After a map by Isidore of Seville, c. 622 CE
A loaded word, but just a
word. In simpler times and terms, more about which direction
one faced. Facing correctly,
oriented—the east, or the Orient. Reoriented
from our contemporary perspective: neither right nor
left, our east or west, but upward or northward on the mappae mundi.
Orientem, oriens—the rising sun, the part of
the sky also where the sun rises every morning. Up, as if to imply
over our heads, and slips behind us in the evening time.
How literal and silly cartographers were
back then. Silly as toddlers. As a toddler boy who asks
a simple question: “When my eyes get bigger and bigger, will
I see the whole. World.”
And his mother and father not knowing what he means,
supposing: See it
as it is. As topsy-turvy, turned upon its head, like those old maps
perhaps, which look remarkably as though they’d been drawn
by toddlers’ hands: Their dependence on such thick lines.
Thick black lines, but no longitude or latitude. Though we give them
a lot of latitude for being so simple-minded, such old men,
to think that the world was flat or carried once on a turtle’s back—
our houses being houdahs, our Oriental carpets spun of
magic flax—or a cosmogonic egg,
cracked, poached, over easy or sunny-side up. Made to order. “Order up.”
Silly as Quetzalcoatl or Pangu—moving heaven and earth for you
while walking on eggshells—calculating
Hubble’s constant, constantly counting it out on
fingers and toes and expanding the poles of this
spheroid cosmos, according to one
ancient Chinese legend, like the ends of a breaking
egg separating—as a Big Bang, and as arcane.
Or just plain arcane. Ancient,
archaic. Archaeo-, meaning olden or
from the beginning, like a rising up, oriri, to rise, or *ergh,
similarly, raise or set in motion or stir.
Stirring, too, a beginning: And styrian,*sturjanan, storan—
to scatter or destroy—as much an
end as it is a beginning. As a storm is
also its own refreshment. Or the snake’s consumption of
self is at the same moment a regurgitation of itself:
The Ouroboros, an ancient symbol. Or how the latest found fact of archeology
is simultaneously eschatology:
the last writing being also
the first writing, as in Alpha and Omega. Which is
why the aboriginal—ab origine, from the beginning,
originalis, origo—ever faced
the east, in the first place. In the first
place, which in the last place is why we find ourselves so disoriented. Turning
bigger and bigger telescopes: And so many suns in the sky.
First published in issue 41.1, Fall/Winter 2014, of Black Warrior Review. This poem received a 2014 Pushcart Prize nomination.