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Kelley White 

Kelley White studied at Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School and worked as a pediatrician in inner-city Philadelphia for more than twenty-five years. Mother of three, she is an active Quaker, and has recently returned to her small New Hampshire village and begun work at a rural health center in the North Country. Her poems have been widely published over the past decade, in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Nimrod, Poet Lore, Rattle and the Journal of the American Medical Association and in several chapbooks and full-length collections. She is the recipient of a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant in poetry.




Salt Suite IV: I’d like a Smaller Footprint

I’d like a tunnel, a tent, 
a torn green tarp, a longer braid, 
a lace cap, a brown 
leather shoelace, 
maple syrup, your brother’s 
cough, my shoes outside the door, 
my ugly feet—oh hold— 
your drowned man, 
my drowning sailor 

we say: we sink 
we say: the water 
            bears us up 

 


Salt Suite V: She drank 

face up and staring through her heavy hair 
floating 

and the colorless sea blooms, 
a bride 

the thick bowl 
of her beating heart 

 


Salt Suite VI: Who Led the Naked Child Against the Surf? 

If I lead you to the water, 
if I ease you in, back against 
the tide, will you trust me 
to keep you 
breathing, 
can I trust you 

to breathe 

not to swallow anger 
and sink 

is it always our mothers 
forcing us to breathe? 

your drowned man, 
my drowning sailor 

one broken egg 

are you planning the wedding? 
I sent you salt. 


Salt Suite VII: Is It Always Our Mothers 
Forcing Us to Breathe?
 

That moment we drop the child’s hand: 
he offered to wash the sand from my feet 

I had to leave my shoes outside the door 
my good hand an oar 
my hair a whisper of torn sail 

I’d like a jar without sides 
iron feathers 
a blank leather shoelace 
my ugly feet 
an abandoned umbrella 

that moment we say yes 
to the water 

who did this thing? 
sinking flowers 
in the sand 


Salt Suite VIII: Like a Phone Call 
About an Angry Tooth 


What living water? 

This man with the puffed pink scars 
down his chest— 

and could I make it to shore with one arm 
under your shoulder? 

We say: we sink 
We say: the water bears us up 

Hold 

A longer braid, 
a lace cap 

Is it always our mothers 
forcing us to breathe 

and what are sobs 
but hunger? 


Salt Suite IX: Womb Warm 

Maple fingers 
Your brother’s cough 

Who led the naked child 
against the surf? 

I’d like an empty skate 
I’d like a smaller footprint 

Are you planning the wedding? - 

And what have you brought up 
from the bottom? 

The thick bowl 
of her beating heart. 


Salt Suite X: It Was the Way 
She Welcomed the Water 


her thirst 
eyes open, gulping 
great mouth 
full even as she pushed 

beneath the threshold 
and let water 
cover her face 

it takes a long time 
to get past a house 

now that you can see 
a little light 

I’d like a tunnel 
a tent 
a torn green tarp 

and the colorless sea blooms 
a bride 

willful, her drunk exhausted arms 
that was the shock 
to see her swallow death 
to see her 
suck at death’s breast 


Salt Suite XI: Iron Feathers 

he offered to wash the sand from my feet 
(what living water?) 

that moment we drop the child’s hand 
(a longer braid, a lace cap) 

it takes a long time to get past a house 
(I’d like a jar without sides) 

and what have you brought up from the bottom? 
your drowned man, my drowning sailor 
(is it always our mothers 
forcing us to breathe?) 


Salt Suite XII: And Could I Make It 
to Shore with One Arm 
under Your Shoulder? 


Are you planning the wedding? 

as if a bowl of fresh 
water could keep us safe 
from the sea 

I’d like an angry shovel 
my ugly feet 
an abandoned umbrella 
one broken egg 

now that you can 
see a little light 

I’d like a tunnel 

the stones know where 
it’s safe to lie 


Salt Suite XXIII: To Hold All That Stiff Salt Anger 

I had to leave my shoes 
outside the door 

my good hand an oar 
my hair a whisper of torn sail 
the thick bowl of her beating heart 
a blank leather shoelace 

I sent you salt 
a painted stone 

and the colorless sea blooms, 
a bride 

if I led you to the water 
if I eased you in 

and when the mother comes to life 
the shoulders 
to make a cup 
of her chest 

that moment we say yes to the water 
not to swallow anger 

and sink

 

 

 

 

 


copyright © Kelly White