My teachers gave me subjects to research for reports.
In that way I came to know about certain things:
fog, geraniums, Wisconsin, and even now have a certain
fondness for these topics, as if they belonged to me

because I looked them up in the World Book Encyclopedia
and paraphrased its contents. I feel similarly about
the Battle of Tours, tortillas, and the solar system.
I was not just a student of these topics, it’s as if we were in some way friends.

But I didn’t have such an easy relationship with map reading,
at least not on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. After my mother
came back from the conference with my teacher,
she said I must have been confused when I read the instructions.

What else could a mother say?
Either way I am able to get almost anywhere I want to go now.
And if I wasn’t that bright about the map, I sure made up for it
when I traded with my friend, giving him a large wooden yo-yo

that couldn’t climb up the string for his pencil box with two
rotating dials, one with the name of the state, the other with the capital.
Try me even now . . . North Dakota? Bismarck. Nevada? Carson City.
Washington? Olympia. Imagine my thrill at driving through Trenton

and seeing the sign over the bridge: trenton makes, the world takes.
My pencil box had come to life. Because I knew their names,
these were all my cities, the glistening domes of the capitols,
the workers in the long brown corridors with the names

of the departments painted on the smoked glass of the closed doors.
Even now I can imagine Des Moines, Iowa, where a man is making up a test.
Another is making little circles. Someone else is filling them in
with a new No. 2 pencil, the rich darkness of the answer, right or wrong.