Also Curious by Ashley Sanders

I didn't come to the lake looking for the lake.
In fact at first I didn't come to the lake at all.
Instead I started on dry land
At the place where City Creek folds into a U
And the hills go up and up

I wasn't trying to know the lake
I was trying not to die
Trying to survive
An ending
So I suppose it makes sense that I
Started with ghosts
With the ghost lake
The shores of the ancient sea
Now dry as the fish bones you can still find there

And that, haunted, I walked the ledges
of a desert valley also-haunted
By past waters, past floods
All the unnamed animal dead
By things that happened too quickly for words
And too long ago for lament

They say the flood was biblical
Rushing out at Red Rock Pass
Draining half the West like a bathtub
What was left was the lake
"Great," as it was later called
Rightly but with no sense of historical proportion

At the time,
I thought the only thing I was
Was grief
No, said a friend
You are also curious
And what do you want to know?
I want to know how the shoreline fits together, I said
And so I started walking.

I walked the lake line
jagged with the sharpness of what had happened to me
Wanting nothing except everything
And, if not that, then to know how the shoreline fit together
I was circumnavigating the past
trying to get the shape of something

The shape did not appear
But trees did
And animal tracks
And one time a ribcage and a thick slurp of blood
And in the distance the live lake with is real waters

I was a pilgrim
And the lake was a relic
And so eventually I went like a pilgrim to the lake
Wanting to find something,
Wanting to be made oolitic
Round and imperturbable

I'd been there before
Visited in elementary
Hot vinyl close air
The bus dropping us off at the edge
Where we jumped in
To something black-bilious
Which slicked us up to our shins
In oil and eggy vapors

"A trash lake," I heard my teacher say
But she was wrong. 

I'd been there in winter
The island fog-enveloped
A silence close to godliness on Frary Peak
Until we spooked a flock of chukars
And they percussed across the snow

And once recently, before the end
I had walked with my beloved
Out past the Spiral Jetty at gloaming
And floated.
Pink water pink sky pink orb
The world flamingoed around us, flamingoed close.
We pushed each other down into the water
Just to bob back up
And laughed—
This water will not let you drown, I said.

And when it ended, and I needed
To believe in that sort of buoyancy
I came back
To sit among quiet quieter than me
And oldness older than me
To be cormoranted and grebed and heroned
Into something else

The lake is a dead place
People told me
Too salty for life
And aren’t you lonely
With only brine shrimp for company? 

They were wrong
But I forgave them
Like me
they had confused extremity with death
Not knowing
That extremity creates the conditions for life
Not knowing
That a brine shrimp egg can lie dormant
For twenty-five years
Waiting for the right conditions
Not knowing
That we are made beautiful
By what we must survive 

Ash Sanders is a writer and climate activist who grew up next to a magical inland sea but didn’t think twice about it until she did, and now she thinks about it all the time. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, pining for salt from afar. Her verse is Part 57 of the collective praise poem irreplaceable.

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