Spring Quarterly – Salt (May 2015 / 15.10)
Artist, Paul Beckman is an award-winning photographer with many one-man and group shows to his credit. His photographs from around the world are published in many magazines and are featured in the permanent collections of Yale Medical School and the University of Connecticut Medical School. Beckman on Bonaire: “This photograph was taken at the Bonaire salt mines, which date back to the seventeenth century when salt, mined by slaves, was Bonaire’s major industry. Here we see the conveyor system used to bring the dried salt in railroad-style box cars (from where it is mounded after drying to the high point of the conveyor where it is then dumped into the ship’s hold) and the blue navigational shore marker. These days, with much more automation, the salt is mainly sent to Canada for salting roads and not used for food. And Salt Pier is one of the best diving and snorkeling spots on the island for variety of fish species.”
When that Piper Cub salts clouds,
it’s as if you seeded tears in me.
Today precipitates harder and truer,
because your words like sodium chloride
crystallize my cumulonimbus thoughts.
Salt and smoke flare through cortex
conjuring myth. The hippocampus flashes
memories.We sew bolts into narrative,
like dreams or dementia’s fabrications.
This is the tale we tell ourselves:
it’s all our parents’ fault.
We hold onto water.
We hold onto salt.
We clutch our stories
as if prying them loose
would bring down the sky.
I want to dream a better dream
where hippos pirouette
through lightning clouds.
Canyons flash-flood, eroding sands
to reveal a mastodon tusk
poking through the Sonoran desert
like a water-lily in a swimming pool,
or a poet in a family of professionals.
Jan Steckel’s poetry book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a Lambda Literary Award. Her fiction chapbook Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and poetry chapbook The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006) also won awards. Her writing has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize. She is looking for a publisher for her short story collection Ghosts and Oceans.
In the aquarium there was a green moray eel as wide as a man’s necktie from the nineteen-seventies.
There were fish — not tiny, not big, merely mid-sized — swimming from just below the surface to just above the bottom and there was a faux bridge to swim over and under and across and other things meant to make fish feel at home, though who knew what made a fish feel at home, except a fish. Maybe not even a fish.
The couple stood close to the saltwater aquarium, holding hands.
The woman was looking at fish swimming on the right side of the aquarium, but her husband was watching the fish in the upper left quadrant.
“Oh my god,” her husband said.
“They are ganging up on him.” And sure enough, when she looked at the spot he was pointing to she saw four or five fish nipping at a smaller, but still mid-sized, fish. Each time the smaller fish tried to stay with the bigger fish, they butted him and nipped him and he floated downward, as if drowning, but fought to rise again, and they butted and nipped some more and then he drifted to the bottom of the aquarium and was still.
“Dammit,” her husband said.
“Tell someone,” she said.
Her husband pointed out the aquarium situation to the waiter, who was Hispanic and had a sweet face. The waiter went somewhere else to tell someone else.
The woman was unsure when she and her husband had stopped holding hands. It had seemed disrespectful, or too self-involved, to hold hands while the bigger fish were ganging up on the smaller, but still mid-sized, fish. “I never knew that fish would do something like that,” she said.
“You didn’t?” he asked. “It’s a fish-eat-fish world, you know.”
“I know, but — ” But what? she wondered. “That they would gang up like that?” she said, tentatively.
“Everybody’s a bully,” he said. “When they have a chance.”
He took her hand again and kissed it. “That’s some eel,” he said.
“It looks like a man’s tie from the nineteen-seventies.”
He looked back at the aquarium. “Damn if you aren’t right,” he said.
But she was too sad to say anything else.
Kelly Cherry is the author of twenty-three books of fiction (long and short), poetry, memoir, essay, and criticism. She has also published nine chapbooks and translations of two classical dramas. Her most recent titles are A Kind of Dream (interlinked stories), selected by Library Journal as a Best Indie book, and The Life and Death of Poetry (March 2013). Her fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, and New Stories from the South and has won three PEN/Syndicated Fiction awards. Her story collection The Society of Friends (which, she says, has nothing to do with the Society of Friends) received the Dictionary of Literary Biography Award for Short Fiction for the best collection published in 1999. This spring will see publication of another book of stories (not linked) titled Twelve Women in a Country Called America, about women in the American south, and a chapbook titled Physics for Poets.
Shar yearned to lick her male student “like an ice cream cone,” and felt awful for objectifying him. She confided her hunger to a compassionate poem that offered a white-edged napkin.
All I craved was salt. The desire to lick the beloved’s body seemed normal. To taste the figment, the young question. Lick his entire body and he would be salty from old tears. Notes of sweat, salt I had a hand in. I would cull salty pearls from the tip of him.
“Judaism teaches us not to feel guilty about our bodies,” the rabbi said. Southern mothers taught us to keep clean, not to share anything about the netherworld of flesh. So am I Southern, or Jewish? A woman in love with no hope of love.
