Martha Hollander’s poem “Three Geographers” appeared in our Winter 1992 issue. Her latest collection is The Game of Statues.
Bending over the map on the floorthat unfolds like a rare carpetwe trace our trip with warm, stumbling fingers.Sometimes we link them as our hands passover landmasses hanging in the blue, dreamingof spicy meals, the coldness of a churchlovers in trains, and new words for cursing them.Travellers begin by stirring from their bedsLike peninsulas roving from the shore.They haul their viscera over the oceans,packing themselves like bottled fruit, holding steadyunder the protean gaze of foreigners.Friends from birth, we will fightand make up, change borders and dialects,while the rock roots of earth hold us down.
In cartography you set out to solve the mysteryof roundness, twisting into viewthe globe’s eternally hidden placesuntil the universe opening in your handsis turned from bowl to book. You scan the textto comprehend the shape of all we know, but there is always touch beyond understanding.Alone in his room, Vermeer’s geographer looks up from the immense sheet before him.He lets his compass hover uselesslyover this mess of paper and pattern (map and carpet)that spells the earth. Behind him, glowing dimly from the top of a high cabinet,is the true globe he cannot see. He gazesinstead at the window where trees, crowds,and shimmering canals afford him a glimpseof the unruly life thronging insidethe exquisite outlines of the continent.There is always touch beyond understanding.There is no solution out the window,only the precise, metallic light as it coats,bit by bit, the vibrating orb of the worldthis day in the Netherlands, 1669.
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