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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Cities inside Us

(The Bay, New York, 1922 by Joseph Pennell, 1857-1926,
American artist and author)

Each of us may be a world unto himself, arriving from a different place, carrying a different past, but coming together in community.

“The supreme value in the American scale of values is goodness; human reliability, goodwill, devotion, helpfulness. Hence the American kindness which is so striking a feature to foreign visitors,” wrote the French philosopher Jacques Maritain (1882-1973). “Americans are ready to help, and happy to help. They are on equal terms of comradeship with everybody. And why? Simply because everybody is a human being. A fellowman. That’s enough for him to be supposed worthy of assistance and sympathy — sometimes of exceedingly thoughtful and generous attention. When you arrive in this country, you experience in this connection a strange, unforgettable sense of relief. You breathe more easily.”

Maritain traveled frequently to North America and lectured at the Universities of Toronto, Notre Dame, and Princeton, among others. He also helped draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


We live in secret cities
And we travel unmapped roads.

We speak words between us that we recognize
But which cannot be looked up.

They are our words.
They come from very far inside our mouths.

You and I, we are the secret citizens of the city
Inside us, and inside us

There go all the cars we have driven
And seen, there are all the people

We know and have known, there
Are all the places that are

But which used to be as well. This is where
They went. They did not disappear.

We each take a piece
Through the eye and through the ear.

It’s loud inside us, in here, and when we speak
In the outside world

We have to hope that some of that sound
Does not come out, that an arm

Does not reach out
In place of the tongue.

~ Alberto Álvaro Ríos, born 1952, American writer of poetry and prose

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