To someone, the world has always been flat, singular and severe,
with an edge leading to the abyss.
Depending on where you begin, the earth was also geometrical:
cone filled with air, three- and four-sided pyramids, cubes
complexifying with even more sterile facets. Starting at other points,
you find sphere, oval, egg, spheres and ovals
within eggs. Spiral of vine and root, protogod of wires.
Instead of sphere, a half-shell, shape of rainbow,
and when seen from the side, a planet
floating on water, but held up by the air
trapped underneath. Sometimes matter vanished
and the world became an octave in a series;
other times, note in the cosmic scale. Don’t forget the plane
surrounded by mountain walls, heavens resting in the peaks.
For centuries the earth floated instead, island
on a sea, the sun rising, falling then swimming
back to the east. Instead of island unifying the earth and sky,
the great tree, its name synonymous with truth. Not to forget the disc,
its upper side the habitable world, pillars beneath
responsible for the running of rivers, the rising and setting of sun.
During other centuries our world also stood still, one square
layered atop another square, grid that had to interlock
in perfection with the circles of the moon and stars
or monsters would enter the gaps and cracks.
The biggest apocalypse was round. Thinkers redrew the earth,
locked it into the form of a perfect sphere, a proof.
In reaction, the universe turned rectangle
with lid shut, a philosophers’ swarm box, their dark vision
preferable to the tawdry, impossible globe
covered with people who stick to dirt like flies.
Pear, heart, tomato, egg, turnip, gourd, onion,
pond and rose; to break free, all the roundness accumulated
in a bowl, bursting into wild seeds and rain.
But always, back to the flat: water spilling off the edge
of the planet, the fires of hell otherwise circling there.
Then all the other shapes of the earth started to go missing:
visions of worlds recorded in books like butterflies,
all except the chosen one burning.
But the earth is wily. It resists
by becoming muddy and windy, by going to the edge
of the flat world and making it curve, connect
in defiance of geometries. Oblate and imperfect,
the planet can be happy for a millennia
of wandering from geoid to spheroid shapes
and back again. It will outwait our wars.
And after we are done, seeds will break open
into stalks, thorns, spotted leaves of so many colors,
unmistakeable as eyes. They will attract the sight
of all survivors, and the world will move into their retinas,
the many cones in conversation with the first forms.
Michael Walsh, 2019