by Emma Townley-Smith

When I move the compass in its lazy circle
Like a leaf, spiraling,
Seeking to connect the lines of longitude over Russia,
My hand becomes encased
In an errant snow bank.
I’m off by an inch, (and a season or two)
And in preparation for an avalanche, I push two fingers
Back against the mountain, like clay, and
Where I leave my fingerprints
I try to accept that I have failed.

When I slide away, belly down
Like the alligators below me
To survey the damage,
My elbow hits a desert where the Arabian Sea
Has been consumed by the compass rose,
And the tiny grains of sand
Lodge themselves, like parasites,
Among the folds of skin.

I loose a sigh that brings me to the ground
And topples castles in northern Italy,
But I let the bricks scatter and I breathe
Red dust that dyes my hair, settles on top
When I lay my head
In a mossy valley on the edge of Serbia.

Some strands move the dust on to
Germany, and brush the tips of the trees
That smell like air fresheners, making
The sun rise red and yellow and orange
On their needles, bringing morning and
The colors of age to wood.

I trace the edge of Sweden with my finger,
Smelling fish and people over six feet tall.
I hook my finger in a net and drag a miracle
To some lowly fisherman, hoping that the cosmos
Is watching and will remind me not to just
Evaporate from this project.
I pretend that I ran the marathon along the coast,
Kicking the dust up into my face and blonde hair,
And that my victory dance, obscuring a border,
Is the real reason that Sweden won half of Denmark.

I wash my fingers of this ink and this deal
In the lakes of Poland, overturning a few boaters
And weekend fishermen, but I figure
With the fish that chip away at my fingernails down below
They’ll have better luck next time.

By the time I get to Spain
I’ve basically given up, and I take my pen and
Slash a hole through the sky, letting
Particles of dust and light rain down on their cities.
The solar panels begin to churn in earnest,
And thus, in destroying my work,
I’ve only renewed their energy.

Finally, I rest my cheek in the Zillertal,
Finding one place in Austria I haven’t ruined,
And when I look out over the awkward borders
And mishapen fields,
I realize that the world,
From down below,
Is beautiful.