November 7: “The Plain Sense of Things”

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

— Wallace Stevens

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September 14: “Thursday”

Because the most difficult part about making something, also the best,
Is existing in the middle,
Sustaining an act of radical imagination,
I simmered a broth: onion, lemon, a big handful of mint.
The phone rang. So with my left
Hand I answered it,
Sautéing the rice, then adding the broth
Slowly, one ladle at a time, with my right. What’s up?
The miracle of risotto, it’s easy to miss, is the moment when the husks
dissolve,
Each grain of rice releasing its tiny explosion of starch.
If you take it off the heat just then, let it sit
While you shave the parmesan into paper-thin curls,
It will be perfectly creamy,
But will still have a bite.
There will be dishes to do,
The moon will rise,
And everyone you love will be safe.

— James Longenbach

July 6: “maggie and millie and molly and may”

maggie and millie and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

millie befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

— E.E. Cummings

January 13: “Oatmeal”

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.

I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.

I eat it alone.

I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.

Its consistency is such that it is better for your mental health
if somebody eats it with you.

That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have
breakfast with.

Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary
companion.

Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge,
as he called it with John Keats.

Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him:
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime,
and unusual unwillingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should
not be eaten alone.

He said that in his opinion, however, it is perfectly OK to eat
it with an imaginary companion, and that he himself had
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John
Milton.

Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn something
from it.

Yesterday morning, for instance, Keats told me about writing the
“Ode to a Nightingale.”

He had a heck of a time finishing it, those were his words “Oi ‘ad
a ‘eck of a ‘toime,” he said, more or less, speaking through
his porridge.

He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then stuck in his
pocket,
but when he got home he couldn’t figure out the order of the stanzas,
and he and a friend spread the papers on a table,
and they made some sense of them, but he isn’t sure to this day if
they got it right.

An entire stanza may have slipped into the lining of his jacket
through a hole in his pocket.

He still wonders about the occasional sense of drift between stanzas,
and the way here and there a line will go into the
configuration of a Moslem at prayer, then raise itself up
and peer about, and then lay itself down slightly off the mark,
causing the poem to move forward with a reckless, shining wobble.

He said someone told him that later in life, Wordsworth heard about
the scraps of paper on the table, and tried shuffling some
stanzas of his own, but only made matters worse.

I would not have known any of this but for my reluctance to eat oatmeal
alone.

When breakfast was over, John recited “To Autumn.”

He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the words
lovingly, and his odd accent sounded sweet.

He didn’t offer the story of writing “To Autumn,” I doubt if there
is much of one.

But he did say the sight of a just-harvested oat field got him started
on it, and two of the lines, “For summer has o’er brimmed their
clammy cells” and “Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours,”
came to him while eating oatmeal alone.

I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.

For supper tonight I am going to have a baked potato leftover from lunch.

I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp, slippery, and simultaneously
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I’m going to invite Patrick Kavanagh
to join me.

— Galway Kinnell