Rolling through the Ebony

Blackened Earth, Highway G215, Nearing Liuyuanzhen, Gansu Province, China
Rolling through
A land of crushed ebony
Tarry asphalt dividing
The slender white lane markers
And scrubby tufts of amber

I scramble up an ebony mound
To find a landscape of ebony mounds
Growing to distant mountains
All of the same ebony skin

“At least,” I think, out loud
Into the air so dry
It swallows up the words
Right off my tongue
“the falling sun seems less
Like a fire
On a cast-iron skillet.”

I rejoin Emma
The small black dot
With her amber panniers
A blip in this world
Of ebony and amber

Not yet knowing
The road meanders its way
Through mound and scrub
To the base of those distant mountains
And an ivory city there
With the delights of the oasis
Even a meager civilization offers

Blackened Earth
Highway G215
Dunhuang to Liuyanzhen, nearing Liuyuanzhen
Gansu Province, China

Taken during travels, 1998

In 1998 I bicycled the width of China, from Shanghai to Kashgar via Beijing, Xian and Dunhuang. This is the one-day cycle from Dunhuang to Liuyanzhen, nearing the latter. I suppose the dunes of Dunhuang seemed only slightly more hospitable than this blackened skillet of heat, but it was also one of the more starkly and fantastically beautiful sections of roadway in all the 6,000 kilometers of riding I did that trip.

The black and amber specs of Emma and her bicycle are just behind the truck. She joined me in Xian, and though neither of us knew it just yet, this would be the last leg of our journey she would cycle. From Liuyuanzhen she took trains and buses as far as Turpan, then headed back for Beijing to compete in the marathon there.