We have to have great meals

 

Simply Lit

Often toward evening,
after another day, after
another year of days,
in the half dark on the way home
I stop at the food store
and waiting in line I begin
to wonder about people. I wonder
if they also wonder about how
strange it is that we
are here on the earth.
And how in order to live
we all must sleep.
And how we have beds for this
(unless we are without)
and entire rooms where we go
at the end of the day to collapse.
And I think how even the most
lively people are desolate
when they are alone
because they too must sleep
and sooner or later die.
We are always looking to acquire
more food for more great meals.
We have to have great meals.
Isn’t it enough to be a person buying
a carton of milk? A simple
package of butter and a loaf
of whole wheat bread?
Isn’t it enough to stand here
while the sweet middle-aged cashier
rings up the purchases?
I look outside,
but I can’t see much out there
because now it is dark except
for a single vermilion neon sign
floating above the gas station
like a miniature temple simply lit
against the night.

Malena Mörling

 

Sometime last spring I blogged about a line of Sherwood Anderson that Raymond Carver was fond of and used for the epigram for Harley’s Swans, one of his poems from In a Marine Light.

I’m trying again. A man has to begin over and over – to try to think and feel only in a very limited field, the house on the street, the man at the corner drug store.

Sherwood Anderson, from a letter

I thought about it again this weekend googling the work of my new favourite Swedish-American poet Malena Mörling. It puts me in mind of what I am trying to reach for most often at the moment, a very small locus of attention that will bear the weight of my witness as well as help me endure the weight of the things I am myself carrying. It is a tall order, I know. I used to read Carver in this way (I say used to read: I haven’t read him for a while), and also Jaan Kaplinski. Now, more than ever, it is James Schuyler. A cat. A blade of grass. Shadows. Just sitting at the table of good friends.

The kind of thing I am talking about is summed up nicely by Graham Clarke, from a book called The Carver Chronotype. The kind of writing I am looking for just now (and which I think the above all excel at) is ‘a self-consciously limited area of attention in order to achieve as particular a realization as possible of individual marks and spaces’. For me, this serves as a lovely summary of what Malena Mörling is doing in this poem:

We have to have great meals.
Isn’t it enough to be a person buying
a carton of milk? A simple
package of butter and a loaf
of whole wheat bread?
Isn’t it enough to stand here
while the sweet middle-aged cashier
rings up the purchases?

Today I want to know that it is enough to be a person buying a carton of milk. To know that it is enough to want more great meals with people I love. To stand here while they ring up my eggs and bread. It is enough and will be enough and has to be enough. It has to be.

13 Comments

  1. By a strange coincidence I sent my friend, on Finland, a screenshot of a poem by Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski saying I was taken by his use of plain words and simple imagery – the poem is “We started home, my son and I” from international collection “A Book of Luminous Things” edited and introduced by Czeslaw Milosz.

    I relate to your distilled thoughts very easily – this is ancient knowledge, I’m sure and “Yes” – I think it can be enough: less is more.

    Like

  2. I think it has always been enough to be in a line buying a carton of milk and a loaf of bread. I think we have succumbed to pressure to make glamorous meals with fancy ingredients when the real purpose of such meals is to share them with others and enjoy the company. Which can be done quite nicely with a carton of milk and a loaf of bread.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so beautiful and important. I’m really pleased to be getting these posts again – I’ve just come out of hospital with the virus and am hungry for this kind of news.

    Liked by 1 person

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