A Particular Traveler
Phebe Davidson

he required that signs be frequent
and unambiguous, the letters
crisp and large, clearly defined

and visible against their backgrounds.
Distances, he felt, must be
precise and without discrepancy,

so that one might travel a given number
of miles between one city
and the next without having to travel

the same number plus or minus one
to retrace the journey. Maps, he believed,
should match their territories,

should chart for those who ventured forth
each untoward crossing and road,
each otherwise unanticipated oddness

of the way. And so a nervousness
crept slowly into his life, a detour here,
there a standard whose sign had been removed

without explanation and never replaced,
the ambiguity of an interchange he could not
understand, until he began to restrict

his outings, confining himself at first
to trips that took a weekend,
then only a single day. Yet there remained

the unmarked streets, the unaccountable
lack of direction until even those brief
excursions he still undertook

grew unendurable in their complexity.
So he moved for a while in diminishing circles,
his town, his neighborhood,

finally his own quiet street. Towards the end,
even the close familiarity of his house
grew subtle and unreliable. Things

shifted when he wasn't looking, a chair
missing from its wonted corner,
a table gleaming in the light of a lamp                       

he didn't remember. He began
to write things down, noting with accuracy
and absolute attention the objects and distances

of his home, the small expected landmarks
that compassed his daily life.
But one day it was a sofa, moved inexplicably

from one room to another. And on the next,
the peculiar emptiness of the room
where he always slept, until he ceased

to move at all, standing in the door
of an unfamiliar room, looking out at a world
he had thought to know,

its lanes unmarked, its durations all awry,
wondering where he had put his keys,
what use they would be when he found them.

originally appeared in Tar River Poetry, 30th anniversary issue, 2009

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