A breakthrough book from a significant poet.
Carta Marina: A Poem in Three Partsby Ann Fisher-Wirth
A vivid, strange, and beautiful account of a year in Sweden, this poem represents the ways in which wildness and monstrousness, dream and terror, coexist forever with constructions of order. Inspired by a medieval map of the same name, the poem weaves the gloom of the author’s forgotten past with the pain and pleasures of her present life, creating a treatise… See more details below
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A vivid, strange, and beautiful account of a year in Sweden, this poem represents the ways in which wildness and monstrousness, dream and terror, coexist forever with constructions of order. Inspired by a medieval map of the same name, the poem weaves the gloom of the author’s forgotten past with the pain and pleasures of her present life, creating a treatise on motherhood, marriage, love, forgiveness, reconnection, and abandonment.
"Passionately and precisely, sensuously and learnedly, Ann Fisher-Wirth’s Carta Marina maps the terrain of our earthly fidelities and losses, calling them forth in all their varying shapes and flavors, by name. These poems summon abundance, recording in their pages a fully inhabited, fully inhabitable world." Jane Hirshfield, award-winning poet
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Read an Excerpt
A Poem in Three Parts
By Ann Fisher-Wirth
Wings PressCopyright © 2009 Ann Fisher-Wirth
All rights reserved.
I. Olaus Magnus' Carta Marina
a beer-belly bruiser
lounging on slabs of iceberg
with a salmon big as he is.
Ramming its tail between his legs,
he presses it like a lover,
wraps one arm around its neck, sinks his teeth
into its shoulder. North or to Heaven
the salmon stares while the other Ursa
Alba on a somewhat larger floe
snarls up at his rival's feet.
Ice broken off like a gingerbread house
piles to a peak in the Mare Glaciale;
though we are far far North,
here, alone of all the map, is iceberg.
Two swans sail in synchrony
above two eels or fish toward rocks where
a fiddler plays a tune
and a ferret or ermine runs home
to his mate peeking out from a shawl-shaped tunnel.
The fat-cheeked wind howls down from the West
on the tented plains
Marble that's gray as my clothes
gray as the rain gray as the streets gray as the Fyris river —
marble and water make patterns swirling into sleep
into featherbeds you seek, falling — when you wake it's night when you walk it's night
when the sun slips through like a torn strip of primrose silk
behind the wet trees, the black and blotted October leaves
it's night again, nearly.
Fragment: Email from Paris
Down they forgot as up they grew.
Unbeknownst, however, you have had no trouble
passing through my memory (remorse).
I was therefore happy to learn where you are.
If you were not living in Europe
I would probably not have written you now ...
You, my first "real" girlfriend ...
Peter's out walking in the forests —
we're here in Sweden ten months, two gone already —
I sit on the floor in the dark exhibition room of the Carolina,
and gaze through rainy hours at the wall-sized Carta Marina
Where like good little ponies, staunch soldiers,
Olaus Magnus's identical
march along Frisia,
Saxonia, Holsathia, it is 1539,
they make their stand
in Samogethia, wind all the way north
through Russia Alba
where the wild boar
charges and the chicken-creature
runs screaming amok
toward the Muscovy king.
THE KEY TO THE MAP
(TRANSLATED THROUGHOUT BY PETER)
Pope Paul III 11 March 1539
In the Fifth Year of Our Pontif icate
To the future memory of the matter.
Since as our beloved son Olaus Magnus
The Goth recently made known to us
That he himself wrote during a long time
And with great labor a geography
Or description of the Northern Places ...
Olaus Magnus the Goth Salutations to His Kindly Reader
... This table of the Northern lands and of the marvels contained in them (which I publish to the praise of the most serene Doge Pietro Lando and of the Venetian Senate and to the public use of the Christian world) is divided into nine parts according to the nine major letters, ABC etcetera. ... Under what small letters the matter that you seek is contained within a capital letter.
A B C D E F G H I
The island of Iceland and its unusual miracles.
On whose exalted summits
Is perpetual snow and in whose
Bases eternal fire —
Four fountains, diverse in their nature.
By one, perpetual heat sent forth
Turns everything to stone
Remaining (however) in its proper form.
