A Favorite Poem (Issue #23)


Welcome to this month’s “A Favorite Poem” issue, in which I share a poem that I’m currently into with you. Whether you’re a poet, a lover of poems, or both, I hope to give you something that will please you as much as it has pleased me.

This month’s poem is “Maps” by Yesenia Montilla; I came across this poem about a month ago and since then have returned to it again (and again).

Maps (Yesenia Montilla)

For Marcelo

Some maps have blue borders
like the blue of your name
or the tributary lacing of
veins running through your
father’s hands. & how the last
time I saw you, you held
me for so long I saw whole
lifetimes flooding by me
small tentacles reaching
for both our faces. I wish
maps would be without
borders & that we belonged
to no one & to everyone
at once, what a world that
would be. Or not a world
maybe we would call it
something more intrinsic
like forgiving or something
simplistic like river or dirt.
& if I were to see you
tomorrow & everyone you
came from had disappeared
I would weep with you & drown
out any black lines that this
earth allowed us to give it—
because what is a map but
a useless prison? We are all
so lost & no naming of blank
spaces can save us. & what
is a map but the delusion of
safety? The line drawn is always
in the sand & folds on itself
before we’re done making it.
& that line, there, south of
el rio, how it dares to cover
up the bodies, as though we
would forget who died there
& for what? As if we could
forget that if you spin a globe
& stop it with your finger
you’ll land it on top of someone
living, someone who was not
expecting to be crushed by thirst—

What attuned me to this poem was its theme of borders and family, especially in the immigration context. The opening lines of “blue borders” and “the blue of your name” evoke a vivid image not only of nature, but also of origins, as the speaker of the poem reflects on their family’s history of how they came to be today.

If the theme and imagery didn’t do it for you, then the lyricism will amaze you (at least, it did for me). Personally, I’m a fan of prose-like, metaphoric poems, so this one is no exception. Each line, each word has this pure, even mystical quality to it, with lines such as “you held/me for so long I saw whole/lifetimes flooding by me/small tentacles reaching/for both our faces” reminding me of something as seen in the book The Giver, where the Giver himself transfers memories to Jonas and sparks this great awakening within. Sounds surreal as heck, but hopefully you followed that!

I suppose the last thing I want to discuss about this poem (because really, I could write pages– it’s that rich in meaning!) is the line that particularly struck me, which is “what is a map but/a useless prison?” As an individual who’s really into looking at maps (seriously, I could spend hours just looking at countries, cities, routes, etc.), these two lines definitely made me reconsider the idea of maps, of borders, specifically: after all, they are certainly quite arbitrary, due to centuries of changing politics, war, and society in general. Some borders continue to be disputed to this day, especially with that between Israel and Palestine, and so maps can certainly be “a useless prison” for those in perpetual conflict not only in society, but also personally with family and friends who might have been victims of the random border delineation. In that sense, maps are conveyed negatively, and it really makes you question their reliability. I’m also a traveler, and so visiting cities, whether near borders or not, can be and has been fascinating, in terms of culture and language.

Any case, I’ll stop here, for the sake of keeping this post *relatively* short for you, as well as for myself. Hope you enjoy the poem, and until later!

— The Finicky Cynic

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