The Maps Move

John A. Nieves


The red ripped through the resin, mulched out
crackle, the flesh of the ground—and it would seem
            too violent for antlers, and there would be no
velvets, and my sister would put her hand on the rupture

            and feel no splinter, no heat. The burnt forest colors
from our height to the ground said fall like there were
any other season, any direction but gravity-down. Our neighbor
used to stuff old leaves in his boots and pretend to be

a scarecrow. Of course, he could have scared crows, we all
            could. And deer. And we were small and loud
and terrifying. The back fence was pulled up just enough
for us to comfortably wriggle underneath. The backyard's

incline helped pull us through. We found these little doors
everywhere. And other, more confusing things: bits of colored
tape, an old wrench, a muddy hat with a stork on it. We gathered
            and deposited these artifacts at the site of the mutilation,

            using the freshly spangled bark as cover, the naked trees
as markers, not realizing things mend, not knowing old
                      wounds are harder to find.


And later it was the same with the sidewalks and the buildings
            on the sidewalks, and the city's shape, its finger-
print. When the garbage day moved from Tuesday
            to Thursday, our entire neighborhood left our refuse

like an offering to the Wednesday sun, something it had never
seen before. And the stink came fast and folded every smell
            into its cape. We kept getting confused about which day
                      it was. We kept wanting to tote all of the bags off

            ourselves. We were buried under the sudden stench
of change and what it meant street-sized, shrunk to fit
                      our particular lives.


            Habits formed and habitats formed and the door became
our door. This was the first time I'd lived with someone other
than my family. The rules bent. The garage became the porch;

the porch became the outback room. We realized dining room
tables, dining rooms, had always been optional. The sun washed
            out the pale grey linoleum until it turned flat white. Our keys

only matched in the teeth. The head of yours was square, mine
            was a truncated triangle. They opened the same. We had no
doorbell or answering machine. The mail was always for us.

            Everything became so much more on-purpose. Once, when
my sister came to visit, she asked where we kept the sheets. We only
had the ones on our beds, only exactly enough of everything

for the space we had. She slept in my bed. I slept on the couch
            with a shirt over my eyes.


Somewhere in there all the exit numbers on the highway
were changed to match the mile markers. Destination went from

checklist to narrative. I could only tell people where I was
in relation to other things—one exit after the rest

stop that's closed for construction if you are heading south, two
exits past the river from the other direction, one job away

from going back to school, one relationship from the one
I've been in for the past 15 years, five addresses from here.