If he walked into the room and told me he was salty enough to make a bathtub of soup, I would hop in. Use my scout training to guide him. Lend hands, lips and tongue. He’d shed salt, sure––soon another generous wave would wash over us, through him.
Marilyn Kallet is the author of 16 books including The Love That Moves Me, poetry by Black Widow Press. She has translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems (Derniers poèmes d’amour), Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game (Le grand jeu), and with Darren Jackson and J. Bradford Anderson has co-translated Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (La Vie Désenchantée). Kallet directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, where she is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor of English. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France.
Drifting, Dissolved In Water
Coming back to pick up a few last things, I knock and wait on the rain-wet step, thinking home isn’t the right word for this place any more. Edie lets me in, proffers a cheek and asks about my journey, this bad weather, what’s happening at work.
In the kitchen, cluttered with cardboard boxes separated by name, we divide cups, plates, knives. Then, at the back of a high cupboard I find a plastic mug, cartoon red with a bright yellow duck. I hold it for a while, then pass it to Edie, who gently wipes off the dust and places it in a box marked ‘Charity Shop’.
The rain falls for an hour, then two, then more. We stand at the back door, smoking, watching a sheen of water running down the road. From it a tributary flows beneath the bottom gate, swirling round the skinny legs of a child’s garden swing.
“That’s going rusty,” Edie says. “We should have taken it down at the time.”
“And do what with it?” I ask.
The radio announces flood warnings. They are cancelling trains everywhere. Roads are awash, rivers bursting their banks. Hunker down, says the weatherman.
There are a few old sandbags out in the shed and we do our best to block the doors, then settle in, unpack two cups and drink tea.
“Why do they cope better in other countries, when there is bad weather?” Edie asks.
“Do they?” I say, “Maybe they get used to it, over time.”
“I was thinking about America, New York. What do you think?”
“For bad weather?”
“For a job. A new start.”
She switches on the TV. News helicopters whirl over fields of choppy water and submerged trees. There are pictures of a family on the roof of their shed, a crying child, blanket-wrapped, shaking as he’s lifted onto a rescue boat.
“That poor kid,” Edie says. And then: “I’ve thought about volunteering somewhere, a refugee camp. Helping children.”
“And you’ve thought about living by a river and keeping goats. And you’ve thought about going to County Sligo to find your lost family. And this New York idea,” I say.
“You know what I mean,” Edie says.
“I do,” I say.
We go upstairs, lie on the bed and listen to rain running through gutters. Half-asleep and heavy-lidded, Edie whispers about how she would like to wade into the flood water and dissolve, as though she were made of salt, letting herself drift with it until she reaches the sea.
Like Lot’s wife, I say, who couldn’t help looking back. But Edie is asleep and doesn’t hear.
We wake to a blue light and sun on water. I open the window to let in air that is salt-cleansed and brittle. Downstairs the door has breached, a film of brown water covers the floor. In every room, wet boxes holding our joint lives have begun to split and spill.
I find some tins and a portable stove in the attic, left over from warm summer camping trips. I make breakfast at the foot of the bed and Edie, draped in a duvet, holds out her hand for me to warm.
“I woke too soon,” she says.
Outside, the water starts to recede. A dog splashes down the road, among the muddy tangle of branches and hedge, the contents of bins, some splintered fencing and half a door. In the flooded field beyond, a man paddles a canoe in silence towards a spit of land where cows stand waiting.
Everything is going back to normal, says the radio. There’s been much damage, there are questions about flood defences. The word devastation is repeated.
We stand together at the window, watching the blue seat of the swing twist on its chains as the water drains away. And I think how much it looks like a child has just jumped from it and run indoors.
KM Elkes is an author, journalist, and traveller from Bristol, UK. Since starting to write fiction seriously in 2011 he has won the 2013 Fish Publishing flash prize, been short-listed twice for the Bridport Prize and was one of the winners of the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2014. He also won the Prolitzer short story prize in 2014 and wrote a winning entry for the Labello Press International Short Story Prize. His work has appeared in various anthologies and won prizes at Words With JAM, Momaya Review, Writing WM, Bath Short Story Award, Lightship Publishing and Accenti in Canada. He blogs at: www.kmelkes.co.uk and tweets via @mysmalltales.
No river where sand courses
rocks, where sweat to desert’s
brown upon brown. Down you go
to drown in dry where no cloud
sky so bright seers shoulders red
and why do you bring
complication of touch
here before Our Lady
of Bleach? I am not
strong to drink, bargain
with God in the dark,
thrill skin nearly enough to forget
prayers that cling in the mouth
topple pillars. On my palm
your finger sparks static
charge where I should
not be: here
before Our Lady
of Reluctant Remorse,
Our Lady of Negligent
Seeds, Lady Who Does
in Night Hide Pleasures
The hair of your chest tickles
my lips and in the morning I build
shrines and temples, holy
city of light to pilgrims,
whatever will settle
into the home God vacated
before setting the city alight
like him I will not look
back. Let me live
in a city covered in cloud,
no room for sun
-light or -heat,
rains roll in off seas and
river back to deep salt.