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4 February 2023

There Was Never Enough Salt in the Kitchen by Juleus Ghunta

Wasafiri is pleased to publish the pieces shortlisted for the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. The poems, essays, and short stories in this series showcase the best new writing from the best new writers across the globe – in all their diversity and complexity. In this moving poem about memory and 'saltnesness', Juleus Ghunta remembers his grandmother through the image of salt granules.

The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. You can read the full terms and conditions and submit here.



Grandma poured handfuls of salt along the hibiscus fence, sprinkled salt across the lawn as though she was seasoning an acre of meat. Some nights, she tied salt-laced thorns on doorknobs to paralyse the hands of our neighbour’s ghosts. Both families fought a long war for the land, a few times in court, mostly with herbs and oils and ashes strewn along the fence. 



What Grandma feared most was madness in her children. She would call frantic meetings to explain the neighbour’s schemes: roasted breadfruit and dried herring to stop our garden from producing; dead lizard in a matchbox to spur sudden sickness and grief; old textbooks covered with grave dirt to prevent young ones from learning, dreams dead before we could name them.   



Once, interrupting her reading, I reminded Grandma there was never enough salt in the kitchen, how unsalted food was a greater threat to my wellbeing, how only this saltlessness was real. Later that evening, I strutted up and down Palmer’s Hill, slowed each time I reached our neighbour’s gate to speak in tongues, stomp and twirl, to scatter ashes from a calabash bowl I found at the fence.  



The taxi sped through potholes on our way to the balmyard in St Elizabeth. Grandma clutched her blue bible, a soft prayer on her breath. The bush doctor threw a handful of beads and bones on a table, pointed at the John Crow Bead near the edge, said it was a sign of distances I would travel, far from Palmer’s Hill, a flame no calabash can contain, uncontainable like the bird after whom the bead is named.   



The floor creaked under the sudden weight of grandma’s knees. At fourteen, the age I started living on my own, I would summon this memory, not of beads or bones, the memory of grandma’s arms stretched wide, her guttural praise of the bush doctor’s prophecy of wings. In 2019, a year before she died, I asked why she still sprinkles salt. She sent me for an atlas, told me to touch all the places I have been.   

The 2023 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize is open for submissions until 30 June 2023. Submit here.
Juleus Ghunta is a Chevening Scholar, poet and children’s writer. His poems have appeared in 30 journals. He is the co-editor of two issues of Interviewing the Caribbean journal (The UWI Press), focused on children’s literature and childhood trauma. His picture book Rohan Bullkin and the Shadows was published by CaribbeanReads in 2021.   Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash
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