Saturday, November 21, 2009

836. Oatmeal - 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 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
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal with
John Keats.
Keats said I was right to invite him: due to its glutinous texture,
gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, and unusual willingness to
disintegrate, oatmeal must never be eaten alone.
He said that in his opinion, however, it is OK to eat it with an
imaginary companion, and that he himself had enjoyed
memorable porridges with Edmund Spenser and John Milton.
Even if such porridges are not as wholesome as Keats claims,
still, you can learn something from them.
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 if right
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 God's reckless 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.
When breakfast was over John recited "To Autumn."
He recited it slowly, with much feeling, and he articulated the
works 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 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––and it occurs to me:
maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion's
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
simultaneously gummy and crumbly, and therefore I'm going to
invite Patrick Kavanagh to join me.