Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the World
by Maryann Corbett
Matteo Ricci, 1602. Woodblock prints on paper. Exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
All the inhabitants are excellent.
Map notation on present-day America, as translated from the Chinese
We are the excellent inhabitants.
We conjure maps within a glowing screen
and in our chariot pulled by its own power
travel to see a map.
In carpeted silence,
the six great woodblock panels span the wall,
dense with zhongwen, crosshatch, wriggling inks.
Inscrutable, but for the quiet aid
of dry-mount signs that offer us translations.
Like Ricci—in the robes of a Confucian,
serene among the sages, missionary
eager to teach the faith of the Lord of Heaven—
the map sets out the world’s wild variousness:
Patagonia, kingdom of the giants,
inhabitants not more than ten feet high….
The land of dwarves, its one-foot men and women
constantly devoured by hawks and cranes….
And in the lower right, the universe,
the sun, the moon, the planets’ epicycles,
the perfect Earth unmoving at the center.
The sages, with their great intelligence,
grasped at once the power of this knowledge.
(So Ricci tells us in his own great book.)
We excellent inhabitants squint to read.
Dazzled amid the folds of glossy handouts,
we thread our way out of the thousand galleries,
returning home by signs, believing signs.
No one here indulges in superstition
but all adhere to the faith of the Lord of Heaven,
and so we seat ourselves before the screen
to let our minds be silent, satisfied
the world in all its truth now lies before us.
About the Author:
Maryann Corbett is the author of three books of poetry and two chapbooks. Her most recent book, Mid Evil, won the Richard Wilbur Award and will be published by The Evansville Press later this year. Her work has appeared in a range of anthologies from the randy Hot Sonnets to the reverent Imago Dei, and in a like range of journals including both Christianity and Literature and The Shit Creek Review. Recent work appears in Barrow Street and Southwest Review and is forthcoming in Rattle and Asheville Poetry Review, among others. Her web site is at maryanncorbett.com