DeWitt Henry

On Mapping

I like knowing my way without a map.  
Like giving directions (more than asking, I admit).  
Like knowing short cuts, mastering terrains:
my boyhood home of Wayne PA
(revisited for a 50th high school reunion). 
My Watertown neighborhood west of Boston; 
Boston itself and the surrounding burbs.
New here as a grad student, I learned my way
by getting lost.  Kept a street map in my car.
“No particular place to go,” sang Chuck Berry.

“I see (as in a map) the end of all,” 
says Queen Elizabeth in Richard III; no palmist,
but could have been, reading fate’s trails.

I click on Google Earth, enter my address,
watch the satellite image of North America
zoom to the Northeast, to Boston, to Watertown,
to my street and house.  See an aerial photo
from last fall, last bright leaves on trees,
red Ford Focus (since replaced by gray
Honda Fit).  At max zoom, everything blurs.

Fun to try my Sister’s Pasadena address
where I haven’t been in years, although
we keep in touch and she’s often in mind.  
On past visits I learned her streets and town.

Boy Scout woodcraft taught me
to read the stars, the compass,
follow the stream or river, 
follow trails and mark them.

After years of using road maps, 
I key in the address on my iphone,  choose
shortest route; on screen, a map appears;  
a marker follows my progress.  The female voice 
alerts me to turns or tells me 
to continue straight.  If I miss 
or make a wrong turn, she recalculates.
At destination announces, “You have arrived.”
I’ll never be lost again, as long as
I’m in the USA and the signal is strong.

The GPS satellite passeth understanding,
like Santa Claus or God, simultaneously, 
each instant, listening to every wish, 
and tracking every car and route.

No more terra incognita?  No trails
to blaze?  No ocean depths?  We act as if.
Exploring in our bodies, minds, and
outer space.  Calculating velocities 
and vectors to the moon, then Mars. 
Extra-terra incognita.  Mapping 
surfaces we’ve never walked.

An age of probes and drones and MRI.
Cartographers of the brain.  Here 
the regions of love and fear.
Here memory, short or long term.
Here imagination.  Circuits like the Interstate.

Overland trails become roads.  
Sea roads, ocean charts.  Genghis Kahn’s
Silk Road.  Our Oregon Trail.  Our
National Road (now US 40).  In crowded skies
flightpaths, skirting storms and traffic.
Earth shrinks.  Perspectives, peoples, trade 
are woven into states, nations, inter-nations.
And then the internet.  Hive mind!

X marks the spot.  And what of time?
Identity?  The child is father of the man.

We search in different mirrors, he and I, 
each with his own desert places.  
There, that youth, so full of dreams
and arrogance, he can’t conceive
of this autumnal self, except 
in scorn and disbelief.  Could I comfort
or advise him?  Can he sympathize, embrace?
Can we admit and wish each other well?

What else is memory, but mapping the heart?
Like feeling your way into a dark room,
even if you’ve seen it once in light.