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Logan Randall, 2024 1st Place Creative-Nonfiction

Submissions for the Creative Non-Fiction category are open to one work of creative nonfiction completed for coursework in the last calendar year. Submissions should not exceed 20 pages. Logan Randall wrote the 1st place submission in the Creative Nonfiction Category for the 2024 President’s Writing Awards.

About Logan

Logan Randall in front of a body of water

Logan Randall’s favorite past time is what you would most expect from a Creative Writing major: reading. When she isn’t writing or reading, her time is spent chasing around her daughter, Elliott, with her husband, Caleb. Together, they own a local business and a cozy home where they spend the cold seasons constantly rearranging the furniture and the warm ones sitting outside talking about the past, the future, and what to have for dinner. She loves shoes, gin, the ocean, and crossword puzzles.

Winning Manuscript – Salt: Fifteen Movements

I. Mediterranean

There are lots of swimmers along the harsh cliffs of Marseilles, their tanned deltoids pushing away the water and propelling them forward. People abandon their trash on the beaches. The swimmers have to push through that, as well. The Mediterranean Sea is saltier than the Pacific which makes floating easier. A person can wade right out past the teal shallows and let the dark depth gently lift their legs parallel to the sky above and the sand below. Suspended there above God only knows what, the terrifying silence of the sea will fill their ears and their head will pound with it.

I watched the swimmers, watched the sky, watched the gorgeous French women slip off their swimsuits and their inhibitions and wade into the water. Awed by vast things, as people tend to be, I meditated beside the grand French sea and wondered if my waist was small enough. She said to me, the angry ocean: open your mouth and drink of my body.

As her mystery poured into me, I expanded. My waist, my ankles, my thighs, my once-dainty rib cage, all growing. I became as large as the sky, as full as the basin of the earth. I swelled with all the salt I never ate past nine o’clock. I no longer feared my largeness. Instead, I feared being microscopic, fitting into just a cup, being swallowed up, disappearing entirely into someone’s thirsty belly.

The white sun in Marseilles burned holes through me, evaporated the sea water off my skin and left behind the grit of salt and hot scarlet bands that would peel off in just a few weeks. But the communion between the sea and me stuck in my mind like a seed in my teeth. My mouth is still full of her salt.

II. Flood

There’s a famous Bible story about Noah and his boat that ends with God, after watching the group float for quite a long time, telling him to send out a dove to look for dry land. The dove flies away from the boat and returns later with nothing. Time passes. Noah sends the dove out once again and on this occasion the dove is gone for a long time and, when it returns, is carrying with it an olive branch, meaning it found dry land on which fruit trees were growing.

After some time trapped together amongst the stink and heat of animals, one can only assume the family celebrated with Martinis.

III. Sapphire

Cold enough to mist the glass and sharp enough to cut it, a martini always feels to me like drinking the sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said that “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away,” and in this marvelously French perception of perfection, the martini finds its justification.

I can find no reason to discuss the merits of vodka when a substance such as gin exists in this world and I can find no reason to drink any gin other than Bombay Sapphire. This gin is cold even before it touches the ice, unfussy and crisp.

Allow vermouth to blow a kiss into the cocktail, as she is at her best when she is a mystery woman walking the opposite direction. To say it another way, I want vermouth in my Martini like I want the sun in my sky: bright, high, and clearly present but at a comfortable distance.

One olive is a tease and two is a sin. Spear three pimento stuffed olives and let them bathe.

Bring the glass to your lips. Inhale through your nose. Dwell for just a moment on the depth of the ocean and what it would be like to float fearlessly at her center, looking up at the violent expanse of the sky, becoming the salt that buoys you. Remember that the percentage of salt in your watery body is nearly the same as that of the sea. Be entranced and mystified by this.

Drink. Brine yourself from the inside.

IV. Olive

In the Atlas Mountains outside of Marrakech are groves of olive trees that make the United States seem infantile, old as they are. Unlike the orchards in my hometown, orderly and well-groomed plots of land owned by distinct farmers, the trees in these Moroccan groves are a giant mass of life. Each tree is owned individually and marked with stripes of colored paint to denote the family to whom it belongs, branded like cattle in swaths of blues and pinks and greens. The trees are a generational treasure, heritage passed through time, and the olives are precious gems, giant emeralds hanging ripe and heavy in the African sun.

These olives are destined for oil.

Somewhere in the maze of the medina amidst the blue tile and carved mahogany of a riad, those ancient olives may find their way into a clay tagine and get roasted out of their own skins. Accustomed to oil that was pressed by machines and bottled by the gallon, it’s practically erotic to eat olives that have been undressed by heat and time, gushing their oil over chicken thighs and paprika.

Sopping up any remaining flavor with crusty bread, it seems as if one is opening their throat and eating time itself, swallowing whole the trees, the dust, the soil, the history, the flavor of a nation. The olives and their oil taste, somehow, like the color green after a long time.

