Lost and found

Earlier this month I was in my hometown, finally organizing the stuff remaining in my old bedroom, and found a clipping of a poem I loved but had totally forgotten about. It's fun and somewhat surprising to realize that my teenage self had pretty decent taste in some things (the clothing I found is another story altogether.)

The Teacher

by Billy Collins

There is that part of us that believes
We will never die – otherwise,
How could we watch so much television,

and there is the part that believes
when we die, all life will come to an end.
This is the part that storms within us
dragging its robes across the marble floor.

But what I like to believe
is that the minute I die,
the world will change into a map of the world

which I will roll up into a tube
and carry with me wherever I am going.

It could be an antique map with pictures
of sea serpents in the corners
or a huge Mercator projection,
but when I finally get where I am going
(and I have a feeling it will take days),

I will spread out the map on something flat,
and there I will study the patterns
of shorelines and boundaries,
maybe reminisce about a country I once visited
or a strait where a navel battle once took place.

I also like to believe
that there will be other beings there
who will gather around this picture of earth
so I can explain to them what it was like –

how the cold mountains rose above valleys,
how this was called geography,
how the people from this pale blue area
crossed into the light green area to the south
and killed whoever they found there
and how this was known as history

and as they listen, mild-eyed and silent,
others will arrive to join the circle
like ripples moving toward the center instead of away.

Published in the November 2003 issue of Poetry Magazine
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