Portrait of a Cartographer

Portrait of a Cartographer

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Portrait of a Cartographer

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.

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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.

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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.

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