This may impact one’s appetite. One may go forth into the world famished and looking for a feast, craving nothing less than everything. Nothing less than the olives God sent Noah, nothing less than the salt of the earth.

V. Mineral

A brief pause to feel the sun on your cheek. Close your eyes and hear the late summer breeze run its fingers through the treetops, the leaves singing out their poetry and casting their erratic shadows over your skin. Think about what it would be like to be so soaked in mild sunshine that you evaporated and all you left behind was the salt in your skin, raptured into the clouds like the water from the Great Salt Lake.

Nothing more than a mineral spill.

VI. Butter

The most sacred thing happening in Utah is happening at 9th and 9th, baptism by croissant. At Tulie Bakery something holy happens. Butter gets sheeted, folded, layered, and baked and from the hot oven is born a croissant that smothers depression, almost like swallowing light. I searched all over France for a croissant better than Tulie’s but all I found was crescent shaped bread, delicious but human, nothing nearly as divine.

It’s a truly spiritual experience to eat something and know that it will haunt you for the rest of your life, a cloaked specter rattling its chains in the attic of your appetite. All of this may seem extreme. It is. But hunger is evocative, connecting us to more than just our bodies. Cravings are a map of the past, a link to all the places and people we have been.

I’ve made puff pastry of my own, three days of rolling out dough and butter, folding and chilling over and over. It is labor that forms the layers, warm hands stretching cold butter over soft dough. Maybe that’s what I taste in the hollow form of the perfect croissant: effort. That’s what art is, that divine pursuit of perfected expression, like searching for the right word. At the edge of the cliff, on the rails of the bridge, bring me a well made pastry, a croissant filled with orange cheese and salty ham and remind me about flavor and flake and the hands that fold it into existence. Remind me of the sacred things, like butter and bread. Sanctify me with pastry, save me with salt.

VII. Blood I

My dad salts his watermelon. He doesn’t eat cilantro or drink Campari. He has no taste for bitterness. His laugh is frequent and mighty, all rapture and affection. It’s like he lives his days wondering, how could it all possibly be so sweet?

VIII. Brine

In Florence, Oregon at a campsite enthroned in rhododendron, my husband boiled clams over the campfire in a cast iron pot full of butter and garlic and good white wine, the same wine that was in our glasses. It took me back to thirteen years old, when my entire extended family took over a campsite in Waldport and myself and 30 of my cousins slogged out beneath the bridge and dug for dinner.

Clams leave a bubbling trail behind when they burrow down into the boggy sand and when digging, this trail gives them away. All of us children wielding shovels and buckets chased the clams and their bubbles down into the earth, racing to catch what few of us would be willing to actually eat in a few hours time, such lavish luxuries lost on us, young as we were. The mud was so thick and syrupy that it dragged our light bodies down and we had to fight to free our rubber boots from the earth with a loud slurping sound, the mud closing back up over our footprints like no one was ever there.

We ate the clams outside around the campfire, the wood smoke lingering with the smell of Marlboros and Busch Light. The uncles and older boys had been out crabbing and we cracked open the red legs of their catch and soaked them in hot, liquid butter. The sun that afternoon burned through the coastal fog and it was bright and cold, all of us wrapped in coats and blankets and squinting our way through the sharp sunlight. That may be the warmest I’ve ever been. Straight from the sea to our bellies, the soft body of the ocean slipped into my stomach and my blood stream. I’ve yet to get her out of my system.

Over a decade later, I found myself outside by a fire yet again, eating clams with charred bread and a warm coat and a slight buzz and butter dripping down my chin. We ate straight from the cast iron pot until there was nothing left and, greedy for more, spooned through the broth searching for errant shells.

Clams spend their entire lives marinating in salt water, oblivious to the way they are being brined. I wonder what I would taste like if someone caught my fleeing body, added garlic, paired me with a buttery chardonnay. Would I taste like fresh air and ink? All the words I’ve ever read or written simmering into a thick roux, nourishing and hot.

IX. Blood II

My mother eats the same breakfast every single day, oatmeal with blueberries. She has no sense of smell which affects the way she tastes. She doesn’t know that she oversalts her oats. She’s all love and logic, warm and radiant and filled with morning porridge.

X. Mignonette

Some say oysters are aphrodisiacs as in: our blood is changed by something in them, something chemical. But I think the sex is in the small silver spoons and the tangy mignonette. It’s the sheer audacity of ordering something by the each, as in, I’ll have two oysters from the east coast, three from the west. It’s the form of the champagne flutes, the goblets of crushed ice, the necessity of fingers and lips. It’s the squeeze of the lemon, the suggestion of dressing just to be undressed.

