Home > Poetry > Salt
Published: Sun Oct 15 1989
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas

There was no need long ago
to perspire. And salt
had not been discovered.
It took medieval pain
and pressure, the worry
over fate and free
will to make man sweat.

Then salt crystallized and those
who discovered it lived
in an Armenian village called Koghb.

Even before that day
the Greeks in books of alchemy
labeled salt, sal armenicum
in deference to the origins of
alum, malachite, and lazulite.

Along the river Vardamark,
along the Arax and Akhurian
through the valley Aghto
traders came, by oxcart
and caravan along Salt Road
to the mines
of Nakhijevan, Keghzvan
from the west
until the railroad’s time.

From the east another horde
decided there might be
a better way to speed
the supply
by making the Armenians
weep and weep.


But do not think salt came
from Armenia because
it was the land of tears.
Tears come from laughing too.

Salt is what is left
when the sea recedes,
when the flood subsides.
It is what is left
when passion is eased
to coat the face of calm.

The same salt that flavors
the table sweetens the breath,
causes the blood to rise, spoils
the pilaf and brightens the smile.
Salt that eats the heart
can erode the sun.

When you throw it over
your left shoulder to blind
the eye of Bad Luck
invite Good Luck to your table,
and say with the Armenian poets

“Hey, djan,
let us toast one another,
the dispersed;
but don’t let the salt
of longing close our throats
with thirst

Hey, djan,
our differences, like salt
flavor what we eat.

But let us not consume
more salt than meat.”

See what's inside AGNI 28

Diana Der-Hovanessian (1934–2018) was a poet, a translator of Armenian poetry, and for many years a contributing editor of AGNI. She authored over twenty-three books of poetry and translation, was twice a Fulbright Professor, and received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, the PEN/Columbia Translation Center, the Armenian Writers Union, and the Paterson Poetry Center. Her poems appeared in The American Poetry Review, Poetry, AGNI, The Partisan Review, The Nation, and elsewhere.

Der-Hovanessian’s collection Selected Poems was reviewed in AGNI 44 by Ellen Davis.

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