They Used to Be So Valuable They Were Free

By Susan Blackwell Ramsey

Featured Art: 2019 Ohio State Map by Ohio Department of Transportation

Road maps may have gone to slide-rule heaven,
      but they were king. Swelling huge in glove compartments,
refusing to be refolded, snickering
      as we wrestled them wider. Marriages
foundered: thin lips, insults, tears,
      shouts as The Map went hurtling through the window
to pirouette in the car’s diminishing wake
      before drifting down to tent the roadside weeds.

Now GPS. Oh, there are always holdouts,
      Luddites who cite the morons who drove off cliffs,
glitch-guided, who claim it’s lousy in the Loop.
      And I grant that maps are glamorous, the world
wide in your lap, manageable, all places
      there simultaneously. Your past. Your future.

But that paper map can’t tell you where you are,
      which is half of navigation. Wasn’t that
always the problem? By the time you’d figured out 
      where you were and found it on the map,
you’d missed your exit. GPS lives in the moment.

Sometimes the good ones let you look ahead,
      pan out, zoom in, even overlay
a bird’s eye view of real trees, rivers, rooftops,
      but the beating heart is still that small blue dot,
like our planet seen from space, that stands for you,
      and the quiet voice that guides you through confusions,
absorbing your mistakes without reproach,
      recalculating a way to bring you home.

Susan Blackwell Ramsey’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Poetry East, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Southern Review. Her book A Mind Like This won the 2012 Prairie Schooner Poetry Book Prize and was published by The University of Nebraska Press. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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