In many ways, yes. Granted, the problems (might or will- take your pick) always be with us, to paraphrase Jesus, in John’s Gospel. Perennial problems of freedom, justice, equality. Over the centuries, individual cultures approach these universal biggies in the language and images of their particular time and place. Not to belabor the obvious, but cultures change, and ours has changed mightily in my lifetime.
As I’ve said here previously, I think in categories I learned decades ago, while my mind was eager and impressionable. These categories stuck because they made sense to me at the time (they were certainly better than anything else I’d heard) and because in subsequent reading, I sought out writers who think using similar terminology. A rarer and rarer breed.
I’m not complaining. Really. If I casually inject a classical allusion into a poem, especially one which, to my mind, works on multiple levels, I must be willing to live without the readers who feel shut out of that poem. It’s a big world with lots of readers and lots of writers. Fine. The only lesson to be drawn is that with the erosion of mythological, historical, Western Civ-type allusions and their ability to blast open huge philosophical and age-old moral quandaries, political poetry has lost a major tool.
Preaching over. Now, a what-on-earth-are-you-talking-about example. My gratitude to Lori Desrosiers, editor of Naugatuck River Review, for recently publishing “Take with a Grain of Salt— cum grano salis.” Lori does an outstanding job curating narrative poems, many of which begin in a moment, of equal narratable and surreal potential.
For example, on a recent visit, my dear sister-in-law Kathy (wife of Phil Casey of Scuppernongaree fame—Like them on Facebook) asked a simple-on-the-face-of-it question, where did I keep my salt. Since the dedicated salt cellar location in my kitchen had not yet been established, this question set the universe spinning. On a bad day, I’d berate myself, “What kind of an idiot doesn’t know where her salt belongs?” On a good day, I’d quickly pronounce, “Here,” and point to any old vacant spot. But on a truly excellent day, I’d take a mental sidetrip and realize how incredibly interesting and multi-layered a question that was—and how telling that yet another domestic event led to questioning morality in the public sphere.
Take with a Grain of Salt
cum grano salis
After frying her morning egg
the Turkish way—rolled cigar-like,
my sister-in-law cleans my counter,
Where do you keep your salt?
Oh, I answer, stick it anywhere.
My mother kept her salt
next to the cinnamon she’d mix
with sugar for special-day toast,
far in front of the summer salad
paprika. My grandmother kept
hers on the counter, next to the gas
stove where she browned Sunday’s
pot roast. I don’t know if my great-
grandmother had a special place for salt,
but according to all accounts,
she herself was salt of the earth.
I have one daughter whose salt
never wanders and another whose
salt floats free. Women in our family
are worth their salt in the kitchen.
Roman soldiers were paid in salt
from which we get salary, necessary
perks and lucre. None of the above for
Cincinnatus. Our George Washington
thinks that’s cool. Back to the farm after war.
No, to power, to dictatorship. No to salt,
not even to rub in an enemy’s wounds.