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Bull Hill
by David Rothenberg : Editor, Terra Nova

Fifteen Minutes of Freedom

In November, 2003, I performed the following text as part of a musical performance at the Nyyd Festival of Contemporary Music in Tallinn, Estonia, the country my wife comes from. It all started with a joke a Russian French horn player told me, and it goes on to explore the idea of metropolis in a country small enough so that its very existence must confront provincialism. I read the text in English and Estonian, a language I do not understand. I do not know whether anyone in the audience got the point. Perhaps I am unsure of what the point is. You tell me

      — DR, September 2005

One Estonian is sitting on a train
sitting in a carriage across from one Russian.
"Excuse me, how far is Tallinn?" He asks.
"Not so far," says the Russian.
The train goes on for half an hour.
"Excuse me," he asks once more, "how far is Tallinn?"
"Oh, almost there, not so far at all."
The train goes on.
The train goes on just as long as it did before.
The train goes on an hour or more.
"Excuse me, sorry, how far is Tallinn?"
"Oh, not so close anymore."

That train went right by the city, never even stopped.
You know what that's supposed to mean?
The world passes us by.
Our city passes us by, this city right here.
Everyone else misses the point.
Everyone else misses the city because
what do they know about the city?
They know nothing of this world, this language,
this place at the edge
of East and West
The edge of occupation and release,
of independence and self-control
Where the revolution felt itself as song.

The terror of control is in your eyes.
You may not know it, but it's in your eyes.
I see if there, like fifty years of evil weight telling you
exactly what to do.
Overnight the names of street signs changed.
Overnight the opportunities changed.
The rulers changed, the names changed,
we cooperate with whoever makes it easiest for us to live.
Who wants to remember all this?
Not so close anymore.

We're all in it together, with freedom and possibility for all!
The possible world unfolds with no more borders!

Every side says things like that, makes you wonder why words should be used to shape dreams at all,
if language so easily hides the truth of who is making, who is taking,
we will bring our people, so the land is everyone's, we will take anything away from those who have too much.
It's only fair, is it not, we are all one with the world?
Grandma was booted out of her house at ninety years old,
"This place is too big for you," the leaders said.
So many others were sent thousands of miles from home, only because they had done too well or something differently,
from the image of how all should be.
Prison doors are everywhere, on display, in museums,
in the remade town.
Not so close anymore.

In the hope that finally we are once more free.
Freedom rages in music but it's never all that new.
Listen on, haven't you heard all this before?
If evil is so easy in the name of good then
everything we wish for insists on care.
What are the borders of the country, who knows when
we will arrive or of what we should be sure?

What is small about a small country?
What it contains.
What is large about a small country?
What it must listen to and know.
What is dangerous?
When it pretends to be the whole world.
What is best?
How it may be most open to everything that laps at its edges.


Don't deceive yourselves on this, don't imagine anything more.
Track the line between liberty and law,
Be sure it's you this time who chooses where it is you belong
where the trains of decision will stop and what they skip,
on the journey to a future with no more East or West.

I give you my fifteen minutes of freedom,
Funny, it seems more like an hour or more.
that's as long as you're supposed to be famous, that's it.
Not so close anymore.


David Rothenberg's latest book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution, was published by Bloomsbury in 2011. His latest CDs are Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast and You Can't Get There From Here. His next book, Bug Music, will appear in 2013. Catch up with him at www.DavidRothenberg.net.
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