Notes on Maps


At least two poets of some
reknown have written poems
called The Map, as if there were
only one map, only one world.
Marie Howe mentions the Gobi
Desert, the Plateau of Tiber.
Elizabeth Bishop has Labrador,
and Newfoundland, owing to her
Nova Scotia origins. As if there
were only one map, one world.
But what would that poem be without
Norway’s hare, running south in agitation?
Just as I, of limited poetic prowess, could not
imagine a map poem or a place poem
without that high road from Santa Fe to Taos,
without the Little Manatee River, where I almost
drowned. As if there were only one map, one world.
I don’t know if Bishop ever went to Norway, but she
looked at a map of Europe long enough to see the
bunny emerge, and I have looked at maps all my
life, as if there were only one map, one world,
waiting for you to return.

ETERNITY NOW

 

You can put it up in neon

or carry it on a sign,

just as long as people know,

the end is nigh.

It governed your vote for president,

how much you long for His return.

It’s had something to do with everything,

from who you married to the way you spurn

your gay relative, and how you discern

what to like on Facebook, and what to turn

away. I must admit I’m winging it, on Judgement Day.

Yearning

Listening to Leonard Cohen sing “Take this

Longing,” of course I go right on to “Dance Me

to the End of Love,” then to “Hallelujah.” I could

stay with him all day, and well into the night, but

duty calls. Now he’s singing “There Ain’t No Cure

for Love.” YouTube can grab hold and never

let go, but for me it’s got nothing to do with yearning.

It’s the music, and the poetry, and as long as you’re gone,

I must admit I don’t miss you as much as I want to hear the next song.

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water

Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water

In Florida, what delights you
can also kill you: the beautiful
earth where palm trees, sea
grape, and frangipani grows can
also swallow you up in a sinkhole.
That wonderful sea breeze a certain
poet told me you can feel blowing
all the way from Spain at night if you
stand under the lighthouse on Anastasia
Island? That very one can blow to hell
anything and anyone you love. And as for
fire, we love to tan ourselves by the glow
of the sun, but that burning orb is bearing
down on us from above, bringing climate
change and melanoma as we speak.
That ocean you love? A tsunami, in the right
wind, so don’t get too comfortable. All the rivers
have alligators, too, and snakes. Before you make
the mistake of selling everything and moving here, be aware.
On the other hand, there’s a party at the beach on New Year’s
Day. You’re invited – bring a dish. And of course, sunscreen!

Poem 24: To Sleep, Perchance

To dream, but dreams are lost,
for it’s been years since I’ve
remembered mine. I didn’t get
to write my own version of
“The Road Less Taken,” although
I meant to try. Perhaps I’ve lived it,
or will, before I’m done. I know this,
that there is no sleep today, or in
many days to come. I have promises
to keep, and miles to go, many miles
ahead. Where they will take me,
I do not know. But I know I’ll be there,
to meet the rest of myself, when I arrive.
And life, and the memory of it, will be
there, too, I hope and pray. Let me
remember my life better than I
have remembered my dreams, until
I am too old to do anything but sleep.

Poem 23: I Doubt If I’m Up For This

How many times do we say that
to ourselves, when we smell the baby’s
diaper, and know the parents are out on a
date we sent them on, and won’t be back
for hours? When we see the old dog falter
in its steps, and know we can’t stop cruel,
inexorable time? When you, my love, look
puzzled when I try to play that game with you,
or read that poem you’ve always loved, and I
know you don’t remember, you’ll never remember
again, because so many details of our too-short
time together are already lost in the hippocampus,
where young memories go to die. I know I must
be up for this, for loving you, as your steps falter,
and you grow dim. I promise I will take care of
you, and make you laugh, even when you think
I’m just someone the agency sent,
to change your bedclothes.

Poem 22: Love Poem to EB

I know you don’t know I exist,
and if you did, you wouldn’t want
me around, there being nothing new
I could teach you about Florida.
Hell, you camped for days in the
Ten Thousand Islands, and took
too many pills on Fort Myers Beach,
meaning to die there, if Sha hadn’t
found you. So forgive me, Elizabeth
Bishop, for stealing your lines when I
need a great finish, like rainbow, rainbow,
rainbow, or somebody loves us all.
You help me, daily, even when I’m not
writing poetry, obsessively. You help me
practice, losing farther, losing faster, as
we are all losing the time we crave, to finish
what we started. I love you, EB. Rest in peace.

Poem 21: Anne Lamott

I always count on you to say the dangerous
thing, the true thing, about Dick Cheney or
global warming, and damn if you didn’t do it
again, calling out Bruce Jenner for making
himself into a facsimile woman, practically
a Kardashian. I know you, Annie, and I
know you didn’t mean to be unloving to
Caitlyn or anyone else, but that you were
doing that thing we all do from time to
time, making Jesus drink himself to
sleep, or want to. We all embarrass
God when we open our mouths and
“the monkeys fly out,” as Zora Neale
Hurston would say. The monkeys fly when
we get it wrong, when we aren’t truthful,
when we aren’t worthy of ourselves,
let alone Jesus. I’m glad you’ve apologized,
not just to Caitlyn, but to all transgender
people, and their parents, and neighbors,
and teachers, and lovers, and friends. I’m glad
Sam’s got your back on this, telling us his mom’s
pretty clueless about trans stuff, but she’s still
his mom. And you’re still my fave, so get back
to work. Somebody loves us all.

Poem 20: The You Tube

Telling me to write a poem to a
YouTube song is about as useful
as telling me to stop loving you.
First of all, the damn ad comes on,
distorting from the get-go whatever
the song might have been. And
then the damn drums, like the
little boy who is supposed to play
for Jesus, but loud drums make
the baby cry, so what will we do
for a savior after that?
And what will we do, you and I?
Who will save us from what’s ahead,
the stove left on, the Silver Alert,
which we joke about, like its Florida’s
folly, but we both know we will need it
someday, if you get lost and I can’t find you,
on the way to Fort DeSoto or Sanibel. Who
will save us from this damn repetitive tune,
over and over again? I hope I’ll forget it
completely, today, this morning, before
breakfast, and not have it stuck in my head,
like “Three Times A Lady,” or God forbid,
“Come, they told me, pa rump a pum pum.”

Poem 19: My Antonia

Whatever we had missed, we possessed,
together, the precious, the incommunicable past.

If you google this last line of Willa Cather’s
classic novel, you will find out that the book
it finishes – perfectly, flawlessly – is part of a
project called The Big Read. You will also find
the epigram for the book, from Virgil:
“The best days are the first to flee.”

So what if someone changed it to
“The best geese are the first to fly”?
It would still be a proper sentence,
but it wouldn’t say anything Cather
meant to say, not that she didn’t like geese.
Kind of like when NEA printed up thousands
of readers guides, just as they still have it on
their website, with “precious” changed
to “previous,” making Cather into mush.
Making The Big Read into a silly read, a
meaningless exercise in great literature,
asking what it’s worth if we muck it up
with auto-correct and don’t bother to
fix it? Pardon this rant, but it should be
on record, somewhere, that the last sentence
of My Antonia was beautiful, and perfect,
and not to be tampered with. Amen.