Scene4 Magazine: Mika Oklop-"Amerika For Beginners" | Lissa Renaud | March 2012 |

Lissa Tyler Renaud

Scene4 Magazine-reView

March 2012


The five parts of Amerika for Beginners constitute a significant body of Milan Oklopdzic's commentaries on expatriate life in Northern California. Jointly, these parts continue the story Oklop told in The Former Future, which Scene4 gave its first publication in December of 2011: the harrowing story of Oklop's diasporic trip, prompted by the Balkan War, out of the former Yugoslavia. To introduce Oklop to U.S. readers in December, I wrote in part:

    Many of Mika Oklop's writings in English tell his own calamitous story: that of a prominent man in the arts and his family displaced by a war in our time. His is the moving story of a man of culture cut off from his culture, a man of letters cut off from his language: a timely story of an "America" that became Oklop's "Amerikaka," irreconcilable with the golden U.S. his family and friends were imagining back home. From his background in the classics, you may notice the beautiful construction of his stories; from his love of the Beats, listen for the writings' underlying, forward-moving pulse. From his Surrealist influences, note the disruption of time, words that are invented or used in mystifying ways, and sentences that begin to make sense and then devolve. From Absurdism, note the absurdism. Being a man of our time, Oklop's writings are sprinkled with media and pop culture references. Phrases sometimes surface more than once, giving us the uncanny sense that each piece of his writing is part of a larger, fully realized whole.

You can find the full texts of both that introduction and Oklop's The Former Future at:

Amerika for Beginners is composed of three stories and two poems, each of which explores a different aspect of Oklop's life as a refugee in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s. Each of these five parts stands alone as a piece of prose or poetry; grouped together under the title Amerika for Beginners, they also create resonances with one another that deepen the entirety.

It is telling that the first segment is The Marquise of Blue Dreams, which tells the delicate and complex story of hosting a friend who arrived bearing the trauma of war with her. The experience of being Here and hearing of the horrors There is foundational to all of Oklop's writings of this period. As if no shared reality can contain a private madness, the writing itself skids off into surreality, grasping now at a phrase in Latin, now in Serbian, then at disorienting words such as "curved" and "drawned"—words we suspect have meaning in some unlocatable dimension. Regarding Oklop's use of language here, it is also interesting to note that the climactic scene has a filmic quality: the action unfolds visually, in dire silences or in speech that reflects a state of fragmentation—the fracturing that film excels at capturing where language fails to serve.

The poem that follows is entitled Forbidden Calendar, which tips us off that we are in an inexplicable world where even the months of the year are perceived as a threat to the State, where Thursdays might randomly be declared illegal. Each attempt to communicate with a friend "back home" is stymied by censorship or a yawning cultural gap, if not vanity and, of course, grief. Everything he might be able to write about freely—a jar, a pencil sharpener—is irrelevant; everything he can't write about—a mysterious letter, unmentionable encounters—looms large, hovering unarticulated. Falling over himself to satisfy his correspondent's fantasies of American Life—the house, the car, the "contacts"—he is unable to reveal his own profoundly fragile condition. (Are we "glad" to receive official refugee status? Are we "happy" to be safe here when our home is bombed there?) The initially upbeat missive unravels, haunted by the past. The poem hangs suspended at the end, choked off by the writer's self-censorship, by his outrage and despair. The story that precedes this lurches into splintered, warped silence; it is in gasps, in a spiral, that this piece seems to advance into its own, poisonous silence.

In so many cities today, one's work life transpires in stark contrast to the lives of the homeless all around. In Bay Area for Beginners: Potrero Hill Blues, Oklop turns this notion on its head, showing us just how alike the worlds of the affluent and the destitute really are. Indoors, the design specialist talks of early American styles and colonial era poetry; outdoors, the homeless man wears a colonial style jacket and has a serious penchant for poetry. The speakers inside and on the street share a highly rhetorical style of speech, sprinkled with apt quotations. The speaker indoors has a wheelchair and his legs are disabled; the man outdoors has a shopping cart and his teeth are missing. The story hinges on the word "simplicity": indoors the speaker propounds simple living and a lack of adornment, while outdoors the conversation also centers  on the life lived without encumbrances. The two figures are bound together by their shared values, without knowing it. And the narrator stands between them, poetic, disabled and homeless in his own ways—and even just trying to pop outside for a smoke, he can't escape the war in his native country.

