Salt Shaker

It came from a restaurant supply store in Philadelphia
where I went to visit two high school friends
who had just had their first child. He was a lawyer then.

It was meant for a slightly better restaurant,
shaped like a tapered, fluted pillar in glass,
with a pointed cupola-shaped screw top cap in chrome-plated metal.
The screw top has three threads and six holes.

Light makes jagged shapes in the thick glass; tablecloth colors,
like a glass thermometer’s temperature, show up along the ribs,
while trapezoidal shadows line the valleys.

I enjoyed finding the chrome lid’s bent reflections of the high hats
behind me in the kitchen ceiling, and of me, a grey bust
in silhouette, anonymous as a Facebook default avatar.

We ran out of Morton’s, so my wife had filled it with Costco sea salt, fine grain.
Leaning against the inside glass, individual rice grains poke out of the white mass,
as if they were the hand of an unfortunate farm worker buried in a grain silo accident.

When I was single, Jacque and Michael were among my best friends.
That trip to Philly when I got the salt shaker, I held their son,
Gregory, while he was circumcised. Now, Michael sells guns in Atlanta.

This whole salt shaker thing came up because another woman
from my high school class asked me to give her a “prompt”
to write a poem, so that she could stop writing elegies for her parents.

I told her to write about her apartment. “Too emotional,” she said.
“I’ve lived there all my life.” So I said, “Write about a salt shaker.”
Then, fearing I’d been too harsh, I thought I’d better try it myself.

Arthur Russell is a poet living in Nutley, New Jersey. His work has been published or is forthcoming in numerous journals and reviews. He will be the featured reader at the Red Wheelbarrow Poets March 1 reading (at 7:00 pm) at the Williams Center in Rutherford, New Jersey.

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