The second is intolerably cold.
The third flows with grain liquor
And the fourth exhales pestiferous contagion.
A fire pastures in water
And is not extinguished by it.
Ravens white falcons
Picas bears foxes white hares
Black foxes also.
Miserable ice indicating faithfully
By the moaning of the human voice
That it causes the soul of a man
To be tormented there....
* * *
Gnashing their teeth, the pig-faced
backward from spoutholes
that extend like gut or sausage
from their scalps. Their brows
furrow, their lower incisors
curl on their cheeks like scimitars
as a sailor
tootles loudly on the deck
and barrels bob in the pitching sea.
And jackdaws still
scream and wheel
in the Prussian blue sky.
Ice on the rooftops.
Head South now.
How can leaves hold so much light
while ice rimes every point of maple, of nettle —
Tonight, listening to that floating melody
at the heart of the Emperor Concerto,
listening to that single piano line rise softly
for a moment, like a stream wandering into
thin gold sky air
between thunderous cliffs of sound —
and that Chuck and Jonathan, my students, being newly dead
would never hear it, never sit in the Aula
gazing up at its leafy panels and painted dome of stars —
Fragment: Email to Paris
I am glad you told her you're writing me.
I don't want for there to be secrets.
To honor the present
and honor the past, be in the present
and not shut off the past — I think
it can be done, not lose the past, not lose
the thread of one's life, but allow it
to be transformed, so that loss
is not the whole story.
Yes, you were 19 and I was 18 ...
The woman stopped by the woods
on the rocky path toward Sunnersta,
and knelt on the frosty
ground in front of a birch tree.
It shook its leaves loose,
golden leaves. She just
stayed there at the edge of it, white-haired, kneeling.
Yes, but this pain scares me.
On the train to Eskilstuna —
dirty mist in the trees
(Peter is home again, walking all day)
pines in the distance
only a few red leaves.
The fields are all harvested now sharp
stubble red paint that beautiful Italianate glow
on the outbuildings
hay baled in white plastic.
And I'm going to Eskilstuna my chest killing me
to talk to the future teachers about poetry.
— Want to sleep want a painkiller strong
enough to take the pain away so I can remember the
suppleness of breathing There's no getting out of this
easily But schoolgirls in jackets their hair down their
back in braids chatter together happily and it's 9:35 on
the train —
Red roofs this clayey red
as if someone remembered Mississippi
as if someone remembered summer
lemondrop yellow slatted wood
olive green charcoal gray the beautiful colors of houses
and the lassitude
of willow trees reflected in the water.
— Oh something is all wrong in my back and
the bones of my chest feel crushed Is it my heart's hurt? I
draw breath like filling a glass up Narrow Narrow —
In a crown of what seem daggers,
the demon sweeps his stables.
Ravenous, grinning, he brandishes a whisk broom.
Horses behind him whinny,
locked in their stalls, heads snapping.
From the stable door their piss runs,
river down mountains to the sea —
But wilder than Olaus Magnus' Norway,
bloody red screen
throbbing and pulsing in the middle of it,
and that is the fist of my heart,
knot tensing and then relaxing, red vortex,
nebula of my galaxy. I am so grateful to it
for pumping steadily, for not being too big,
I lie on my side and want to pat it. Nice heart.
It contains the first part of Greenland and its inhabitants
around the letter A
They show themselves to be expert sailors
Who shoot at ships
And they do this themselves safe
And from that the ships are turned over and sink —
But there's something, Peter says, he's just not getting.
Two very large sea monsters
The one truculent with its teeth
The other horrible with its horn.
(Draped with spines and jewels
like a fish-tailed warthog
wearing a scalloped mantle
And a tunafish wearing a clown hat)
An erect whale sinks a big ship
With a look of dogged satisfaction ...
A fisherman striking the ice with an ax
Stuns and captures the fish beneath.
Reindeer are domesticated in herds
And harnessed to chariots, surpass the fastest horses.
Demons serve themselves on the flesh of captured men.
A domesticated herd of reindeer moving according to
Custom on the frozen lake toward
* * minera auri gold mines.
Yes, but how do you map this sea, Olaus Magnus?
How do you carve these currents in your woodblocks?
