This was the end of our Daily Walk today, looking
at the hills you can see from the street
and at the wonderful clouds.
Every day, whether we realize it or not,
we choose one of two stars to guide us,
a star as ephemeral as our life,
a star water can wash away. One star
is made of packed sugar, the other
of packed salt. Water melts both.
If we choose the star of sugar
we will follow all the sweet things
of the earth, the candied surfaces
that glisten, reflecting a honeyed light.
If salt, we will go the way of the seas---
restless, rossing broken dolls
and the timbers of drowned ships
onto everyone's shore.
The way of salt
is the way of sorrow and loss,
for salt seeds every tear
before it blossoms, just as death
seeds every birth. Salt is the pillar
erected to those who have looked
when they were warned not to.
At night the star illuminates our sleep,
yet before dawn it is washed away,
so that each morning we must choose again.
The poor choose the star of salt.
They break it into pieces, grind it up,
and eat it with their rough bread.
Salt is the only star in their heaven.
It is no choice at all. Invariably
the rich choose the star of sugar.
Under its light they build roads
that pass the shanties of the poor
and lead to gingerbread mansions.
I choose the star of salt. I follow it
into grocery stores and factories.
The cashiers and barbers watch me
and the steelworkers and foreign pickers
bent over shovels or rows of lettuce,
They are silent, brooding, distrustful.
Each morning I choose their star
because it is my star also,
because it is the rich man's star,
although he doesn't know it, not yet.
Every morning I choose this star
because the salt grains hiss
on the shore as the sea washes up
the ground bones of the starless dead.
Morton Marcus (1936-2009)
Ploughshares, Spring, 1993, pages 25 and 26.
This issue of Ploughshares was edited by Al Young who
posts the most wonderful things on Facebook!
This is another find from looking at the table of contents
as I am trying to throw away literary magazines
from 1980-2000, when I subscribed to dozens of them. . .
I have been fond of Morton Marcus for a long time,
even before he chose my poems for the Second Prize
in a Montalvo Literary Contest in the early 1980s.
At the awards ceremony, he talked earnestly
and in a focused manner about my work.
It was a fine experience!