Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

In Praise of Great Salt Lake

Members of the Utah Women’s Forum at the shores of Great Salt Lake (photo courtesy nanseymour.com)

“irrecplaceable,” the community poem created as part of a vigil for Great Salt Lake, is overflowing. Intended to be at least 1,700 lines long, representing the square miles of water that would be needed to fully restore the lake,  the poem exceeded 2200 lines as the vigil came to its conclusion on March 5.

The poem and the vigil was nurtured by Nan Seymour, a poet and community builder who provides “narrative encouragement” through River Writing, a series of storytelling workshops she began in 2015.  Seymour started camping on the shores of Great Salt Lake in mid-January of this year in an effort to inspire legislation that would help to restore GSL. In the weeks that followed, she has been joined by fellow lake nerds, poets, and community and school groups. Each has left their own contribution to the expanding praise of and plea for the largest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere.

The following is a sampling of the nearly 300 voices that went into the creation of the poem. You can read the full poem at nanseymour.com.

 

irreplaceable

Invocation
when praise began to flow

we watched the water rise
along both sides of the causeway
eleven islands recovered
their autonomy. microbialites sighed
with relief. when praise began to flow
the dust subsided. metals resettled
on the seafloor, arsenic and mercury
were lulled back to sleep
blanketed once more
by the great weight of water

when praise began to flow
three rivers rushed forth unhindered
as greed relinquished its grasp
and fat flakes of snow tumbled
into the great body becoming
clouds, drifting into peaks
making snow and more snow
and then creeks, then rivers
then lake, and then lake effect
also known as sustenance
also known as snow
and the waters did not desert
us when praise began to flow

when praise began to flow
we returned to fourth grade field trips
to picnics run amok, spirited floats
and salt-encrusted bodies
boats bobbed back to their docks
we recalled how to sail
we could taste our first kiss
we remembered a day we didn’t die

when praise began to flow
we gathered and told these stories
and a culture of disdain released its chokehold
our eyes shone with love and even
reverence, which began to grow
when praise began to flow
we sorrowed over the way
we had shunned her
irreplaceable body and vowed
never again to part from her company
and the love we felt for each drop
making a way to her whale-heart
became unfathomable

when praise began to flow
we thirsted for the names of birds
we learned the mouth-feel of the words
grebe, avocet, willet
pelican, curlew, stilt
we observed their long dives
sudden swerves, and bright eyes
we noted their cries and habits
tracing murmurations
we drew love
beyond naming

when praise began to flow
we felt the genesis of our feathers
we felt water return to the sea
of ourselves, we felt
a swell in the lake
of ourselves. we felt
the surge of our rivers
we felt tidal. we felt primal. we fell
with the snow. we grew ocean-
hearted. we began to know
we had never been separate
and thus could not be parted
when praise began to flow

 

 

Part 3
ode to microbialites by nan seymour

first breathers, imperiled neighbors—
you rise from the shallows in ancient forms
a diversity of architects
building layer upon layer of life

metabolizers of light—
behold your living edge
you nurture brine shrimp and brine flies
who fill grebes and stilts,
phalaropes, avocets, and cliff swallows
you sing through the wing bones of seagulls
thank you for each feathered citizen
thank you for filling the air with flight

saline corals, great sustainers—
behold your delicate rhythms
your time-bending and slow growth
you were here before handcarts and causeways
before state parks, airports, and apps
before we began to make weather
you took centuries to form
we did not create you
may we take in the fact
that we cannot remake you

platforms of life
holy origins—
may we humble ourselves
before you as your descendants
may we find reverence
for we are latecomers
diverting your waters
if we don’t cease
you will perish
may we bring water in time

 

 

Part 6
praise chorus from eighty friends of great salt lake

praise dawn on the causeway
a rusty coyote splashing through
rounding the corner, antelope island opens to view
praise the startling vista

praise distant calm from the highway
praise space for bison to thrive
praise wild desolation so close to home
praise ancient world in present day

praise winter ski trips with friends
praise salty foam whipping up at rozel point
praise ten thousand avocets with rusty heads
praise imagination, praise billions of brine shrimp

praise tornadoes of midges
praise hopper salt crystals
plucked from lake bed like so many teeth
praise floating between sky and sky

praise her salty kiss burning like fire on the horizon
appalled by flies, enthralled by sunset
grassy slopes grace us, riding alongside
praise the midnight bicycle ride

