Reading the Oatmeal


In the diner I add brown sugar
and milk to oatmeal, then stir
until strange hieroglyphics occur
on the grainy surface. I’m expert
at reading these signs. This one,
crooked like a chicken-track, refers
to my favorite childhood lies,
which focused on rare minerals
and meteorites that really
were clinkers from coal-fed boilers.
This sign, cratered and pimpled, inscribes
my twenty-year infatuation
with Betsy, whose mother described me
as “that gargoyle from the wrong side
of town.” And this hieroglyph,
a stutter of hash marks, fails me
for my sullen years in the army,
my rifle dragging behind me
like a third leg limping in the dust.


I stir the oatmeal again.
The waitress looks wary because
once I detected the sign of fire,
a diagonal across the bowl.
Next day a grease fire shut down
the diner for a week. Today,
though, the final sign describes
my last tour of Poland. Children
raving in the streets of Krakow,
coffee so ripe the cafes steam
like obscene visions. Spooning
the oatmeal into the secret dark
of digestion, I’m proud
of my humble sort of augury,
even if the men at the counter,
thick with decades of work and beer,
mock with the kind of loud talk
prophets spend lifetimes fearing.

William Doreski

About the poet: William Doreski, Professor of English, Keene State College (New Hampshire), teaches creative writing, literary theory, and modern poetry. He has published several collections of poetry, most recently Artificial Limbs in the Attic (Pygmy Forest Press, 2009), Another Ice Age (Cedar Hill, 2007), and three critical studies—The Years of Our Friendship: Robert Lowell and Allen Tate (University Press of Mississippi, 1990), and The Modern Voice in American Poetry (University Press of Florida, 1995), Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors (Ohio University Press, 1999)--and a textbook entitled How to Read and Interpret Poetry (Prentice-Hall). His critical essays, poetry, and reviews have appeared in many academic and literary journals, including Massachusetts Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, Natural Bridge.