Saturday, January 15, 2011

Maps of Doubt

Doubting everything, especially myself, doubting what
I once knew to be certain, doubting what I cannot yet conceive
as newly manifest, taking down the photos I just put up,
doubting their arrangement, their purpose, their altitude,
and all. Doubting how I got here, this land of permanent insecurity.
Doubting how to get away again, take a vacation in persimmon.
Do you wait for the next two-seater aircraft, or just start walking?
I need new maps. Again, it's not the first lost voyage where all
the maps got mangled. Sometimes they age prematurely, dissolving
into greasy dust the minute you cross the jungle's threshold. Other trips
I've seen maps self-immolate, strange symbols setting their own pyre.
Still other sets of maps, bound in dusty tomes, have simply refused
to open anymore, glue along the edges, certainty ossified to sand.
And there were maps that went transparent in daylight, could only
be read at dusk or dawn. Others folded themselves into origami
cranes, took wing, flapping off like paper airplanes in a furnace.
I keep having to start over, all over again, and again, over: is this
the third episode or the sixth? I lost count somewhere back treading
on the dreams of roads. The roads stay in the same places, although
the places they go through keep interchanging. One week this highway,
black ribboned and dashed with white, passes through deserted country,
the next it's a way station on the lip of suburban landfills. No wonder
the maps keep dissolving, rewriting, they can't retrace routes fast enough
to keep up with changing lands around fixed roads. All the labels
are in pencil, provisional, ready to be erased the hour you read them.
Bridges move upstream and down, you find the road leads
suddenly to thin air mid-traverse. I need new maps, not new roads.
The back alley swordsman happens to be practicing his kata today
under my kitchen window. Yesterday it was silent deer who wouldn't
answer my questions. How am I supposed to be gentle with life when life
isn't gentle with me? If I told you, deer, what had been happening,
if it were a script for a made-for-TV movie, no one would believe it.
Maps are supposed to symbolize the real world, not replace it.
Charts made of representation. A map of the world would be the world.
Sometimes maps reproduce, quietly, in the dark glovebox. A fresh take
on the state highways appears between two grimed elders. No account
for it. There was a map, once, where all the roads had been written in blood.
There were parchment bookmarks glued to the endpapers, layers translucent
and dried, dead skin of the lover, ink of bile and dried secretions.
Deep creases where it had been folded too hard, too often.
Green indicia scribed in dried liver paté. Red markers for waysides
visited too often. Blue blood for highways that kept being repaved. Eventually,
we had to burn this map, it had marked too many habits between us.
Sparks rose from the bonfire, and the flames turned aquamarine.
Once I built a railroad, brother, can you spare a rime?
Things unwrite themselves, taking back their names. Convenience isn't enough
for keepsakes. If you don't use it for six months, it's got to go. The same
for maps and lovers. Candy skulls left in tree boughs for the local gods.
You pull up behind a Cadillac on some wet road somewhere
and the license plate is a smug commentary of ownership.
Whose road is it anyway? Whose maps? The self-satisfied bastards
never have any doubt of their own importance. Or they won't admit it.
I doubt myself all the more when everyone else seems certain. Who knows?
Maybe they're right, and I'm just lost. One map here, pitched crimson
for anger, keeps me true, keeps my tires on the blacktop, mostly.
Not all advice is worth the price you pay in conforming to someone
else's maps. Who draws these things, anyway? A map of the terrain
is always a record of a private agenda, what to put in, what to leave out.
Things unsaid, during the unnaming, unravel when revealed.
A map too clear in its conclusions invites suspicion, evokes my doubt.
Maybe I've set up camp too well here, a permanent bivouac in the land
of missed opportunities, of indeterminacy. The tents billow in the winds
of change. One day the cookfire pit lies across the great divide, another
it's too close to the lake edge. We stay still as the ground moves underneath.
I'm losing my direction. I fall back into doubt. It's almost a friend, by now,
this doubt. It's more sure to turn up at camp, marching out of the night's
dark middle, settling down, a little uncertain of its welcome, on a stump.
It tips its hat back from its face, that face you can never be quite sure of,
and begs a taste of whatever's on the spit. Some weird hank of roast.
The guides couldn't identify the beast when we shot it, lost as we are
in this bush. Useless, every one of them. How can I be sure of you?
Here where there are no more maps.

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3 Comments:

Blogger David-Glen Smith said...

Some wonderful imagery and lines exist here: origami maps, candy skulls hung in trees, old pages in books. Beautiful words.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

My head's too tied up in my own work at the moment - yours is the last blog I'm reading before I need to get back to work - and nothing's going in. I like the concept and the imagery but I can't be objective so the best I can do is point out a couple of typos: The back alley swprdsman, Yesterday it silent deer who wouldn't, If you don't use it for six months, its got to go.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

David-Glen, thanks for those comments. Some of those images startled me, too, when they came forward.

Jim, thanks for the typo checks, which I'll fix where needed. I appreciate it. I know these poems don't do a lot for you, and that's okay too.

10:33 AM  

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