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The Salt Cairn

ISSUE:  Spring 2004

Seaside, Oregon

Winter at the end of the trail,
where the Columbia washes the ocean,
what one book calls The Kingdom of Conifers,
and you, “the prettiest greens”:
cedars, hemlock, Douglas fir.
Here, Clark sent his salt makers
across the scuffled dunes, to make a salt
that was excellent, strong & white.
We are coughing, our lungs thick
with a cold we carried
through the taffy shop and pinball palace,
to a carousel that no one rides
in this ragged carnival town.
Did the salt makers camp near the end of this block?
I search for the cairn. To my left,
an anvil of headland stretches away,
beyond me, the ocean heaves forever shoreward.
The air is salt and wood smoke, the rain,
good in my lungs. Twenty minutes go by
before I find the cairn,
cemented together by the town Lions
and squared in a wrought iron fence,
five kettles atop the fitted stones.
I have dragged you into a salt maker’s life.
What will become of us?
You singing to the sleeping child,
me boiling the ocean down
to whatever is good, to what remains.


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