Taigu, China 2007

First, draw the world. But the world erased of water. Lake-bottom, now a plateau. Riverbed, arc of dust. And where ocean should be, a swaying tapestry of corn. To make TH, I tell my students, the tongue must curl and leave the mouth. Think this through: northern earth’s weather. Repeat until tongues harden, parch like the valley of Ezekiel. Voices elbow towards a cadence. Words hit words, pile like skeletons. And all day, the air’s gānzào— so dry, I can’t feel what is it you might call God. As if to say it’s humid were a synonym for knowing the hand, the sweaty familiar hold of it, lines that are rivers. No, my skin splits in absence. We ride on, bikes veiled in thirsty powder. Gobi wind takes the leaves, leaves us still, and wanting—what was it? A forgotten word tastes like the barrel’s bottom. Frantic to remember, all I know is to head towards the market, in hopes someone might have it in their cracking hand, so I can ask, what is this? But here, without the word, I’ve forgotten also, the shape of it and what else is there to recall now, in this place where every color is living the life of another? I buy oranges but they’re green. Greens, they’re prisms, spun in oil. Egg yolk, something blue. My hair, plain auburn, students calling gold. I told the vendor, I need, I was needing, or was it? Was it wanting, either, the same character yao. 要 Open your mouth, let the wind out, and then, on closing, find it empty. The dry mouth that first said bring me the cup, the mouth that also said the sky’s backwashed in dirty watercolor is now searching for the bright word, waiting in the dust. If Ezekiel wants the wheel, it’s just the cigarette-sun, setting on China, neon on inhale, dark by the time the lips separate again. Think this through: northern earth, speak. An echo is just a voice, just the bones, your own. Write a name in loess, watch it leave you for the dark spine of Atlas. Cup your hands, and wait. But do not ask for rain.

ELIZABETH LINDSEY ROGERS was born and raised in Greensboro, NC, and graduated from Oberlin College in 2007 with degrees in writing and dance. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chautauqua Literary Review, The Country Dog Review, and on Poetry Daily. She was the recipient of an Oberlin College Shansi Fellowship and lived and taught in the rural Shanxi province of China from 2007-2009. She will begin an MFA in creative writing at Cornell University this fall.