David Salner

Two Poems


It’s a wonderful thing to have a mother
you didn’t come from. I can remember—
when I was four—the heavy varnish on the floor
I was playing on in one of those apartments
built all over Baltimore
after the war. My mother
holds me in the glitter of her black eyes
expressing humor easily, strength and care, and love
with difficulty. She has my father there
for backup. It’s conversation
filled with produce words—“We picked you out,”
as if I were an avocado and they were squeezing
my chubby knees—or a cantaloupe.
My mother sniffs my bellybutton
while the world looks on. “We’ll take this one,”
she announces, “because he’s ripe.”
Both of them are smoking, and the words
parade in the smoke, dance in the air
high overhead, meaningless as motes
—for I had already
adopted my mother, when she was a girl
about my age, playing on the marble steps
in a neighborhood where poor Jews lived
in row houses. My orthodox grandmother had a painting
of a handsome man, her husband, who disappeared
when his bank failed. They never saw him again.
As I stared at the painting, I understood
my father would disappear, also,
in a way my mother never would. The words
meant nothing to me, for my mother’s eyes
had already told me what I had to know.
I was not the fruit of her body but of something
more important—her choice.
I was the fruit of a woman’s choice.


Deli with Sea Salt

A world of salt, as seen through the glass
at the butchers counter: meat dripping with fat,
corned beef on veined blocks greasy with
rich white flecks; franks draped in necklaces,

suggestively conic; smoked whitefish;
cream cheese in tubs with orange gravlax;
wrinkled brown olives in two-gallon vats
filmy with brine; dills in a garlic and vinegar

slosh, each spear still with a pearly white
trace of cucumber left; chopped liver mixed
with eggs boiled hard; only the parched
dough of knishes doesn’t taste like it issued

from the sea, where Jonah was swallowed
by the whale, was coughed up and prospered.



David Salner has worked as iron ore miner, steelworker, machinist, and longshoreman. He has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. His writing appears in recent issues of Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Salmagundi, Prairie Schooner, and North American Review. His third book is Blue Morning Light (2016, Pond Road Press) and his fourth, From House to House, will be printed by Broadstone Media in 2019. He is working on a novel about the lives of the sandhogs who built the Holland Tunnel. To read more by this author: "Manhattan Seasons," The Evolving City Issue, Vol. 8:4, Fall 2007.