praise the color explosion at days end
white foam, watery pastiche, changing blues,
depending on where you stand
praise orange, in sky and on water

praise the days when the water is its pinkest
salt crystals sparkle at a pale blue sky
praise sage green with deep maroon
silhouettes against gradient colors

the site of gulls without an ocean,
in the desert fighting for fries
i will miss the funky smell
praise slow, salty undulations

i will miss the feel of salt
no lake, no lake effect snow,
no snow, no winters, no water
praise hollowing waves of sorrow

praise feeling weight in damp smash
praise the place out past the railroad
the place that saved me in 2020
where the water is sometimes pink

praise ripples, praise stillness
praise kit carson’s cross
praise moments spent lost
praise sun on salt, praise sky

praise eared grebes
with golden feathers
and scarlet eyes
praise eared grebes!

praise the flight of the migratory
praise rest for birds and earth
praise a solitary mammoth tooth
caught between time and depth

praise children marveling at brine shrimp
praise bringing a friend for a first visit
praise people swimming
praise the job of a lake girl

praise the drive to the jetty
the jetty, pink and i can’t believe it
knee deep in the waters of Smithson’s spiral,
praise the illuminated salty sculpture

how would it be for the spiral
to slip under the waves
and sleep again?
praise layers of time

praise a picnic with two ninety year-old women
no-see-ums defending the beaches
swirled clouds mimic water ripples
praise contemplating stars from buffalo point

praise sunsets overlooking saltair,
more impressive than the show inside
praise floating on a summer day in ’72,
feeling like a pretzel after drying

praise learning and teaching a unique ecosystem
kids laugh when i tell them the water will sting their eyes
feeling the planet’s pulse
forms and cures loneliness

praise home, the home i am made of—
praise reflections of mackerel sky
vast expanses, mirror-smooth
feel alone and connected at the same time

praise the great blue heron
taking off and flying through reeds
praise capturing the amber eye of an egret
through a cloud of thousands of gnats

praise the panoramic view from frary peak
praise joy on the shores of stansbury
praise gazing at the intense blue
golden grasses blowing in symphony

praise the texture of pickle grass
praise the smell of rainfall, stinky, fresh
praise briny socks and briny smiles
praise senses scrubbed raw

praise visiting the lake with my mother
memorias com o meu pai
praise the ever mutable backdrop of childhood
visit even when you are afraid

bear witness even when you are afraid
how can water be so heavy?
the lake, my sister, lives in my body,
carries my weight.

 

 

Part 11
To the Baby Pelican by Willy Palomo

praise the baby pelicans
salt-white feathers tarred
like filthy and immaculate
prophets.   we must all
be notorious, ready to die
for your gospel of crack
and eggshell.  each of
your feathers is a quill,
a page of the book of life,
black with our gasoline.
nobody reads books
anymore for fear of what
is written about them.
heirs of air and cloud,
blood brothers of breath
and wind.  your bones
are snow that never melts,
only glistens.  you are
disgusting and pure.
the guilty condemn you
only because innocence
pains them.  it pains me
to see the twisted hay
of your feathers,  the weak
air melting beneath your
wings until you land like
a ripped grocery bag,
eggs broken, milk claiming
a continent on the tile.
ravens will dive. foxes sniff.
they will join you in your
sticky grave, devoured
by their own hunger.
Rest now, young one.
This pain is for the living.

 

 

Part 19
praise to the tar seeps by gretchen ernster henderson

praise to the tar seeps
sticking together this
matter: this water, this
art, tar, mud, sky, brine,
salt, sea, rocks, birds
feathering into focus:
wingbeats and wind,
sand crunches
underfoot
all matters:
all waters
retreat, inscribing
—lake level
—lake level
—lake level
revealing
less snow
more seeps
where language eludes
(disarticulated: bones,
words) getting stuck
in “death traps”
as a “dead sea”
lives as a body
of water, of land
among bodies
(human, animal, botanical)
interacting as mineral
extract-
ions seep
into our cells,
infinitesimal spirals
transforming
as we sing: praise

 

 

Part 20
Brine Shrimp Matter: praise chorus by Mr. Craner’s 6th grade class at Emerson Elementary

Brine shrimp matter to us.
We care about them.
We like how fast they swim.
They may be small, but we need them so much.

