The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea. Isak Dineson


To understand the history of salt, I need a diving bell, an air hose snaking back to the present, an armored room with a view. On the descent, my stomach flutters up through my head. Silence thrums my eardrums. The undersea wavers, pools, deposits salt behind my eyes.

Of the many salts contained by the human body, sodium chloride (common table salt) makes about .04 percent of the body’s weight at a concentration roughly equivalent to that in seawater. If a ninety-pound girl contains approximately 35 teaspoons of salt, how much more is needed to turn the tide? How long until her goose is cooked? What will it take to sweeten her up when the party’s over?

The cost of looking back: Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt. I picture her translucent and blindingly white, her sparkling cheekbones carved by rain, her thighs tongued lean by deer. The cost of not looking back? More salt. Less elegance.

* * *

Beginning in the 13th C, Polish salt miners near Krakow transformed dark tunnels and caverns into thousands of glittering rooms. They carved out a cathedral and etched its crystalline walls with Biblical scenes, images of saints, tableaus of nobles. In more recent times, rulers installed salt crystal chandeliers lest these ghostly figures languish in the dark.

Over the centuries, travelers crunched their way through the many chambers and marveled at the elevation of minerals to art. Ailing pilgrims came to the mines-turned-chapels seeking cures because saline rooms, like seawater, were believed to cure everything from eczema to cancer. Patient and hopeful, they crouched inside the earth’s salty womb, waiting for deliverance.

* * *

If you spill the salt, toss some over your shoulder to ward off bad luck.

* * *

When I was ten and immersed in fairytales, I read about an orphan named Tal, who was really a prince. He sailed to a sea beneath the sea in a round boat tugged by dolphins. Freshwater or salt? I wonder now. Back then I imagined whooshing past the rim of the ocean’s navel, plopping down and in. Ruba-a-dub-dub, me and Tal in a tub.

When I was emptied out at seventeen, I named the fish Tal.

* * *

I look up “salting out” on the internet. Installation Abortion sounds like a museum exhibit. I think of the American War Crimes Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, where our guide showed us deformed fetuses floating in formaldehyde-filled jars. In the dim light, they reminded me of ginger roots, of knobby potatoes. Agent Orange, she said. Poisoned in the womb.

Installation abortions were performed between weeks 16 and 24 of pregnancy. During this procedure, a doctor dilated the cervix and injected a saline solution with a no. 18 spinal needle into the amniotic sac. The patient, deserving of a lesson, was given no anesthetics. After 6 hours, she was given oxytocin to prod the uterus into active labor; the cervix must dilate to at least 4 centimeters for abortion to occur. The fetus generally dies within 1 hour of injection. According to one source, the swallowing of saline in high concentration leads to cardiac muscle depolarization. According to another, of dehydration. [1] Once common, use of this procedure fell out of favor beginning in the 1970s due to discomfort, occasional live births, and patient deaths.[2]

* * *

Salts with sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite are referred to as curing salts. They are used to preserve meats without refrigeration and to improve their texture.[3]

To draw moisture out of mushrooms and onions, sauté and sprinkle with salt. To kill a banana slug in your garden, cover it with salt.

Fish or chicken encased in a thick layer of salt is delicious. When the dish is brought to table, the hard salt dome formed during baking is shattered with a hammer or other tool.

Seawater snorted by accident burns the soft palate, stings the sinuses, constricts the throat; seawater ingested makes us dance and splutter.

Sea salt spikes the tongue like tiny shards of glass; it crunches between the teeth, dissolves like ice, plays reveille to the taste buds. Too much cinches the mouth’s purse strings, parches the throat, sends us rushing for a glass of unseasoned wet.

* * *

At six weeks a developing fetus is the size of a lentil. At seven the size of a blueberry. Eight the size of a kidney bean. At nine a grape. As it expands, it grows to the size of a fig, a lime, a peapod, a lemon, an apple. At sixteen weeks it’s the size of an avocado.[4] Fruit (and veggies) of the womb.

A womb with no view. No room at the womb.

The perfect, unblemished fruit of my womb is the size of a watermelon. She arrives when I am twenty. Poor little fish, she cries me a river in her first three months. Sleep-deprived, milk-sodden, I sob in our rickety outhouse. Haunted by my history with salt, I trudge back to rock us both until the sweet returns. Wynken and Blynken in a sea full of herring fish.

* * *

A lifetime after, I try to imagine what that body of my body felt as it was slowly brined like a pickle. My womb, that old fishtrap, isn’t talking. If I offered her a drink she’d ask for a margarita with salt on the rim. Sing songs of forced entry and expulsion, belt out a round of Let me be Your Salty Dog. Museum of seasons both salty and sweet, smug relic whose work is long done, she’d wink at what she and I both know.