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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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The Wall of Maps

Sometimes, though, my father stood before his wall of maps.

Before I touched the door to open it

I’d know: his welcoming “Come in,”

did not sound indistinctly

from the far ends of the room, but came from right beside me,

just the other side of the door. I’d push it open

slowly, so as not to hit him, though my

eagerness argued otherwise.

Hands behind his back he stood, and I

would stand beside him, hands behind my back.

He’d rock a little on his feet, toe

to heel, and I would wait until he let

the forward motion spill into a step,

which took him to the map he’d chosen;

this he’d tap, and start to talk.

 

“England,” he said, when I was five. “Do you

remember where England is?”

As he spoke, he lifted me, the rough tweed

of his jacket on my arms, the smell of him—

pipe smoke and body—so much flesh to him, so much more

muscle and bone than me, or even my mother,

and a smell to match: heavy, warm, and

masculine.

 

He stood before the map of Europe with me

in his arms, and I pointed. “That’s it, all right.

Merrie olde England. Who lived there?”

“Robin Hood. And Queen Elizabeth. And

King Arthur.”

“Exactly. You will amaze your teachers

with your grasp of English history.”

 

He had not one world map, but four:

In one the world looked like a flattened oval,

nothing like the globe; The second showed

two circles, one too many, obviously. The third,

to which I retreated as one sinks into

the lone upholstered chair in a house

dedicated to straightening your spine,

sat foursquare on the wall, its lines

all straight, its intersections all

at ninety degrees. That this was nothing like

the globe didn’t bother me; this was no

misguided imitation; just itself,

modest, limited, useful.

 

The fourth map showed up in dream,

a nightmare, when I was seven. All the land

in the world was sliding off the edges,

ocean pouring into space, a waterfall

that dragged islands, whole continents, over

cliffs invisible and infinite.

When I saw Niagara, years later,

I was not impressed. And when I read

about the whirlpools, and the depthless waterfalls

in Edgar Allen Poe and others,

I got deja vu.

                    This map showed

the world sliced up, big sections missing

from its top and bottom. Where did they go?

How would you get from Greenland, on one slice,

to Iceland, on another? When at last

I could bear to look at it, I decided

you would have to travel south, below

the tip of the slice, and then back north again,

as if sailing round the tip

of Africa or South America. A long, long way to go,
to travel such a short distance.

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