The last story of America for Beginners, Duke's Children, is among Oklop's most personal pieces of writing; it has certainly been an audience favorite in public readings since 2010. Here we see the familiar limits of parental influence in action. In Oklop's home, the generation gap is further widened by the cultural gap between an intellectual's Belgrade upbringing under socialism and a teen's West Coast upbringing in the years when ghetto culture moved from the margins to the center of pop consciousness. The joke here is that the bewildered parent isn't wishing his twisting-and-shouting child would listen to proper classical music; now the exasperated father is coaxing his conformist son away from commercial rap towards the wild, freedom-lover's jazz.

The title poem that closes this group of pieces, Amerika for Beginners, is a beginner's manual for escape and he is an expert—but once the escape is made, the expertise is useless, the feeling of success fleeting. The simple cheese pie that marked Oklop as hopelessly Old World in the previous story surfaces again here, and with it, shattering questions about the voyage our beleaguered narrator chose to undertake from his home. In the opening story, Dragica's suitcase is too empty; in the closing poem, Oklop's suitcase is too full: No matter how much you carry, what you really bring with you is those questions. 

The segments that make up the larger America for Beginners address major facets of immigrant life: the stories that come to you from the home you've left, the stories you try to send back home; work life in a new country; raising a family there; trying to position yourself internally where your external body now resides. They deal with war and friendship, censorship and sorrow, simplicity and interconnectedness, parenting and art, freedom and longing. In Oklop's world, we are all refugees from something, and the only safe havens are human connections and the arts (heavy on the jazz, please). As such, for all of us facing uncertain voyages, Oklop has left an eloquent and germane beginner's handbook.

America for Beginners rounds out the early years of the tale Mika Oklop began with The Former Future. Oklop lived more than a decade after completing America for Beginners. He continued to write—during those years while he slowly graduated from being a Beginning American to being an Intermediate American—stories that are delightful, anguishing, told in a voice both authentic and startling. The stories of his adventures in the Bay Area are really metaphors about everyone everywhere. On a Belgrade forum two days after his death in 2007, one poster wrote: "Some questions remain open, but there is no more Mika to give an answer." The next poster replied: "But Mika remains."

