friday feast: diane wakoski’s “breakfast”

“The invention of food as ‘food’ — the ‘loved object’ — is the imagination’s attempt to (re)create the act of eating as, not passive, not infantile, but active, ‘adult.’ The instinctive physical act is appropriated by the conscious self, made into a kind of artwork. A kind of poetry.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

photo by Twenty_Fingers

I’m so glad you’re here! Please make yourself comfortable, have a cup of Earl Grey tea, and gently enter the world of Diane Wakoski’s “Breakfast.” The table is set with an array of beautiful, lovingly crafted images, each lyrical moment turning a simple meal into soul-nourishing art. So this is how it feels to own the morning!

photo by cleliamus

by Diane Wakoski

In the Spanish kingdom
of my living room:
the morning sunshine.
A polished wooden table gleams;
silence is the reflection of burnished woods/  pine,
maple, bamboo,
waxed to catch the yellow sun.
Outside the wall of windows,
more woods,
these turning to burgundy and gold,
the wind moving especially
the green leaved ones,
the branches fluttering and bowing,
my courtiers,
my trees.

The kettles boiling now —
one with water to scald the pot,
the second with boiling water for the tea.
This morning,
scented Earl Grey,
another courtier, this one perfumed,
a dandy, one of those too-
beautiful men I cannot resist.

On my pine and yellow canvas chair
I rest, drinking the tea,
from a white bone china cup. A remaining crumb
from last night’s crusty French bread
is being dazzled on the table’s surface/  now
an opal, a pearl, ivory,
a minor jewel dropped from the chest.

In the south window
four sweet basil plants have reached the
height of 18 inches each,
their lime green leaves pungent when
touched/  I give each a little clear water
and pinch off forming bud clusters.

This morning, against all rules,
an egg,
poached in water containing a few drops
of white rice-vinegar, its soft oval body
resting in a poaching cradle of tin,
on three tiny legs, its stiff upright handle
remaining cool
above the boiling white water.

Now, I turn out the egg on a plate
of translucent orange bordered with yellow and black. It
lies there with a vulnerable film over the yolk
while I take my small silver scissors & snip
four large leaves from another basil plant,
this one growing in the kitchen window.
The silver blades slice the leaves in ribbons over
the cooling egg.

Alone, at the big table
with my plate, my single
herbed egg, a goblet of
iced water with a fresh sprig of mint
also from the kitchen window garden,
and my china cup of hot tea I sit
in my morning kingdom.

we will ever have
is present
in each day’s life. There is no more.
Thus, I need
this morning’s royalty,
the immortality of the flesh,
the music of wood,
my perfect view of the autumn swamp.


~ from Emerald Ice: Selected Poems 1962-1987*, copyright © 1988 Diane Wakoski, published by Black Sparrow Books.


I love this free verse sacramental meditation — the slow unfolding of process, the weaving in and out of emotion, the subtle build to the pronouncements in the final stanza.

With slow deliberation, I prepared poached eggs for my breakfast this morning, snipping fresh basil, sipping my tea. My slotted spoon is my sceptor; we are all reigning poets in the kitchen.

♥ Mary Ann at Great Kid Books has this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup. Enjoy the full menu of poems simmering in the blogosphere, and have a good holiday weekend!

♥ See a list of all the 2011 Poetry Friday posts on this blog here.

“Poetry, for me, is the supreme art of the individual using language to show how special, different and wonderful his perceptions are. With verve and finesse. With discursive precision. And with utter contempt for pettiness of imagination or spirit.” ~ Diane Wakoski

*Emerald Ice was the winner of the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award.


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

22 thoughts on “friday feast: diane wakoski’s “breakfast”

  1. I’m curious to see what that three legged poacher looks like! Since this poem was written back in 1979, they probably don’t exist any more.


  2. While I am technically a coffee-drinker – I usually take -earl grey- in those rare moments that I drink tea (although, yes, I also enjoy tarragon tea).

    My notion though of Earl grey has special remembrances and whispered thoughts wrapped around it.

    I love your photo of the poached egg – pardon my ignorance, but is it the same as eggs benedict? Looks temptingly yummy.

    My favorite lines:
    we will ever have
    is present
    in each day’s life. There is no more.”

    — such truth in that. If you know the things that are important – that which are valuable to you – everything else is white noise. 🙂


    1. I’ve always been a tea drinker for some reason. Never had a cup of coffee in my life!

      Eggs Benedict is made with poached eggs — fancier than what I made here — it consists of two halved English muffins, with ham or bacon, eggs on top of that with Hollandaise sauce poured over everything. Quite a little feast in itself :).


  3. Jama,

    I really enjoyed reading the Wakoski poem you selected.

    I love this part of her poem:

    we will ever have
    is present
    in each day’s life.”

    It’s funny how food and drink can taste better depending upon what they’re served in or on…or the ambience of the place where you’re eating and drinking.


    1. Yes, I love that last stanza too, love the way the entire poem gradually builds to that truth.

      I’m anxious to read more of Diane’s poems which explore the aesthetics of food. Context, whether company, ambience, or atmosphere, are the intangibles that flavor everything we eat.


  4. This offering is definitely full of “verve and finesse” – I, too, love the slow unfolding tempting so many senses. And in the midst of the perfection, I love the “vulnerable film over the yolk.” Thanks for a poetic breakfast feast, Jama!
    (The pictures are gorgeous.)


    1. That vulnerable film over the yolk got my attention too. The precision of her observation, and as you say, the tempting of the senses at each stage is exquisite.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the poem, Steven. I’m anxious to read more too. I’d heard of Diane back in the 60’s (yes, I’m ancient), but had only read one or two of her poems before.


  5. sigh. I had a breakfast like this today, and some time out in the sunshine. so wonderful to know we have everything present in each day’s life!


  6. Yes, it’s a wonderfully sonorous poem and I think we might just have to have poached eggs for breakfast tomorrow morning too.

    And nice to be reminded of the civilising atmosphere of Earl Grey tea (my favourite) since I was listening to an Alex rider audiobook with my son in the car this evening, in which Earl Grey is steeped in menace!

    I love your Sophia Loren quote too, by the way.


    1. Earl Grey is indeed civilizing, though he be a perfumed courtier :). I’m intrigued that he was “steeped in menace!” Happy Breakfast to you!


  7. I’m not sure I’ll ever think of Earl Grey quite the same way again. And must rethink breakfast, too. My poem might be: sliced bagel. spread almond butter. Doesn’t have quite the kick.

    And I have that sort of beat era memory of Diane Wakoski, too, though I can’t remember what I read. Just that she was cool and I was not.

    But before I bring this discussion down, thanks for sharing such a great breakfast and poetry. I’m going to reread for inspiration tomorrow, over English Breakfast.


    1. LOL — if anyone can make a bagel and almond butter poetic, it’s you, Jeannine.

      I love the notion of performance poetry — the art comes by way of doing, of total immersion in each small moment.

      I had the same reaction to Diane Wakoski too — the little I read back then made me envy her coolness. I will read more; some of it may yet rub off. *crosses fingers*


    1. So many people cook to relax. I think I need to get into that mindset, instead of the “cooking as necessity” thing. I sense a dose of Zen coming on.


  8. “free verse sacramental meditation” — PERFECT.

    Yes, Zen — focusing on the details.

    Your poached egg photo is fabulous. The layout, the light, the colors…blue ribbon all the way!


    1. Wow, thanks for the compliment! I’m trying hard to improve my photography skills, slowly but surely. 🙂

      *goes back to meditating*


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