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National Poetry Month – Fordham Poem of the Day


MEALS, by Janet Kaplan

To be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal….

– Damiel, in Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire”

Wide brushstrokes are meals, black and orange and green. They descend and encroach upon the blue limited plate.

A poached egg that illuminates inward. And here on earth a light that doesn’t reach the foreground and is therefore not the cause of the colors one sees in these peaches. What is the cause? The painter’s mind, her own dual nature? Then there’s the skull.

My father without his glasses? A girl reading sheet music? Some meals are like stills from a home movie, half moving, half still. Some are as lurid as newsreels. So many different kinds of meals.

Two bowls of spaghetti. One is sharp but uneaten. The other is vanishing quickly and so the mind paints over it, actively and malignantly abstracts it.

The restaurant makes me ache for the wilderness because it is too exacting. Isn’t that sandwich too particular? That cutlet too resolute?

Yolks have cholesterol. Knowledge is elsewhere. What I’m telling you to do is make money, marry young, eat healthy meals. What I’m telling you to do has no depth; I don’t believe in these things. Where was I during the party? The back room full of violins splitting at their seams. Where were you when you should have been at work? The laundromat, watching Elsie’s potted plants shake on the spinning machines.

How much is intentional and how much is chaos? Eggs equal gravity. Flour equals dominant subject matter. Mustard equals the disturbance, getting closer to or further from the disturbance. Wine vinegar means that the rectangle, though disappearing, is still very strong.

When I paint I don’t exist. And then I eat.

The lines use red — a streak of sun or ketchup. I think “ordinary” people already understand this. A child: “how’d she make that scribble?”

Wind pushes the fork, rain sweeps away the knife. As in the development of any meal, we’re going to have to experiment. This is not the same as starvation. The children eat locusts in locust season. The parents know how much time between the bloating of the feet and death.

Otherwise, one can like rain, not too little, not too much. One can admire the particular green of new corn. One can send seed packets and water tanks. One can ask, all one wants, Would I share my last kernel with my neighbor?

One can like form or one can like chaos. A man was chosen to race against his own meal: “Go, man, go!”

It is terrible to enter the mind of the hungry man. And so he recedes and the meal gains the foreground. Convenient and appealing — solid, for something so small.

The placement of the condiment is often a paradox.

(Janet Kaplan is Fordham’s poet-in-residence and winner of the 2011 Sandeen Prize for Poetry. This is excerpted from her book Dreamlife of a Philanthropist (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011))


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