Brine shrimp matter.
They are small but do a lot for us.
The impact they have is so big.
Praise the way they feed so many amazing birds.

Brine shrimp can only live in salt water,
only in the south side of the lake,
only in certain salinity.
Their arms look like spaghetti.

Praise their little black eyes sticking out of their heads.
Praise them for providing hundreds of jobs from farming cysts.
They swim like they are crawling through a vast nothingness.
Like whales in the ocean but brine shrimp in Great Salt Lake.

We love their bright colors when we see them.
We like the little wing things that they swim with.
Praise the way their wings propel them through water.
It’s cool and unique how they swim.

Brine shrimp matter.
They’re the ones who bring the life.
Something that surprised us is how they help
prevent toxic dust from releasing.

Brine shrimp matter
because they are a keystone species.
Brine shrimp matter
because we use the cysts to feed our fish.

Brine shrimp are beautiful creatures,
they help our ecosystem and our economy.
They matter because 1. They are very cute
2. Without them the lake would be more unhealthy then it is.

Even if we stopped diverting water, brine shrimp
would still need to be there for the lake
to sustain so much life like it does.
Brine shrimp matter.

Praise pink lines with wings swimming freely.
Praise black pure eyes staring into mine.
If we did not have them,
we would not be here today.

Brine shrimp have multiple generations in one body of water.
Praise the way they have so many eggs.
Great Salt Lake would not be great
if there were no brine shrimp.

Praise the way their eyes pop out of their tiny bodies.
Praise the way you can see them so easily with their eyes.
Brine shrimp matter to us because they live
in the great Salt Lake City School District.

Praise brine shrimp for giving us learning opportunities.
They are the foundation of the whole lake.
The mass of brine shrimp in Great Salt Lake
adds up to the mass of 1.8 million people.

Brine shrimp matter to us because if they weren’t in the GSL
we wouldn’t get to learn as much as we have
and we wouldn’t have the opportunity
to go to the capital and see how a bill gets passed.

Brine shrimp matter because of everything
that has happened in 2021 to 2022…
studying Great Salt Lake has brought us
happiness in this hard time.

The praise poets of Mr. Craner’s 6th grade class at Emerson Elementary think that Brine Shrimp should be the official Utah State Crustacean. Please sign this petition in support!

 

 

Part 27
Two Floats by Rachel Posner

1st float – Another World
A slow walk into the water,
awed by the slow rise of the brine flies
Like a murmuration of the smallest starlings
Settling into the stillness
A mirror reflecting back all that is
Brine flies covering my body
The sweetest sensation
What a surprise

2nd float – A Prayer
A slow walk into the water,
awed again by the slow rise of the brine flies
Finding my way onto my back –
my enormous belly on top of the water
Finally buoyant, finally weightless
The lake generously holding both of our bodies
An offering of my love, my heart
A prayer for ease
24 hours later, my prayer answered
A baby girl birthed
Reciprocity

Rachel is a student, a witness, a worshiper, a citizen and a devotee of the Great Salt Lake. She’s been making the pilgrimage since she moved to SLC in 2006 and her little one was nearly born on the lake in 2009.

 

 

Part 32
Nuestro Padre el Lago Salado by Jose Arevalo-Rivers

El se viste en azul cielo, blanco y rosa,
nos muestra en sus piernas su bello tatuaje de espiral de piedra,
sus cicatrices nos recuerda de la vida en la cual está llena.

El tan leal nos muestra que es el lugar,
el lugar donde nos ha ayudado a construir casas,
y nos a dado sustento.
Como sus hijos nos ha criado ayudándonos a crecer.

Nuestro padre el lago salado.

~

Our Father the Salt Lake

He dresses in light blue, white, and pink,
showing us his stone spiral tattoo,
his scars remind us of the life he is filled with.

He is loyal, he shows us he is the place,
the place where he has helped us build our houses,
and has nourished us.
Like his children he has raised us and helped us grow.

Our father the salt lake.

 

 

Part 44
Dead Sea by Maxine Hanks

I wait to take my mood from the colors my mind finds out here
where horizontal water mirrors sky, in cobalt blue or cool slate gray.
Graceful gulls glide and caw high above a mundane humanity,
far beyond a sentient insantiy so indifferent to nature.
Desert life is born in sand to expire or learn to fly, as
an ancient body of life-giving water is slowly dying.

