Last night coming down from New Hampshire in a haze of Jameson and Iris Dement,
I remembered in fourth-grade geography the multicolored Rand McNally map of the world,
the pink and yellow countries, the snowy polar caps, how I used to believe
that everything south of wherever we were had to be all downhill,
as if the northern hemisphere had a monopoly on altitude, as if the reason the South had lost
the war was because they’d had to go uphill at Little Round Top, as if when you were headed
for Florida on vacation and you pulled out of South of the Border, you and your brothers
lined up in the back seat wearing sombreros like floppy flowerpots, your father could have just
shut the engine off and lit up a Camel, and you could have coasted all the way
to Disney World, the warm wind wafting through the open windows,
the wind lifting your sombreros up a little, then working its way out the window again,
huffing and puffing all the way uphill to North Carolina. And I remembered Atlas
holding the world on his shoulders, the toughest job in the world, no bathroom breaks,
no days off, and me wondering where he was standing while he was doing that,
and why in science class they never mentioned him at all, the world instead on a wire
in some kind of parabola with all the other planets and even the moon.
And you mentioned your daughter in Africa treating children with AIDS,
and I thought of my daughter flying to Geneva tonight, the plane coming down through the fog,
and we were two men rolling downhill in the mist and the rain of southern New Hampshire,
our daughters alone, beyond our reach, neither of us able to wrap our arms around the world,
our lives headed south, each of us in a kind of parabola broken off from the wires, falling farther
and farther away from the moon. And we spoke of men wiring explosives to their bodies
to blow themselves bright as the sun, men in the White House, men in the war rooms
with Rand McNally maps of the world on the walls, men in the Middle East, the wind wafting up
from southern Iraq, and the two of us crossing into Massachusetts, all downhill from here.