By Peter Halstead

In the spring, among the flowers,
The world itself now newly towers—
Not the globe that Galileo knew,
But the flatter map Mercator drew:
Mountains, the Manila Trench, Paris,
As linear as any sea—
Hundreds of assembled prints
Imprinted with the continents,
The wear and tear of foreign travel
In perspective on the gravel—
An intercontinental trip
Now a schoolgirl's hop and skip,
The vasty deep so infinite
Now traversed in just a minute,
Magellan's ocean, once so great,
A breeze to circumnavigate,
Providing for the sedentary viewer
The traditional grand tour
With a minimum of cost
And small chance of getting lost
As long as he is careful not to stub
His clumsy toe on any urban hub
And create from his inept intrusion
Later on the dim confusion
Where a moment's carelessness
Causes our antithesis.
Explorers haven't much to lose
Unless you count of course their shoes:
A false step by one impulsive boot
Could soil our planet: Don't Pollute
(The objective being not to trust
Earth with earth, or dust with dust):

We must tour the globe like barefoot satyrs
According to its world's creators,
Who leave us signs that clearly presage
The worldly authors' hidden message:
Jumping, dancing is forbidden,
Lest enthusiasts by guilt be ridden,
But in its place our feet vacation
And step out on any nation,
Causes and events entwined
By the tourist and the tour combined,
Drawing morals from the blank terrain
By a soldier lurching over Spain;
The Japanese in matching clothes
Taking pictures of their toes;
Descending on the tiny Falklands:
Large Chileans with their Walkmans;
A Swedish tanner like a buoy
Anchored off Tahiti Nui;
A ballerina stretching over Thailand;
A mother waving from an island—
The flat globe filled with commentaries,
Like sleeping cats on the Canaries.
What's the purpose of such preening
Without a supplemental world of meaning?
Students saunter blindly on it.
A gloomy poet writes a sonnet,
Our soul's geographic basis
Put exactly in its places:
As an intrepid infant trader
Stumbles on the blue equator;
His parents tiptoe at the poles,
Our future written on their soles,
As it seems the whole intention
In fashioning this one dimension,
Instead of looking at the ground
And guessing that it might be round,
Is once again to make it flat,
And raise a rounder world from that.

Rue de Varenne
May 30th, 2000


Here’s a poem I wrote based on watching tourists walk around on top of a huge flat map of the world installed one summer in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, who’s taken a hundred thousand aerial photos of the world over the last ten years to show the mess we’ve made of it as well as to illustrate patterns of surpassing beauty, made by, for example, uranium mines and radioactive pollution spilling sulfurically into distant deltas from dams. He enlarged them and hung several hundred waterproof C-prints, the size of Toyotas, in the Luxembourg the summer of 2000. He put out simultaneously a giant book, La Terre vue du ciel (Earth from Above), with hundreds of fold-out photos. Rarely have so many photos been so painterly, or elucidated by so many thousands of chilling facts.
At one point we felt we were the only people who knew about it; but soon crowds turned up in the Luxembourg, the book was publishing in many languages and sizes, turned into calendars, and our personal discovery was enlarged into the world that Arthus-Bertrand had miniaturized so vastly.
As part of the Luxembourg exposition, which included a film of his travels by hot air balloon and small plane around the world photographing it, Bertrand built a giant walk-on flat world map in the park and pasted tiny versions of his photos on the map to show where the photos were taken.
I suppose this quite obvious poem says that we reduce our personal worlds to our own proportions to make them bearable or comprehensible, and in order to make our futures grow from those more manageable miniatures.