James Richardson

Essay with a Grain of Salt
March 20, 2020 Richardson James

Essay with a Grain of Salt


Salt on black silk
are the stars,
and legendarily


slick crystals
line the red-dark
halls of the underworld,


and when the spreader grinds by
in a white-out, you breathe it
down on your tongue


invisibly, and even dissolved
darkly in dark waves
it will burn a wound.




Deer and other
eaters of leaves
are drawn to salt licks,
whereas carnivores (blood is enough)
don’t seek it. As for us,


our bodies hold a good
half-pound of salt,
though we are mostly
tasteless to ourselves —


unless, say, you bite your lip,
or in some teary, moonlit theater
of balked passion
(alas, I’ve done this) kiss
your own damp wrist.




John Evelyn oddly
called newfangled
New World sugar
Indian salt — and yet


taste test
a single white
crystal of either on the tip


of your finger. That first
tiny instant —
sting or sweet?




No ant, no rot
dares its white plain.
Microbes that touch


its sheer thirst:
dust. Everyone
knows by now the salary


we sweat for is, at root,
salt money,
but even joy’s grape


contains a trace, never mind
the wine-dark sea, and surely
you can taste on a warm


brow or lip
the work or fever
or whatever whatever


we want from each other.




Seeing my yearning,
grandma would say


Do you know
how to catch a bird?
(her riddle
older than Evelyn) —


Put salt on its tail.




Salt on black silk
are the stars.
There are,
let us not forget,
white fires.


James Richardson‘s most recent collections of poems and aphorisms are During (Copper Canyon, 2016);  By the Numbers, which was a finalist for the National Book Award;  Interglacial:, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award;  and Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001).  For Now will be published by Copper Canyon in June 2020.