Poem of the Week | October 21, 2013

This week we feature a new poem by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers. Rogers is the author of Chord Box (University of Arkansas Press, 2013), finalist for the Miller Williams Prize. Her poems appear in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Crab Orchard Review, AGNI Online, Kenyon Review Online, POOL, and other journals. A graduate of Oberlin College and the MFA program at Cornell University, she is currently an inaugural fellow at The Kenyon Review, where she writes, edits, and teaches.

Author’s Note:

“The Frontier” was inspired by the first panoramic photos of Mars. I was struck by how the planet’s surface resembled the set of a Western film, and the usual themes of that genre—landscape, technology, isolation, violence, conflict with indigenous peoples—became the subjects of the poem. In both its images and physical form, the poem also explores the effects of living in a state of lowered gravity, both literally and figuratively. Ultimately, I think “The Frontier” serves as a kind of warning, citing the consequences of exploration and colonization.


The Frontier

after the first 360° panoramic shot of Mars


And all those years, we’d pictured fire—
a neon sign blinking
VACANCY—a world as red as that


inside our bodies, but without
the claustrophobia,
the low ceilings of our skin.


We didn’t think of a sky
azure only at sunset,
or stones, a similar blue, scattered across the regolith.


Now, we know
this pair of weary moons:
the first one painfully slow, a pinprick


taking three days
to move across our vision.
The second, Phobos, is the western origin of fear.


Mishappen, mold-gray.
Every four hours, it rises
like the last potato of the famine.


And by now I know, as you must,
what it means to lose
your lakes and oceans. To creak inside


the riverbed, cross its sockets
and arthritic elbows.
To think of rain as a form, a tome


of bygone remedies.
I can dream now
of what snow must do for the desert.


The camera pans this world:
like earth, pocked
by canyons. Like Liberty, the surface looks aged,


a green patina.
Over dune and dust, the Rover’s
tracks are the only disturbance.


Like a sidewinder, or wagon ruts
the trail circles, and circles itself again.
Again, the ground made


target practice. We come in peace
Curiosity says. But that’s how
all our ships began.


As I land, I weigh next to
nothing. I leap
three times as high. But there is no canopy,


no timber for an axe.
Apple seeds float. There won’t be saplings
next year, though spring goes twice as long.


Imagine a Western
set, a terrain of glare and scour.
The unspoken agoraphobia


drives us all
into the saloon:
the sheriff, the unshaven rogue, the virgin


in blue gingham, the Indian
and the hourglass whore.

Horses are dead. Whiskey’s still


brown, but a grit in our throats.
The first shot sounds—


in air this thin, muted
as a powder puff.


On cue, we turn. Picture:
how slowly
the shutter swings, doors float open.