READ LOCAL First is your glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. Each first Sunday of the month, 15 Bytes offers works-in-progress and / or recently published work by some of the state’s most celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary non-fiction and memoir.
Today, 15 Bytes features poet Susan Elizabeth Howe who provides here four poems, the first from her most recently published collection Salt (Signature Books) and three that are new and unpublished.
Sunday Blog Read continues to collect a distinguished group of established and emerging Utah writers for your review and enjoyment. So curl up with your favorite cup of joe and enjoy the work of Susan Elizabeth Howe!
The Law of Salt
From God’s body sweat flowed
into the seas during the six days
He worked on the world.
This was the beginning of salt.
Day, of course, meant eon
and so salt sang through oceans,
seeped into rock, gathered itself
into veins in the body
of the earth.
This formed the patience of salt.
Small anonymous men burrowed
into the earth seeking it,
their first descent a tunnel
through darkness and dripping water
that bled into an underground lake.
They brought down a boat
to float themselves and one flickering
torch across the surface, part savor,
This led to the harvest of salt.
More valuable than gold, it could preserve,
not merely decorate, flesh.
Strips of flesh cured in salt.
In the retreat of a landlocked
sea, the water fell
into a saturated brine
in which a body cannot sink.
This gathered the powers of salt.
A hard, slick pan left by that sea
spreads for days into the west.
A burning skin of salt.
The wild mare and her foal
skittering across the flats will be found
on their sides, tongues out, hide
and muscles perfect, eye sockets
Purified by salt.
And yet the sprinkled tomato, blood
in our bodies, the taste
of sex, all remnants of God.
We eat death as we eat salt.
from Salt (Signature Books, 2013), reprinted with permission.
To celebrate your marriage,
I scatter aspen leaves
across the shining river
of your new life. Swans already
nest there; Canada geese
exhausted by the journey
stars and planets call them to,
the sun and seasons, rest
and feed before their next flight.
A mountain river, quiet,
where moose wade, browsing,
where black bears drink at night,
so clear that rainbow trout glint
in the eddies, water sparkles
from the surface to the depths,
pools give back each unique sky.
Won’t you carry us with you
through banks of chokecherries,
wild roses, raspberry brambles,
over cataracts and around
treacherous rocks as creeks
feed in and the river widens
into the future, nourishing
the valley’s fields and orchards,
each town and village in its path?
–for Rachael and Nick
I’m here for the deluxe package—full-body
massage, geyser mudpack, pedicure,
face and hair later, after my kale smoothie.
What languor in the foot bath, languor,
with its lolling u, which I follow
through dense vegetation into the Old South,
mint juleps on the verandah; women
rubbing up their gold lace with soda,
vinegar, alcohol, chalk, and ashes;
women like China dolls bleaching
their faces in lemon juice, smoothing
their hair with lard and bear fat pomade
in the hot, moist summer, basting themselves
inside hoop skirts starched and frilled
with flounces, puffs, cords, quillings, ruches.
“Ashley, Ashley, I’m melting.”
But Ashley doesn’t care,
so Scarlett comes back with me
to hang around the Salon and Day Spa
reading Vogue and Elle,
thrilled to get out of those skirts,
to wait her turn at the wash basin,
admiring the advances—orange,
purple, blue, green color choices,
hair dyes only slightly caustic,
bikini wax, nail glue, lash extensions,
even an exclusive bird-poop facial.
“Let there be sought for my lord the king
a young virgin . . . that my lord the king
may get heat.”
no one asked would I like
to sleep with that senile king
I chose what I could malachite
and amethyst gems apricot
blossoms worked into silk
they chose the thin robe open
below my waist took me
to his chamber
I lay as if with mist
as if with flax soaking how can I say
his body less than the skin of a weak
sheep in a year I’d survived
for the rest of my life I swam
in the nine emerald pools
kept my own
composed for the flute and the lyre
I ate pomegranates
after the crass
task the elders forced me to
pomegranates I must
tell myself better
than human fruit
Copyright, Susan Elizabeth Howe, 2014.
Susan Elizabeth Howe was born and raised in Utah and feels deeply attached to its people and landscapes. One of her enthusiasms has been to see Utah represented with depth and clarity in contemporary literature. She currently lives in three different parts of the state: Ephraim, where she and her husband Cless Young share a family home; Utah Valley, where she teaches; and Grover, in Wayne County, near Capitol Reef National Park. Her second poetry collection, Salt, was published by Signature Books in 2013. [Read reviews here and here.] She co-edited the collection Discoveries: Two Centuries of Poems by Mormon Women. Her first collection, Stone Spirits, won the publication award of the Redd Center for Western Studies. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, and other journals. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Denver and an M.A. from the University of Utah. She is a reviewer and contributing editor of Tar River Poetry, and a member of the arts and sciences editorial board of BYU Studies. In the past she has served as poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought; poetry editor of Literature and Belief; managing editor of the Denver Quarterly; and the editor of Exponent II. She is on the English Department faculty of Brigham Young University.
Past featured writers in 15 Bytes’ Sunday Blog Read: Katharine Coles, Michael McLane, Darrell Spencer, Larry Menlove, Christopher Bigelow, Shanan Ballam, Steve Proskauer, April Wilder, Calvin Haul, Lance Larsen, Joel Long, Lynn Kilpatrick, Phyllis Barber, David Hawkins, Nancy Takacs, and Mike Dorrell.