American Life in Poetry: Column 053
By Ted Kooser
U.S. poet laureate
Writing poetry, reading poetry, we are invited to join with others in celebrating life, even the ordinary, daily pleasures. Here the Seattle poet and physician, Peter Pereira, offer us a simple meal.
A Pot of Red Lentils
simmers on the kitchen stove.
All afternoon dense kernels
surrender to the fertile
juices, their tender bellies
swelling with delight.
In the yard we plant
rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes,
cupping wet earth over tubers,
our labor the germ
of later sustenance and renewal.
Across the field the sound of a baby crying
as we carry in the last carrots,
whorls of butter lettuce,
a basket of red potatoes.
I want to remember us this way —
late September sun streaming through
the window, bread loaves and golden
bunches of grapes on the table,
spoonfuls of hot soup rising
to our lips, filling us
with what endures.
Reprinted from “Saying the World,” 2003, by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright (c) 2003 by Peter Pereira.
I went to the library by myself today with my to-read list. After a gleeful romp about the premises, I ended up with five books (“The Fortress of Solitude,” “Charming Billy,” “While I Was Gone,” “Peace Like a River” and “The South Beach Diet Cookbook,” which doesn’t really count but it is a book and I did check it out.). And after that bit of adventure, a guy gathering signatures (he had been gathering signatures, anyway) was charging toward the door when I was on my way out. He was yelling something about being “unprofessional,” and then a whole gang of signature-gatherers charged up the stairs and there was indiscriminate taunting along the lines of “What’re you gonna do about it?” and “You’re not gonna do anything” and “#$%@%!!” And then there was meowing! Very professional indeed!
When I got to the car, I found that the angry mob of signature-gatherers had parking their big ol’ van right behind me. So I was stuck in the library parking lot until they got tired of arguing and left. And you thought I avoided the petition folk before! OK, so you’d never thought about my interaction with the petition people before. But trust me, I avoided them! Now that I know they’re meowing crazies, I’ll avoid them even more.*
*All in good fun, signature-gathers. You know I love you, baby.**
**Also in good fun, Ike Turner. I love you, too, baby.
It seems like it took me a really long time to finish “Travels with Charley.” I was expecting it to be a fun-to-read travelogue, but I really didn’t enjoy it that much. Maybe it’s because of my associative distaste for John Steinbeck. It just seemed like he thought he would write a fun little tale of his travels, but then he got home and just couldn’t shake the melancholy. A lot of Steinbeck’s observations are still spot-on, though, and some of his stuff did make me laugh. Well, smile a little, at least.
“When we get these thurways across the whole country … it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”
“I was so full of humble greatness, I could hardly speak. … I hope that evil-looking service-station man may live a thousand years and people the earth with his offspring.”