Poems of Place & Displacement

Precise Distortions

An accurate map, point for point, rock for dot on paper,
assigns all places an equal value;
the cartographer is a leveler.
His design is apt
for guiding planes over lands where feet never touch,
or pointing tractors into the right trees.
The topographer's vision, gripped on grids,
tolerates no latitude, nor any longing
for mysteries growing from the soil.

Now ask the tribesman to draw his map;
he outlines his world with a stick in the sand.
His village is at the center, and the stream
where women gather to wash is always as wide as an ocean,
if he's ever seen one.
Burial places have borders,
which trail off in dotted lines
melting into forest and sky.
The lines slope and curve,
nothing remains linear in the sand.
Distortion shows the land still has its soul.

Hold a brand new globe in your hands; spin it,
the entire world is now mapped
with a reverence for rigorous accuracy.

Mt St. Helens, April 10, 1980
USGS Photo by D.A. Swanson

Copyright 2007,  Richard Fein

Richard Fein lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has been published in many places, both on the net and in print, including Kansas Quarterly, Mississippi Review, Oregon East, Small Pond, and Sulphur River Literary Review.

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