Memory in Salt


Nancy Cavers Dougherty

dPress 2007 Sebastopol
40pp hand sewn

Cover painting by the author


Way beyond time lost in daydreams
            of beaches stretching forever like the black strands
                        pulled taut from your forehead to a ponytail
            and in scattered boxes of dollhouse furniture

I see them. I recognize them
            from childhood
                        these preceding pieces of imaginary play
            locked as in a jigsaw puzzle

            on someone else's doorstep. A tree and shrub further
and I have walked past the shortcut well-known
            by roots and stones to bare running feet now fenced off
                        as a sealed metal drum. He massages

my toes but he is a stranger
            in a dream too. The twin girls with straight blond hair
                        laugh with their mother twined in blood
            unaware of me. Tired beyond belief

I stretch out prone waiting
            for the cool salt fingers
                        of the real world to crash and froth. Bob Dylan
            is singing "Lay Lady Lay." It is an eternity.


My daughter looks in the closets
for her tennis racquet

misplaced since our move. A mango
sits on the plate and like the mango

I wait for the decisive
moment. And the plums

on our tree are ripe
for picking. I try

and try but cannot reach
the perfect one that hides

behind the leaves. Now
it is time for her tennis lesson

but she does not want to go. The clock
is broken. The frozen

blackberries are forgotten
in the freezer. She does not hear

me say that the teacher always has
extra racquets. White-fleshed peaches

go uneaten on the counter
in a blue bowl. Heat-quenching.

     story of a well-meaning proposal

She does not
find a place
in their stacks
desks or hands.
They want more.
She looks and asks
and speaks.

Numbers and columns
define the borders and sums.
Immigrants have
always known of
quotas and cold

On the radio
noon interview
in retrospect
journalist Irving Stone
has one truth
that he is imparting
Governments always lie.

She tries again
to speak even
to smile though
weak under
the requirements
cranked for more.


Will change you
             will change the universe.

A new pair of eyes
            will look at you. Little hands to
            clasp yours.

            for milk, warmth, and you.

            of cold, the wet, and dark

            felt present and pure.


like a pigeon that skims the fountain water
in Trafalgar Square, she says goodbye
to her granddaughter. Her lipstick leaves
a slight red crescent and suitcases encircle
us huddled in the terminal. Then she brushes his cheek,
the son-in-law's, painting yet another thin red line
like the faint traces of red paint left upon a Roman column
found deep beneath York Minster, its hallowed ground
now House to God and tourists, dark-frocked deans
and evensong. And my cheek, I touch,
yet another leave-taking marked by lipstick
like a choral refrain resounding in the vaulted heights.
My mother and myself, a generation apart,
soon to be cities apart, we carry layers
of shared memories. She anchors my history
as the Roman pillars still hold York Minster.
I watch her walk into crisscrossing crowds
then disappear from view.
Her departure sliding into a cavernous gap
that lodges deep below this heart.


Three sheep skirt the edge
of their enclosure, locked in

and grain-fed like my thoughts bound
to the visible surface of things.

I sprinkle mineral powder on their grain
as words from the Thesaurus

for a first draft scattered
in all directions over a green pasture.

The sheep eat what they are fed.
Looking and looking at the richness

through the chain fence, I follow,
scattered, sowing thoughts in words,

the dissemination of alfalfa,
one flake at a time, the day's allotment.


In a kitchen corner, reconciling bills,
I would rather be losing myself in novels
with titles like Niccolo Rising and stroll
the cobblestone streets of the fifteenth century
or be in snow-covered Petersburg with Vladimir
of The Russian Debutante's Handbook.
'Calls are randomly monitored to ensure
quality control' so warns the operator
to my inquiry. By the sink my husband
is munching chips. Apples and tomatoes
piling mountains high on the counter.
Diagonally a knife sits across today's paper
with its daily dose of weather and sports
and recap of yesterday's death toll in Baghdad.
My husband is now rotating the air vent lock
into the cover of his new pressure cooker
for canning. I flip through more bills
and hope we aren't blown to pieces
by our home-grown tomato sauce. How
the news does foster odd imaginings, I think.


