chemistry lessons

photo by N.Klapetzky, edited by the author


there is salt, and there is salt.
what’s the difference,
my father asked me at dinner
the other day, between
sea salt and plain ol’
en-ay-see-el? and i said

sea salt is less strict, dad,
more complicated;
but i don’t know if that’s right;
don’t know its bio-
chemical makeup, how late
it lets its daughters

out at night. chemicals aren’t
all latch-key and angle, you know.
for instance, there are some in the brain
more sensitive to love
than to cocaine. i’ve heard this;
that, chemically, love is the most terrible

addiction. crazy women need brave lovers,
the poet said; this i know also
to be true; i’ve seen crazy.
but i don’t know their chemistry, either:
not love or crazy. my professor
used to wear unmatched socks;

he taught the dissociation of salts.
his eyes were the color of sea glass.
he told my father once i
was the most impressive he’d ever had.
i could have loved him, then,
but i was addicted to my own heart-

beat. that rhythm is less biochemical
than electrical: a crazy drummer in my head
banging out signals to my chest.
i hope he is brave.
too much salt can fuck
it all up, cause heart-

ache. like breathing in sea glass.
how long can you hold your
breath underwater? my cousin
and i used to swim in the lake
by my grandparents’ house,
catch turtles on cane poles

with bits of old bread.
the biggest one we dragged up
onto the shore, and my father
sliced her neck while
her jaws were clamped
onto the back handle of an old broom.

that was before i knew chemistry.
or love. or that guilt could be as addictive
as cocaine. i’m not sure if this
is true, but i have seen crazy.
turtles, the poet said, turtles
all the way down.



They say great poets are thieves. I must be on my way to greatness, then. The lines I took shamelessly came from the inestimable Claudia Schoenfeld, here, and the Bard of Liminga himself, Ray Sharp, to whose poem “of the salt and the light,” this was written as a response.

(between parentheses)

after R.S.
dear poet,

there is nothing
about this metaphor:

that we are children
reaching hands
in the hard calloused
eyes of the ferryman who
steers between the winks
of channel-markers
into gloamed twilight;
that we step
quietly on the creaking
planks of secrets and
drink in coastlines
like sweetwater;
and that we finally
follow stars hot
& hard as July earth
until each
reaches home again.

augury, in the strictest sense

we walk through thunder,
and there are drawn stormclouds

across your cheeks, brow; like train-
tracks to nowhere, and i’ll hop

the next boxcar, simple as un-
wanting, follow it til i find

the sun buried in your irides.
this metaphor is a railroad:

straight, the slow
unraveling of sudden horizons.

a friend tells me
the story of the red-

tail hawk attacked
sequentially by two crows

and a mockingbird. i
wonder if it’s because they know

jealousy like you do, see its predatory
threat atop every lamppost and

telephone pole.
raindrops like fat clay pigeons hiss

against rusted rails, tear-on-trestle,
black-feathered bullets of omen:

where will you be
when the lightning comes down?