The hilarity of upside-down maps

Today has been another bleak, rainy Monday, accompanied by oppressive humidity. The one bright spot: I was driving this morning with my two-year-old, doing errands, when a vibrant laughter rang from the back seat. I peeked back to see her holding a street map upside down, giggling in that unbounded two-year-old way. The laughter continued for blocks. By the time I stopped the car, she had thrown the map to the floor, so I never got to see what prompted the giggles – but I imagine I wouldn’t have been able to see what she saw, in any case.

We still have shredded books of maps in our car, despite the fact that we have a GPS unit (mine, because of my complete inability to navigate, with or without maps). Maps are a common subject of poetry, probably because maps do the work poets try to do, except with lines and dots instead of language. We’re trying to leave a record of the world – physical, mental, emotional – trying to say: I was here!

I have been reading Nina Corwin’s book of poems, The Uncertainty of Maps, and love these final lines from “Without Warning,” which describe the limitations of maps and how life inevitably leads us off their pages:

Everywhere, latter day Magellans

trade in their compasses

for user-friendly satellite technology.

But where is the floor plan that tells me

where to put my feet, the sign that whispers

Do Not Enter before I go too far?

There is no certainty in maps.

No telling what they will not tell,

no way to know except by going.

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