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Mapping: A Mapping / Jishin-no-ben

In Japanese, chizu is the word for map. In a sentence:/ Nihon no chizu wa arimasu ka?

Poetry | Poetry Tuesday, poetry
August 29, 2023


Your mother loved to buy old Rand McNally Atlases
at garage sales, scrutinize them with a magnifying glass

she kept wrapped in a soft cotton cloth. Once,
when your parents came for a visit, you took them

to Mulberry Bend—an overlook with a scenic vista
of the Missouri River. Your mother said it was a good

place to murder someone by pushing them over the side.
No one would ever find out! The lackluster outing

finally salvaged at the Yankton Visitor’s Center, where
she stuffed a plastic Walmart sack full of free maps!


In Japanese, chizu is the word for map. In a sentence:
Nihon no chizu wa arimasu ka? In America, chizu’s

a decadent condiment your mother says is too expensive
for everyday: as in Velveeta chizu or Kraft Parmesan chizu. 

In America, chizu’s what you say before your photograph
is taken. Chizu (The Map) also the title of an experimental

photography book by Kawada Kikuji, published in 1965.
Chizu (The Map) juxtaposes images of the “stains” palimpsest

on the walls and ceiling of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial
alongside litter and artifacts from the American occupation.


In 1948, Edward Tolman coined the term “cognitive maps”
to refer to the imaginary models we create in our brains

for the spaces we regularly move through and inhabit. A form
of latent learning, we’re rarely aware of cognitive mapping—

like an app that’s always running in the background, gathering 
data. Emotional associations and memories are woven into

the mappings as well, like shiny bits of ribbon or bright thread. 
Tolman studied spatial cognition in experiments with rats

involving mazes and food, and in your mind’s eye, you always 
envisioned the food he placed in mazes for rats as chizu.


The word hippocampus means seahorse. From the Greek:
hippo meaning horse, and kampos meaning sea monster.

The areas on the side of the brain, curled above each ear,
are called hippocampi because they resemble seahorses.

New memories must go through the hippocampus first
in order to be stored in long-term memory. In NatGeo

videos, male seahorses sneeze out clouds of babies from
their abdomens. Spatial cognition is also hippocampal,

and the seahorses in your mother’s brain are shrinking
Today she can’t figure out how to close her own door.


A famous 1855 Japanese map called “Jishin-no-ben,” 
the story of the earthquake, portrays a stately dragon 

eating its own tail—an ouroboros, circling the sites 
of the three great Ansei earthquakes—a graphic narrative 

of the disasters’ origin myth. In the map, annihilation’s
color-coded: red for the 1854 Tokai earthquake, blue

for the 1854 Nankai tsunami, yellow for the 1855 Edo
earthquake. Is all disaster ultimately self-recursive?

The crumbling ground, the flood, the flame. Is every
grief part dragon, part ouroboros, part tourniquet?