El arroyo. I stop
and see el arroyo
The depths
of language its patterns
immersed s'écouler
in riveluts our
tongues wag.

El cielo. Carries
me beyond
azul celeste where
dreams find
their horizons. Qui
touche aux cieux

stands us on the ground
soles first.

Las montañas in their
potentate allure. Snow
capped peaks merge
into clouds, se couvrir
de nuages
et les montagnes.


Incredulous and unbelievable
like a fish observing land beings
gross and seaweed dank
desiccating under sun. Hands shaking
you move in your own groove
a vibrating car race stuck
in ruts of mud-caked sod. So sad,
you spin around the counter
slow and out of control. Ring me
up the garment
dance apparel for my girl. No,
it's not Halloween, I don't
want to see
hanging piece of toilet paper
trailing from your waist
like a tail concocted
by a kid for lack of furry
the chicanery
of this mastercarding
masquerade of order
voice over
quivering shakes
ushers a receipt
of deceit
of your
steps to
we leave.


were it somehow different mountains blocking views
making everything small         distances
I decide to go for a walk in the park      as usual
nothing is different       too much here
looping past the tennis courts         pings
of heated contest and voices commingle
love fifteen love thirty duce        deluded
is more like it
then through the canopy
of white fir boughs       coolness hanging

could it ever be different one sneakered foot
placed after the other and pulled by my leashed
dog      enough        I will run today      fast
as I used to in this park down the dirt trail
over the wooden bridge through the blackberry
bushes and long grasses that scratch
when I could see the horizon      a different dog
on the leash     running and imagining the Serengeti
stretching ahead         vast distances


Last night I made 'Red Velvet Cake
with Chocolate Frosting' from our cookbook
Back To The Table:The Reunion of Food & Family
thinking somehow it might mend
the days events
top it off with Haagen Daas
vanilla bean ice cream.

Here's what my day's events called for:

            one inflamed eye
                       my right
            a trip to the emergency room
            a nurse without a name
            two cold hours of waiting
            restroom traffic
            restroom with no soundproofing
            one young man with satchel
                       and two horse buckets full of piss
            a squirmy family munching and crackling chips
            spousal reprimand not to try or show anger
                       (red eye will get redder
                       will see red)
            a dose of Catholicism
            late afternoon isolation
            fog and howls of wind
            Chinese take-out dinner with wheat puffs
                       puffier than a puffed eye
            Chinese cookie fortune 'There is yet time
                       enough for you to take a different path'

Following the recipe for 'Red Velvet Cake'
step-by-step I realized too late into it
that our pantry was without the red food dye
for the red velvet (but of course I had already
been bled). Would have to do without.


Beluga whales      soft
and gummy apparitions
I squeeze your cold hand

            fog circles pavement
            shrouds treetops    hides the distance
            egrets like candles

                        hair striped in red
                        he stands by the homemade still
                        the apple tree bare


she advises shred
the monthly statements        then scan
the rest       don't forget


my headache persists
through the sorting of papers
left with piles         to shred


I want to shred this
my headache and that        this sheet
goes first        then the stack


There was the call from the hospital
an emergency they say
his temperature is up
but there is nothing for you to do.
More tubes –at the ICU– so they report
and you marshal the dishes
and the pot with dried macaroni
to the sink and soak with hot water
and soap. Fatigue covers you
like a wet dishcloth on the counter
dripping its lukewarm tears
to the linoleum. TV words tell you
in consolation to conserve energy
turn off the lights
cut the wires
kill the germs before they get you
cut the support
you think. A Clorox label
on the antibacterial soap
wants you to know how its surveys
can attest to a likely death
in conjunction with daily hygiene.
There is a call from the hospital.
They say utmost cleanliness can kill
and so read these reputed surveys
at your convenience. Wash
before you get him.
There is nothing more
to put in the sink.


