PALMETTO POEM: Three Maps

By Claire Bateman, special to Charleston Currents

1.

Perhaps tomorrow will be the day when we at last begin to listen to the rustling and murmuring that rises from the grasses of the world as they beseech us to grant them reprieve. For millennia, they’ve labored to cover the dead, and now it’s their turn— just a brief sleep, they insist, and then they’ll resume their work pending the general resurrection.

And so the earth’s surface will become the resting place of the grasses, every piece of paper on the planet requisitioned to piece together a world-size map marking the locations where the various strains descend to their repose—the Little Quaking Grasses with their susurrations and small inflorescences; the sweet feather grasses; the blue grass of Kentucky, silken with tangled shadows—all coiled around their own roots underground. No, this slumber won’t be withheld from even the malevolent Pampas grass of San Mateo, those spiky blades that dream only of slashing the doe’s fetlock as she steps through them seeking the merest stream.

2.

A relief map of relief is made of water—channels, tides, and turbulent suspensions evaporating into glassy plumes; a relief map of relief is made of light that can’t contain its slowness, and so unravels; a relief map of relief is made of breath, an endless, tingling stain of exhalation that navigates the realms of the quick and dead without regard for form or dissolution. Incalculably heavy with transparence, a relief map of relief is made of melting.

3.

In the late 19th century, it was discovered that the temperature inside the cranium rises incrementally while one is reading or speaking silently to oneself; the excess heat is discharged only when the words are given utterance, their release restoring the brain’s thermal equilibrium. Attempting to trace the pathways of the unspoken, the doctors created charts of that internal lightning as it ribboned through the cerebellum, but they gave up when they detected heat signals even more subtle and enduring than those emanating from the unspoken—how to even begin to track the movements of all that had not yet been thought?

Claire Bateman is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently SCAPE (New Issues Poetry & Prose),  CORONOLOGY AND OTHER POEMS (Etruscan Press), and LOCALS (Serving House Books). She lives in Greenville, S.C.

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