Gathering Blue takes place in a post-apocalyptic society that has been rebuilt without technology. Because most citizens of the society are illiterate, the community preserves its history orally through a Ruin Song that tells an account of people from the beginning to the present. The Song is sung once per year by the Singer, who wears a ceremonial robe and holds a ceremonial staff. The robe and staff depict through embroidery and carving the events described in the Song.
Kira has heard the song each year since she was a child, but she was not able to remember it all and couldn't pay attention to the whole song. One day Jamison speaks to her about one of the scenes on the robe that she has been repairing: a scene of skyscrapers toppling with bursts of flame and explosion behind them. Part of the song is intelligible, but another part that Jamison recites seems to contain nonsense words: "Ravaged all,/ Bogo tabal/ Timore toron/ totoo now gone." Jamison explains that those are the names of lost places, places destroyed in the cataclysm.
We can decipher them as names of cities in North and South America: Bogata, Colombia; Baltimore, Maryland, United States; and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Kira has chanted the lines because of their rhymes, but she doesn't understand them until Jamison explains them. Even then, she wishes she knew what the lost places looked like.