The Salt Stronger

By Fred Marchant Fred Marchant
I have seen the legislators
on their way,
the jacketless men
in mid-winter who will cast
their votes like stones for this war.
Men who have to cross the street
through slush
and over gutter, their cuffs
now vaguely blued with a salt
that dries in dots where it splashes,
and mingles with the finely
woven cloth
of the chalk-stripe suits,
the soi-disant practical men,
you can see them now tiptoeing,
now leaping, balletic, windsor-knotted,
and shaved,
they pass, they pass
the window of the Capitol Deli
wherein I am writing to my friend
in Baghdad,
he a “witness for peace,”
a poet who for years has wondered
what good poetry is or has been or does.
I compose today’s answer from here,
I think of poetry
as a salt dug from a foreign mine
that arrives like a miracle in Boston
as pellets to break underfoot
and melt
the dangerous plated ice
and cling to the acknowledged lawmakers,
to stay with them in their dreams,
to eat at the cloth and reach down
to the skin
and beyond the calf
into the shin. I think the soul
is equivalent to bone, and that conscience
must hide in the marrow,
float in the rich fluids
and wander the honeycomb at the center.
There, and not in the brain,
or even the heart is where
the words attach, where they land
and settle,
take root after the long
passage through the body’s by-ways.
Just think, I write, of how some poetry rolls
off the tongue, then try to see the tongue
in the case
that faces me, a curious,
thick extension of cow-flesh
fresh from a butcher’s block, grainy and flush.
I think that if my tongue alone could talk
it would swear
in any court that poetry
tastes like the iodine in blood,
or the  copper in spit, and makes a salt stronger than tears.

Fred Marchant, “The Salt Stronger” from The Looking House. Copyright © 2009 by Fred Marchant. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press,

Source: The Looking House (Graywolf Press, 2009)

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Poet Fred Marchant

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Fred  Marchant


Fred Marchant's most recent book of poetry, The Looking House (Graywolf Press, 2009) was named by Barnes & Noble Review as one of the five best books of poetry in 2009. The San Francisco Chronicle picked it as one of the ten best collections of poetry, and the Massachusetts Book Award committee listed as one of the “must reads” of the past year. Janette Currie, writing in Pleiades, has written that “Marchant’s great achievement . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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