soho, I hear a man calling from a shaded door well. Bunny, Bunny! A cardboard flat of pizza slices rests on the edge of a garbage can, just in case somebody is hungry enough to ignore the proximity of God knows what. Walk, walk. There, McN's, the bookstore with its see-through book printing machine and an African American barista who styles his hair in an exuberant Mohawk. Good fusion, that. African American hair texture holds the Mohawk proud. And Allan, at last, in person, this native of the neighbourhood who is the King of graffitti photography and fills in his life story before we move on to Housing Works Bookstore and its tempting bins, tempting cases, beautifully arranged, the dark wood shelves, the dark wood railings around the balconies. But one day, one day! We say goodbye, we will meet again.

Uptown, Petra with the thin eyebrows, the blue shadow, the Slovak accent everyone mistakes for Russian. In the next booth a thin faced woman in dark glasses, her fine blown blonde hair, her lipstick smudged, with her maid. Or her attendant, or maybe I am making assumptions. Maybe this is not her only possibility for lunch but a joyous choice. Out the window of the Lennox Hill Grill city workers with brown Central American skin. A generation away from their indigenous ancestors who dressed in parrot feathers, perhaps, now outfitted in fluorescent vests and hard hats on the crazy streets of NY.

The day is going, what to see? William Kentridge's The  Refusal of Time. Fabulous. A non-linear narrative that comes together in a statement/observation as I sit on a chair between three huge screens, looped images, music that haunts, hollers, itself underscored by the elephant behind me, the machine that labours, the breath, the heart,  the tock of the clock, the beat of time that dares us to refuse it. More! More! Poetry! Seamus Heany's imagined butter coming up from a deep bog still white and salty, the precise sound imagery of his diction, all those poets and writers reading Heany's work with reverence and affection. Even Paul Simon, and the prolific Colm Toibin, all with memories of the great late man, but paying tribute with his own words. On, on, Venezuelan arepas, sleep. Goodbye till next time fifth floor Liz. On the crosstown bus fathers taking their children to school. Little Henry's boots are printed with orcas and they keep slipping off, as if the orcas are straining to swim away through the snow flurrying about the neighbourhoods of Manhattan.

To Penn Station, coffee from Zaro's, where two servers speak to one another in French, and I think of Pelagie, but no. L'homme vient de Haiti, l'autre de la Côte-d'Ivoire. "That's in Africa," she says. "My mother taught me."

11:35 AM, the Regional, #125 pulls out right on time, with stops in Trenton, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wilmington Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, the city/state names rhythmic as the swaying car that carries me to Washington, D.C. Union Station. Be careful when you disembark ladies and gentleman. There is a space between the car and the platform.