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