Saturday, April 03, 2010

The cartographer

Morning. He closes the door and steps into the street. The sun gathers its watercolors behind the trees, behind the horizon. The birds are waking, testing their voices a capella. He turns into the woods, the path that leads down to the Queset Brook, to the plank bridge. He stumbles over roots and stones.

The day is a sheet of blank paper, crisp and white.

Didn't he spend yesterday filling it up, mapping the light and shadows, the byways, the flora and fauna, the little exhilarations and tiny fears? Didn't he sketch a picture of the world? Didn't he compile what the poet Adrienne Rich called An Atlas of the Difficult World?

And now the sheet is blank again, an intimidating expanse of emptiness, and he has to take up the pen, the T-square, the French curves, all the tools of the cartographer's art, sketching the path, following its meanderings, noting its twists and turns, so that tomorrow he will know where he has been, what he has seen, what he says that he knows. All day he will catalog the latitudes and longitudes of a life, one life, just one.

By the end of he day he will hold an atlas in his hands, heavy with notations, topographies, the contour lines of a soul. He will fall into bed exhausted, the atlas at his side.

And tomorrow he must do it all over again, trying to remember what he had thought he knew, where he thought he had been, trying to see afresh what can only be seen once.