A Change of Maps
by Carolyne Wright

              "More delicate than the historians'
               are the map-makers' colors."
                        —Elizabeth Bishop

Early fall looks both ways
into the year—how we will outsmart
the distance. Behind us, our childhoods
wave goodbye in the rear-view mirror.

We look ahead, down avenues
of poplars whose buried pasts reflect
in limbs that take root in the water.
Where we are going: the X factor,

unguessed as the gaps between wavelengths.
Our maps:  not the Triple A's
network of routes, its field guides
to speed traps and warm weather;

but navigation charts, parchment
rough as Magellan's reckoning.
Blank seas and terrae incognitae.
Coastlines wandering off in fanciful

directions, peninsulas bulging
wrongly as anatomically
impossible limbs. The mapmakers'
crabbed Latin can't explain

how such charts voyaged into the New World
of our luggage. Magic, we say,
armchair pilgrims, turning page
after page of color-coded nations,

asking no questions of our whereabouts.
Above us, satellites measure the drift
of continents, dissolving vows
of bedrock, offshore shelves conceding

all their striations to the sea.
They track the moon's loosening orbit,
explorer shuttles homing in
with batteries of data, micro-

chips shrinking our wildest dreams.
We roll up the old cartographies,
coordinates overlaid with newer,
more transparent certainties

in the subatomic shadows' glare.
Where now? we want to know of landscape—
houses and poplars and children the maps
and master planners have no idea of.

Our arrival will coincide with the true
colors of our going. We look
both ways for distances that shift
their bearings in our favor.

First published in Poetry. © The Modern Poetry Association.

Published in A Change of Maps, Lost Horse Press, 2006.
(Finalist for the Idaho Prize and the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, Poetry Society of America.)

Reprinted in This Dream the World: New & Selected Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2017).
© 2017 by Carolyne Wright.  

Return to:

[New] [Archives] [Join] [Contact Us] [Poetry in Motion] [Store] [Staff] [Guidelines]