Lissa Tyler Renaud, Editor
Oakland, California


By Milan Oklopdzic

1. The Marquise of Blue Dreams

            Dragica P. lives in the Sunset District. She's loved San Francisco ever since Scott McKenzie's song, "If You Come To San Francisco," and since she saw her cousin Karl Malden, whose real name is Mladen Sekulovich, star in the TV series, "The Streets of San Francisco." She thought that all the streets here were curved, and that someone could easily fall in love with her on some curved evening. She came to this city from the former Yugoslavia, and now lives in a former laundry room on 20th Avenue. She has big blue eyes, and she doesn't mind eating canned food, because "you can have it straight from the can."
            She also owns a brown leather suitcase with her grandmother's wedding gown inside. I knew her parents quite well. Her father was an officer who served in the Yugoslav army, and her mother was the best cook in the entire world who never had a chance to own a restaurant.
            Dragica was born as the result of a passion between a Muslim and a Croat, on April 5th, 1956, in the former Sarajevo. She told me that she does not close her eyes, even when she goes to sleep.
            She gave us a call around Christmastime from a refugee camp in the suburbs of Milan, Italy. She wanted to come over here. "I have relatives in Toronto, but I WANT to come to San Francisco."
            After a two-month period of cleaning the kitchen and the restrooms at the Da Renzo Restaurant, she had saved enough liras to buy herself a one-way ticket to SFO. She arrived in early March. It was raining like hell and she looked very pale. I wanted to help her with the suitcase but she wouldn't let me. Now I know she was ashamed of having carried an almost empty bag all the way from Europa.
            "There's no sunshine here, and it's not curved." I told her that the sun is on sabbatical in March, and that you cannot have a curved highway in the vicinity of the airport. She opened her eyes wide, and asked,
            "Do you know why they all died with their eyes open?"
            "They who?"
            "The kids, in Bosnia. They haven't seen much of this world yet, that's why."
            She spent a month with us, in our apartment in Pacifica. The U.S. consulate in Milan had explained to her that once she entered the States, she'd be granted "protected status" as a refugee from Bosnia. She wanted to be on her own, to have a small kitchen where she could cook her favorite meals, and a separate entrance, so that no one could see her Prince coming into, and then strolling out of, her apartment.
            A friend of a friend provided the former laundry. I painted it white—one coat. She insisted that I do it again, and then all over again. It is white now, but she doesn't have any status, and she is not protected at all.
            May 9th was my birthday, and she insisted that we celebrate it at her place in the lovely Sunset District. She made fish in sour cream sauce, and pear and fig strudel, which we ate sitting on the floor.
            At about 10 p.m., she turned the lights off—not because there was any birthday cake with candles to be lit. She turned them off because of the curfew. We sat in her curved darkness, wordless.
            "My father was killed by a Serb; my mother was slaughtered by a Muslim. I don't want to be drawned here."
            In the days of sanity, we used to drop by her house in Sarajevo, where I could meet Dusko the poet, Jadranka the singer, Safet the painter, and others who had names with no profession attached to them.
            There were days of wine and roses in the old Yugoslavia. Or—were there? Could it be that all of us spent our most precious time in an illusory country, where only dreams counted? Artificial dreams. But in those days, I couldn't kill Dusko or Safet; they also couldn't find enough reason to do away with me. Why weren't we left in peace with our hammed up ignus fatuus—our fool's fate? Who introduced this poison madness into the air? There was a song we used to sing before we left: "Uranu zoru." What would be an appropriate translation for this? "The first dawn"? "The earliest dawn"? With the times rolling downhill, we have more and more questions, and fewer and fewer answers. It's not that every question has to be answered—some of them do take priority: "Why would someone spit on our childhood?" "Who chose red for a favorite color?" "Why do we have to grow up someplace else?" "Why is it that all we have now is a former future?"
            "What do you mean by being 'drawned' here?"
            She doesn't say much, and that's what hurts. I understand that she's tired of just surviving. She doesn't feel like being alive after whatever she's gone through. Rather, she has a strong desire to Live, but doesn't know how. How to begin.
            "I'd like to stop diving. I want to come to the surface and get some air. I'm tired of searching for those air pockets. Do you follow me?"
            I turned 46 on May 9th. I did a lot of "following" in my former life. Dragica was trying to say, "Happy Birthday, Mika. May we all be welcome in Free Land."
            But she doesn't say that. Instead, she pulls out her enormous leather suitcase from under the twin bed, and opens it in front of us. It is dark, but her Grandma's wedding gown glitters as if someone had started a campfire in the former laundry room.  She puts it on, and she looks gorgeous. We can see that her Grandma was exactly the same size, but I know nothing else about the old woman. Why would her wedding gown be kept as a family treasure?
            "When my Grandma wore this for her wedding, everyone in the neighborhood knew that she was a virgin. And she was! They danced on that day, and the church bells were ringing.  Whenever I wear it, I hear them tolling.
            "I used to be a virgin. Before I was raped.
            "Grandma told me I should put on the gown if I wanted to meet a prince. I never did, of course; the 'princes' lived farther down the road.
            "See, whenever I have this on, the room starts to fill with this blue color. Everything turns blue. The window first, then the chair, my bed, the flowers, my only shoes… It's all blue, unbearably blue. The books turn blue, and when I open them, all the pages are blue, every word is blue, even those that start with an 'x' are blue. My toothpaste turns blue, then I look at my skin, at my pores: they are all blue. Light blue, so I can see through to the other side. There's nothing there, but I can still see all the way through. Can someone, please, help me?"
            We finished the pear and fig strudel, and took Dragica for a ride, across the Bay Bridge. There were tons of lights on it. We chased the lights and felt great. I kept driving, and our little Ford took us all the way.
            We are still there.

Oklop (with "thumbs up") enjoying the American Dream

2. Forbidden Calendar

Whatever you need, just let me know
You asked for peanut butter and I'll send you a jar
(only it may get broken when it goes thru customs)
of course I will mail you that Neil Young CD
and an electric pencil sharpener
(but it is battery operated and you don't have any)
I will also enclose a letter signed only with my nickname
and don't worry about magazines, they are cheap here
Down Beat is not what it used to be in our boyhood
the photos of our house and Ford Escort are developed
they are all color so you'll know that we have a burgundy vehicle
and a brownish rancher
I didn't get in touch with Charles Simic, he teaches on the other coast
but I spoke to Ferlinghetti last week
and I will include leather shoelaces and a Zippo lighter in the parcel
but please don't ask me names and dates
my greatest contribution was my leaving the country and departing the
you may open the cupboard in our apartment on the eighth floor
and find Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls sitting next to the pepper grinder
I won't forget to include a couple of books in the package and that's all
you talk to the dolls, frankly speaking, they will know more about us

