My senior year in college, I went to a fine arts contest where one of the dramatic interpretations was the poem Honey and Salt by Carl Sandburg. I had never heard it before, but within minutes it became a favorite. It could’ve been the style of the interpretation, or the ease of the delivery. It might have been that it was humorous timing [for my life], or that I liked the pictures painted by the the words of the artist. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I doubt you will.
Honey and Salt
A bag of tricks—is it?
And a game smoothies play?
If you’re good with a deck of cards
or rolling the bones—that helps?
If you can tell jokes and be a chum
and make an impression—that helps?
When boy meets girl or girl meets boy—
They all help: be cozy but not too cozy:
be shy, bashful, mysterious, yet only so-so:
then forget everything you ever heard about love
for it’s a summer tan and a winter windburn
and it comes as weather comes and you can’t change it:
it comes like your face came to you, like your legs came
and the way you walk, talk, hold your head and hands—
and nothing can be done about it—you wait and pray.
Is there any way of measuring love?
Yes but not till long afterward
when the beat of your heart has gone
many miles, far into the big numbers.
Is the key to love in passion, knowledge, affection?
All three—along with moonlight, roses, groceries,
givings and forgivings, gettings and forgettings,
keepsakes and room rent,
pearls of memory along with ham and eggs.
Can love be locked away and kept hid?
Yes and it gathers dust and mildew
and shrivels itself in shadows
unless it learns the sun can help,
snow, rain, storms can help—
birds in their one-room family nests
shaken by winds cruel and crazy—
they can all help:
lock not away your love nor keep it hid.
How comes the first sign of love?
In a chill, in a personal sweat,
in a you-and-me, us, us two,
in a couple of answers,
an amethyst haze on the horizon,
two dance programs criss-crossed,
jackknifed initials interwoven,
five fresh violets lost in sea salt,
birds flying at single big moments
in and out a thousand windows,
a horse, two horses, many horses,
a silver ring, a brass cry,
a golden gong going ong ong ong-ng-ng,
pink doors closing one by one
to sunset nightsongs along the west,
shafts and handles of stars,
folds of moonmist curtains,
winding and unwinding wisps of fogmist.
How long does love last?
As long as glass bubbles handled with care
or two hot-house orchids in a blizzard
or one solid immovable steel anvil
tempered in sure inexorable welding—
or again love might last as
six snowflakes, six hexagonal snowflakes,
six floating hexagonal flakes of snow
or the oaths between hydrogen and oxygen
in one cup of spring water
or the eyes of bucks and does
or two wishes riding on the back of a
morning wind in winter
or one corner of an ancient tabernacle
held sacred for personal devotions
or dust yes dust in a little solemn heap
played on by changing winds.
There are sanctuaries holding honey and salt.
There are those who spill and spend.
There are those who search and save.
And love may be a quest with silence and content.
Can you buy love?
Sure every day with money, clothes, candy,
with promises, flowers, big-talk,
with laughter, sweet-talk, lies,
every day men and women buy love
and take it away and things happen
and they study about it
and the longer they look at it
the more it isn’t love they bought at all:
bought love is a guaranteed imitation.
Can you sell love?
Yes you can sell it and take the price
and think it over
and look again at the price
and cry and cry to yourself
and wonder who was selling what and why.
Evensong lights floating black night water,
a lagoon of stars washed in velvet shadows,
a great storm cry from white sea-horses—
these moments cost beyond all prices.
Bidden or unbidden? how comes love?
Both bidden and unbidden, a sneak and a shadow,
a dawn in a doorway throwing a dazzle
or a sash of light in a blue fog,
a slow blinking of two red lanterns in river mist
or a deep smoke winding one hump of a mountain
and the smoke becomes a smoke known to your own
twisted individual garments:
the winding of it gets into your walk, your hands,
your face and eyes.