Heart, you are gazing
at a girl
at the bottom of a well,
a girl in whose belly a child quickens,
who rises naked, calm
from her boyfriend's bed
and walks to the bathroom through dark
dark night, rosy calm girl
who sways a little, love-loosened, her breasts
warm on her belly, and you are gazing
at the smear of blood on the toilet paper,
then at her walking
back to the bed,
and everything different forever then.
With that blood the girl,
oh her warm
body soft as a moth's wings
starts down its long
road toward November,
toward the forceps,
the stillbirth, the hospital bed —
And you are gazing
at a boy
who loves chess
and hates psychology, whose hands
and eager and whose mouth
always tastes of Chesterfields,
a boy who keeps house with her
in his sister's house
when his sister is gone,
fog spilling across the Bay,
him buttering bread, reading the paper,
on the stereo Dylan
or Miles Davis,
them turning to the bed
like wind blows through eucalyptus trees
or rain runs down leaves
again, again —
a boy who will blame his body
that warm midnight and never
tell her, never
tell her why he vanished —
No, say it this way.
Playing house in 1965, the two of them drifted like leaves along calm water, like air that eddies and flows first through her lungs, then through his lungs, warmed by the heat of the stove, stirred by the blades of the ceiling fan. And the child shifted and grew, an elbow, a knee sculpting her side, its small life thrumming in her bloodstream. For these few hours, spread over as many weeks, they were a family.
After 37 years he has emailed. He's a doctor in Paris, he found me in Sweden. "You drew back into yourself then," he writes, and though I had forgotten, he's right. Between rising from the bed and coming back to bed, I found the blood on the paper, and my heart chose. I was spotting, I was terrified, I shut my body against him. And soon the waters closed over us both.
So that now, come home tonight from the pub in downtown Uppsala where I drank and grew desperate and hateful, and wanted to write Peter a note that said simply, "Hurt me" — now how I want to go back to that moment before the moment: that girl flushed, rosy, the boyfriend at peace sprawled out long on the bed. She has not started down the road yet toward the blood, the gray coffin. He has not feared yet what he will fear for 37 years, and never spoke of to a soul: that he murdered her child by fucking her.
I. The women of the Carta Marina
Her hair flows out behind her.
Poised to shoot her arrow,
she skis beside her lover
wearing Grecian robes
and a white beret.
Two women worship a red cloth.
Two are present
for the pouring out of blood
near the lion in Scricfinia.
These are pagans, given in marriage.
One leans against a grinning,
into a wooden pail
from both udders, the one her hands press
as well as the other. The woman
sturdy. She gazes toward us.
Some of the bears and birds are girls.
The sea's a girl, the map's a girl.
II. The Kingdom of the Animals
We watch them all, one mating act per meal.
It's the Discovery Channel, only
thing that's not in Swedish and not MTV.
He makes a leap, and the fried-egg edges
of her jump and twitch like water on a griddle.
This is stingrays, fleshy pancakes thrusting
and writhing; he holds her, the announcer says,
with one pod while the other pod acts like
a penis. When I was little I could never
say the word penis. By "little" I mean
under forty-five. And the gray shark bites her
pectoral fin and hangs on as over
and over they go, white bellies reaching,
roiling, nowhere joined yet except fin and teeth,
underwater Siva of a thousand flashing mirrors.
One night I stayed up late. I was lonely,
Peter was sleeping. A couple "made love"
in an MRI machine, barely able
to wriggle in the tube. I don't know
what the TV researcher wanted to determine,
but for days I held that image to my heart
like a hot water bottle, blurry length
of a cock tucked all the way up snug
to the mouth of a womb. They showed the cock
bends at the base to get in, like a strong
sapling. It snub-noses forward, like the
blind man I saw this morning, his white cane
feeling his way through a construction site.
November 1, 3 a.m.
Excerpted from Carta Marina by Ann Fisher-Wirth. Copyright © 2009 Ann Fisher-Wirth. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Ann Fisher-Wirth teaches English and environmental studies at the University of Mississippi. She received the Rita Dove Poetry Award and two Poetry Fellowships from the Mississippi Arts Commission. She has also received the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. She is the author of Blue Windows and Five Terraces. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
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