The Discoveries of Geography

Andrew Motion

If only the stories were not so tempting –
but from day one I started to embroider,
and in no time was suggesting a country
far to the North
where fish are as large as dragons,
and even minor administrators
eat off gold plates,
and sleep on gold beds.

That is why I have packed in my birch canoe
a robe
made of the feathers
of more than 100 different species of bird.

So that when I have finally crossed the Ocean
I will have a ceremonial costume
rich enough
to impress in my encounter with the Great Khan.

*

We have an excellent long boat with outriggers
and therefore travel dozens of miles in a day.

Furthermore, and speaking as a navigator,
I can predict every fickleness of weather
and also the change in direction of currents,
sometimes dipping my elbow into the water
and sometimes my scrotum
to feel the slightest change in temperature.

These are the reasons I shall die in peace
and be considered a saviour by my people.

In my own mind I am a simple man
who threw his spear at the stars
and landed there himself.

*

Furthermore,
I have in my possession a map:
two handfuls of mud
scraped from the bank of our sacred river,
flattened into a tablet,
baked,
then pierced with the blunt point of my compass
while I spun the other sharper leg
to produce the edge of the world as I knew it,

and beyond
the salt sea on which I am now perfectly at home.

In this way I look down at myself.

I think: I am here.

*

Astonishing, how many horizons are open to me:

at one time mountainous heaps of smashed slate,

at others a vast delta of green and crimson light.

And every day a different shoreline ripples past
bearing its cargo of white sand and dark palms.

Very beguiling they appear, but all encumbered.
All spoiled by the tantrums of their local gods.

Out here there are storms too,
but in the religion I have now devised for myself,
I am convinced
the shaping hands have pulled away from us at last,
so the earth hangs with no support at the centre of –
what?
That is the question I have in mind to answer.

*

You might suppose better charts would help me,
but despite their much greater accuracy
in terms of coastlines and interiors,
and the intricate detail
guaranteed by developments in printing,
not to mention the understanding of perspective,
empires still lie about their extent and stability.

These are the simple deceptions.

More difficult,
as I continue north to my final encounter,
and wave-crests flicking my face grow colder
and daylight a more persistently dull dove-grey,
is how to manage my desire to live in the present
for all eternity,
as though I had never left my home.

*

It transpires the last part of my journey
requires me to abandon everything I once knew,
even the gorgeous costume
made of the feathers of more than 100 different species of bird.

No matter, though.
It is delicious among the constellations,
as the planets begin to display their gas clouds
and the beautiful nebulae their first attempts at stars,

When I look over my shoulder
to see my own blue eye staring back at me,
I realise before I disappear
I still appreciate what it means to be lost.