Perhaps one begins with a better metaphor. Perhaps one begins with a map. Perhaps Adrienne Rich was right (as she usually is) in “Diving into the Wreck“: “The words are purposes. / The words are maps.” Perhaps one begins with a familiar map of familiar territory. The colors are colors you know. The borders and boundaries are borders and boundaries that you know. The lines are safe and solid and still and unshifting. You are in a world with which you are familiar, and that world can be transcribed. You know this. You have a map. You know you are stepping in safety. You know others have stepped there before. You know there is a path, and you know your job is to follow it, and you know how to follow it.
Then, say, a corner that wasn’t there before. Then, say, a fallen tree. A lake. A copse of trees where there should be a lake. Then, say, you know you are in a new place. There may be a path, but it isn’t clear, and it isn’t clear if anyone has tread this path before. Or, say, there is a path, and it is clear, but it isn’t the path laid out in safe and solid, still and unshifting lines on the map.
Or perhaps the problem isn’t the terrain. The problem isn’t the path. It’s the map. Perhaps you only have part of it. Perhaps you have the wrong map altogether. Perhaps it starts to rain and the map melts to mush in your palm. Or perhaps — and this is most likely — as in some fairy tale you were frightened to read when you were a child, some fairy tale that you hid from yourself, or else read in secret for that thrill of fear until your own mind punished you with nightmares — perhaps as in this nightmarish tale the map changes. The map changes itself. The colors meld and mold themselves into new colors. The upper and lower boundaries reach for each other and dance. The lines start to spin and realize that they enjoy the spinning, enjoy the motion more than anything, and then they are gone and the map is gone and you are gone.
Or perhaps it isn’t the map that has changed. Perhaps you have changed. Perhaps you have found that the map was useless in the first place: boundaries are, after all, boundaries, and who’s the know what’s outside of them, and who’s to say that that’s not where you belonged in the first place?
So say you drop the map. You let it melt. You let the lines do what they want to do, even if what they want to do is to no longer be lines. You realize you’ve spent so much time staring at that map that you’ve missed a great deal: the skeletal tree’s fingers, the moon behind them, and the hoots and rushes of night.
Or, say, you realize you’re not where you thought you were. You’re not in the forest. You’re in a white room with no light inside. You’re in a glass room with the dark outside. You’re in a room that isn’t a room, that’s just dark. You stand and calm your breathing. You stand and calm your body until you can hear your own breathing, your own body’s beat. You stand and calm yourself, and then your eyes adjust. And then, at last, you see.