Sailing on the bay
my brother and I
one Saturday hit the doldrums.
Hard. Waiting for the wind
we drift and discuss politics;
Clinton, the Republicans
and the Findings of Fact.
Its merits and arguments
legal nuances skip and float,
the jetsam of controversy
simple majority verses two-thirds
for impeaching. While talking
at the helm, sun-sleepy,
the silent ebb is at work.
Now too close to the bridge –
the Golden not Richmond
the reverie snaps. A line
of black birds breaks
the horizon and through the haze
a tugboat flips up like a card.
We rev the motor. Suddenly
the wind stirs. The sails fill.
We work the sheets.
Strong. Heeling,
the angle grows less and less
between water and us between
            truth and untruth.


You call a number
with a name beside it unknown
she listens
it's a spiel you know it
parcel tax upcoming vote
high schools
need your support
I am very old. I do not see
that is what she says. I am very old
she cannot
vote can no longer vote. Am I old
you are not old and cannot vote
she will vote. I see
gray heads nodding
voices pouring
words scripted words
tangled up in parcel tax
days of old
what do you say to the old
how can you be so cold
dialing phone numbers parents
phoning gray heads nodding
voices pouring words
scripted words
are we do old
voices that purr
a soft blanket
to keep away I am old
old as her house
older are they cold
I drop the receiver.


And where is there any sense
to this day where you walk past
the woman sharing a pair of oversized white panties
to another woman laughing out loud.
She laughs out loud as she holds
outrageous underpants white and wider
than the berth of a ship
wider than the San Francisco Bay
caught in a white cotton crotch
and they are very old too
homeless too
and what do I see but confusion.

He is going to a real estate convention
we talk on funding and plans
nonprofit lists and contacts
home for the homeless
he is so conventional too
will the convention be filled
with cottony billows of white shirts
cottony billows of white sheets
flags of surrender to convention
she says she is so old
very old
I am the receiver
I am only present to hear these words
to see the white wide underwear
to not see his eyes behind his dark glasses
dilated he says
dilated as the mother about to give birth
dial a number on the phone unknown to you


Dial it for the parcel tax
for the vote unknown
dilate the vote to win
if you keep on dilating it will pour out
in winnings gush out in dollars
to victory
swabbed in white cotton
what do I know
she is so old
what do I see
she is a voice
caught in decibels.

Their voices wait
a line up of prospects
and her voice here is so guttural
her blue eyes hard and vacant
I see but what do I know
her eyes never dilate like blue depths
of the San Francisco Bay colder
colder yet
all these encounters one day
I receive.

     a surfer's psalm

It is sometime mid-morning
I am paddling out on my board
when I see you
your whiteness sparkling
beneath the black waters
now alongside my body
sleek and close as a satin sheet.
Can I rest my head against you?
Look at me! Dark holiness
in your blue-hazed eyes. Caress me
in your greatness
my thighs and my arms.
Hold me in the calm
of your whiteness this moment
before all is blackness
before they will close the beach
and you are gone.

Your fin gently glances my calf.
O Great White! I give to you
these tears that cruise
down my cheeks. I give you
my heart in my hands beating
faster than any calypso song.
I give to you these hands and fingers
reaching out to touch you.
These feet and their soles
cracked from salt. Nails
broken from shells. Knees that ache
from crouching so long in wait
for the next wave.
Now you leave and I am alone
rocking in humbleness.
I feel you everywhere
though I cannot see you
beneath the white caps.
You may be hiding in some cavern
of coolness or moving
to warmer currents
as a sonar detects a pulse.

Your eyes were translucent
as Tahitian pearls
greys silvers and blues refracting
the chiselled rays of sunlight.
I kneel to you.
My eyes have gone blind.
My heart cold.
Where oh where are you?


