One Map Can Hide Another: Marília Garcia’s “Engano geográfico”

I first visited the street where I now live a night arrived from Europe before flying off for the south of Brazil the next day. The streets I walked along that night opened in different ways to how I now know possible; traffic came channelled through what now are decades-old buildings. I still wonder if the real world can be twisted back to fix that memory in reality. Return journeys always create a palimpsest of memory: of the place you’ve just left, the place you’re returning to, the mirror image of the journey that you’re making.

As she sits on a train from Barcelona to Toulouse, perhaps fleeing the end of a relationship, the persona in Brazilian poet Marília Garcia’s book-length poem, Engano geográfico (probably best translated as Trick of Geography, literally Geographical Mistake—there isn’t a translation I could find, so this an any mistakes of translation are mine) thinks back on a journey to a Pyrenean village years (?) before. Thought and memory, things remembered and seen, multiple times and geographies swim effortlessly together, creating both an incredible richness to the text, but also an engrossing vagueness: the verse is unpunctuated and uncapitalized; thought and vision run into one another; there are very few personal pronouns (impossible in English, but I was often unsure if the traveller was she, he or you); memory repeats itself along the journey in echoes of lines or the banality of the train company’s jingle. This lack of fixity makes for a strangely impersonality, an intensely personal, and also incredibly beautiful poem:

maps can overlap
and happen to cross in rimini
but they meet up before in the atacama desert 50 folds from there
because if maps can overlap
[she] knows time does not double back
unless an elemental chance comes to pass
so that
our spaces cross
again this life
and we can meet again
an elemental chance must
overlay two maps

os mapas podem se sobrepor
e acontecer de se cruzarem em rímini
mas combinam antes no deserto de atacama dali a 50 voltas
porque se mapas podem se sobrepor
sabe que o tempo não dobra
apenas se vier o acaso fundamental
para nossos espaços se cruzarem
outra vez na vida
e podermos nos reencontrar
é preciso que um acaso fundamental
sobreponha dois mapas

This early section with its overlapping is key to the poem verbally, conceptually and geographically. The meanings of words overlap in the Portuguese: the maps do not just meet up in the Atacama, they have arranged to do so (combinar); time can neither fold nor double back (dobrar). Lines and phrases from it echo through, especially the “elemental chance”, often juxtaposed with the “trick/mistake of geography” of the title, as the determinants of where we are and what we do: “barcelona had never been sunnier / the map opened she tries to find the streets / a collection of people with opened maps / chances multiplying themselves / a trick of geography she thinks / she tries to find the streets”. This is no picture of agency, but one of quantum randomness and one where the words for the simplest things mark you as out from place: the first lines of the poem are “it is a mistake of geography being here / he says on this side / of the atlantic you should call lemons limes” (in American Spanish and Portuguese, lemons are green) and is echoed later in “her colour is lemon-green in a carriage of dark chairs”; later in the poem snippets of French and Catalan are laid over the Portuguese.

As the map of one journey moves close to or across a previous one, two other maps, of two lives, are moving apart and it is not seem to be an accident that they might cross in Rimini, with its allusions to the fifth canto of the Inferno. The poem feels very conscious of the poetic tradition, mentioning by name the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet Charles Bernstein and, most importantly, Kenneth Koch and his poem “One Train May Hide Another” (read or listen to it here).

The whole poem feels like a response to that poem, in its setting on a train, the nod towards Koch as a train passes in the other direction, and even the form, which while it isn’t one I know Koch to have used, plays constantly on the lines: “And so when you read / Wait until you have read the next line— / Then it is safe to go on reading.” But perhaps it comes closest in the same triangulation where simplicity of language and juxtaposition of idea transcend each other to create incredible depth.

Marília GarciaEngano geográfico, 7 Letras (Brazil, 2012)


One Response to One Map Can Hide Another: Marília Garcia’s “Engano geográfico”

  1. Pingback: On a Test of Resistors | Nomadic Permanence: Rob Packer's Blog

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