 

 

Part 46
Valentine for the Great Salt Lake by Sunni Wilkinson

From the sky, your clusters of brine shrimp eggs
              huddle and drift into thick brown swirls
                            like pools of chocolate milk. You, mother
to millions, amniotic sac waiting to hatch
              innumerable legs, flat and upright,
                            that paddle and push tiny boats
of creatures toward each other.
              You are buoyancy of bodies
                            toppled with light. You are love potion.

From the sky you are the brightest glint,
              shine of a gum wrapper, a wild lick
                            across our desert face. From the sky you are
a lost child. I bring my children to you
              and something primordial breathes
                            under our feet. My sons wear
your salty crust, your brush
              of mineral across their bare and freckled legs
                            all the long drive home. They sleep inside

your mottled and endless light.
              You are the place
                            that held me while I listened
to the meadowlark’s song
              on a Spring afternoon so wide
                            and long that nothing but the wind
in the brown grass
              and that single bird
                            moved. You are the heart of stillness,
heart of lark and coyote, pink heart

of Floyd, the flamingo who fled
                              the Salt Lake aviary and lived
                                            in the heart of you
for years, migrating then returning,
                              a sighting of him like a flash
                                            of pink, a thump in the chest,
              a one-legged valentine
                            lost in blue.

Note from the poet: For me, Antelope Island is a place of magic, where light is caught and reflected in every direction, and underneath is always that almost mythical lake, opening the earth into another sky. And a day I spent with my family one Spring a couple of years ago, listening to meadowlarks near the lake, is still one of my most cherished memories.

 

 

Part 63
sin eater (anonymous)

great sin eater of the valley
consumes corruption
inhales excess
offers up community offal
carried away by serafin in transit
from heaven to hell
or hell to heaven
confirmation
terminal need not be the end

 

 

Part 66
In Praise of Her Beauty by Lara Chho

I’ve come here to the shores of Great Salt Lake to notice,
to gather details, to pay attention to whatever she might teach me.

Today it is a raven’s slick black body gliding and effortlessly perching from a rock,
surveilling its territory, lone sentinel. Silence, broken
only by the chukar’s chuckles, hidden in sagebrush, heard, but not seen.

A young coyote leaps, their buff coat the color of the grass.

The feel of bison patty in my hand, rough but oh so light,
stiff and pulpy like Japanese washi paper.

The sky, so blue, so vast, punctuated by the few clouds captured on Frary peak.
Phragmites, orange tassels reaching for blue sky, seeds patiently waiting for winds.

Bare feet gingerly picking over crusted dried lakebed,
then sinking with sweet relief when we finally reach the wet softness of her shore.

Children splashing, fully clothed, rolling, full of sand.
Mid-February and warm, their delight
in her salty water reminds us what it is to touch innocence.

My dog pulls me eagerly across the distance to the receding shore,
eager for water until his nose and tongue tell him that she may not be what you expect.

A brisk morning,
rewarded with the beating wings of eagles,
beating a rhythm down to us from a celestial dimension.

Some days it is a pilgrimage,
a chance to be reminded of what it feels like
to be small in her Greatness.

Some days I come to her shores to discover a balm,
though the salt stings my skin,
it heals the ills I did not know I carried.

To sit under her vast sky, engulfed by silence
and rocks, with their mysterious whisperings of deep time.
I feel elemental, brought back to the simplicity of bone and brine.

A clear voice reaches out over her parched shores,
singing praises to the four directions
language I have never heard before,
yet I hear the call of ancestors
are they yet lost to us?
are we yet lost to them?

A shiver down my spine,
and I remember that I am sacred too.
“Please bring the waters back.”

 

3 replies »

  1. W H Auden famous wrote that poetry can make nothing happen. Then he softened his sense of futility. Had he lived to see this, he might have admitted that the emotions this brings about in we who share the Great Lake are not ‘nothing.’ He might have added a few lines of his own.

  2. Every drop of water put in the Great Salt Lake is wasted. Every dollar thrown at it is in vain. In this new globe world it is dead. Get some flamingo for a pond and forget it.

  3. This work is truly beautiful. Hard to believe what community can achieve; gives me hope. For nature, for Ukraine. Have to praise the lede to this piece — how the poem about the lake, with more lines than anticipated, is “overflowing.” Perfection.

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