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Lithium Dreams (White Sea)

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The Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia holds the world’s largest lithium reserves. “As remote and unlikely a place as can be imagined for the world to seek its salvation.”—Matthew Power

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
                                                                            Lithium chloride
& 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.

Source: Poetry (January 2012)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

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Lithium Dreams (White Sea)

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