United States by Hannah Stephenson


Listen to the Audio: United States

My first time on a plane,
I look out the plexiglass
pane of the window, see
the grid of fields beneath.
The only sense I can make
of the latticed land: that here
are the United States, shaded
and flat as they are on a map.
Rosy brown, green, taupe
patches far below do resemble
cartoony illustrations of
countries, cities inserted
cleanly into regions
like toothpicks into bread.

To look at it more easily,
we strip pieces from the globe
as you would peel an orange,
press the shapes onto a table
until they are level, more
or less. To understand
a place, create a representation
of it, and then study that.
The key is repetition.
Arm wrestle your mind,
push into it the names
of oceans, of paired states
and their capitals. Land
belongs to itself, and at school,
we learn that the boundaries
are anything but arbitrary
for the ones who devise them.

Think of social studies class,
twenty students facing blank
maps, wiped clean of words
like sponged-off place mats.
How much of a mind
is set aside for learning
how to memorize, for building
shelves on which to stock
disassembled ographies and ologies.

Julika Lackner, “Air-port”, 2007, Oil on Canvas, 46″ x 46″

Julika Lackner is an artist living and working in Los Angeles. Much of her work focuses on sky, air, and
land, and explores playing with the viewer’s perspective of these elements. In her artist statement, she explains, “Painting the palpability of air is the core issue of my paintings….The night sky, the fog and clouds are the phenomena that give visual substance to the air we cannot see. For this reason, the Los Angeles landscape acts as the framework for my paintings as it is the foundation for these various phenomena.”

For more of Lackner’s work, visit her website: www.julikalackner.com


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