NOT ON THE MAP (class notes on place)


Even the most accurate maps sacrifice a certain amount of accuracy to deliver a greater visual usefulness to its user. Some things are too small to be shown on the map at true scale.


From the ground level, Baltimore
Wooden floors—
the people who lived there
before were blind.
That explains the dark stains.

Riding through it on a bike, Baltimore
I am alone holding
an expensive bicycle with no training
wheels. I think I was five (or six, or seven)
I get on the seat and fall;
it’s too big for me.
I don’t know where the adults are;
there is no one to teach me how.

From— to—, Baltimore
I don’t remember my mother
much then, but I remember her bedroom,
with the black bed, and Joe,
when she wasn’t home.
I was five (or six, or seven); there
is no one to teach me how.

Riding through it on a bike, Brewton
Bradley Street was shaped like a horse shoe
that met the main road on both ends,
where children rode their bikes, skated,
or played tag into the dusky summers,
up one hill and down the other.

At the side of the house,
I’d drink out of the garden hose:
“You’re either in or out,” my grandmother would say,
“Don’t be letting mosquitos in my house;” and she was serious,
and I didn’t want to be in, so I stayed out.

I wasn’t sure it was her; people look different
after 20 years in tiny Facebook photos, so I asked,
and Theresa said “Are you serious? You don’t remember me?
I taught you how to ride a bike!”

From under the broom, Brewton
Her name was Leviticus.
Once, she slapped me, in front of everyone,
for no reason; just because she knew
I wouldn’t do anything back.
Once, I swept her foot by accident.
She snatched the broom, spat on it, and tossed it back.
I couldn’t understand what she was so angry about. I kept sweeping.
Tfoo, tfoo, tfoo

From the air, Brewton
“You eat standing up you make the house poor.”
“Don’t whistle inside.”
“You laugh too much, you end up crying.”

From the outlets, Brewton
In the thunder and lightning,
my grandmother would unplug everything.
I know why she did it; but it felt ritualistic, superstitious—
I wanted to feel that again; to hear nothing,
but the coming storm.

From behind the house,  Brewton
There was a forest I’d never ventured
into behind the house. In the backyard,
Snow was caged in the corner— unaware
that he was on guard. There was the garden shed,
azaleas, the cats fed only to keep away the rats, and the pyre.
I don’t remember what my grandmother would burn    
there, between the shed and the forest,
only that I would stand and stare
and throw things in.

From the ground, Brewton
The backyard of Ms. Jones’ house—she was one of the white women
Granny worked for; I don’t remember the other one’s name
because I liked Ms. Jones’ house better—was wild,
so thick, the sun didn’t come through an Alabama summer,
dark green vines, moss. (There was an old bench
of stone or wood or black metal.) It was a jungle
where my Barbies and the one Maxi doll—who was sometimes an outcast,
sometimes a queen— would go on safaris, camping in their hot
pink Corvette turned Jeep in my imagination.

Object in the Room, Brewton
He used to call and sing
“I Just Called to Say I Love You,”
telephones = Daddy; I saw him every summer, summer = Daddy.

Grounded, Buffalo
I bought the Kokopelli earrings
from an amusement
park— my half brother bailed
out, at the last minute; so
I had to get on the rides by myself
because Daddy couldn’t
get on with the wheelchair.
He never stopped smiling,
from his place on the ground.
Last year, at Superland, when I missed
the chance to get on the rollercoaster,
I cried remembering Kokopelli
was a humpbacked trickster. 

Rooms, Brewton
Once, I had a dream that I was being chased by monsters.
We were running around in circles:
the living room led to the dining room,
led to my grandmother’s room, led
to the bathroom, led to the guest room;
I stepped out of the circle
and the monsters kept running around.

In the bed, Brewton
Without my glasses on at night, when I stared
into the darkness of my open door, I saw gnomes.
Sheets protect against monsters.
I taught myself to force my eyes
open in the middle of a dream.

From the bathroom, Brewton
I ran into the bathroom stall, wasn’t quick enough.
My bully pulled it—to ask what’s wrong,
why are you crying?—and it slammed back
into my forehead leaving a huge bump.

I would walk around the halls near-sighted blind
from then on, hoping to be “pretty without glasses”
like they said.

From the air to the ground, Brewton
I was a wanna-be tomboy.
When the boys were jumping over a ditch,
I jumped too, just to prove I could.
I vaguely remember lying in a ditch
with a twisted ankle.

From the bathroom, Brewton
I had a dream once that I saw a friend
in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet; that was it. But
though I wasn’t quite sure what the word meant,
after that, I was sure I was a lesbian.

From the ground floor (in the bathroom), Brewton
“Ms. Jones think I’m gon’ pick
her panties up off of the floor.
Imma leave ‘em right there.”

From the ground floor, Brewton
I bought my grandmother, for her birthday,
I bought her a knee pad, a rectangular—was it light blue
or sea green?—pad for kneeling on, while scrubbing a bathtub.

From a hook, Baltimore
There was a rusty hook next to the toilet
in the bathroom. Right before a shower,
I had the idea to swing on the hook—by my finger.
It split and I had to get stiches.
I still have a scar on my right index finger.

We were going fishing—my mother,
her boyfriend, and I—except I didn’t know
how to fish. I tried to bait the hook—
I became the bait and I had to get stiches.
I still have a scar on my right index finger.

From the map, (of) Baltimore
Ivanka gave me vintage map prints for my birthday
to make collages with. A year later I stared at it;
I thought of framing one, but I couldn’t
frame it unless it was a place that I’d been,
a place that had significance—those were my rules.
I stared at it and my jaw dropped.
Potomac River, Fort McHenry.
Suddenly, I recognized Lexington Square, Charles Street.
All this time, Baltimore had been sitting in my living room
waiting for me to do something with it.

From the stairs, Brewton
On the back steps
I was playing with a snail
using a small stick.
I would direct him, gently,
this way and that;
then I was called in for supper.
When I came back to him,   
he wasn’t where I’d left him;
he had dried up in the sun
near the edge of the step.

From the map, (of) Brewton
When people ask,
“Which town in Alabama?”
I usually just answer,
it’s not on the map.



“'Not on the Map' originated in a creative writing class on hybridity after reading Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks. The assignment: 'Think about a place you know intimately and describe it 1. from the air, 2. from the ground level (as if observer were lying down), 3. riding through it on a bike, 4. looking for a lost cat, 5. choose your own. Do a different one each day.' Having migrated throughout childhood and relocated to Israel, I could not choose one place that I knew intimately—instead I was left with a sense of dislocation and fragmentation, saddened by fuzzy non-sequitur snapshots of childhood memories. Yet, when I started recording these images, I couldn’t stop—I added 'from a map' to the assignment, found wholeness in the fragmentation, and owned all of my former homes." 

Shoshana Sarah is a multidisciplinary artist, American born, based in Jerusalem. Creator of Poets of Babel, a multilingual poetry club, she explores hybrid identity and ideas of home through poetry, lyric essay, and spoken word/sound poem performances. She belly dances, teaches writing, and has recently completed The Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Graduate Program. Her publications appear in The Ilanot Review, Yes Poetry,מרחבالفضاء Space, Entropy, "Let's Get Lit," and Mixed Race 3.0: Risk and Reward in the Digital Age.