Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Poems: Salty and Sweet

Today I feel like poetry. The sun is brilliant and the not-too-distant mountains stand out sharply beneath the blue sky and a smattering of ice-white clouds. From inside it looks warm, but I wear a turtleneck sweater under my jacket. Now this is the summer time weather I know for this valley. Gone is the heat that nearly smothered me.

I am far from the sea, but somehow the elemental nature of this place seems right for a poem that uses salt to talk about love. South Bend, Indiana, if one would dare to compare apples and oranges, knows nothing about the salt of the earth. It is so simple, this poem. Why didn't I think of it?

If you like this poem by Lisel Meuller, or even if you don't!, visit http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/. Ted Kooser, our current poet laureate, has put together this site and publishes little poems-not his own-along with a short commentary. I heard Kooser read from his newest bookthis past fall. He seemed surpised at the audience's rapture. The man wrote poetry at 4 am for years while he sold insurance by day. Talk about salt of the earth; just look at his face.

Love Like Salt

It lies in our hands in crystals
too intricate to decipher

It goes into the skillet
without being given a second thought

It spills on the floor so fine
we step all over it

We carry a pinch behind each eyeball

It breaks out on our foreheads

We store it inside our bodies
in secret wineskins

At supper, we pass it around the table
talking of holidays and the sea.

Reprinted from "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems" (LSU Press, 1996) by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
For more poetry, check out this poem by Kooser:

Selecting A Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

And here is one of my favorites from Kooser:


What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

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