David Wagoner

5 June 1926 / Massillon, Ohio

Mapmaking

It's an old desire: a sketch of part of the earth
There in your hands. You touch it, saying, There.
So make your map:
If you have no crossroads, no confluence of streams
To set your starting point, you simply pretend
You know where you are
And begin outlining a landscape, using a compass
And your measured stride toward landmarks: thrusts of bedrock,
Trees or boulders, whatever
Seems likely to be around after you've gone.
You fix your eyes on them, one at a time,
And learn the hard way
How hard it is to fabricate broken country.
You go where your line takes you: uphill or down,
Over or straight through,
Between and past the casual, accidental
Substance of this world. Once there, you turn back
To confirm your bearings,
To reconcile what you saw with what you see,
Comparing foresight and hindsight. These are moments
When your opinion
Of yourself as cartographer may suffer.
Your traverse ought to return to its beginning,
To a known point, though you,
Slipshod, footsore by dusk, may find your hope
Falls short of perfection: remember no one
Really depends on you
To do away with uncertainty forever.
Your piece of paper may seem in years to come
An amusing footnote
For wandering minds, a record of out-of-the-way
Transfixions (better preserved by photographers)
Whose terrain is so far askew
It should be left to divert imaginations
Like yours that enjoy believing they've mapped out
Some share of the unknown.
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