Travel-Map, Summer 1938

by Alice Malin

Reflections on an Acquaintance’s Travel-Map
Compact, like an old anatomical plate.

Block capitals, thin as stitches, lace
together your stops with names, foreign
and plump like the names

of bones: uvula, fibula,
tibia. Moldova, Kirovskaya, Belarus.
They sprout from a fine, black
vertebra, curved like an old man’s,
slashed with dashes
like the stumps of ribs. This was
where you travelled by train.

Moutain ranges flex and bulge
on the curling paper, rutted
with crimson. These veins, these

stiffened old arteries are where
you travelled by plane.

There are gaps: white slabs you left
uncharted, bare, as if unsure
whether to record what you remembered
of that wasteland, if there were
any point at all
in the recording of a nodding lady
at a nameless airfield, of the contours
that grappled to a toothless crater as she smiled.
‘Da, da, da.’

Or of her three-legged dog, howling.

This was
Eastern Europe on the cusp

catpured in blither unknowing. You
strolled across it, spooling
your scarlet, quivering capillaries
behind you, crossing
borders, flashing a blossoming passport
in countries, long gone.

And this, now,
anatomised, filtered, strained,
a litany of lost things, the echoes –
‘da, da, da’ –
I can guess at, only.

We make up memories
to soothe ourselves.

I want to scratch
new, throbbing organs
of cities onto the expectant, empty
flesh of ‘summer, 1938’,
re-draw borders that will carry on changing
and you,
the last point dotted
on your old, anatomical plate,
will not know.