Home >> Volume 7, Issue 01

First Taste of Salt

William Walsh

I can’t apologize
for the history of other men
or the bitterness of love
that lasts twenty years
or the fact that the only poems worth writing
are the ones that destroyed our lives.

In the wilderness, I’ve learned many things,
such as, animals are satisfied
being themselves, yet, here we are
troubled by what we want to be,
or are not,
while at the same time
a tree gives glory to God
by simply being a tree.

Cleaning out an upstairs closet, I found your letter
pressed inside a book, the musty
smell curled around my body.  My dog sniffed the papers
then looked around the room, sniffed again
for what the air would not reveal.
He tilted his head as if to say,
“If you’d like, I can find her for you.”

In the sunlight, in the pretty bone yard
of lost dreams, everyone is blind
who does not shut their eyes
to the hollow echoing.
I was the first boy who knew what it was like
to enter your body, to break
the salt wound that never heals.
I, reborn, woke one morning and understood
that leaving you was a mistake
I had to make.

Ten states, seventeen houses, a childhood
that taught me to leave everything behind
with ease—twenty-three years later, on my second go-round,
my boys ask questions, curious about their first mother
who could have been.  I’ve told them only
good stories.  The quarrel with myself is me,
those experiences reserved for the parched dunes
of being unknown to God,
which is too much privacy for any man.

One night, lost and stumbling
around in the Allegheny Mountains, to keep warm,
I burned crushed coal dust
and pig fat, ate a cup of wild berries,
and thought of you, how in the shower,
the water rolls down your body, cleanses
your feet, and drafts into the drain,
and in time, finds its way to my bathtub,
to me, and the penance
I can’t wash away.