"Travels in North America" is pretty much what its title implies. If the poet cannot achieve any real Whitmanesque enthusiasm for the American landscape, the poem at least conveys a certain delight in variety. It also makes clear that it is a postwar landscape that is being traversed. Los Alamos is on the itinerary, where "tall young men in uniform keep watch" over "The University of California’s atom bomb." Naturally, following a journey across country, celebrating cities and monuments one after another, does not lend itself to any sort of rigorous or unusual structuring. But one oddity does present itself – the poet is not describing a journey being taken or recalled from mere memory. Instead the poem is set up dramatically to suggest that the speaker has a map in front of him and is recalling his journey with its aid. The names on the map not only allow him to recall places he actually visited, but those off the route whose entries in guide books caught his eye.
Finally, even a respect for variety vanishes as the speaker is overcome with the "sudden sense" that he has "seen it all before." It is only at the end that the poem becomes more distinctly Keesian, only then that he begins to brood on the significance of journeys:
Journeys are ways of marking out a distance,
Or dealing with the past, however ineffectually,
Or ways of searching for some new enclosure in this space
Between the oceans.
Kees never says which reason motivated his journey. Instead, he now locates himself at the shores of the ocean, watching the afternoon waves cast their refuse on the shore. Amidst an extraordinary amount of dead, ruined, and watersoaked debris is a "ragged map, imperfectly enclosed by seaworn oilskin." And now it is this stained and partially indecipherable map, and not the road map used at the beginning of the poem,that receives our attention, as the poet slips further and further away from an actual journey and into reverie and fantasy. For the map brings back the past: first a night ten years earlier in Brooklyn Heights, then he quickly jumps to the west and back again past service stations and Ford assembly plants until he is on the "washboard roads / Of Wellfleet," Massachusetts. After this memory of summer vacation,, the poet shifts to the future where he can see, "where you are, and where I am, / And where the oceans cover us." The poem is neither neurotic nor paranoid enough to make us assume that the speaker is talking about either a suicide or a retreat into fantasy à la Prufrock. He may simply be conceding that death is certainly the ultimate destiny of all travelers. One is hard-pressed, frankly, to decide whether this ending does anything for the poem. The first two-thirds of "Travels in North America" are a good workmanlike description of the American experience in some of its gritty particulars/ Perhaps the should have ended before trying to shift from the shared experience of the landscape to the hidden turmoil or memories of a single psyche.