Kei Miller: “On this island things fidget”

Two poems by Kei Miller, from his forthcoming book The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion


What the Mapmaker Ought to Know

On this island things fidget.
Even history.
The landscape does not sit
willingly
as if behind an easel,
holding pose
waiting on
someone
to pencil
its lines, compose
its best features
or unruly contours.
Here, landmarks shift;
they become unfixed
by earthquake
by landslide
by utter spite.
Whole places will slip
out from your grip.

 

ix.            in which the cartographer travels lengths and breadths

Give him time and he will learn the strange
ways and names of this island: the clapping ascent
to Baptist; the thankful that takes you up Grateful Hill —
Grateful Hill just round the corner from Content; will know
the rough and proud to Boldness and Blackness;
the painful chains to Bad Times; the long and short
to Three Miles, Six Miles, Nine Miles, Eleven Miles,
whose distances, incidentally, are unrelated
to each other; he’ll know the haunting that takes you
through Duppy Gate; the slow that goes to Wait-a-Bit;
the correct etiquette to Accompong, even to
Me-No-Sen-You-No-Come; will know the grunting path
to Hog Hole; the struggle required for Effort; the potholed
roads to Shambles, Rat Trap, and Putogether Corner;
as well, the cartographer will know places named
after places — how this island spreads out as a palimpsest
of maps: for here is Bethlehem; here is Tel Aviv; here
is Gaza; also Edinburgh; Aberdeen; Egypt; Cairo;
and here is Bengal; Mount Horeb; Albion; Alps;
they say — all of here is Babylon.