Mary Oliver (and Breakfast Bars)

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
--Mary Oliver, from the poem Sometimes

Last night, after a raucous dinner at Emily's house, Emily, Rebecca, Jordan, Aimee, and I went to see Mary Oliver at Benaroya Hall.  I've been reading her poems for 20 years, so last night felt like meeting someone I already knew. She read so many perfect poems, each line and word punctuated exactly as it should be.  And she's funny. That comes through on the page, but not with the same immediacy and nuance.  At the opening line of her first poem, I cried. Cried just to be there, hearing her praise the small wonders of the world.


Someone asked which poets inspire and comfort her.  She said (and I paraphrase), "Oh...so many.  That's why I read them. And there are lots of poets out there who have technique mastered, but there's technique, and then there's content. Lots of good poets are still writing about their mothers and fathers."  I laughed, and took that to mean, "They don't know how to be astonished."  That's the gift Mary Oliver (and other writers and artists) give us--they pay attention, they're astonished, and then they tell about it.

I heard the actress Anna Deveres Smith on NPR yesterday, and Terry Gross asked what audience members were taking away from her new one-woman show.  Ms. Smith said (and I paraphrase again), "It's not really about what they take away. It's about what they bring.  Everyone comes in with their own stories, their own complicated lives. The magic happens when what you're saying as an artist sparks something in their own story."  I was loudly "amening" in the car.  The "telling about it" part, in poetry (or food blogs or paintings) is powerful because it taps into what we've already noticed or experienced but haven't been able to name.  Thank you, Mary Oliver, thank you Anna Deveres Smith, and all artists, sages, and prophets who are doing your best to pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it.


In case some of you, dear readers, are NOT tuning in for the poetry, here's something else to keep you on the line. After getting it from the library so many times, I finally bought Nigella Lawson's Express cookbook, and made these breakfast bars for (you guessed it) the fire station.  I sent My Mom's Chocolate Chip Cookies on Monday, and that was the day a girl scout troop dropped by with a giant box of homemade cookies for the Heroes.  So I'm trying to think of things that can sit out at all day and be somewhat healthy.

And here's a little something I wrote after hearing Mary last night.  Fear Not, Oh Captive Audience.  I won't do this to you all the time.

Being Human with Mary Oliver

When asked what kind of animal she'd like to be,
the poet said probably a bird, but I think
I'll just stay here on my own two legs.

I'll stay here, too--
slicing cucumbers in the kitchen,
cursing the tangled garden hose,
standing at the crosswalk
with their little hands in mine,
impatient for the light to change
or, some days, hoping it never does.

Nigella Lawson's Breakfast Bars
Nigella's recipe didn't call for honey, but I wanted more sweetness.  I didn't add peanuts, either, because I didn't have them around and I don't want the fire station to think I'm incapable of making something without nuts.  Mine turned out a tad moister than I think they're supposed to, so if you don't add nuts, use 3 cups oats or maybe a little more.  I'm definitely making these again, though.  They taste wonderful, and are perfect for breakfast when you don't have time to sit down (let alone read poetry).

1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
3 Tb. honey
2 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. sweetened flaked coconut
1 c. dried cranberries or cherries
1 c. mixed seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
1 c. unsalted peanuts or coarsely chopped pecans or almonds

Preheat oven to 250 and butter a 9 x 13 pan.

Warm evaporated milk in a saucepan and add honey.  Remove from heat.

Mix oats, coconut, dried fruit, seeds and nuts in a medium bowl.  Add milk mixture and stir until completely coated.

Press mixture into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.  Cool for 15 minutes before cutting into bars.