There are poems that evoke a “sense of place”. A poem can draw from a place an essence; wringing meaning from geography, ecology, histories, culture,and stories. In the poem Context of a Wave, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge takes us to the blue hills of the mesa, and also in a contemplation of sense perception.
A Context of a Wave
The following is an excerpt from Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s A Context of a Wave as it first appeared in Conjunctions:17.
You could be thinking about your physical placement, what can be a continuum and what is chance. You place yourself innately on a mesa. There are blue hills at each horizon, the light falls copiously onto your open space, the path of the sun and the planets are proportioned around you.
The source of the balance is a sense perception. Your perception of your location is not contingent, but accords with an idea of location inside you, that turns in you like a gyroscope, as you are moving.
I believe in this sense perception of place, because I experience it.
It may be a sense of the shape of a space, or of the balance of features of the space, or it may be a sense of a point on the earth in relation to forces in the earth, which may be affected by stars and planets. Or, it may be in relation to stars and planets.
The poet writes “Your perception of your location is not contingent, but accords with an idea of location inside you, that turns in you like a gyroscope, as you are moving.” Where is that sense perception, and where is it located in us? How do we wake in the morning, walk through the house or a forest, to the corner store, and know we are in the correct space, heading in the correct direction?
Space is represented in the brain through a series of linked neurons, referred to as Grid Cells, which are in turn located in a place in our brains. http://md.technion.ac.il/research/departments/neurobiology/research/
But sense of place is more than our location in space of course. We can bring a place with us in our memory. Mediterranean herbs evoke for me my birthplace, where the hot winds smell of wild sage and hedges are made of rosemary. What is astronomy or cosmology but a way to find our place in the universe?
Our sense perception of place is contingent on the grid within and the grid outside of us. It’s why to look to vistas when we need to think and imagine; honor sunrise and sunset, the North Star, eclipses- look to the ship disappearing over the horizon. Why we have poetry.