Charting the World | 18'
SATB or SSA Chorus, String Quartet & Flute
The two poems of Charting the World, both written by contemporary poet Diane Thiel, share a common theme: the wonder of watching a child acquire a new language.
In “The First Sea,” language opens new worlds to children, unfolding fears and dreams alike. In “Counting Two,” it’s an adult perspective that shifts as a child learns to count to two. In both poems, we travel to different worlds. We fall into a dream and name what we find as we fall into sleep, and the mind transforms the world around us into a multitude of new adventures.
I don’t have children of my own, but I have delighted in caring for and teaching children for most of my life. A few years ago, one of my young nephews went through a phase where he’d point at object after object, saying “This? This?” It was one of the only words he knew, yet he knew he could use it for nearly anything he discovered. He wanted to know what this was, and he wanted you to interact with it: to turn on the light switch, to open the cabinet. That phase lasted only a few months, but I still think about how one word summed up his wonder: this, and this, and also this. Charting the World describes that same sense of perpetual discovery. If we pay attention, one word—or two—can reshape our entire world.
Charting the World was commissioned by New Amsterdam Singers, Clara Longstreth, Music Director, with generous support from an anonymous donor.
1. THE FIRST SEA
The children are sorting the world of dreams
and speak of them in the morning, beginning to tell
the real from shadow. The story line blurred,
the edge of sleep and the wake of yet another storm.
We chart the world with every word we speak. I wish I could
tell them there are no monsters of the deep, but that is exactly
where to find them—in the fears swimming deep inside
the cells of our bodies, or spiraling, one around another.
The mind a sail, the bed a vessel ready to transform
a pirate ship, a submarine, the belly of a whale.
With each new word they learn, one more memory
will sink beneath the waves. Like swimming in that first sea,
that grew smaller and smaller, as they already found
ways to comfort themselves. On any morning,
I find my daughter has traveled to yet another
country, speaks a different language. Every dawn
her world is new. She dreams the same dreams I do.
She may be falling, falling, running, or unable to run
when she needs to. I can’t protect her there.
We grow further away all our lives. Language drifts us
from those early waters, and our stories, long submerged,
swim up years later. So many of these moments,
each a small Atlantis, will be covered by the sea—
as language takes over, relegates the rest to dream.
2. CHARTING TWO
Suddenly my son can count—
His one a calm, tame number
His two a wild creature,
the vowel stretching limbs,
traveling continents, oceans
taking on the world, in its primordial twos.
Three, four, five? my practical parent self suggests.
One, he answers authoritatively,
and then, again, the wildly gestured Twooo!
He counts the flock of birds
The cars on a passing train.
A march of ants. Drops of desert rain.
At night, exhausted from his exponential math,
his head against my heart,
counting beats perhaps
to fall asleep,
I fall with him,
thinking of his Twooo! his wildly gesturing hand,
showing me how well he understands—
my little son—
that two is so much more,
twice as much in fact,
—Diane Thiel. © 2022, from Questions from Outer Space (Red Hen Press).