Oklop with his wife, Brana

3. Bay Area for Beginners: Potrero Hill Blues

            "In poetry, as in prose, the Puritans evoked their fundamental creed in their native voice. Often their poems were versified prose, expounding a useful lesson in daily living. Frequently, they are reiterations of pious truisms, adorned with appropriately homespun artifices. Order, logic, clarity, domestic imagery, and a rejection of adornment for its own sake, are the characteristics of Puritan poetry."
            So says Mr. Wendell Garrett, who does not teach comparative literature, but who is a senior vice president at Sotheby's, and an editor-at-large of the magazine, Antiques.
            We are at Beacon Hill showroom, at 200 Kansas Street, on Potrero Hill. It is Wednesday evening, and the rain is in its extended March blues cadenza. Mr. Garrett is giving a lecture on American design, from colonial to neoclassical. I am listening to him, circumspectly, because he is talking predominantly about American history, and also because my wife wanted me to join her this eventide. He talks passionately about styles, and their origins, leaving little space for an audience of fifty questions. He sits in his wheelchair and talks into the microphone, barely moving his head. It is apparent that his enormous energy comes from his erudition, his lust for sharing it with other people, and his clarity. He uses simple words, even in his quotes from Edward Taylor, his favorite and "the greatest poet of New England before the 19th century."
            As an incurable chain smoker, I had to go outside and light one of my Camel straights. It was still raining, and I sort of loved it. Spring rain cannot hurt anyone, because it drops quietly, and serenely.
            I was in the midst of my third inhale, when a voice from behind me asked,
            "What's it like in there?"
            The voice belonged to a bearded man in his late 60s, with a shopping cart that had an umbrella tied to it. Before I delivered one of my "straight" answers, he asked me for a cigarette. His eyes went sparkly when he saw Camels. Instead of remarking on our taste in common, he just muttered into the rain, "I've smoked the fiber dust from my prison mattress. During the war, I smoked dried tea leaves, and I once attempted to smoke dirt. How low can a man stoop?"
            The first time I heard about San Francisco was through my uncle, who had visited for only a few days, and who told me that the Bay Area was "the better part of a dream." I was ten years old then. The next time was through Ferlinghetti's poetry, when I was almost eighteen. Even before I decided to move to the city, I knew about the bridges, the ocean, the blues, and the happy people. I learned about the desolate angels much later, and not through books or music.
            "What's your name?" I asked.
            "Masson. Paul Masson. You spell it as you drink it."
            He wears part of a Haggar tweed suit, and underneath it, a large, colonial-style gray jacket, mostly flecked and filthy. His hair is gray and parted; where there is enough of it, it is long and rancid. He wears a gold earring in his left ear, and a safety pin hooked into it. He is 5 foot 2. He speaks slowly but with steadfastness. He is unshaven, ragged, stained and toothless, which leaves him with no control of his lips. They are like the eyelids of a man with his eyes put out.
            "What's your name, bro?"
            "Mika. Mika Oklopdzic. You say it as you spell it."
            "Where you from?"
            "Yugoslavia—the former Yugoslavia."
            "I've heard of that place. You have a nice war going on there. See, you escaped, but you couldn't contract out of the war. You have delegated all your violence, all your romance, all your glamor to the image of the State—which it spews on you, and that is heavy. 'Would you like to vote for war today, dear? Would you like to vote to go to Bosnia and have your balls shot off? Would you like to vote, dear, to have your sisters and mothers bombed for four fucking years, with a pause for tea, and time to paint your legs?—because I'm afraid we've run out of stockings.'"
            The rain is slowing down and my cigarette's already out. I know that I will go upstairs and talk to Mr. Garrett, about a program which supports artists and institutions, mainly through donations. I know that there will be champagne, foie gras sandwiches, creamy artichoke mousse with crunchy bits of black truffles, smoked salmon served with a shot of vodka, placed on a warm, lightly-crisped cornmeal blini and topped with crème fraiche and caviar. I know that I will hear laughter, untuned voices, and bliss—yes, I will hear happiness once I climb upstairs. But what will Paul do? If his name is really Masson, doesn't the root of the very word come from the French, "maison," meaning house?
            "Where do you live, Paul?"
            "Place doesn't mean anything.  I'm here and there. Feels good to leave a note on the bench: "Paul Masson slept here, and left without paying his rent." Feels even better to leave another one in small letters at the foot. How else can one hope to remain in the memory of the commercial class? I live within, man.
            "Within what?"
            "You don't understand because you're not a poet. I am. I dig Milton, and Wordsworth. They're both dead. All the great poets are dead. Dylan Thomas is dead, and I'm not feeling too well myself. See, I'm the last of the lachikoes. A lachikoe is not a bohemian. A bohemian is person who works to live but does not live to work. A bohemian is an imitation beatnik. A hundred percent beatnik is only an imitation pypsy. I'm the king of the lachikoes, the king of pypsies. Pypsy stands for "poetic gypsy," for your further education. I need money."
            "You haven't explained 'within,'" I said.
            "It's all poetry, and I'm not sure if you can steer it. I am talking simplicity here. Let me quote my blood brother, the writer Jerome K. Jerome: 'Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need: a homely home, and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.' Clean break?"
            I provided a few dollars from my shirt pocket, and he grabbed them without looking at me. I felt as if he expected me to say thanks. Then I went inside and he remained standing there, as if waiting for another jittery smoker. There weren't too many, this Wednesday evening.
            Mr. Garrett was surrounded with listeners. Most of them were high-end interior designeresses, from both sides of the ocean. He had an amiable smile on his face when he answered a question that was in the room before I entered. He quoted Tolstoy: "For us, with the rule of right and wrong given us by Christ, there is nothing for which we have no standard, and there is no greatness where there is not simplicity. "
            While I was approaching Mr. Garrett, I started to think about my middle school math teacher, who was an expert in geometry. The old man told me back in 1954 that two parallel lines extend in the same direction, and remain the same distance apart at every point, so as never to meet.
            If I understood Mr. Masson correctly, the crossing of those two parallel lines occurred on that Wednesday evening. Could it be that the space between those parallel lines is what he meant by "within"?

