Falling in Love with Oatmeal
by Ann Teplick
This is a story about a poem that is glued to my psyche, glued to my heart, and taped to my laptop. One that I have memorized, and recite while swimming, hoola-hooping, twisted up in yoga. It’s a poem I have fallen in love with and want to marry.
A few weeks ago, I escorted this poem into three fifth-grade classes at Kimball elementary in Seattle, and invited my students to fall in love, too.
The poem’s title is simply, “Poem,” and the poet is Lisette Austin. I found it torn out of something, a magazine, maybe, and sitting near a pile of crumpled napkins on a table at a café. My luck to stroll in for a chai.
Austin’s poem is about falling in love with ordinary things. It begins, “The other day, I fell in love/with morning.” I read this poem twice to my students. The narrator observes the change in light, the ferns, the waking birds, the departing moon. She then proceeds to illuminate her breakfast. “I fell in love with oatmeal.” I stop and ask if anyone in the room is in love with oatmeal, too. There is a lot of laughter. “Hahahahaha.” Lots of “Miss Ann, you’re kidding, right?” One student says, “No way. I eat Frosted Flakes.” Another says, “French toast, with a stick of melted butter slopped on top.” Someone pipes, “Is this a trick question? Like the time you asked if we’ve ever scrambled licorice nibs into our eggs?” I was looking for select details, then, and I will again, now.
I am not about to push the “greenness” of oatmeal—how it’s a good source of fiber, reduces LDL cholesterol, and is packed with nutrients, such as Vitamin E, zinc, and selenium. But we do talk about Austin’s description: “A brown-sugar sweetness” and “. . .the miraculous explosion of tart cranberries. . .” We spend a few moments on the words “tart” and “explosion,” and agree they’ve hit the bull’s eye in painting the taste of a cranberry. Believe me, it is palpable, the cramping of my saliva glands.
Austin’s language is delicious. She glides from oatmeal to a hard-boiled egg, its shell cracking under the thumb like “a round desert of dry clay.” We pause again at the image, and mime the cracking of eggs between our thumb and fingers, visualize that round clay desert. Next, Austin moves to tea: the steam that curls upward in “dissipating tendrils.” The “spicy heat” that sends “rivers of warmth” into a body. We fall in love with more images, not to mention the “s” sounds.
The final lines of the poem flatten me: “I sat before my breakfast and wept,/from being in love with the world/rather than afraid of it.” This prompts a discussion about the realities of war, violence, poverty, discrimination, etc. And while there may be much to fear in the world, we conclude it is up to us to choose love.
So, what can we fall in love with? It’s a wide-open sky. We generate a list: a pea-green down jacket, a retro-80’s blood-red lava lamp, a spider that spins a web pearled with dew. A bed swamped with stuffed animals and dolls. Daffy-duck slippers, fur that is spiky from the washing machine.
Next, we write group poems:
FALLING FOR MY PILLOW
This morning, I fell in love
With my pillow
Silky as a Siamese cat
Scent of cherry shampoo
Blue as a waterfall
Initials sewn in the fabric
My head sinks into the depths of its softness.
IN LOVE WITH MY KITCHEN
Hotdogs in the freezer
White sink as large as a garbage can
Bananas, yellowish green, to make a banana split
The floor, red and black squares, like a chess board
The table, round like the Knights of the Round Table
The microwave, how it spins like a turntable
The potato-leek soup that my mom made when I had a fever
Orange-framed windows that I climb in and out of,
Instead of using the door.
Finally, we write our own poems, and share them in the closing circle. One student falls in love with her journal, pink as pink frosting, and sparkly like a dime in a water fountain. Another falls in love with bare feet that race down the street, a curtain of black hair flapping behind her. A third, with the glow of candles that reflect light in dark times. A fourth, falls in love with poems, the way their rhythm can mesmerize stories of loss and love.
Our session is a celebration of ordinary things—the small, but significant moments of everyday life, the gems we access when we slow down and take note. It is a word collage of beauty and hope, inspired by a poem found in a café that begged for someone to pick it up, read it, love it, and share its feast with the world.