Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

By

 

 

 

Glossary for the State of Louisiana

Alluvial & drifting is how this language begins:
______alligators floating their dark

Braille across some no-name
______bayou. Where layers lilt as they lower,

Crawdads with the long-dead in their mouths. Where all
______colors slow their spectrum to brackish brown.

Desire Street is where we lived back then,
______dumb & new, married less than a year,

Elephant Ears taking over the backyard, their radars turned
______eastward, listening for rain. We knew one

Flood might erase us. We were always
______fucking in a big hurry back then, knowing that

Gulf of Mexico could be churning the next
______great big disaster.

Hope or hopelessness? On the street,
______houses fell like cakes, doomed by dampness &

Imperfections in measurement. The walls
______itched with insulation, while the floor went without,

January numbing our feet. Beneath the boards, you could hear
______joists humming when the wind passed through.

Keeping time, our neighbors painted blue arrows, pointing to
______Katrina’s waterlines: Here. When

Levees broke. I was staying over on St. Claude. You?
______Lost in middle America, I said, while that single eye

Moved across the TV screen: the swirling
______model, the terror of that organized

Neon. But by the time it touched me—in Ohio, then—
______nothing much remained.  Light rain. A picnic cancelled.

Outrageous, it seems now, to have been so inland. So little knowledge of
______Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, St. Tammany,

Plaquamines, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Ascension:
______parishes under water. & now,

Questions to big too answer. How did the world become this
______quagmire (after the water retreated),

Rough outlines where the living had been?
______Recklessness in the architecture, in retaining walls,

Substructural planks, the pumps and underpasses, holes
______sinking the city streets (this, a natural quality of

Terrain, not just the fault of
______town or city or state or the country’s

Unqualified officials), but also the lack of consideration for
______undulating banks, for water made

Viscous by silt, for sure embayment & hundreds of new
______veins created over time, which eventually

Weathers down the deposits, the barriers always
______waxing then waning.  Now, there is nothing

Xenial about this union: always loss between the river &
______xanthochromic sands.  Yes, this is the language for how

Yellow Cotton Bay disappeared, banks sunk faster than the last
______year in Venice.  Every day, a new word drawn: blue

Zigzag unraveling the coastline, one more
______zone of paradise erased.

 

FINAL NOTE ON THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Not just the south of it, borders slicked
_______by rivers and petroleum, trying to breathe

ethanol instead of standard air,
_______but also the north, clanging

its jankety machinery,
_______last stop on the Rust Belt Express.

Prone to extremes, the lake’s
_______methylene-blue was the only color

in the city that summer: the days bleached
_______to mindlessness, every surface

like a third-degree burn.
_______Couldn’t turn on the stove. The apartment

a brick oven. We went to movies
_______to sit in air conditioning: Ice Age 4, Hysteria.

In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,
_______we learn the heartland suffers

in a secret apocalypse. Abe grinds his ax,
_______wears a tall hat, carries loads

of garlic. For the finale, they reenact
_______the Civil War in the dark.

It was ten o’clock when we finally stepped
_______outside the theater’s pocket,

the air still ninety-something
_______degrees. Night’s body

sweating against us. The neon signs blurred,
_______heat angels shimmering up

in hallucinogenic waves.
_______& suddenly we seemed to know nothing

but the evaporating world,
_______not one of us fit

to last. Even a city
_______that burned & rose once

won’t get a second chance.
_______It was too hot for hand-holding

but I took yours anyway
_______as we languished back

towards the apartment: no wind,
_______not even on the harbor, where

we leaned innately towards the water
_______as if a magnetic north

was still intact.
_______How easy it was to fantasize

the lake as a kind a pause—
_______comma breathed into

the country, a respite from disaster—
_______and not the Bellwether of

the Interior, a whole globe tipped
_______on its glacial edge.  Land &

water: a seamless opaque. At the beach’s
_______end, a small lighthouse

with no light inside its glass.


Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers is the author of two poetry collections: Chord Box (University Arkansas Press, 2013) and The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons (Eyewear Publishing, forthcoming in October 2018). Her poems appear in Boston Review, The Missouri Review, FIELD, Crazyhorse, and other journals; her creative nonfiction can be found in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2017, Best American Travel Writing 2017, The Missouri Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. A former Kenyon Review Fellow, she is currently a Murphy Visiting Fellow at Hendrix College. She lives in Arkansas and Washington, DC. More from this author →