They tug
and keep tugging
even as he nears with the broom
sawing the crisp dew air
bellowings of 'drop it' 'away'
the two dogs are stretching
a skunk
in a tug-of-war across the expanse
of deep greened July lawn
on a Friday
the winner-dog scampers off with the tail
rage-spent husband sloughs back
tosses down cold coffee
leaves for work

next morning
an idleness prevails
and then there's a bad replay in skunk sightings
by the front path
first I spot a feather-like clump
of black spiky hairs
the discard of yesterday's play
then my daughter on her way to the barn
(the daily feeding of the pet rabbits)
passes by the drained rock pit for the ducks' bath
and sees them
three baby skunks huddled as one in a corner
guarded by their yelping mascots
we don't know what to do
we take turns peering at them over the rocky ledge
we observe how they arch their backs
making deep u-shapes
then reverse positions into a bridge
even undulating into w-shapes
as their tails raise and lower
we retreat to the house

I try to call my son
who is surfing somewhere off the coast
strong and animal-smart
he would know what to do
I leave a message

bad ideas
a mention of rabies
I think to call the humane society for guidance
the receptionist says this falls into wildlife
and therefore into the jurisdiction
of The Wildlife Rescue whose number she gives
I call and listen to the recording
and wait for the right menu choice
- for volunteer education programs
- for songbirds like robins hummingbirds
- for songbird hospital
- for fawns only
- for adult deer
- for all other wildlife - I leave a message

an hour goes by
two hours
we fear a sure death by sun for the skunks
we keep the killer dogs in the house
the tv news drones on in the background
with endless reruns of Hurricane Katrina
as its first anniversary nears
its swath of destruction and rehash of its politics
the oldest daughter stops by in her over-sized sunglasses
hair pulled back with pink bandana
she declares if someone doesn't do something
they're gonna die
then someone calls named Betsy
to report that a volunteer will be getting in touch with us
she thinks her name is Amy
half an hour later it is Amy
conversing we quickly realize we know one other
promising I think

she asks a number of questions
thinks that if they are babies
they can't yet spray
which means we could get them into a box
but first we need to do a test (to see if they can spray)
she wants us to spray them with a garden hose
in the meantime she says
while we are doing this
she will check with someone
from the Wildlife Control and Exclusion Department
which works to return stray wildlife to its natural habitat
they might know whether these skunks
are mature enough to survive on their own

pacing the lawn in her long summer shift
my stepmother here for a visit
is telling my daughter how she once dreamed of volunteering
to care for skunks at her local wildlife rescue
now she is trying to coerce my daughter
to get in the duck pit and shovel the babies out
she refuses
no one else ventures
Amy finally calls back with news that our skunk babies
can be classified in the Exclusion Department
she gives me the number for the Exclusion volunteer
whose name is Rachael

my son stops by
thinks to position a plank of wood in the pit
a way out for them from their rock-lined prison
and his sister places down a bowl of water
still no call from Rachael
but Amy calls and asks how our spray test went
asks if we have perhaps gotten them into a box
we haven't
we have put a blanket over the top of their home
for shade

my son has to leave
Rachael never calls
it is now dusk
we busy ourselves with dinner and other things
someone rings at the door
a killer dog slips out
our yells follow
next he is flying across the lawn
black and white fluffy ball in his mouth

the next day Rachael calls
they are all three now buried
first one that the dog got
then the other two
still and sun-dried

two days later walking my dogs in the park
dumbfounded who should be coming towards me
but Amy with a friend
we stop
she asks me what happened
is she just being polite I wonder
like she suddenly cares now
or cares more what her friend might think
I sum up the sorry business
leaving out the best parts
she confides there was a party that night
she was afraid there wouldn't have been time
to change
had she been sprayed


Are we our projects? Where
does our person find its home
          in the face of others
in the rug on the floor
          braided in a colorful oval
in words penned on a page
          calendar dates, or novels
read and stories said?


