Once, volcanoes walked & talked like humans. Married.
Quarreled & gave birth. When the beautiful Tunupa’s
husband ran away & took their only child she mourned:
she cried & stormed, her full breasts spilled until she made
this sunken bed, a dry & ragged ice-white sea. Tears
& milk. Salt. Silver liquor of the spirits, the winter tuber’s pulp.
Buzz Aldrin spied a plain from space: twice Rhode Island-sized,
not a glacier but this vast evaporation, a place so flat we use its plane
to calibrate the altitude of satellites, measure the retreat of polar ice.
A dry lagoon of element. Energy. Winking like a coin in a well.
In bare Salar the tourists bottle sand & salt: mug & pirouette
across this lithic sink of drought, empty leagues of sky & light,
slight mist of silt. We dream our dreams of clean—or cleaner—
means to drive and speak—o Li, atomic number three, be
our Miracle element!
Prehistoric smelt, simmered & distilled
in Altiplano climes, your samite matter known to quiet, after all,
the manic brain, the urge to suicide; proven to dispel the voice
that whispers fire from the gods is never free—
& plain table salt under ancient ocean crust; fossils & algae;
a bird so bright & blackly drowned, pickled in the salt brine pool:
the desert is generous.
The desert is a pot boiled dry. This road
will turn to dirt and then to salt, to the workers in jumpsuits,
veiled & covered from the brutal sun; but we’re not here, not here—
what matters are the distant cities: Chongquing, Phoenix, Quebec,
Lagos, far & star-chalked: splitting at the seams. Now
the shrouded workers wait for sunset. The desert is patient.
They see the bed plowed under: slapdash trenches in the legend,
in the hasty furrows raked. With eyes narrowed from the endless
light. See Litio. Wages in the veins laid open; see paid the lush
reduction of her ditches’ spill. This new abyss to feed our traffic.