Portrait of a Cartographer
- Length: 1685 words (4.8 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Someone must decide how to color maps. Where to put the pale yellow, coral pink, the olive green, burnt orange, magenta. Where to put the darkest shades of blue. The lightest. There is something of symmetry, of composition. There is topography to consider. Demographics. The vast expanse of open land, open water, the sensuous curves of coastline, of mountain ranges, of rivers with their writhing bodies and forked tongues. The color of the ocean is according to its depth. In terms of Indonesia, of Nova Scotia, of Sudan, colors are arbitrary. They reject symbolism, existing only to say look here, I am this and not the other. Differentiation, identity within borders. To imagine each color as a body, each convex to the concave of another, like spoons stacked, like lovers in bed, like the earthen layers of sedimentary rock. Pages of a history book warped from moisture.
In the skies of the northern hemisphere, I have learned to trust Orion. His delicate belt of three hanging sensuously off-center, suggesting contraposto. I imagine he must look much like stone, marble perhaps. Michelangelo's David. Head of frozen curls, rippled abdomen, arms to the side, large curled hands like leaves. A summer sky in Africa, I could not find him so I trusted the Southern Cross. Four stars are one more than three.
I am the space between stars. In stellar cartography, you will know me as such. Smothered by darkest nebula, clusters of blue-white giants. Orphaned objects in deep sky, brilliant for the taking, I push them apart with my palms. I could swallow them whole but my throat is too small, my belly distended and blue like an infant. And that is the way I cry. There in my narrow boat cutting across a black sea, no moss. Carina the keel, Vela the sail. Flapping of white light across my face. Carry me from this world of names, of butterflies asphyxiated, pinned down across blue velvet. Each wing goes unremembered in this sky, this world of moon stations. The phoenix was remembered too late. She needed room to breath; she has choked on ash. No one heard her cry out, but I felt the earth, the night sky quake.
The Pleiades are seven sisters, a young and hot open cluster of stars. Daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Violet beauties, a core of white heat.
They are girls gathering roots; they are a herd of camels. Camelopardalis is a giraffe-Cetus, a whale. They too have their stories, their goddesses, their admirers.
First, I saw a rabbit in the moon. To see the face of a man took effort. It took time. A rabbit was the obvious image. Ears pointed out like the hands of a clock showing seven minutes past one or fifteen past four. Face and belly turned up, back arched, leaping motion. It is only patterns of shadow and light. Moon topographies. For those who believe in many lives, I must have been a Mayan, or from India. I may have been the moon goddess herself.
A palm of a hand is a map. The intricacies of a system of grooves, wrinkles, blue-green veins. Minute grids seared into flesh into memory, born of memory, of experience. Hands can hold nothing as long as this; something of where you have come from, something of where you are going, of where you stand how you soak up this world, how you see it. An eye is a map.
An iris resembles galaxies, fixtures of deep space. A circular Milky Way centered around a black hole that widens and grows small with the presence of light, or not. No one decides how to color an eye. A decision is made all the same. I belong to green. It claims me and a circular window of smoky black keeps me in - looking out.
Mapping is a process of relating, connecting and then differentiating, distancing. A physical dialogue, measurement. Wars have been fought over boundaries. Boundaries of intimacy, self, trust. Through the window of the bus was a field. The field was full of rows. Gravestones or tree stumps. No knowing.
To look at the map of a tree is to know the tree no longer lives. To know it has died so the eye, the living eye, could pore over each ring coiling, concentric, gauging the hour of its birth, death, the highs and lows of existence. A humble monument to a life as it was lived, time as it passed, wind across the undersides of leaves, water through roots.
A gravestone shows no trace. Only the stone itself, raw as it sinks in spots collecting tiny pools, changes color, becomes what is left of whom we knew or did not know.
To visit the cemetery, we needed a map. Plot number, please. Finding her used to be easy. 84 Coolridge Road. Now, we search for row 1 in Lot M or K. Tossed into a sea of stone. We get lost.
