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.

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4 Responses to “Falling in Love with Oatmeal”

  1. Ann,

    The hybrid of poetry and essaying is testimony itself to how spot-on a choice you are for the classroom. Beautiful writing, a wonderful lesson plan and inspiring besides. You rock! Can’t wait to be back to work with you in our other shared capacity…..

    eli

  2. Wonderful job, Ann, as always. It’s been a pleasure teaching poetry with you to distressed teens in juvenile detention and the state psychiatric hospital. You’ve brought joy and healing to the youth. Thanks from Pongo Teen Writing Project!

  3. Suzanne Edison Says:

    Ann, this was terrific. I really loved reading it and got excited. Would you be interested in coming to Giddens School (my daughter’s school) for our Children’s Poetry:Diverse Voices workshop on April 17 (I think it’s a Saturday) and leading a kids workshop? I can tell you more.

    Suzanne Edison

  4. Hi Ann –

    My husband stumbled across your post today and forwarded it to me. It brought tears to my eyes to read about how you are using my poem to inspire student writers. I wrote that poem while on a silent meditation retreat some years ago, very quickly scribbling it down on a napkin so I wouldn’t forget how I was feeling at breakfast that morning. I later gave it to my meditation teacher in thanks for the retreat – and from there it made it’s way out into the world.

    I’m so grateful to have read this today. I’m so glad that poem that came to me simply by choosing to be present, is now inspiring others to find the beauty in the ordinary miraculous moments of life.

    Thank you for the fantastic work you are doing in our schools!

    Lisette

    p.s. here is the poem on my blog – and the title actually is “Morning”
    http://imaginelisette.blogspot.com/

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