Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Assignment 2: Response to Stephen Dobyns

Breakfast - Edouard Vuillard
"Breakfast" by Edouard Vuillard

Oatmeal Deluxe - Stephen Dobyns

This morning, because the snow swirled deep
around my house, I made oatmeal for breakfast.
At first it was too runny so I added more oatmeal,
then it grew too thick so I added water.
Soon I had a lot of oatmeal. The radio
was playing Spanish music and I became
passionate: soon I had four pots of oatmeal.
I put them aside and started a new batch.
Soon I had eight pots. When the oatmeal cooled,
I began to roll it with my hands, making
small shapes: pigs and souvenir ashtrays. Then
I made a foot, then another, then a leg. Soon
I’d made a woman out of oatmeal with freckles
and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar
and naked except for a necklace of raisins.
She was five feet long and when she grew harder
I could move her arms and legs without them
falling off. But I didn’t touch her much -
she lay on the table – sometimes I’d touch her
with a spoon, sometimes I’d lick her in places
it wouldn’t show. She looks like you, although
her hair is darker, but the smile is like yours,
and the eyes, although hers are closed. You say:
what has this to do with me? And I should say:
I want to make more women from Cream of Wheat.
But enough of such fantasy. You ask me
why I don’t love you, why you can’t
live with me. What can I tell you? If I
can make a woman out of oatmeal, my friend,
what trouble could I make for you, a woman?


The proposed poem for this week’s assignment was Stephen Dobyns’ The Street, but after reading through more of his work I stumbled across “Oatmeal Deluxe” and immediately wanted to respond.  The name alone caught my eye for its peculiar implications.  In my opinion, it is very difficult to make oatmeal “deluxe”, let alone interesting in any way, so naturally I was intrigued. 

Dobyns begins this poem very casually as he makes breakfast for himself.  In the first four lines his tone is straightforward and perhaps a bit resentful.  The image of the beautiful and swiftly falling snow is greatly contrasted by this man explaining his difficulties with making an incredibly boring breakfast.
Suddenly the poem takes a strange turn as soon as the Spanish music begins to play, important imagery as it sets up the stage for something intimate. 

Oatmeal Deluxe has an obvious sense of humor created by the word choice and subject matter.  I love the narrator’s attention to detail – “freckles and a cute nose and hair made from brown sugar and naked except for a necklace of raisins” – but it’s almost sad that he’s willing to go this far to prove his point.  In the end you discover that a woman loves him but he doesn’t love her back; he’d much prefer an oatmeal woman, so she must be pretty bad. 

The use of exaggeration makes this poem such a pleasant read.  The imagery is very strong and a reader can easily picture the endless pots of mush overflowing the kitchen counters.  There is also the heavy intimacy that so strongly conflicts with the dullness of oatmeal.

One of the most powerful aspects of Dobyns’ piece, however, is the metamorphosis that occurs throughout.  As I previously mentioned, the poem begins so informally, but the narrator develops an aggressive tone by the end.  This is enhanced by the author’s use of dialogue and interrogation, a confrontation that gives meaning to his obsession with cereal.  He argues that he needs nothing but his oatmeal woman, a conclusion that indicates distaste for his admirer and pride for himself.

I found Oatmeal Deluxe very quirky and enjoyable, and almost relatable as I love breakfast and on some days would consider it much more comforting than a human relationship.

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