coconut basil
tofu snap peas broccoli
stir it and simmer

           minced shallots        stir in
           yellow paste to curry
           f(l)avor         then drink water

soak rice fo(u)r hours        cut
ripe mangos thinly sliced         add
palm sugar      sticky

           splash over ice cubes
           and tea sweetened condensed
           milk           evaporated too


This is what happens

           to you to them
           their hands
rivers swollen and crisscrossing crevices

reach out for the teacup and saucer
and a napkin and cookie

and the clattering of china begins
           like gentle symbols played
           with a triangle to a crescendo

           straining to hear
           what the other said
a din of rustling
as the cookies dance on their napkins

a choreography of jolts and spasms


One dead cat we had to bury
this morning. Flat on the grass
we didn't notice him
pulling out of the carport.
You stopped
looked puzzled. I wanted
to get going
walk in the park
before work
before sitting at the computer
pixels tapping their code
a cursor chasing down letters
and the walkie-talkie sneezing
out its hey yous. We don't talk.
While you go to the barn for a shovel
I look at this cat
stretched out frozen in its blackness.
I don't know what to feel.
It's a bad cartoon
a stereotype image left by a steamroller
still running from its foe
the vicious hound dog. Reality
screeching halt. In the orchard
an apple drops to the ground. Reality
switching gears like a stick shift
in quick reverse.
We dig a hole and toss the cat in
its neck twisting back
as if to watch us in our day
and scorn our fears. Beads of sweat
appear on your brow
as you finish digging.
The November sun is warm
as the cat walks into our minds.
It slinks through furrows
of gray consciousness. Its head
below our feet. Its shadow
raining down on us
in broad daylight.
We are almost not real.


if we are more
than our own capacities
a numbers game
in multiples of nines
matching words to numbers
there is still the blank square
                      or to absorb
                      more than our own capacities
                      how we define ourselves
                      countering entropy
                      future fast forward
the droning of the plane
resounds to splashes lapping
pool water bubbles
these are words
that ferment a longing
submerged past its depth
                      our capacities
                      in contrast defined
                      she is a lumbering ostrich
                      with short vision
                      he runs with his trunk to the sky
stumbling over roots
burrowing in tunnels
more than you know
words or a puzzle
that don't come together
the perfect tomato cluster
shelf life never ripening


She cuts the circle out of the cardboard.
There is one head done for the game
and now for another as she starts
to cut then it is time for the paintbrushes
but there are none. Was this
the assignment? Phone rings
it is Gloria who says
she is on her way who knows
and now she better keep working.
Is it interplanetary or interlunar travel
or both from the moon to Jupiter
or to the four big moons of Jupiter?
Science for Mars heads or Martians
every night is a different assignment
a paper chase need to cut faster and faster
to make it for the next day. Some can
and some don't even if they aren't Galileo
they are confused lost in a black hole.
It is a race and she wants to win. She zips
her sweater up and clasps the purple scissors.
You can never know with Gloria
for her schedule shifts
like the breeze on a pond
so she needs to keep cutting
next the asteroid belt. She has to get to Pluto
past its moon of Charon
and she has to find
a paintbrush before collapsing
into tomorrow.


Back to bed
a morning that beckons
hidden from answers
the crossword puzzle
doesn't relent
not as bright
dull and who can think
of an answer to
tire as rubber
burn your rubber
on the pavement
or cotton sheets
could be weary
or wear out
like rubber or too weary
to rise from your sheets
of cotton haven or heaven
but it does not match up
with Forum VIP
could VIP be of course
red carpet treatment
champagne top of the line
glitter and cameras
what forum
and Monster star
could provide a clue
of a missing letter
if it changed the a
it could divulge
its answer
the m has to be set
for computer crash datum
error mode
some things are set
a lack of ideas
for rumcakes
why not a bundt cake
or jam
if not entangle like in sheets
or connect
like in spark
and then
at last she is up
up from bed.