Ode to Salt

(Neruda wrote this with line breaks - in translation, here is the poem without line breaks, written here for you to see while you listen to Philip Levine read it. The bolded font is where my voice breaks when I read it aloud. The beauty of these thoughts! Oh, Neruda! I want to greet you in heaven someday.)

In the salt mines I saw the salt in this shaker. I know you won't believe me. But there it sings. The salt sings. The skin of the salt mines sings with a mouth choking on dirt. Alone, when I heard the voice of salt, I trembled in the empty desert near Antafagusta. The whole salted plain shouts out in its cracked voice a pitiful song. Then in its caverns, jewels of rock salt, a mountain of light buried under earth, transparent cathedral, crystal of the sea, oblivion of the waves. And now, on each table of the world, your agile essence, salt, spreading a vital luster on our food. Preserver of the ancient stores in the holds of ships. You were the explorer of the seas, matter foretold in the secret half-open trails of foam. Dust of water, the tongue receives through you a kiss from the marine night. Taste melds your oceanity into each rich morsel. And thus the least wave of the salt shaker teaches us not merely domestic purity, but also the essential flavor of the infinite.

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