This is the right way to eat an oyster:

Be slightly drunk. Sweep up your hair, expose your neck. Notice your waist, your ankles, your thighs, your ribcage. Notice your wrists, let them be soft. Pay attention to your legs, to your spine, to the way the rough shell feels in your cupped hands. Memorize the light; this isn’t a meal, it’s meditation by mollusk. Let your collar bones lead you (that is where your intuition lives, I am sure of it, those delicate stretches of bone and flesh). Bring the shell to your lips and tilt back your head, your throat long and vulnerable. Your eyes will flutter closed, your lips parting to let out the sigh reserved for this pleasure alone. You will fall under the spell of the sea if you only allow yourself.

When you finish, do whatever comes naturally, the vast blue ocean settled softly in your stomach.

XI. Sweat

It is said that the water is tumultuous where the Atlantic and the Pacific meet, Drake Passage a violent churning of opposite waters. Nothing but passion and waves where the two become one.

The exuberant process of making something new, that necessary pleasure.

XII. Broth

When a woman gives birth, she can’t eat, even if the labor takes 39 hours. The nurses do their best to keep the laboring woman fueled, offering her oversweet Jello and popsicles and oversalted chicken broth in styrofoam cups, but when a woman is doing the work of her ancestors, bearing down and contributing to billions of years of life, she wants red meat and poetry so dense it can be chewed.

After those 39 hours, the woman can eat but she cannot sleep. At the end of it, she is handed the fruit of her labor: a tiny, perfect, screaming baby and the unimaginable and incomparable terror of new motherhood. The shrill cries of a newborn aren’t for ears but the amygdala. A new mother sets up camp at the cliff’s edge of fight or flight and sleep is just stress in the dark, waking breathless in a panic to search the sheets for the baby’s body, the one swaddled and sleeping safely in the bedside bassinet. In those final weeks leading up to this moment, people will have said innumerable times sleep while you can! but sleep is not a casserole and it doesn’t freeze well and she will feast instead on exhaustion. After the violence of birth comes the violence of postpartum, the relentless need of an infant, the primal love of a mother. “The love you feel for your child has a way of obliterating whatever you used to think you loved,” says Jenny Offill. Translation: how does one reconstruct a life when the life has been born right out of them?

I don’t want to write about motherhood but I’m afraid that if I don’t, I’ll never be able to write about anything else, the taste of it so fully in my mouth. The ferocity of such disarming love is like a mouthful of blood—I have to spit to speak.

I remember violent tremors in a tepid shower, washing away the sweat of labor. I remember retching at that first gulp of long anticipated red wine, the taste of pleasure acrid after 40 weeks of rancid bile and bitter Zofran. I remember wishing that everyone would get the fuck out of my house. I remember wanting to beg my mother to never leave. It is a most ferocious simultaneity to still be a daughter but now with a daughter, such crushing love imploding and exploding mercilessly inside you.

I remember bliss and all the horrors that come with it. I still can’t remember it all without weeping. The deep and merciless and blinding love of motherhood, exposing the Mariana Trench for what it is: nothing but a shallow hole in a cold sea.

XIII. Reef

A brief pause to revel in the weightlessness of floating. Load your heavy body onto a board and paddle out into the warm water of the bay. It’s mating season for the Blue Whales, the only time they let us see them, so stay quiet and listen for their love songs. Lie yourself down and let the sun press into the surface of your belly and your legs and the thin skin of your face. Feel that mother ocean rock you back and forth on her surface. She will make you feel small, but not like something insignificant. More like a beloved child, a newborn baby.

While you are floating, you are blissfully no one. You are nowhere in particular doing nothing all too important. You are just a salty body being buoyed by another salty body, an infant in her mother’s arms.

You are warm. It is warm here.

Lick your lips. Taste the sea.

XIV. Blood III

Motherhood is writer’s block. It’s the cursor blinking on the page, a day that expands and contracts and expands and contracts and expands and contracts at such a high rate of speed that the totality of a day has contained so much emotion and need and want and feeling that there is little left to put onto paper.

I am writing something about food I ate somewhere across the Atlantic ocean, foie gras in Bordeaux or Sticky Toffee Pudding in Glasgow or Goulash in Budapest. Or maybe it was something I drank, absinthe in Český Krumlov, limoncello and Coke in Positano, cheap white wine in Malaga, expensive champagne in Epernay. Something about pleasure and flavor, anyway. Something from before I was anyone’s mother.

I can still taste all of it.

I shut my laptop and give my daughter my full attention. She says, run mommy, shirt stained with tomatoes from our garden, blueberry streaks on her cheeks. I stand and chase her toward the front door, dodging blocks and plastic tractors and discarded beaded necklaces and she shrieks with pleasure at being chased by her mother. She doesn’t know I’m a writer. She wouldn’t care even if she did. I’m all flavor, all color and feeling but she’s all verb, a thing fully in motion. I chased pleasure all around the world and now I chase it through my living room. The four winds scattered me everywhere and she gathered me back up, her and her technicolor perfection.

The salt of the earth.

XV. Pillar

Perhaps I am Lot’s wife, glancing back at a storied past, unashamed of what it contained. Turning defiantly around to admire all the pleasure in it.