Amassing a Map: A Cento 
poetry by Karen George

What we have won’t last forever.
Pay close attention to everything,
the long undulating dream of nature:
crickets drumming their legs in the grass,
bees working the sticky blossoms,
those deep and downy places.

To escape the dark weight,
the stuff of grief
rattling our walls day and night,
sensations of being pulled underwater, drowning,
the sick slick of it
like rivers on a map’s face,
stay in your body,
lean in,
coil and uncoil
in a constant state of yearning,
green as water under a mossy bank.

Practice resurrection,
one part rapture,
the electric pulse of desire,
energy that holds everything together.
Inhabit the pearly chamber of memory,
a secret salve,
a wet, pink cave,
a mouth in which time is about to sing
in the thickening dark.

To ask questions that have no answers,
To speak the heart’s longing,
this will be your life’s work,
a sweet whisper of kindness,
a language that can make us whole
like threads hold the seams of a garment.

Your pockets are full of everything
for the savoring:
soil, a divine drug,
germinating seeds,
the smell of leaves,
rock-ribbed hills,
open mountain spaces,
wings humming like a dulcimer string,
the warm tickling
insides of joy
rooted in music.

Let the bending, circling trees catch you,
each with its own language
thick with growing.
The world is slowly becoming
a quivering cocoon,
a blazing, unfettered 
holy vision.

Lines and phrases borrowed for this Cento are from various works by selected members of the
Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame: Wendell Berry, Nikky Finney, James Baker Hall, bell hooks,
Barbara Kingsolver, George Ella Lyon, Sena Jeter Naslund, James Still, and Jesse Stuart

Karen George is author of three poetry collections from Dos Madres Press: Swim Your Way Back (2014), A Map and One Year (2018), and Where Wind Tastes Like Pears (2021). She won Slippery Elm’s 2022 Poetry Contest, and her short story collection, How We Fracture, which won the Rosemary Daniell Fiction Prize, is forthcoming from Minerva Rising Press in Fall 2023. Her work appears in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Cultural Daily, Indianapolis Review, and Poet Lore

return to sampler            return to poetry             home