Monday, March 16, 2009


- Galway Kinnell

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 is better for your mental
health if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal
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 unsual willingness to disintigrate, 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
enjoyed memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and
Even if eating oatmeal with an imaginary companion is
not as
wholesome as Keats claims, still, you can learn
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 hiswords
"Oi 'ad
a 'eck of a toime," he said, more or less, speaking
his porridge.
He wrote it quickly, on scraps of paper, which he then
stuck in his
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
made some sense of them, but he isn't sure to this day
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
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
left over from lunch.
I am aware that a leftover baked potato is damp,
slippery, and simultaneaously
gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to invite
Patrick Kavanagh
to join me.

[NOTE: This poem was originally posted on Oct. 17, 2006.]

No comments:

Post a Comment