Mappings

Mar 30, 2018

Today’s poem is “Mappings” by Burton Hatlen. Burt was for many years Professor of English and Director of the National Poetry Foundation at the University of Maine (now renamed the Center for Poetry and Poetics) Born in California's Central Valley on a small apricot farm, he moved to Maine in 1968. He died in 2008 at the age of 71.

“Mappings” is from his recently published posthumous collection Elegies and Valedictions, which contains poems composed or revised during his last decade, when he contended with an aggressive cancer. His widow Virginia writes “ Most of the poems in the collection are evocations of friends and fellow writers and resonant places from his past, and the poems at once celebrate and say farewell to the people and values that guided his life.”

Mappings
by Burton Hatlen

Driving north to Millinocket, a
last sight of the river coming out
of Old Town, rolling low hills, then
the sky opening out over Alton Bog,
some tamaracks, still bare, scrub
pine, a clump of birch here, or here,

and on through the woods, sentinel
pines, a haze of yellow on the willows
the birch-tassels swelling toward
spring, Katahdin hidden in mist,
the bad news on the seat beside me,
x-rays in a square yellow envelope,

for Doctor Mac, who will hold them
against the light, mapping my life,
pointing. Here the tumor has spread,
here, and here. And still all about
me as I drive, the mild earth sighs,
shifts in her sleep, and the ravens

attend me as I go, checking
things out, mapping their world,
the first just north of Old Town,
alone, in the top of a dead pine,
and then a half-crippled one,
hopping across the pavement,

one shining eye fixed on mine,
daring me to swerve, and a third,
somewhere north of Lincoln,
circling out over the road as I
pass, not a symbol, looking for
food, a friend, a place to rest.

Poem copyright © 2017 Burton Hatlen.
Reprinted from Elegies and Valedictions
University of Maine Press, 2017
by permission of Virginia Nees-Hatlen.