Smoke, Salt, Sweet (and other poems)

Smoke, Salt, Sweet

Manhattan, September 28, 2001

Burnt metal still stings the nostrils
weeks later, drifts on perverse winds,
settling into flag stripes, sometimes random pieces
of paper, still charred or rain-wrinkled and stuck
to building sides, all the still-upright things 
that gather and hold.

But for all the shattered and shuttered things,
wooden crates at the Fairway Market
still line the storefront and I touch dusky apricots,
sunny lemons and purple eggplants, 
red and yellow peppers, bin after box after crate 
of cucumbers, kale, and radish,
brown and red onions still sloughing skin onto Yukons
and Idahos beneath them. 

I walk to O’Donnell’s pub and Robin 
has a corner table at the window
where we can watch the sidewalks
and sky over mugs of black
and tan that sweat the wood grain,
small plates of aged gouda, pocked and nutty,
an applewood-smoked gruyere and deeply orange 
Vermont cheddar, a fuchsia stripe of Portofino red, 
crooked and imperfect. 
We watch the silenced tv in the corner, its banner
still scrolling estimates of casualties, something
about a dirty bomb radius but I am intent 
on the soppressata and wild boar salami delivered to us,
brick red and fatty speckled, it is
pungent as any wild thing left to its own devices,
and Robin says I’ll bet this is what it tastes like
to wander the woods rooting for acorns and hickories.
I don’t tell her those boars 
would trample her and eat everything
but her belt buckle. 

The next plate, a perfectly symmetrical circle 
of prosciutto-wrapped melon, ebony pools 
at the edges, a balsamic reduction
to dredge the sweet, salty bites through.
Peter Jennings’ face appears in the background,
then a random person showing how to seal a window
with duct tape in case of another anthrax attack.
We watch his mouth move, a familiar muted thing, until
we’ve had enough and walk the few blocks where
the bread and sugared air is a path, a reprieve,
the tiny Italian café where there are no TVs, just
the orderly crowd, everyone leaning into glass cases,
Neopolitans and glazed fruit tortas rearranged and replaced, 
pistachio biscottis, pignolatas, lemon and orange crocettes,
the frozen cases of bright pink gelatos and chicory brown spumoni.
We settle on a chocolate amaretto cake, admire the dusting
of confectioner’s sugar and raspberry glaze,
slow ourselves in our final bites,
linger over the plate, push tines into last crumbs,
watch the sidewalks and sky, the locals 
who hold each other’s elbows
as they speak. 

Hillbilly Transplant: Seed and Scatter

The prayer plant you gave me is dying.
On the windowsill overlooking 71st Street it wilts
even now with this light Spring rain.  
If I was a diviner, this would be the sign
that says Run, girl.

First was the prayer plant – early in love, 
when we were still mango and pepino dulce,
heart-shaped chirimoya and blood orange filled to bursting, 
sweet sticky things that lingered on skin and tongue. 
Still midday smiles at thoughts of night, Peruvian flutes
and flamenco guitar in the background, our bodies 
moving dark over light.

First was the prayer plant – before the table
you grabbed at a parking lot auction in Alphabet City,
or the handmade candle, cornflower blue
and lavender, big as the Inca Cola bottle mold,
before the pin from Lima I suspect was really 
for someone else, the one you put in a leather pouch 
you made from old boots, laced with sinew, 
my initials burned onto that tight brown skin 
with a heated paperclip.  

First was the prayer plant - a cutting 
from the wooden planter perched
on your radiator, a birthday gift
you set down inside a terra cotta pot,
worked the soil as you rehomed it, 
covered the excised roots over,
pushed until nothing moved, explained
in both languages as you pressed my body, 
soil still on your hands, how those soft oval leaves 
turn upward, abierto, at night, back down again 
with sun break, sultry murmur
against neck and collarbone.

First was the prayer plant – before nights
of too much rum and pisco, late arrivals,
your late-night reconnaissance
trolling online for a younger body while mine,
all 30 years of it, still hummed in your bed, 
love-drunk and willfully blind to ever-refilling glasses 
of vodka-heavy chicha morada, to anything 
beyond the sight of you cooking rice in clay pots
you brought back from your hometown in Cusco,
the classical guitar against your bare chest reclined on the sofa,
oil canvasses you painted that covered the bedroom walls – 
gitanos and toreros, my favorite behind the bed, a flamenco dancer, 
crimson and cobalt skirts painted mid-arc, arms 
above her head, eyes closed, her perfect gypsy body 
poised in sweaty ascension. 

First was the prayer plant- and last,
last was the rain-soaked midnight walk
from 98th and Broadway to the subway, that final 
humiliation of being put out
not with a fury or a passion 
but with an assault of indifference, a disinterest
no artist’s canvas could unmar. 

I should bring the plant back inside.
It did nothing to me, after all.
But there is something cleansing in the dropping,
one by one, of these leaves, their pale green and fuchsia
slapped against the marble sill by this surging rain.


  • Lisa Parker is a native Virginian, a poet, musician, and photographer. Her book, This Gone Place, won the 2010 Appalachian Studies Association Weatherford Award and her work is widely published in literary journals and anthologies. Her photography has been on exhibit in NYC and published in several arts journals and anthologies.

  • Stills from Sherlock Jr, a 1924 film directed by Buster Keaton and starring himself and Kathryn McGuire.