We turned our backs on Eden
And were faced by a Babel of nations.
We left innocence behind
And were clothed in connection.
The niceties of geography:
Warszawa and Krakov, Firenze with its Arno.
Bunches of similitude:
Everest and Kilimanjaro,
Alps and Andes, with space above them
To give deference to their height.
The isles, Man and Virgin,
(Though she rightly claims a longer name);
A clutch of bays
Of Pigs, Hudson — Bayreuth too.
Then Moritz, Kitts and Tropez
— all the Saints come marching in.
Delphi Delhi — what a difference a letter makes
Dubrovnik and Dubai
Honolulu Hong Kong
Stonehenge and Stowe
Montes negro and carlo
New Caledonia and
New found land.
A little perplexity:
Uxmal? Astana? Kurchatov?
No? I thought not.
But Ouagadougou — there’s a name to conjure with.
And then we come to these:
Hang on, what’s that doing here?
That’s a star cluster, outside our sphere.
Places left, sought out or dreamed
The Road to Mandalay.
A rush hour of memories
Too crowded to call to mind.
But whatever its name, every place is a somewhere
Where a someone
Did their washing
met his love, lost her virginity
Or lost my way.
So, where was I?
A swirling of Capes — Canaveral and of Good Hope.
And rivers. Clutching at my heart
The familiar flow of Tigris and Euphrates.
So far, so good.
But then the Nile and Nessie —
Yes, they say she’s a mirage, but we know better.
We know about serpents.
And then creep in
the serpent’s progeny
In Sharpeville, Auschwitz, Robben Island and Bhopal
My Lai, Somme, and Wounded Knee
Still breeding in the walls of San Quentin and Guantanamo,
Now, crossing the Rubicon,
Innocence is once again betrayed,
Corrupted by the evil of recent days.
The ancient glories of Palmyra
By the faces of the drowned.
Expectant and rejected lives
Marked here just by
Across the river of the dead
The ashes of Hiroshima
Dim my eyes.
Still, take a breath, places exist
And are near each other here
Called Hope and Harmony.
This poem is inspired by “World”, an artwork by the Canadian artist Mark Pimlott, incorporated into the piazza in the middle of the expanded Broadcasting House. “World” represents a fragment of the globe, a portion of a huge sphere, its surface inset with lines indicating latitude and longitude, and engraved with names of places both known and obscure that evoke whole worlds in themselves. A flat-earth rendering.
Jennifer Kavanagh lives in Fitzrovia and is a writer. Her most recent book is: “Let Me Take You by the Hand: true tales of London’s streets”.