A Cartography of Home
My mother was a place. She was the where
from which I rose. Once on my feet, I touched
my forehead to her knee, then thigh, then hip,
waist, shoulder as I grew into my own wild country,
borderless, then bordered, bound
by terrors, terra incognita and salt seas.
I took my compass rose from her, my cardinal points,
embodiments of wind and names of cloud,
but every symbol in the legend now
belongs to me—rivers, topographic lines and shading,
back roads, city streets, highway lanes that end
abruptly at the broken edge of cliffs
where dragons snorting fire
ride curls of figured waves in unknown seas.
Monsters mark the desert blanks on her charts too.
Before she died, I folded myself back
to pocket-size, my children tucked inside
like inset maps and I lay my head down on her lap.
My mother stroked my hair
the way her mother had stroked hers,
and hers before hers, on and on, and we
remained like that—not long—but long enough
to make an atlas of us, perfect bound,
while she was still a place and so was I.
Editor’s Note: The beautiful sonics of this poem (alliteration, assonance, etc.) supports its emotional backbone as the speaker draws a map of love and inheritance from mother to child.