We Shivered in Those Solitudes
Pablo Neruda once wrote a knee-shakingly good poem entitled “Ode to Salt.” He wrote:
I shivered in those
when I heard
in the desert.
And that is essentially how I feel about the twenty-seventh (twenty-seventh!) issue of Salt Hill. The issue is all about places and spaces, and the theme runs fluidly throughout all of the included pieces. The editors of Salt Hill explain in their introductory letter: “These works reflect a progression towards thaw.” This is a lovely and accurate way to put it. The work in this journal presses and pulls its reader into slushy humanness by the end. I don’t often recommend reading a literary journal straight through, in order, without a break. I’ll make an exception for this beautiful issue of Salt Hill.
The first short story included in the issue is Angela Woodward’s “Kingdoms and Classifications.” The story is written in the style of a textbook. More specifically, it is written in the style of the fungus chapter of a biology textbook. This is how the narrator reveals the uncle: a pitiable, fungal character who has moved into his sister’s shed. “All members of this group (Fig. 2.4) are obligate parasites. They feel that something is owed to them, usually by the people who brought them up. Your uncle harangues your mother for money. As soon as she gives it to him, he complains.” The writing in this piece is cool and clever, and Salt Hill includes a brief interview with its author immediately after the story. (The journal includes several of these interviews throughout, and I found them surprising and completely delightful.)
The journal is peppered with dazzling digital art by Kim Asendorf. All of the photographs look a bit like landscapes, though some are more abstract than others. They lend themselves wonderfully to the theme of place.
Several poems by Eric Weinstein are included in this issue, and his work balances itself between the fantastic and the very ordinary, often blurring the line between them. He writes:
Oh, how I wanted.
Like water or the gold-
fish wincing in it, my
desires take the size
&shape of their container.
Brian Evenson’s short story, entitled “The Other Ear,” is wildly strange and wonderful to read. Almost reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, the story begins with a man, István, who has been injured in a war. A doctor informs István that he has had to sew his ear back on, and tells István how very lucky he is that it was found nearby. “‘But I didn’t have that ear,’ István said, still feeling the side of his head. ‘I lost that ear months ago.’” István begins hearing disembodied voices with his new ear, and I would have followed this story for the length of a novel. What excellent weirdness!
Sarah Messer’s poem, entitled “Three Centuries of Getting Pregnant By Accident” slips beautifully in and out of place and time with the common element of unintentional pregnancy.
My thought: he still has his tube socks on, naked and rising from the bed at 4:22pm looking for condoms; “Maybe Dave has some,” he says, about to walk down the hall to the port where a crowd is breaking bottles on the bow of the newest ship, and I think I will give him this present this once, as if I am the queen and he is the body of enlisted men, me with my powdered wig, wooden tooth, and Foxy Lady belt…
Ryan Ridge’s “Garageology” is possibly a short story, and possibly not. It is complete with diagrams and definitions, and reflects the lunacy of consumerism and the “American Dream” in a very amusing way. The piece is about garages. Ridge writes:
“GARAGE SALE—Name applied to black market items sold and resold (sometimes traded) by American Homeowners in a tax-free zone (Garage).
GARAGE SALE—Name applied to Garage when a price tag is applied to Garage.
GARAGE SAIL—Name applied to Garage when a Mainsail is applied to Garage.”
Conchitina Cruz’s poem, entitled “Nobody Does it Better,” is an ode in the best sense of the word. The ode is to July, and the narrator’s feelings are mixed. Cruz writes:
O July, full of hearkening
and obedience and varieties
of never, I am counting on
your traffic lights and cutting off
my cords, I am playing
your piano keys and tonguing
your toothless grin.
Patrick Dacey’s short story, “Cuyutlán,” strips bare the residents at the fictional Hotel Phoenix until the reader wants to cry for each of them. The narrator is in love—maybe in love—with a woman who is too old and perhaps too unattractive to be the movie star she has dreamed of being. Her husband is dying, coughing blood, and they all live like this for weeks. They live humanly and desperately. The story is sobering, quiet, and so lovely.
Kathleen Rooney and Elisa Gabbert tackle a funny, quick list of observations in “Some Notes On Conversation.” They write: “French parents never laugh at something a kid says if it’s not actually funny—it sort of preps the kids to work on their game.” The piece is refreshing, and a light contrast to some of the earlier, heavier works.
Four of RaúlZurita’s poems appear in this issue, translated from the original Spanish by Anna Deeny. The poems are flush with color and movement, and hold the thawing effect the editors of Salt Hill mention in their introductory letter. In Zurita’s poem entitled “The Seventh,” an origin story, he writes:
That’s how it is and how it reads: notes of the first
torrents tended the pasture coloring themselves;
thousands, millions of pastures filling the prairies in a
total communism of repartition, ecology, light and vast
planes. That was the song of torrents, the flight,
the symphony of waters.
Lily Ladewig’s poem, “In France, June” is a gorgeous answer to Conchitina Cruz’s earlier ode to the month of July. “In France, June / tastes like lime. / I splashed yellow / paint on the countryside / and called it flowers. Fooled you / too.”
Finally, Salt Hill concludes with the 2010 Calvino Prize Winner, Sharon White. White’s pieces, so perfectly reminiscent of Italo Calvino, build strange worlds around stranger communities. In one of her pieces, entitled “Hungry Ghosts,” she writes: “I’m feeding the hungry ghosts. They gather at the table with their arms leaning on the cloth. They demand pot roast and cucumbers, hunks of beef and spare ribs. I thought you didn’t eat when you’re dead, I said yesterday.”
This issue of Salt Hill is beautifully seasoned, and I’ll close with Pablo Neruda’s own appreciation for this most basic and necessary compound.
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste finitude.