Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Maxine Hong Kingston Reads Sandy Scull’s ‘Sea Salt’

"Sea Salt"

A Poet a Day: Maxine Hong Kingston Reads a Poem by Sandy Scull

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
— Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers talked with author Maxine Hong Kingston in 2007 about her work helping returning soldiers find peace through writing. In this clip, she reads a poem by veteran Sandy Scull.

Scull was a poet before he went to fight in Vietnam and then had writer’s block for 30 years afterwards. This poem, says Hong Kingston, is about the way of coming home. “You know, he had post-traumatic stress disorder, which means that the body goes numb, the appetite is gone, [and] he’s alienated from his fellow citizens.”

“Sea Salt”

By Sandy Scull

After the Vietnam War, I withdrew
to Nantucket: “faraway isle.”
Hoping to glimpse the boy
before spirit fled the body.
Thirty-three miles of ocean exiling me
from a homeland offering little embrace.

Me and my dog, Christopher. Christ-love
disguised as loyal canine. We combed beaches.
Working for the island newspaper connected me.
Tides soothed with ebb and flow.
A rhythm I could trust. Even eat by.
I fish the last three hours of the east tide.
Buried my toes in the sand, searching
for the texture of littleneck clam.

When water was warm, I sailed out solo.
Stripped then slid into the sound.
Looking up toward the surface light.
Christopher’s gaze wavering with wind
and water between us. Breath bubbles
rose, bursting under his nose.

My body now embraced,
a ritual purification in salt.
Dismembered dreams floated closer.
Something dissolved in a solution
that held me. Breathing easier,
I could imagine again.


Acclaimed author of several books, Maxine Hong Kingston began writing at the age of nine (“I was in the fourth grade and all of a sudden this poem started coming out of me”), and won her first writing award in a journalism contest at The University of California, Berkeley when she was 16.

Then in 1976, when she was 36, Kingston published The Woman Warrior, which The New York Times praised, comparing it to James Joyce’s Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man. The book won the National Book Critic’s Circle Award and turned Kingston into an instant celebrity.

Read Bill’s 2007 interview with Maxine Hong Kingston.

See all poets in the A Poet a Day Collection.