The Northern Lights, as Seen from Mars

by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

after Wallace Stevens


Sky is where the racer lives.
Scales blurring from the speed
of light, her tongue’s black fork

is lost, dissolved by distance.
But what we thought
we’d driven to extinction

now takes form again:
a neon ouroboros
above the struggling treeline.

Our new ecology
gulps and gulps for air,
but dust has whorled itself

into a pageant we hardly
recognize. Night is full
of quick changes, costumes

tossed aside: blue sequins,
yards of crinoline. Smoke.
Some days, the fabric of space

seems only arranged
for our recognition. The word
beauty holds like a magnet

to my tongue, my mind
a book of matches, waiting
for the strike and spark.


Even in the myth, the snake
learns to bury her purse of eggs.
In our human memory, still,

those hills and impossible
blue-green distances
recall an old-world name,

Virginia. It arrives as beads
of sweat and sand between
the teeth, and then the moaning

floorboards of ships, sails’
cruel whipping. Whose
father mapped these

degrees, each dell and vale?
As if water and not land,
that terrain, ribbon by ribbon,

was greedily siphoned away,
all the while still breathing
with its Indian names.

Whether there were omens
first, no one can know
for sure. We picture, say,

a mosquito swarm
above the coastal plain
like a misshapen constellation,

its gloss increasing
as it drops closer: a funnel,
the terrible humming.


The tornado, I read
long ago, was indigenous
to North America

but what other world wasn’t
born inside this swirling
dust. But unlike the old

stories of dust devils,
our air is full of hooks
and echoes. Its blindness

turns and turns,
a barber pole forever
stripped of stripes.

In Gale crater, a flock
of green stones—dry ice
pelting, a noise that holds

both the explicative and mute—
and then an even stranger
air, dropping down its wick.


Farewell, farewell. The snake,
sorry to say, has swallowed itself
in hunger. The night is undone,

exposing its violet bands, a whelk
a tide has just turned over.
Once, an ocean where

we stand, water hushing
this northern hemisphere.
Thinking of humidity, the brain

blooms with lost years,
moving pictures: lily pads
stirring under pink blossoms,

the quiet drama
of willow and oak.
The lizard’s lost blue

balance. Perhaps the first
snake, his legs surrendered
in streamlined devotion.

A mile deep, that water
too, would have seemed
impossible to lose. Yet

we are, billions later,
almost not able to recall
the old names: algae green,

stormcloud violet. My grandmother’s
mother once looked skyward, standing
on an isle in the north of Scotland.

Bell was her name. Like waves of any
color, the sound of it breaks best
in a medium of crisp, cold dark.


Goodnight spade and pick.
Goodnight helmet, bowl,
tablecloth, child’s brush.

Goodnight hunter and goat
in the sky, blur and veil:
not enough pixels to see

the ruin’s full. Goodnight
old Earth, that far blue
meniscus. Hush.


Tonight, the arid landscape
refuses any human touch.
Below me, bristles of sagebrush

stay hidden, their smell
absorbed by air’s chill.
If you touched me, also, I might

ring and splinter,
as when a foot falls
on a pond’s shallow ice,

my organs like koi, slow
flashes beneath a winter surface.
How anyone survives

one dormant season
and then another—
carrying their bodies

under the weightless winter sky—
I cannot say. The scholar
of solitude opens

the ancient book (pressed
flowers, crumbling leaves)
just as—now! slid across

his moonroof—an aurora
pulses, making the breath
catch inside his throat.


Consider the path
that brought us here—
a chain of narrow, unlit

passages, sorrow
hid beneath the decks
of ships. Ancestors

believed the sky’s
discharge of light
was the dead calling

back to us, showing off
their blubber pots
or playing ball with a walrus-head.

Oh the cruelties
reserved for nights—
war or wonder, the garish

carousel has nothing
left but color,
each horse whirled

out of air and plasma.
There, our bodies tilt, tear
away from seasons. In morning,

we’ll find the hourglass
gone to pieces, a red ash
landscape filling in the blanks.

Nothing can really be
lost, some say—
not a silver key in a field

of snow, not a planet’s
ancient field of magnets.
Looking up, we see

these remnants: ions
that ache against this charge,
a backdrop behind

the unfixed world. Your mother
as she sweeps across
the sky, in shimmering robes.

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.