The Google Earth Effect
Visible from space, my house
sits on a little river, or at least
from satellite view where I see
the vertebraed arrangement
of lots & streets. A red-hot
balloon pinpoints the spot
I’ve been lost all these years.
Call it Still Life with Joystick.
In this virtual diorama, I fly low
where nothing moves, no cars,
no cats, no one watering a lawn—
& shrink back to play home.
If I were a stranger, I might try
to picture the people inside,
maybe a family just like mine.
But the door is closed & blinds
drawn & there’s no hint at all
of yelling. Isn’t that normal
when stuck? Who understands
unless they’re in it? I find myself
rotating the view straight above
to look at my tree-lined sky,
or at least the sky on that day,
& pan up & out & over & away.
levelheaded: The Google Earth Effect
When Tanya Grae personifies the speaker’s neighborhood as “the vertebraed arrangement / of lots and streets,” we are reminded of how closely our own identities are linked to the place we call home. For the speaker, the Google map’s “red-hot / balloon pinpoints the spot / [she’s] been lost all these years.”
It’s no mistake that the phrase “I’ve been lost all these years” is granted its own line. Here is the poem’s emotional center. In a motionless, “Still Life,” the speaker is the one “with Joystick,” eager to instigate action. She flies when “nothing moves.”
A few lines later, when the speaker returns home, she “shrink[s] back to play home.” In this line, the verbs are especially interesting. By shrinking, the speaker becomes a reduced version of herself. By playing, she is pretending. The falsehood inherent in both of these words echoes the speaker’s earlier expressed sentiment of having “been lost all these years.”
Perhaps this feeling of not belonging stems for the speaker’s home being a place where there is or was much more than a “hint” of “yelling.” Perhaps the feeling comes from other’s inability to understand and connect, never having been “in it” themselves. Looking at her home and her self so closely, and the pain that goes along with that, may be the impetus for the speaker “rotating the view.” Grae’s choice to end the poem on a rhyming couplet with a final long vowel allows the poem to float off memorably like a red balloon drifting “up & out & over & away.”
– The Editors