"We create the world in which we live by the tools we use  
to interpret it"-- Richard Wright via Denis Wood
The secret is always west-- converging rails,  
a featureless plain, stance held to the vanishing point.  
We witness the annihilation of distance.  

It's carefully posed on a trestle near Fort Harker,  
216 miles west of the Missouri, nine empty flatcars  
with three men evenly spaced, plus one in the foreground  
for scale.  Trees are cut for sleepers and telegraph poles,  
the valley all grass and sand. The river is not named.  

The place is vaguely lunar, a battlefield just cleared--  
somewhere we can look up casualty figures.  
The bodies, good Indians, disappear in the grass  
Whitman had begun to tell us about.  Empty flatcars  
wait to be filled.  Journalists mill around, speculators  
busily engaged in making this place more real.  
Kansas isn't Kansas yet.  We are nowhere,  
except in the minds of those men, the resting engine,  
lean geometry of the bridge.  

In this absence my frayed east ends, --
100th Meridian the hinge, the distance.  
The picture, what’s not here takes its place.  
I edit the map, a four color compass rose:  
black ink hammer, red to change or delete,  
green for roads or parks, each cardinal point,  
each stroke closes a door, draws a wall, a sea.  

Grant me the courage to meet myself in the wake  
of the massacre, the whirlwind, Sand Creek:  
buffalo gone, everything suddenly out of scale,  
mountains, thunderclouds, tornadoes, flash floods,  
the emptiness we create, a Euclidean graph  
which flattens and divides. Grant me space  

which shows each face equally, without the skeletal  
trestle,  the tunnel of perspective, the barrel of a gun.  
Let me draw my maps in sand. 

Copyright 2000, Michael McDonough 

Michael McDonough, a graduate of Bard College, is a researcher for Arrow Map, Inc.  He lives in Mansfield, MA, and has performed his work at several venues in the Boston area.