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Standing Before Shelves of Cookbooks and Trying to Decide What to Make for Dinner
Joseph Mills

Most of these I’ve never used,
although each time I bought one
I was convinced that I would,
just as I thought I would read
the pile of parenting books
that now spills under the bed,
or the texts on physics,
stars, and string theory
stacked next to my desk.
I used to check out hundreds
of library books, hoping somewhere
in the pages would be the advice
I needed to make something
with the ingredients of my life,
yet each day ends up being
another hasty improvisation
with nothing measured cleanly
and no clear sequence to the steps.
Still, I continue to believe
in the idea of simple solutions,
ones as elegant as a wheel.
I remember how someone said
the best Italian dishes have no more
than four ingredients with the key
being freshness and quality,
how Archimedes claimed he could
move the world with a long enough lever
and a solid place to stand,
how the most powerful sentence
in the Bible is “Jesus wept.”
So later, after dinner, whatever it is,
I will navigate the dark bedrooms
of my children, threading past
piles of books, toys, and clothes,
until I stand before them,
the daughter and the son,
each asleep, wrapped in sheets
like loaves of fresh bread,
and I will murmur a kind of prayer:
May you recognize the wheel
of your days.  May your faith
and friendships be flavored
with tears  May you find love
like a lever and a place to stand
together.  May you have a life as
satisfying as a good Italian dish.
From Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet (Press 53, 2012).
Used with the author’s permission.





Joseph Mills is a faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities. Joe’s published work includes six volumes of poetry, and four nonfiction books. He also writes a column called “String Figures” for ChangeSeven Magazine in which he details his thoughts about trying to learn piano in middle-age. Learn more about Joe at


Post New Comment:
There's stuff, and then there's stuff: that which creates brain surges like this one, the bits of creative motivation that we sift through daily, that we see, recognize, and shelve for a quiet moment to ponder.
Posted 08/10/2013 05:20 PM
Wise and moving. Shared with friends.
Posted 08/06/2013 05:42 AM
simply beautiful; thank you... Judy
Posted 08/05/2013 02:30 PM
Thank you, Joe. This one spoke to me.
Posted 08/05/2013 10:36 AM
Just wonderful. Starting my day with tears.
Posted 08/05/2013 09:35 AM
love this poem! So very true, each of the lines, so tender in the telling...
Posted 08/05/2013 09:11 AM
Oh yes: yet each day ends up being another hasty improvisation with nothing measured cleanly and no clear sequence to the steps.
Posted 08/05/2013 08:28 AM
Just beautiful!
Posted 08/05/2013 08:21 AM
Catharine Butterfield:
Wonderful poem!
Posted 08/05/2013 08:15 AM
Beautiful. I love your poetry, Joe!
Posted 08/05/2013 07:44 AM
Ralph Murre:
I hold no distinguished professorship, but I still hold that this is a mighty fine piece of work. And I thank you.
Posted 08/05/2013 07:41 AM
Wow, fantastic imagery of the children "wrapped in sheets like loaves of fresh bread" - what a great certainty amongst the chaos.
Posted 08/05/2013 06:41 AM

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