Since 1996 Volume XXI

Judy Wells

JUDY WELLS is a San Francisco Bay Area poet, writer, and teacher whose work has often been influenced by her Irish heritage and love of storytelling.

Since 1979, Wells has published 11 books of poetry and had her work represented in numerous literary journals and anthologies. 

Like Galway Kinnell,
I eat a bowl of oatmeal
                         every morning.
Unlike his, mine is not glutinous,
            lumpy, or slimy—
It is a sublime concoction of oatmeal,
            raisins, cranberries, almonds, walnuts,
                        and fresh fruit:  blueberries, apples,
            raspberries, or strawberries.
I make it myself.
Nor do I need an imaginary companion
            to eat with me,
but today, in the spirit of Galway Kinnell,
            who breakfasted with Keats,
I choose one:  Emily Dickinson.
            “Yes, I will sample your oatmeal,” she says.
“My Irish maid Maggie Maher often
            made it for herself and the hired hands
though I much prefer my own cake.”
            She daintily eats two spoonfuls
                        of my elaborate mush.
“I’m Irish too,” I say to Emily.
            Her eyes pierce my soul. 
“I could tell,” said Emily, “though you
            do not resemble Maggie as much
                        as the Irish washerwoman who
            lives down the street.”
“I’m also related to you, Emily,” I say.
            She eyes me suspiciously.
“I’m your 6th cousin twice removed.”
            She snorts. “Please say that in plain English.”
“My great-grandmother is Phebe Dickinson
            from Northfield, Massachusetts,
                        just up the river from Amherst.
            She was born four or five years
                         after you were.”
“Oh, a descendant of our northernmost Puritan ancestors.”
            Emily sighs.  “I suppose they were farmers.
                         Not our sort really,
                                    those Dickinson farmers.
            We became lawyers and college builders.”
I’m getting a little hot under the collar
            of my blue synthetic robe as she sits                          
                        coolly crisp in her white cotton housedress.
I counter, “Phebe’s first cousin Elijah Dickinson
            built a magnificent stone library
                        in Northfield. He made his money
             in shoe manufacturing in Fitchburg—
                        sent his shoes worldwide.”
Emily looks down at her dainty feet.
            “I suppose we all need shoes.
Tell me who you are, other than
            a hybrid Irish Dickinson.”
“I’m from 21st century California,”
            I say.  “Phebe Dickinson wasn’t a stay-
at-home like you.  She took the boat
            to California, was a cook on board,
                        and met her husband, a seaman,
            on the voyage, or so the story goes.
I’m a 4th generation Californian, and I humbly state:
            a poet.  Not a genius like you, Cousin Emily,
                        whom I admire intensely.
But you might be amazed to know
            women can now get Master’s of Fine Arts
                        in Poetry
            at universities all over the U.S.A.
“I approve,” said Emily.  “I had several Masters
            though I never did reveal their names.”
“And we have machines at home that
            instantly send our letters around
                        the world if we want.”
“I approve,” said Emily.  “The world never
            sent a letter back to me and secretly
                                    I wanted one.”
“And you can conduct a love affair
            solely by these machines,” I said.
“I approve,” said Emily.  “I confess
            I was erotically attracted to both men and women,
                        but I never wanted the mess.
A letter is much more erotically charged
                        than a body, at least in my opinion.
            My mind is not a mess.”
“And what form do you choose for your poetry?”
                        Emily asked.
I had to admit I did not know
            for it varied day to day                                       
                        and all I could say was
“Story.  I want to tell a story.”
            “Well, that’s not very spiritual,” she said.
I took several large spoonfuls of my oatmeal
                        and thought for a second.
“I don’t want to hear a fly buzz when I
            die,” I said. “Do you?”
She did not reply.

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