Oklop with his son, Damian

4. Duke's Children

            I'm okay now. I'm alone here, and it's quiet. Both of these windows seem to seal in the silence. I cherish this stillness, days and nights. They bring me food, yes, but the nurses sort of emerge, as if walking on air, or pillows, and don't talk to me much. They do know my name, but I spend quite a lot of time instructing them in how pronounce it.

* * *

            I was a jazz fan, for years. I don't remember why or how I first got so completely hooked on jazz. But I know it was at a time when jazz music was Against Government Policy. There were only a few jazz albums even around, and the only place to borrow them was at the American Library in Belgrade, in the music section. Then, too, Voice of America broadcast the jazz heavyweights on Wednesday evenings. I'd sit next to the radio, with paper and freshly-sharpened pencil, and write down all the names I could hear. I was lucky with the song titles, but when it came to the musicians' names, I could hardly get two out of all of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Trios were all right because, for example, if it was Jimmy Smith's, I could count on Jimmy's name being one out of the three. Then there were Grady Tate on drums, and Keni Barel on guitar. Of course, it took several years for me to realize that the names I took down rarely matched those on the albums. Keni Barel is really Kenny Burrell—but either way, he played great guitar on The Organ Grinder's Swing album.
            By the time I was 25, I was completely "poisoned" with imported music. I was a regular at the American Library, where Miss Fletcher soon took to acknowledging my interest by setting aside for me the new jazz albums as they came in. The excitement of tearing off the cellophane, of being the first to take the record by its inner sleeve, and slowly to pull it out, and place it on the turntable—these far outweighed the excitement of winning a million dollar jackpot!
            It was important to get to the record while it was still in perfect condition, so you could play it hundreds of times before someone scratched it. Needles were a big problem, too, since they were hard to find, and expensive. New ones might be wrangled from abroad, but only if you had the serial number: a Grunding needle would not fit a Supraphone cartridge.

