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Annie Q. Syed

The Cartography of the Mind

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When I meet Vincent Van Gogh for the first time he is wearing a Champagne pink coat covered with bright green sequins.

He is surprised I don’t know about him. ‘There,’ he says. He takes out an identification card to show me he really is the Vincent Van Gogh of our block. That is indeed his name.

‘How did you get your name?’ I ask.

‘How does anyone get their name? Alchemy?’ He shrugs. He points to a star to explain name-alchemy, but all I see is the bowed reflection of one building infused onto another.

Next, he unrolls a painting of blackberries and I tell him they remind me of pituitary glands. We are what we see; I too have desires to fork out deformed, contorted growths within.

‘This is how you dust a crescent moon!’ Vincent says; he holds another drawing.

I wish he’d tell me about meanings, prayers, sounds and the color blue. I want to find a way out of my own head. Instead he talks about the alphabets of water, earth wobbling like a bowling pin, and the nebula where questions without answers are sent.

• • •

The second time I meet Vincent he is wearing an old denim jacket speckled with red polka dots. We talk about the weather, the two-for-one-dollar hot dog sale at Mike’s Dogs, and the price of art equipment. He says art materials should be free if art is indeed made in the image of God because God is free. He’s surprised I don’t believe in God.

I want him to say ‘there’ again and pull out a resource, some evidence so I can become a believer. Instead he nudges me to a box next to the circle drawings.

‘Maps of “lost” islands.’ His eyebrows hike up to meet his hairline.

I don’t buy it. ‘How can there be a map if the place isn’t even there?

’ His e-cig vapor wafts across my face. Cherry and caramel.

‘What else is a map for? Hawaiki is the traditional Māori place of origin but you can’t find it. But it’s there just the same.

’ If only he could show me the Greek map of Island of the Blessed, or the map of King Arthur’s Avalon, or the map of Isle of Javasu. Instead he says he is not real, that the interior of the brain cannot be mapped, and that I am searching for Edgar Allen Poe’s fictional Aurora islands within.

• • •

When I meet myself in the mirror, there stands a me I never recognize. I lean in closer, closer, closer, hoping to make the world inside visible. Sometimes I am the winner and other nights I float. I call my sister. ‘You’re right. I shouldn’t do walks by myself.’ I forget to ask her if she can come help me pack my things, to put me Elsewhere.

It is okay that I forgot to ask; tomorrow I will find Vincent again and it won’t be so dark.

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