Atlas of Being

You make a map of the world,
close your eyes,
and put your finger anywhere,
that’s it, you say
to this home of globe.
A map is like a book, but
where a book demands and dominates,
a map asks to be scried, mastered.
The oceans circle your finger,
lap you with sundog tongues.
The allium rise like planets
to orbit the green rectangle of yard.
Wonder seeps in you, stark as ink.
You put on your shoes and walk into the map.
The street is blue and easy;
the robins tuft their crowns into flattops.
What the map needs, you think, are trees.
The way paper is more receptive to color
if it’s got a bit of tooth. Texture is a matter for the eye
as much as the hand. How, through the bus window,
the accordion folds of new elm leaves
sawtooth shades of green into a grin.
You put your hand to your neck,
you are a red pin, stuck deep,
you put your finger to your lip,
the sound of destination spiraling out,
midnight lightness,
a place to call your body
into the shape of being.



Click here to read Hannah Marshall on the origin of the poem.

Image: “Tree Map” by A. Peach, licensed under CC 2.0.

Hannah Marshall:
How do we translate our world into the flat symbolism of maps? What does it mean to use a map to guide us through our messy, multi-surfaced roads and walkways? And what essential parts of the landscape are absent from maps, showing instead bland green and gray squares of space? In this poem, I was thinking about these questions, imagining myself as the red “You Are Here” marker on a digital map. “You Are Here” is a great daily motto. Ultimately, a map is a poor substitute for the maze of landscape, but it beckons us out into the greater world with its labyrinth of promises, with its diminution of distance. On a map, all places appear close to one another, if you zoom out far enough. But what might we notice and appreciate if we stay aware, each moment, that We Are Here, temporally as well as geographically?

Hannah Marshall
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