The Map of the Earth at Night
Each sleeper behind their door holds
a face slow to extinguish in the respiration
of blue until only the eyelids confirm,
underneath the earth, the orchids are conferring
on varieties of dark that are harder to record:
the weight of night in a chandelier,
a girl who put a pebble in her mouth
and pulled back out the sea where it is always
night and the sun touches the dark
like a door it cannot open. The anonymous
monk who kept a cloud in his closet is
closing his door: like the grey pillar of a whale
asleep over a mountain in the ocean
his god waits for him. I lay beside a man
with a difficult wound. He smiled (faintly)
when the doctor injected a syringe of black
liquid to make the nerves fluoresce
around the tumours pressed against his throat.
‘The way we need maps of cables before we dig’,
the doctor explained and left the room.
I’d listen as his boy kept vigil. As he ran
a sponge soaked in ice over his father’s lips.
I had a set of paints when I was a boy—
twenty or so pots with lids you could flip
open with a thumb. When the paints dried
you’d have to dip your brush in water,
turning the bristles in small circles to coax
a layer of wet colour from the surface.
I thought about those paints when the man
asked the priest what he could take with him:
that each night he dreamt he was climbing
out of his body on a ladder toward paradise,
but that by the time he reached the clouds
he’d squeeze through such a narrow opening
his memory fell from his pocket like coins.
His body had shrunk and seemed to hang
in his bed like a tarp full of rain. He was
a big man, once, you could tell by the size
of his hands. ‘Good for engines’, he said.
When the fountains came on outside
he’d press his face back into the sheets,
a paintbrush still wet with colour and distant
as Kejimkujik where the sky sets mica fires
in the coast’s silt pelt and you can sway
in the head of a pine watching the long lines
of the dead who cannot turn their caravans
home. I told him about the coast. But I can’t
tell you where he is now. Only that you can
stand, like I stood, opened along that shore
and feel, not the man, but the memory of him,
staring from your body at the sky’s grey belly.
If he made his way still depends on whether
when the sun sets in dream it rises again
in the head of its brother. All I know is if
they’re written, no one get the letters from
the wounded man climbing toward the clouds.
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Chad Campbell is the author of the award-nominated debut collection Laws & Locks (Signal Editions 2015). His poems have appeared in journals across the U.K. and Canada, and are anthologized in The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry and The Best Canadian Poetry. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he lives in Manchester where he studies at the Centre for New Writing. His second collection, A Loop Not a Line, is forthcoming in Spring 2021.