Perhaps it’s time again to consider hiring a new cartographer. With Google Maps and a star chart, a fifteen-year-old boy found an Ancient Mayan city, and I still struggle to understand why I needed to take tenth grade geometry. Overlaying constellations onto the cities, far from the seacoast, away from the riverbeds, he knew the system needed to be completed. He saw that the world didn’t end in 2012 but wanted to know why. Maybe we should start to redraw the maps—time to reset and clarify the lines that divide us. Africa is too small, and we still don’t use the metric system. The Mercator projection has failed us beyond belief and we all know it. If we start over, maybe we’ll see what we’ve been missing all along. Maybe we’ll recover all we’ve lost; the abandoned seaports and the missionaries trying to gather converts, the Las Vegas watershed and the Worlds Fair. Everything was bigger then, Paxton’s Crystal Palace only standing for a matter of months, the frame solid and the exterior ready to shatter. There wasn’t time to waste on preservative acts. Instead, the fire took it away and everyone just moved beyond the cast-iron skeleton, dancing instead in the vacant pool halls and laundromats, the washeteria in Fort Worth bringing in most of the business. You and I, we can look at the maps over hamburgers and milkshakes from the twenty-four hour diner and consider where to go from here. Our hometowns only ever look alive at night.
Think of the filmmakers and the artists, the videographers and boom-mic operators—the conjurers of depth and cinematic dust-light. But where do the researchers find their subjects? Dana says that documentarians can live to be one-hundred-and-twelve, but I’ve learned to recognize a reliable resource when I see one. This is not it. When the lights dim in the theater and the screen stays black, we know enough to be complacent and amenable. The end will never come at this rate, or so we like to think. But now we’re in your basement and the lights still aren’t coming on. I’ve seen enough film to predict what happens at the end. I can even write the lives before they happen.
I only want to feel happy, like Ponyboy leaving the Paul Newman feature. Where is my ride home? I’ve learned, though, that the best directors leave themselves behind on camera. Ineffable, but substantive enough for us to feel them plotting. They find the darkness of the movie house to be soothing in a way that reproduces natural darkness, but the kind that is only available in select locations. Not in the city lights and suburban plazas, but in the open ocean, salt water and sea air divided.
I have a habit of leaving the movie before it’s over. Not before I’ve figured it out, but before the credits roll. I’ve never seen the lights come on at the end. I count previews and check my phone to see what remains, always something else to do. Dana says I need to dedicate myself to the film, to focus on what the director is trying to show me, but I can’t. The medium is manipulation, and these American eyes can show me nothing else.
Kevin Bertolero studies literature, philosophy, and art history at Potsdam College. He is the poetry editor for Mixtape Methodology, founding editor of Ghost City Press, and the author of From the Estuary to the Offing (2015). He tweets @KevinBertolero.