Oatmeal Ad: October 1953

1

At the kitchen table the five children are composed
like a Flemish family portrait, each with a bowl
and spoon, set around the far edge
of the blue-checked rectangular oilcloth.

The bowls are empty, as are the cradles
of the tablespoons they hold. Later,
someone will airbrush in the bright oatmeal,
the bits of chocolate, the perfect raisins.

There is no father. Out of the picture,
the mother appears as the voice of advice
beneath an enormous yellow bowl of oatmeal
studded with shiny chocolate chips.

"Easy!" says alert, capable Mrs. Murphy,
widow of a New York policeman. "I just put
bits of chocolate on hot, creamy-delicious
Quaker Oats." The ad is in full color.


2


To the right, the second of the three brothers
holds his spoon a few inches from the bowl
and leans down, looking at the years
he will spend searching for God, his failed marriage.

Next to him, the older of the two sisters
holds her spoon in midair, close to her mouth,
and considers the decades she will stalk,
still hungry, the malls and supermarkets.

She smiles across the table at her dead brother
who, always the eldest, repeats her smile in profile
and pours nothing from a gold-necked yellow pitcher
into his bowl of thirty-six years.

He grins at me, centered at the table's corner,
flanked by one older brother,
one younger sister. I have no spoon,
my left hand touches the oilcloth

and in shy admiration I gaze at my baby sister.
Her pigtails have bows the color of the bowls,
and her spoon is poised at her open mouth.
She is staring directly at the camera.


3

The two-bedroom walk-up; the roach-filled building;
the senile grandmother who each dawn makes the oatmeal
then stumbles to Mass; early autumn in the Bronx:
it is all there, waiting outside the picture.

Here, we have each other. In our shirts
and ties, our dresses and bows, our combed and
ribboned hair--in this moment before we eat
our imaginary breakfast, I'm with my family.


 

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