Mappemonde

 

Frau Mauro, 1459

 

Like to the drunken bee who tumbles
out of petals drenched in gold dust
I compare myself, hardly caring
to explain but hoping you understand
what I have become.
I am all a feeling.
After years of calculation, of vague,
blissful reckoning tossed
to the winds, having watched the known,
the unknown, doubt and wonder,
flow and mix like stains on paper,
like smoke and steam above
my ever-changing maps, I am all a feeling.
As if following separate passages
at once, I record the arguments
of pilots, merchants, Turks
and no longer know where the sky
is lowest, the moon most powerful.
Breathless rumor or paid testimony,
one word of it subverts a realm.
From a scattered list of names
and drifting facts I lift my eyes
and look on the here and now
unsure whether I am at the edge
or center of the world.

Europa, Egypto, India Prima,
my mind unrolled before me.
Deserto, Mare Indicum, Here the waters
end, fragrant with burning cedar,
Here the darkness begins again.


Sardinia, Sicilia, Mare Mediteraneu,
Here Caligula held oratory contests
and losers had to erase their speeches
with their tongues or drown in the Rhone.
Here lie the Cyclades, Here Gyara,
so inhospitable rats gnaw into iron.
Cipro, Mount Ada, Africa,
My city, my wine, your eyes,
I stare into them like a thief
waiting for a palatial darkness
to reveal another prize.

Persia, Deserto, Babalonia
--almost impossible to believe
that a human hand could build,
that the same could wreck such beauty.
Deserto, Asia, Mare Indicum, Islands,
12,600 islands, some wild with cannibals,
some with people who look like dogs.
Here beyond the bearings of Anaxamander
I lend a shape and a name
to lands, vast clear spaces
under the tangled heavens.
Here the past and present shift
like a god changing his mind.
Here I did not lose the grace
of one god but found a multitude,
rolled again out of stormy nothing,
black and cumulous gold,
the twice-born children of Cronos
thunder-balled into being.
Here was an altar, a spring, a hill
where they forgave us all but indifference.
Here they moved like thought and desire,
through and under each other,
contending for a season, appearing
like snow on a spring day
Oceanus Atlanticus, Carthage,
where Scipio Minor salted the fields
and cut thumbs off the vanquished.
Deserto, Lost descendants of Affer,
Mare Arabicum, The library
of Saladin's Physician Royal,
Mount Ada crowned with Adam's footprint.
One tribe singing in another's ruins.
Luxurious cities where even women
with shorn hair cast spells and sway
like lanterns on the Plains of Eleusis.
On unpredictable tides worlds flow
in and out; the past always coming on,
the day flowing back, and I drawn
or thrown by currents, unable
to hold what I know, try to race
homeward, outflying ships
from the ice mines of Libya.

The ever-changing shores I trace,
their stories revealed, joined
as if they were my own memories
--Is this a glimpse from a god's eye,
to be everywhere at once?
to revel in an endless precision
borne on an artistry of doubt?
While from the Tiber's stonework
morning climbs and window frost
brightens like a ghost revived,
I fall back into my own
rounded corner of night.
In the lampshade, the bell above me,
moths ring out a wild futility.
Dust knocked off their wings
settles in my wine, spent magic
I offer you:  even futility
has a taste I am eager to share.


A few more sips and I am gone,
back on the shores of western nights,
stardust washed deep into the sands.