* * *

            We left our native country and came to the Bay Area three years ago. "We" refers to my wife, our two children, and myself. Our son Damian turned sixteen last June. He is tall, wears his blond hair in a ponytail, and listens to rap music. I used to call it "rap noise," but he forbade me, most indignantly, to insult his musical amour.
            I tried hard; my wife's my witness. I played him Rahsaan Roland Kirk when he was still in the cradle. I played him Parker, and Coltraine, before he was two, and introduced him to Miles at about four. It looked as if he had a budding taste for Mingus briefly, when he started school, but it just never blossomed.
            "I wish you could think of rap as the Big Mac of music; it satisfies only the baser cravings. You don't sit down and appreciate it, linger over it for full enjoyment. You just inhale it, and move on. Or, in your own lingo: 'Rap's a slap to Duke.'"
            "What kind of bull are you giving me, Dad?" Damian said, scathing. "You know what the music you listen to is? Kaput. Dead. Morte. And look what happened to the cats who played the music—they blew their horns all night long for 20 bucks and then got ripped off. "
            "I'm talking tradition here."
            "Yeah, that's problem. Tradition is like going around in circles, and jazz got stuck there. You have to break a circle to start a new one. Rap is pioneering!"
"Rap is the tail end of something. Do you happen to know who started the whole thing?—who was rapping twenty years ago? James Brown. But he was a real musician, and he only thought of rap as a small part of what he did. He was bigger than that."
            Whenever we disagree, my son naturally tries to come up with supporting statements for his positions. I often understand "where he's coming from," but never where he's going. His motives, but not his goals. Just for the peace and quiet, I suppose I could give in a little—pretend to be impressed by the perspicacity with which he has observed the profound role that rap music has played in the dawning of a viable Western music. But I'm afraid of what would happen to me in the hereafter. It's okay for him; his generation lives for the here-and-now; they've barely used a future tense, and it's already past.
            Even when we agree about other things, Damian doesn't give my generation an ounce of credit for trying. "We should have left the country earlier," he says, "but you had to be an incurable optimist, didn't you. Now we all know that "optimism" means "lack of information."

* * *

            I invited his friends over for our Christmas, on January 7th. This was my final attempt to determine whether my son held the views he held because he'd been carried away by culture shock, or because such views were all his circumscribed English permitted him.
            Bay came over—a black guy who knows more about computers and software than Apple Macintosh's COM. And Frankie, a cool-faced dude from Mexico. Chris came, a crazy Irish guy with high blood sugar. And Chatto, a Philipino boy with the widest smile in this hemisphere. I served them turkey with sauerkraut, cheese pie and hot brandy tea. After they ate, they told me stories about Damian; they liked him a lot, because he was different—he was from there, but he digs rap music.
            I decided to play them Duke Ellington's great London concert CD. I chose "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," with Milt Grayson singing.
            "Do you like it?" I asked Frankie.
            "Not exactly." He was honest.
            "Why not?"
            "It reminds me of funerals."
            My son got up and invited them to his room. He gave me a look that was somewhere between "I feel sorry for you, Dad" and "Are you really that old?"

* * *

            I'm at St. Mary's now. The doctor says that I've had two attacks: one heart, one soul. I've also learned that I have two blood pressures: systolic and diastolic. One of them reads 200 and is considered abnormal. What a pity to lead such a normal life, and still have abnormal blood pressure!
            My son came to visit yesterday. He had the earphones to his Walkman stuck deep in his ears; I couldn't hear a sound.
            He told me that I'd be out sooner than we had all hoped. He also said that I looked okay, and I should keep growing my beard.
            "And you know what? I asked around about this bro, Duke Ellington. No one's ever heard of him."
            "You asked who?
            "My friends at school. I even asked Eric, from the pet store, and he listens to jazz all day long. You just made that name up, didn't you?"
            "No," I said. "There are lots of names that sound strange or made-up, though. Take ours, for example: there's no jazz in it."

* * *

            Today is Wednesday. I get out on Friday. But I'll ask the nurse for pen and paper right away. I hear we have a new mayor. I'll send him a note, a brief one: "Where should you start? With the police department? The fire department or the housing authority? The real crime is that there are kids out there who've never heard of Duke!"
            Maybe I'd better not. He might never get it, he might never read it, and I might be diagnosed with three different blood pressures. Easier this way.


5. Amerika For Beginners
[Title Poem]

Take the night flight from Budapest
That's the best
Go to Milan and request an entry visa
The US Embassy people will beam at you
Rent a car with German license plates
And drive to Frankfurt
Buy a Northwest ticket
They are the cheapest
Land at the Detroit airport
And proceed to San Francisco.

Once you're here
The immigration officer will sense
Your troubles, your eagerness and resolve
To become an American overnight.
Don't forget to unlock your bag
And offer him a piece of the cheese pie
Your Mom crammed in there before you departed
To become a sailor without sails.

© 1994/2007 The Oklopdzic Estate
© 1994/2007 Lissa Tyler Renaud, Editor


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©2012 Lissa Tyler Renaud
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Lissa Tyler Renaud, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Politics of American Actor Training (Routledge 2009/2011) and the international Critical Stages webjournal. Known in the U.S., Asia and Mexico, she was a visiting master teacher in Russia in 2010 and 2011. She teaches privately and is writing an essay for a volume honoring Stanislavsky's 150th birthday (Routledge, 2013). 
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