galway kinnell

(When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone)

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 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 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 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 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.



Adullamite said...

Oatmeal does not have a glutinous texture, nor does it possess a gluey lumpishness, there is no hint of slime in Scots oats, and an unusual willingness to disintegrate is an advantage in certain climates.

Clearly the author has never eaten porridge!

J Cosmo Newbery said...

1. I tend to agree with Adullamite - porridge done well (I do it 8hrs in a slow cooker overnight). I don't recognise any of the writer's description. A Scottish wife is ready to go into battle, spirtle in the attack position.

2. Have a urge to reorganise the lines of "Ode to a Nightingale." to see what happens.

goatman said...

Food for thought . . .

red dirt girl said...

I must confess my own attempts at making porridge generally do end up rather slimey. My sweetheart has captivated me on many a morning with perfectly made porridge - nice and thick and .... fluffy, if that is possible. Of course lots of brown sugar and a splash of creamy milk is a must. I've been quite spoiled by being served porridge in bed and find my perfect porridge companion is he. Maybe next time, I'll take one of my poems, cut into strips, and we can have fun re-arranging the stanzas ..... ;)


soubriquet said...

I have often eaten with imaginary companions. Usually, if they talk to me there are no really exciting revelations. It's almost as though I know what they're going to say before they say it.

I do, however, remember my teddy bear, Ted Edward, who was a constant companion in my early years, and I can reveal, that over a bowl of porridge, he would speak of things I could never, at that age, imagine, he'd speak of his life as a pirate on the south seas, of coconut-palm beaches, and dusky maidens, of spanish galleons and plunder, of buried treasure, of the time he was the first teddy-bear astronaut, orbiting the earth, of his time when captured by the barbary turks, enslaved and chained to a bench on a war-galley, of cutting his chains with sea-sand, of his escape through the harem, where he hid for sixteen weeks, odalisques....

But my favourite porridge companion is not imaginary. Breakfast in bed with a lady who appreciates my porridge. Heaven.

soubriquet said...

I'm terrified by the thought of an attack-spirtle.

goatman said...

"My moment of oat enlightenment occurred at breakfast on the Isle of Harris five years ago. I was offered a bowl of porridge at Scarista House, a small hotel in the Outer Hebrides serving delicious food made from Scottish produce. The oats were accompanied by double cream and light muscovado sugar, combining to produce an exquisite sweet, oaty flavour. And the mixture was textured, yet light.

I quizzed cook Patricia Martin, who runs the hotel with her chef husband Tim. "We get Golspie Mill's organic medium oatmeal," she explained. "I soak it in cold water overnight, about double the volume of water to oatmeal. Then the next morning I add a little salt and slowly bring it up to the boil, whisking regularly. I add more water at that stage, then I let it bubble, giving it an occasional whisk, until it's ready. It should still have a little bite and be neither too stiff nor too soft."

By Sybil Kapoor in The Guardian

I never thought of soaking it overnight, kinda like great northerns . . .

Lin said...

Hmmmmm....I eat oatmeal every single morning for breakfast...alone. I don't find any of the those adjectives true of oatmeal..but then, I'm just eating it to get on with my day.

Maybe it is my soy milk and craisins that make it super-delicious--or that I just like something warm in my tummy. And I like eating it alone so I don't have to share. :)

red dirt girl said...

I had to look up spirtle - and its definition was not easy to find, I'll tell you!

Goatman, I would happily visit the Outer Hebrides and partake of perfectly cooked Scottish oats!

Lin, your oatmeal sounds yummy (craisins!). Maybe it's the only peaceful minute in your day?!!