Poetry We Admire: Salt


Atop the diced apples and cantaloupe, mingled with the segments of tangerines in a bowl we used the night before to store the pumpkin peels, repurposed now for lunch.

In the evaporation ponds an hour south of my home, in Redwood City, Newark, and Hayward, where brine shrimp turn the waters magenta and cyan, and the product is prepared for exportation on barges across the Pacific.

In the riparian zones of the tidal marshes and mudflats the ocean floods from time to time where I’ve gone walking, those ecosystems shaped by the comings & goings of that fitful water.

And in one way or another, gathering here in these poems, to be referenced directly or share something of its substance, a kindred capacity for preservation. To pinch the thing, to use it now to use for later. 


New environmental standards require the formation of salt crystals
as a byproduct of progress.

from "Choose Your Own ________ Poem"

by Lucas Peel in Bath Magg

Reading this poem my mind went immediately to Dean Rader’s “The Poem Chooses its own Adventure” from his Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry. I love this form, and how Peel balances its almost nostalgic quality, reminding of the choose-your-own-adventure book series that ran from 1979-98, with thematic content that moves toward futurity. There’s a sense of agency this poem bestows upon its readers, as well. Counterbalanced with lines like “Now the chemicals can be found in the blood of nearly all people on the planet, / and in animals from polar bears to eaglets,” this granting of agency becomes a kind of question — what in all this can we bear to know, and to face? 


The trinity is drying more every year
Since I left this place.

from "A Watershed is a Drainage System"

by Hannah Smith in Swamp Pink

I love this poem, which strikes me as a kind of answer to the questions I was asking after reading Peel’s piece in Bath Magg. Smith’s couplets possess a clarity that reminds me of the work of Elizabeth Bishop; “There’s news / of a conservation project I cannot see / from my seat in the sky.” A thread of distance runs through this poem, made ever more palpable by the proximity the speaker of the poem once possessed to the watershed — “Years back, boys / I used to know in the beds of pickup trucks / caught four-foot alligator gar / along the bank…Of course, / they are endangered now…” this poem spoke to me, in its call for preservation through the recording of what is gone.

Is there anything to do? How—do I keep going?
The colony squawks nothing sensible, just do.

from "Missing Water"

by Julio Cesar Diaz in The Cortland Review

“I am led to an infant sea, salted,” as with Smith’s poem, Diaz’s piece is tied to water, its earthly vanishing act. Like Smith’s as well, Diaz’s follows a structure that breaks at the end, but rather than being composed of couplets until ending on a final, single line, Diaz’s poem takes the form of tercets until its last words. The questions of this piece feel familiar and new, and at moments, such as the lines quoted above, I had to catch my breath. This is a stunning poem.

I am doing dishes at night when at once
I can feel every feeling I’ve ever had.

from "An Altar"

by Laura Henriksen in Iterant

Henriksen’s poems have a startling and almost irresistible haunting quality to them, and “An Altar” is no exception. There is a cold sort of comfort about this brief, powerful poem however, this ghost that begins with an epiphany, ferries its reader into uncertainty, and ultimatley ends on hope, on preservation, on salt.

Benjamin Bartu