Susan Elizabeth Howe (Ph.D., U of Denver) is an Associate Professor of English at Brigham Young University. She is a reviewer and contributing editor for Tar River Poetry and the poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. Her first collection, Stone Spirits, won the 1996 publication award of the Redd Center for Western Studies.
Will You Leave Utah?
"How do you spell Utah?" _Playboy's Miss July,
to Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus
The Great Salt Lake is all that's left
of a primitive inland sea. If you think of us
thirty thousand years ago, we're buried
by tons of water. We move slower.
When we think, pressure stalls us.
Mormon pioneers walked so far to get here
the horizon curved away behind them,
eclipsing the past.
Mostly poor, they dragged their faith
in their wagons, believing God spoke
to a backwoods kid with a question and no
education and why not any of us?
Because I work at this conservative religious
educational place, if I were to use
hegemony and Mormon and patriarchy in print
in the same sentence, I might be fired.
So I'd never do that.
Once rattlesnakes spit out most of our region's poison.
Even though I've lived here most of my life,
I've only seen a dead one, limp as a drained
hose, its head cut off by teen-aged boys,
the same ones who drive their pick-ups
at night into the west desert, floodlight
the sage, and blast jack rabbits.
Among other things, I believe in quilts. Pioneer quilts.
Art in cotton. Patterns from scraps.
Atop Zion's West Rim trail, my sight crosses
chasm after chasm, plateau after plateau,
to a blue rim of mountains a hundred miles
away. Space for my thoughts.
At Bingham is Kennecott's open pit
mine. When I was a child, a terraced mountain
in the Oquirrhs fed the company low-grade ore.
Now, in the same place, a terraced crater
the size of a meteor coils into the earth.
My father grows eleven colors of iris,
row after row next to beans and summer squash,
the blossoms_even black, even gold and tan
too delicate for the desert.
Beyond the Salt Lake valley,
on the other side of the Oquirrhs, the army
incinerates shells of nerve gas,
first crushing the casings.
Sometimes instruments detect leaks
that might blow over Tooele or Grantsville.
Tooele is pronounced too-ILL-uh.
The snow in the highest mountains
is dry and light as cosmic dust
we rose from and will,
one winter night, shiver back into.
The eyes of our state legislators
bead in on vice. Like seagulls
after crickets, they swooped down
on gambling in Utah's Wendover
and drinking in limousines.
But last year they flew up, defended
their Constitutional rights:
made it legal to carry concealed handguns
in public places; for instance, parks.
Although, they added,
you probably won't need them at church.
The first settlers in Sanpete camped by a cliff
pocked with rattlesnake caves.
They were directed by prophecy
to build a temple. On the very spot.
You'd swear the light
on sandstone arches and towers
comes from inside. This is a place
the Anasazi had visions,
carved them into the rock.
A thousand-foot drop
straight off your path
to a silver ribbon of river
and thick green cottonwoods.
The salt flats laid themselves down
over eons of the lake's rise
and fall. Once glass-hard paths of land rockets,
now the flats rut and slush, leaching.
Out there a potash plant stews,
and a magnesium plant
spews cumulonimbus chlorine gas.
Goshute Indians have had the latest vision:
government contracts. The Great Spirit wants them
to store nuclear waste on the reservation
and medicine dance themselves into Arizona.
Should I follow? Or as the man asked
who got off the plane with me
in Salt Lake City one summer dawn,
the sun just tipping the mountains
over canyons cool as a kiss,
"Why would anyone
want to live anywhere else?"