A Map of Shanxi

by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

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

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.