The tram conductors will strike tomorrow—
Efren buttoned the top of his coat and
adjusted his scarf. With old men it is always politics or the past,
and usually they are the same.
The too-loud discussions closed
as the door closed in the bar behind him.
He crossed to the other side of the canal. No matter how wide
the poseidon, he always knew how to get home.
For him, a city was a grid, carvings of our
wanderings and settlements, the layering of materials over materials
and the history of architecture, a city
in two dimensions
and the borders between suburbs, states, countries
spokes in a ladder, oh yes, more like DNA
that you could crawl over.
More than anything
he looked forward to the drawing of borders.
The significant events of history are usually working days
for people like Efren and he knew this before he started
so he can blame himself, only, really, for drinking
1989 was one of those years.
It began with Havel but mostly there were things
that maps didn’t show, the maps you get in school and the globes.
Tianamnen Square was still Tianamnen Square
even after the tank and the boy. It was November
which brought geometry.
Efren should have waited, maybe,
but what joy to unite Germany inside
one continuous line.
This was the time
of devolution, not the swallowing mouths
The wind hummed between his ear and collar. Efren
swiped it away. For a moment, he closed his eyes (a woman
in red biked past him, took a second look).
A month ago, there was champagne. Now,
he drank too much jenever, now,
he was no longer celebrating,
the crowds of the happy liberated smaller
and there were bombs.
Borders come with words.
The more there were, the more we could
leave a place
or the more we could not.
Outside of the central library in Prague (two months
later) Efren met
a prostitute who was trying to get to Holland. Word had spread
of Dutch ease
now that the wall was down.
In the dirt in the street, Efren traced Amsterdam for her.
It’s a rainbow.
Those are the canals. To get from one point
to another you follow the water. As long as you
follow the water, you are never lost. Like longitude.
Efren made symbols
for the train station, the opera house.
This is the Royal Museum
where they keep the Night Watch.
He took the prostitute for coffee and she tried to lead him home.
He let her
and they made love until eleven.
Does a mapmaker believe in revolution.
if he is to make maps or money. Of course
new roads are built
new train tracks laid
new suburbs developed.
Efren unlocked the front door and stepped
on his mail. A letter
he reached down
from Sanam. He put her letter under his arm.
Desert came out of the crack near the seal.
Of course he believed
We are none of us independent
as you are not free of your ladder, the windows
you wash today and will wash again in May.
Efren ordered another round.
The foam slipped a long drip down the glass,
wetting the coaster. He watched it
then turned to his neighbor. You see
that was predictable.
Because he must always begin again.
With each new map, longitude disclosed itself
a little more. He understood its test.
But it wasn’t the hunger of the Albanians,
the Tibetans, it wasn’t their hunger that intrigued him.
Efren imagined rainforests. Miles of the unplanned.
Borders made and broken
unknown to the natives, the wild, the trees.
It was simple
like the desert
but not as simple as the desert.
That is what he imagined,
nights in Prague, Istanbul, the new Berlin. Sanam’s breath
still on his skin. People
complicated by cities, land complicated by people,
people complicated by cities.
*Originally published in Tears in the Fence (UK), 2006