July 24: “At the Putney Co-op, an Opera”

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
—Allen Ginsberg

“Go ahead,” I say to my neighbor at the Putney Co-op who tells
     me he can’t complain. “Let it out. It’s mid-March and there’s still
two feet of snow on the ground. Fukushima has just melted down and
the Washington Monument cracked at its pyramidion. Put down your
     bags and sing. How many times dear father, graybeard, lonely old
     courage teacher must you walk down the aisles as a randy eidolon
humming your tunes for us to start? Our song begins in silence and grows
to a buzz. We make it up as we go along, then watch our numbers swell—
     ten thousand members who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Who fly
     like a swarm to join us in our chambers, which are these aisles.”

I’m singing without knowing it, carrying the tune of main things,
     lamenting the prices with Bernie Sanders. My neighbor joins me
for no other reason than singing along as a member of the cast we call
the multitudes of lonely shoppers. I roam the aisles with the sadness
     of America, juggling onions, blessing the beets. It’s a local stage on
     which the country opens like a flower that no one sees beside the road.

In my hungry fatigue, I’m shopping for images
, which are free on the highest
shelf but costly in their absence—the only ingredient here that heals my sight
     of blindness. I see you, Walt Whitman, pointing your beard toward axis
     mundi by the avocados, reading the labels as if they were lines, weighing
the tomatoes on the scale of your palms, pressing the pears with your thumbs
the way you did in Huntington, Camden, and Brooklyn. And you, also, Ruth
     and Hayden, at the checkout counter with empty bags you claim are full
     of apples, almonds, and bananas. What can you say to those outside who
haven’t read your poems? Who find it hard to get the news from poetry
but die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
 
     It’s night. The Connecticut slips by across Rt. 5. The moon is my egg
     and stars, my salt. I score the music of the carrots, scallions, and corn in
the frost of the freezer windows. The sough of traffic on 91 washes my ears
with the sound of tires on blue macadam. The doors close in an hour….
     We’ll both be lonely when we return on the long dark roads to our silent
     houses. I touch your book and dream of our odyssey westward to a field
in Oregon, Kansas, or California where we plant our oars and die ironically.
Where we finish our journey as strangers in our native land. These are the
     lyrics to our song in the aisles—the buzz of the swarm with our queen
     at the center. What America did you have, old howler, when you scattered
into the sky, then floated like a cloud as another form in the making outside
of time, forgetful at last and empty of all you sang?

— Chard deNiord

June 11: “The Poet’s Occasional Alternative”

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft a poem would have had some
distance to go days and weeks and
much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor

everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it many friends
will say why in the world did you
make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership I do not
want to wait a week a year a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

— Grace Paley

May 14: “Another Poem for Mothers”

Mother, I’m trying
to write
a poem to you—

which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I’ve wanted
to say, Mother.
..but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them. Poems to
mothers make us feel

little again. How to describe
that world that mothers spin
and consume and trap

and love us in, that spreads
for years and men and miles?
Those particular hands that could

smooth anything: butter on bread,
cool sheets or weather. It’s
the wonder of them, good or bad,

those mother-hands that pet
and shape and slap,
that sew you together
the pieces of a better house
or life in which you’ll try
to live. Mother,

I’ve done no better
than the others, but for now,
here is your clever failure.

— Erin Belieu

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