Cees Nooteboom "Cartography"
for Cristina Barroso


I

Only the bird sees what I see,
the impassable ways in my hand,
a golden and ash-colored beauty,
the surprising accident
of a world drawn only once,
a thought construed of matter,
a painting missing its painter,
my secret universe.

Oceans, steppes, volcanoes, the hummin
of their names from always younger mouths.
My making hand follows their forms,vein, chasm, slope, ravine,
the hidden lines of strata and ore,
diary of desert, of wilderness, of mirroring sea,
that which I am.

II

Ice age, star time,
my past exists in locked-up images.
called out by fire and water,
a registry of resin and sand.

That is how I show myself,
how I hide myself,
in cyphers of height and depth,
layers of color
on an atlas as big as the world.

III

Measure, says the book of maps.
Measure, given.
Measure, real.
But given by whom?
Real for whom?

The tiny plane hovering above the shoreline,
shadow of Phoenician sails,
constellations, plump line, callipers, ink,
the slow page from Strabo,
the prows of Aeneas, Odysseus,
or how the sea changes to paper,
the waves into words,
the exacting task of shrinking,
the art of meter and time.


IV

The inner spectacle
piles question upon question.
Were the dogs visible on that spit of land?
The death of the flies, poison of the flowers,
the track of the enemy,
the surveyor in his hotel?
Who followed the train with the future dead,
measured the slowness of the way?
Fate is not set down on maps.
Fate is all ours..

Grids, shading, scale, the constraint
of coordinates, words of magic
for the world as a thing.
But I go with my living earth
of rivers and marshes, bends and willows,
which I compose in my image.
When I retrace tehem I leave my seal,
a map painted
of soul.