Middle Triassic Era: all landmass on the earth is one shape. It is called Pangea. Late Triassic Era to Late Jurassic Era: the landmass, Laurasia, is drifting apart into continents we know as North America, Europe and Asia. Gondwana is dividing to become South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica. Now: we are still drifting.
I have not been evaluated by inkblots but I have watched clouds map their way across the sky in slow transformation, a deliberate dance. They too live many lives, images coming into being, growing, and dying above us all at once. Like film sped up to watch a flower bloom. We are impatient ones.
We are obsessed with mapping-how do things relate and then always, how do they relate to us. Time zones, subways, streets, floor plans, statistics, the digestive system, genealogies, tarot cards, recipes, butterfly wings.
There are a number of people who still believe and try to prove to others that the earth is flat. They call themselves the Flat Earth Society.
There is something about a globe. The way you can put both hands to its spherical surface and feel the mountain ranges beneath your fingers, in the hollow of your palm. The way it tilts on axis like the head of an inquisitive child, held in place by an arc of gold colored plastic. The way you can follow the equator line, sticky and peeling off all the way around to end up where you started, in Mexico or Thailand. Someone must have put the hemispheres together with their hands, painted thin black lines for the Tropic of Cancer, of Capricorn. I used to close my eyes and put one giant spin on my globe, waiting until just the right moment to halt its motion with the tip of my finger. The climax was peering over pink knuckles to find out where my finger and my fate had landed. If I landed in the ocean I would shrug it off and try again.
Spain is colored orange. The stairs sag and alleys are narrow. Colored paint cracks and peels from the walls in patches. The shapes of stucco they leave exposed resemble coral or fern, perhaps certain clouds. During siesta in the afternoon, old men and women sit upon their porches staring into space like fixtures of stone. A small child plays alone at the corner of a plaza. The air is lazy, quiet, warm.
Brazil is a golden yellow. Women walk barefoot along dirt roads holding across the backs of their necks and shoulders a wooden bar draped in cloth and dripping with color. Batik skirts and scarves of aqua, curry, and crimson. Dangling hats to keep sun off the face. Near the water, men will open coconuts for you. You watch them raise their machetes high up overhead catching a glint of sun and let them sink fluidly down into husk, through the shell and then the meat. Drink the milk, then scoop out the flesh not sweet but slimy like wet moss. Let it sink down your throat like a fish.
Peru is a quiet green. Coca leaves fresh in the sunburned palm of an old harvester, the pulp as its flesh is kneaded and body ripped mixed with saliva between molars, incisors wet and white. It staves off hunger and the day is long. The air is thin. Wind speaks an old tongue to old people winding through archways, windows, tunnels beneath rock among ruins. Visitors are a scrambled rainbow of plastic-warning signs to the elements. Do not touch me, do not speak to me; I am only passing through.
To know the shape of home without eyes would I trace around it with the pad of my finger, absorbing each corner, dip, curve. Then to venture into its center would my finger not become lost - an absence of lines to follow-rivers or the highways. I knew a boy who could draw the United States from memory in sixty seconds. Even Alaska and Hawaii. Even Connecticut. I was born into the left side of the chest cavity of my state. The fourth chakra is in the heart. I felt a swelling of energy there.
It may be that the body, seated, from tailbone to skull, is seven chakras. Seven wheels of consciousness, rungs of a ladder. Energy climbing, spiraling up, ascending the spine through to the crown of the head dispersed finally to the stars, released to the one soul that is us all. My colors are green, blue, and violet. I am of air, ether, and light. I speak I listen I see I love.
We are born our fingers clenched into tiny fists holding a thousand secrets. Secrets from the beginning. My time was shared. We were two floating, four fists, two names, one day-the world opened just a little wider. I have my mother's hands. Long fingers, slender nail beds. The paper-thin lines of my fingerprints twist and curl like rivers, whirlpools. They flow so fast. Across creases of skin, bones beneath knuckles, nerve endings in the palm. Even now, when I allow my hands to rest, they curl.