Old Territory. New Maps.

By Deborah A. Miranda
You plan an uncomplicated path
through Colorado’s red dust,
around the caustic edge of Utah’s salt flats
a single night at a hotel
in the Idaho panhandle. Our plans change.
It’s spring, we are two Indian women along
together and the days open:
sunrise on a fine long road,
antelope against dry hills,
heron emerging from dim fields.
You tell me this is a journey
you’ve always wanted to take.
You ask me to tell you what I want.

I want my longing to miraculously
bring you through the barrier of your skin
into my blood so that I can possess you
entirely and yet be entirely possessed.
You say no, your face tight with pain, tears
burning your eyes, hands clenching the steering wheel.
I believe you. We drive hundreds of miles
across deserts sculpted by wind and story,
and I learn distance from my hand to your thigh,
your mouth to my mouth, the curve of a collar
along a warm, smooth neck.
You grin as if no one has ever seen you thus:
naked, savage, happy.
That is the beginning of yes.

Ghosts are everywhere.
We hear them singing on that mountain in Ute country,
the cries of your flute pleasuring old spirits.
Like those people whose land we cross,
we don’t live by lines drawn on paper.
Instead, we mark the waterfall of shy kisses,
a dry windy town where we exchange secrets in whispers,
the high cliff hollow that shelters us
on the edge of the Uinta forest.
Wildflowers bend beneath our bodies,
cup the trembling weight of touch.
We wander for awhile in a place vast enough
to contain all possibilities.

After twelve hundred miles together
we enter green forest thick along a fearless river.
This dense topography we can’t see through,
can’t find the horizon to judge distances
or the arc of the sun to know east from west.
There at last you clasp my hand, guide it
to a place beyond maps,
no universe I have ever known.
It is a raw landscape; we are the sojourners
overcome by the perilous shock of arrival.
We stop the car, walk by the river,
clumsy, frightened by desire. I wish
for more than body or soul can bear.

Sweet, these are the maps we made together,
territories we foolishly vowed to own.
Here, the place we wandered off the map,
moved deep into a land without scars
where every direction took us home
but no place could give us shelter.
I don’t know how to survive awakening
in a woman’s body with a child’s
broken heart. I fall on my knees, our love
a bare stone on the windowsill between us.
How can I learn this trick, will your body
back to the other side of my skin? Help me
translate loss the way this land does—
flood, earthquake, landslide—
terrible, and alive.

Deborah A. Miranda, “Old Territory. New Maps.” from The Zen of La Llorona. Copyright © 2005 by Deborah A. Miranda. Reprinted by permission of Salt Publishing.

Source: The Zen of La Llorona (Salt Publishing, 2005)

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Poet Deborah A. Miranda

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Deborah A. Miranda


An enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, poet Deborah Miranda was born in Los Angeles to an Esselen/Chumash father and a mother of French ancestry. She grew up in Washington State, earning a BS in teaching moderate special-needs children from Wheelock College in 1983 and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Washington. Miranda’s collections of poetry include Indian Cartography: Poems . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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